You are looking for a pet care service for your dog for your upcoming business travel. A flyer shows up in your mailbox announcing that “the best pet sitting service in town” is just three and a half miles away. As the adorable puppy photo and promising headline catches your eye, you stand at the end of your driveway scanning the price lists and amenities. Then your neighbor passes by and can’t help but notice the bright flyer you are holding and say, “Do not go to that place. I brought our Prima there last year and it was filthy, and they gave her the wrong food the whole time.” You would probably put that flyer into your trashcan.

Influential customer to customer interactions of a similar vein happen online through directory sites, social media, and media reviews. Online reviews and your online reputation have a much further reach than a happenstance person-to-person interactions like the example above. Around 90% of customers read online reviews before using local businesses; positive reviews increase spending by about 31% while negative reviews can drive away up to 40% of potential consumers.

How can you protect and improve your business’ online reputation?

  1. Search Engine Optimization. Start by taking advantage of the fact that the majority of customers are influenced by their online searches for services of products. Work on your search engine optimization. Half of your potential costumers only read the first page of results on Google and less than 15% go beyond three pages. See these tips to improve your Google outcomes.
  2. Monitor and search for reviews. Several tools are available to help you monitor your online reputation Search results for your business have a huge impact on If you are showing up on review sites, take the time to read the reviews and respond- whether they are positive or negative, factual or exaggerated. Track the trends, notice who your audiences are.
  3. Respond to reviews. A Harvard Business Review study found that responding to reviews (whether scathing or complementary) improves overall review rankings. Customers who left negative reviews are more likely to return to your service and even change their minds. Responding gives you the opportunity to provide context for the situation, own your part of the responsibility, and, if negative, explain how it will be resolved or prevented in the future. So if a customer comes in on a busy Saturday when you are very short-staffed and leaves a complaint about wait time, you can respond explaining that you have just adjusted the hours to expand the hours of operation on Saturdays when most customers need service and moved some of your weekday staff to weekend shifts (if this is true). Sociologically, most people tend to shy away from complaining to someone straight on over something trivial so they will avoid it if they see you are reading and responding.

Entrepreneurs spend a lot of time thinking about marketing their business to the public: reaching diverse audiences, leveraging multiple channels, developing a brand identity, and building recognizability. But customers also play an important role in developing your online reputation and their word can hold more weight in some cases. Online reputation is a critical part of your overall marketing strategy.