Improving Your Company’s Online Brand

Ryan Erskine
Ryan Erskine
Ryan Erskine is a Brand Strategist with experience at the intersection of digital marketing, brand development, online reputation, and SEO. In this guide, he hones in on two main ways companies can improve their online brand: through better presence on review sites, and through better-branded search results. For both areas, he explains how companies can make sure positive results are the most visible.

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Questions Covered in this Guide

What are the different ways you can shape your company’s online reputation?

How you appear in search results (especially branded search) – when someone is looking up your company’s name on Google or Bing, what do they see, especially on the first page of results?

How you appear on “secondary search engines” like review sites and social media – these matter because people will often check them when researching your company, and these sites may also show up in your Google results. 

How you appear on your owned assets – these are the digital assets you control, like your company’s website. This is most relevant for people who already know your brand. For established relationships (with existing customers, investors, employees, etc.), your search results or review sites are probably less important (but they still matter).

What are the different review sites you might want to invest in cultivating?

Talent sites, e.g. Glassdoor and Indeed – when prospective employees are thinking about joining your company, many will go to talent sites to see what your company is all about. Each company can say what they want about themselves, but current (and former) employees can also say how they feel (or felt) about working there. 

Broad review sites, e.g., Yelp, Google, Facebook – these are major review sites that tend to rank high in search results.

  • Yelp – Yelp is a big brand with strong domain authority. So even if you’re a new company, you might get one review (which could be positive or negative) and suddenly find Yelp ranking for you on your first page of Google results. Yelp has a particularly strong filter so it’s hard for companies to game the system, but it’s also sometimes hard for real customers to get their reviews through.
  • Google – Google reviews will often rank in the knowledge panel on the right-hand side of the first page of Google results. They can show up whether or not you’ve claimed your Google My Business account, so it’s best to claim your profile and verify your information.
  • Facebook – if you have a Facebook page and claim it, you can actually choose to disable your company’s reviews. You can’t selectively delete reviews, but you can choose to either show or not show your reviews. Some companies choose not to show them if they don’t want to deal with it. 

Tech and software review sites – these depend upon sub-industry; if you’re not sure which ones apply, Google your company and your competitors and see what kind of review site show up. Some big ones include:

  • G2 and Capterra – for general business software
  • Clutch – mostly focused on advertising, marketing, and design
  • Apple and Google Play App Stores – for apps

Industry-specific sites – there are tons of sites for specific industries. Again, Google “[your company name] reviews” and “[your competitor’s name] reviews” and see what shows up, e.g. lawyers have and, healthcare has ZocDoc and Vitals, food and hospitality have TripAdvisor, etc.

What do you risk by ignoring review sites?

With any review site, things can skew negative without a plan – if you think about who is taking the time to leave a review about a company, it’s typically going to be the disgruntled person rather than someone who thinks, “yeah, it’s fine; I don’t feel strongly one way or the other.” 

What are the best practices for setting up a good profile on a review site?

Step 1: Claim and verify your profile – you generally need to prove that you are who you say you are because these sites are dealing with fake reviews and profiles, and ultimately their reputation is on the line. The verification process usually doesn’t take very long, but they don’t want to make it incredibly easy to establish a profile — for example, Google My Business has a verification process where they send a postcard to your physical address.

Step 2: Update your profile information – because there may be inaccurate information there; many sites do their best to create profiles with publicly available information (which can be outdated) or consumer suggestions (which can be wrong). You want to confirm the basic information is accurate — name, address, phone number, website, and services. 

The plus side is that accurate information on a review site can actually turn into a lead generator. Clutch is a great example because a lot of people go to that site specifically to find marketing and Dev IT services, then handpick the ones they want to reach out to based on reviews. So it’s worth making sure services offered and contact information are correct.

Step 3: Fill out as many sections as possible (sections vary by site) – this could include text descriptions, selections or tags, and photos and videos you upload.

Profile completeness matters for 2 reasons

  1. You’ll look better to users of the review site – if there’s not that much information on the site, people are less likely to think highly of your company.
  2. You can turn review sites into positive search results – if you can find ways to include your company’s keyword within the various text boxes, it can improve the chances that your profile on this review site will rank for those keywords.

Step 4: Start monitoring the site (manually or with software) – this is key because it’s valuable to be quick about responding to the reviews that deserve responses. 

Step 5: Set up a system to start asking for reviews (at the opportune time) – find the right moments during an employee or customer’s journey (more on this in the question on generating positive reviews, below).

Note: It’s not a good idea to ask for a positive review – it’s against the terms of many review sites to explicitly ask for a positive review (and it’s not a good idea anyway). Instead, ask people who you know are in good standing with your company to consider leaving a review. (Don’t ask the person who was just yelling at customer service).

What steps should you take when you get a negative review?

Start with acknowledging and apologizing – even if you don’t agree, you can’t argue with someone’s feelings. Some negative reviews may not be warranted, but review sites — and their viewers — can’t tell the difference, so it’s worth acknowledging and addressing them too.

Make your response at least a little specific – you don’t want to seem like a robot copying and pasting the same response like, “I’m sorry you dealt with this” to every negative review.

Move quickly to take the situation offline – provide contact info or a way for the reviewer to get in touch so you can make it right. You generally want to keep it short and sweet and abide by the same customer service best practices that you would ordinarily use for dealing with a frustrated customer. 

Demonstrate to other users how your company will react to issues – the response isn’t just for that person, it’s for the future too. If someone goes to a review site and sees a negative review about someone’s bad experience, that comes across a lot differently than if they see the same review and notice the company took the time to respond carefully. 

If you haven’t been monitoring a review site and your organic reviews are so-so, how can you turn things around?

Take the steps for starting a profile – claim your page and start monitoring it. Even if you haven’t been, at least start now. 

You usually can’t get (most) reviews taken down – there is a small percentage of negative reviews that won’t align with the review site’s terms of service. You can spend time requesting that the site remove those, but it’s usually not a full solution.

The best thing you can do is make negative reviews a smaller and smaller piece of the pie – If you have 10 negative reviews on your review site and it’s 100% of what’s on there, that looks really bad. But if there are 10 negative reviews out of 100, and the 10 negative reviews were from six months ago, then that tells a different story. 

What can you do to systematically generate good reviews on an ongoing basis?

For any potential reviewer, think about their journey – primarily, you’re going to want to pick the right moments. When in an employee or customer’s lifecycle do they tend to be consistently happy with you?

  • For customers – this might be right after they upgrade from a free to a paid version, right after they attend an event, or right after they give you positive feedback via some other channel (e.g. a survey).
  • For employees – you may approach employees right after they complete new employee onboarding (“we’ve been looking to improve our internal processes and onboarding experience — we would really love to hear your thoughts”), or you might send a broader request for reviews right after a holiday event.

Be careful with quid pro quos, like offering a gift card for a review – especially for employees, it can give the wrong impression and make people feel unconformable if the review (like for Glassdoor) is supposed to be anonymous. For customers, there are thoughtful ways of doing it, but you just want to be careful not to violate a review site’s terms (some sites, like Yelp, are stricter than others).

How do your search results impact the way would-be employees, customers, and others perceive your company?

Search results are the first impression someone has of your company – if somebody doesn’t know your company’s URL or name enough to go specifically to wherever they need to find you, they’re probably Googling you. 

The most important thing is the first page of your search results – most people don’t have the patience to dig through search results. About 90% of people stay on page one, and then it trails off from there on how many people go to pages two, three, and beyond. Ensure the first page of your search results is clean and clear and directs people where you want them to go. 

If your company has negative organic search results, what can you do to push them down?

Negative results can take many forms: 

  • A review site with negative reviews
  • Negative or misleading press articles
  • Distracting items, like an irrelevant competitor or old social media accounts that you no longer post on or monitor

Monitor and track your search results – you can do this manually or with software, such as BrandYourself. It’s important to keep track because results can change from week to week and month to month.

Make sure your website ranks for branded keywords – if your website is not ranking for your company’s name, start looking at how you can increase your domain authority. (More on this in the question below on ranking for your name).

Create, promote, and be active on different profiles – make sure you’re present on social media and review sites. Look for websites that have high domain authority (a site like Facebook is incredibly trustworthy from Google’s perspective, compared to a site like John’s blog). 

Think about social media sites that aren’t typical – there are others besides Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Tech companies ought to be thinking about Crunchbase, AngelList, and Medium.

Secure positive press about your company – press releases can help turn the tides on search results for a smaller company. Real articles about your company are harder to come by but can be worth investing in. A big round of funding is a good opportunity to get something written about you.

If your company isn’t showing up in search results for your brand name at all, what can you do?

Have your company’s keyword in the right places on your website – this is tricky because you need to balance what’s right for SEO and what’s right for the user experience. If you’re newer, it’s helpful to have a homepage or an about page with your name in the H1 tag and sprinkled throughout. Having an active element, like a blog, can help by driving traffic on other keywords (searchers might not yet know your brand name, but you can capture traffic on other terms to better establish your site). 

Increase backlinks from authoritative places to your website – the longer a company’s website has been around, the more links they’ll typically get (organically). But you can be proactive in increasing backlinks from authoritative places, especially if you have a PR campaign in progress. For example, if a news article from TechCrunch came out about your company raising funding, they’ll typically link to your website. Google looks at those types of metrics to determine if your site is worthy of its attention. 

How should you use paid keywords around your brand?

If no one else is ranking for your brand name, you probably don’t need to pay for that keyword – if your company is organically the number one result, everyone is going to find you already.

Paid search can help push negative organic results down – because it takes up that much more space in the top half of the search results. It may make sense to pay for a branded keyword while you’re trying to get more positive properties to rank higher.

If your competitors are paying to rank for your name, you may need to – otherwise, your organic result will always be below their paid one. Fortunately, if both you and your competitor are paying for your company’s name, you’ll probably rank higher, even if they bid higher. They can siphon off a portion of the traffic, but Google doesn’t just look at the amount you’re willing to pay per click. They’re also looking at how relevant your site is.  

How should key individuals at a company think about optimizing their online presence?

The average customer might not care about a founder or CEO’s personal brand, but investors, partners, and employees often do – what shows up in a search for the CEO or a founder can make a big difference in the outcomes of introductory conversations and whether someone is willing to take that first call. 

Consider creating a personal website – to rank for your name. I’m a perfect example. If you look up my name, my website comes to the top of Google’s results.  

Create or maintain public-facing social media profiles – these may be separate from profiles you want to keep private. Social media sites often rank high for individuals so they’re a good tool in your arsenal.

Be a thought leader in your industry (your author profiles will rank) – do this by publishing content on industry sites or in other business publications. If you search someone’s name, their author profile will often show up, linking to all the articles they have written for that publication.

What are the most important pieces to get right?

Be proactive; it’s harder to turn things around once there’s a negative – aim to slowly build up your reputation over time. Remain proactive about search results and review sites. It’s much harder to overcome a bunch of negative reviews or negative press when all of a sudden you realize it’s a problem than it is to have slowly built-up traction. 

What are the common pitfalls?

Don’t be too aggressive about asking for reviews – it can come across as disingenuous or make people feel uncomfortable. You might even start getting online reviews from employees that say, “my boss asked me to write a review, and all these reviews are fake.” The safest way to go is to imagine any of your communications to your employees or customers about review sites could go public. Don’t ask for reviews in a way that you wouldn’t want a news publication to get ahold of.

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