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Meet the author:
Jill Olkoski

Jill has a MA in Clinical Psychology, a BS in Computer Science, and a BS in Mechanical Engineering.

She currently owns Aldebaran Web Design in Edmonds (near Seattle WA) and enjoys educating her clients on topics related to small business website design.

In Jill's previous life, she spent 17 years in the engineering and quality organizations of a Fortune 100 tech company.


Got Bad Online Reviews?

March 9th, 2011

I just received a phone call from a prospective client that was so unbelievable – well, I just had to write a blog article about it. This business owner wanted a website, because they (wrongly) believed, that somehow creating their own website would remove bad reviews their business had received online. They had no understanding of how the web worked and were absolutely furious.

No one likes getting bad online reviews. A bad review can ruin a whole day. This particular business owner was angry, really angry, and no matter how many times I told them that if I made a website for them, it would do absolutely nothing about their bad reviews on Yelp, they simply refused to believe me. I tried several times to explain that one website can’t change another website. They told me I was wrong. Then they got angry, and started ranting about reporting people to the FBI and million dollar lawsuits… and that’s when I told him I couldn’t help and hung up.

So what is a small business owner to do if they receive bad reviews online? Well, having your own website is a good idea, not because it can replace the reviews, but if it appears in the search reviews above the bad review websites, people might click on it and not read the bad reviews. This is developing a website with the “look over here not over there” philosophy. But the bad reviews are still there, just a small mouse click away.

What the business owner really should do is two-fold:

1. Make changes to the business. Take a deep breath and read the bad reviews and see if there are any business improvements that can be made to prevent them from happening again. No one likes criticism, but often there are things you can do to make happier customers, or perhaps to at least making a client unhappy. If out of 10 reviews, 9 folks think you’re awful, it might be time to do some soul searching. If you are able to identify any of the people, reach out to them, see what you can do to change their opinion of their experience with your business. I have known customers to change their online reviews after receiving corrective action from a business owner.

2. Get good reviews. I got this awful review once from a person who wasn’t a client, but was a scam artist who tried to take advantage of my client and I wrote a blog article. The fellow was really angry, and so created a fake bad review of my business. I simply contacted several of my clients, asked them to write a review, and lo and behold, after a month or two, his fake review had been pushed down lower. Of course, this assumes you have clients that like the work you do, and are willing to write a positive honest review. If you don’t, then go back to step 1.

Before I wrote this article, I looked up the business of the person who called me online, and sure enough, there were a considerable number of detailed, really bad reviews. What I also found, was a review written by the owner, threatening customers with bad consequences if they wrote more bad reviews. This is the worst possible move on the business owner’s part, because no one wants to do business with a person who is willing to threaten their clients or appear hostile online.

So if you get bad online reviews, take a deep breath, take a few days. Really consider if there is anything you could do to improve your business or change the reviewer’s mind. Ask clients to write reviews for you to help push the bad review down the list. And if you don’t have a website, consider one, but realize it won’t rid the internet of bad online reviews. If only it did 🙂

J. Olkoski
Aldebaran Web Design, Seattle
Jill Olkoski has a BS in Engineering, a BS in Computer Science and an MA in Clinical Psychology. She delights in using her advanced technical and psychological skills to help small business owners develop cost-effective and successful websites.

6 Responses to “Got Bad Online Reviews?”

  1. Tom Linde Says:

    Thanks Jill.

    It may be worth reminding therapists that it is unethical to ask a client for positive reviews or endorsements, at least according to the APA code of ethics.

    The NASW code puts it this way: “Social workers should not engage in solicitation of testimonial endorsements (including solicitation of consent to use a clients prior statement as a testimonial endorsement) from current clients or from other people who, because of their particular circumstances, are vulnerable to undue influence.”

  2. Jill Olkoski Says:

    Hi Tom,
    I’ve certainly got a few therapist clients who have put testimonials on their websites. So both the APA (which would apply to psychologists) and the NASW (which would apply to social workers and what other letters?) have the same sort of prohibition. Do you think it would be appropriate of me to notify my client of this – I’m not exactly sure which organization applies to who – some are MFT, for example. Thanks very much for this heads up on this.

  3. Tom Linde Says:

    Individuals have to look up whichever code of ethics is relevant to their practice. We all have them. The NASW for social workers, and so on. One jumping off place to find the organizations is

    The psychologist and social worker codes are clear on this whereas the AAMFT code is a little more vague: “Marriage and family therapists do not use their professional relationships with clients to further their own interests.”

    I couldn’t find anything on this topic for counselors.

    Ultimately, we each have to decide what’s OK for ourselves and what’s not, but we have to recognize that many regulatory bodies have determined that soliciting and endorsements is not OK. Myself, I’m dismayed to see these things on therapist websites. It’s unseemly at best, exploitative at worst, and I don’t think you’d ever see it even on attorney websites.

  4. Tom Linde Says:

    Here is a short NYT article on the subject of the practial and ethical considerations in on-line reviews of therapists:

  5. Jill Olkoski Says:

    thanks Tom!

  6. Jill Olkoski Says:

    It’s an interesting article from the perspective of the therapists – and in reading through some of the comments from therapist patients – some of them disagree pretty strongly that they shouldn’t be posting their opinions of their therapists online.

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