5 Great Free Reputation Management Tools for Local Business

“Reputation management” is a term that is used to describe a variety of activities related to monitoring and management of online presence and reputation. Reputation management is important for organic ranking in search engines, because it helps generate more links to your site. It is also important because most people research purchasing decisions online before visiting a store. How visible you are and how you are being talked about will have a direct impact on your sales.

From a local business standpoint, reputation management activities include:

  • Review monitoring and negative review mitigation
  • Monitoring of brand name mentions on other sites
  • Management of business listing information on directories and local search sites

Some of the tools below help with all of these activities, and others are specialized to just one. The tools listed here were selected out of several dozen that we reviewed. To make the final cut, a tool had to be useful, easy-to-use and free. If you have a favorite that we didn’t include, please comment below.


socialmention

Quickly search social media for mentions of your brand or related keywords with SocialMention

SocialMention searches a variety of social media sources to provide a comprehensive view of how you are being talked about in social media. The interface makes it very easy to drill down into specific channels such as blogs, Twitter, photo sharing sites, etc. You can also set up alerts to notify you of new mentions. One drawback is that it is not locally-focused at all, so it may not work as well for you if your business name is used elsewhere on the web. I did get quite a few false positives when trying various local business names. By “false positive” I mean a mention of your business name that is not actually referring to your business. This is a common setback of monitoring tools, particularly if your business name is not particularly unique. SocialMention is also a great tool for monitoring keywords that are topically relevant to your business.


Hootsuite

Grow your online network with HootSuite

Hootsuite is for general-purpose social media management versus reputation management specifically, but it is remarkably feature-rich for a free tool. And monitoring is only useful if you can add people to your network and engage in conversations, which is what HootSuite is all about.  You can use the tool to monitor wall posts in Facebook, @replies in Twitter and various other social network activities. You can also post and schedule updates in Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and several other networks. And if you have a blog, you can have Hootsuite automatically push new blog post notifications to your networks via RSS integration. You can also set up HootSuite to monitor for keyword mentions in Twitter.


getlisted.org

Make sure you are showing up with GetListed.org

GetListed.org is a simple, easy-to-use tool for checking to see if you are listed in major local directory sites. It shows whether your business is listed in Google, Yelp, Bing, Yahoo and Best of Web and indicates whether the listing has been claimed. It has links to get signed up, and tips for how to optimize your listings.


marchex reputation management

Get a dashboard view of your online business presence with Marchex Reputation Management

This one may not be free for long, but it is right now. Of the tools listed here, Marchex is perhaps the most powerful from a local business standpoint, though Yext Rep is pretty comparable. The tool provides a dashboard view of reviews of your business, mentions of your business and listings in several major directories. To find mentions, they have indexed a great number of locally-oriented sites, and show fewer false positives than any of the other tools I tried. I also like the clean, intuitive user interface, and their help section has great tips for local businesses.


yextrep

Manage conversations and monitor your listings with Yext Rep

Yext Rep and Marchex Reputation Management are similar in many respects, so you will probably want to choose one or the other. Yext Rep is brand new, but given how powerful it is now, it could quickly lead the pack if Yext continues to add features. In comparison to Marchex, Yext Rep monitors more directory sites for listings, but fewer local media publishers for mentions. And while Marchex provides an analytical view of your business presence, Yext Rep provides a more conversational view. Mentions show up very much like the status stream in Facebook and Twitter, and you can reply to some networks directly from the Yext Rep interface. I recommend giving both a try and seeing which you prefer.


Honorable mention: Google Alerts

Google Alerts is not quite as easy-to-use as the other tools mentioned here, but it is a very powerful tool for monitoring of brand or other keyword mentions. Here is a post I did a couple of months ago describing how to use Google Alerts for monitoring: Reputation Management: 1% Perspiration, 99% Google Alerts

A few other related blog posts:

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Two Octobers Local

The Problem of Measurability

There is a basic problem with web analytics today. Web analytics tools give us data on what drives leads or web conversions, but the picture they paint is incomplete at best and can be misleading. As an illustration, below is a cartoon describing my own experience deciding on and purchasing a new brand of trail running shoes. This cartoon more or less follows the path I really took, from when I was first motivated to look for a new brand to when I actually purchased.
The Conversion Funnel That Is Not a Funnel

Along my meandering path, I had many opportunities to interact with brands and retailers. You’ll also notice that word-of-mouth played heavily into my decision. And this is not just anecdotal – there is a lot of research to support the fact that most purchasing decisions are heavily influenced by word-of-mouth. Also, my cartoon illustrates the interactions I remember – but there are many brand and business interactions I don’t remember. For example, several local retailers are very active in the local running community, including online forums. I tend to think of those businesses as authoritative, even if they are not speaking directly to my current interest. There are also race and athlete sponsorships that create a positive association with brands, even if I don’t consciously remember them.

The lesson here is that much of what happened prior to my purchase was not directly measurable. In fact, if someone were measuring, they would probably think that search advertising or organic ranking accounted for my purchase, but I had all but made my decision at that point. Online reporting tools are good at measuring search clicks, but not so good at measuring everything else that happened prior to that last search.

There are some reporting tools that do a better job than others of measuring all of the interactions that lead to a conversion. See some of the great research done by the Atlas Institute for more on this topic. (Disclosure: I used to work for Atlas, but the research is still great.) I’ve found both Atlas and Omniture Discover to be very useful when trying to understand buyer behavior, but both of these are too expensive for small businesses. Unfortunately, Google Analytics does a poor job at this even though it is a very powerful tool in many respects.

The solution for small business lies in combining online conversion data with other on- and offline sources, such as a Facebook Insights reports and “how did you hear about us” questionnaires. Also, engagement metrics such as time-on-site and bounce rate can be very useful indicators. At Two Octobers, we produce our own dashboard reports that draw from multiple sources to provide a more complete and accurate view. We pull it all together to show how all online activities and channels are contributing to business goals. There is no exact formula – the right combination of data sources and indicators depends on your business model and marketing methods.

If you know of other useful tools and techniques, please comment below.

Reputation Management: 1% Perspiration, 99% Google Alerts

I wrote on the Local Matters blog yesterday about the value of monitoring online conversations for mentions of a brand or business in comparison to buying broadcast advertising media. My argument there was that monitoring and responding to mentions of a brand has the same person-to-person connection and comparable costs as customer service calls. And I believe that monitoring and responding to online conversations is money better spent than most broadcast media. Any time someone is talking about you or your business, you have a chance to promote what you do and add value to the conversation. That is worth a lot more than buying an ad that doesn’t talk back.

But for most local SMB’s, I wouldn’t recommend hiring a call center or paying for a reputation management service. Unless the scale of your business is such that people are talking about you frequently throughout the day, outsourcing is probably overkill. But I do recommend setting up some Google Alerts. Google Alerts are a free and incredibly powerful way to keep track of what’s being said about you, your business and important topics in your industry. Google Alerts work a lot like Google search, but only notify you when new things come up, and you get results via email or an RSS feed.

Setting up a basic Google Alert is very straightforward. For example, if I wanted to monitor for mentions of Thomas Edison, I would go to http://www.google.com/alerts and create an alert.

Google Alerts

By setting the type of the alert to “Comprehensive”, this alert will search the web including news media and blogs for the phrase “Thomas Edison”. Like Google.com search, it will find results that have the words “Thomas” and “Edison” in the text, but not necessarily together. If I want to only find results that have “Thomas Edison” as a phrase, I put quotes around the search term. That’s the basics. Google offers more detail on their Alerts help page. Now for some recommendations for how to set up alerts for your business.

First, while you can create an alert and have it sent to any email address, I recommend that you create a Google account if you don’t already have one. This will give you the ability to manage alerts, along with various other advantages. It will also result in alert emails being sent to the Gmail address that is created as part of your account. But you can still receive alerts at another address by setting up forwarding on your Gmail address. To do this, open Gmail and click “Settings” in the upper right-hand corner. Then click on the “Forwarding and POP/IMAP” tab. From there, select “Forward a copy of incoming mail to,” and enter your email address. This will deliver all alerts to the email account you specify. You will still need to log in to your Google account to add or edit alerts, but you don’t have to worry about checking another email account.

Second, use Google’s advanced search options to refine your alerts. Unfortunately, Google didn’t build this in to the Alerts interface, but most advanced search options also work in Alerts. The easiest method I’ve found is to build queries on the Advanced Search screen, then copy them to Alerts.  As you are building a query using the form fields, a properly constructed query will show up at the top of the screen, which you can select and copy. Unfortunately, some advanced search options don’t work. Notably, there is no way on the advanced search screen to add region to the query even though you can specify a region in the form. Strangely, you can add a “location:” parameter to News alerts, but this is undocumented and doesn’t work for web or blog search.  Using the “location:” parameter, you can specify any two-letter state abbreviation and some countries. For example, if you want to limit your News Alert to search New Jersey news sources, you add “location:nj” to the query. For more than you probably want to know on the undocumented (and documented) features of Google Search, the site Googleguide.com is a great resource.

Using advanced search features, here are examples of alerts Thomas Edison might set up for his business:

  • Comprehensive alert for: “thomas edison” “menlo park” OR inventor –high -school
    Since Thomas Edison is a fairly common name, this refines the name search by only including pages that also have the phrase “menlo park” or the keyword “inventor”. And since there are a lot of high schools named “Thomas Edison”, it also excludes pages that include the words “high” and “school”.
  • Comprehensive alert for: link:ge.com
    This alerts to any new inbound links to ge.com.
  • Comprehensive alert for: “edison electric light company” OR “edison general electric” OR “general electric”
    This alerts to any mentions of one of Thomas Edison’s companies.
  • Blog alert for: “ac current”
    Thomas Edison was a vehement opponent of alternating current, and would surely have wanted to know of any blog mentioning it, so that he could proselytize his preference for direct current.

I have found that sometimes I need to tweak my alerts by adding and excluding keywords, to prevent getting too much information. For example, you may need to put the town your business is in as a keyword if your business name is fairly common.

Lastly, I prefer to view my alerts as RSS feeds in Google reader versus getting them as emails. This is too big a topic to cover here, but if you are already subscribing to RSS feeds in Google Reader, iGoogle, My Yahoo, Netvibes, or another RSS reader, you may want to give it a try.

The value of an idea lies in the using of it. – Thomas A. Edison

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Two Octobers’ Local

Online Marketing Guide.

Fake Reviews and the Power of Scumbags

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the impact an unhappy customer can have on a business by writing negative reviews on sites like Yelp and Citysearch. While I suggested that businesses should actively solicit positive reviews, I also believe that unhappy customers should be heard, and in fact that giving unhappy customers a voice is good for your business. But this is different.

Unfortunately, there are scumbag marketers that generate fake reviews, both positive and negative. This is highlighted in a recent story involving Peak Studios, based here in Boulder. The story is long and involved, so I will summarize it here. Someone from Peak Studios gained the attention of Scott Hendison by attempting to post a spammy self-promo on a forum Scott moderates. The attempted post pissed off Scott – not good for Peak Studios, since Scott is a well-connected SEO expert and a self-admitted hothead. Scott did some investigating, and found that Peak Studios was in the practice of generating fake reviews on behalf of clients. This offense is hearsay, but Scott has documented his findings on his blog and I believe his accusations to be true. Scott described what Peak Studios was doing, and his exposé ended up ranking just below Peak Studios in Google for the search “peak studios”. This anecdote is particularly telling, both because it describes a marketing firm that was unrepentant about their fake reviews and comments, and because it shows what can happen if such activity is exposed.

If your business is the victim of fake, negative reviews, I’m sorry to say that there is little you can do. Some sites will remove reviews if you can prove that they are fake, but providing such proof is very difficult. The best you can do is to encourage legitimate dialog about your business, and thereby drown out the scumbags. And you can and should avoid the fate of Peak Studio’s clients:

Stay in Control of Your Marketing Activities

What I recommended in my previous post was that businesses ask customers for input in the form of reviews on 3rd party web sites. If you serve your customers well, the majority of your feedback will be positive. As a  business, this is very much within your power to do. But an outsourced marketing firm doesn’t have a relationship with your customers, so will often resort to tactics that are at a minimum less effective, and at worst could damage your reputation. A good marketing partner will work closely with you and provide full visibility in to what they are doing on your behalf. And trust your instincts: if a marketing activity smells fishy, it probably is.

I’d also like to include a shoutout to Sebastien Provencher, who proposes a solution to the problem of scumbags and reviews: Social Graph-Based Commenting Systems. With the ever-increasing importance of reviews on the web, Sebastien’s solution seems both good and inevitable.

[edit: please see the comment section below for clarification from Scott Hendison on his initial and ongoing frustration with Peak Studios]