From the July 2006 issue of Entrepreneur

The good news is, it's easy to get exposure to millions of web users. That's the bad news, too. Are you checking yourself out online? You might be shocked at what's being said. Remember to use internet marketing to build your brand, protect it and repair it when it's been burned--your sales are at stake.

In your quest to reach new customers online, you might be overlooking the most profitable group of prospects: those who are seeking out your brand. Every month, you should use the most popular search engines to look up the names of your company, products or services, and key executives. These names are part of your brand. Study the first few pages of results, since that's what your prospects, potential partners and the press will do when considering your business.

If your website isn't at the top of the search results for the main names associated with your business, search engine marketing should be your first step. Use pay-per-click for instant visibility until your search engine optimization campaign kicks in.

But don't stop there. Protect your brand by distributing periodic press releases through online newswire services, write articles for related websites, launch a link campaign, and keep a blog--all with the intention of creating online sticking power for the names associated with your business.

Repairing your brand if it's been burned is the most important action. Ask executives to resolve outdated or unprofessional mentions of them on the web wherever possible. Communicate immediately with affiliates about their unauthorized use of your brand names. Your competitors should receive a letter from your legal team if they misuse your brands. And ask your customer-service department to resolve consumer complaints on the web.

Unfortunately, not all third-party criticisms will be removed. But it's in your best interest to continually monitor your reputation on the web and execute an online PR campaign to shine a more positive light on your company. Your future customers are watching.

Speaker and freelance writer Catherine Seda owns an internet marketing agency and is author of Search Engine Advertising.