In the world of online marketing, there are two main options when it comes to getting people to learn about you, your brand or your services on search engines: Pay Per Click (PPC) or Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
The basic differences are obvious when you search, say Google: there's a prominent orange 'Ad' graphic next to results in the shaded areas at the top (and often on the right hand side of the page) - advertisers pay a small fee to Google when visitors click the link and visit their website.
With so-called 'organic' (or natural) results (SEO), the listings which appear underneath.
If you do a Google search for 'tea' (from my part of the UK), you'll see an advert for Whittard at the top of the page under which is the Wikipedia entry.
There's an excellent article by Steve Floyd from AXZM about why and/or when and the pros and cons of PPC vs SEO. It's the simplest explanation I've seen and well worth a read.
When it comes to reputation, my view is that there's a greater benefit for organisations to primarily use natural search techniques rather than 'paid for' search, as it suggests - rightly or wrongly - that they are actively invested in providing useful information about their particular area of activity, rather than going for the 'quick fix' option of buying eyes.
Of course, things are not that simple, especially in highly contested areas like financial services, healthcare or small business. These are multi-billion turnover areas, so competition is tough.
In those areas, it's customary to see companies using a combination of PPC, SEO and other marketing strategies.
On balance, I'm firmly in the SEO camp, as I believe that ultimately, natural search results create more value for both organisations and existing and potential customers by their longevity and relevance.
Take a look at the infographic below which clearly illustrates the benefits of SEO compared to PPC.
Along with the low barriers to entry compared to setting up shop on the high street, there are rich rewards to be gained in selling goods and services on the internet. Recent research from eMarketer predicts a 17% increase in business-to-consumer (B2C) ecommerce this year, with worldwide sales expected to reach $1.2 TRILLION.
However, the 'bonanza' has a flip-side. These days, the 'typical' customer is just as likely to be based in Bangalore as in Boston, and wherever they may live, consumers may feel entitled to demand that companies deliver on their promises. A global customer base means a diversity of opinions, so dealing with negative reviews for late delivery, poor communication or shoddy goods, is probably the biggest reputation management challenge faced by online retailers on a daily basis.
Aside from making a direct complaint through a company's website, an unsatisfied customer has the choice of going to one or more of the large number of review sites set up to enable them to have their say.
Of course, not all negative reviews are 'legitimate.' Rivals have been known to trash a competitor's reputation while posing as a genuine purchaser orpaying others to do so.
Ultimately, there's very little a company can do to prevent someone from saying something nasty about their brand or products, except to focus on providing excellent service, constantly adapting and continually listening to its customers - even the angry ones.
Reviews are relevant and important to businesses, as revealed in a recent survey by Bright Local, and illustrated in the infographic below, which comes from digital branding agency, Blue Polo Interactive.
Thoughts on customer service, communication and, of course, reputation management.