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Things may be getting ugly real soon at Yelp and other sites that allow anonymous reviews of businesses. In Virginia, a judge ruled that deliberately false statements are not protected speech. The problem is, the business owner suing in this case hasn’t proven that these anonymous reviews contain deliberately false statements.

Online reviews certainly change the way certain laws can be used in court. Previously, if you didn’t like a certain business, all you had to do is tell a friend. What you said to your friend in the privacy of your conversation couldn’t be disputed, but online reviews can.

Even if they’re anonymous.

Yelp and other sites have been hiding behind the First Amendment since their inception. That party might soon come to an end, however, if more businesses sue in states where the laws allow them to question the legitimacy of reviews.

These matters are complicated by the fact that a competitor can pay someone to post fake reviews of your business. Not many people, that I know of, would consider that protected speech. If you’re a business owner, I doubt that you’d want such fake reviews influencing people’s decision to do business with you. And that’s the problem. Right now, they can.

So will anonymous reviews soon be a thing of the past? Andy Beal has an interesting suggestion. Maybe it’s time for Yelp to introduce a verified customer attribute, but that makes me wonder just how they’d be able to do that.

What’s your take on anonymous reviews and social review sites like Yelp?

There are many things that can kill your reputation online, but one of the things that will kill it fastest is getting caught buying fake reviews. That’s true whether we are talking about Yelp reviews of your business, reviews of your product on Amazon, or reviews on Google Places. Fake reviews are a reputation killer.

Don’t believe it? See what happened to Samsung.

The sad part about this is Samsung has a strong reputation for making quality products. So why would anyone associated with the company feel the need to post fake reviews of its products? They should be able to get plenty of positive reviews for their products.

Whatever genius came up with this idea should be fired. They should be replaced by someone who can encourage their customers to post positive reviews instead. For instance, run an in-store promotion where you give away a product by random drawing that includes anyone who has posted a review of Samsung’s products. That way, you encourage people to post reviews and reward them for doing so.

It is important to protect your online reputation. The best way to do that is to build great products, provide excellent customer service, and don’t do anything stupid.

If you own a local business and you’ve been wondering how you can use the search engines and social media to attract more customers to your business, then I highly recommend Google Places. It just got a whole lot better.

More and more, Google has been embracing social media. And Google Places is becoming a nice blend of social media with search engine optimization benefits.

The Lat Long blog outlines some of the recent changes that Google Places adapted to make it better. I must say, the changes are a welcoming upgrade. Here are some of those changes and how they can benefit you.

  • Google Places is now more personalized. You can upload your photo and all of your reviews will appear in one location for easy referencing.
  • You can make friends on Google Places – not a bad idea. Your friends don’t have to be local. If you travel a lot, you might have friends all over the planet. Each friend is a connection to more local places in every area of the world where you have friends. You can share each others reviews through any Web interface including your mobile phone.
  • It is now a lot easier to rate and review local businesses of any type.
  • You can search for specific types of business in any location and review the ones you want.
  • The new Google Places web design is a 100% improvement.

The best way to use Google Places is to be a reviewer. If you are a business owner, don’t just sit back and wait for reviews. Be proactive. Review other businesses and you will develop new contacts in your local area. Those contacts will see that you own a business and are more likely to visit your business if they like and trust your reviews.

Business reviews just became a lot more social and those social benefits carry more search engine optimization benefits. Thank you Google Places.

All the search engines have a place for local businesses to claim a local listing. Google Places, Bing, and Yahoo! Local are all tied to the Maps feature at the search engines and each one has a way for customers to write reviews of the business. All the reviews – positive and negative – have the potential to help your business rank in the search engines.

You’ve heard the expression “content is king.” What that means is any content has the potential to help your site, or your business, rank.

Let’s say, for instance, that your business listing at Google Places has 50 reviews. Forty five of them are positive reviews and five are not. Even those five negative reviews are helping your local business listing rank at the top of the search results for searches related to your niche.

But your website can benefit from negative reviews too. Add a reviews page to your website and allow your customers to write reviews on your website. The more reviews you get, the more likely you are to have that page rank in the search engines for searches related to your business.

While negative reviews can help, you can encourage positive reviews by providing excellent customer service and by asking your good customers to write reviews. If you add your Google Places listing and your website’s reviews page URL to your business cards, brochures, and shopping bag inserts, you’ll encourage customers to write reviews of your business. Provide them good service in the process and they’ll be good reviews.

For those of you just popping online before work, I’ll give you the short answer: To immeasurable lengths. For those with a little more time on their hands, I’ll try to sum it all up the best I can, but don’t be surprised if I leave a lot of information out – this is a very broad topic.

In fact, I may not get very far from a single topic concerning how the Internet has changed, because something occured to me the other day, as to just how different the world is with the Internet, and how hard it would be for most of us to go back to the early 90’s, before everything we know and love about said Internet. What came to mind was not how many great resources for information are available thanks to the Internet, or how easy it is to book a hotel, buy a car, find a friend, or stay in touch. I’d like to say that the simple pleasures of popped into my head, but the thought was not so quaint.

No, my mind decided to remind me how easy it would be for a 13 year old to ruin me. Odd, I agree, but hear me out.

In 1992, what would a 13 year old need to accomplish in order to get his or her opinion seen, spread and confirmed? Perhaps a paper route, a friend who’s parents worked at the Daily News, a good deal of editing, a petition…the list could go on, but to quickly convey my point, that child would need to go to great lengths to have even a few hundred people see his review on the newest Nintendo game, or perhaps his favorite place to eat in his small town.

Fast forward to 2008, and what do we see on the Internet? Blogs, review sites, forums – and lots of them – many members on these sites of which are 13-18 year olds ranting about their uninformed opinions, trashing companies, and incoherantly attempting to disuade the world from making the same mistake they did by going with the cheaper model. Don’t let their lack of formal education and bad grammar fool you – these people have an amazing influence on the world.

But a few hundred-thousand teens aren’t so scary, right? What can they do to hurt your business? Well, imagine someone searches for your company because they can’t remember the website URL, and just as they’re about to click on your site they see the next search result, an excerpt from a high ranking blog: “Company makes crappy products”. Or maybe it’s worse. Maybe, the excerpt under the result, chosen by the search engine, reads something more like: “Company owner John Smith likes little boys”.

Yeah, that’s pretty scary.

Fear not, friend, the Internet is a very big place, so the chances of someone singling out your business over the rest is as unlikely as the number of businesses out there are many; but who really wants to take the chance? The fact is, simple Preventative Reputation Management can save you a huge hassle, as well as a lot of spend, later on.

The basic idea behind Reputation Management is to populate search results with positive content concerning your business, and it is much better if all those good pieces of information reguarding your business show up in the first 20 results, instead of those frightening 13 year olds who know more about the Internet than a lot of adults, with a brutal opinion, and 120wpm typing “skillz”.

If you’d like to know more about how to protect your online reputation, please don’t hesitate to contact an Internet Marketing Firm such as Reciprocal Consulting today, and ask how.