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No hiring manager aims for average employees. They want the crème de la crème, top performers who will stay with the company for a long time. To attract those candidates, you need to build an employer brand that speaks to their needs.

According to Gallup, highly qualified candidates look for very specific qualities in a potential employer. You won’t find salary, benefits, or free coffee on their list. Instead, the most desirable candidates want to work for a company that:

• Aligns with their personal values
• Challenges them
• Helps them grow
• Has a great reputation

In other words, top talent cares more about experience and intangibles. So much so, in fact, that one in three people have turned down a job because the company had a bad reputation online.

What’s Your Online Reputation?

In general, your brand’s reputation is the sum total of the opinions and ideas people hold about your company based on the actions and statements of your employees and stakeholders. Your online reputation is a more specific subset of your total brand reputation, based largely on the sentiment present in online searches of your company — especially the first page of search results on Google.

Ideally, your overall brand reputation and your online reputation should align, but that’s not always the case. For example, a business may be well respected in the community and loved by its customers and employees, but it may also have a very thin digital footprint, including one social media profile, no active presence on review platforms, and no local press. In that scenario, if even a single employee were to leave a negative review, it would likely show up on the company’s first page of Google search results. Even though that review would only reflect the opinion of one person, it would stand out like a sore thumb, painting that business as a bad place to work.

Another example might include a lawsuit initiated by a former employee that appears in the brand’s search results. The truth might be that this individual was underperforming for years and terminated for good reason, but even if the accuser eventually withdraws the complaint, the negative press could remain on the first page of Google.

How Online Reputation Impacts Recruiting

There are a lot of ways that negative content can damage a company’s online reputation, but negative employee reviews are among the most devastating when it comes to recruiting. As mentioned earlier, people are less likely to accept a job offer if a company has a poor reputation, but that’s not the only headache a negative online reputation can cause.

Increased Cost Per Hire

During the hiring process, candidates make an incredible number of small decisions. At the most basic level, they have to decide to:

• Open your job ad
• Google your company
• Read online reviews
• Submit an application
• Respond to your interview invitation
• Show up to the interview
• Accept the job

Every decision is what’s known as a “veto point,” where candidates may decide to withdraw their applications. Although this decision tree is fairly linear, candidates may unearth new information at any stage that causes them to rethink their decision to apply. In fact, a candidate could conceivably make it all the way to an in-person interview before they get serious about Googling your company or reading employee reviews.

In other words, your recruiting team could invest hours in vetting applicants, holding meetings, and even conducting interviews, only for a candidate to suddenly drop out because they found some deal-breaking content in your search results.

A leaky pipeline means you’ll need to spend more money on advertising and promotion to increase your initial pool of applicants in order to hire the desired number of people. You’ll also need to invest more time vetting and interviewing to account for the frequent dropouts. Moreover, you might also need to increase your compensation offers to convince skeptical candidates to come aboard. All told, Harvard Business Review found that a company with a bad reputation spends 10 percent more per hire. That’s roughly $4,723 per hire, based on average US salaries.

Lower Quality Candidates

In addition to spending more money on recruiting, you may also find that the people who accept your offers are not the top performers you had hoped to hire. Candidates might only accept your offers because they were turned down by other employers. They may not really want to work for you, so they’ll coast along and drive production down until something better comes along.

Those employee turnover expenses are no laughing matter: A CAP study found the cost to replace an individual employee ranges anywhere from 20 percent to 200 percent of the employee’s salary, depending on their role.

Longer Times to Hire

Finally, if your reputation makes it hard to find candidates, it will take you much longer to hire for critical roles. That can snowball into delayed productivity, stalled customer contracts, overworked employees, careless mistakes, and even more bad reviews from employees and customers.

How to Handle Bad Reviews and Fix Your Online Reputation

Your online reputation impacts your recruiting, but there are concrete steps you can take to overcome the problem. Specifically, there are reactive strategies to deal with negative employee reviews and proactive strategies to cultivate a more positive online presence.

1. Flag Fake Reviews on Glassdoor

If someone posts a false negative review on Glassdoor about your company, you have the right to contest it. Be warned, however, that Glassdoor is very strict about these types of requests. You must be prepared to provide ample proof the review is fake if you want it removed.

That said, it’s fairly straightforward to report a bad review. Simply click the flag next to the review in question and choose a reason from the dropdown menu:

Figure 1

The vast majority of bad Glassdoor reviews, like it or not, adhere to the platform’s guidelines. That means you can’t simply report your way to a better reputation. This tactic can and should only be used to clean up truly false reviews.

2. Bury Bad Glassdoor Reviews in Google

In almost every case, the best approach to handling bad reviews is to push them off the first page of your Google search results. Various studies have shown that more than 90 percent of people never leave the first page of Google when searching, so the deeper you push bad reviews, the less likely it is they will be seen.

This process isn’t easy. It takes time, expertise, and a coordinated effort to bury negative results. It usually entails a massive amount of content creation and calls for a deep understanding of search engine optimization.

That said, there are some best practices you can use to suppress negative search results if you’re willing to put in the effort:

• Establish and optimize company social media profiles: Social profiles rank well in branded keyword searches, so your business should have an active presence on the big four: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. Not only will these profiles help push down negative content in your search results, but they’re also an excellent channel through which to engage with prospective talent.

• Optimize your website for employee reviews: If you create and optimize a page on your website to showcase employee reviews, you’ll be able to rank for branded review queries. When you control the content, you can highlight the best reviews and own your narrative.

• Start an employer brand blog: Even if you already have a blog on your website, you can start another one specifically dedicated to building and showcasing your employer brand. This asset will occupy a valuable spot in your search landscape while also bringing more prospects to your pipeline. The most important thing to remember is to optimize the blog for your brand’s name so Google understands that you own and operate it.

• Claim profiles on multiple employer review platforms: Don’t rely on just one review platform. All of these websites rank very well in Google, so it’s in your best interest to claim profiles on all of them and optimize them to rank. There are dozens beyond Glassdoor, including Indeed, Fairygodboss, and Comparably.

3. Give Employees a Voice

Negative reviews aren’t always the product of unscrupulous employees. Sometimes, your people are making legitimate points and airing real grievances. Rather than overreacting, consider what you can learn from their feedback.

On the other hand, it’s even better to listen to your employees before they rant about you online. There are numerous ways to gather that feedback. Managers could schedule regular one-on-one meetings with each of their direct reports. HR could send out company-wide surveys specifically asking how the employee experience could be improved.

Don’t just send out surveys and ignore the responses. Following up and following through are just as important as gathering feedback in the first place. If employees see that your company makes a genuine effort to address their concerns, they’ll see your organization as a great place to work and write positive reviews that boost your reputation.

4. Ask Employees to Write Reviews

Finally, you can directly encourage your employees to write reviews. Most team members would be happy to spread the word about your business. All you need to do is send out an occasional reminder.

People are generally more likely to leave reviews of their own volition when they’re upset about something. By actively seeking feedback, you make it more likely that your satisfied employees will feel motivated to share their thoughts, too.

Emphasize that all reviews are anonymous, and remind team members that each review does help the company to attract new talent and continue to grow. Just be sure to adhere to website guidelines when soliciting reviews. Some sites have rules about how often employees can leave feedback, and most platforms prohibit offering any incentives for reviews.

A company’s online reputation is often overlooked in recruiting efforts, yet it’s an increasingly decisive factor in the decisions of highly qualified candidates.

It’s crucial to think of reputation management as an ongoing initiative. Don’t wait for problems to arise before you start improving your digital image, and don’t stop once the first page of your search results is cleaned up.

Jonas Sickler writes about online reputation management, enterprise SEO, and marketing.

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