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How A Small Business Can Manage Online Reviews - A Company Sues A Reviewer, And Wins

Pete Semple

Business Sues Yelp Reviewer - And Wins Revised Review!

Did you hear about the contractor who sued a woman who left him a bad Yelp review? Yikes! It's getting messy out there with defamation claims coming up against free speech rights. And the courts are starting to weigh in. Yelp_responseMore on that below.

But first, what does all this mean for small and local businesses who are affected by online reviews?

Learn the ways your local small business can manage reviews and how to affect your site's placement in review sites.

  • Should you just ignore all online reviews and let people talk? Does it ever make sense to respond to a negative review online?
  • Did you know there are ethical and legitimate ways to increase your number of good reviews, and even turn bad situations into positive reviews?
  • Don't let review sites dominate the search results when people search your business name online.

Learn all these options and more here...

Local Small Business Implications For Review Sites

Local review sites like Yelp can be a boon, a bane or just part of the background of doing business in today's online world.

Pages of glowing reviews can drive new customers excitedly in the door, but as the contractor who sued knows, too many bad reviews, or even one harsh accusatory one, can do serious damage.

To sort out how local businesses should manage online reviews let's look at the environment, what exactly could go wrong, and what options a local small business has in interacting with online review sites and reviewers.

How To Manage Online Reviews, Both Good and Bad

Online review sites have a big impact on local businesses. Suing a reviewer is obviously an extreme reaction, but here are many other options to help you take charge of online reviews:

Don't Respond At All - Many business choose to just let all their online reviews stand. This isn't a terrible approach because even responding to bad reviews can be tricky business. Even in the days before the internet - people talk, what are you gonna do? But even if you decide not to respond, at least do the following...

At Least Read Your Reviews - It's easy to recall what you're doing well and dismiss bad reviewers as a couple of "Negative Nelsons". But too many negative online reviews can hurt your sales so it's better to hear the bad news. It may turn out there are indeed issues of which you've been unaware.

Once addressed, the bad reviews will fade into the past and be replaced with positive reviews. And if the improvements you make are mentioned by more recent reviewers (we've seen this happen a lot), previous and future customers can be assured the problems of the past have been corrected.

Answer Your Critics - If you do decide to reply to a negative review on the review site, it's important not to blame or insult the customer, don't come across as defensive or sarcastic, and don't get dragged into hashing out online the details of their experience. Reviews are mostly read by customers and potential customers so they're more likely to side with your disgruntled guest if it feels like an argument is taking place.

How To Address Negative Reviews Diplomatically - Never get into an argument or use sarcasm. State that you are truly sorry the customer had a bad experience, state that you take their concerns seriously, emphasize your commitment to quality and let everyone know that you or your staff are available and trained to address problems right away because your goal is to be sure everyone leaves a satisfied customer. This will make it easier for readers to empathize with a caring business owner and serve to soften the impact of the negative review.

Of course this only works if there are only a few negative reviews. See our next step to learn how to build up a bank of good reviews to protect your rating average against the occasional complaint.

Floyds 99 Asks for Yelp ReviewsAsk For Reviews Proactively (More Below) - It's better to build up a base of good reviews than to be caught off guard by excessive bad reviews later. Also, the fewer reviews you have in general, the more the bad ones will stick out. So stack the deck with good ones by encouraging the quiet, happy customers to speak up.

Turn Mistakes Into A Customer's Feel Good Story - Mistakes are going to happen, but when you've created an environment in which your staff knows that an unsatisfied customer experience is unacceptable, correcting mistakes can be a major opportunity.

A bad situation that gets corrected creates a perfect little mini-drama. As long as the story has a happy ending, their journey from initial high hopes, to problem, to happy resolution creates the perfect anecdote for your customers to share online and with their friends.

As long as there is a hero you provide in the form of an attentive staff member who does what it takes to fix the situation, someone's initial displeasure can be turned into a cute story to share. People love these types of vignettes with a happy ending.

Ways To Ask For Reviews

Email Follow Up

The best way to get a review is to directly ask for them. How? Getting a customer's email address is usually the preferred way to communicate because once you have a customer's email address you can keep in touch with them to update them with news about news and offers. There are many legitimate reasons to ask for an email address (to confirm appointments, to send future sales and coupons, track warranty information, in order to download literature from on your website, etc).

Once you have their email it's very easy and efficient to create a series of automatic emails to go out. A service like AWeber is only $19 a month for your first 500 subscribers and offers simple step-by-step guidance that teaches novice email marketers to set up an automated series. This is the best way to be sure emails go out without requiring a staff member to manage each customer correspondence.

Broadcast emails like sales, events, announcements, newsletters, and blog posts can be easily sent to your list once you have this type of system in place. These are great tools to build relationships and even gain a few extra sales.

In Store Signage

When collecting their email is not feasible, like at a restaurant for example, consider location signage asking for reviews. With the prevalence of smart phones and tablet computers it never hurts to place reminders in locations where people are waiting and likely to pull out their device. On a table tent or on the check at a restaurant, or in the waiting area at mechanic or even at a doctor's office.

[important] FYI - We've recently noticed signs asking for reviews in dentist and doctors' offices. And we're talking about high-end providers. If the practice sounds cheesy, rest assured it's being done tastefully in better establishments from Back Bay Boston to Manhattan Beach, CA. [/important]

Regardless of how you communicate with your customers, be sure to encourage them to notify you immediately of any issues not to their satisfaction. An important part of this is to train your staff to be sure they know how important it is that all guests/patients etc. are happy. Again, the way to know is to ask. Once a patron seems satisfied asking for a review might be appropriate, or rely on the signage or followup email depending on your service model.

Appear On More Than Just Review Sites

It's best if when people search your business by name that you appear in multiple local listing sites and not just in the review sites. This will ensure that  anyone looking for things like your location, specials or operating hours can find you easily without automatically being drawn into reading reviews.

It's tempting to let the review sites do the local listing work for you, but it's not a safe strategy for searchers to only find you there.

A better method is to get your name, address, website and phone number to appear in many local listing sites as possible such as YellowPages, WhitePages, CitySearch, Foursquare, Google Maps and more. This way you can have control and offer many more places for people to find you outside of review sites.

Rather than update your information site by site you can use a service that puts you on all the sites and databases that serve the local search results for less than $150 a year (see below). Being listed with more sites gives you many more placement opportunities to be found in the local search results and map listings.

These services also list you in GPS services like Garmin and TeleNav and in iPhone, Android and Blackberry 411 directory assistance databases.

[important]How big of an opportunity is this? Recently we were searching for "tacos" in Torrance, CA in the Google Maps app of our Android phone - and there we no listings within about 10 miles! Yet there were dozens of taco places within two miles of our location. The first one that gets listed will be the only business to show up on the map!

If there are opportunities to list Tacos near L.A., you can be sure there are many other opportunities out there.[/important]

Other Fun Ways To Deal with Bad Online Reviews

There's a good article on these topics and more in Web Pro News. We like this anecdote from the piece,

Some businesses, rather than suing or paying for good reviews, are simply having fun with the bad ones. I prefer this approach. San Diego's Craft & Commerce is recording their bad Yelp reviews, and playing them for customers while they're in the bathroom. Seriously. Awesome idea.

We agree it's a great approach. It reminds us of another business owner who put quotes from his bad Yelp reviews on his staff T-shirts that we wrote about last year (photo at top). This shows he can take the heat and shows his personality. Is there a risk? Hey, everything has risks, even playing it safe. And these approaches won't be appropriate for everyone.

Other Notes and News About Local Business Reviews

Media Stories Are Not Reality

It's important to remember that the media specializes in "Man Bites Dog" stories not dog bites man. In other words, the stories that make the news are reported because they're exciting to read. And they're exciting to read because they are unusual.

It's rare that bad reviews lead to catastrophic consequences and court cases. We hope to provide food for thought but we hope you don't feel the need to prepare for battle.

Yelp Has To Deal With Google SEO Too!

Welcome to our world, Yelp. Yelp is accusing Google of unfairly putting Google's reviews before Yelp's reviews in the search results.

  • Is Google unfairly gaming their "organic" search results, or wisely watching out for their own best interests?
  • Why can't Google use their own popular platform they invested in and built to promote their review product?
  • What if Google reviews are naturally ranking because they're as valid and popular as Yelp's?
  • What is fair to the searcher?

The mechanics of Google's algorithm is top secret so we don't know if the results are in fact "gamed" or truly served up organically based on the algo!

But what this does show is that even big companies like Yelp have to contend with Google search placement issues.

Yelp Sued for Use of Term "Best Of"

And online reviews are causing turmoil in the offline world - Yelp is being sued by Village Voice Media Holdings, publishers of the Voice and alternative weeklies in other cities, which claims they own the "Best Of [A City]" concept and therefore Yelp is infringing on their trademark when Yelp uses the term on the Yelp site. It appears Yelp is taking readers from these publications and these weeklies are also using the courts to fight back.

Contractor Sues Yelp Reviewer

The basics of this story are, a former customer accused a contractor not just of doing a bad job, but of stealing jewelery from her home. The contractor felt the negative review - and accusation of unproven criminal behavior - was costing them business and a judge made the reviewer change her review. You can read all the details here in the Washington Post.


Take Control Over Your Local Listings and Online Reviews

Online reviews, local listings and map citations are now a well-established part of local internet marketing. There no reason to be at the mercy of reviewers and review sites when you can take positive and proactive steps to determine how and where your business appears online.

The first is to position yourself all over the search results pages and in the map listings for your neighborhood and on mobile phone maps and GPS databases. The second step is it to ensure a large volume of good reviews by regularly asking your happy customers to submit reviews on your behalf.

Bolster Your Local Business Listings For A Very Low Annual Rate

For more information about spreading the good word about your establishment online see our local business listing packages that start at only $146 a YEAR! These services put you on the map (literally with Google and more) and promote your business to hundreds of local listings sites including, Yelp, Foursquare, Yellow and White Pages sites and even GPS and iPhone directories. Check out our local business listings service here.