One of my SEO clients had a very specific thorn in their side: a ConsumerAffairs.com complaints and review page for their brand name was ranking on the first page of Google for their actual brand search.
To be clear, let’s pretend my client’s brand was Corporate Revenue and their website was CorporateRevenue.com. If you searched “corporate revenue” in Google, Consumer Affairs showed up #5 or as the fifth result.
They needed a reputation management service and fortunately, as an SEO expert, I was able to immediately get to work and help them remove (displace) Consumer Affairs from the top results.
I’ll get to how I pushed Consumer Affairs off the first page of the company name search results below (PS this technique works for RipoffReport.com, PissedConsumer.com, and other similar complaint sites) but first let’s add some context.
Review and Complaint websites like Consumer Affairs, Ripoff Report, Pissed Consumer, Trustpilot.com, etc. are more like honey pots for bad reviews than they are havens of fair ratings.
Simply put, they can skew what a typical experience is like for the average consumer.
Reasons for Negative Reviews
A big reason for the overwhelming bad reviews online is simply human nature: An angry or highly emotional customer is more likely to lash out after a bad experience than a satisfied customer is to leave a pleasant review; After all, the happy guy is moving on to whatever’s next, not seeking to tell the world his new purchase worked out well.
Going along with psychology, did you know the first one or few reviews psychologically skews how the rest of people vote? Once they see reactions of others, they feel inclined to join the pack vs. go the other way.
And a small but extreme contributor to a scathing reviews section is competitors. We all know it from local apartment review sites but the concept applies here too: Don’t for one second think a competitor of your business won’t take a stiff jab or even haymaker at your reputation if they get a chance.
If it makes you feel better, even Costco – yes good ol’ Costco where value is king has bad reviews on Consumer Affairs. If Costco is showing 2.something stars, no business is safe from being rained on by customers.
Side point: Even if review sites claim to have verified reviews, how much verification can they really do?
For example, say a business competitor wants to leave a bad review for your Amazon product. All they have to do is buy your product and they’ll be marked as a verified reviewer.
The same goes for Google local business or maps reviews. They might be logged into a Google account but they can be anonymous with their review and there’s nothing you can do.
Going back to Consumer Affairs brand reputation management, you have three options:
- the obvious (forget about the bad reviews and concentrate on your business or go the opposite way and file a lawsuit),
- join the Consumer Affairs accreditation program (Is it worth it? – I’ll discuss),
- and remove them by displacing them with SEO.
Let’s dig into the wide world of online reputation management by me pouring buckets of knowledge on you about sites like Consumer Affairs and Ripoff Reports.
What to do with Consumer Affairs?
When it comes to Consumer Affairs, they make a lot of money when companies decide to participate in their “accreditation program”. This is a paid accreditation.
This is certainly an option at your disposal.
Rather than trying to remove ConsumerAffairs.com, you can pay them for reputation management of your alleged reviews on their website and very likely dramatically increase your rating (a lot of complaints are improved, satisfied, or removed after you get the seal). I’ll flesh out more of the details to enrolling in their program in a few seconds.
Strategically, I don’t like this idea because you’re signing up to pay for life and embracing ConsumerAffairs.com as a result you want showing up under your brand name. Another asterisks here: real, legitimate bad reviews can still show up on your listing.
Besides this, you have two other routes for online reputation management: The obvious (do nothing or file a lawsuit) and removal by way of displacement SEO. Let’s discuss all three.
Option #1 Become Accredited
One route that some companies like Simply Cash (payday loan company) have taken to deal with complaints is to pay up and try to rehabilitate their reputation by becoming accredited.
Consumer Affairs doesn’t say this means your star ratings will change but I’ve noticed appreciably better reviews for accredited vs. unaccredited brands.
Once you pay and enroll in the “program”, you get the following:
- You get to work with Consumer Affairs to respond to consumer comments, whether positive or negative.
- In exchange for a monthly fee, companies get “certain information” pertaining to reviews and comments which gives you the ability to respond privately or publicly
- Consumer Affairs will help you get more reviews through Facebook, email, phone calls, etc. And then, big, dramatic moment… you “may have more reviews than unaccredited members, which may increase an Accredited Member’s star rating.”
- And although Consumer Affairs “never changes star ratings at a company’s request”, a previous customer who has left a review may decide to change a star rating after communicating and working with you. Of course, this may increase your rating as well.
One side anecdote here, ironically enough courtesy of PissedConsumer.com, this guy says he left a bad review of Laser Spine Institute on the Consumer Affairs website but it got deleted because Consumer Affairs said they couldn’t collaborate it. He states that he offered to provide documentation. If you look at the Laser Spine Institute page today, they’re a Consumer Affairs accredited program member.
Laser Spine Institute, Speedy Cash, and a handful of other large companies have decided joining Consumer Affairs was the right move for their business.
It’s a risk-reward decision where sometimes companies, especially corporations, decide it’s not worth it to let the bad reviews linger any longer in Google search results.
How much does it cost to be an accredited brand?
I researched the price of Consumer Affairs accreditation to see if I could specifically find any 2019 numbers and I could not find any prices from 2017 or 2018 but I do have some good news.
There’s nothing on the Consumer Affairs website; They want you to schedule a demo…But, I did find lawsuits that contained specific numbers.
This 2016 court document posted by the Wall Street Journal says they charged a $9,000 setup fee and $3,000/month.
In this 2015 Consumer Cellular lawsuit, we can see that $15,000 was the setup fee and the monthly recurring fee was $5,000.
This 2013 blog post by Stellar Rising says at one point they were charging $5,000/month for a premium package, $1,000/month for standard, and free for basic.
This ConsumerAffairs.com plans page doesn’t have any prices listed but you can see that in addition to basic, standard, and premium, they now have an enterprise plan that comes with 40 hours of onboarding and set-up from the “client success” team.
And here’s the thing with these monthly fees, they continue in perpetuity; there’s no point in time where Consumer Affairs says, okay, we’ve resolved all the complaints we can, your page is in good shape now.
I’m sure those forever fees work out quite profitably for their business.
Anyways, I’m not going to schedule a demo so I can’t tell you what any of the pricing is today but I’m going to take a wild guess and say their subscription model is still going and there’s a tiny chance Consumer Affairs prices have increased, particularly with the “enterprise plan”.
Option #2 The Obvious Stuff
Do nothing and hope for the best for your reputation. File a lawsuit as others have done.
No explanations needed here.
Lawsuits are expensive and cost a lot in terms of both time and money but sometimes taking legal action is a necessary part of business, especially when your reputation is at stake.
Option #3 Displace them from Google Search Results
I think the best way to deal with a negatively charged rating page – whether it’s Consumer Affairs or PissedConsumer.com, TrustPilot.com, RipoffReport.com, etc. – is to displace it from the first page of Google by creating and/or promoting other search results so that the ConsumerAffairs.com page is pushed down in the search results.
The first goal is to get it lower, to the bottom of page 1. Every spot we can drop or push Consumer Affairs down is a W and while we’re hoping for it to fall several spots back all at once, the reality in reputation management is you want bad reviews to fall back more than they bounce up.
(Note: The direction websites go in Google isn’t entirely one way. For example, say you hire me to start a campaign to remove negative reviews. Just because I’m working on it doesn’t mean the search results won’t jostle around. Google is unpredictable in the day-to-day, all we’re trying to do is have things settle out where we want them to a few months down the road.)
Next, you want to push Consumer Affairs onto page 2 of Google.
And, then, if you can get ConsumerAffairs.com to page 3, you’re in great shape with your reputation management.
Depending on the search 80-95% of people don’t go past page 1. That’s already going to significantly help business.
But we know some search queries spill over to page 2, especially when the first page doesn’t have the results we’re looking for so to be thorough, page 3 should be the goal. That’s basically a remove equivalent when it comes to reputation management.
Very few people are going to reach the third page of Google (just think how often you search this far) so you’re in great shape reputation management wise here.
This isn’t so much removing Consumer Affairs as it is displacing them. In terms of managing your reputation, this is nearly as effective as being able to submit a site for removal to Google and having success.
Although, yes, technically the negative result still exists, it’s buried so far down that 99% of people will never see it. And depending how important your online reputation is to business, you can keep going with this process – you could push Consumer Affairs (or Ripoff Report, Pissed Consumer, etc.) down to the 50th result, etc.
What does displacement involve?
With displacement, you’re basically doing two things:
- promoting other websites, web pages, web properties, etc. by linking to them and/or optimizing them (adding more content, freshening up the existing content, cleaning up page titles, header tags, etc.)
- Creating new content or acquiring press that promotes your brand name
- Advertising on Google Adwords PPC to bump the organic results – and thus negative reviews – down (hopefully below the fold)
As an example of displacement for reputation management, you could promote your hypothetical Amazon product page with 4.5 stars. You could even edit that listing or create a new one so it includes more of your brand name.
If you don’t already have a company Facebook/Twitter account, these social pages have strong potential to rank high for your brand name. Same with YouTube although I must asterisk this paragraph by saying not all brand searches work the same (e.g. sometimes an Instagram or Pinterest page may be a relevant result that ranks on the first page and sometimes it won’t).
So, social media can also be of use.
Another option is to do PR.
- Buy a press release.
- Go on a media blitz and purchase some sponsored air-time with TV news ads (that show up on the news station’s website).
- Pay influencer bloggers or news sites for promotion, etc.
- Or maybe you have something newsworthy and can get publicity for free.
What you’re doing here is creating additional search results for your brand name. Depending on the authority of the site making the new post, this might work as a standalone solution for ranking above Consumer Affairs.
For instance, let’s say you were able to email a New York Times or Huffington Post writer and get an article written about your company (with your company name in the title of the article), that’s probably going to do the trick; that article will, at the very least, rank above CA for a few months.
The problem with a PR-news-media blitz is some of the results can be short lived. While you may have success in moving Consumer Affairs down for a few months, CA might come crawling back so you need to continue reputation management even if you’re able to experience early success.
The unfortunate thing if you have a bunch of negative reviews is ConsumerAffairs.com has great search engine optimization and Google has responded to their site favorably.
The first problem is Consumer Affairs has continually fresh and relevant content that’s generated free by consumers.
The second problem is ConsumerAffairs.com draws in a lot of backlinks (which factor heavily into where sites rank) because the bad reviews draw the interest/gawking of other people, they start talking about and then they link to whatever page.
For this reason, Consumer Affairs is quite sticky in Google. They have a very authoritative website and it takes a continual and consistent effort to push them down.
Pissed Consumer, Ripoff Report, and Trust Pilot all have this cycle of positive SEO factors working in their favor but it’s very obvious to me that Consumer Affairs is currently green lighted in Google’s algorithm; they have by far the best organic rank in all of the research I’ve conducted on complaints websites.
It should be noted that once upon a time Pissed Consumer, Trust Pilot, and Ripoff Report all ranked much better.
Same with Yelp. Remember how Yelp used to show up all the time for local searches and then all of a sudden Google didn’t like Yelp as much. It doesn’t help that the two tech companies had a running antitrust dispute.
The SEO Reputation Management Formula
I’ve given you the blueprint for how to remove a ConsumerAffairs.com page from Google above.
I know you’ve received your fair share of SEO spam mail or even had SEO companies who only wanted to collect money but couldn’t actually deliver results so you might have a different view of search engine optimization than I do; you might think it doesn’t work.
It does, it just takes time, effort, resources, and money. In the section below, I’ll show you how to do a Consumer Affairs removal (displacement, really) for proper online brand reputation management.
Now let’s talk specifics.
First, you have to build backlinks consistently, preferably from and to other sites to be successful. Authoritative websites work the best for this strategy.
For example, let’s say your Wikipedia has a listing for your corporate history that’s showing at the bottom of Google, let’s say at the #9 slot. That would be a great neutral type of result to link to since Wikipedia is a highly authoritative site.
Walmart, Target, New York Times, Wall Street Journal are all cream of the crop sites that typically slide to the top of search results, especially when linked to.
I understand many small businesses/non-corporations won’t have these options for various reasons (e.g. maybe your product isn’t listed on Walmart.com) but I’m just trying to illustrate a point. There are multiple tiers of authoritative sites that can fit the bill.
For example, GlassDoor.com has some authority and can be used for displacement purposes. Glass Door reviews are from employees and are usually neutral or positive, but, if not, of course you wouldn’t push them.
If there are no authoritative sites, you’ve just got to work with what you have to remove Consumer Affairs from your brand’s search results. And, to be clear, authority is not a make or break when it comes to displacement seo, it just helps your management of the results.
Another SEO strategy within the displacement option is to simply build up more company/brand properties.
For example, let’s say your parent company is Big Corporation and one of your product brands is HBG Foods.
To start, you definitely want to create bigcorporation.com/hbgfoods.
And then you have hbgfoods.com.
And then I recommend creating secondary websites that highlight some division, sector, or part of hbgfoods.com. Here are some examples:
hbgfoodshealth.com – all about the healthiness of the different food products
hbgfoodsretail.com – all retail locations/online stores where you can find HBG or maybe information on the business side of the company
hbgdrinks.com – dedicated to the beverages you offer
The idea here to dominate the SERPs (SEO speak for search engine results pages) with your own best properties that you control.
This is the ideal scenario. When it comes to your brand management, you want to control or at least manage the narrative that people see when they search.
While a neutral or even positive property like an Amazon listing or Facebook company page is very good (much better than the alternative, right?), we don’t ultimately control them.
You might get a string of bad reviews on Amazon or some unwanted comments on Facebook. You don’t have control over all of the content on these pages so while they’re usually favorable results, they aren’t the perfect ones for your business as you can’t remove third-party content.
The problem with building up your own properties is it takes time for them to rank. There’s what’s called a sandbox for new sites in the SERPs. What this means is it usually takes 6 months before new sites can seriously start ranking in Google for their targeted keywords.
Neither myself or any other SEO expert can get around the sandbox. It’s just a part of the business and you have to wait. But, still, if you’re thinking strategically, it’s always advantageous to plant seeds (build the websites) now and cash in on the harvest later.
Anyways, getting back to linking, the best route is to build links consistently from different types of websites (blogs, Web 2.0s, social sites, news sites, etc.) with varied anchor text (the text you use when creating a link). The more authority pages with the backlinks have, the better results you’ll get with Google.
Depending on your goals, you’ll want to take this approach for 15-30 sites.
This is not an overnight success type of deal. The timeline usually goes like this:
1-2 months: Nothing really happens. You might get some positive movement but then see it fall back.
3-4 months: Headway is being made. There’s positive movement but you need more.
5-6 months: Oh, wow, things are starting to move in your favor. Other sites are starting to move past Consumer Affairs and it’s probably tumbled to page 2.
7-8 months: Niiiice! This SEO reputation management stuff really works for having more positive search results show up under your brand name.
The Done For You Service
If you got this far, your company’s reputation is being hurt by a Consumer Affairs result that’s sticking out like a sore thumb.
I’ve outlined how I approach displacing negative search results for businesses above. This absolutely works in 2019. And it works the same for whatever complaints site is hurting your reputation: Trust Pilot, Ripoff Report, Pissed Consumer, etc.
You can remove any of them with enough consistent SEO effort.
Remember, the SERPs are part of your brand association. When people search Google, what they see in the results affects their vision of your company. Reputation management is important not only for direct sales but branding so you want to remove that which you don’t want to associate with your business.
If you would like to hire someone as an online brand reputation management consultant or would like a service to remove Consumer Affairs for you, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If that email address domain name is hard to read, it’s brand management seo.