This is a guest post by Rich Gorman.
A sterling reputation is worth its weight in gold — figuratively speaking, of course. That’s why businesses work for years, sometimes even decades, to earn the public’s trust, and to gain as much consumer goodwill as possible. In this Digital Age, however, all of that hard work can be undone in an instant.
It just takes one bad review. The source of the review is irrelevant. It may be from an actually unhappy customer, but it could just as easily come from the kind of customer who is simply impossible to please. The bad review could come from a disgruntled ex-employee, or it could even be planted by one of your business rivals. The source is irrelevant; what matters it that the bad review is out there, on the Internet, for the whole world to see.
The Damage Done
Unfortunately, the damage that a single bad review can do is significant — and it can come in many forms. Just as unfortunate is the fact that, in these instances, Google, Yahoo, and Bing are not necessarily on your side.
Here is a scenario — one that happens day in and day out. A consumer is searching for a particular kind of business — let’s say, just for the sake of an example, a hotel. The consumer conducts a Google search for “hotels in Asheville, NC” — and the first result that Google displays is for your Asheville-based hotel!
That’s good news, right? Well, not necessarily. Google heavily weighs reviews from consumer sites like Yelp or TripAdvisor — so if you don’t have a strong corporate website, backed with rock-solid SEO techniques, then the first result to be displayed could well be a consumer review. That review may be a positive one — but what if it’s not? What if the first piece of information a consumer sees about your hotel is a one-star review?
Obviously, it’s trouble for you, the hotel owner. The consumer’s not going to want to stay in a one-star hotel, so he or she will scroll down the page to find an alternative. And — again, this being Google — an alternative will not be hard to find. In fact, you can bet that Google will display a five-star review for your closest competitor. If there are two hotels on the same street corner, one with one-star reviews and the other with five-star reviews, well, which do you think is going to get the most business?
The Truth About Consumer Behavior
It’s not just that bad reviews can lead to lost customers, either. Negative reviews tend to beget other negative reviews. One of the most basic principles of business is that consumers tend to do what other consumers have already done. If a consumer is on the fence about your brand, and sees that there are a few negative reviews already posted to the Web, the likelihood of that consumer submitting his or her own negative reviews increases tenfold.
Negative reviews can also lead to more refund requests and chargebacks. All things considered, then, a negative review can leave your business in a dire predicament — losing customers, generating more and more bad publicity, and having to give people their money back. The influence of negative reviews is serious, and, in many cases, seriously harmful.
The obvious question, then, is how you can defend yourself. It goes without saying that you can’t exactly coerce people into giving you positive reviews, and you can’t get people to stop leaving reviews altogether. A bad review could appear at any moment; there’s nothing you can do to prevent it, or to erase it.
What you can do is ensure that it’s never seen by anyone. 90% of all online search engine users never click past the first page of search results. If your one-star review is on that first page, it’s trouble. If it’s on page 4… well, nobody’s ever really going to see it. It’s virtually non-existent.
The way to protect your brand from bad reviews, then, is to do everything you can to keep them from penetrating the first page of online search results. That may sound like a technical, SEO-laden endeavor — which it can be, when done on a professional scale — but business owners can take some basic steps to build a defensive wall, protecting their brand from online defamation.
That wall is built brick by brick, with positive, brand-enhancing online content. Basically, the more content you produce, the stronger your wall is going to be — and the harder it will be for negative reviews to tarnish your brand.
Producing high volumes of content may seem like a daunting task — but here it is, broken down into three basic steps:
- Buy up all the domains that correspond to your business’ name.
- Sign up for all of the social media accounts you can.
- Flood these sites and accounts with as much content as you’re able to produce — whether it’s information about your company, testimonials, positive reviews, or whatever else.
It’s an ongoing process, heavy on content creation — but it is the most effective way to protect against damaging online reviews.
Responding to Reviews
But what happens if it’s too late — if your brand has already been tarnished by those negative reviews?
First of all, it’s important to know when and how to respond to reviews. The basic rule of thumb is that any response you offer to online reviews is going to make the review in question rank even better on Google — so you should only respond to reviews you want people to see.
For positive reviews, or even constructive criticism, a prompt and polite response can go a long way. For negative or unreasonable reviews, though, it’s generally best to just let them be. Don’t draw any more attention to them than you have to. Focus, instead, on content creation. Your options, when you get right down to it, are these: You can respond, and thereby cause more people to see that negative review… or, you suppress that bad review with positive content.
Framed in these terms, the choice should be a pretty clear no-brainer!
Rich Gorman is an expert practitioner of reputation management techniques and a designer of direct response marketing programs for companies large and small. He leads the team at www.reputationchanger.com.