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Whether you own a brick and mortar business or you’re exclusively online, a high percentage of customers research your products and services through online user-generated reviews.

Once upon a time, people often discovered the businesses they used by flipping through the phone book. Let’s say that someone in the early 1990s wanted to buy a new alarm clock. They’d turn to the Electronics section of the Yellow Pages and browse the different stores listed there. Maybe they’d even call a couple and ask if a particular model was in stock, and if so, how much it cost.

Word of mouth was another way that businesses grew before the internet. You’d call a few of your friends and tell them that you were thinking about enrolling in Taekwondo lessons or that you needed to find a new hairstylist, and your friends would tell you what they knew from personal experience or from what they’d heard from their friends.

What about picking a restaurant in the pre-internet era? Sometimes you would try a new restaurant because you read a positive review by a professional restaurant critic in the local newspaper. (People used to sit around in the morning and read the newspaper with breakfast.) Word of mouth also helped here, and you’d look forward all week to trying a restaurant because some friends of yours had raved about it. And other times, it was just because you happened to be driving around and the restaurant looked busy.

But today, all consumers have to do is whip out their smartphone and look up a business. They can check out your business website, visit your social media pages, and read online reviews. While not everyone allows user-generated reviews to determine whether or not they’ll use a business, those reviews carry weight. As a result, the online reputation of your business is more important than ever. You should be personally in charge of your online reputation and keep track of all avenues. Your brand’s profile and customer reviews will quickly give potential customers an opinion about your products and services. This article will look at five factors that affect your business’ online reputation.

1. Website

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A website is as essential as social media pages in creating an active online presence of your brand. You need to update your website regularly. Think of your website as an online storefront. Customers and potential customers will use it to make an opinion about your brand. Like a storefront, the website should have a draw for potential customers. The website needs to be professionally written and attractive. If there is nothing to engage the potential customers on the website, they will have no problem moving onto a competitor’s website. When writing a website copy, provide value to the readers. And here are a few other tips: If you’re a restaurant, include a current menu and appetizing photos of your food. If you’re a retailer, use Shopify or other high-quality. eCommerce plugin to allow people to make frictionless purchases from your website. And if you provide a service, provide honest testimonials from actual satisfied customers.

2. Online Reviews

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The internet offers many ways for a customer to express their opinions about your products and services. Not only that, but those opinions are expressed in a way that other customers–and potential customers–can read about it. Websites such as Google+, Yelp, Amazon, and Networx have offered customer reviews for many years now, and if you’re not reading the reviews of your business, you might be making a mistake that costs you revenue. Potential customers can easily search these reviews and base their own opinions on them. For example, Networx has thousands of contractors from all industries listed on their website, with reviews to help customers choose the right people for specific jobs. The weight placed on Trustpilot Networx reviews when selecting a general contractor is immense, and companies should check these websites regularly to see where they can improve.

3. Responses To Online Reviews

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Reviews are a big part of your business’ online brand. Whether they are positive or critical, you need to have a communication strategy for responding to them. You should respond to positive reviews to build a relationship with your customers, which shows customers you appreciate them while growing your online reputation. Handling a negative review requires the same personal touch. A proactive approach to a critical product or service review is to provide them with personal attention. You can take it offline and ask how to improve as a company. The interaction will show that you care about your business’ online reputation.

4. Social Media

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A social media presence is vital to your online brand and makes up a big part of creating your active online presence. Itā€™s also imperative to address social media negativity before it grows out of control. Setting up accounts on platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and others to engage with customers is great. Updating customers constantly and being active on all your social media accounts show potential customers that you’re likely to engage with them. Use photos, comments, and original content to encourage people to engage with your company. Engaging with people on these social media platforms humanizes your company and brings more attention to your brand. When people comment on your pages, make sure you respond timely to show followers they are heard. When commenters talk about your products or services, you should interact with them. Acknowledging their comments allows them to feel validated.

5. Stick To The Business Plan

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No matter the industry, every business starts with a single idea. People know your company by your concept and online reputation. With a lot of work, you will develop the idea further into a successful business. The more original the initial idea, the better your online reputation will be at the start. Creating and following a business plan will keep your reputation in good standings. Hiring a professional to handle the business plan is a good idea. Either way, an excellent online reputation needs to focus on a tight budget, check market research demand, study all risk factors, watch the competition, and engage with your target audience.

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