Prepare to Protect Your Online Reputation Before It's Under Attack The content you put online now could save your reputation if you or your company are ever in the news for unwelcome reasons.

By Carol Roth

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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Everyone knows that businesses need to manage their reputation when something bad happens, whether it's a negative Twitter comment, a poor Yelp review or something on a bigger scale. However, when crises strike, there is no magic pill that will save your online reputation.

That's why you need to take a proactive stance when it comes to digital reputation management. Your first impression online or any negative perception, whether accurate or not, can jeopardize your company's appeal to current and future customers and partners, ultimately impacting its growth.

The court of public opinion is not fair but often final. To that end, here are a few steps that can you can take right now to make sure that your business is well protected when it needs to be.

Related: Take Control of Your Personal Reputation Online With These 6 Tips

Build a digital fortress today.

Your first step to managing your company's reputation is to create online content, and a lot of it, while you control the narrative. Grant Greenberg, director of digital reputation management for Lumentus, a DRM expert firm, says, "The key is for companies and executives to start building their digital fortress now, before a crisis occurs. By proactively telling your story, you can tell your own story instead of letting others tell it for you."

By building up this digital fortress of sorts, you have an opportunity to own a large chunk of your search results. Plus, as Greenberg mentioned, it makes it much easier to push down that negative story in online search rankings, if and when a personal issue, legal affair or cyber hack it happens.

To build that fortress, create and submit compelling and relevant content to blogs and websites. That does double duty, first by providing customer referrals but also adding DRM protection. Greenberg adds, "90 percent of people don't make it past the first page of search results, so you want to be sure that you and your company's great work is the first and only thing that people see.

Related: 5 Ways to Protect Your Brand's Online Reputation

Optimize your content.

To be great, content it must be optimized. Greenberg advises his clients to answer questions like: "What are the relevant search terms associated with you and your business? What insight can you offer?" Whether it's on a timely topic or your take on a passion project, you need to establish your credibility as a thought leader in the field. This optimization will also help to put your good credentials in front of breaking news online in times of crisis.

Realize that you don't fully control your privacy.

There are certain industries, including financial services (think investment banks, hedge funds and private equity firms) that try to remain under the radar for a variety of reasons, from eluding the competition to the low profile preferences of their executives. However, whether your company likes it or not, people are now searching about a business and its executives before deciding whether to buy or take their business elsewhere.

Trying to stay anonymous can backfire. If something goes wrong, or is even perceived to have gone wrong, perception will become reality online. Your desire to be anonymous can lead to negative press controlling the narrative about your company. Instead, be proactive instead of private.

Focus on management, too.

An analysis by the Lumentus SEO team found that from July 2014 through July 2015, searches for executives by name were up 50 percent from prior years. That means that managing the online reputations of individuals associated with your company, especially key management, is just as important as the management of the company's reputation.

"Companies and their executives must own all of their digital assets," says Greenberg. "Even if they aren't active on social media, they should own their handles, have profiles on company websites and work with their teams to create relevant content."

If you are a solopreneur, you are the company and your profile will have a major impact on your business, too.

Enlisting a DRM company to help you to create policies, evaluate the online footprint of your executives and create thought leadership around key management will pay off both offensively and defensively for your business.

Think beyond business.

When thinking about building a content trail, it often makes sense to think about content other than purely business. For example, "Many business and executives have charities they care deeply about and are heavily involved in," says Greenberg. "Talking about those passions is key to humanizing a company and engaging the potential customer."

From charitable associations to hobbies and interests, adjunct content creation can bring another element to your business. Just be careful and stray away from polarizing issues like politics that can end up doing more harm than good.

Taking control of your digital reputation today is not just good business, but it's a form of insurance for when that negative story inevitably happens. Your positive content will continue to rank high and push the negative stories to the ladder pages of search results, while also working to prevent old news from creeping back up to haunt you.

Related: 12 Things Successful People Never Reveal About Themselves at Work

Wavy Line
Carol Roth

Entrepreneur, TV host and small business expert

Carol Roth is the creator of the Future File™ legacy planning system, a “recovering” investment banker, business advisor, entrepreneur and best-selling author. She is also a reality TV show judge, media contributor and host of Microsoft’s Office Small Business Academy. A small business expert, Roth has worked with companies of all sizes on everything from strategy to content creation and marketing to raising capital. She’s been a public company director and invests in mid-stage companies, as well.

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