Online Reviews Are No Longer Optional for Businesses

I live in a very small town of boutique shops. The economy in town is interesting. There are some old bakeries and coffee shops that always have line-ups out the door. New businesses, however, tend to struggle in the extreme for their first year in business. The locals appear to be completely distrusting of new businesses until they’ve survived one year of soul-crushing neglect. After the one year has passed – it’s line ups out the door and the business will probably be there 100 years from now like the other successful businesses in town.

In 2014 a couple brave women decided to open a hair salon (brave because we have 4 other hair salons in town). They were lovely people and I’m sure talented hair stylists. One day I thought I would go in for a haircut so naturally I googled their salon hours and phone number. My conversion process was cut-short however (no pun intended), when the first item that popped up under the businesses name on Google was a review left on their Google My Business page. The review read as follows:

My hair was down to my waist but yesterday it was all hacked off by _____!
Her customer service was fine and she seemed nice and polite. I have complained and she did say sorry but that won’t bring my hair back. It will take YEARS to grow back.
It is A LOT shorter than I asked for but even the cut is terrible. My hair looks blunt, choppy and all different lengths. At one point she told me she needed to “Even it out” I had to tell her to stop! It was already butchered enough. I just can’t believe this was allowed to happen to my hair in a professional salon.”

The review hung there, the only one on the company’s Google My Business page. Naturally I shut my laptop as fast as I could absolutely resolute that I would not be the businesses next victim. Six month’s later the business permanently closed its doors and the space has now been gutted and turned into another coffee shop. The moral of the story? Online business reviews can destroy your business. The days of anonymity for businesses online have long past. Perhaps a decade ago it was seen as acceptable for businesses not to carve out a digital footprint because the entire industry was rather “new and confusing”. In 2016, businesses truly have no choice but to participate in the digital sphere as their customers are using digital tools to connect with them. Thankfully, there are some simple things you can do to make sure online business reviews don’t destroy your business.

Online Reviewing Platforms can be Helpful but Hazardous

Business reviewing platforms like Google Reviews, Facebook Reviews and Yelp are tremendously helpful to users who are looking for credible and quality services to engage with and help keep businesses accountable in a way that wasn’t possible only a couple decades ago. That said, there have been many businesses (as exemplified above) that have been burned by rogue customers, disgruntled competitors and by people using online reviewing platforms to black mail their businesses.

Use Reviews so Reviews can’t be Used Against Your Business

After years of consulting in this space I have put together this list of things businesses can do to both harness the positive power of online reviews, and protect themselves from these negative influences.

  1. Proactively Collect Positive Reviews

    • Hands down the most effective protection against random negative reviews is to proactively collect positive ones from real customers. From a search engine optimization perspective, prioritize accumulating the most positive reviews on your Google My Business page as Google considers these in their search engine algorithm.
  2. There’s Power in Numbers

    • Of course, the more positive reviews the better. However, it’s also true that the more platforms you are growing collections of positive reviews on – the better. As mentioned always make your Google My Business page your top priority. However, don’t neglect platforms like Yelp and Facebook as customers can leave feedback about your business there as well. You’ll want to make sure that if negative feedback is left about your business on any of these platforms it will easily be cancelled out by positive reviews.
  3. Generally Keep a Watchful Eye on Your SEO

    • A negative review is only as damaging as you let it be. What you want to avoid is a negative review popping up at the top of the search results when someone Google’s your business. If you have been stewarding healthy SEO of your website, your social channels and your advertising, one negative review will be pushed down the search results to the second or third page and will therefore do far less damage. Also, the longer a negative review sits, unnoticed on the internet the more damage it does. This is another reason it’s important to review your organic accounts regularly so you can catch anything unflattering as early as possible.
  4. Understand that There is Recourse

    • Lastly, understand that there is some recourse if you are being unfairly reviewed or targeted by a malicious party. As much as online reviewing platforms front that the ‘customer is always right’ – there are of course many instances where their platforms are being abused by users unfairly reviewing businesses for one reason or another. There are a few different approaches you can take depending on the platform you’re having the negative experience with:
      • Reason with the User

        • I put this first because it is surprisingly effective and by far the fastest method of resolving the issue. In many instances the negative reviewer can be placated with incentives and/or apologies. If the situation permits, it’s advisable to respond to the negative review with a gentle invitation to email you privately to come to a resolution. Often, if a refund, discount or apology is offered the reviewer will revise or remove their negative review altogether.
      • Report the User

        • If reason will not prevail, Google+, Facebook and Yelp all allow users profiles to be reported. If you feel a users profile is fake, misleading or damaging you can report them which will trigger a review of their account. If anything is found untoward, their account and any reviews they’ve left will be removed.
      • Report the Review

        • You can also appeal the specific review left on your profile. Google+ and Yelp (less Facebook) have very effective methods of reviewing these appeals when there may be harassment, libel or other mischief at work. If may seem futile but it’s worth a shot if you truly feel the negative review will damage your businesses reputation. Just be wary that this approach can take some time and does not always result in the review being removed.

Questions? I am personally available to provide answers: