If your firm has suffered some recently unflattering news coverage, you might find that your 15 minutes of fame runs a lot longer than just 15 minutes.

In the past, the end of a news cycle signaled the beginning of the end of conversation of all but the worst public scandals, gaffes or unfortunate events. However, in today’s world the Internet is working to lengthen the public’s memory, and that can be harmful to your business when an embarrassing incident makes its way onto the public stage.

By analyzing the current situation and taking proactive steps to achieve message dominance over the negative messages about your business on the Internet, you can protect your online reputation.

Even months and years after a damaging event, it may still be brought up in a Google search, Internet discussion forum or other online medium. Studies show that an increasing number of people are checking out products they want to buy or companies they want to hire online before doing business with them. Having a damaged online reputation may keep you from expanding your business or may give competitors who have done a better job of managing their online image an advantage.

By analyzing the search results that come up when you use Google, Yahoo, Bing or another search engine, you can assess the potential damage from negative items and decide on how best to mitigate this damage. Here are a few tips to analyze your the search engine results a search of your business brings up.

— Take a look at all the sites that pop up when you do a search for your company. Categorize them by importance, giving appropriate weight to news articles, articles on trade-specific sites, blogs and social networking sites. Keep track of how many visitors these sites get, and rank the high-traffic sites higher on your priority list than sites that get fewer visitors.

— Take stock of your own online assets such as your company’s Web site, social networking pages related to your company, trade or industry-specific pages, etc. Because you have some influence over the content of these pages, you can use them to help your online brand and reputation protection efforts.

— Categorize the sites you’ve found into sites favorable to your business and sites unfavorable to your business. Assess the traffic to these sites and their search engine ranking to gauge their importance.

By analyzing the situation regarding your online reputation, you can take steps to safeguard your online reputation such as buying up domain names, SEO efforts and increasing your online presence. While it’s impossible to completely squelch all the negative chatter, there are some ways you can help make sure it’s not the first thing people see when they check out your company. With an active and vigilant online reputation management effort, you can protect a good name and reputation that’s taken years to achieve.

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