No. 115
August 12th, 2008

5 Steps for 5 Stars: Reputation Management for Small Businesses

A “Review” of Reviews

25% of the questions Todd Mintz asked me in his excellent interview last month had to do with reputation management for small businesses. A synopsis of my response:

Online reputation management goes hand-in-hand with Local optimization….(but) [i]t’s a tough situation — small businesses have to work twice as hard as larger businesses to manage their online reputation, with fewer resources.

So, with this post, I thought I would try to make things a little easier for small businesses by compiling a list of truly exceptional posts related to this topic written in the last couple of months, and summarizing their findings.

1. Understand the value of reviews

Anger against Local Search Engines and content portals is being fueled by ignorance and confusion about online marketing on the part of small business owners. Educate yourself! (Will Scott, Search Influence) As are opaque, hidden, or counterintuitive review policies on the part of these larger websites–see #3 for more on this topic.

It’s not entirely clear whether ratings have any effect on ranking within Local search algorithms. Nonetheless, ratings draw additional eyeballs, even to sites ranked towards the bottom of a ten-pack or three-pack (Michael Jensen, CityMarketer)…

…This can mean MANY more clicks on your listing, which may indirectly affect your ranking (Chris Silver Smith, Natural Search Blog in my SMX Local Recap).

If you’re in a hospitality industry, like hotels or restaurants, particularly on the West Coast, ratings are going to be critical to your online success (Palore and Others).

If you’re in an industry that doesn’t get a lot of reviews, even one or two bad ones can have a dramatic impact on your business (Matt McGee, Small Business SEM)

2. Prioritize your review efforts—figure out who the most important players are.

InsiderPages and CitySearch reviews are both captured by a number of Local Search Engines, in addition to their own websites. Google and Yahoo Local still have a huge market share themselves, however (Michael Jensen, CityMarketer).

Look at which of the major profile websites (CitySearch, Yahoo Local, etc.) are ranking in the Top 10 in Google for your keywords. Chances are, Google’s spidering them VERY well, and will pick up reviews from those sources in its own Local algorithm (Steve Espinosa).

If you’re in the hospitality industry, and can help you a ton (Miriam Ellis, SEO Igloo + Mary Bowling, Blizzard Internet Marketing).

3. Understand the guidelines of what is an acceptable review acquisition strategy. “What’s acceptable” may vary from site to site.

Yelp has caught a TON of flak recently for its rather unsavory handling of a review controversy highlighted in the San Francisco Chronicle on July 4th of this year. Fellow Bay Area media outlet CBS5 followed up with this thorn in Yelp’s side almost exactly a month later. (More on the Yelp controversy from Greg Sterling).

Most Local portals don’t have a clear review policy, but if they do, make sure you know what it is before you engage in a tactic that could lead to a penalty or ban. Yelp specifically does not like incentives of any kind being used for reviews (Greg Sterling, Screenwerk).

Engaging in solicitation of reviews using a free WiFi or workstation at your location may lead to reviews getting filtered or removed (Miriam Ellis, SEO Igloo).

4. Implement a review acquisition strategy.

Going back to #3–However, this free WiFi strategy might be highly successful at acquiring a vast number of reviews across multiple platofrms, if implemented properly (Michael Jensen in my SMX Local Recap).

Michael runs a really neat website called which randomizes the sites on which customers leave reviews from a single URL. If your WiFi landing page is set up properly, and you give visitors the choice of where they would like to leave reviews, you might not run into this filtering problem.

Michael’s business partner Aaron Stewart also chimes in with this gem of a post in which he advises the use of Twitter to monitor what people are saying, and perhaps to solicit reviews or at least promote events which people will want to review.

Also keep in mind that very few portals are as stringent as Yelp at detecting and removing incentivized reviews. But if you do use an incentive, do your best to space out the timing of when you receive the reviews, as a crush of them all at once may raise a flag or trip a filter (me, from personal experience with a client).

And finally, here’s a headsmacker: if your customer has an obvious email address, such as @Gmail,com or, ask them to review your business using that particular engine. They won’t have to sign up for a new account and they’ll likely already be comfortable with the review interface (Tim Coleman, Convert Offline).

5. Respond to your customers’ reviews the right way.

Take the high road with negative reviewers, even if they are one of your competitors. Figure out what you can do to work together to promote each other’s businesses positively and make lemonade from lemons (Miriam Ellis, SEO Igloo).

Turning nasty in responding to reviews just reflects poorly on your business and does nothing to convince people to trust you above the negative reviewer (Greg Sterling, Screenwerk).

Yelp came under fire yet again for its refusal to let business owners moderate their own reputation online…the summer has not been good for Stoppelman and Company (Greg Sterling, Screenwerk).

My own advice: responding does not mean simply answering or acknowledging you have heard people’s complaints online. If you’re getting a large number of similar negative reviews, chances are there is actually a flaw in your business somewhere.

Take steps to address that flaw so that you get more reviews like “I don’t understand what these people on here are talking about. The service was great at Joe’s Pizza and I had a great time.” Eventually, older reviews will get pushed towards the bottom of the pile and newer, positive ones will rise, signaling to prospective customers that you have made a change in your business and it’s worth seeing for themselves.

A List of Recommended Blogs Writing Frequently on Small Business Reputation Management:

I intend for this to be a cumulative list to which I will regularly post additional resources on this topic, so if you’ve come across one, please list it in the comments!