It’s well known that traveling salesman used to roam from town to town in the Old West selling all kinds of snake oil tonics that promised to heal the sick, make the meek more bold and handsome, and even bring good luck and riches. Naturally, most of these claims were completely bogus… so how did these hucksters get away with it?

For one thing, people didn’t know a lot about pharmaceutical science back then. Another factor, however, was the fact that word of mouth spread pretty slowly in those days, at least between communities that were spread apart. A company that was dishonest or disreputable could close its doors one day, only to reopen somewhere a couple of counties over not long after, with new customers being none the wiser.

The Internet has put a stop to all of that. Take the case of a “local organic farm” in Colorado that posted an offer on the local deal site GroupOn. When the offer sounded too good to be true, a few of the site’s users decided to dig a little bit deeper, and they weren’t impressed with what they found. In a matter of hours, users had tracked down the name the company used to operate under, had uncovered its horrible reviews, and were taking action to stop them from selling anymore.

All of this would just be an amusing story about scams gone wrong, if it weren’t for the fact that just about anything can affect your online reputation these days. Because so many sites, especially those that feature reviews and social features, are indexed by Google so often – and with such a high page rank – one unkind word about your business can be front page news on the major search engines in a matter of days, or even hours. Yeah, it can be that quick.

As a business owner online marketer, the message is clear:
Protect your good name. If you haven’t been taking care of your customers the way you should, then get started yesterday. It won’t be long before your poor online reputation catches up with you. And if you are doing all the right things, then monitor what people are saying about you over the Internet closely. One disgruntled buyer out of the thousand can still leave a poor impression, and an unscrupulous competitor can easily write something that will cost you hundreds of new accounts.

The changing face of online reputation management cuts both ways. For companies that are doing business the wrong way, it’s only a matter of time before they get what they deserve. For the best vendors and businesses, however, there are still plenty of reasons to keep an open eye.