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How businesses can handle online reviews

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SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) -

Online reviews can make or break a business.

One of the most prominent review sites is Yelp, which offers a platform for the public to review almost any kind of business for free.

But negative comments on sites like this can hurt a business's bottom line.

With a daily average of 108 million visitors, Yelp can go a long way to help or hurt a business. Just one negative comment can do a lot of damage, but it's how businesses respond that makes all the difference.

Cathi Denham, owner of Catnip n' Biscuits in Savannah, is frustrated with how her business is portrayed on Yelp.

"Customers leave reviews when they are mad at us for something that we wouldn't do their way," said Denham. "We have some really good reviews on Yelp also, but you will never see those because they are hidden in filter button. To filter out the good ones is just wrong."

Yelp officials explain that they filter reviews to eliminate fakes posted by business owners about themselves or by paid reviewers.

Yelp said it uses an algorithm to filter out reviews that it determines are not authentic, but if you look very closely at the company's page, those filtered reviews are still accessible.

"I tell them to press on the grayed out button that says filtered reviews and it will say we don't recommend these reviews, but that is where our good reviews are. There are no good reviews on the front page," said Denham.

Denham said since her positive reviews were filtered, her star rating dropped. That is when Yelp began soliciting her to advertise.

"They don't say it, but I know people that advertise with Yelp, that their negative reviews disappear and only positive reviews show up," said Denham.

Seth Michalak, a social media consultant, said the best thing a company can do to save their reputation is to be transparent.

"To say 'look, there was a negative review, we worked with the customer for as long as we could. We couldn't come up with a resolution,'" said Michalak.

Since business owners cannot opt out of Yelp, the best thing they can do is focus on building an online presence in other ways, Facebook, Twitter, and through their website.

"What companies can do is do a search on Yahoo and Google and see what review sites are coming up higher on your business. Those are the ones to focus on, since those are the ones customers will see," said Michalak.

A Yelp spokesperson insists the filtering algorithm has nothing to do with advertising, but she did say companies that advertise will have their business placed above other listing

Take advantage of free services offered by established Web directory sites such as Google, CitySearch and Yelp. Complete a business profile and upload photos for free.

Respond to comments, both negative and positive, to further engagement.

"Always respond diplomatically," Yelp advises. "And don't panic over critical reviews."

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