Customers who frequently review businesses online may have been left feeling shaken by the recent headlines involving Summerfield Brown – a London-based solicitor firm who successfully sued a Trustpilot reviewer for £25,000. However, considering the public backlash the firm have since faced, it may be worth considering if negative reviews really are the worst thing that can happen for your business. Here is what SEO experts have to say on the matter.

For some business owners, the case of Summerfield Brown winning against a negative reviewer may bring them a sense of private joy.

This is understandable, given that 90% of consumers now consult online reviews before seeking out a service or buying a product. This means that a business looking to attract new customers can be at the mercy of (sometimes anonymous) online reviewers.

The issue with bad reviews and SEO

However, another problem with bad reviews that many business owners may not be aware of is how they can impact their Google ranking position I.e. where their website appears on search engine results in service or product listings.

We know that Google Reviews in particular plays an important role to the SEO performance of a website, as they signal to the search engine that the business is both trustworthy and offers a quality service.

This was proven in 2018 when Google decided to ban reviews from anonymous profiles, which resulted in many businesses dropping a couple of positions in their Google placing, or even being pushed off the first page altogether.

But what about other review sites such as Trustpilot?

Although Trustpilot is widely used by customers to help deem whether a business is trustworthy, there is no evidence to say that it contributes to your SEO ranking like Google Reviews does.

However, the domain authority of Trustpilot (meaning how widely the site is used and referred to by other sites through external links) means that it will frequently appear on the first Google page result for any customer who searches for your business name. 

Therefore, if your Trustpilot, Yell, Facebook, Trip Advisor or Glassdoor reviews are overwhelmingly negative, your customers are likely to catch onto this very quickly and may choose not to engage your services. 

So were Summerfield Brown right to take legal action against a negative reviewer?

It may be very tempting for businesses to follow Summerfield Brown’s lead by at least threatening negative reviewers with lawsuits - particularly if the review is, in your view, not telling the truth.

However, we would advise for you to consider the following points before proceeding with such actions...

Why Summerfield Brown won their case

A key element contributing to the court's ruling in favour of Summerfield Brown was that the negative reviewer referred to the firm as “another scam solicitor”.

Summerfield Brown may have provided bad customer service to this client, however to accuse them of fraud is quite a different matter. The word ‘scam’ implies that the firm frequently swindles customers out of their money without providing a service. Summerfield Brown clearly DID provide a lawful service, so technically it was not a scam.

Therefore, it is important that before threatening legal action against a reviewer, you must seek legal advice to ensure that what was published can be legally categorised as defamatory or libelous.

The damage to Summerfield Brown's brand and SEO

From an SEO perspective, it will be interesting to see if Summerfield Brown will ever recover from the bad publicity that this case has brought upon their firm.

Trustpilot have already made their statement denouncing the actions of the firm, claiming that the court’s decision in their case curtails the consumers right to freedom of expression.

Further to this backlash, Summerfield Brown have already seen a rise in bad reviews on Google Reviews and several other business review websites (many from those who I suspect were never clients of theirs) as an act of defiance against a large firm seen to be victimising a less powerful individual.

It may take many years for Summerfield Brown to rid themselves of the negative press stories that will appear every time someone Googles their brand - which I suspect will cause them more reputational damage in the long run than one bad Trustpilot review.

Here’s the best way to deal with negative reviews from an SEO point of view

It may feel like a hopeless situation when your business is losing money because of online negative reviews, however there are solutions for improving your situation.
When clients ask us for advice on how to deal with their bad reviews, our first suggestion is to start responding to them – and yes, we mean all of them, not just the good ones! There are three reasons why we recommend responding to reviews:

  1. Customers will think twice about leaving a bad review if they can see that the business is actively responding. Most reputable review sites allow the business to have the last word, giving business owners the opportunity to correct any misgivings and miscommunications that occurred, and to attempt to salvage the situation by providing excellent customer service!
  2. It signals to customers that you care about their feedback, further building trust in your brand.
  3. For Google Reviews, responding to reviews (even if they are predominantly negative) can help your SEO ranking. Why is this? Well, actively responding to reviews sends signals to Google that you interact positively with your customers, and for this they will reward you with higher visibility. Just make sure that you are responding to customers professionally and with courtesy, as replying with angry and accusatory comments will cause this method to backfire!

Although online reviews are important, they are estimated to only account towards 15% of your total SEO performance. There are another 200+ factors that can also contribute to your SEO ranking, with some of the most important being keyword match, mobile optimisation, webpage bounce rate and much more.

Conclusion

It may feel like justice being served to hold the customers who have hurt your businesses legally accountable. However, if you care about the SEO performance of your website, we would advise you think twice before threatening your clients with a court case.

A media storm backlash can hurt your business (and chances of getting further clients) more than a single bad review.