How to Handle Negative Business Reviews – Ultimate Guide

Regardless of the success and professional manner of your business, you will eventually find yourself with negative business reviews. As business owners, we’ve all been there. There’s something to be said about the difference in opinion. You can’t always be perfect and you can’t always make everyone happy, or whatever those famous cliches say.

Fortunately (and rather unfortunately in this scenario), the internet allows us to share our opinions in the time it takes to hammer out a phrase. Sometimes this can be problematic, giving irate customers a quick way to doom a business before cooling down. On the other hand, it works for potential consumers, giving them a great view of a business before they spend their hard-earned cash.

We can babble on about the ups and downs of internet accessibility all day, but the point still stands: your business received negative reviews.

How do you go about that? Will it affect the SEO future of your business website? Can you win the customer back and improve your business’s future?

What Is Considered a Bad Review?

Firstly, let’s clear up exactly what reviews we are speaking of.

According to ReviewTrackers, 88% of all online reviews are contained on just four sites. These four sites are Google, Yelp, Facebook, and TripAdvisor, with Google being the clear victor, housing 73% of all online reviews.

As we’ve stated multiple times, it’s crucial to have your business registered on all of these sites. Not only does it build your online presence, but it gives reviewers the platform to speak highly (or negatively) about your business. With 93% of users saying online reviews had an impact on their buying decisions, having visible reviews is necessary for building your success.

Most often, an online review format will consist of a five-star system and a text description. While a perfect world would consist of all would-be customers taking the time to read the entire review description, that’s not often the case. Therefore, the star count is what truly matters. Once a customer sees a one-or-two-star review, they are likely to move on.

But what about three-star reviews? Are they considered negative business reviews?

It’s all a matter of opinion. Isn’t that fun?

Statistically, three out of five stars would be considered smack dab in the middle. Unfortunately, that’s not often the worldwide opinion. A majority of viewers will consider three stars to be negative, only looking for four and five stars. Therefore, without reading the context of the review, some may consider a three-star rating bad.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you should treat three stars like a negative review, though. It depends entirely upon what is written. If, for example, the review hosts a plethora of negatives or complaints, you should obviously treat it like a negative review. If it’s just the number or has positive context, you can skip out on the rest of the tips.

Why Does It Matter?

As stated, almost 100% of review readers allow reviews to impact their buying decision. Don’t find yourself losing out on potential customers because you have unaddressed negative business reviews in the wing. Take care of them while you are ahead. Give your future customers confidence that they are spending their money in a place that cares and provides quality products or services.

You never want people to be saying bad things about you, especially as a business. The ratings of your business on popular review sites are crucial for success in the modern day, even if your business isn’t internet-based.

On the other hand, a perfect business rating can actually be negative for your business. Studies have shown that a perfect 5-star average rating doesn’t convert as well as a 4.9 average rating. A consumer is more likely to believe the positivity is true and not falsified if there are a few negatives in the bunch.

Therefore, a few negative reviews isn’t a death sentence if you are getting majoritively positive feedback.

Does It Affect SEO?

Will negative reviews lower your search engine rankings? Will getting one-star ratings make you invisible to those searching your industry on Google or Yahoo?

Long story short: yes, negative business reviews can hurt your SEO rankings, especially on Google and Google-related platforms like Maps and Google My Business.

At the end of the day, Google works to put the best solutions in front of searchers. If a potential consumer searches for specific businesses near them, Google wants to provide the consumer with the best and most prestigious results. Otherwise, users would stop completing their inquiries on Google.

Henceforth, if your business is plagued by a plethora of negative reviews, your visibility on related search results will certainly dip. This isn’t to say that your business will disappear from Google completely, but it’s likely to be outplaced by better-rated businesses.

What’s more important to Google is the speed of response, but we’ll get to that later.

Can It Be Removed? Should It?

If review sites allowed businesses to delete reviews, what would be the point of having the initial site? Every business would have five stars.

Technically you can delete reviews on review sites, but they have to fall within the site’s policies. You cannot just remove negative reviews because you disagree with the consumer’s opinion. Overall, the consumer is the one that runs the relationship, not the business.

For example, Google will allow a business to remove a review if it goes against its policies or is proven to be completely fake.

Google’s policy for review removal:


Civil discourse: 

  • Harassment
  • Hate speech
  • Offensive content
  • Personal information

Deceptive content:

  • Fake engagement
  • Impersonation
  • Misinformation 
  • Misrepresentation 

 Misinformation:

  • Obscenity & profanity 
  • Sexually explicit content
  • Adult-themed content
  • Violence & gore

Regulated, dangerous, & illegal:

  • Restricted content
  • Dangerous content
  • Illegal content 
  • Child safety 
  • Terrorist content 

Information quality:

  • Off-topic
  • Advertising & solicitation 
  • Gibberish & repetitive content 

If the review goes against any of these policies, you should absolutely work to get it removed.

If the review is in a gray area or you are reaching to find a reason to remove it, follow the tips in this article and move on. There’s no need to fight a battle you will not win. As we said, a few negative reviews can actually help the legitimacy of your overall rating. It’s not worth the hassle.

How to Handle Negative Business Reviews

So, you have received a negative or downright dreadful review on your business profile. Firstly, take a deep breath. Your future is not in shambles. Your business will carry on, we promise.

There are a few (eight, to be exact) things you should do. Not only will these things help maintain or improve your SEO rankings, but they will also help you look better to new customers. At the end of the day, the goal is to help the already upset customer, though. Don’t forget that.

1. Respond Fast

Google has publicly confirmed multiple times that response rate is the most important factor in how reviews affect your SEO. That’s right. Even positive reviews can hurt your rankings if you don’t respond to them in a timely manner.

Therefore, the best way to salvage a negative review is to respond to it immediately (or as soon as possible). Not only does this show Google that you are a responsive and professional company, but it also lets the upset customer know that you care and value their opinion.

The Harvard Business Review analyzed tens of thousands of hotel reviews and responses from TripAdvisor. They found that hotels that respond to customer reviews receive 12 percent more reviews and their ratings increase by an average of 0.12 stars.

As we noted, take a deep breath. If the review is ludicrously negative or irate, you can also be caught up in raw emotion. Don’t respond immediately if you are also in a negative headspace. Once you feel you are ready to craft a diplomatic response, do so.

2. Personalize the Response

If your business is receiving a plethora of reviews (good and bad) all day, it can be hard to get to them. It can be even harder to respond to all of them with personalized text. You may quickly fall down the rabbit hole of having automatic or similarly-worded responses you use for business reviews.

While this concept may be okay with positive reviews, it’s an absolute no-go with those that are negative or upset. The quickest way to make an angry customer even angrier is to seemingly avoid their issues. You should respond to every negative review with a personalized response.

Customers prefer an honest response. Take the time to consider the complaint. If it is valid, try to formulate a way to both apologize and thank the customer for the response. Every customer wants to feel noticed and appreciated. You can do this by answering honestly and respectfully.

Bonus: start the response with the reviewer’s name. This will show that it’s a custom response right off the bat.

3. Deal With Serious Issues Privately

Some complaints should not be handled publicly. It’s that simple.

If the review speaks of private information, involves a specific employee, is exceptionally bad, or can be rectified through a transaction, you should look to reach out to the customer privately. After all, you never want to discuss private information and finances over a platform viewed by billions of people, whether for your sake or the customers’.

For example, if the review involves a specific transaction that may have been handled incorrectly on your end (i.e. the wrong product was given, the wrong price was charged, or so on) you should respond to the review and ask for them to reach out so you can address it privately. Never ask for their private information over a review platform.

This shows you are both willing to rectify the issue and you are responding with a personalized response. You care enough to take the time to reach out to them directly.

Furthermore, don’t ever publicly throw your employees under the bus. If a review names a specific employee, this should be addressed privately, too.

For example, don’t respond to the review that you have gotten the specific employee in trouble or they have been fired for their actions. This is a quick way to build a toxic work culture or lose out on potential employees. Have these conversations privately.

4. Always Be Appreciative

“Mistakes should be examined, learned from, and discarded; not dwelled upon and stored.”

— Tim Fargo, American Author

At the end of the day, feedback is feedback. A critical review should never be seen as a nuisance for your company, but as a pathway to growth. You are now aware of things you are doing incorrectly and can improve them, giving future customers the experience that you planned to provide.

Business will always be a two-way street. You cannot and should not alienate the opposite side of the negotiation by acting as if their opinions are not valid. If you don’t take responses to heart, you will never grow as a business.

Consequently, always finish or start your reviews with a thank you. Just a simple “Thank you for your feedback,” will do. You never want the reviewer to feel as if their review was an inconvenience to you.

Notice the common thread? The reviewer just wants to feel heard and cared for as a customer. Remember this in all that you do.

5. Remain Calm

What professional starts an argument with a customer? What professional starts an argument with a customer on Google? None. Absolutely none.

Throughout every step of the reviewal journey, remember to stay calm. Remember that the customer is not attacking you personally, but is upset about an experience. They were willing and happy to give you their business in the first place, and now they are unhappy with the result that they got. It should not be seen as a personal defense.

If the reviewer begins getting personal, remember that they don’t actually know you. Get the comments removed by the review platform and move on.

Fighting back will do nothing but sour customers on your company going forward. You never want that. Staying calm is the first rule of customer service. Always.

At the end of the argument, the only party that looks like a fool is the arguing business. You never want your company to look like a fool.

6. Offer Compensation If Necessary

You never want to buy customer happiness. You do want to attempt to save as many upset customers as possible, though. If the situation permits, you may want to offer the customer some sort of compensation. Sometimes a simple apology is just not enough.

Remember a few things when deciding on compensation, though. Will it set the right tone for upset customers in the future? Will it actually rectify the issue, or will it just be giving them what they want?

You never want people to believe they can get one over on your company by complaining. You never want to be too gullible or accepting. But, if a situation is bad enough, you should offer some form of compensation to show you are willing to rectify the issue.

For example, if the problem is that the customer was given the wrong product, state you will give them the right product free of charge. They will now have two products for free. If that’s not enough, state you will give them the right product free of charge and refund them for the initial one.

Remember that this isn’t a negotiation, though. Don’t let the customer respond with a different offer. Offer them what you feel is a necessary form of compensation and stick with it.

7. Don’t Apologize Too Much

No one wants to hear begging and profuse apologies. Not only does it turn the customer away, but it makes your business look desperate for customers. You never want your business to look like it’s on the edge of failing. As if one negative review will sink the entire ship.

Try to keep the apologies to a minimum. State that you are sorry and are willing to work on the issue (or rectify it with the customer). Don’t fill your review out with extreme apologies. One will do. The real apology comes with how you are going to make it up to the customer and improve in the future.

Words are just words, after all.

Also, don’t give excuses. No one wants to hear it.

Sure, you may note a simple problem, but don’t go on about how your computer was down or how you were super busy. As stated, no one wants to just hear words about apologies and excuses. The customer wants to know how you are going to improve going forward.

Admit fault, apologize, and move on. If further excuses are necessary (in rare cases) do so in a private conversation.

8. Improve Yourself

This is not the time to be bullheaded. We understand and believe in being true to your business motives, but you should always have room to improve. Criticism is always warranted and should not be taken lightly. This is the time to evaluate the negative business reviews and look in the corporate mirror.

Is the problem something you are doing? Is the problem a fundamental flaw of your business practices, team, or ideals?

Sure, some reviews will be unwarranted. That’s for the reviewer to decide. They can be irate for unnecessary reasons. But sometimes you just believe they are unwarranted out of defense. Maybe their review is correct and you are in the wrong, whether you want to admit it or not. There’s no success in being a business that cannot be self-reflective.

Furthermore, let the customer know that you are taking the necessary steps to learn from your mistakes. Let them know that you understand their issue and will address it going forward.

Example Response

Hi Linda,

Thank you for your response and feedback.

Firstly, we want to apologize for the issue regarding your order. We take full responsibility for the mixup and will work to make sure similar issues do not happen in the future.

We would love to offer you a free meal on us for the inconvenience we brought you! If you are interested, feel free to reach out to us for more information.

Once again, thank you for your feedback,

Meal Prep Team

As you can see, we started with the customer’s name. We thanked them for their feedback and admitted fault without giving excuses. We then apologized and noted how we would fix it in the future. Finally, we offered compensation and gave a branch for the customer to reach us on, giving them a chance to discuss the problem and compensation further with a manager.

Though real responses will be a bit more detailed, this is a great jumping-off point for how to respond to negative business reviews.