By Nancy Marshall, The PR Maven®

How To Boost Your Reputation With Today's BuyersI’m writing this on what would have been my father’s 92nd birthday (he passed away in 2006). It’s one day that I’ll never forget. It brings up all kinds of bittersweet memories.

Oddly enough, it also reminds me of just how much shopping has changed. When I was growing up, my frugal father would spend at least a month looking for a new car, driving to every Ford or Chevrolet dealership in the state, talking to dozens of salespeople and deciding whether he liked and trusted them — all in person. He would then wait to see what kind of a deal they would offer him.

My father was never in a hurry. He had lots of time. He never had a cellphone, much less a smartphone. He relied on face-to-face relationships when making a buying decision. Once he liked and trusted a salesperson, he would do business with them for years.

Today, salespeople often don’t even know that someone is looking at their product or reviewing their service until the decision has been made. We can buy millions of items without ever interacting face-to-face.

Online shopping is here to stay — and growing rapidly. Nearly two-thirds of Americans say that they’ve shopped on Amazon, with over 40% buying something on Amazon once a month or more frequently. By the end of 2020, the number of online shoppers worldwide is expected to surpass 2 billion people. Think about that: More than 2 billion people clicking away for goodies and gifts.

For sellers, reputations still matter, but it’s the online reputation that usually matters most — not the in-person kind. Therefore, if you’re selling a product or service, Google Search is the front line of e-commerce. To be successful, you need to bring your A game to your online profile. After all, your online profile is what dictates your online reputation.

Your business will likely benefit from a website that is not only appealing to the eye, but also regularly updated and easily accessible. Ensure that your title tags and meta tags are search engine compatible — that is, Google compatible. Google’s market share of online search exceeds 90%, with 3.5 billion searches processed per day.

Almost everyone uses Google. That’s why your Google SEO needs to be up to par. Just know that Google’s algorithm takes everything into account — from company websites and social media platforms to photos and videos. The more external links can be traced back to your brand, the better.

That’s where public relations comes into play. Google’s algorithm takes media coverage into account, prioritizing brands that have secured the most earned media. If you’ve secured media coverage from mainstream news outlets like the Wall Street Journal and Business Insider, Google will likely view your brand more favorably. Your brand will then occupy better real estate in search engine results, appearing more frequently and higher on the page.

When people begin searching online, they may use a broad term like “car” or “PR agency.” But as their search progresses, they will often use more long-tail search terms like “Lexus dealer in Portland, Maine” or “PR agency doing content marketing in Maine.”

If you’re a seller, put yourself in the buyer’s shoes: What do you want to see from a brand before buying? Then, create content accordingly. Secure media coverage accordingly.

Again, this is where PR can be powerful. Most people are more likely to trust news outlets for information than advertising by brands themselves. They tend to see news outlets as impartial, whereas brands are inherently self-promotional. For many buyers, Business Insider reviewing a product favorably goes a much longer way than the brand touting its own product. The news outlet provides credible third-party validation.

PR can play a vital role in providing information to journalists, which in turn can result in that information appearing on authoritative websites where buyers are searching for information. Secure the right earned media, and you’ll likely gain more credibility in the eyes of buyers.

Commerce has changed in recent decades, but trust still matters. Having a relationship with the seller still counts, just like it did when my father drove around to all the car dealerships statewide and beyond.

Improve your online profile, and you’ll likely see your online reputation and sales take off. For today’s sellers, there may be no better path to success.

This article originally appeared on the Forbes Agency Council CommunityVoice in March 2020.