Reviews stock photo from Pixabay.

Reputation management is a very important aspect of a small business’ digital marketing strategy. Consumer opinion is largely based on the number of positive reviews your brand has on important citation listings like Yelp, Manta and Google My Business. This is especially true in an age where mapping systems are becoming more sophisticated and mobile searches are dominating desktop searches. When a business receives a negative review and doesn’t address it or discovers it several months later, they could potentially have lost out on thousands of dollars in revenue.

The ability for customers to easily leave reviews for businesses also has an ugly side. Small business owners or representatives from competing companies will sometimes leave a negative review for a rival business. Reviews have become an issue even for well-known brands like Amazon and their product review system. Some merchants on Amazon have been caught paying fake customers to leave positive reviews for their products which drives up their reputation and visibility on the ecommerce site. Facebook groups has been identified as the platform where these merchants find and connect with these willing fake customers. According to the Washington Post, brands that sell Bluetooth headphones and speakers were the biggest violators in paying for fake reviews on Amazon. In 2015, Amazon filed lawsuits against more than 1,000 entities that were soliciting fake reviews on their website. Amazon also now uses a review tool that sniffs out illegitimate reviews called Fakespot.

Leaving a negative review for a local business on Google My Business is very easy to do and all that is needed is a Gmail email address. As local businesses accumulate more positive reviews, they rank higher in the Google Maps feature which appear at the top of the local search results. This provides plenty of incentive for small businesses to publish or seek out fake positive reviews. Reviewer’s with malicious intent can even leave a one-star rating for a business without writing a review. Unfortunately, we’ve personally found Google to be very stubborn when it comes to deleting reviews and ratings that we contest as illegitimate. Below is a YouTube video tutorial that will show you how to report Google reviews you would like removed.

What Google does recommend is that small business owners respond to every review both negative and positive. This shows customers that you’re active in your brand's online presence and care about their opinions. In addition to it’s review system, Google My Business has been making many changes to it’s overall platform as of late. Their end game seems to be to provide potential customers with as much information about a small business without having to visit the business' homepage.

Yelp has proven to be the most efficient at preventing fake reviews from hitting their platform. In fact, Yelp asks that business owners let reviews come organically and to avoid asking former customers for positive reviews. Yelp also keeps a close eye on the activity of newly created accounts since those are most often the culprits of fake reviews.

The underlying problem with fake reviews is that potential customers don’t know which reviews for a business are legitimate and which are fake. That’s why reputation management should fall upon the business owner and their marketing staff. One strategy we’ve found helpful is to make sure the email address you check the most often is sent alerts when new reviews for your business are published. It’s also handy to keep an excel spreadsheet of the links and login information for all of your company’s citation listings since your brand's business information will change from time to time. Having misleading or old business information can wreak havoc on your business' rankings in the local search results.

You're not completely on your own, however. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has cracked down hard on individuals that publish fake reviews and other misleading information. The FTC's primary guidelines state that

  • Writers should not accept money to publish fake reviews.
  • All endorsed reviews must be factual and contain honesty.
  • Businesses are not allowed to suppress negative reviews that have merit.
  • Critics of a business or product must disclose their endorsements.

The Federal Trade Comission has the ability to levy heavy fines against brands and individuals that publish fake reviews. If your business does attracts the attention of the FTC and it makes the local headlines, your business' reputation is as good as dead.

Are you a small business owner that needs help building an effective digital marketing strategy for your brand? John Mann SEO Consulting is a Nashville SEO company that specializes in search engine optimization, social media marketing, email marketing consulting and content marketing. To learn more about our services our to schedule your free consultation, complete our inquiry contact form or give us a call at 615-491-9819. John Mann SEO Consulting is passionate about helping entrepreneurs scale their business via a stronger digital presence.