Online reviews and ratings are a necessary evil for today’s businesses. Thanks to sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google, Facebook and hundreds of others, it’s easier than ever for your clients, patients and customers to publicly share their experience about your business. This is great if they had a positive experience, but if something wasn’t quite right, it can be devastating to any business owner. You pour your heart and soul, and your blood, sweat and tears into your business for years or even decades, and one negative review can feel like a personal attack on everything you’ve built as a business owner.
But what can you do about it?
The good news is that a lot has changed in the past few years, and there’s a lot more you can do today to improve your online reputation. In fact, online reputation management is an entirely new practice, combining tools, services and best practices to make sure your business shines bright across all the major review sites. It’s so new that most marketing firms don’t even offer this service at all (not to be confused with social media marketing, which is completely different than online reputation management).
Here are 10 little-known secrets about online reputation management, to help you take better control of the reviews being written about your business.
1) You CAN fight fraudulent reviews. If you see a negative review about your business that’s clearly not true, you can ask for it to be taken down. For example, if a review mentions a visit on a day or time your business was closed, a product or service you just don’t offer, or at a location you don’t have – those can all be disputed and taken down.
2) Threats, slurs, and profanity are NEVER ok. Reviews containing any of these things can also be taken down upon request.
3) Reviews older than 3 months aren’t as valid. 73% of people who use review sites believe that a review must be less than 3 months old in order to be relevant. So, if you’re not getting at least one positive review per month on each review site, you could be getting dismissed by nearly three quarters of your potential customers reading your reviews.
4) Reviews help your business rank higher in search results. Google loves fresh content. Reviews provide a steady stream of fresh content chock full of all the keywords you want associated with your website. For example, if you’re a dental practice, a typical patient review might say, “Dr. Smith is such an amazing dentist! I’ve been coming to his Reston office for 15 years for regular teeth cleanings, and I recently had to have a dental implant after I broke a tooth. Thank you, Dr. Smith!” Look at all the keywords in that review. These are Google gold. If you had a new review on your site every month, week, or day, you’d see your website quickly rank higher in search results. Remember that Yelp is a search engine, too. More reviews help you rank higher on Yelp.
5) Responding to negative reviews is critical. 80% of review users believe a business cares more when it responds to negative reviews. 53% expect their reviews to receive a reply within one week. Remember, your response isn’t just being read by the original reviewer – hundreds of others will read the negative review, and your response. 45 percent of consumers say they’re more likely to visit a business if it responds to negative reviews. You’re not responding to argue with the negative reviewer. Rather, take the high road. Be empathetic and compassionate, state how important a positive customer experience is to you and invite the customer to give you another chance. Remember, your primary audience for your response is not the original reviewer, but the hundreds of other potential customers that will read the negative review and your courteous, compassionate response.
6) Responding to positive reviews is important, too! Even a simple “thank you for writing your review” does wonders. It makes the reviewer feel appreciated for his or her time. It closes the loop on the customer experience, giving your customer a sense of investment in your business. And it shows other readers that you care about your customers’ time, and their opinions about your business. It also gives you a chance to promote other products and services to your review readers.
7) Reviews should be cross-shared on your social media. When you get a good review on Google, Yelp, or TripAdvisor, share it on your Facebook page to remind your followers about the great work you do, how happy your customers are, and what other services you provide.
8) Keep reviews current on your website. While it’s nice to have a web page with customer testimonials, it’s even better to have current customer reviews, which are far more credible than undated, anonymous customer testimonials. Update your reviews constantly.
9) Yelp sorts reviews in “Yelp Order,” not by date. Ever wonder why the most recent reviews don’t appear first on Yelp? Yelp sorts reviews in “Yelp Sort” order, which it determines based on the popularity and credibility of each individual reviewer. Reviews will stay in the #1 position until someone with a higher Yelp score reviews your business. Ask your best customers if they use Yelp, as their positive reviews could easily rise to the top.
10) Your reputation is everything. Your business can only grow so fast through “word-of-mouth.” For every new word-of-mouth referral you get, there are 100 other potential customers searching the web right now for the services or products you also provide. If you’ve grown your business primarily through word-of-mouth, you could be growing a lot faster by getting more online reviews and ratings.
This may sound like a lot of work, but it doesn’t have to be. There are tools, tricks and shortcuts to make managing your online reputation faster and easier for you and your staff. But not all tools work as advertised, so be sure to consult with an online reputation management specialist to learn what works, and what doesn’t.
Steven Toole is an online reputation management specialist that helps Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce members and other businesses get more online reviews and ratings online, with a proven program combining the best tools, techniques and best practices. With nearly 30 years’ experience as a marketing executive, he is the founder of Toole & Associates, a Reston-area marketing firm. Toole is a former chief marketing officer and former marketing professor at George Mason University.