Evaluation Report Card Clipboard Assessment GradesOne of the worst feelings in the world for a small business owner is to come across a “Ripoff Report” about them, or a negative Yelp review. Small business owners cannot underestimate the power of a review about their company online, whether its positive or negative. A 2011 Harvard Business School study found that each one-star Yelp rating increase a company received brought them up to a 9 percent increase in revenues.

Contrarily, negative reviews can be a death sentence for a newer and/or smaller company. One contractor in Virginia filed a $750,000 lawsuit last year against a woman who alleged on Angie’s List and Yelp that he stole jewelry from her house while doing home improvements. A Chicago plastic surgeon filed suit against three women in 2010 after they similarly defamed his character on Citysearch and Yelp.

Litigation is a last resort, but can be necessary in some instances. Small business owners must be aggressively pro-active in combating any negative press online. Here are some simple guidelines to ensure your good name is protected.

Monitor Your Presence

Angie’s List, Yelp and Citysearch have already been mentioned as places you should monitor, but these are just the tip of the iceberg. Merchant Circle, Google Plus Local, Dex Knows, Yahoo Local, and Yellowpages are some other site that should be regularly monitored for any comments about your company. When you respond to negative reviews, stick to the facts of what happened if you can remember them. The last thing you want is to get into a back-and-forth of insults with a customer. If you cannot remember the situation, do not fabricate anything. Simply apologize, acknowledge the customer’s concerns and make clear that this situation was isolated and not the modus operandi of your company.

SEO Strategies

There may come a time when negative press about your company takes on a life of its own. At that point, it may be necessary to retain the services of a company that specializes in SEO. Reputation.com manages ratings and reviews for your company, while improving search results. Another way to combat bad search results is blogging about prominent complaints with your company. For instance, if a Ripoff Report shows up in search results, entitle a blog entry “Addressing the Ripoff Report,” along with your company name, and explain the circumstances. Eventually this should show up near the offending search result.

Social Media

The beauty of social media is that it gives your company a 24/7 customer service platform. Small business owners can instantly address criticisms and complaints on their Facebook and Twitter pages. Social media websites tend to show up high in search results as well, helping your overall web presence.

All publicity is not good publicity, especially on the Internet. The more aware you are of your online reputation, the better off your business will be.