This is the final installment on how you can manage your online reputation. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

This month, I talked to Mike McGovern, of YDOP, my favorite Internet marketing agency in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. You’ll find two themes in this conversation: building trust and planning ahead to ensure the reputation of your business.

Without further ado, here is the discussion that Mike and I had regarding online reputation management:

Wendy: What is online reputation management and why does a small- to medium-size company (especially a service sector company) need to be knowledgeable about it?

Mike: Online reputation management is three things: You (or someone in your company) is actively monitoring what is being said about your business online; You have a plan for responding to negative reviews; You are actively seeking feedback and requesting online reviews from happy customers.

As a business owner, you should care about online reviews because prospective customers read them and trust them when evaluating businesses online. According to a 2013 BrightLocal Consumer Review study:

  • 73 percent of consumers say positive reviews make them trust a business more
  • 65 percent of consumers are more likely to use a business that has positive online reviews
  • 79 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations
  • Consumers read, on average, six reviews before they form an opinion about a business.

Additionally, Google loves it if your business has reviews and will boost your website’s search rankings as a reward. Reviews matter to people searching on Google, so reviews matter to Google. As a result, businesses with a better online review profile often see better click-through rates on their search listings (because they appear higher on the page and have a star rating, which attracts the eye).

Wendy: Many lawn care/landscape/hardscape businesses use Yelp, Google Reviews and other review sites. How can they manage the reputation of their companies if they have one disgruntled client who’s a regular complainer on these sites?

Mike: It’s true that sooner or later every business will have a complainer who will post a negative review online. It can be upsetting because online reviews impact public opinion, but often these negative reviews are unfair and leave out pertinent facts. Like it or not, business owners need to take online reviews seriously and monitor them constantly. The good news is that there is software available to automate this.

When a bad review appears, a business needs to evaluate it and choose the right course of action. If the review is vulgar, hateful and mean-spirited, it will do surprisingly little harm to your business’s reputation. Haters aren’t good at influencing others. It’s often best to ignore this sort of post, like you would ignore the public insults of a drunk.

If you have a negative review that seems credible and based on cited facts, you should respond. At the very least, express your remorse about whatever made the reviewer unhappy, promise to look into it, and reinforce how important it is to your company that all customers have a good experience. Don’t be combative or sound argumentative.

Encourage the reviewer to contact your business to settle the issue. Remember that you’re also writing this response for people who visit the site in the future, perhaps even more so than the unhappy reviewer.

Wendy: How does an Internet marketing business, like YDOP, help a business fix or improve a bad review?

Mike: An Internet marketing company with professional experience at review management helps businesses from getting into trouble with bad reviews in a number of ways. They implement systems and best practices for garnering positive reviews, engage tools for monitoring the business’s review profile across the Web, and they provide coaching on how and when to ask for reviews.

As there are more than 60 review sites that have credible traction, a business owner or his/her marketing director will not have the time, energy or expertise to know how to deal with each of these sites and their policies. In contrast, an Internet marketing company can bring a depth of experience and know-how to a business. Review management is typically a very affordable add-on to an Internet marketing strategy.

Wendy: What techniques do you employ to fix or improve a company’s online reputation?

Mike: A common mistake we observe is businesses trying too hard to get good reviews, and going about in the wrong way.

It’s not worth trying to manipulate review sites, especially Yelp and Google, because they can, and will, filter reviews they deem illegitimate or untrustworthy in order to protect their own reputation as a legitimate source for reviews. So what is the best way to approach gaining online customer reviews?

At YDOP, we like to say: Slow and steady wins the race. Don’t get a lot of reviews at once, and then stop asking for them. Also, more is not necessarily better; quality is better than quantity.

Ideally, it’s better to get reviews written on various devices and IP addresses spread across several review websites. If they are written in “natural language,” that’s good, too.

Wendy: How do you advise service sector companies to manage their online reputation? What are some pointers you can give them?

Mike: Here are some important points to keep in mind:

  • Make customer reviews a part of your business’s marketing plan.
  • Have someone on your team who is tasked with organizing and implementing the review plan.
  • Set up monitoring software to pick up any mention of your business’s name online. Your company should be receiving an email notification any time your business name is mentioned online.
  • Respond to negative reviews quickly. Don’t be combative. Make it clear that you want to resolve the issue offline.
  • Use an email-based tool to manage feedback and request reviews from customers.
  • As the business owner, you understand which customer touch-point(s) make the most sense to ask for a review to maximize the impact. Our advice is to ask when the customer is still smiling.
  • Google your business name. Which review sites appear in the search results? Ask your customers to review you on those sites. That way, if someone is checking you out, they’re more likely to see your listing and to click on it (because it’s higher on the page and has flashy review stars).
  • Only 10 percent of people will write a review if you ask. Don’t get discouraged! Getting just a few reviews is worth the time you put in.

There you have it. It takes proactive planning and trust building to maintain your company’s positive reputation. Yet, if you have the right systems and people in place, you can do it.