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Negative Reviews in Local Search: A Survival Guide for Businesses

enge-eric
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Online reputation management has been a hot topic around the web for some time. This can take many forms, including:

  • Sites with negative things to say about your business showing up in the SERPs for searches on your brand name.
  • Negative suggestions showing up in Google Suggest (e.g., "your brand scam").
  • Negative reviews showing up for your business in the local search results.

Each of the above scenarios require significantly different steps to resolve. Today we'll look at what you should do if your business has received a negative review that is hurting the business.

For example, consider the following set of reviews shown on the Google Places page for a restaurant near where I live:

Google Places Review

For the record, I enjoy this restaurant and think it does an excellent job. Yet the review summary I have circled in red certainly has a different opinion.

For many business owners this can be quite distressing to see. You think you work hard to give your customers good service and then one of them hammers you online. Your knee-jerk reaction might be to try and get the review removed by demanding that the reviewer take it down, or by contacting the site publishing the review.

You might also reach out and challenge the reviewer, call them a knucklehead, or outline in detail why they are wrong. This is not the way you want to go, as you might end up just like this business owner who was booked for battery.

The best strategies for dealing directly with the negative review are outlined in this excellent post by Mike Blumenthal, where a small business owner detailed his approach to dealing with negative reviews. Here are the key takeaways:

  1. Keep in mind that most of the people who will read your response are potential customers, not the person with the complaint. Put your best foot forward in showing how you deal with customer concerns.
  2. Don't write your response as soon as you see the review for the first time. Cool down. Then, as Mike says: "One suggestion we often give to our clients is to send a draft of your response to someone that doesn't work at your company. Ask them to delete anything that sounds defensive." This is great advice.
  3. Once again, from Mike's post: "Writing a short, non-defensive reply to a review that owns the issue, describes how the issue has been resolved (maybe includes an offer to fix the issue) will earn you the trust of your future customers."

Many sites that carry business reviews will allow a business owner to respond. On Google Places you need to claim your listing before proceeding with writing a response. You can read Google's guidelines for responses here.

This is absolutely the place to start. Just doing this can provide amazing results for you.

If you're nice enough to the complainant, you may even be able to get them to remove their review from the source site where they placed it. If you do this, Google may eventually remove it from the Google Places page.

This is sometimes as simple as offering them a full refund, free product, or a public apology with an offer to make good. You can see which sites allow responses by business, or removal by the original reviewer in this post.

Of course, there are "trolls" in the world that can never be mollified and who will take every communication from you as an opportunity to escalate their anger and increase the stakes. This is almost a bigger win for you then getting the review removed.

Just stay totally reasonable and acommodating, and soon enough other people will rise to your defense. Suddenly the entire appearance of the situation to an outsider is that the complainant is a nut job, and you strive to provide excellent service anyway. Talk about a positive message!

Yousaf Sekander shared with me a specific case study in which his client got a unfair negative on upmystreet.com. Sekander contacted them and was able to get the review removed.

Most sites will only let the reviewer remove the review unless there is a violation of their terms of service. I could not find the editorial policies of upmystreet.com, but I would guess that their policy is similar.

It never hurts to ask. If the listing does get removed you're off to a great start.

However, here's what Sekander told me about what happened next:

My biggest challenge was that Google Places still displayed it (the bad review) even though it was taken down from upmystreet.com. I waited 4 months but the review was still there on Google Places, the worst thing was that we had reached a deadlock as we couldn't even respond to that review because it came from a third party.

So I took the following steps:

  1. Got the client to request their customers to leave unbiased reviews on upmystreet.com.
  2. Wrote a couple of articles that quoted positive reviews from client's upmystreet.com page.
  3. Referenced (hyperlink) client's upmystreet.com page in the article as the source of reviews.
  4. Sent & published the articles on local online gazettes.
  5. Built a few links to client's upmystreet.com page.

Within two weeks the review disappeared from client's Google Places listing.

Another strategy is to actively cultivate positive reviews that will push the negative reviews down. Be careful how you walk the line on this one, as you don't want to slip into the realm to the spammer.

Consider creating a process that first qualifies users who are positive about their experience with you. For those that are positive, offer them an incentive to post a review (important: make sure that the incentive is to post an objective review, not to post a positive one).

Summary

The web is a dynamic and ever changing place. The specific mechanics of how reviews are published and responded to will vary over time. But the concept of how you can cultivate a reputation for providing good products and services really doesn't vary with time.

The processes outlined above are all designed to help you show the general public your best face. Back it up with what you give them when they are your customer and you are likely to have great results!


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