When my friend called me, there was a little panic in his voice. He owned a successful, customer-friendly small business, and was generally an easygoing person. But he didn't know what to do. A long-time and loyal customer alerted him to a savage review of his business on an Internet Yellow Pages site. And so now he was turning to me to find out what he could do about it.

I asked him for the details and he ruefully related the story. When he read the review, he immediately knew who the unhappy client was, recognizing some details in the story. He told me that this client had been impossible, constantly changing her mind about what she wanted with no notice, and although he did his best to satisfy her, at the end he had to tell her that he had done all he could for what he had been paid.

Image representing Yelp as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

He would have understood if she had honestly expressed her disappointment in him in the review (even though he felt she was expecting way too much), but what irked him no end was that her review attributed egregious bits of behavior to him that were completely made up from whole cloth. He had objective proof that some of her comments were lies.

This isn't an isolated case. Although most reviews are factual, and some small businesses have it coming, there's nothing stopping dissatisfied customers from responding in extreme ways. And the services that post such reviews, such as Yahoo! Yellow Pages and Yelp, don't want to be in the position of having to discern who's telling the truth, letting the "wisdom of crowds" sort things out.

So, what's a small business to do? First, treat your customers well, remembering that they have more power than you think. Encourage your happy customers to post reviews online, so that the wisdom of your crowd is in evidence--that will dilute the power of any one negative review. (Yesterday, I posted some small business social media success stories that you can emulate.) When someone posts a bad review, consider engaging that person online to try to make amends.

Unfortunately, it might require that you develop a thicker skin, because the rudeness of some online reviews might be more than you can bear. One San Francisco bookstore owner was arrested for battery after responding to a Yelp reviewer.

But that's no reason to accept outright lies. When it clearly goes beyond a difference of opinion, and you can prove you've been wronged, go to the review site and plead your case. Show them that it's a lie and ask them to remove it.

That's what my friend did, and Yahoo! Yellow Pages, to their credit, did remove the dishonest review. But my friend learned form the situation. Now, he solicits good reviews and he works harder to satisfy even the nut jobs. It's a different world out there, so make sure you know how to make your way through it.

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March 2, 2010

Mike is an expert in search marketing, search technology, social media, publishing, text analytics, and web metrics, who regularly makes speaking appearances.

Mike's previous appearances include Text Analytics World, Rutgers Business School, SEMRush webinar, ClickZ Live.

Mike also founded and writes for Biznology, is the co-author of Outside-In Marketing (with James Mathewson) and the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (now in its 3rd edition, and sole author of Do It Wrong Quickly, named by the Miami Herald as one of the 11 best business books of 2007.


Managing your online reputation is very important especially with the onset of social marketing, blogs and forums. It's always important to answer your critics. When Dell had problems with their laptops catching on fire, they wrote about it on their blog - http://en.community.dell.com/blogs/direct2dell/archive/2006/07/13/431.aspx and dealt with the situation head on. Take a note from Tiger Woods, there is no point hiding your head in the sand. We'll wait to see what his delay in apologising will cost him in terms of sponsorship and fans. Here is an article on managing your online reputation that your readers may be interested in - http://en.community.dell.com/blogs/direct2dell/archive/2006/07/13/431.aspx

Good aid from bad reviewers! This reminded me an old saying: "a satisfied customer is a moving ambassador".

Generally, someone who is unhappy about your product/service is more apt to review it than someone is satisfied. It's key to encourage your loyal customers to post positive reviews online.

Do you think that owners should have review sites remove those lies? I think it's much more effective for the site itself to prove the review is false and keep it up there to discourage the same. For genuinely negative reviews with foundation, business owners should be relatively open to the criticism -- as is most often the case, they might not be on the front lines. As a consumer, I would be highly skeptical of all positive reviews, and would appreciate negative reviews that were followed-up on, true or false.

The customer is not always right, but he is always the customer.

I have not had this happen to me, however I have had non-customers question services before hand. I find a open, healthy conversation where you show your best efforts to resolve the issue, can help business showing you are real.

If I notice a lie, I suggest not to be afraid to call it and ask for proof.


I'd be interested in what you have to say about Ripoff Reports. That site continually ranks high on Google and has been the vehicle for many a smear campaign. Some charge that ROR is an extortion outfit, charging thousands to have negative reviews removed. What can be done about that?

I don't have any inside information on the motivation behind ripoff reports, but I do remember one client that was peeved to have a less-than-honest story up there about them. Where have you seen evidence that they are extorting companies, Ed?

One factor that complicates things is that Yelp (and I'm not sure about other sites) actively discourages businesses from asking customers to write reviews, and it does so by suppressing reviews from people who haven't reviewed a significant number of businesses.

One of the reasons that the CEO of Yelp is considered by some to be the most hated man by small business owners is that they use an algorithm that suppresses reviews immediately and removes them from the business page under certain seemingly arbitrary circumstances.

Unfortunately, unsatisfied customers leave feedback about the work of the company more often, while loyal customers do not want to waste their time to leave positive feedback.

That's absolutely the case, Howard--it's just human nature--but I think we can prod our customers to help us out in that way. Some will be willing.

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Search Engine Guide > Mike Moran > What To Do When Reviewers Lie About You