In their most recent Retail E-commerce Sales Report, the U.S. Department of Commerce reported that e-commerce accounted for 8.1% of total retail sales. As e-commerce continues to grow, so does the need for individuals and businesses to take control of their presence online. The importance of maintaining your digital reputation and building positive relationships with customers has led many marketing firms to include Online Reputation Management (ORM) services as part of their offering. For individuals and companies not already utilizing an ORM firm, it can be challenging to find the right ORM firm.

Here are some “red flags” to be aware of when investigating ORM firms:

Guaranteed First-Page Rankings

For the ORM novice, guaranteed ranking on page one can seem like the be-all and end-all solution. This deceptive promise couldn’t be further from the truth. Ranking within the top pages of the search results is never guaranteed. A combination of several factors influence ranking movement, including some external factors that cannot be controlled. Moreover, search engines are constantly improving their search algorithms, which impact search engine results on a daily basis.

Properly managing your online reputation requires a deep understanding of these factors and the ability to adapt to external changes. Ranking in the top search results also takes time, and typically cannot be achieved with the flip of a switch. Building authority for web properties is executed over a period of time. A qualified ORM firm will provide you with the knowledge and strategies needed to give your web properties the best chance at ranking in the top search results.

Generating Reviews

Businesses can no longer deny the importance of reviews. Whether you’re a local business or a top internet retailer, reviews have become a major influencing factor in consumers purchasing decisions. Because negative reviews can drive your potential customers away to competitors, part of managing your online reputation is being able to manage reviews. Many ORM firm services include review monitoring and management, however some may even offer to generate reviews.

This can be tricky. Generating reviews can be done in a natural way, such as following up with customers directly to ask for reviews, but should never involve creating fake reviews. Many firms who promise to generate reviews hire freelancers to publish fake reviews about your business. These reviews can even end up duplicated across several web platforms, negatively impacting your business’s credibility. In some extreme cases, firms actually own review sites where they themselves publish fake negative reviews before seeking out the customer and offering their ORM services, guaranteeing the removal of these negative reviews or guaranteeing positive reviews. If a firm offers to generate reviews, ask for clarity on their process, and if you’re still unclear, it may be best to avoid entirely.

Spammy Content Distribution

Creating strong, positive, optimized content is a key element in managing your online reputation. While content creation is a common service offered by ORM firms, where that content is distributed and published is equally important.

Fraudulent firms will take advantage of customers by publishing the same content on low-quality sites on a mass scale. Many times customers are unaware this has happened because they rely on that ORM firm to monitor their mentions and placements. Unsuspecting customers are paying for unique content on quality sites, but instead, their content becomes spam, duplicated across the internet. Be wary when you see offers for “high impact content” published on “trusted sites.” Similar to the scenario noted above for review generation, some firms own a plethora of of low quality sites that they lump in with their handful of “trusted sites,” where they are able to control the content. Ask detailed questions about the content creation and distribution process. Know where your content will be published and that those placements are relevant to your business.

Removal of Negative Content

The promise to remove negative content from the search engine results is the most common ploy used by fraudulent firms to attract prospective customers. Without legal grounds, the ability to remove a piece of negative content from the internet is generally not possible.

To put this concept into perspective, this would imply a firm has the power to delete content from millions of different websites and social media platforms without the owner’s permission. In fact, some firms claim they possess a software that can achieve this. Sound too good to be true? That’s because it is. Some fraudulent firms even own an arsenal of websites they claim to have a close relationship with and are able to remove negative content from. What customers don’t know is that in many instances, these sites have either been created by the firm themselves, or the firm has an established financial relationships with the owners of the sites, allowing the firm to remove content anytime.

Google will, however, remove content from the search results in only a few scenarios. Content will be removed by Google if it includes: a valid legal requests (ex. copyright violations), child sexual abuse imagery, or sensitive personal information not intended for the public. You can learn more about Google’s removal policies here.

Before hiring an online reputation management firm: do your research, ask questions and be sure to reference the above points during the process. You many also consider asking for references or a case study that will allow you to determine the firm’s quality and credibility. For more information, visit our homepage to learn how to repair your online reputation.