Say you are an ecommerce merchant with an angry customer. The customer is so angry, he posts bad, negative reviews on the Internet about your company that are not true. What can you do? How can you combat it? We recently spoke with Cliff Stein about the business of managing online reputation. His company is Reputation Changer.
Practical eCommerce: We are here to talk about reputation management — how ecommerce merchants can manage their online reputation. Your company is in that business. What is Reputation Changer?
Cliff Stein: “We are an online reputation management company and we help businesses and individuals fortify their personal or brand names online. What we do is we give people control of their online reputation. We teach them the different tricks of the trade, as far as being able to monitor their own reputation, become aware of what’s out there. We show them how to get the message out there on the first few pages of all the search engines, an accurate portrayal of them, as individuals or business, and we facilitate them in putting their best foot forward, as far as when they are being searched online.”
PEC: Tell us about your company: Where located, when founded, who owns, that sort of thing.
Stein: “Reputation Changer was founded in 2009. We are located in West Chester, Pennsylvania and we are privately owned, by private investors.”
PEC: Say I’m an online merchant, and I have angered a customer. The customer is really mad and he is saying bad things about my company all over the web. What can Reputation Changer do for me, as an ecommerce merchant?
Stein: “The real bare bone description is we can suppress those negative listings or reviews and push them back in the search engines, where no one is ever going to see them. Statistics show that 95 percent of online searches never go past the first page. So removing potential harmful listings from page 1 is often very effective.”
PEC: How you actually push the negative comments off page one. How do you make that happen?
Stein: “There are a few things that go into what we do here. The first thing that really separates Reputation Changer from other reputation management companies that are out there is we don’t take a template approach to online reputation management. Because we know it just doesn’t work.
“Each campaign that we take on has its own set of obstacles, such as the authoritativeness of the sites, from which negative listings are coming from, to the sheer amount of negative listings that are showing up on the first page, to the amount of monthly searches that our companies are getting, on a monthly basis with their online visibility. So a smaller business won’t be as difficult to rank, for that particular keyword, than a larger company, like Coca-Cola or other Fortune 500 companies, which will have several hundred thousand monthly searches.”
PEC: So you’ll actually launch new websites with content, with competing content. Is that one strategy you would use?
Stein: “Exactly. And there’s a lot that goes into these campaigns. As far as the content is concerned, it is very important to write content that is viewed as compelling and relevant to the industry and to the company itself. That’s something that our content team is expert in. We work with businesses in all sorts of different industries and we know what the search engines are going to view as compelling and relevant.
“After consultation with the client, about the message that they want, we get that message down and then we write the content for them, and we then take it and dissimilate it on the web, through the different sources, as quickly as possible and in a way that is not going to be flagged by any of the search engine’s spam teams. Then we backlink to those digital assets, so that they’re strong and that they’ve a strong hold on the first page of the search engine results, and they’re going to be there for a long time.”
PEC: How many clients do you have?
Stein: “We have over 500 clients. That is just active clients, right now.”
PEC: How much does the service cost?
Stein: “Our lowest priced campaign starts out at $2,500 per month. Some of our campaigns, which are more geared towards a higher profile client — such as Fortune 500 companies or celebrities — those campaigns go up as high as $100,000 per month.”
PEC: What if a merchant or a business has negative comments and negative reputation for a perfectly valid reason? That is, the merchant is dishonest or the merchant has truly abused, in a dishonest way, its customers and it deserves to have bad comments.
Stein: “That’s a great question. The answer is this: We have a strict code of ethics that we work with at Reputation Changer. That code of ethics basically states that if what we do is going to perpetuate a crime or what we view to be ethically wrong, in any way, shape or form, we will not take on the campaign, period.”
PEC: Have you turned down potential clients before?
Stein: “We have turned down several clients.”
PEC: Your site, Reputationchanger.com, refers to consumer complaints sites, where individuals can post complaints about a company. I am curious how those sites actually work. Can anyone post a complaint on those consumer complaint sites, without it being verified?
Stein: “They sure can and, more often than not, you’d be surprised how many people contact us in regards to complaints that are posted on these sites that are just straight up libelous, not true, and they come from such sources as an unscrupulous competitor or a disgruntled ex-employee or just an unreasonable client.
“Really, the way things are set up right now, within the search engines, and the way they rank things, and the open door policy that these review sites have, basically anyone can post these reviews. It is really not fair to today’s business world because many of these libelous claims that are posted on these sites will get ranked on page 1, because many of these sites are viewed by the search engines as relevant, and they are very authoritative.
“When these kind of things, these kind of libelous claims, are posted online there’s really no way for the business owner to protect himself, unless they contact a company like ours, to give them control, and give them the ability to formulate the correct message about their business.”
PEC: What are the names of some of those consumer review sites?
Stein: “Yelp is one of them. Ripoffreport.com is another one. There are hundreds of them out there.”
PEC: If a competitor posts a dishonest comment on Yelp, can a merchant contact Yelp myself and ask it to remove the comment?
Stein: “You can always make the call. The real question is will they do it. More often than not they will not.”
PEC: Have you ever had one of those sites remove comments after your company has contacted them on behalf of one of your clients?
Stein: “No. That is not what we do. We don’t believe in negotiation tactics with these sites, mostly because those efforts prove to be fruitless. These sites, and this is not applicable to every single review site out there, but many of them, it is in their best interest, as a company, to keep the negative listings very visible and very relevant in the search engines because they actually collect ad revenue. Every time one of their reviews, where they place an ad, is clicked on and someone sees it, they get paid ad revenue. And human nature is people click on negative reviews. They don’t click on positive reviews. So where do you think they are placing their ads?”