When you type your company’s name into a Google search, what comes up?

A news article about a settlement in a lawsuit against your company? An angry blog by a former employee? A competitor’s home page?

With nearly two-thirds of consumers using an online search as their first method of research into companies they want to do business with, you can’t afford to have negative information popping up first on a search engine’s results page.

Online reputation management is an emerging field of public relations. Online reputation managers can take steps to protect your company’s brand and image by suppressing negative sites, boosting your Web presence online, taking steps to deal with trademark and copyright infringement and much more.

There’s also a number of things that you can do in-house to protect your online reputation. A key component of online reputation protection is influencing results. Here’s a few steps you can take to influence search engine results to reflect a better image of your company.

— Upgrade your company Web site. Establish a news section and fill it with press releases on the good things going on in your company. By consistently feeding the net, chances are a search will take customers straight to your page.

— Join the conversation. Monitor online forums and discussion boards and actively take part in conversations concerning your business and industry. By actively engaging the online world, you can influence the conversation.

— Aggressively pursue false statements. If someone’s posting erroneous information about your company online, you need to do something about it. This can include asking the poster to remove the offending page or post, refuting the faulty information with the truth or possible legal action. Allowing false information to be posted about your company online without a response can cause serious damage to your online reputation. Even if it’s on a relatively low-traffic site, you never know how these things can mushroom if a blogger with a more popular site gets the faulty information and decides to run with it.

— Set up sites to counter hate sites. If someone is running a site bashing your business, set up a site to counter their arguments.

— Use SEO to boost search engine results for your online press releases. By using search engine optimization strategies, you can make sure that more traffic goes to your online news and press releases. SEO strategy works by peppering keywords throughout a press release or other online material. The keywords are words likely to pop up in a search of a particular target. SEO strategies make it more likely a search will direct traffic to where you want it to go.

Reputation and branding are the lifeblood of businesses. They are one of a company’s most valuable assets, and as such, companies would be well-advised to vigilantly protect them from being disparaged. By taking a proactive approach to the Web, and working to influence results, you can ensure that your company’s reputation remains as solid in the online world as it is in the real world.

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