Managing Negative Reviews To Unlock SEO And Digital Marketing Potential

Reviews have become an essential part of operating a business. Your ability to manage your reputation via online review channels can be a big difference maker in the digital marketing landscape because consumers so avidly rely on these customer evaluations.

The data behind reviews is staggering, as well. BrightLocal found that 88% of consumers rely on the reviews of others to determine whether or not to shop at a local business. As consumers, we trust reviews as much as a personal recommendation by a close friend.

Reading reviews are far less entertaining when your business is the subject. The experience is nerve-racking for business owners because no one wants to see that negative review of the company they’ve put so much time and effort into creating.

As troublesome as a bad review may be, it isn’t all terrible news. There’s some real, positive value that you can derive from this otherwise negative experience.

In this discussion, we’re going to look specifically at the positive impacts that not-so-positive reviews have on rankings, SEO and the user experience of potential customers searching for your business.

More Reviews Can Equal More Rankings

As SEOs, when we’re about to fall asleep, we hope we wake up in a world where we have a clear, picture-perfect understanding of how Google and other search engines rank pages. Instead, we’re left with a less-than-clear idea of just some of the factors that contribute to ranking. One of those factors, especially for local SEO, is reviews.

Moz’s 2017 Local Search Ranking Factors study estimated that review signals make up 7% of local, organic search rankings, which is nothing to neglect. Understandably, you’d prefer a positive review over a negative one, but any review helps expand your search ranking profile.

And, search engines display the total number of reviews that your business has, which makes it easy for users to see how much attention your business has received from past customers. Even if there are a few negative reviews mixed in, most consumers understand that it’s part of the cost of doing business.

We’re more inclined to look at a business listing when it has more reviews, even if the star rating is slightly lower. In short, we’re not far from that adage of any press is good press.

Negative Reviews Legitimize Your Business

Search engines may actually prefer that your business has a few bad reviews, as it helps show the legitimacy of your business and its reviews. In Moz’s same local search report, they cite review diversity as a key component to the ranking factor.

This is especially true as search engines become more sophisticated at detecting fake reviews. I’ve even seen some Google My Business pages temporarily disappear after getting waves of 5-star reviews, as Google is trying to determine if the business and these reviews are from credible sources.

Negative reviews also help establish credibility with users. We’re all naturally skeptical of things we see and read, particularly on the Internet. Thus, if a business has too many overwhelmingly positive reviews, that little voice called suspicion tends to pipe up and let us know that not everything may be legitimate.

There’s a lot of interesting research into reader reactions to positive, negative and neutral reviews. For example, negative reviews are almost always more trusted by viewers, according to the Journal of Vacation Marketing. Businesses with a spread of negative to positive reviews come across as more trustworthy.

Data from Econsultancy further supports this idea. They found that 68% of consumers find reviews more credible when there is a diverse selection of positive and negative review. When these consumers were faced with businesses with only positive reviews, almost a third suspected the reviews were faked and negative sentiments were being censored.

Negative Reviews Are Typically Longer

There’s an interesting correlation between a review’s length and its positivity (or lack thereof). An analysis of over 1.2 million Yelp reviews found that, as a review reaches 333 words (about 200 words above the Yelp review average), there is a 1-star decrease from the overall rating.

A longer review has many benefits, even when the content is negative or neutral. We’re more inclined to read a longer review because there’s more insight being shared. Those simple, one-sentence reviews don’t give a lot of value to a maybe-customer that is trying to evaluate a business and its products. We want some meat on the bones of the reviews we’re going to read.

And, the longer someone spends reading, the longer they are going to spend on your pages, which improves dwell time ratings and, you guessed it, improves search rankings.

An Opportunity To Demonstrate Your Customer Service

The universal best-practice when dealing with negative reviews is responding quickly and positively addressing the issue. That’s Internet reputation management 101.

When other readers browse your reviews and see those negative reviews, they also see your business’ response. This is a unique chance to give not-yet-customers a glimpse at how your business responds to complaints and what your customer service experience looks like.

After all, consumers understand that businesses have off-days. Again, complaints and negative reviews are an inevitable cost of doing business. What separates a good business from a bad one is not necessarily their star-rating on Google or Yelp, but how they handle negative reviews and rectify customer issues to turn those bad experiences into positive ones through superb customer service.

This also demonstrates to viewers that your business cares about the experience of its customers. Actively managing your online reputation is a good way to sell yourself to potential clients.

A Trove Of Actionable Insights

A smart business owner monitors and analyzes their company and product reviews for sentiment-based insights. These are the phrases and sentences where reviewers shared specific details of what they liked and didn’t like about their experience. This is an efficient way to gain a clear understanding as to what people are saying about your business.

Chances are, you already have a pretty clear picture of what your business does well. Negative reviews, however, provide the ever-essential, and far less known, information about what isn’t working. Sometimes, these insights can even be the early warning signs of a much bigger crisis that would have otherwise gone undetected without someone making that negative review complaint.

Sentiments expressed in negative reviews can yield a number of great insights, like:
● What’s missing from the business?: When people complain about amenities or features that they looked for, but didn’t get, it helps you gain a clearer understanding of the current consumer market and what people are looking for from businesses and products like yours. After all, these attitudes change frequently, depending on the industry.
● Where is information not clear enough?: Complaints about products being hard to use or confusing or even a business being hard to find can help show areas where customers need more clarification and information. Perhaps, this creates an opportunity for compelling blog content to explain the more technical aspects of your business and its offerings.
● Is the brand experience clearly represented and delivered?: Similar to lacking clear information, businesses should also have a clear understanding of the experience they are trying to deliver to customers and then evaluate how they are meeting that expectation. For example, if a customer visits a fast-food restaurant, they expect an experience where they receive their food very quickly. On the other hand, a customer at an artisan steakhouse isn’t going to get upset when their food takes longer than five minutes to reach their table.
● What search terms associated with your business are people using?: As you analyze your reviews, you may notice certain features or questions that many customers mention. These trends can provide valuable insight into discovering new, valuable SEO keywords to test.


Negative reviews often hit business owners where it hurts most. It’s hard to see them in any positive light. But, they aren’t the nail in the coffin, if you know how to properly manage your reputation and convert these negative reviews into positive, actionable value. As long as you work at solving customer complaints and improving the experience for future guests, then you can begin seeing a bad review as an opportunity to adjust business strategies and deliver a big win.

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