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How do I improve our online reputation?

I recently got a question from a company with a problem. They have a history of not-so-sterling treatment of customers during the sales process (think used-car dealer approach), which they’ve used throughout the history of the company. For years, the company has been successful, despite customer complaints, but now they are running into a snag. The company’s online reputation is not good, and they are worried that it is starting to affect their sales. They asked if I could help them eliminate the negative results that are popping up about them in search.

Many people will purport to help your company, if it’s in this situation. Usually, they’ll try to have the review sites remove the offending opinions because they are inaccurate. Sometimes that can work, but it helps a lot if those opinions truly are inaccurate. In this case, they aren’t. If the charges are true and can’t be removed, or if you’re bedeviled by an entire hate site (, you need to get those results off the search page completely.

The best way to do that is to accentuate the positive, which is actually good advice whether you have a reputation problem or not. Search engines aren’t necessarily drawn to negative news—they show the sites that seem to have the most attention, which can often be negative sites, but not always. You can use social media to create your own positive presence, but to do so, you need to have a story that people are interested in.

English: social media monitors logo
Photo credit: Wikipedia

So, you can tell stories about the good things that your business does for the public and for your clients. And you can put out lots of helpful information that is not trying to sell something. You might think of many such stories, but you might want to start with the most important one: “We used to take a used car approach and we realize that’s wrong and we have cleaned up our act.”

But that’s the hard part, right? First off, you need to be willing to admit to what happened publicly (and more importantly) truly want to change. If you’re willing to be up front about that, it could definitely get some social media traction, but I’ve found it is the rare business with a checkered past that actually steps up to being open, honest, and willing to make amends for the past. If your company just sees online reputation management as one more thing to manipulate to succeed, I’d recommend that you not even try, because it is more likely to backfire and make things even worse in the long run.

If you are willing to take this step of changing your practices and making amends for the past, then you are in a much stronger position to respond to the negative reviews: “We’re very sorry that this happened to you. We wish we could say that this was an isolated incident, but the truth is that we made a number of mistakes in our sales approach back then that caused problems not only for you but for others, which we sincerely regret. Please reach out to us so we can make this right. In the meantime, we have completely overhauled our sales approach so that this will not happen to anyone else, but we would still like to make things right with you and with others who had problems in the past. Again, we are sorry for what happened and we’d love it if you would contact us at 1-800-WE-R-SORRY to let us know what we can do to set things right.”

This is a dangerous message because you might get unhappy customers coming out of the woodwork, but one that will leave a very different impression to anyone who sees that site than the one they get from seeing it now. If the company is truly ready to make amends and move on, this is the most effective approach with the sites that have dated negative information.

But to me, the most important part is the hardest part. You have to truly want to change the way you do business. If improving your online reputation is just another quick-fix manipulation tactic rather than a real “heart change” for your business, it will inevitably backfire, and the reviews you then get will make the ones you hate now pale in comparison. Whatever short-run success you might get by manipulating things will make it even harder to come back from when the backlash happens. because you can only fake sincerity once.

Feel free to own the yacht but hire a crew if you’re not yet seaworthy. If you get my drift and want to adopt the yachting lifestyle yourself but either don’t have the mad sailing skills yourself, don’t yet posses a world-class crew, and don’t know yet where to go, then you should give me a call or reach out me by email — so I can help you pilot your vessel now, in the tranquil blue-green shallows of the Caribbean, as well as in the roughest seas and into — as well as out of — the storm.

If you’d like to chat more, call me at +1 (202) 869-3210 Ext 0001  email me, or feel free to self-schedule a 15-minute call, a 30-minute call, or a 60-minute call with me.

Mike Moran

Mike Moran is a Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also served as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website,, most recently as the Manager of Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He was a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research and is now a Senior Fellow of The Conference Board. A Certified Speaking Professional, Mike regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide

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