If you run a local business, eventually you’re going to encounter a negative review on Yelp, or a similar local business directory. It doesn’t matter how hard you try to perfect your business or make your customers happy; it’s simply impossible to please everybody all the time. Unfortunately, an accumulation of negative reviews could spell disaster not only for your PR strategy and your brand, but for your SEO strategy as well.
Before you get too upset or react instinctively, take the time to understand why Yelp reviews matter, and what you can do to recover from a particularly bad review of your business.
Yelp wasn’t always the powerhouse it is today, but as local searches grew in both significance and popularity, the local directory site exploded in importance to the world of SEO. Consumers use Yelp because it gives them a public voice where they otherwise had none, and potential consumers appreciate Yelp because it gives them objective insight into a business before they make a final purchasing decision.
Today, Yelp is especially important due to Google’s recent “Pigeon update,” a minor algorithm change that affected the way Google populates local search results. This change gave greater emphasis to the value of local directory sites, including reviews—meaning the number of positive reviews you have on Yelp and similar sites could result in a higher ranking (and, conversely, negative reviews could cause you to drop in ranks). For some local businesses, their Yelp pages actually rank higher than their official company pages. Some see this as a disadvantage, but if you take full ownership of your Yelp page and handle the negative reviews appropriately when they come up (and they will), you can turn it into a major search advantage for your business.
It’s natural for your first reaction to be offense or anger, but don’t let that emotion take control of your response to the situation. Remember that everybody is entitled to an opinion and a voice, even if that voice is damaging or nonsensical. If the post in question is poorly worded or blatantly accusatory, odds are that most potential new customers reading the review won’t take it seriously. If the negative review is thoughtful and seemingly accurate, you might even walk away from it with a lesson learned about your business.
Nevertheless, it’s a bad idea to fight fire with fire. Introducing more negativity into the situation will only make things worse. I’ve seen a handful of small businesses attempt to fix the damage done by a bad review by accusing the review writer of bias, or insisting that their story was contrived. Responding in this way weakens the character of your brand and makes you appear defensive, ultimately creating more bad impressions than you would have had if you had simply left the bad review alone.In Yelp’s own words, “responding to criticism with criticism of your own will almost always work against you.”
Don’t panic. This is not a situation you can fix immediately, but with time and careful effort, you can turn this around the right way.
The first thing you need to do, if you haven’t already, is to take charge of your Yelp page. Yelp offers a simple, easy-to-follow process for local business owners to verify their ownership and correct any discrepancies on the page. This will give you more control and insight into your customers’ reviews. Having this ownership will not allow you to remove negative reviews from your page, but you will have the opportunity to respond to them.
If you choose not to claim your business page on Yelp, your information may still be presented (possibly inaccurately). Yelp pulls and displays basic business data from third party providers and public sources, so you’ll be at the mercy of the accuracy of those sources. There’s also no way to take this information down entirely, so you might as well claim your territory.
While you’re at it, it’s a good idea to claim your company’s profile on any relevant local review and directory sites you can find. Post-Pigeon Google algorithms view your presence on these sites as ranking signals, so it’s vital to ensure all your details are accurate and consistent across each platform.
Now that you’ve claimed your Yelp page, you’ll have the ability to respond to your reviewers (both negative and positive ones). Take your time with this step, and think through exactly what you want to say. Responding to negative reviews is the best way to generate something positive out of the bad experience—first, you’ll have a chance to make it up to the reviewer, but more importantly, you’ll have the chance to prove your brand trustworthiness to others.
Yelp offers two options for businesses to respond to negative reviews: public and private. It is possible to send a private, direct message to the reviewer, giving you a chance to apologize and offer a discount or refund to help make things right. Again, avoid responding with criticism or negativity; the reviewer could easily take your email response and publicize it, making you look even worse. Instead, be sincere and constructive, and work to make things right.
Still, private messages aren’t the best way to respond to a negative review since not everyone can see them. It’s far better for your brand if you respond publically. Acknowledge the complaint and treat it as constructive criticism (even if the post is inflammatory or hateful). Explain the circumstances or apologize, and tell them what you’re going to do to make this better for future customers. Even if the negative reviewer remains adamant, your potential customers will read your response and rest assured knowing that even if they do have a questionable experience, you’ll be there to try and make things right.
Once you’ve taken control of your page and addressed the reviewer publically, the last step to take in your recovery is to encourage more positive reviews. Since there’s no direct way to eliminate the negative reviews that already exist, the best you can do is overwhelm those negative reviews with positive reviews.
Learn from the negative reviews that are posted, and do what you can to improve your customers’ experience. Encourage your customers to post a review of your business on Yelp—either with posted signs in your establishment, social media callouts, or a follow-up form of communication asking them directly to post their thoughts. If you have enough positive reviews on Yelp and similar sites, the negative reviews will no longer matter.
It’s impossible to completely avoid the possibility of getting a negative review, but if you respond quickly and positively, you can turn each bad experience into a productive one. Use negative reviews as a learning experience, and correct any mistakes that could lead to future reviews. Take control of your page, respond to negative users publically, politely, and directly, and ameliorate your reputation by fostering an environment that encourages more positive reviews. Follow these steps and eventually, your negative reviews will be lost in a sea of positive brand demonstrations.