For many businesses, there’s a disconnect between what happens in your office or brick-and-mortar store and how people perceive you online. It’s not fair, but it’s true. Simply being awesome doesn’t make you automatically appear awesome online. What’s more, having a great online reputation is sometimes the difference between dominating your local market and wondering how the heck your competitors do it. As we noted in a previous piece, a better online reputation will do more than just make you look good. It can also help you rank higher in local search, expand your overall marketing reach, and help you convert a lot more prospects into loyal customers.
So, how good do you really look to people who encounter your brand? You might be surprised to find people are talking about you in a lot more places than you realize. And what those folks are saying may not always be flattering.
In this post, we’ll look at an approach that gets you a baseline understanding of your online reputation. You’ll understand how you look to those around you, which helps you identify ways to improve the experience you provide customers and your overall reputation along with it.
We covered in detail the things that make up a businesses’ online reputation in another post, but for our purposes, let’s look at a structured approach to evaluating all the things that contribute to your reputation as a whole. If you’re ready for specific tactics for enhancing your online reputation, read this post.
First, let’s look at a category that affects just about every business out there: online reviews. The following steps are about discovering what people are saying about your business through various review platforms.
1. List All Review Platforms – First, write down the online business listings you know about. For most local businesses, you’ll have a listing on Yelp, Google, and maybe Facebook. This is a start, but did you know that other review platforms might also have you listed? Check out our full list of review platforms and write down the ones relevant to your industry, then see if you’re listed. This will help you get a more comprehensive view of your reputation.
2. Evaluate Review Scores – According to BrightLocal, only 53% of people would consider using a business with less than a 4-star rating. On which of the review platforms do you have the highest star rating? On which do you have a low rating? What’s your average overall? Understanding this number gives you a broad baseline. If yours is under 4, you’ll need to pump up those numbers. But don’t worry. We’ll share how to improve.
3. Read Reviews – Grab a piece of paper or open a document on your computer. Create two columns. On the left, write “The Good” on the right, write “The Bad.” As you read your reviews, your goal is to identify common trends. If a few people mention that your cashier Janet is great, make a note in the good column. You should know what your strengths are so you can play to them. On the flip side, if you notice a problem more than once, list it in the bad column—these are things to fix right away. Note that you must be able to recognize the difference between genuine, helpful feedback and something absurd. A single review about how heavy your front door is doesn’t constitute a trend. But a bunch of reviews about long wait times —well, that’s something to fix.
The steps above require a lot of effort to do manually, but there are tools that make it easy. Rather than visiting each platform separately, you can see review scores across all the platforms relevant to you and your aggregate score, all in one screen. You can also bring together all of the reviews people leave you, no matter which platform you want to see. This makes it super easy to read through reviews, and even reply to them (we’ll get to the importance of replying in another section). Check out Swell for more info on how to simplify review management.
The internet is a big place. There are lots of places where your brand could be mentioned, and it’s not always easy to find out who is saying what, and where they’re saying it. Below, we’ll look at a few ways to get a pulse on things. As you did with review comments, it’s often wise to split the write-ups you find between positive and negative feedback.
Do a Google search of your business’s name. Ideally, your website, blog articles, or product and service pages should appear at the top of a search along with your business listing. But what’s below those? In your search, keep an eye out for articles written about you in various trade publications, blogs, or online newspapers. You might even click the News tab to see if there’s anything recent and noteworthy about your company. Within the first few pages of a Google search, you should see the most noteworthy articles and websites that mention you. Some businesses might see mostly business listings from across the web and that’s ok. You might also see a few of the review platforms we talked about. Read through the pages you find and add more notes to your two-column sheet.
Depending on the business, your Google search will dredge up a good amount of info, but it won’t necessarily give you a deep dive into what’s being said on social platforms. For each of the main social platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn), do a search for your business inside the site’s main search bar. See if you can find mentions of your business, uses of hashtags that contain your business name, and so on. As you did before, list out any positive or negative things people are saying. Note that smaller local businesses might not find anything, which is typically nothing to worry about.
Next, it’s wise to take a look at how your competition looks. Chatter about your competitors—whether they’re online reviews or news articles and so on—offer a lot of competitive insight. You can learn from their mistakes as well as what they excel at. Keep an eye out for common pitfalls, but your ultimate goal is to find ways you can make your business unique. Things that help you stand out are huge selling points for potential customers, and knowing what others are doing (and not doing) can help you find ways to stand out.
Even if you’re not in a highly competitive market, it’s still helpful to learn from similar businesses around you. Here’s what to do:
1. Make a list of competitors/similar businesses – If you’re in a highly competitive market (like a dental office) list your top 3-5 local competitors. If your business has less competition (maybe you run the only Indian restaurant around), list out a few other businesses in your industry. Create two columns on a piece of paper and write good on one side and bad on the other (see where we’re headed with this?).
2. List review scores – As you did for your business, write down the review scores of your competition. Listing a score from Yelp and Google is usually adequate.
3. Read their reviews – Here’s a fun exercise. Google one of the businesses on your list. When you see their listing, open their reviews. Now, sort by lowest review score. This is pay dirt. These negative reviews are a treasure-trove of cautionary tales. List out all the mistakes your competition has made. Now sort by highest reviews. List out all the things they do super well. You’ll soon have a good overview of their strengths and weaknesses through the eyes of their customers. As before, remember that some reviews are unfair and absurd. Learn to recognize the crazy people, because you’ll find plenty. Remember, you can repeat this exercise on Yelp and other platforms as well.
4. Google competitors – This is the same exercise you just did for your business. A quick Google search should give you insight into what bloggers or the media might be saying about competition. Write down the good and the bad.
5. Check social media – Check out your competition’s social media pages. What are people saying? Does the business even keep their page active?
This is where you must do the work of making your business better. At this point you should be armed with lots of competitive intel. You should also have a list of things that you’re doing well and what needs to be improved. Next, take the list of things you can improve on and rank it by priority. For easy things, say a persistent, strange smell in the bathroom, fix it right away. For more complex things, like a persistent issue with wait times, you’ll need to dig deeper to identify the core problem before you can fix it. Whatever the case, create a list and start checking things off.
As for competitive intel, use the list of weaknesses you created to help you find things to avoid. Maybe competitors have an annoying checkout process and don’t take the right payment types. Maybe customers have to call to set appointments instead of being able to do it online. These things seem small, but doing them well adds up to a much better customer experience.
And for the list of things your competitors do well, consider what might be worth emulating. Do they provide a free beverage as part of a service? Do they call to follow-up and make sure a service visit went well? There are many little things top companies do to enhance the customer experience. Take a few moments to decide which of these are worth adopting
After putting in effort to find out how you’re doing, you’ve put more into improving your business. Now, how do you make sure you can stay on top of anything new that customers, the media, bloggers, and other folks say about you? There are two tools that can help:
Google Alerts – For a good pulse on just about everything that’s said about your business across the web, try Google Alerts. It will let you set up alerts for certain keywords. When new online content appears that’s relevant to that keyword, you’ll receive an email. Businesses often set up alerts for their business’s name and products, so they can keep track of new mentions. If you choose, you can also set up alerts for your competitors, so you can keep an eye on them as well.
Swell – The Swell platform aggregates reviews and review scores across multiple platforms. Instead of going to separate websites to see how you’re doing, you can bring all the info you need into one screen. But it gets better. With Swell, you’ll receive a notification when you get a new review, and you can even reply to reviews right inside the app. No more shuffling across different websites to reply.
Getting Continuous Feedback
By now you have learned from your online reputation (and those of your competitors) and turned that into action to improve your business. But the work doesn’t end there—now you must shift into a mode of putting that better business to work getting you more great reviews. Thus, completing the cycle and moving from discovering what people think to growing your business. So, how do you make sure you’re getting regular reviews you can be proud of?
For many businesses, getting reviews is as easy as asking for them. With Swell you can automatically solicit reviews from your customers via text message. And you can customize everything about the process so your customers get these requests at the best time. Since it’s so easy for them to leave you a review from Swell, you’ll get tons of new feedback. These reviews can help you see how you’re doing, and they also help boost your overall reputation and search rankings. If you don’t have much of an online reputation today, reviews might be the best place to start.
We’ve just covered a lot of ways to find out what your online reputation looks like and explored a few ways you can use that info to improve your business. But we’re still only halfway through the process. In our next post, we’ll look at specific metrics you can use to create goals for improving your online reputation. In a subsequent post, we’ll look at how to improve your reputation by getting more reviews, leveraging online influencers, and much more.