How to handle negative reviews online

responding to negative reviews onlineFor those of you dealing with negative reviews, ratings, and forum posts appearing on search engine results, you know how frustrating it can be. Emotions quickly go from fear to anger, compelling you to act in your defense. If you surf around for advice online, they’ll tell you to respond to negative criticism to protect your reputation.┬áBut that’s not always the right advice. Many companies that have responded to complaints online end up making a bad situation worse.

Crafting the right response requires a careful assessment of how serious the complaints are, how often they’ve occurred, whether they continue to occur, and what level of publicity they’re getting. If a major company has significant ongoing issues, an online effort to respond to customer complaints and comments should contain the situation. However, if an angry contractor or customer complains online about a bad experience with your small business, responding directly is rarely the right thing to do.

When negative reviews, ratings, or feedback are left about your business on forums or review sites, our advice in most cases is do not respond using the same medium. Instead, work behind the scenes to bury the influence other websites have over your brand, and neutralize the negative information.

Here are a few reasons against responding to negative information directly where it’s posted:

  • the offending site earns extra points on the search engines for update frequency and freshness.
  • your response is more content for them that is indexed by the search engines.
  • your response online is recently dated suggesting that your company issues are current.
  • the offending site now has more credit than they deserve. You’re the one who made them important by paying attention.
  • It leaves you vulnerable to more negative attack. Against some individuals, no amount of appeasement will work.

While we’re advocating silence above, we certainly want you to take action behind the scenes to defend your brand. If there are one or two negative reviews, and it’s feasible and economical to resolve, then reaching out to the reviewers to remedy their issues and have them remove the comment may be worthwhile. Email, call, or private message the complaining parties, but never use the same mode of communication as the complaint (e.g. blog post, forum post, comment, response). If possible, call the offending party and avoid writing lengthy emails that can be posted online. Also remember, if you can’t remove all the negative reviews, then removing one or more won’t make a difference. It’s an all or none proposition.

Another option, depending on the situation, would be to contact the forum owners to request the removal of negative information in exchange for your 1) commitment to handle the existing user grievances, and 2) providing some financial incentive to the site owners.

About Henry Jawhary

Henry Jawhary is a Reputation Management and SEO consultant based in Southern California. Before becoming an expert ORM consultant, he spent 14 years providing Web Development and IT Project Management services to various corporations and government organizations in the US. Henry is available to discuss your company's reputation management needs or speak at your next corporate event. For more information, email

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