Here is a scenario perhaps you’ve found yourself in. You are sitting at home after a long day in the plant. You are relaxing with your feet up, surfing the internet, and you decide to Google your dry cleaning company, and there it is! A really, really, REALLY bad review one of your customers posted to Yelp.com
Your customer didn’t call you. Your customer may not have even tried to have their problem resolved by one of your staff. But there it is, a really bad review about your business, out on the Internet, and worse, Google has picked up on the bad review and has added it to search results so whenever a current or potential customer searches for you, there is someone’s low opinion about your business for the entire world to see.
Of course it’s unfair, but it happens, and it happens a lot. But there IS something you can do about it.
Once again, I must give you some disclosure to avoid any possible conflict of interest; I do offer professional reputation management services as part of my catalogue of services my company offers. That said, let’s get into reputation management.
These days there are all kinds of reputation and review web sites out there, from Yelp.com, Google Reviews, and even Yellow Pages listings enable anyone with a web browser and an internet connection to leave their opinion about your business online. There are so many web sites that offer a review service; it’s extremely difficult for a business owner to monitor every corner of the Internet. You simply do not have hours and hours of time to spot a good or bad review posted about you. But, there is a free service you can use that will search the Internet for you and will email you a link whenever your business name is mentioned online. This service is called Google Alerts, and yes, it is absolutely free. You simply set up a Google Alert triggered on your business name (example: Acme Cleaners Anywhere USA) on the Google Alerts system. Whenever Google finds someone has posted new information that mentions Acme Cleaners Anywhere USA, Google sends you an email message with a link to where your business name was mentioned. Once you’ve set up your Google Alert, Google’s unblinking eye and their entire collection of servers is working for you.
But, it’s not enough. As much as some of Google’s resources are working for you, they are also working against you. Google is always searching authority web sites like Yelp. What is an authority web site? It’s a web site with high traffic (lots of people are using) and has content created and edited by real live people (not a machine). Google likes Authority web sites because they are filled with what Google considers more reliable information, and gives greater credence and rank to such authority web sites.
Google scrapes reviews from authority web sites and adds them to search results, so a review on Yelp will eventually show up in search results for your business. Scraping is the practice of ‘scraping’ a review that meets search criteria from another web site such as Yelp. Google may or may not include them under the Google My Business search results. I say may or may not include scraped reviews depending on current updates Google has released for your region (and Google is going through a lot of changes right now).
Scraped reviews present danger and opportunity. If it’s a bad review, the danger is the bad news gets amplified by Google in search results. If it’s a good review, there is opportunity for good reviews to be amplified when it’s included in search results.
Google runs its own review service called Google Reviews. Google reviews tend to appear right under Google My Business pages. And once again, be it a good review or a bad review, it’s out there for the world to see. Google does give priority to reviews made on its own system (why help the competition?) so Google Reviews will appear ahead of any other reviews you may have.
Facebook also has its own review system. When you created your business page, Facebook automatically enabled the Facebook Review system for your business page. But on a positive note, Facebook will send an email alert to the page admin whenever a review is posted allowing you to react rapidly to reviews.
It would appear that with all these review systems out there, the deck is stacked against you. Well, you can fight back against fake reviews, and I heartily endorse responding to bad reviews, but there are a few things to keep in mind.
First off, fake reviews are going to happen. Not all competition is fair, and there is a very small portion of society that gets their kicks just making crap up. Most review web sites have a process where they filter reviews. Usually, if it’s a one hit wonder reviewer, or someone who has just signed up for the review system, all the reviews they make are considered suspect. For example, Yelp gives a heavier weight to a Yelp Reviewer who has uploaded a profile picture, has ‘friends’ associated with their account, and has multiple reviews across multiple business categories. But a new first time reviewer who just signed up and has made one (and usually very bad review) has an uphill battle with Yelp. First, to establish credibility with Yelp as a reviewer; Second, to establish credibility with the Yelp community. It’s very likely a first time reviewer’s review will be filtered out by the Yelp filtration system.
You can report a fake review on most review systems. Yelp has a ‘report this review’ button on every review. If the review left on your profile is blatantly and obviously fake, report it. Yelp has staff that review fake reviews, and if Yelp’s Staff agree with you, the review will be filtered out and not appear on your profile.
NEVER try to game the system. Gaming the system is when you try to use questionable techniques to stack the deck in your favor, usually using fake good reviews appear on your profile, or to try to push bad reviews down off the first page where they are not likely to be seen. There are SEVERE penalties for gaming review systems. If you get caught, your profile could be branded with a message stating the Review System Administrators have caught you violating their terms of service and your profile is highly suspect of placing fake reviews. If and when this happens, all your credibility is entirely blown.
Speaking of terms of service, do read those carefully. If you violate terms of service, you can be branded as gaming the system, all your reviews can be filtered off the system, or worse, get you kicked off the system and unable to respond to reviews (withhold service from you).
Yelp has some very strict terms of service. One of the main points I must point out to you about Yelp is: YOU CANNOT OFFER AN INCENTIVE FOR A REVIEW! That’s right, if you ask your customer to leave a review about you, and you offer the slightest reward for doing so, such as a five dollar free cleaning reward, or free cleaning and pressing of a pair of pants, you have just violated Yelp’s terms of service. I know another consultant to the dry cleaning trade who has encouraged his clients to offer a reward to a customer for leaving a positive review on Yelp. Unfortunately, a few of his clients followed his advice, and when customers started posting reviews that included telling others about the reward the cleaner was offering for a favorable review, Yelp started filtering reviews and labeling blocking those cleaner’s accounts.
Here is a link to Yelp’s official policy regarding asking for reviews: https://biz.yelp.ca/support/review_solicitation. Ignore it at your peril.
Eighty percent of people will check out a business they are considering using BEFORE they even step foot in your door. Having a good online reputation is critical as part of your customer prospecting strategy. Next month, I’m going to go even deeper into Online Reputations and how to go about restoring a damaged online reputation.