I’ve been talking about reviews and reputation management a lot lately. And because I work with both local SEO companies and reputation management companies lately, I’ve had the chance to be exposed to the sometimes contradictory advice that both types of companies offer.
It might not be a surprise to learn that most of the contradictions revolve around how to handle reviews.
Local SEO experts will tell you that you really need reviews on third-party websites, particularly Google reviews, to optimize your Google+ Local listing. And a local SEO will advise you to respond to negative reviews if they happen, so that you can demonstrate excellent customer service. I’ve given that advice myself while living primarily in the perspective of a local SEO expert.
Reputation management experts will tell you that you don’t want to feed those sites with any kind of content at all if you can help it. As Darren Slaughter mentioned in the comments section of, “Should You Pay Review Site Advertising Fees,” positive reviews are better off on your site than they are on some third-party site where they might be filtered out anyway. Negative reviews are better off ignored. Having spent some time working with reputation management now, I see the wisdom in this strategy.
So who’s right? Can you take this contradictory advice and fuse it into a coherent strategy for your business?
I believe that you can. Here’s a three-pronged strategy.
1. Gather Reviews
Gather positive reviews and post them on your website. You can control those reviews, just as Darren pointed out, and they’re great tools for converting site visitors into customers.
The people who are going to leave Google reviews or Yelp reviews because those are their preferred sites will post them there anyway, where they’ll go on to help your local SEO (if they’re positive) . If they’re negative they won’t help your local SEO anyway.
2. Work on Citations
Reviews are not the only factor that Google+ Local measures. Google+ Local also measures citations. Working on those citations is actually the quickest way to dominate the local search results, in addition to optimizing your website and claiming your listings. Some of the people on the “A” result for their city and business type don’t even have any reviews because they took these steps.
Remember to follow the guidelines I set out for service providers in this post.
3. Respond Selectively
If you’ve truly made a mistake then it can absolutely be productive to open a dialogue with the customer about how you’ll rectify that mistake. However, you should be careful about doing so on third-party websites.
Instead, if you can identify that customer, just pick up the phone, call them, and work on resolving that problem. If the customer is really happy with the resolution you can ask them to update the review to something more positive, relaying the experience of how you made things right.
If the review is on Yelp, for example, they have the option to edit or update that review at any time. Having your customer update the review won’t feed the site enough fresh content to matter, but it will serve as a positive, both as a Google+ Local ranking factor and for Yelp’s few direct visitors. Win-win, though you still don’t want the review outdoing your own efforts to dominate the search results with multiple, positive results.
As for malicious, defamatory reviews that come out of left field, just ignore them. Work on building your web presence to minimize them instead.
Reviews on Google+ Local can’t really be buried, since Google’s always going to make its own content as visible as possible. Fortunately, Google isn’t quite as rigid as Yelp when it comes to content removal. They have an appeal process, and you can work to remove reviews that you believe to be fake.
Keep Doing Great Work
You give yourself opportunities every time you do a great job. You give yourself an opening to ask for that great review, and you reduce the chances that someone who has a legitimate beef with your business will jump online to hash that beef out with you instead of handling it with you directly.
And if you don’t do great work, no amount of SEO work or reputation management work will ever be more than a band aid covering up much deeper problems.