Today's business owners must take an active role in their online reputation. Developing a comprehensive plan to maintain and grow your online reviews, whether you do it on your own or with the help of an expert firm, is vital to your success.

If you haven't considered your online reputation, try not to think about the scope of the program. Just get started and the pieces will fall into place.

Below is a 4-step plan that can be scaled and adjusted to fit your needs.

Ready? Let's go:

1.  Research Your Online Reputation

Your first order of business is to find out which Internet listings already represent your company.

Doing a simple search for your company name/address on Google will give you a great understanding of where your business information is listed and the reviews that have already been submitted. Start a spreadsheet to record all of the sites that list your business. 

Focus your attention on the top websites in the business listing arena. Sites like Google, Bing, Yelp, Kudzu and CitySearch are a good place to start. However, during the research phase, take notes on what information is displayed on all listings. If another website has more reviews on it, you may want to include it.

Larger reputation management plans could include the use of an SEO/SEM firm or a third party management service. A plan of this size should include a comprehensive list of all web properties that list your business as there are hundreds of sites that could potentially fit the bill.

2.  Create a Plan to Solicit Reviews

Designing a plan to generate or solicit reviews from customers is the next step to growing your online reputation. This process should start with an internal review of any ongoing practices to get information from customers. Of course, how you go about doing this will largely depend on the type of business you own.

For brick and mortar businesses, in-store displays, QR codes, and postcard handouts are all great ways to get your customers to interact. Online or service-related businesses, however, may need to rely on email or social media marketing to solicit reviews.

The key is to accurately determine the most efficient methods of interaction with your clients, and then modifying them to include a solicitation for a review.

3.  Offer Incentives

Strangely, it can be very difficult to persuade a satisfied customer to take the time to review your business -- especially if they're forced to sign up for an account before doing so.

To combat this issue, offer your customers incentives in exchange for their time and effort. Your clientele will appreciate the thought, whether it's a discount on goods and services or something as simple as a gas or coffee gift card. In most cases, however, the value of a positive review on Google or Yelp far outweighs the expense of the incentive.

4.  Follow Up!

The entire process of researching your online reputation and actively seeking online reviews will not be nearly as successful if you don’t follow up. If you don’t receive a response to a review request, make contact again! For those that do post reviews, send a follow-up email to thank them.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to old customers either.

For all online listing sites, you’ll want to regularly check on them to see if anything has changed. Many sites like Google and Yelp regularly change the way they list businesses. They also are constantly updating their business data. To ensure all is correct and that your customer reviews are being seen by new visitors, checking up on all these listing regularly is a must.

For more in-depth discussion on managing your company's reputation, contact your SEO -- we'd love to hear from you!

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