When it comes to receiving negative feedback online, it is not an issue of if, but when. But not all hits to your reputation are created equal. Sometimes, an unfavorable news cycle or a flurry of bad reviews can dominate your search results, leaving a lasting impression on your customers, employees, and stakeholders – in these moments, you may need online reputation repair.

The impact of negative results online is significant. Four or more negative results on page one of Google search results can lead to a loss of up to 70% of prospective customers, but even one negative article can lead to you losing up to 22%. Unfortunately, this isn’t all that surprising, as the effect of negative news on your reputation can be up to three times larger than the effect of positive news. When it comes to reviews, nearly 80% of consumers report trusting reviews as much as recommendations from friends and family, and only 48% of consumers report frequenting businesses with fewer than 4 stars. 

If a negative news cycle or customer feedback defines your reputation, your business will suffer. 90% of consumers report not frequenting a business with a bad reputation, and 87% of customers report that they will reverse a purchase decision after reading negative news or reviews about a brand, business, or product online.

This may sound scary, and it can be – the importance of a good reputation cannot be overstated. If you find yourself or your business experiencing a reputation crisis, there are steps you can take to repair your online reputation. Here, I will define reputation repair, how to assess your online reputation, and what goes into an effective reputation repair strategy, so you can restore your reputation and put your best foot forward online.

What is online reputation repair?

Online reputation repair is a form of online reputation management (ORM) called reactive ORM. Reactive ORM is usually implemented in response to negative news coverage, customer or employee reviews, or in the wake of a reputation crisis.

While online reputation management is most effective when done proactively, there are situations when online reputation repair is necessary. Negative results can have a dominating impact on your online reputation, either due to a lacking online presence or a persistent negative news cycle. 

While you may not be able to control what everyone says about you, you can control how you present yourself online. This can include monitoring online conversations about and reviews of your business, responding actively to reputation threats, and proactively seizing opportunities to improve your reputation and bring attention away from your negative news. But this is only a part of online reputation repair – rebuilding your online reputation often also comes down to defining how you want to respond to negative feedback (or if you should respond at all).

It’s important to note that online reputation management isn’t only about reducing the prominence of negative results, but highlighting positive results and developing a stronger online presence overall. Reputation repair is not a quick fix or a one-time thing, but an ongoing process that takes into account SEO, earned media coverage, customer service and satisfaction, and defining your brand, and takes consistency, critical thought, adaptability, and patience. 

How to Audit Your Online Reputation

Before you can develop and carry out an effective online reputation repair strategy, you have to understand where you’re starting. To audit your online reputation, Google yourself or your business in an incognito browser with a cleared cache to get the most accurate results. Consider the following: 

  • What ranks? Are the results relevant to you or your business? Do your owned assets, such as your website or social media profiles, rank? Do other results, such as review platforms or news articles rank? Take particular note of the top 10 results, and the order of results. This is your starting point, and will be the results that you compare against as you begin implementing your ORM strategy. 
  • What is the tone? When you look at your results, are they generally positive, neutral, or negative? Are the publications that rank for you well-known, industry-specific, or smaller blogs? How is your Google reviews rating? In 2023, your Google search results often act as your first impression, with over 95% of people looking online to learn more about a business. Getting a sense of the tone will help you identify what users are seeing when they search for you and your business, and help you assess the current state of your reputation. 

If you don’t have much of an online presence when you search for yourself or your business, or you aren’t contending with negative results, you will want to work on the foundation of your online presence; however, if you see negative results ranking, you will need to take stock of what you’re seeing. A negative article is different than a bad review is different from a full-on reputation crisis. Consider: 

  • Where do the negative results rank? Where things rank in search results is one of the most significant factors in how large their impact will be. The first three results in Google search receive over 75% of clicks alone, and this drops off significantly as you get below the fold (or, past the first five results). While continuous scroll may have lessened the discrepancy in clicks between results #10 and #11, most users will stay near the top. 
  • What is the nature of your negative results? Depending on you, your business, your industry, and the state of your reputation, the nature of your negative results can vary. Are you seeing negative articles or long-form reviews? Negative customer feedback in Google reviews, or employee feedback on platforms like Glassdoor and Indeed? Are there negative conversations around your business on social media platforms? Are the results about your business or product, or a response to something your business has done? 
  • When were the negative results posted? Freshness is one of Google’s many ranking factors and, generally speaking, it is easier to outrank older content. If you’re working against older or outdated content, your strategy will be very different than if you’re contending with a recent or ongoing negative news cycle. 
  • How legitimate are the criticisms? It may be difficult to receive negative feedback, but identifying how true the claims about you are will help guide you in your response. 

What are 5 things you can do to protect your online reputation?

Once you have become familiar with your online reputation and identified what you will need to focus on to repair your reputation, you will need to take action. Every situation will require a different approach, but there are five general steps you can take to repair your online reputation:

1. Build a Strong Online Presence

The greatest defense against threats to your reputation is a strong online presence. An updated, optimized, well-performing website will have a positive impact on users, as well as outrank negative results. Ensure that your website loads quickly, is formatted for mobile and desktop users, and contains any relevant information that prospective customers, employees, and anyone else invested in your business expect to find.

You will also want to secure any relevant social media profiles. Make sure your usernames and brand messaging are consistent across profiles. Even if you do not have the bandwidth or capability to maintain a particular social media profile now, secure it as soon as you can to preserve your desired username. It is important to note that inactive social media profiles won’t do much for you, and can even work against you, so once you have secured your profiles, keep any profiles that you do not have a strategy for private until you are ready to keep them active.

2. Leverage Positive Assets

You should highlight any online assets that positively represent your brand to increase their prominence in search results. Some ways you can give positive assets a boost include:

  • Share any new blog posts on your social media channels
  • Feature positive press and reviews on your website
  • Publish press releases to highlight positive events, new hires, and milestones at your company 
  • Find opportunities for earned media, employee highlights, and thought leadership features that will establish your company as an authoritative knowledge source in your industry

The bottom line is: quality content is foundational to a strong online strategy, and the more positive content out there that features your business, the less prominent negative content will be. You can also rework content to get the most out of it: turn blogs into videos, infographics, and social media threads (but beware of duplicate content).

3. Stay Aware of Conversations About Your Business

Your reputation is largely defined by what others are saying about you, so be sure you know what those conversations are. Utilize Google Alerts to be notified whenever your business is named in the news and social media listening tools to stay up-to-date on how your business is being talked about on social media, and make sure to read your reviews on review platforms such as Google Reviews, Glassdoor, Indeed, and TrustPilot.

It’s not just about the online conversations,  either – listen to your employees, customers, and conversations in your industry to find direction on how create valuable content for your audience, improve your website, and keep your finger on the pulse of what people actually think about your business.

4. Take Criticism Seriously, and Know When to Respond

Negative feedback can be difficult to hear, and even more difficult to take to heart. Not all feedback you will receive, either professionally and personally, will be relevant or fair, but it is important to identify legitimate criticism so you can improve. Businesses that show an ability to listen and internalize feedback productively can actually increase trustworthiness and reliability with customers, improving your reputation in the long run. Responding to reviews can even turn a negative into a positive: 40% of consumers report that they read business responses to customer reviews every time they research a business.

That said, not all criticism warrants a response. If you cannot present a concrete solution to a problem or are concerned about the motives of the criticizer, it may be better to leave it alone. If you’re not sure when to respond, you can read our guide here.

5. Have a Crisis Management Plan in Place

Hindsight is 20/20, but don’t make the same mistake twice. Once you have weathered the storm of your negative news, reviews, or whatever impacted your reputation, establish a plan for how you will respond in the future. This can include developing a script for responding to negative news, procedures for responding to negative reviews, or a plan for how to present your company online to distance yourself from other factors impacting your reputation. In 2023, your online reputation will define your overall reputation, and having a solid reputation management plan in place is vital.

If you aren’t sure how to approach your online reputation repair, it may be time to hire an ORM firm. You can book a free consultation with Status Labs today to determine the next steps to repair your reputation.