How much does online reputation management cost, and what’s the best solution for small businesses?
In this 9-minute read:
- How much does online reputation management cost?
- Why is reputation management vital for small businesses?
- How much does it cost to remove negative content?
- What’s the best reputation management company for small businesses?
- Advantages and disadvantages of top three approaches to reputation management
Online reputation management is the cost of doing business today, including for small, local shops. This is because 97% of today’s customers search online for local businesses, and they trust the internet to tell them which businesses are good and which they should avoid.
Your business’s online star rating, or “reputation score,” is the first contact most of your customers have with your business, and if it’s not up to par, you’re going to lose those customers to someone else.
It may seem unfair that online review sites like Google My Business, TripAdvisor, Facebook, and Yelp should have so much power over your bottom line, but unfortunately that’s what every business has to deal with in the digital age.
The good news is, if you are working your hardest to give customers a seamless buying experience and a quality product or service, the majority of your reviews will likely be very positive.
However, it is vital that you (or someone whom you hire) take the time to monitor what’s being said about you online, and be actively engaged in getting more good reviews and minimizing the harm done by any negative ones. This is the essence of online reputation management for small businesses.
How much should small businesses spend on marketing?
Since small business owners are the world’s busiest people, reputation monitoring services or online reputation management companies have popped up to handle this process for businesses without the time or staff to do it themselves.
In our small business marketing success guide, Womply recommends that small businesses dedicate roughly 7-8% of gross revenue to marketing, and online reputation management or monitoring services, should you choose to pay someone to do it for you, needs to account for a portion of that.
Why is online reputation management considered part of marketing?
As noted earlier, the first thing many of your customers see when searching for businesses like yours online is your “star rating.” This is de facto advertising for your business, even though you haven’t paid for it. Your online reputation is a virtual billboard, broadcasting a cumulative judgement of the quality of your business to all who come into contact with it.
This can be a very good thing, if you are one of the lucky businesses who seem to attract a lot of fresh, positive reviews, or it can be a challenge to overcome, if you have a less-than-stellar online reputation.
For example, one Harvard study found that restaurants with a 2.5 star rating (out of five) were 25 percent more likely to close. For restaurants with 4.5 to 5 stars, the risk increase dropped to 0 percent.
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How much does online reputation management cost?
Okay, let’s get to the goodies. How much can you expect to pay for professional online reputation management? Short answer: a lot. However, it’s complicated because very few of the online reputation management companies we queried would provide up-front quotes, and online research produces somewhat outdated, nebulous results.
Understandably, when researching reputation management pricing, actual hard numbers are difficult to find on the net, as few companies want to be nailed down to a certain price point, particularly without knowing the particulars of a business’s online reputation problem.
However, from what we’ve seen where small business budgets are concerned, pricing for online reputation monitoring or repair varies from “prohibitive” to “way too much” to “OMG!”
Web search results for online reputation management pricing
Let’s go over the search results available on the web first, and then we’ll get to the pricing responses we received from companies directly when researching for this article.
Most currently available search results will cite Forbes and PCWorld articles from around 2013, which obviously isn’t ideal when shopping around, but it can give you some idea of what to expect. PCWorld says that “ReputationDefender… charges between $3000 and $10,000 to monitor your reputation” and that RemoveYourName and Integrity Defenders are a little more reasonable, with pricing starting at $3000 and $630, respectively. It’s unclear whether this is a monthly cost or a one-time fee, and remember that this data is several years old.
The PCWorld article also reminds us that “quoted prices are just a starting point,” and that as an example, ReputationDefender charges extra for removing unwanted content from the web.
On that subject, Varun Sharma, Growth Manager at UpReports, says in his Quora response that he has charged between $700-$5000, depending on “project complexity.” Other variables also have an impact on cost, such as whether negative links are from high authority sites and/or media sites, whether you’re working in developed or undeveloped countries, and the number of negative links you’re trying to remove. All of these add complexity and additional cost.
These particular responses are in reference to minimizing the damage of negative links, so it is ostensibly more of a “reputation repair” pricing estimate than a more standard reputation management monthly fee, and it’s unclear what such a service would cost from UpReports. However, Sharma’s answer gives you some idea of what it can cost to push down negative results.
If you ask Google what reputation management services cost, you’ll likely get sources citing the Forbes article: “Depending on how much cyber-scrubbing needs to be done, these services can either be free or cost upwards of $1,000 a month.”
We aren’t sure which services Forbes found that were “free”—we weren’t able to find anyone that would perform such a service pro bono. Forbes stated (remember, this is 2013 data) that Reputation Defender “starts at $250 per month.”
We’ll have to take their word for it.
Customized pricing quotes from online reputation management companies
In researching this article we reached out to several of the top search results for reputation management (and “reputation repair”). Most companies told us they couldn’t provide us with pricing quotes, and based on responses from several of the popular reputation management and/or “content removal” companies, it may be difficult to nail them down on pricing without providing specifics as to the exact problem you want solved.
A typical response from a reputation management company that says they specialize in content removal: “If you can provide me with details about what information you would like removed, I would be happy to provide you with a quote.”
This is understandable, and we appreciate their responsiveness.
After some some back-and-forth with one reputation management company, they provided us with “ballpark” numbers for monthly, basic business reputation monitoring. They offer reputation management for businesses at 4 different price points, the lowest being $999 per month and the highest at $4,500 per month, in either 6- or 12-month terms.
This company also offers “reputation repair” or “content removal,” and while they emphasized (like other companies) that the pricing and effectiveness depends on the content that needs to be removed, and they (correctly) pointed out that some things can’t be removed, they did provide rough, ballpark figures ranging from $1,500 to $3,500 as a one-time fee for this service.
Obviously, this kind of expense is better absorbed by larger companies with larger budgets, rather than small, local businesses for which $3,500 might represent their entire marketing budget for a year.
However, if you have the wherewithal and the need, this route may be the right choice for your business. Note: while we’ve provided some rough, ballpark figures of what you might expect to pay, you should obviously contact several companies directly and ask them for individual quotes based on your situation and what you are attempting to accomplish.
Let’s go over the three top options for small business reputation management, and discuss the pros and cons of each.
Three options for online reputation management for small business: cost, advantages, and disadvantages
For small businesses, there are really three ways to approach the vital task of online reputation management: 1) do it all yourself; 2) hire an online reputation management firm; or 3) use reputation management software that automates and/or simplifies the process.
Manage your business’s online reputation yourself at no cost
Some small business owners choose to manage their online reputation themselves. If you have the time and aptitude to consistently monitor and manage your business pages on all the review sites and the reviews you receive there, as well as your social media platforms, and if you have set up Google Alerts for your business, you might have reasonably good success with this approach, particularly if you don’t have a serious problem with negative online content about your business.
- Cost = Free. All it costs you is your time
- Ease of use = Moderate to difficult
- Time savings = Poor
- Effectiveness with standard reputation management tasks = Moderate to good
- Effectiveness with removing or “hiding” damaging content = Low
The advantages of doing it yourself are: you are more involved with what’s being said about your business. You may feel more connected with your customers and your responses to reviews may be more genuine. You are in complete control of the “voice” and messaging of your business. And if you have the time to spare but not the money, it might be the right choice.
The disadvantages of managing your online reputation yourself are: it takes a LOT of time, which can paradoxically make you feel more disconnected from your customers and your business. Furthermore, individual business owners generally have less expertise and success with actually removing or “hiding” damaging online content. If you are looking to remove or hide search results or other damaging content, it’s probably best to hire a firm specializing in that service. (Hint: bring money. They are not cheap.)
Hire an online reputation management company
You might choose to hire one of the various online reputation management companies to perform this task for you. There’s no easy way to determine which one might be right for you, other than by contacting them directly and discussing what services they offer and what they cost (see above for our findings on how much professional online reputation management can cost), but you can be pretty confident it won’t be inexpensive. However, for busy small business owners—particularly those with a persistent negative online content problem—it might be worth the cost.
- Cost = High, varying from several hundreds to several thousands of dollars per month (see above)
- Ease of use = Completely hands-off
- Time savings = Excellent
- Effectiveness with standard reputation management tasks = Good to excellent
- Effectiveness with removing or “hiding” damaging content = Varying/moderate*
The obvious advantages of hiring an online reputation management firm are that it takes that task completely off your plate, freeing up your time to run your business and deal with customers, and reputable companies may be more effective than the layman when attempting to remove damaging content from the net or “push down” negative search results.
The disadvantages are: high cost, and you give up control of your voice/message, as well as distancing yourself from the process. Many small business owners are reluctant to do this.
*It can be very difficult, even impossible, to actually remove negative web content, negative reviews, and negative search results. If you are looking for this service, be sure to ask about what results are guaranteed before you pony up the dough. Also, some of these “gray hat” methods may be against the usage policies of the individual review sites or regulatory organizations.
Plus, new research from Womply shows that negative online business reviews aren’t necessarily as harmful as you might think. Businesses with between 10 and 25% negative reviews make the most money!
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Use cost-effective online reputation management software
- Cost = Varies, but comparatively low to moderate
- Ease of use = Easy. You choose how involved you want to be
- Time savings = Good to excellent
- Effectiveness with standard reputation management tasks = High
- Effectiveness with removing or “hiding” damaging content = Low
The advantages of using software to manage your online business reputation are: depending on the software, you save nearly as much time as if you pay a reputation management company.
Womply’s reputation management software, for example, lets you choose how involved you wish to be in the process. You can choose to set “auto replies” to reviews, or you can just choose to be notified of each review and reply to them individually through the Womply dashboard. In either case, you’re saving a lot of time compared to managing it all yourself, and you keep control in your hands, which is huge for many business owners.
Another advantage of using software rather than hiring a professional reputation management firm is cost. While prices obviously vary, you can be fairly confident that using reputation management software will be hundreds or even thousands of dollars per month cheaper than hiring a professional firm.
There are some software solutions in the several-hundred-dollar-per-month range, but the lower end currently is around $50-100 a month. Depending on what features are included, this can be a gigantic bargain.
The right software solution can also help you do more than just monitor your online reputation. Womply, for example, provides reputation management for a very reasonable monthly price, but also offers robust business insights, CRM, and email marketing functionality for a few dollars more per month, including the first and only “pre-populated” customer list.
The right small business software can not only help you manage your online reputation, but can save you time managing your business, improve customer loyalty, and increase revenue. Fill out the form below for a free, personalized demo.
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