If you have a business, you’ve probably been slapped with at least one bad online review. Let’s face it, it comes with the territory.

You can’t please everyone all the time. But you can help to alleviate some of the potentially damaging affects of a negative review with the right strategy. Knowing how to handle and respond to these reviews can help to counter bad word of mouth, and in the end, you might even come out looking like the good guy.

Keep reading to find out how you should respond to negative Google and Yelp reviews.

When to Respond (And NOT Respond) to Negative Reviews

First, it’s important to understand that the chemistry of the human brain encourages you to block out criticism. Every complaint feels like a personal attack, and our instinct is to ignore these comments and try to move on. Fight that impulse! Take a leaf out of Jay Baer's book, "Hug Your Haters." Baer advises that customer interactions, including (and perhaps especially) the negative ones, are opportunities to tell your story and show off your customer service.

Responding to negative reviews shows that you care enough to take the time to listen to customers and try to find resolution to their issues. This could help to soothe some of the frustration they've expresses, but more importantly, it shows potential new customers that you are willing to listen to criticism and work to alleviate customers’ problems. Your response is more likely to leave a good impression with a new lead than to change the mind of an unhappy previous customer. And that’s not a bad thing!

That being said, there are rare cases where you may want to leave a review unanswered. If a reviewer seems like a troll, it may be a good idea to avoid interacting with them and potentially escalating the situation. This is only applicable about 1% of the time, so be sure to use your best judgement when making this determination.

Related: How to Rank on the First Page of Google

How to Respond to Negative Reviews

Before you begin responding to reviews, you need to have an organized system in place. Decide who in your company is responsible for monitoring for negative reviews, drafting responses and posting them. Depending on the size of your company, these could all be different people or the same person. In larger companies, there may be a team set that is designated to responding. Whatever your structure, it is important that this person or team is familiar with the company’s products and policies and is able to express the proper brand voice in their communication.

Once you have found the best person or people on your team to handle negative reviews, here are some general tips to keep in mind when responding. (Pro tip: Think Emily Post.)

Acknowledging the Reviewer’s Experience:

When responding to negative reviews, it is important that you acknowledge the reviewer’s experience, even if you feel like he or she is wrong. If you try to act like nothing ever happened or argue the reviewer’s point, it will come off sounding argumentative and could lead to a public debate that could make both sides look bad. It is best to address the customer’s complaint without disputing it.

Respond promptly:

Be sure to have someone monitor your reviews regularly (read: daily) so they can respond promptly. If you wait too long, it can fester. The customer can become more upset and write off your brand completely. Consider setting up review notifications so you can keep on top of them.

Include the Reviewer’s Name:

This will add an extra level of care and let the reviewer know they are important to you. They’ll know the response was written for them, rather than automatically posted.

Look for the Positive:

If the reviewer has said anything positive about your company, try to emphasize this in your response. It will show you read the review carefully and will serve to highlight the good and take the spotlight off the bad. 


Be sure to apologize for whatever the reviewer is upset about. Yes, even if they’re wrong. Even if they made it up. Even if you were there and you know for an absolute fact that the scene they’re describing isn’t what happened. Just apologize.

Don’t Pick a Fight:

Be careful not to be argumentative or passive aggressive. This could lead to backlash from the reviewer, which is definitely not what you want. The goal is to listen to their complaint and try to be helpful in finding an answer.

Take it Offline:

It may be best to make things right through communication outside of Google or Yelp. If the situation calls for it, suggest to the customer that you would like to discuss their specific issue and provide a phone number or email address for them to do so. Even if they never call or email, anyone reading the review will know that you took this person’s issue seriously and were trying to resolve it.

Acknowledge It Won’t Happen Again:

Mention any preventative measures that are being taken to ensure that the situation does not repeat itself.

Related: How to Get Your Store Found (and Frequented) Online

Getting Reviews Removed: Yelp vs. Google

Yelp and Google have very different approaches for disputing reviews. Yelp has a pretty thorough reporting mechanism for companies to request a review be taken down. You are able to select a general reason from a dropdown and then provide further details to state your case. Yelp is also fairly reasonable about their review process, and while you may not be successful in having every negative or unfair review removed, you stand a fair chance if you are able to back up your reasoning.

Google reviews, on the other hand, are essentially permanent. While a reporting system is in place for companies to flag reviews for removal, it is rare for a review to be taken down. And even though you have to provide an email address, don’t be surprised if you never hear back about it. The reporting system has very few options to choose from and no field to type out the reason you are flagging the review. Even so, it’s best practice to flag any inappropriate or spam reviews on the off chance that it is taken down.


Acknowledge Positive Reviews, as Well

While your business must deal with unpleasant negative reviews, you can also look forward to a number of positive reviews. Since these happy customers took time out of their day to write good things about your company, it's smart to respond to them. Responding to a positive review will let a customer know that they are appreciated, and this will help build loyalty. Consumers who see your response may also acknowledge this extra level of care and be more likely to become customers.

Bad reviews are never pleasant, but knowing how to deal with and respond to them can show your company in a positive light and mitigate their negative effects.

If you don’t have the time or resources in house to monitor to reviews and build your response strategy, feel free to let the experts at Ironmark take it off your plate. We can help guide your online reputation and messaging strategy to make your company look like a hero.

Written by Lynne Kingsley

Lynne Kingsley oversees the digital marketing client services team as well as the marketing strategy division for the company. Since joining the company in 2016, she has increased Ironmark’s digital presence by over 700%, establishing a new lead generation mechanism for the sales team. A certified inbound marketing professional and HubSpot agency partner, Kingsley has been helping companies transform their marketing function into fully diverse and streamlined growth engines since 2003. With agency and client-side work under her belt, Kingsley’s strategic experience spans both the B2B and B2C sectors. Prior to joining the Ironmark team, she served as in-house marketing director for several non-profit organizations. Kingsley is an honors graduate of the S. I. Newhouse School of Public Communication at Syracuse University.
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