Online reviews are important to a business. They not only affect a company's ability to rank highly in search engine results, but they're also extremely influential when it comes to encouraging customers to try a business product or service.
Naturally, you want to avoid negative reviews whenever possible -- but you need to make certain that you don't overstep your boundaries under the Consumer Review Fairness Act.
Here are some things that everyone who runs a business should know about handling online reviews:
1. You cannot prohibit negative reviews by agreements
In the past, a small number of businesses used non-disparagement agreements with their customers that prohibited negative online reviews. When a customer violated the agreement (usually without even realizing that an agreement existed), threats or a lawsuit could follow. That's now against the law. Consumers generally have a right to share their opinions of your company.
2. You cannot generally ban negative reviews on your own site
Even on your own business site, you cannot bar negative reviews of your company's services or products without risk of violating the law. The only time you can delete an honest review is if it contains confidential information or makes inappropriate remarks about race, sexuality, gender or some other intrinsic characteristic of someone.
3. You can delete unrelated or false reviews
Sometimes people will try to punish a company through its online reviews for personal reasons. Reviews that are unrelated to your services or products and reviews that are intentionally misleading or false can be deleted.
The best thing to do about negative reviews is to work hard to avoid them as much as possible. Beyond that, focus on how you intend to respond to the occasional negative review that you do receive. A positive response that emphasizes your company's desire to communicate and make things right for the customer can often counter any negative effects of an unfavorable review.
If you're uncertain about your rights regarding a negative review or a reviewer has become harassing or defamatory, it's appropriate to seek experienced legal guidance and consider civil action to protect your business.