The advice you’ll read in this article works for both proactive reputation management, and for those that already have online negative content/reviews about them.
Be advised, however, that some sites may be impossible or very hard to beat.
Major news sites (e.g., The Wall Street Journal, LA Times, New York Times) require significant work to manage.
If a major news site has posted negative content about you, then you really need to be (or hire) an expert in SEO.
The do-it-yourself option is just not feasible at that scale. That said, these tips will help some DIYers before moving on to an expensive reputation management firm.
Up until recently, popular complaint website RipoffReport was also hard to beat.
Recent changes to Google’s algorithm (which we think occurred in September 2018) have pushed some complaint sites lower in search ranking. Read my prior article for more details about this.
Tip 1: Provide Excellent Service
You want to make sure that you really are providing an excellent service to avoid getting negative reviews in the first place. Consider going above and beyond your current efforts.
For example, if you run a restaurant, maybe provide a free appetizer to surprise new or returning customers.
If you notice even the slightest sign that a customer is unhappy, try your best to resolve the issue ASAP. The next best thing is to offer a free service or refunds to make up for the issue.
You can’t make everyone happy. I have been doing SEO services for over 20 years and there have been many times when I’ve had unhappy clients.
I have always either offered free services or provided refunds to my unhappy clients, and this is how I have kept a near flawless record online.
They say the client is always right. I know that sometimes they are not, but consider whether arguing with your customer is worth your reputation.
The decision may come down to the dollar value of your services.
Maybe a negative review on Yelp or Google Maps would not affect your overall rating because you have many positive reviews.
But what would happen if you got a negative review on a complaint site like RipoffReport?
Often, these kinds of reviews rank high for the brand name and can do more damage in a few months than the amount in dispute with your client.
I have offered full refunds to several clients over the years because the threat of a negative review on the right site can hurt.
My firsthand knowledge of the damage done to businesses has made me overly cautious.
One negative review can cost thousands of dollars in online reputation management (ORM) services to try and repair.
Tip 2: Ask for Reviews
Certain professions are more likely to have more negative reviews than positive.
For example, dentists for some reason usually get a high number of negative reviews.
My guess is that no one goes to a dentist with a happy feeling. One usually goes to a dentist to fix a cavity or do a cleaning, which could result in the discovery of cavities and require more work.
Having to spend money you had not planned on spending is a pretty good reason for most people to get upset. Even the best dental insurance requires some kind of a copay, so dental procedures can be expensive.
Even if you aren’t a dentist, you’re more likely to get positive reviews if you ask for them.
If you avoid asking your best customers for reviews, you may end up with more negative reviews than you would have wanted.
Just make sure that you know your customers are happy before you ask for the review.
If you are seeing your customer in person, you may start by asking how they felt about your service right after you finish the job.
Alternatively, you may want to follow up after a few days.
Another tip is to use a different person to follow up then whoever served the customer. If it is one of your staff that did the work/sale, then either a manager or you should do the follow-up.
This way the customer is more likely to tell you about a negative experience, and you won’t feel as defensive about it since you were not the one involved.
Tip 3: Incentives for Reviews
Consider offering some kind of incentive for reviews, but be warned that this practice is against Yelp. If you do this, make sure to never ask for it in writing, but always verbally.
If someone reports you to Yelp for doing this, you may get a warning or a demotion in Yelp’s search results.
I have seen businesses post messages behind their business cards asking for Yelp reviews, with a discount for positive reviews.
A customer just needs to take a picture of this and send it to Yelp. Yelp will quickly follow up with a Consumer Alert on your account.
Tip 4: Offer Refunds to Unhappy Clients
If you have clients that are unhappy with your services, at first try to resolve or fix the issues, but if this is not possible, then offer a full or partial refund or some other incentive such as discount coupons or even retail gift cards.
Accept that you were wrong. Trying to resolve issues will always sit better with clients than trying to argue.
Refunds can either help avoid the negative review or lessen the damage and turn the negative review into a somewhat positive one.
I’ve had clients where even a partial refund has meant the difference between a 1-star and a 4-star review. Even a 5-star rating may be possible.
Tip 5: Review Generating Platforms
Many companies offer platforms for review generation. The basic concept is to collect your customer’s emails and/or phone numbers.
After their visit, or every so often, you can send a survey email or text message to ask for feedback.
The message will ask how they felt about your services and if the answer comes back positive you can then ask them to give you a review on the review site of your choosing, such as Yelp and Google Maps.
If the answer comes back negative, you will see the message and can reach out to them to try and resolve the issue before they think about posting a negative review in the first place.
These services typically cost as little as $30 per month to run yourself, or up to hundreds of dollars for a full-service provider (ORM company). Some companies that offer this service include:
Tip 6: Consider Revising Your Business Model
I have a client with an ecommerce fashion store that dropships items from China, even though the business is based in the U.S.
The delivery time is usually 2 to 5 weeks, which is slow for most people. In addition, sometimes the Chinese sizes run smaller than US sizes.
So this business often gets many negative reviews and requests for returns/refunds. They also further upset clients by asking the customer to send back the item at their own expense.
As you can see, this kind of business cannot avoid negative reviews unless they change their business model.
The main benefit of their service is that it’s affordable. In fact, they are extremely cost-effective compared to similar fashion items found at major department stores.
So, what can a business like this do?
My advice begins with an adjustment to their sales copy informing customers that items are delivered from China and that shipping may take 2-5 weeks.
This tactic reduces some of their sales, but it avoids so many unhappy customers and unnecessary refunds.
Most people would probably not mind waiting a little if that would save them some money.
The customers that don’t want to wait that long are usually the ones that would complain most because they probably needed the item to be there for an occasion.
Also, they can offer free or reduced shipping costs for returns.
If the item is pretty cheap, another option is to provide a full refund and have the customer simply keep the item. Amazon used this tactic effectively in its growth phase to encourage Prime users.
The good news with this business is that they decided to change business models and keep inventory on hand to ship from the U.S. after I consulted with them.
They have been getting fewer negative reviews since they did this couple of months ago.
So my point here is to take a look at your business model to see what adjustments you can make to avoid situations that lead to negative reviews.
Even if it is going to cost you some business or money, you would be better off in the long run.
Not only will you increase business from new customers (thanks to positive reviews), happy clients will return and refer others to your business.
Tip 7: Be Proactive, Not Reactive
There are a number of things you can do to create a positive online image.
Your goal should be to populate the top 20 of Google with positive content about your business, which in turn may help to keep negative content out.
I plan on writing another article soon to cover more specifics, but in general, here are a few recommendations:
- Register your social media profiles on the top social media sites, and stay active on those platforms.
- Active Twitter profiles often get in the top 10 for their brand names, and Google may even show the latest feeds from them taking additional real estate space.
- YouTube videos will often rank well for brand names. You can create a professional video for less than $1,000, or an even lower budget video using your smartphone. Also, you can hire a freelancer on a site like Fiverr to do a slide show type video about your business.
- Distribute press releases every few months. Try to use different networks for distribution to get maximum coverage.
- If you don’t already have a blog, create one and post on a regular basis (once a week is what we recommend to our clients as a minimum).
- Create mini sites or blogs with subdomain blog platforms, such as wordpress.com or tumblr.com. Make sure your brand name appears as part of the subdomain (i.e., yourbrand.wordpress.com).