Tech Tips

December 05, 2019

How One-Star Online Reviews Act Like Leeches (and How to Pry Them Off Your Brand)

One-star negative reviews reviews affect your prospective audience's perceptions of your business. Potentially warding them off ever contacting you. No business is safe. Don’t despair though! You can do something about "leech" reviews.

Every time someone searches for your brand, they encounter reviews. What do they do when they see a one-star review?

Chances are they read it before the positive reviews. (Admit it; we've all done this.) Now, they may choose to ignore that one-star. Or they may decide to skip past your business & continue searching.

You've lost a potential customer, and you'll never even know it.

The "Leech" Review: One-Star Reviews Meant to Hurt Your Brand

Leaving a negative review generally means you're unsatisfied with the business. However, oftentimes people leave one-star reviews for more vindictive reasons. For one reason or another, they're trying to hurt you. Get back at you. Affect your business.

These negative reviews act like leeches. Stuck to your brand, quietly sucking away business…and they'll keep doing it, unless you find them and pry them away.

In this post we'll cover the "Leech" review, and how it affects your brand. In Part 2 we'll cover what you need to do about them.

Reviews Affect Every Business, Even B2B

"Why should I be concerned about online reviews? We're a B2B company, not a coffee shop."

We've heard this sentiment expressed by customers, over and over. If you're thinking along the same lines, let us disprove the notion right now.

Reviews aren't just for restaurants. People can leave reviews for B2B businesses in many places online...and they do, all the time!

Here are five examples of B2B-focused or B2B-inclusive review websites.

There's also Google. Reviews posted directly to Google pop up for just about every business out there—whether you're B2C, B2B, B2HEFG, or something else.

When you finish reading this article, take a second and put your brand's name into Google. Do you have any reviews? Odds are you do.

Next, check those five review websites. Any reviews there? Surprise!

No business—even yours—is 'immune' to online reviews. Which includes one-star "leech" reviews. The next big question is, "Why would someone leave a bad review about my business?"

Why People Leave One-Star Reviews

Anyone can leave one-star reviews, for any number of reasons. When it comes to brands though, people usually hit the one-star for one of 3 reasons.

  1. Had a Terrible Experience. The customer received poor service, and wants to share it. Usually to 'ward off' others from experiencing the same issue. This could happen for many reasons: Miscommunication, accident, oversight, broken product, service mishap, and so on. Accidental or intentional. No matter the cause, the result is the same.

  2. Vindictiveness. The reviewer wants you to lose customers. Maybe due to a bad customer experience. Maybe due to personal dislike of an employee, or its owner. Maybe they disagree with a decision your company took (social, political, business tactic, etc.). It's not nice, but it happens.

  3. Sabotage. A competitor asks a friend (or pays someone) to leave one-star reviews on your business. Do that a few times for each competitor, and the "leeches" send more customers away from you...toward their business instead.

The Legality of Leaving Bad Reviews

Sabotage? Intentionally hurting other businesses? Surely that's not legal, is it? There must be some legal recourse.

You CAN sue over a negative review. People have done so for years. But to win such a suit, you'll have to prove that the reviewer posted factually incorrect information, according to the .

Reviews are considered free speech, and protected accordingly. The problem comes in truthful statements vs. proving intent.

In most legal cases, the burden of proof is on the accuser. The person accusing someone of wrongdoing/poor behavior must prove that they are correct/guilty. Meanwhile, the person accused must demonstrate that they are innocent.

When it comes to online reviews, this is somewhat flipped on its head. The review subject—your business—must prove either that a review is factually incorrect, or had malicious intent. Both are difficult to prove to a court's satisfaction. Which makes the whole process cumbersome, expensive, and stressful.

Have businesses won lawsuits against negative reviewers? Yes. Is it worth it to take the legal option? We're not lawyers, but in most cases, no.

How the "Leech" Review Hurts Your Brand (and Your Bottom Line)

What's the big deal? So you got a one-star review. Everyone does at some point. Just shrug and get back to work.

While you might think "taking the high road" is the best approach, it ignores one fundamental aspect of your brand—its perception in prospects' minds.

Think about the last time you saw a negative review on a business you're considering. If it's only one, you may decide to go there anyway. What about five one-star reviews though? Ten? Twenty?

Now you're wondering if the business is poorly run, too expensive, has rude staff, and so on. You doubt their claims of professionalism or competence. You're less likely to move from 'prospect' to 'customer.'

Those reviews changed your perception.

That's the damage "leech" reviews do. They act like an invisible, silent barricade to your business. A mental roadblock. A tarnish on your brand's image.

Naturally, fewer would-be customers turning into actual customers can ruin your bottom line!

That's not all though. Negative reviews can hurt brands in two other ways:

  1. Lower search results. Reviews are a search factor for all major search engines. Not the most important factor, but they do carry weight. If your business name has a bunch of negative reviews attached to it, the search engines ding you!
    • As positive reviews can push you higher in local search, negative reviews push you lower. 
  2. Lowers referrals. Say a long-time customer wants to recommend your business to a friend. They look you up online…and see five negative reviews posted in the past month. They may not want to refer you to their friend now. You've lost a referral.
    • Again, you'll never know about this kind of effect. Yet it happens, every day.

Don't Ignore "Leech" Negative Reviews. Your Customers Won't.

Like it or not, reviews are part of your brand's Online Reputation. It's not a part you fully control though.

Which is why you cannot afford to just leave one-star "leech" reviews alone. You may want to ignore them...but they don't go away unless you act.

So let's grab our crowbars! It's time to pry those business-sucking leeches away.

How to Find One-Star "Leech" Reviews Online

People leave reviews all across the Web now: Review websites like Yelp, G2Crowd, local search listings, even Google.

To find one-star reviews about your business, you just need to search. Check review websites & search engines for your business' name. (We do this quarterly, both internally and for SEO customers.)

Here's a jump-start. You'll find reviews at any of these sources:

There they are. You found a few nasty little leeches clinging to your brand name. Before we set about prying them off, let's make note of where they are. That way you can track the places where people review your business later.

Track Reviews So You Know What Customers Think of Your Brand

Collect every website where you found reviews on your business, and put them into a spreadsheet. Include the URL where the site stores reviews, date last checked, number of total reviews, date of latest review, and average rating. This makes tracking reviews easier, later on.

If you have profiles claimed & set up on these sites, you should get alerts when someone posts a review. That makes it easy to respond.

What's that? You don't have those profiles set up? Well then, here's how to do so.

  • Go to the website in question. I'll use Google My Business as an example here.
  • Look for a "Claim This Business" or "Is this your business?" link. Click it.

    Claim Business on Google My Business
  • You'll be asked to create a profile or new account. Follow the steps to enter your contact information, photos of the business, etc.
  • You'll likely have to verify that you're the business owner (or an authorized representative). This takes the form of a phone call, postcard, or automated process. Again, follow the steps given.
    • Fair warning, sometimes the verification process takes a while. Like "a month"-kind of while.

Once you've verified, you have full access to your profile. Use it to correct any inaccurate contact or business information…and set up email alerts when someone posts a review.

Now we tackle those reviews!

How to Respond to Negative Online Reviews

If you have "leech" negative reviews, here's how you can go about removing them. Do these in the following order!

  1. First and most the review legitimate (coming from a real customer)?

    If so, then reach out to them directly & see if you can fix the problem. Since they can review and you cannot, making them happy can spur them to delete the negative review, or adjust the rating. (If you're not sure, check your customer database.)

  2. Second, if the review is NOT legitimate, report it to the channel's support staff (e.g. Yelp, Google, Facebook, etc.). You can't take down reviews, but they can.

    We had this happen to us 4 years back. Two one-star reviews appeared for our business, one in Google and one on Facebook. Both posted by individuals based in India. Both reviews read near-identical (only one word different!). Both of the reviewers' profiles linked to the same web design agency.

    We'd never worked with the agency, even though both claimed we did. We concluded that the agency had put up phony reviews designed to hurt our business and steal our customers. We reported them, and both vanished a few days later.

  3. Third, if the review is legitimate and the customer won't take it down, respond to the review with an apology & explanation.

    Be genuine in your apology; nothing rubs salt in like a fake apology everyone can see.
    • FAKE APOLOGY: "Janice, I'm sorry you feel that way. At XYZ Corp, we strive to make every customer experience perfect in every way. Our customers have continually rated us at 5 stars since we opened in 2003."
    • GENUINE APOLOGY: "Janice, I'm sorry you had a bad experience with us. Could we connect offline? I'd like to make it up to you, if that's at all possible."
    Explain the circumstances after that, in brief. This way you identify that you're human too, and you're committed to doing better.

How to Encourage More Positive Reviews

You've found and tackled "leech" reviews. Your brand name looks much nicer now, out there in the vast expanse of the Web. What next? solicit MORE reviews!

"Wait, what?! We just spent all that time fending off negative reviews. Why would we risk getting more?"

Here, come closer. Let us share a secret advantage to getting more reviews. It's this: Newer reviews show up first in search results. Pushing older reviews down...and out of sight.

How often do you search for something in Google, and click all the way down to Page 8 in the search results? Never. All the results down on Page 8 languish there, un-viewed, invisible to everyone. The same thing happens with reviews.

Now you get it, right?

This is how you encourage positive reviews:

  • Correct any Customer Service issues. Reviews can tell you how well your team's doing on customer service. If you keep seeing bad reviews on service, talk to your team, pronto! Something needs fixing.
  • Make sure you have great content available on your website.
  • Thank those who leave positive reviews.
  • Make it easy for customers to leave good reviews. If you have a storefront, post a sign reminding customers that you have good reviews on Site X.
    • Yelp does not like you soliciting reviews, so maybe avoid encouraging people on that particular channel.

Add Review Management to Your Marketing. It's Important.

Now we know how to find those "leech" reviews, pry them off your brand before they suck away business, and keep them at bay with good service & more positive reviews.

The initial clean-up will take the most time. Once you have alerts set up and accounts claimed though, you can maintain your reviews with only a few hours a quarter. Your brand will thank will your revenues!

Originally published on Spin Sucks, June 2019.