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If your company has an online presence, it's tempting to dismiss offhand comments from disgruntled customers who claim they plan to smear your name on the Internet. I mean, one negative comment online cant amount to much, right? That's not necessarily true.

Google PageRank is the current gold standard that dictates how often a Web page will be seen when its keywords are typed into the Google search engine. The exact formula remains a closely guarded secret, but it seems to have a little to do with the amount inbound and outbound links, and a whole lot to do with luck. A seemingly popular Web site may return few hits on your company name, while an obscure post on someone's personal blog may be the first result a potential customer sees.

The last thing a company needs is a negative comment popping up while a customer is researching -- and considering doing business with -- your company. While it's virtually impossible to get Google to ignore existing posts, there are a few ways to help shuffle them to the bottom of the search pile or at least mitigate their damage.

When you spot a negative post or comment about your company, feel free to respond and ask what you can do to help fix a problem. Perhaps a customer doesn't feel like their complaint was heard, or just wants to spout off for a minute. Sometimes all it takes it a willingness to lend an ear, and an angry customer may start singing your praises.

Snap up every social networking account with your company name that you can get your hands on. Even if you never use your Twitter or Facebook identity, it's important make sure no one masquerading as you can either.

Use tracking tools to find out what people are saying about your company. Sign up for Google alerts, and be sure to check out message board tracking services like BoardReader and ForumFind that drill down into forum postings to ferret out when and if people are talking about you.

Take advantage of Google's new SearchWiki tool to mark down any search results that turn up in error. For instance, if your company name search yields results about a similarly-named company in another state, it's perfectly permissible to mark down those results and note why you've done so. According to Google's blog, "The changes you make only affect your own searches. But SearchWiki also is a great way to share your insights with other searchers. You can see how the community has collectively edited the search results by clicking on the 'See all notes for this SearchWiki' link."

If you decide to use the SearchWiki, do not mark down relevant search results in a misguided effort to make your company look better. It's dishonest, and it's quite likely Google will discover your mischief.

If you have a serious online image problem, consider hiring a professional online reputation service. They've got a whole arsenal of tools up their sleeve to help make the search results for your company sparkle.

Do you ever use online image enhancement strategies? Let me know in the comments.

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