Reviews websites have, for some, been the scourge of online businesses. Websites such as blagger.com, ciao.co.uk and tripadvisor.com are frequented by millions of users, all looking for reviews of the latest products, films, business services and, in the case of TripAdvisor, hotels and holiday companies.
The problem is that because these websites are used by so many people, and receive so much great quality, original content literally brimming with keywords, they tend to rank very well in Google for searches relevant to the industry. They’re a business’ nightmare when it comes to bad reviews, unhappy customers and unscrupulous competitors looking to give you a bad name.
But what can you do about it if reviews for your business, or hotel, on these websites appears at the top of Google for a search on your name? What you’ll need here is a stiff drink, and some reputation management. Getting rid of bad press is like clearing a bad smell – it’s not easy, and it takes time, but you can do it – and helps to be prepared.
Firstly, don’t do what many companies (and some disreputable SEO companies) have done in the past; add your own positive reviews of your business in an attempt to lessen the damage. This is immoral, ineffective and sadly very easy to spot. A couple of positive reviews amid a wash of negative ones from members who have only just signed up to the websites stick out like the proverbial fly in the soup. You’ll be fooling nobody, and once your ruse is detected you’ll make matters worse – trust us.
No, rather than pour gasoline on the flames of the negative reviews you should leave well alone – do not post on them, do not acknowledge them and do not comment about them on your own site, or link to them. If you expect them to disappear in Google, adding to their flow of content and links will serve no other purpose than to tell Google that it’s important, and that it should ranked highly.
If you keep picking at it, you’ll make it worse.
Instead you need to create other websites that will rank above the negative reviews. This is very hard as the reviews websites themselves are immensely strong, but it can be done.
What some companies are trying to do however is just about the worst way to go about it. Rather than tackle the problem with SEO and reputation management, they’ve decided to throw money, and the law, at the problem and are taking legal action against TripAdvisor. 700 owners of hotels and guesthouses are pursuing a combined action against the website for the negative reviews they have suffered at the hands of dissatisfied guests all willing to voice their unhappiness via the Internet.
But just what is the size of the problem that TripAdvisor poses for them?
According to recent statistics, the website receives in the region of 40 million users per month, from over 20 different countries. 4.5 million of these users are from the UK – all looking for reviews on hotels and guesthouses before they book their holidays. One hotel owner, Louis Naudi from the Royal Sportsman Hotel, Porthmadog, commented how some of the negative reviews are petty, and are things that could have been cleared up at the time had the guests actually complained in person rather than hide behind their keyboards via a website.
“I’m not knocking TripAdvisor per se, I’m knocking what’s happening with regards to malicious reviews.”
“They are cowards hiding behind their anonymity. You have to work out if they actually stayed and, if so, when. Then they won’t respond when you write to them.”
Websites like TripAdvisor have given the power to the people once again, and removed it from the hands of the professional travel writers. People trust people – and these reviews count. They count for a lot more than the ‘reviews’ you see on the travel sites themselves, which are all screened to ensure that really bad ones are never read.
Ms Turner, from Which? magazine, commented that it can be difficult to tell which reviews are real, which ones are just rants and which ones are from competitors – but it’s the actions of competitors bad-mouthing each other that has led to this ‘tit-for-tat’ problem in the first place. Businesses should just concentrate on giving good service, and then the reviews will follow.
Ms Turner commented:
“You need to be able to see yourself in a review – pick out the ones you think are trustworthy.”
“But holidays are subjective and your expectation of a four-star hotel may be completely different from mine. It depends on taste.”
The website also has systems in place to weed out fake reviews, so the majority of the comments on the website should be real – though it’s not too hard to spot the real ones from the fake ones.
You should read a selection of reviews and see which ones appeal to you in terms of style and grammar – make an informed decision based on a cross section, rather than just from one over-the-top rant.
Rather than go down the legal action road, which will invariably end in expensive disappointment, the hoteliers should instead be looking at improving the reputation of their businesses online. Bad press may spread more quickly than positive press, but there’s no smoke without fire – and SEO ensures that the fire goes where you want it to.