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Are Bad Online Reviews Killing Your Small Business? Here’s What to Do

Yelp and other review sites like it can be responsible for sending a flood of traffic through the doors of your local business. Conversely, a single negative review can be a huge detriment to your business.

Even if you have a ton of positive reviews, all it takes is a single negative review to lower your five-star rating and deter potential customers.

If you’re a small business owner who relies on Yelp and other such sites for a few more leads every month, keep reading to learn what to do about those pesky negative reviews.


The Three Types of Negative Reviews

Negative reviews can crop up for a variety of reasons and circumstances.

Sometimes, you’ll receive a poor review that’s obviously fake. These can be very frustrating, not to mention damaging to your business.

Another form of poor review comes from a customer who had a bad experience at your place of business:

Negative Yelp review

This can happen for a variety of reasons, but for some reason the customer wasn’t satisfied and felt compelled to tell the entire world about it. Luckily, there’s a remedy for this situation.

Lastly, you might see a negative review come up from a disgruntled ex-employee. These can be easier to spot, as they’ll tend to get posted right after the employee was fired, and reference more in-depth company information. These reviews can often be removed due to violating Terms of Service, which we’ll go into below.

What You Must Avoid Doing

When you first spot a negative review it can be tempting to retaliate immediately. Be careful – your reputation is on the line, and getting into a flame war over the Internet isn’t going to help your business at all.


Some companies have also made the mistake of attacking Yelp for allowing the review to be posted in the first place. This isn’t a good strategy, as they’re a large company with deep pockets and a large legal staff. Ultimately, you’ll want to have them on your side; don’t make them an enemy.

How to Deal With Negative Reviewers

Your first option is to contact the person who left the review. Although it’s not always possible to get in touch with this person, it’s always worth the effort. For them to remove the review, all they have to do is log back into the site and delete it.

The tips below will help you foster a relationship that hopefully leads to them taking down the review.

1. Get in Touch Offline

Try to find the person’s contact information and get in touch with them offline. By talking to them in person or over the phone, it’ll be easier to make an emotional connection with them.

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2. Put Your Best Foot Forward

When speaking, try to be polite, pleasant and well-meaning. It’s hard for someone to combat with anger when someone is speaking with nothing but kindness. After all, anger can only lead to more anger.

3. Understand Their Situation

Tell them that you can understand why they were frustrated. Make them feel like they’re heard. Lashing out in a review came from them not having their needs met, so demonstrate that you’re willing to hear them out fully.


4. Explain the Impact of Their Review

When you bring up the review, make sure to frame it as something larger than yourself. A negative review doesn’t just hurt you; it hurts your entire company, which affects your employees and their families.

5. Offer Something in Exchange

Although you’re not allowed to incentivize customers to leave a positive review, you can offer something in good faith to the disgruntled customer. For example, you could offer them a free coffee, or a free home inspection, so they can see if their concerns were properly addressed.

Getting in touch with a customer or ex-employee won’t work under every circumstance, but any added effort you put in to get the bad review removed will be well worth it.

How to Handle Reviews That Are in Breach of Terms of Service

Yelp and other sites like it all have Terms of Service statements and often Content Guidelines that everyone has to agree to in order to use the site.

Yelp Content Guidelines

A section of Yelp’s Content Guidelines

In some cases, you can use this to your advantage by reporting a bad review if it’s in violation of the terms. For example, if the review is a personal attack on an employee, or is derogatory, or defamatory in any way, you can ask to have the review removed.

To report the review simply flag the review, and add a comment disclosing why the review is flagged for removal. Make sure to include terms like “Terms of Service” and “Content Guidelines” in your comment, so it will get picked up by the automatic ticketing system most review sites use.

By citing the portion of the Terms of Service or Contnet Guidelines that the negative review violates, you’ll increase your chances of the review being taken down.

Once you’ve requested the review to be removed, reply to the review stating that it’s been flagged for removal. This will show potential customers that the review is fake or misleading, and is not a representation of your company.

Reply to the Review Publicly

If all else fails you can downvote the review and offer a structured and well-reasoned reply objecting to the points made in the review:

Trip Advisor review

As the business owner you’d be forgiven for reacting angrily at this Trip Advisor review, but you must keep that reaction to yourself.

If you know the review is a spam review and makes false claims about your company, then simply reply with an objection to those claims. It’s hard to refute cold hard facts.

However, it’s not always the best course of action to reply to a review. For example, if the reviewer seems to be picking a fight, the best decision would be to not engage or provoke the reviewer. People will be able to notice that this reviewer is unreasonable, and shouldn’t take their review seriously.

How to Build a Foundation of Positive Reviews

The best offense is a good defense. To ensure a negative review doesn’t dismantle your entire operation, it’s important to build up as many positive reviews as possible.

However, you have to build reviews the right way, otherwise you run the risk of violating Terms of Service. Below you’ll find our recommended course of action for building up your positive reviews.

1. Ask Your Regulars

Satisfied customers you see on a consistent basis are the perfect candidates to leave a review. You know they love your business and would be happy to help you out.

Often, all it takes is a simple request from you for them to leave a review online. However, it’s important not to pester your customers to leave a review, as this could backfire, and the customer’s annoyance will come through in their review.

2. Turn Compliments into Reviews

Do you tend to get a lot of compliments from your customers?

You can turn these compliments into reviews by asking your customer if they wouldn’t mind leaving that compliment in the form of a review. You’ll be surprised at how many people say yes.

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3. Convince Family and Friends

If you have a bare profile, then sourcing reviews from your family and friends is a great place to start. However, make sure the people you ask are posting the review from the same town as your business.

It’s also important to space out your requests for reviews, so you don’t get flooded with a bunch of new reviews on the same day.

You’ll also need to be sure that all of your reviews aren’t coming from inside of your storefront. This is a red flag to the likes of Yelp and those reviews could end up being flagged for removal. You’ll want the reviews posted to seem as ‘organic’ as possible.

To Conclude

Dealing with negative online reviews can be a stressful experience. However, by taking a calm and structured approach, you’ll be able to avoid having that review negatively impact your business.

To avoid the potential impact from a negative review, make sure you’re taking the time to build up positive reviews on a regular basis.

Have you had to deal with negative online reviews in the past? Share how you combated your negative review in the comments below.