What are others saying about you and your company online? Do you know where to look?

With so many online channels available to consumers and competitors, it's time you took control of your online reputation. Just follow these seven simple steps.

1. Set up Google Alerts

Google Alerts is a good way to automatically search the Web for specific words and phrases—and to get notified when something new appears.

You can use Google Alerts for your company name, your own name, or your main keywords to keep abreast of what's being said about you and your industry online.

2. Monitor mentions of your company name on Twitter

Even if you don't want to tweet regularly, it's still a good idea to have a Twitter account for two reasons:

  1. You should claim your own name/company name to stop someone else from doing it.
  2. You should look for mentions of your company or your products.

Someone could be badmouthing you on Twitter without good reason or complaining about your service. People now expect brands to be on Twitter and to quickly respond to them when they're unhappy.

3. Write optimized blog articles

Not being talked about at all can be just as bad as being sometimes criticized. If you Google your name (or company name) and find very few results on page one, it's time to take action.

Writing blog posts optimized for your name and business name will help populate the search engine results with positive content, keeping you visible online.

On the flip side, if anyone has written derogatory remarks about you or your business that appear on page one of the search results, writing optimized positive pieces will help relegate these results to page two or beyond, where hardly anyone will see them.

4. Register for industry and consumer forums

Another way to look after your online reputation is to register for and participate in your industry's important trade and consumer forums.

Because the Internet is so accessible, many people post their complaints online rather than contact a company directly, so it's worthwhile to monitor mentions of your name.

Unscrupulous competitors may also try to use industry forums to put your business down, so you also need to be aware of that potential threat to your reputation.

5. Appear in the press and industry publications

You can significantly improve your reputation online by being featured in the press and relevant industry publications.

Positioning yourself as an expert in your field can enhance others' opinions of you and make you the go-to person in your industry for journalists penning articles and looking for quotes and soundbites by experts.

6. Write and distribute press releases online

Online press releases can be quickly picked up by a range of media, and you could soon find that your release has been syndicated on many websites.

Distributing a press release online is also a great way to widen your company's reach and become known in other parts of the world.

7. Respond quickly and professionally to criticism

If you're unfortunate enough to find criticism of you or your business online, it's important (for your reputation) that you handle it in the right way.

If the information posted by your critics is untrue, then you need to contact them or the site owners to have their remarks removed as soon as possible.

When a complaint is justified, lots of people will be watching to see how you respond to it (if at all). It's important to remain calm and professional and to respond quickly; doing so will show that you care about your customers.

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Jamie Fairbairn is the founder of Search Blogger, an Internet marketing blog aimed specifically at small business owners.