Article

Protecting your Reputation Onlne

March 2009, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by J.D. Rucker - Also by this author

<>How often do you search Google and the other search engines for your dealership name? Weekly? Monthly? Rarely? You should be doing it often. Your potential customers do. It's actually the most important keyword for a dealership. More people will find you by your name than any other search term, regardless of how strong your SEO or SEM is. Owning the top spots and managing what happens on the rest of the front page are extremely important elements in making sure you're not missing opportunities.

The reviews are coming. In fact, in many cases they are already here. Taking the steps necessary to defend your reputation and make it stronger on the search engines could be the difference between you getting a sale and your competitors getting that sale.

What is Search Engine Reputation Management (SERM)?
In short, it is making sure that everything on the front page of the search engine results for your name is positive. A full-fledged SERM campaign is more complex than that, but it's a start. When people search for your name, they are looking for your Web site, as well as anything that is being said about you. More people are reading reviews by other "users" of a service, product or company to help them make an informed buying decision.

Web sites like DealerRater.com, RipoffReport.com, MerchantCircle.com and ComplaintsBoard.com have had a tremendous impact on the information that search engines offer about car dealers. They are often optimized exceptionally well and have the ability to derail a sale before a potential customer even visits your Web site.

"These complaint sites have such high traffic they can often rank right under a dealer's Web site on a search for their name," said Brian Pasch of Dealer-SEO.com. "Due to the proximity of these sites to your dealer listing they can't be ignored."

Search engine reputation management uses several different techniques to remove, improve, or drive the listings off the first page altogether. It is also designed to take positive Web properties such as lead generators or strong reviews and move them up on these same searches.

Make it Right
Often, the best thing a dealership can do with a bad listing is make it right. People will often put a bad review on a ratings site or even their own Web site or blog after having a bad experience with a dealership. The easiest way to take care of this is to contact the disgruntled individual and make it right with them. Sometimes, the best referral is the one who started off as a complaint.

When a disgruntled customer posts something to these sites or their own sites, a positive resolution will prompt them to remove their listing or even make it a good report.

Have it Removed
Some of these Web sites offer ways for merchants to challenge the bad reviews. Perhaps it was not real, but rather made up by a competitor. Sometimes, the customer's expectations were unrealistic. Other times, they are simply being abusive for other reasons.

Not all ratings Web sites offer this option, but for the ones that do, you should make sure to take advantage of it if your claim is valid.

Bury it with Positives
Many of these sites use average ratings as their primary focus. If a dealership gets one bad review and 10 good reviews, the overall number will be high enough to keep it listed on the search results. It is very important to monitor it, as a handful of reviews can come in and ruin the score.

If you have a happy customer, ask them to write a brief review. Many car dealers already do this with their CSI surveys. Why not ask the truly happy customers to do this on review sites as well? They can actually have more impact than the CSI scores in the long run.

Push it Off the Page
If all else fails, you can always use good old search engine optimization to sweep your issues under the rug. Web sites that utilize multiple domains, such as www.HolmesHonda.com, are ideally suited for this. Since each individual tab is its own domain, it has the ability to rank for many different keywords, including the dealership's name.

Microsites are another opportunity, but since a truly effective microsite is unbranded, this may not be the best solution. A dealership blog and social networks can all be optimized to rank higher than the complaints. Once a complaint is pushed down to the second page, it practically doesn't exist as the volume of people actually seeing the report drops dramatically once it's on page two.

Regardless of how you do it, the important thing is that you (or your Web site provider and marketing firm) manage your search engine reputation. You won't even know what you're missing if you don't.

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