Summary: Consumer review sites are constantly growing in prevalence and in influence, which means that a negative review can be disastrous for a small business.
In this article, we will:
Examine the ways in which online reviews can be influential to consumer behavior;
Discuss methods for minimizing negative reviews; and
List some methods for properly addressing reviews as they materialize.
How do consumers ensure that they are making informed decisions about the products and services they buy? There was a time when the answer may have been straight word of mouth; if family members and friends raved about a particular brand, then that brand was likely the best bet. In this day and age, however, more traditional review sites have been replaced with consumer review sites, which allow consumers to instantly access volumes of information about a particular product or company.
Indeed, study after study has revealed that consumers are turning, more and more, to online review sites as they seek to make educated purchases. This is probably good news for consumers, but it isn’t always a boon to business owners. Because review sites are so pervasive and so influential, they can really be make-or-break, particularly for smaller companies or newer brands. In fact, a single negative review is often all it takes for a company to experience a major loss in sales.
What’s so Bad About Online Reviews?
Unfortunately, declining sales are just the tip of the iceberg for companies facing bad reviews—though admittedly, they represent a major problem in and of themselves. Consider this scenario. You own a dental practice, and the only online information about your practice is a scathing, one-star review. Someone who is new to your town turns to Google to find a new dental provider, and the first thing he or she sees is that one-star pan. Below that review, there is a review for another dentist, located two blocks from your office—and that dentist has five star ratings.
You can imagine which dentist is going to get that patient’s business. You can also imagine how your own patient roster will dwindle—and how you may start losing money in a hurry. Sadly, the ill effects of a bad online review go on from there. Many companies experience increases in refund requests and chargebacks as a result of bad reviews. What’s more, one bad review tends to encourage consumers to leave more bad reviews, so the whole thing can turn into a nasty cycle of negativity, with your business at the center.
Can Bad Online Reviews be Stopped?
Not only are negative only reviews damaging, but they are also highly unpredictable. Your business could receive a terrible online review at any moment, regardless of how stellar your products and services are. A bad online review may come from an actual consumer, but it could just as easily come from a disgruntled ex-employee, or even from a business rival. Sadly, sites like Angie’s List and Yelp do not discern between these types of review, and neither do the search engines.
Further bad news: There is nothing that your company can do to prevent bad reviews, or to erase bad reviews that might appear. The good news is that you can take precautions to ensure that these bad reviews are non-issues. Remember that the vast majority of online search engine users (some 90% or more) never click past the first page of an online search, so if you can relegate bad reviews to page four or five, they’re essentially non-issues.
The best way to prevent these bad reviews from making their way to Google’s page 1 is to build a strong defense—a brand identity that is positive enough, and stable enough, to keep negative reviews at bay. Start by buying the exact-match domain names for your brand, which will rank well in the search engines. If your company is called Star Rentals, make sure you’re the owner of starrentals.com, starrentals.net, star-rentals.org, and so forth.
Your next step should be to post high volumes of online content, portraying your brand in a positive light. Post this content to the domains you created, and also to social media accounts. From company bios to industry blogs to product descriptions, there should be plenty of content you can muster—and the more content you put out there, the more insulated you are against the threat of damaging online reviews.
What Happens When Bad Reviews Appear?
Of course, there may still be some negative reviews that manage to poke through your defenses and breach the first page of Google. How should you, as a business owner, respond to these negative listings?
The short answer is that you shouldn’t—not if the reviews are truly, unreasonably negative. Positive reviews and constructive criticisms are different matters entirely. For these reviews, a prompt and kind response is an effective way to cultivate your brand’s positive image.
For negative reviews, however, a response is simply not advisable. The reason for this is that a response actually makes the negative review more powerful, more visible within the search engines. In other words, responding to a negative review ensures that more people will see the negative review—and that’s the last thing you want. Avoid response, and simply double down on your efforts to build your brand in a positive way.
About the Author:
For the length of his working career, Rich Gorman has been involved with a variety of companies and created tailored marketing programs for each of them.. A thought leader in reputation management and direct response marketing, he also operates the official blog for the Direct Response industry where he shares his thoughts on Direct Response Marketing.