Online reputation management: what to do if your reputation takes a beating online

(This article originally appeared at

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Sad face (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s every business’s worst internet nightmare: you head over to Google, tap in your company name to see how your web presence is coming along, and there in prominent position is something far from positive about your brand. Deserved or not, this entry could be damaging your business with every passing second.

Depending on the context, there are four main options available to you when faced with the threat of brand trashing: address it, remove it, bury it, prevent it.

Address it

Let’s look at bad mouthing. The power of the internet means that you can’t possibly control what people write about you – but your reputation can be made as much by how you respond to criticism as by the criticism itself.

When you stumble across a bad review, your first action should be to assess the comments as objectively as possible. Ask yourself, “Is this true? Have we done something to warrant this review?”

It’s all too easy to jump in and post a reply that’s defensive and perhaps even aggressive, but answering badly can just make you look worse. Instead, keep emotion out of it and aim to post a considered reply that answers the criticism calmly and factually.

If the review is warranted, it’s best to admit to any wrongdoing and say what you’re doing to fix the problem. This shows that you value your customers’ opinions and that you’re willing to correct your mistake. It’s then vital to follow up on any promises you have made.

It’s important to respond publicly, so even if you can’t give the full details, something as simple as, “Thanks for your comment, I’ve emailed you to find out more” could show that you’re working to address it and stop criticism spiralling further.

If you manage to resolve the problem at the root of the bad review, you can then post an update, and even encourage the original complainant to do so too.

Remove it

If a review or comment on a public forum is completely untrue, you can contact the site owner with an explanation and ask for it to be removed. However this will usually be down to their discretion so won’t work in every instance.

Sometimes, even deleted mentions can remain present in search results in the ‘cache’ – a sort of snap shot of how the page looked the last time the search engine checked. In such instances, you can submit a request that the search engine update their records (using Google’s webpage removal request tool or Bing’s support request form, choosing the ‘Content Removal Request’ option).

In the social media sphere, if you find someone pretending to represent your brand, sites such as Facebook or Twitter will usually respond quickly to remove imposters. Simply report the profile with evidence that it’s false.

If someone sets up a website with claims to be part of your brand, however, things aren’t quite so simple. If they won’t take it down on request, you next need to decide whether it’s worthwhile fighting it legally. In some cases, it might be that the fraudulent site has very little search engine visibility, so is only a minor threat that can be managed using a technique called ‘burying’.

Bury it

If a reviewer or site owner simply refuses to remove their content, no matter how unfair or untrue, you might wish to bury it. This involves ensuring that when your company name is searched for, mainly good things come up.

Let’s say your last client has said on GetSatisfaction that your service is rubbish. That review is here to stay and you don’t want other potential clients seeing it, so the objective is to dominate at least the first ten search results with positive things about your brand, effectively driving any bad mentions off the front page.

Social media profiles like Facebook and LinkedIn, as well as directory listings such as FreeIndex and BT Tradespace are perfect for this. Make sure those profiles are well populated with regularly updated content to keep them at the top of the search engines.

Prevent it

As with anything, prevention is better than cure. Don’t wait until you’re faced with a negative mention to start ensuring good things appear when people search for your brand.

It’s wise to buy up all likely domain name permutations of your brand (particularly your own country’s domain, plus .com), and sites like or will help you similarly reserve your brand name on social media sites.

Next, make sure anyone responsible for speaking on behalf of your brand online understands what they can and can’t say as company representatives.

Finally, have your response procedure planned out in advance, so you know exactly how you will deal with any problems well before they arise. If things do go wrong, be ready to answer criticism, keep emotion out of it, request removals where possible, and bury anything unfair that remains.

Need some help with bad publicity online? I am the owner/founder of, a 20 year old  internet marketing company based in the UK and France – drop me a line at and see if I can help!


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Protection and management of your online reputation

It’s been a grumpy day for me today, made a bit grumpier because of a tweet I came across on Twitter, and 2 phone calls I had this morning, both about similar things.

Part of the service we offer is Online Negative Reputation Management. We don’t make a big deal out of it, as it’s not cheap, and it’s not something that most people need, but we do get the occasional call about it and take on one or two jobs a month. It’s also not something we can put out case studies for, for reasons that will become obvious!

The tweet came from @france_normandy – gite owners in Normandy, France, who have recently had a couple of fake negative reviews on Trip Advisor, resulting in this blog: Trip Advisor Fake Reviews

The calls came from a photographic studio and a jewellers, both who were finding that when searching for their company name, the front page of Google brought up reviews that were negative and, as far as the callers were concerned, untrue. They were well aware that by having these negative reviews, they were losing customers – and in both cases, the loss of just one or two customers meant a considerable amout of money.

While writing this blog I’m reminded of another call a couple of weeks ago from a wedding organiser who organised weddings in another country. She had some great testimonials, but a disgruntled ex employee had started a campaign against her, and knowing the internet better than her, had managed to get some great front page positions slagging her off, posing as an unhappy customer.

See, one of the things I love about the internet is freedom of speech. Anyone can have their say on bad customer experiences – I use the web frequently to moan about and Aweber, among other things! But it can also be a bad thing, because if your livelihood is online, and bad reviews and negative comments can affect you, then you’re vulnerable and at risk.

It’s bad enough when the reviews are true – and believe me, we’ve had plenty of customers where we’ve quickly realised the reviews were true and had to implement a strategy to deal with that and enable them to come out of it looking better.

But when they’re untrue and the sites involved have published them without checking, without thinking, and in a lot of cases without verifying the person involved, it’s worse. Reviews that are negative and downright untrue, yet have no real name attached, can’t be traced back to an actual customer, and may even be a competitor or ex employee / business partner can still be accepted and read as if they’re true.

And in a lot of cases the vendor has no comeback – not all review sites let you challenge a review, and some of them will just refuse to remove the bad reviews, no matter what proof you send.

In the cases I talk about above, the jeweller, the photographer and the wedding planner, we are able to help – we can implement a strategy to drive the negative reviews off the front page, limit the damage caused by the reviews in other ways, and help to limit the impact they have.

In the case of @france_normandy, Trip Advisor is a big part of their business, and really needs to tighten up its processes to avoid a backlash. Happily it looks as if that one will be sorted out in the end, but at what cost? The longer a negative review is in a prominent position, the more damage it can do.

It’s a timely reminder to keep on top of what is being said about you online – make sure you at least have Google Alerts set up so that anything published with your copany name is seen by you immediately and can be responded to – if it’s in the public eye then your potential customers could be seeing it.

In a world where ‘to Google’ is common before choosing a supplier, make sure that if someone ‘Googles’ you, they see what YOU want them to see, not what your enemies do…

If you’re having problems with negative online reputation management, drop me a line, I might be able to help.

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