Word of mouth is a powerful tool, especially when the word of mouth is really spread by online reviews. Just a few years ago, a customer that had a bad experience at your place of business could do a small amount of damage to your reputation by telling his or her friends and family. Today, one disgruntled customer leaving a review on a popular site can cause an enormous headache in regards to reputation management.  The best way to avoid the pitfalls of online reviews is to establish positive reviews before a problem happens.

Popular review sites, such as Google, Yelp, Insider Pages and Yahoo! Local, can influence your business in several ways. Negative comments can keep new customers from giving your business a try. Positive reviews can not only attract new customers, but also influence your search engine rankings. In short, the more positive reviews you have online, the better off you will be.

Establishing a powerful online reputation is as simple as asking your friends and family to take a few minutes to leave reviews or 5 star ratings on your behalf. Do not ask multiple people to leave reviews all at once, instead spread the reviews out over a couple of weeks. Consistent positive ratings on review sites will often help bump your listing to the top of the search results.

These positive reviews and 5 star ratings also provide a base line to balance out any negative reviews that may happen in the future. Most review sites average your star ratings, meaning the positive reviews offset the occasional negative review. A company with no ratings that receives a 1 star rating online will be stuck with a 1 star rating, but a company with 100 5 star ratings will only have a 4.9 star rating after a bad review.

Once you have established your online reputation, you must maintain it. This involves running a search for your company name and checking each review site individually every week or two. If a negative review appears, take the time to write a well thought out response. This will show other potential customers that you cared enough to publically apologize and try to make amends, which may just win you new customers on principle alone.