A 2011 study by Harvard Business School determined that a one star improvement in reviews on Yelp increased restaurants’ business by 5-9%. Other businesses should expect similar results, whether those reviews are on Yelp, Google or some other site.
Defend Your Reputation
The best way to prevent negative reviews from harming your business is to grow a solid list of positive reviews beforehand. Online reputation tends to snowball, either for good or for ill. People tend to adopt the sentiments of what others have posted before.
Once you establish a positive review score, you can link to your reviews from your own site, thereby encouraging more positive reviews. You should also have a prominent notice near those links explaining how a customer can reach you if they have concerns.
Astroturfing is the practice of creating fake reviews in order to enhance a business’ reputation. In the past businesses have gotten away with this, but the age of innocence is ending. Recently the New York Attorney General conducted a successfully crackdown against businesses and marketing agencies responsible for writing fake reviews.
Do not write reviews about your own business, and do not hire somebody else to do so. The chance of getting caught is significant, and if you ever end up in a dispute with a competitor, they may investigate and uncover embarrassing information, or worse.
Responding to Negative Reviews
Based on each review site’s policy, you may have the opportunity to respond to or complain about negative reviews. It is usually a good idea to respond politely to any negative reviews. Before responding, ascertain whether there is any truth to the complaint. If you have a problem with customer service, fix it. While negative reviews may sting, they can provide valuable feedback to improve your business.
If the complainant has a misunderstanding, try to contact them directly and make it right. If they are spreading false information, politely dispute them at the review forum. If a review appears to be made in bad faith, such as a competitor or extortion attempt, you can ask the review site to investigate by flagging the review. Yelp, in particular, seems to do a good job filtering out improper reviews.
In general, legitimate negative reviews cannot be removed. If you want to mitigate damage to your reputation, you may need to improve the quality of your offering, or do a better job setting expectations. Contact customers and ask if they are happy with your service or product. If not, fix whatever problem there may be. If they are happy, thank them. Asking for reviews usually doesn’t work. Instead, focus on making sure each customer is happy.
Illegitimate Review Sites
There are a variety of sites that specialize in posting negative reviews and then soliciting a fee to remove or alter the reviews. If a site is engaged in the practice of paid un-publishing, akin to extortion, do not pay. Once the scammers determine that you can be exploited, your problems will only get worse. The best course of action is to either ignore them, or contact a lawyer for advice.
About the Author
After graduating from Yale with two degrees in Computer Science, Jonathan Hochman set up his own consulting company in 1990. He has been an Internet marketer since 1994.