Though you may hold the administrative keys to your website, you are no longer fully in control over your Online Reputation. Sure, you can build a gorgeous website, load it with credible information and professional photos, and showcase your products and services in the best possible light, but your customers now have a voice and they’re increasingly using it on social media and review sites.

Major online retailers including Amazon and eBay include online reviews prominently with each product they sell. Look at any product description on any major retailer’s site and you will likely see consumer reviews prominently displayed. Most sites use a five star rating system and provide an aggregate value such as 3.5 or 5 stars representing the product’s overall rating. They also typically display the number of reviews in total along with a hyperlink so that you can read each review at your leisure.

Some sites will display the most helpful reviews as voted by other consumers alongside the product description while others will show the most recent ones. Why do they do this? To help consumers determine which product to buy.

It’s not just products that get the five star (or less) treatment. Services are fair game, too. Sites such as Google, Yelp, TripAdvisor and Facebook are popular destinations for consumers to share their experiences with businesses of all types.

Virtually any business type can be reviewed including, but not limited to:

• Restaurants, Hotels
• Dentists, Doctors, Veterinarians
• Auto repair shops
• Dry cleaners
• Photographers
• Funeral homes
• Plumbers
• Contractors
• Real estate agents…

Some online review sites are specific to a given profession or category. For example, is specific to healthcare providers while TripAdvisor focuses on hotels, airlines, and travel reviews.

Not too concerned about third party review sites? You should be. Even if your prospects are not actively thinking about visiting a review site when looking up your company on a search engine, they will most likely see plenty of reviews about your company in the search results page.

In fact, Google may even display a score for your company based on the reviews it has linked to you! Even if Google doesn’t have any listing for your company on file, it may list review sites such as Yelp or Facebook prominently on the results page.

The screenshot above shows a Google search for Auto Repair Shops in New-York City. Notice how each business has been scored by Google? Companies have no control over Google placing its own review scores alongside their page listings. The top listings have dramatically different scores: Prestige Auto Repair approaches five stars with 286 reviews, but their competitor Cybert Car Care has a dismal 2.3 stars.

Which one would you choose? What if your site appeared with just one or two stars? It would not matter how successful an SEO campaign is if a site hits number one on Google but only has one star. This brings us to another important facet of Reputation Marketing: trust.