Not so long ago, Yelp received quite a bit of attention when they began allowing business owners to respond to reviews left on the site. It was something SMB owners and others had been salivating for. And for good reason. Review sites and local search have changed the way your customers are discovering you and helping them make important purchasing decisions. If your company is who your customers say it is, then these online reviews play a pretty crucial part in giving them that voice.\u00a0 And you need to be listening. Let me share a quick story. A good friend of mine was recently researching movers as she'll be moving into a new home this weekend. Just like your own customers are prone to do, she started off by performing a local search in Google. That search presented her with a Google 10-pack, listing the names of ten moving companies, their phone numbers, URLs and links to existing customer reviews. She started from the top, clicking on the review for the moving company listed first in the search. The listing had one review -- it was negative, citing several customer service complaints. It was the only review on the page and the company in question never bothered to respond. That company immediately lost the sale. Online reviews often act as immediate, in-the-moment customer testimonials for your company when someone is trying to make a decision. They can help with search engine rankings and work to establish trust and brand recognition. You need to be monitoring your online reviews so that you can be proactive about managing them. Know where your customers are leaving reviews Your first step to managing online reviews is to know where people are leaving them. For most small businesses, this simply means covering the basics. You want to focus the bulk of your attention on the bigger name sites, as this is where most of your customers will naturally be hanging out and it will help you avoid spending too many hours trolling around the Internet. I'd recommend monitoring these sites for online reviews: Google Local Yahoo Local CitySearch InsiderPages Yelp BOTW Local Reviews on these sites are also the ones most often aggregated by other search engines. By addressing them head on, you'll get double the benefit and visibility. You should also check for any large niche review sites by doing a search for [industry name + review]. You may find that your industry has its own, very active niche sites. [For example, if you're in the travel industry, you'll want to check sites like Trip Advisor.] It's very important that you monitor the sites most important to your industry as these sites will often have the most credibility for your niche. Once you know where people are leaving reviews, make it easy to continually track new brand mentions by automating the process as much as possible. If you're on Yelp, use the option to subscribe to the page via RSS so that you're alerted each time it's updated. Set up Google Alerts to watch your name. Most sites make it really easy to get updates via RSS or email. You want to take advantage of this to help keep yourself in the loop. What to do when you find a bad one Breathe: Every company is going to generate a bad review from time to time. You can't please everyone and some people simply enjoy spending their day kicking things. This is okay. Don't freak out. Familiarize yourself with the site's TOS: Before you leave a comment, make sure the site is open to businesses responding to their own rules. Most won't say anything that prohibits it, but it's always in your best interest to know the guidelines. You don't want to accidentally offend and have to apologize later. You want to make sure your response fits inside their rules. Address the complaint. Calmly: Apologize for their bad experience, invite them back for another go and restate your commitment to making things right. It will very often appease the angry reviewer, but more than that, it shows anyone else who stumbles upon that review that you care. When my friend searched for that moving company, there was no response from the movers. Had they taken the time to offer some type of apology, a promise to do better, or reached out in any way, she very likely would have chosen them. It shows they're listening. Always take the high road: Never ever attack or respond defensively. You'll do nothing but hurt your company and make the situation worse. If you need some help, I recently detailed an extensive plan for how companies should respond to negative reviews. You may want to check that post out for a more extensive plan. As social media continues to take off and the search engines are using reviews as a factor in their local algorithms, it's really important that small businesses take the time to monitor what's out there and help manage any negative reviews that may develop. As my friend helped show, it means nothing if your site shows up first for a query if a negative review is there to scare people away. And because many small businesses won't see too many reviews, it only takes one or two bad ones to send wary customers flying in the other direction.