3 December 2015 12:00
How to protect your business reputation online
The UK has more than 5.4m active businesses, ranging from multi-billion pound heavyweights to sole traders. Some 60% of businesses with five employees or less still don't have a website of their own.
When your business has little or no online presence, it becomes much harder to manage its reputation online. Reviews of your business may appear much more prominently, and negative reviews can be extremely harmful.
Smaller businesses that don't have a large advertising budget or search engine optimisation campaign find themselves competing against review and directory sites on the first page of Google. This sometimes means that reviews of your business outrank your own website, and it will certainly mean that those reviews share the front page with your own web content. If a bad review is posted, it might show up when your business name is searched. This could be very harmful to your reputation unless you manage the situation carefully and take steps to repair the damage.
Dealing with negative reviews
If a bad review appears online, it can be devastating for a business. Customers look to the experiences of others when making a decision about where to spend their money, and reviews are hugely popular online. Search engines such as Google will return review sites and directories when you search a business name, presenting you with information about the business at the touch of a button. You need to know that the information about you is accurate, fair and positive.
Is there anything you can do to address a bad review? The first step should be to look into the reasons given by the person posting. Is the criticism fair? If it is possible that they have a valid complaint, you may want to contact that customer and see if you can do anything to resolve their issue. An apology or nice gesture could go a long way, and might even encourage them to revoke their original review and post about their positive experience.
If the customer is not open to removing the review themselves and if the issue has not been resolved after action was taken, you may need to accept that the bad review will stand - and concentrate on encouraging good reviews from future customers instead.
What if a review is unfair or unreasonable?
You can't please every customer and some will find fault with everything. Sometimes, people just like to complain - and others have too much time on their hands.
Whatever the reason behind them, bad reviews which are false or exaggerated are a big problem for businesses. There is nothing you can do to resolve the issue from the customer's point of view, but in some cases you can take some legal steps to remove the review.
First, you can contact the review site itself and ask for the review to be removed. This can take time, because they are likely get thousands of similar requests, and your request might not be granted. After all, to an extent, people have the right to say what they think. However, if a review is overly negative or clearly false, some websites remove them. If this fails, many websites give you the opportunity to post a response to give your side of the story. Another option is legal action against the person posting the review, but this can be costly and there is no guarantee of success.
The best way to handle negative reviews is to develop a positive online presence that outshines the bad content. Reputation management companies can help you with this.
Encouraging positive reviews from happy customers and going the extra mile with your service should see the good reviews outweigh the bad ones. Most of the online shopping customers are influenced by customer reviews/feedback.
You should also consider growing your web presence. You don't need a huge budget to get web-savvy. Social media is a great way to network for free, so sign your business up to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Google should return your business pages when people look for your company. Get your website in order as well, and consider a paid advertising campaign. Push the negative content back and let yourself shine online.