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Sunday, April 3, 2011

How to limit the impact of negative online reviews

You're finally ranking on page 1 for your key search terms, your list of repeat customers is growing and you are building a trusted brand online. One morning you wake up, wander over to your kitchen iMac and notice through blurry eyes that someone has posted a negative review about your business. What should you do to prepare for this and how can you make sure negative comments don't rank #1 in search results?
Preparing for the inevitable
Once you start growing and attracting the right kind of attention online, it's only a matter of time until a competitor or a disgruntled customer writes something negative about your company online. It can come in many forms: A negative product review on a retail website, a negative service review on a scam checking website or you could even show up as a false positive on McAfee's SiteAdvisor as a dangerous website.
The best way to prepare for this event is to build a strong positive foundation for your brand's online reputation before the storm arrives. Here are a few proactive steps you can take:
•Encourage every customer to write a positive review on a relevant review website. There are several sites that allow businesses to post a rebuttal to negative reviews and that include a rebuttal process. I would give these websites a strong preference when choosing where to direct your customers.
•Post your company profile to relevant websites. If you're a web startup, make sure you're listed on Techcrunch's Crunchbase. List your business on Find any other relevant directories and get listed in them. There are many free options, so don't feel obliged to pay for a listing.
•Link to each profile you create for your company, either from your company website or another website with a reasonable search engine ranking. That will ensure Google finds these profiles and ranks them higher than any negative reviews.
•Create a Twitter account for your company using your company name and link to it from external websites. Then post at least a handful of tweets each week and respond to any @replies you may get. Use Twitter's search engine to find users discussing things relevant to your brand and engage them in conversation by posting @replies to their posts.
•Create a company page for your business on Facebook and link to it from an external website.
Daily reputation management
Google your brand every day to see if any positive or negative reviews are being posted. Use Google's advanced search feature and limit the results to items posted in the last 24 hours. Also use Twitter's search engine to check for negative tweets, although Google will probably pick these up eventually.
When you see a positive blog comment, tweet, forum post or blog entry make sure you post a response thanking the author and try to encourage a dialog. By doing this you are adding more content to an already positive review that will increase the likelihood of this item ranking higher in search results. Make sure you include your brand name in the positive response to increase keyword density for your brand on that page. If the blogger responds, try to keep the conversation going without coming across as obnoxious or psychotic.
When you see a negative item posted online, think very carefully about whether you want to respond publicly or privately. When you post a public response you are feeding the SEO machine and will probably cause the item to rank even higher in search results. If the item is already ranking highly in search results, or if there are several posts already from multiple users, your comments will have less influence on the page's ranking and you should be more open to responding.
Posting a response to a negative customer comment or review
I recommend one simple rule when responding to angry customers either privately or publicly: Before I hit the send button I make sure that I'm comfortable with my email or comment appearing on the front page of the New York Times. (I also apply this rule to daily business emails.)
Always assume that if you send a private response to a public comment, the original author will post your reply publicly.
Always be courteous and professional and you'll begin to notice a strange phenomenon: The angrier a customer is, the more polite they are once you make things right. There's nothing more gratifying than having a customer who started out furious send you a thank you note once you've resolved their issue.
I recommend a zero tolerance policy toward obscene language. Angry emails and online comments are an unfortunate reality and something you need to get used to, but never respond if the comments contain threats or obscenities.
Dealing with a false positive on a safe-browsing or anti-virus website
All good safe-browsing websites like SiteAdvisor have a process whereby websites who have been listed as unsafe can submit a request for reconsideration. Many sites take months to reconsider or re-crawl your site so if you're unlucky enough to be listed as dangerous, you may be dealing with this issue for months.
Legal threats don't work. Sites like SiteAdvisor by McAfee get legal threats all day long and unless you're a large company employing one of the top 3 law firms in the country, they won't budge.
I recommend going through their standard reconsideration process. Then get on the phone and start working your way up the customer service food chain. Call at least every few days for an update.
In the mean time, many safe-browsing sites have room for comments and on some you can register as a company owner and post owner comments. Post comments explaining what has occurred and how you're dealing with the issue. Encourage your customers to post their own positive comments.
Then wait. The solid foundation you built for your reputation, your list of happy customers and their comments and your own professionalism will get you through a temporary hiccup in your online reputation.
In summary:
•Start by setting up a solid foundation for your reputation
•Check the status of your reputation daily or at least several times a week
•Always respond to positive comments
•Think carefully about responding to negative comments. Don't feed the machine unless you have to.
•Always assume your private or public responses will end up on the NY TImes front page.

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