Online Reviews: They Can't Hurt Me…Can They?

Your business may be more vulnerable than you think
By Todd Bairstow
July 30, 2010

The Internet offers numerous opportunities for homeowners to post complaints about your home improvement company. Many companies ignore these websites and the comments posted there about them. They do so at their peril.

It used to be that consumers who weren’t happy with a home improvement company had limited options. They could call the Better Business Bureau and file a complaint or they could simply tell their friends and neighbors about how badly their project went or the unresponsiveness of their contractor.

Fast forward to the Age of the Internet. Homeowners now have a broad new channel through which to voice and amplify their discontent. You Tube, Yelp, RipOff Report and thousands of other websites offer angry consumers lots of opportunities to publicize their bad experiences.

When it comes to your reputation, your company is now in the free-fire zone. Disgruntled homeowners in ever larger numbers will talk about you online on these websites. Regardless of the validity of their issues, you’ll often have limited opportunity to share your side of the story, and ultimately clear your reputation.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with online reviews, here are some examples for a company called Wayne’s Construction (note: I don’t know Wayne, his company, or whether any of these reviews have merit). But this case offers a great example of the challenges of online reviews.

First, take a look at Wayne’s Construction’s four reviews on Yelp: The company gets two very positive reviews (the first and the second) from homeowners who are happy with the work done by the firm. Both offer reasonable details about the work done. These reviewers awarded Wayne Construction five stars out of a possible five. This is about as good as it gets.

Now let’s consider the other two reviews, the third and fourth. Both are relatively recent, dating from July and August 2009. They were also negative, as these individuals claim to have been blown off by the good people from Wayne’s Construction. Was Wayne busy? In a car wreck? Did he land a lucrative, months-long project that would keep him and his crews working for half a year?

Who knows? But Wayne’s apparent lack of adequate follow-up is glaring and casts a bad light on the firm for homeowners considering the firm for their projects.

And while the posts on the above page are sorted by the number of stars on the posts, many homeowners will instead search for contractor reviews by date. These homeowners would instead see:
Poor Wayne. He’s now a victim of the Sort feature. To add insult to injury, notice the “You Might Also Consider” feature of these listings—Yelp’s displaying the listing of a competitor…and one of its five star ratings! So if a homeowner is unimpressed with Wayne’s reviews, the next choice is only a click away.

Indeed, Wayne isn’t fairing well here. But you ask, “Isn’t Yelp only one of many review websites?” How much visitor traffic can one Web site that no one’s ever heard of really get?

A lot. In the previous 12 months, Yelp has hosted an average of 27 million visitors per month. By comparison, Yellow Pages received an average of just 19 million visitors per month during that same time period.

The bottom line is that online reviews are popular, and getting more so. They’re here to stay, because they’ve become an important part of the screening process for many homeowners. That’s why the relatively new concept of online reputation management is becoming so important.

Online reputation management? What in the world is that? Find out more next week in Part 2 of this series.

—Todd Bairstow is co-founder of Keyword Connects (formerly Keyword Advisors), a company dedicated to online lead generation for the home improvement industry. Contact him at todd@keywordconnects.com or call 781-899-3677.
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