Positive word-of-mouth is an Internet business owner's best friend... but negative word-of-mouth can become their worst enemy practically overnight.

If you're not keeping track of what your customers and competitors are saying about you and your product or service, you risk turning a blind eye to complaints or concerns that could put a big dent in the reputation of your online business. Why let your potential customers find that information before you do - and especially before you get a chance to make things right?

Believe us - this is one moment when ignorance DEFINITELY isn't bliss.

We've collected eight great ways to check out what people are saying about you online: five free places to head on the Web, and three tools you pay to use.

Free Trackers

1. Google Alerts: Google Alerts is a service that emails you every time a new result comes up on your query, keyword or topic. You can subscribe via RSS, and track everything from news to videos.



2. Blog Search Engines: Has someone written a blog post about you? Let's hope it's good buzz! Put your URL and keywords into Google Blog Search and Technorati to scour the blogosphere for mentions.





3. SocialMention: This social media search engine tracks everything from blog comments to social bookmarking sites like Delicious to microblogging services like Twitter for any mention of you or your company. As with Google Alerts, you can subscribe to mentions of your name via RSS or email.



4. BoardTracker: BoardTracker keeps tabs on any mention of you or your company on discussion boards and forums.



5. Filtrbox: Filtrbox offers you "proactive market intelligence" by offering you search results on your name or your company based on relevance and importance, not just a mere mention.

Now, if your business is growing, and your web presence is starting to stretch past what you can keep track of on your own with these free tools, it might be time to invest in a paid reputation tracking/management solution. These three options are easy to use, and offer slightly different features that would appeal to different online businesses. Whatever method or tool you decide to use, make sure you add reputation checks to your regular list of business tasks. After all, the viral nature of the Web can spread bad news just as quickly as the good stuff!



Paid Trackers

1. Buzzlogic: From their website: "BuzzLogic identifies the active consumer advocates and contributors, influencing others on specific topics, brands, and products. This enables you to supercharge your marketing initiatives - from product development to research to brand awareness." Simply put, Buzzlogic tracks the major influencers in your market, and: a) finds out if they're talking about you; and b) helps you connect with them, and tracks the conversations you start.



2. Trackur: Trackur offers keyword and reputation monitoring at various levels, for both individuals and companies. Trackur keeps tabs on your keywords, and organizes the results in a dashboard for you. The amount of data you can save and work with at once depends on the package you pay for.



3. Sentiment Metrics: Sentiment Metrics offers a comprehensive reputation management tool that digs into information from social networks, forums, video and photo-sharing sites - you name it! - and gives you the scoop on what people are saying about you online.

Sentiment also indicates the emotion behind the information it finds: positive, neutral, or negative. Not to mention that they also provide easy-to-read graphics and charts to help you keep track of all the news they find - good or bad!



Your potential customers are out there looking for word-of-mouth about your online business. With these tools, you can make sure it's good.

The Internet Marketing Center