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(eM+C)—Have you Googled your brand lately? Did you like the results you saw? Having negative search results appear in the top 10 results of Google can be very disconcerting for a brand. It affects the sales funnel from initial organic click to sale. There are two main phases of online reputation: prevention and crisis.

An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure
Don’t have a reputation problem yet? Fantastic! However, inevitably, almost every brand faces a reputation challenge of some sort during its lifetime. Public relations practitioners encourage having a crisis communications plan in place to handle a crisis if one should arise. It can be difficult to effectively coordinate efforts during a crisis (the same is true for an online crisis). It’s best to be prepared before a crisis occurs.

Here are four tips to help your brand protect its online reputation:

1. Claim social media profiles. First and foremost, it’s important to claim your brand on various digital properties. For instance, Google often highly ranks social media profiles in brand searches. Make sure you create a social media profile for each of the following social networks: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube. Once your profiles are created, link to them via a Google+ profile page, placing the links in the “About” tab. A Google+ profile helps the search engine tie together all of the related sites to your brand.

2. Create a blog. If you don’t have a blog, start one. Blogs frequently rank highly in organic search results, as well as offer great content fodder to populate your social media profiles, helping drive website visits from multiple channels.

3. Promote the positive. Perhaps it’s our desire to be humble that holds us back from always sharing the positive about our brands. In the case of online reputation building and protection, don’t hold back! If your brand is performing community service, share that information. Share. the positive things your brand is doing in a way that’s search engine optimization friendly — e.g., via press releases, additional web pages on your site, video of events, etc.

4. Monitor your brand and reputation. Finally, monitor your brand. There are a range of tools available for monitoring, but many of the free or low-cost tools do a great job. Google Alerts and Giga Alerts are email alert services that monitor specific keywords (e.g., your brand name) and email you a digest of what they find daily. Trackur, from online reputation management (ORM) expert Andy Beal, offers a free trial and plans starting at only $18 per month.

Fixing a Broken Online Reputation?
If you already have negative entries for your brand keywords, how can you begin to fix the problem? First, follow the four preventative steps outlined above. See how far some simple changes can take you.

Next, consider hiring a consultant to help. However, remember that ORM isn’t SEO. Online reputation first and foremost is your reputation and how it’s presented. Some ORM challenges can be daunting. You may need to hire a PR professional to assist with offline reputation issues, but many PR firms aren’t experienced in ORM — nor are most SEO firms. Be sure that the firm you hire knows ORM and has proven results.

Janet Driscoll Miller is president and CEO of Search Mojo, a full-service search engine marketing firm specializing in SEO and online reputation management services.