As an online reputation provider, I can tell you firsthand that selling our services to new customers doesn’t require much effort.
This is largely due to the emotional state of customers who consult an online reputation management (ORM) provider. Normally they are in a state of distress and are eager to hear something positive that can be done to enhance their situation.
We live in a world where testimonials, reviews, and references can all be faked. This has led to a huge increase in fly-by-night online reputation management con artists.
I believe it’s important to show you how to separate qualified online reputation management providers from the scam artists.
This article lists basic and advanced factors to consider to identify and avoid hiring a scam ORM provider.
Basic Factors to Consider to Eliminate Scam ORM Providers
There are 7 basic factors and techniques to consider to identify scam providers that merely require a browser and good judgment.
1. Research: Google the name of the company to check to check for initial warning signs. If you are having a hard time finding it through search, that’s a red flag. Credible reputation providers typically have a decent online presence. Be on the lookout for rip-off reports, consumer alerts, or other scam warning websites.
2. Social media presence: Make sure they have active social media channels with posts that go back months/years. Fly-by-night companies will likely have a low number of followers and stock images everywhere.
3. Results guarantees: If they promise results, run. Nothing is certain on the internet, so it's incredibly difficult to predict results. If a provider promises results, view it with skepticism.
However, don't be wary of businesses that guarantee customer satisfaction. Most legitimate online reputation providers provide a customer satisfaction guarantee rather than a results guarantee.
4. Urgency: Scam artists will create urgency in their service to take advantage of your emotional state. If it sounds too good to be true, it normally is. Quick fixes such as instant de-indexing, removals, and push down services are not always possible.
Scam ORM providers know you want immediate results and will lie to you to get you to pay their retainers. Good reputation management takes time to implement and works slowly. A reputable provider will encourage you to do research and sleep on it.
5. Reviews that describe customers rather than focus on results. This one is tricky because you want a company that promises high-end customer satisfaction. However, a company that has no record of delivering results should be a red flag.
6. Require a wire transfer or direct deposit into their bank accounts. These are nonrefundable and there is no way to dispute the charge other than small claims court.
Many reputable online reputation providers use escrow accounts for results-based projects. Escrow accounts are bank accounts that act as intermediaries, ensuring a fraud-free transaction for both parties. Many also take payment up front.
7. Won't give anything away for free. Legitimate online reputation management agencies that offer free trials, free help, or free tools are less likely to scam you out of money.
Advanced Factors to Consider After Screening Potential Providers
The following are advanced screening techniques and considerations to use when vetting online reputation management experts. Many require third-party tools and more time invested on your end to evaluate how they fit as a partner with your firm.
1. Helpful and free consultation. Your ORM provider should give you detailed advice on how to improve your reputation, should you want to do it yourself, that includes a step-by-step of the work that needs to be done.
In many cases, people will want to replace unwanted content that is highly visible with preferred content. The steps leading up to this should sound like an effective strategy.
Lots of scams will say, “just trust us.” Don’t just trust someone, trust their approach and strategy.
2. Helpful Website. Online reputation management providers usually have content on their website about how to solve issues relevant to your situation. The more helpful and informative their website is, typically they the more qualified they are as a provider.
3. Patient: Veteran online reputation management providers are patient. They will take time to listen to you and your personal situation. Providers that rush you to sign contracts without fully explaining what you need are most likely trying to rip you off.
4. "White hat": Reputable ORM providers use "white hat" methods, or methods are 100% legitimate and do not break any rules or laws.
"Black hat" methods, on the other hand, are illegal. An example would be hacking a server or user account to remove negative content about your company.
Also avoid "grey hat," or shady practices that don’t necessarily break the law. These include linking articles you want removed or pushed down to sites that are totally irrelevant to its original topic, so over time Google will not associate your content with that topic.
5. Domain Authority: Legitimate ORM providers are SEO experts that practice what they preach. They should rank well and should have a website with good authority.
Use Moz’s Open Site Explorer to measure the DA of the providers you vet.
Look for a domain authority score higher than 20. Typically, these are sites that aren’t new and that have at least a few good links pointing to their site. I would even read the titles of the pages linking to them to make sure they are relevant to online reputation management.
6. Case studies. You want case studies of the companies' previous work done that shows how they:
- Address problems
- Find solutions
- Produce favorable outcomes
A provider’s case studies shouldn’t have any holes. A common hole you will see is a case study with results but no explanation of the work that helped achieve those results.
If a provider can’t explain how it did something, you should be very concerned. Nothing in this industry is proprietary or secret.
7. Useful Videos. Online reputation experts usually have good videos that discuss different problems and corresponding solutions. For example, we have a video that goes over how to deal with bad Yelp reviews.
Videos provide evidence of how an ORM agency can help with common reputation issues.
Consider Multiple Factors and Make An Informed Decision About An Online Reputation Management Provider
Once you consider these factors, you will likely find an expert online reputation management company that's right for your business.
Don’t let your emotions get in the way of making smart and informed decisions when it comes to hiring a competent firm. Even if these professionals are telling you things you might not want to hear, I can promise you that the truth is better than convenient lies.
About the Author
Curtis Boyd is the CEO and founder of Future Solutions Media, an online reputation management firm based in Los Angeles. Curtis enjoys writing, helping business owners, and traveling with his family.