The topic of online sentiment and rankings has been an interesting one lately. Google has recently gone back and forth on negative reviews and the effect they can have on websites, basically saying that having a lot of negative reviews can hurt them. But, Google’s statements haven’t been consistent. For example, when speaking about negative reviews, John Mueller, Senior Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, stated “[negative reviews] wouldn’t drastically affect the outcome in search.” This contradiction is why I wanted to break this topic down a little further and assess the areas companies should focus on if their website and rankings are, in fact, affected by negative online sentiment.
We all know that Google loves a diverse mix of results to satisfy the searcher’s intent. We also know that there are many ranking factors that go into what is returned for certain searches and how Google orders its results. What comes into question is how online sentiment affects these decisions. For example, in 2010 the owner of an eyeglass company used bullying and actual threats as an online marketing tactic against customers who wanted to return his product. He and his company gained a lot of negative online chatter, which resulted in an increase in sales and increased exposure in related search rankings.
Because of this situation, Google implemented something that helped to demote these types of websites. What this owner was doing was problematic and potentially illegal, and it was clear that he needed to be stopped. But, even though what he did was wrong on so many levels, was it appropriate for Google to step in as the moral judge in this case? This was back in 2010 and a lot has changed, but when asked about this topic in 2020, Google wasn’t giving us any new details.
On a smaller scale, say a company starts gaining negative reviews about one bad employee on platforms such as Google, Yelp, Consumer Affairs, Trustpilot, etc. Google states that this sentiment won’t drastically affect a website, but the negative reviews may stick with that company forever, even if the company lets the employee go and has a spotless record going forward. Should the company be worried about their search rankings? Additionally, what exactly does Google mean when it says sentiment won’t affect the outcome of search when, in some cases, it clearly does?
While the answers to these questions are not fully clear, I do know that if Google does have a “moral motive,” then it is extra important to look your best online. You can start implementing the recommendations below, even if you have a bad online reputation to begin with. Here are some steps you can take to improve your online reputation and ensure it’s not having a detrimental effect on your business or your visibility in organic search:
- Be Transparent – Every single company will run into a few bad apples, whether they’re employees or customers. So by being openly transparent about a certain incident that may have taken place, the public will appreciate the feeling of being “in the know” even if you’re opening up a new discussion about it
- Increase Communication & Engagement – Being involved with your customers and employees will only help to show that you care about them. If people are tweeting about you, like their tweet! Small gestures go a long way.
- Be Real – If someone is angry and leaves you a negative review somewhere, do not come back with a drafted, robotic response. Be authentic and put yourself in their shoes before reacting. Don’t forget that the way you respond is starting a brand new experience with them, which should serve to positively overshadow the first one.
- Gain Trust – This is so important both technically and morally. Gaining trust signals with Google by optimizing your website structure and SEO is vital. If your site isn’t set up securely, this very well may be the reason for the lower rankings in a certain keyword search. It’s also just as important to gain the trust of your employees and customers because this will help to build your credibility online.
- Do Something New and Great – This may sound a little basic but by doing something new, whether it be hosting a company picnic or donating to a charity, you’re creating chatter, fresh press, and a positive culture. This will increase your exposure, which will help boost your rankings.
Whether or not Google keeps track of everyone’s online sentiment with regard to reputation and ranking accordingly, it’s crucial that you stay up to date with the latest trends and try to do everything you can to protect your online reputation. With my above tips, you can help your search ranking stay positive, even if you have negative reviews.