E-commerce has changed a great deal even over the past few years, and the rising prominence of online reviews is largely responsible. Online retailers have been finding that the quality of their online reviews is increasingly influential in their overall sales. A positive profile from a site like Yelp.com can be an incomparable business boon; a negative review or an online complaint, however, can send online retailers into a tailspin.
And all it takes is one bad review. Consider the following scenario. A consumer searches for “XYZ Widgets,” and the first entry that Google displays is a one-star Yelp review for your XYZ widget store. The entry right below it is a five-star review for your competitor’s widget store. Which business do you think will thrive — and which will see an almost immediate drop in sales, potentially a fatal one?
Online reviews are massively influential in shaping consumer behavior, to the point that a negative review is damaging in more ways than just lost sales. For example, online complaints have been linked to increased refund or chargeback requests. Additionally, negative reviews tend to lead to more negative reviews. A consumer who is on the fence about your product is more likely to write a bad review if he or she sees a bandwagon to board!
All of these factors help to underscore the vital importance of online reputation management. Through solid ORM practices, e-retailers and e-commerce sites can help to protect their brand identity and ultimately suppress negative reviews. Here are a few tips for getting started.
Understand How it Works
The foundational step that e-merchants should take is that of simply understanding how all of this works. Once an online review is out there, there is really no way to undo it or reel it back in, no matter how defamatory it may be. The task of the online reputation management campaign is not to remove bad reviews, then, but simply to suppress them.
Think about it this way. If a one-star slam of your company is on the first page of a Google search, it is going to do some real damage. If it is on page 5, however, then it is frankly unlikely that anyone will ever see it. It will be basically non-existent. E-merchants should seek to keep these negative listings pushed as far down the Google page ranks as possible.
With that understood, your next task is to shore up all of the prime online real estate. By this we mean taking control of online domains that will “rank” well on Google — filling the first page so that negative reviews are pushed back. Start by simply buying up all of the domains related to your company. If your business is XYZ Widgets, then, xyzwidgets.com, .org, and .net are going to be prime targets.
Also start social media accounts. Like online domains, social media pages also tend to do well in terms of Google search rankings. Again, sign up for account names that match your brand identity, ensuring maximum search engine traction.
You may not have time to populate all of these domains with content, or to maintain vigorous social media activity. It is imperative that you fill at least some of these pages with positive content that enhances your brand. Content is what gets Google and Bing rankings, which means content is what will help you rise above those nasty online reviews!
It is also important to monitor your online reputation on a regular basis. Knowing what people are saying about your e-commerce company is invaluable. Remember that a negative review could appear at any moment — and being alerted to its presence will let you know that it’s time to ratchet up your content creation.
Reputation monitoring can be as simple as regularly searching for your company name on Google, Yahoo, and Bing. You might also start some Google and Yahoo updates. These updates will keep you in the loop about new content as it is posted.
Respond When Necessary
The final question is that of response — when and how should online merchants respond to reviews posted on consumer review sites?
Here is the basic rule of thumb. If a review is positive, or even if it offers genuinely constructive feedback, then you should respond to it as promptly as you can. (This means monitoring the most common review sites for new updates!) Offer a brief and polite note expressing your thanks.
For negative reviews, meanwhile, responding in anger is about the worst thing you could do. In fact, you might simply avoid responding at all. A response is only going to provide greater Google traction to the negative review in question. The better option, for the online retailer, is simply to focus on those suppression tactics, rather than risk more consumers seeing that scathing review!
Guest author Rich Gorman is a serial internet entrepreneur with an extensive background in direct marketing, affiliate marketing, and online reputation management. In addition, Rich operates the official blog for the Direct Response industry where he shares his thoughts on Direct Response Marketing.