WASHINGTON, September 9, 2013 — Consumers are increasingly heading to the Internet while making purchasing decisions, sometimes even searching for items on their mobile devices while standing in a retail store, a practice sometimes known as “showrooming.”
Sites like Yelp, Ripoff Report, and Angie’s List have already amply shown businesses just how much power the Internet wields in consumers’ lives today. Just a single bad review, if shared by a large number of consumers, can lead to sluggish store traffic and empty cash registers, potentially closing a marginal business down for good.
For a business that has a reasonable customer base, the occasional negative review is inevitable. Sometimes such reviews come from disgruntled customers. In some cases, scathing, negative reviews can be posted by a bitter ex-employee or an aggressive competitor disguised as a disgruntled consumer. Since review sites allow posters to write reviews anonymously, no business is entirely immune from complaints.
In the past couple of years, entrepreneurs have made great strides in battling problems caused by dubious online reviews. Google’s recent algorithm adjustments have changed the rules for many of these business owners, but they’ve regrouped admirably. By looking at the lessons such leading edge businesses have learned, today’s entrepreneurs can be better prepared to cope with the fallout that happens when a negative review appears.
Take a Time Out
As you can imagine, reading an inflammatory review about your business can be extremely difficult to do. Your first response will likely be intense anger. After years of carefully crafting a positive reputation locally, a customer’s online slam threatens to undo all that work.
It’s important that you put some time between reading the post and your reaction. Firing off a hostile, defensive response will only make matters worse. Contacting your attorney or ordering the review site to remove the comment will likely result in more frustration as you realize there is very little recourse for businesses who have been improperly maligned on the Internet.
Once you’ve cooled down, plot a strategy for combatting the negative posting. The key is not to have the unfairly negative content removed, but to reduce its likelihood of being seen by customers searching for information on your business.
Own Your Own Real Estate
On the Internet, real estate refers to the domains you own—both social media profiles and URLs. Own as many versions of your name as possible, including .com, .net, and .org. You should also set up profiles on every social media site available, including Google+, Pinterest, and Vine. While it may be hard to maintain all of those profiles, you’ll own them in the event reputation management should become necessary.
Another reason to set up all of these profiles is to prevent online identity theft. One famous example of this is what happened to BP during the oil spill crisis of 2010. Someone set up a fake BP account during the incident and proceeded to post as if they were BP. BP had its own Twitter account but it had not yet established a massive audience on the site, so the fake account was able to connect with users.
Have you ever replied to an online attack, only to have it escalate? Even the most carefully-worded reply can incite a verbal assault from the original poster, leading to drama you never intended. Sometimes the best response is no response at all.
Yelp allows businesses to respond privately to reviews, but many business owners have found that this can backfire, as well. Original posters have been known to copy and paste text from private e-mails in order to ridicule them. However, a brief e-mail offering a discount to compensate a customer for his or her trouble is less likely to backfire. Even if the original poster copies and pastes that onto the review site, the business still looks like a winner.
If you choose to respond to negative feedback online, do so with caution. Keep your response brief and courteous, offering to remedy the customer’s issue if he or she will simply contact your privately. Never engage in a war of words with a customer online. Your words will remain out there for years, causing customers to view you in an unprofessional light.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has changed dramatically in the past couple of years, with traditional trickery no longer working. Traditionally, marketers could simply insert a keyword a certain number of times and move to page one of search engine results. In order to keep search results as pure as possible, however, Google has changed its algorithms to reward genuine, high-quality content and diminish the spurious effects of sponsored content and advertorials.
Often a business learns about negative content through a simple Google search. When that negative content appears at the top of search results, it’s alarming, to say the least. Since online review sites typically will not remove negative reviews regardless of a business’s arguments against them, the only choice is to obscure those negative results.
Since most search engine users focus solely on the first page or two of results, the key to improving online reputation is to move those negative results down. This can often be accomplished by posting positive content on your online real estate, incorporating thosekeywords that are typically searched when users are seeking information on your type of business or the business itself.
If your customers type in “ABC Plumbing Los Angeles,” for instance, you’ll need to ensure when a customer types those words, your own blogs, articles, and social media content appear first and foremost. This is accomplished through regularly posting high-quality content that includes those words.
One of the best ways to improve your sites in search engine rankings is by posting content customers want to see. Instead of covering your blog in “buy our products” posts, create content that actually helps customers. ABC Plumbing will garner much better results by posting how-to articles and videos instead of sales pitches. You’ll not only bring a large number of customers to your sites, but you’ll also establish yourself as an expert in the field.
Another benefit to posting informative content is that customers are more likely to share it. If your link is forwarded on social media sites, your pageviews will skyrocket, increasing the likelihood that you’ll reach customers who might not have found you otherwise.
Whether you’re coping with a negative review or simply preparing in the event it happens, it’s important to closely monitor your online reputation. Services like Google Alert can notify you when new content has been posted about your business to allow you to take action. As long as you’re in control of your online reputation, you can continue to project the positive image you’ve worked so hard to build.
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