How to Respond to Negative Reviews: Best Practices for Small Businesses

Negative online reviews, a thumbs down for small local businessesIf you own a small business, you’re probably well aware of how online reviews play an important role in your success. Given the surge in popularity of sites like Yelp, Angie’s List, Foursquare and Google Maps, it’s not uncommon for a business to utilize these sites to bolster sales. Even Facebook is in on the action with their location tagging and check-in functions.

But there is a downside to all this exposure, especially for brick and mortar businesses that depend on local customers. Online reviews can hit you in the bread and butter because they affect the buying decisions of prospective new customers.

It’s important to have a plan in place for dealing with negative reviews. They are a fact of life these days, and you can’t afford to ignore them. At the very least, they are useful as feedback you can use to improve your business, and they can increase sales if you respond appropriately. Some people even post fake reviews, so it’s worthwhile to identify them and deal with them to reduce or eliminate any negative impact.

The Dos and Don’ts of Responding to Negative Reviews

When your business gets slammed with a nasty review, refer to this handy list of how to handle it.


  • Claim and optimize your local business citations on key reviews sites
  • Thank the commenter for their feedback
  • Read their criticism carefully and look for nuggets of truth or areas to improve your business
  • Address their concerns and apologize if warranted
  • Be brief
  • Stick to the facts
  • Describe their experience as atypical for your business
  • Outline steps you have taken to prevent it from happening again
  • Implement those steps
  • Offer a way to resolve it: a refund, replacement or do-over
  • Ask someone else to read through your response BEFORE you post it

It’s okay to respond offline when it’s appropriate. Sometimes online exchanges can escalate and get nasty. It is never in your interest to let these messages run amok, especially when it can (rarely, thank goodness) result in public humiliation and even arrest.


  • Ignore it
  • Respond hastily
  • Take it personally – don’t get emotional, angry, or defensive
  • Engage a troll (someone who provokes or instigates for his own amusement)
  • Be sarcastic
  • Make personal attacks (i.e., no name-calling or making accusations)
  • Blame the customer
  • Be condescending
  • Use swear words
  • Offer an incentive to remove negative reviews
  • Post fake positive reviews

Above all, don’t ever sue your customer. Even if you win your case in court, you’ll lose in the court of public opinion. You’ll be the business that sues its customers, and that’s a sure-fire way to scare off future customers and drive away current ones. The Internet has a long memory, so even if subsequent customers generate lots of pleasant, positive reviews, people will still be able to find a record of the negative.

Online Reviews Affect Local Search Rankings

Online reviews are one of the strongest influencers of local search rankings. In fact, SEO pioneer Moz puts it in the top 20 local search factors that affect rankings, and by extension, click-through rates. The number of organic reviews built over time, as well as the number of stars awarded, can impact the number of people who are exposed to your business’ listing and click on your links.

Unfortunately, you can’t always ask your favorite customers to flood the Internet with glowing reviews. Yelp even discourages soliciting reviews and filters out reviews that seem fishy.

Get the Help Your Small Business Needs

It’s important to spend time managing your online reputation and monitoring reviews. Better yet, delegate the chore of responding to an objective marketing professional who won’t become emotionally involved with any negative comments. Paramaya Web Consulting can help you monitor and respond to reviews as part of our local SEO services. These services include:

  • Reviews monitoring
  • On-page optimization
  • Citation management
  • Content marketing
  • Brand audits
  • And more

Contact us today and ask for a free 30-minute consultation. Let us help with local search optimization so you can stop worrying about it.


Laura Sultan

Laura Sultan is a veteran at creating successful SEO strategies that grow small businesses. She founded Paramaya Web Consulting in 2001 and has established herself as a respected SEO professional specializing in SEO for law firms. Laura is proud to call Atlanta home where she lives with her family on a small urban farm. Outside the office, Laura enjoys gardening, hiking, birding, and nature photography.

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