Small business owners often contact us for advice on how to better improve their in-house Reputation Management campaigns and either start or improve on their online presence. Only a few years ago, it was somewhat difficult for a virtually unknown enterprise to work its way up the search rankings ladder in order to become recognized for the commonly searched terms its owners wanted to gain exposure for. While this is certainly still the case for generic terms such as coffee, restaurant, landscaping, etc., the online realm has changed quite a bit when it comes to being able to get your company name to rank highly (assuming it’s not fully encapsulated by a term that is nearly impossible to rank highly with). In this article, we’ll take a look at how important the first page of search engine results can be, as well as explore methods for getting your business to appear as much as possible on the first page while at the same time pushing down any negative results.
The Importance Of First Page Search Engine Results
Why should almost all of your reputation management focus go into what is contained on the first page of search engine results? The answer to that is very simple: less than 5 percent of current or potential customers will wander past Page 1 of a popular search engine such as Google when doing quick research on your company. Basically speaking, your RM campaign will consist of two prongs when you proactively become involved: the first is gaining a presence on as many popular social media sites and review sites as you can (because these will be the places where clients can seek feedback on your business by simple searches on those sites), and the other will be the first page of search engine results.
To achieve a better perspective of why most people do not go further than the first page of Google search engine results, we need to put ourselves in their virtual shoes so to speak. For the sake of illustrating this, let’s take a real life example and put it into practice. For this part of the article, we’ll assume that we’re in the city of San Antonio, Texas and are planning a child’s birthday party with a group of his or her friends who want to go bowling – simple enough. When I enter the search term “Bowling In San Antonio” into the Google search engine, the first result that comes up for me (this may be different for you since results are now more personalized than ever) is University Bowl. As a matter of fact, the company’s official website is the top result when I search the business specifically; meaning that someone who manages its online presence has done a good job when it comes to the center’s RM efforts. When I go to the official website, it advertises itself as NOT YOUR ORDINARY BOWLING CENTER.
I’m already intrigued, and if I have a party of 25 who is looking for some bowling fun on a weekend, it’s probable that my search efforts have already ended if the business is conveniently located to my current location. If not, I can do more specific searches by geographical location to get the closest bowling alley, and go with that. Such is the case when people conduct online searches for things such as bowling, Italian restaurants, plumbing, etc. They’re not typically going to be meticulously going through reams of virtual online paper in order to find what they’re looking for – they’re going to click on one of the first three companies or results that appear and not go any further – at least until they’ve had some positive or negative experience with the business in question.
University Bowl – A Closer Look
When I go to University Bowl’s website, it appears that all the general information I need is at my fingertips. Useful tabs such as Take A Look, Parties, Reservations, Leagues, Specials, and Freebies are all there, so I click on the Parties tab to see what the bowling center can offer for a group of twenty five. The questions that I’m looking to answer as a potential customer include information related to prices, discounts, family fun (Do they have lanes that can adapt to kids so that their bowling fun is extended by not constantly visiting the gutter?), and so on.
With this particular entry, I seemed to have hit the jackpot in terms of what I’m looking for. There are three well laid-out plans for birthday parties; each with their own benefits and pricing. Best of all, BUMPER BOWLING is available and all plans include the same amount of bowling time. All I need to do now as a parent is check my budget, match it with the number of paid guests, and select a plan according to whether I want Kids’ Meals and Invitations to go along with the basic bowling package.
While University Bowl’s website doesn’t boast the most appealing design (it could certainly be improved to include a responsive layout for smart phone devices and tablet computers), it does an adequate job of relaying its services to potential customers in a direct, easy to find way. I would also recommend placing the company’s address (since the physical location is vitally important for this type of business) more prominently on several of the site’s pages rather than having it available solely at the bottom of the TAKE A LOOK page. I’m also not a fan of CONTACT US pages that don’t include a telephone number, address and map for businesses that rely exclusively on getting customers into an actual door.
Not surprisingly, the very next search result for University Bowl in San Antonio is its Yelp page. Again, to prove my point about patrons seldom going past Page 1 of search results, it’s relevant to point out that there is so much content contained within the links of the first few search results that there is rarely any need for the casual, everyday client to seek out more. If I were looking for verifiable reviews and feedback of this business, I’ve certainly found them on the Yelp website.
The first review is informative enough. The reviewer gives the business a perfect score and outlines that she was impressed with the quick service as well as the lights and music. However, I see that University Bowl has an overall rating of 3.5 out of 5 Stars, so I delve a litter further down the page and discover a long, detailed review from someone giving it a moderate score. Daniel C. says that the games are a bit on the expensive side (not a concern for me if I’m going to lock in to a party special, but I file away this bit of info for future reference), plus there’s not enough room for spectators in his opinion. This is a bit of a concern for me if I’m a party chaperone, as I want ample space for parents to look over their kids and not feel cramped, although with a large party of 25 paying customers, we’ll likely be assigned at least five lanes.
There are more unflattering reviews with complaints ranging from poor service to overpriced drinks; from stale odors to unkind security. Whatever I need to form my opinion of this business, it’s likely contained within the pages of Yelp. Keep in mind that it’s not uncommon for a business to receive bad reviews and in most cases they shouldn’t be taken as an assurance that you’ll have the same experience. To be fair, there are also positive reviews that compliment University Bowl on its service, amount of space, prices and security. At the very least however, you’ll have a list of concerns to discuss over the phone with the company’s representative before booking a reservation, and this is the extremely useful part of review websites such as Yelp.
More On The First Page Of Search Results
Already, I have more information than I could possibly process in a reasonable amount of time as a potential customer. If I’m looking to book a bowling party for my kids in the next couple of weeks, I’m probably not going to be doing an extensive amount of research and delve into pages 3, 4, and 5 of the search results. After all, I’ve got work to do, other commitments, and all I’m basically concerned with is the kids having a good time without costing a small fortune. This is why it’s so important to focus your company’s reputation management campaign on social media websites and the first page of search engine results. Think about it… one of the most hard-selling ideas behind using the Internet when seeking out the services of companies is convenience. Potential clients are mostly interested in basic research of a business they might patronize – at least until they’ve had an experience that prompts them to leave a positive or negative review online. Do I really have a need to know a company exec’s golf handicap, the business’ corporate structure, stock price, legal activity or other tidbits before I do business with them? In most cases, the answer is no.
This takes me back to a memory of mine from a couple of decades ago. I was dating someone and went to pick her up to go see a movie (Forrest Gump if I recall correctly). When she opened the front door, the look on her face immediately let me know that something was drastically wrong. I was sure that she had lost a family member or a close friend and that funeral arrangements were pending, but to my surprise, the emergency revolved around a piece of jewelry (a ring, to be specific) that had slipped off her finger and found its way into a bathroom drain. Even though it was already 8:00 in the evening, it was very clear that movie night was going to be postponed until the situation at hand was dealt with. What we needed was a plumber… RIGHT NOW.
Although this situation would prompt the parties involved to grab mobile phones and look up a number of possible suitors in a matter of seconds in today’s world, this was a time before we had all become heavy users of the Internet. Our only resources were a telephone and the Yellow Pages – which was a thick book rather than a website at the time. Believe me when I tell you that my friend was not at all concerned with any aspect of the plumber’s business who we ultimately ended up contacting. She wanted her ring back as soon as possible and the first person who offered to remove the sink drain and take out the heirloom on a Friday night was going to get the job – regardless of his company’s history, reputation, or even his physical appearance. We wound up giving him a couple of beers and some leftovers (and were more than happy to do so) after the job was finished.
The point I’m getting at is that as a business with an online presence, it’s important not to overly focus on all the available information that can be found within the obscure Page 3s and beyond of search engines. This brings us to the next section of this article, which contains some practical tips for managing your online presence in an environment that includes anyone with an Internet connection.
Target Market Analysis, Emotional Investment
When beginning or improving an online marketing campaign, one of the first things that is almost immediately forgotten about is in-depth analysis of one’s target market – and how negative feedback ultimately affects a company’s bottom line. Since I’ve had my fair share of dealings with restaurant owners as part of my commitments here at Reputable, I’ll use the restaurant industry as a prime example to outline my points.
As a former 24-hour restaurant manager, semi-professional chef, and also as a Reputation Management consultant who has run several online marketing campaigns for eateries of all types, one fact is certain. If enough people dine at your establishment, sooner or later (probably sooner) you’re going to run across someone who has something negative to say about your food, your prices, your staff, your location, your menu, your operating hours, your decor, the air conditioning, the heating, your jukebox playlist, or all of the above. One time back in the 1990s I actually had a customer leave a complaint because he was really craving a baked potato with his steak but instead opted for french fries. It didn’t matter that he clearly saw a baked potato as an option when browsing the menu and wound up going with the fries, all that mattered in his eyes was that he didn’t get a baked potato (which he didn’t order). This may seem silly to someone who hasn’t been involved in the restaurant industry, but those of us who have can tell you stories that range the entire spectrum of negative feedback. Taking criticism in stride in person is considered to be a very valuable skill for business owners, yet many of those same owners are quite inexperienced when it comes to the online realm.
I’ve discussed dealing with negative online feedback in some of my previous articles. In general, there are two types of criticism when it comes to review websites (which absolutely generate more website traffic from negative reviews than positive ones). The easiest to deal with – surprisingly to some – are the ones that focus on what I call flaming a business without getting into specifics. Usually the reviewer gets personal and goes out of his or her way to write a scathing review that is on par with how that person would address his or her worst enemy. You know the type: your food stinks, your prices are highway robbery, the waitress was wearing colored contact lenses that didn’t appeal to the customer, the reviewer was in a terrible mood when the review was uploaded, has some personal issues, and it shows. The emotional investment when dealing with these types of reviews from a business owner or manager’s perspective should be zero. The best course of action in cases which revolve around a flame review is to either type out a polite, non-specific, short reply or none at all. Simply sit back and analyze how the review is being perceived, and be on the lookout for fellow reviewers who hop on the proverbial bandwagon while also bringing up issues that might need to be addressed more thoroughly.
The second type of negative review is one that goes into detail about what the reviewer didn’t like about a company’s service, prices, etc. Focusing on being helpful and addressing the issue under these circumstances is vital, which is why I almost always suggest a polite, relevant reply from business reps who are confronting a negative review. No business is perfect, every dining experience will be unique given the undeniable human element it revolves around, so your best bet is to attempt to be helpful while working with your staff to ensure you’re doing everything reasonably possible to avoid having a similar issue arise in the future.
Still, enough cannot be said about focusing your online marketing efforts on aspects that directly affect your company’s bottom line rather than spending too much time on obscure feedback that can’t be remedied. If some unsatisfied customer decides to create his or her very own website dedicated to running down your business, then so be it. Because you know how Reputation Management works, how to improve your online reputation by using social media websites, and how irrelevant search results can be if they don’t appear on the first page, you’ll realize the disgruntled individual is going to have to put in quite an enormous effort into Search Engine Optimization in order to compete with sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare and rank higher than Page 3 when your name (or company’s name) is searched.
The exception to this rule are reputable (or at least widely recognized) food reviewers who have enough online authority to sink a business with a single paragraph. In the restaurant industry, this is especially prevalent (check out the The Most Scathing Restaurant Reviews Of 2013 at Eater.com for more insight into this). Unfortunately, there is an unwritten rule in the restaurant business that if you give free food to a well known reviewer, he or she will return the favor by writing a positive review piece. In fact, this practice is at its peak in 2014. What’s more, many reviewers expect free food when dining at an establishment and will purposely be critical even when it is not warranted if they had to pay for their meal. These expectations can extend to family members and friends of the reviewer. In these cases, a restaurant owner should analyze the pros and cons of offering a free meal to certain reviewers and go from there. Each situation is different and, while it’s an unfortunate side of the business, it’s also a reality – for now.
Search Engine Results Summary
While I’ve given plenty of practical examples of how to deal with criticism in this article, the main focus is on recognizing how vital highly ranking search engine results are when it comes to improving and maintaining your company’s reputation. Although it takes some time, managing your online reputation and controlling the information that ranks highly in search engines is a relatively simple process; provided you’re willing to do some tedious work.
Take the time to maintain accounts on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook and focus on pushing down negative results in order to keep them away from the eyes of 99% of your customers. This way, you can establish direct communication with customers via platforms that are specifically designed to address feedback while at the same time promoting your business’ services.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this article and are able to take away some positive tips for marketing your business. If you have any feedback, you’re more than welcome to leave a reply in the comments section or contact me directly at your convenience.
All the best!