If you own a small or medium business, a good reputation - online and offline - is clearly key to your success.

The stakes are also high for individuals, who can win or lose jobs based upon how they appear in web search results.

The internet can overwhelm users with information, so anything negative - especially if it appears high in search results - can have a drastically harmful effect on your success and how people see you.

Among US recruiters, 70 percent have rejected candidates based on their online reputation - and yet only seven percent of Americans believe that their online reputation can affect their job search, according to a 2010 study by Microsoft and Cross-Tab Market Research. A potential customer who searches for your business online is a lot like a recruiter, trying to find the best company for the job.

Ignoring how you or your company appears in search results and on ratings websites has arguably never been more perilous.

One significant figure in the recently altered relationship between businesses and search engines is Vitaly Borker, owner of retail eyewear website DecorMyEyes.com, who told the New York Times in November that his unconventional search engine optimisation (SEO) strategy worked like a charm: Borker harassed customers, directing them to vent on the internet. His website thus climbed higher in Google's search results, bolstered by the many links from established review websites.

Google immediately reworked its code and buried DecorMyEyes along with other businesses it deemed 'bad'. Now that Google no longer rewards bad customer service with top spots in searches, it's a good time to examine how your business can get more positive attention in legitimate ways.

Should you pay for online reputation management?

Deciding to take control of your online reputation is a daunting task, and you may be tempted just to hire someone to do it for you. Online reputation management companies abound on the internet - claiming everything from 100 percent success rate (or your money back) to a 'special technology' that reorders search results.

Such companies may be worth looking into, but there is no magical way to erase content from the internet. Once something is uploaded to the web, it's impossible for you or a third party to remove it without help from the administrator of the website where it appears.

It's even harder to remove content from search engines (like Google) that cache their results and enable surfers, with the click of the Cached link, to view content that has been 'removed'. In addition, the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine stores records of websites dating back to the 1990s.

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  1. Online reputations affects business success
  2. Hiring organisations
  3. Manage your online reputation yourself
  4. A full-time job?