Reviews, Testimonials & Snake Oil

The Internet has grown in to an opinionated, buzz driven machine. Websites seek user interaction, comments and participation, social media sharing, user specific search result weighting and more. This is all well and good until someone bad mouths you, your website or business. The things that can happen from a loose lipped comment or click are not only very dangerous, but apparently more interesting than good notations! Face it haven’t you shopped on eBay and searched that sellers ratings until you located the one bad one? It’s human nature, we are rubber neckers!

Customers behave in the same manner… 1000 great orders delivered fast and perfectly, no comments at all. 1 distribution screw up, and boom you are ranking on page one for “XYC company are idiots!” Some will say. “it’s not fair”… Tell you what I tell my kids, “Life is not fair”. Just like anything else in life, if it’s worth it…. It’s also hard work. You will have to fix this.

So today we will cover some of the things that can happen to your business, and some ways to “fix” the problems created.

While these interactive services are a wonderful part of the web, they are also easily misused and cheated as well. This is not however the most common problem, most times it’s that one bad order that will sting you. So spend your time concentrating on fixing the issue and not finding the competitor who caused it.

Some Ways You Can be Hurt by User Supplied Information on The Web

Testimonials: We know these can be a great thing for your business, but they can be a silent killer as well. Sites like and allow users to say what they like without much if any supporting information. These types of sites have essentially un-moderated content by way of making the “submitter” solely responsible for their own ….. Searchable content!

Product Reviews: Word of mouth advertising for products and services is as old as human commerce. These types of customer generated comments have often been the maker or breaker of small businesses for some time. A good review in a newspaper could send your business soaring to the top, while a bad one could sink your boat. This hasn’t changed much in theory, the dangers and territory have expanded. So instead of waiting out a poor review in a newspaper for 6 months that touched your local area, you now are dealing with a global area and a potentially unlimited time line.

Security Reports: For ecommerce this is a BIG deal, tools like McAfee SiteAdvisor and other toolbar phishing and security reporting devices can sting your business big time. These tools, while for the most part are fairly moderated can cause you terrible troubles if the not so savvy web user reports you for phishing or security issues. A great example is a client who was reported because his main page of his Zen Cart was NOT SSL encrypted. Why the hell would it be? But, McAfee accepted the report and was flagging the search results for the website for all of it’s users! While I am sure that the user who submitted the rating was honest and concerned, he/she was clearly NOT qualified to supply the report…. as a result the client’s business suffered while we attempted to work it out w/ McAfee.

Social Media: Sharing is the buzz word for this generation, and share we do. We share photos, experiences and of course the businesses we come in contact with as well. Again, just like we discussed, humans are far more likely to add a negative experience to their Facebook than a positive one. The dangers of not monitoring and involving your business in social media are exponential. The up side it that many social media users will ask advice before visiting a restaurant or making a purchase, and the responses from network friends will generally be positive in these cases.

As a shop owner there are some things you can do to monitor and influence these items. The term is actually a fairly new classification called “reputation management”. In essence this is the monitoring, management and repair of your’s, your business’, and/or your website’s online activity and reputation. There are professionals that can for a fee, provide these services to you… But we will try to help you, help yourself a bit first.

Monitoring Online Reputation

While we suggest you contact a professional for damage control and cleanup in the event you are “bad mouthed” on the web, there are many free tools you can use to monitor your online reputation yourself however.

  • BackType: is a free search tool which will grab mentions of your company name, products, web site url etc. and deliver you results from social media, blogs and other user generated content sites on the web.
  • Monitter: will scrape real time Twitter notations for up to 3 keywords at a time. Nice tool, but a bit addictive!
  • Google Alerts: is by far the most comprehensive and my favorite. Way back when, originally suggested to me by the late David Castle, this tool scrapes anything you want from Google. Great for trends, keyword research and reputation management too!
  • PureWireTrust: is an online search for email addresses, websites (places) and things. Results include social networking accounts, security, blacklisting, IP and WhoIs results.
  • Yasni: is a pretty cool scraper for Google Blogs, web, etc… But most impressive is the “monitor tool” provided to email yourself results and save your results as well!
  • BBB: has user submitted issues even if you are NOT a member. Note that at least these are well moderated user submitted comments.
  • Google: is great for searching for things like your business/domain name and one of these the words: testimonials, reviews, complaints, reports etc.

Taking Action

There are many things you can do for yourself if you find your site in a reputation mess, BUT, we strongly suggest you at least consult a professional if you have been wrongly bad mouthed on the web.

  1. Investigate the allegation: Do you know this user? Does the submitted report look real? Do they have the right site?
  2. Contact the webmaster: Use the website’s contact information to inquire about the negative comments, provide your side of the story and request removal.
  3. Make amends: Contact the user, offer to make it right…. Apologize. A wise restaurant manager (Rick Nader) once told me that customer complaints are a much greater opportunity to “wow” a customer than plain old great service. Making it right can be a huge word of mouth advertising tools for your website.
  4. Address the issue: If you are unable to get the problem resolved/removed, then factually and honestly address it on your own blog or social media persona. Tell the truth, reference the page link of the negative comments and tell your side of the story in a very positive and constructive way.
  5. Bomb the page: This is obviously a last resort, but popularity and freshness are huge in search engine ranking, so you can conceivably “bomb” the offending page with fresh positive results and push them down the SERPs (search results pages).

The moral of today’s post is that while nothing has changed in business reputation, the tools, playing field, influence and accessibility of these reports has grown to mammoth proportions…. And so must you step up and monitor your online reputation.