Interview with Pierre Zarokian on Reputation Management for Small Business


In the mid-90s, while developing a search engine for a yellow pages company, Pierre Zarokian became interested in how search engines determined their rankings, eventually starting a search engine submission and optimization company. He founded Submit Express in 1998, right around when Google was launched. Submit Express began in his parents’ garage, with virtually no investment, but it became successful within a year. Today, Submit Express employs over 30 people. Pierre is still its president, and is involved with day-to-day operations and management see 

Why is online reputation especially significant for small businesses?

Your business represents a huge investment in time, money, education, expertise, equipment, staff training, and marketing. It is everything—it is your life. So how do you protect your business if a crazy customer goes on a verbal rampage and posts numerous negative reviews all over the Internet? What will that result in?

Your reputation matters and here is why:

  • 83% of consumers say online customer reviews influence their purchase decisions. (Source: Opinion Research Corp., June 2008)
  • A word-of-mouth recommendation is the primary factor behind 20% to 50% of all purchasing decisions. (Source: McKinsey Quarterly, April 2010)
  • Harvard University research on Yelp shows that a 1-star difference in reviews on Yelp may result in 5% to 9% in business gained or lost. (Source: Harvard University, September 2011)

These days, anyone can go online and anonymously leave negative feedback or reviews about individuals or businesses. Sites such as Yelp,,,,, and allow postings by anyone. Posters’ identities are often validated through nothing more than an Email address. Some of these sites may track the IP address of the poster; however, it would be virtually impossible to acquire the IP address without legal action and subpoenaing the records of the complaints site. Furthermore, simply acquiring an IP address is no guarantee that you’ll easily identify the poster. You’d need to subpoena the records of the ISP as well, and, in some cases, it might not have records available.

Consumers oftentimes leave negative feedback and rants on their social media pages such as Twitter and Facebook, and many of those sites normally rank very high in Google and other search engines due to their popularity. That’s why negative reviews posted on these types of sites tend to show up in search engines. If it’s your business that’s being disparaged, the situation can turn ugly.

With that backdrop, the early 2000s saw the birth of a new industry—Online Reputation Management (ORM), also called Search Engine Reputation Management (SERM). Online Reputation Management helps businesses eliminate or reduce the damage caused by negative Internet postings that are ranking high on searches for their companies, brand names, or associated individuals (such as a company president). Removing offending pages is sometimes not possible, even through legal action. However, the targeted use of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Social Media Marketing enables businesses to push down negative pages in search engine rankings—even to the second page or lower, where they will be “buried” and attract less attention. If you have negative reviews online, you could be losing thousands of dollars a month and not even know it.

Are there any benefits that come from negative feedback online?

Although negative feedback is unquestionably bad, it can, in fact, provide you with valuable insights about your operations and alert you to problems at your practice. Stay on top of all reviews posted and be proactive about avoiding similar problems in the future. In my opinion, many complaints happen because of poor management.

If you are running a company with at least 5 employees, most often you may not be directly aware of client interaction with some of your staff.  Negative online reviews are great source of customer feedback. You might also want to consider establishing a medium through which your customers can give you direct feedback. Maybe try placing a review form on your website.

What things do small business customers complain about most?

As a reputation management consultant, my company currently helps many customers with their reputation management, especially with Yelp. I have personally read thousands of negative reviews on Yelp and what I can tell you as being the #1 complaint on Yelp are issues with staff. Oftentimes businesses such as restaurants or medical practices do not have proper management. Most often staff that are under poor management do not do their jobs correctly, either because of lack of proper training or because no one is giving them warnings when they make mistakes. So even though the staff might be the problem, ultimately as a business owner it is your responsibility to be aware of what is going on and properly train your staff or provide necessary warnings to those that fail at their tasks.

Some customers are more sensitive than others, and you never know for sure what will tick someone off. Sometimes, if a customer is bent on being dissatisfied, even doing the best job possible will not help you avoid a negative review.

Are there ways to be proactive when it comes to protecting the reputation of you business?

The best reputation defense is to resolve them as soon as you spot them. If you’re paying attention, you can tell when a customer gets upset. Don’t argue with such customers. Instead, offer a discount or a full refund to avoid getting a potential negative review. You never want to lose a returning customer because of an isolated incident, and you certainly don’t want to lose new customers over negative reviews online. With bad reviews, you could potentially lose dozens of new customers each month. The flipside, of course, is that a happy customer can refer business to you through word of mouth, and also through positive online reviews.

What is the best way for a business to maintain a good reputation?

Your reputation matters, regardless of your company’s size. What people see when they search for you online has an impact whether you’re a one-person show or a giant, multinational company with complex customers.

Murray Newlands

Murray Newlands

Murray founded The Mail in 2013, an angel-funded startup publication covering performance marketing and mobile marketing. Murray is an advisor to a number of bay area startups including VigLink. In 2011 Wiley published his book Online Marketing: A User's Manual. Born in England, Murray moved to the USA in 2011 being recognized by the US government as "an alien of extraordinary ability". Murray co-authored Content Marketing Strategies for Professionals with Bruce Clay. Murray runs the agency Influence People based in San Francisco.
Murray Newlands

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4 thoughts on “Interview with Pierre Zarokian on Reputation Management for Small Business

  1. Thanks for the tips. Certainly creating content and sharing on media is definitively the way to go. Unfortunately, gaining “likes” and “share” is only possible with good content, creating good content take time and each piece of data can only be used once… Google is definitively trying to step on the famous cookie cutter…
    Will SEO companies evolve towards field-specific SEO providers to be able to follow with this new trend?

  2. Thank you Murray for this helpful interview. These tips are great advice for entrepreneurs and small business owners. Most of the people tend to think that if you have a few negative reviews online, it’s the end of the world, while these reviews are damaging your business, it is important to not take it personally and handle it right away to eases the impact of the negative footprint. Let’s hope more small business and companies start adopting these reputation management strategies that reflect this great advice. And of-course, make sure your handling customer issues at the moment they pop up and you may be able to prevent bad online reviews.

  3. Hi Murray – It is so important to maintain a good reputation for yourself. I enjoy your viewpoints and tips and I am telling my friends to go here and read up on this. Great insight here!


    Madeline :)>

  4. hI Murray , Lots of information here and great write up. This article was straight up and to the point. No meandering here. I like the way you write sir! Excellent topic too.

    Like you I believe reputation management online is becoming more and more a concern for folks with businesses. I read an interesting statistic yesterday that plays right into it: “People like to talk 10 times as much about negative experiences than positive ones”. This is so true. If something good happens – silence.

    If something bad happens however it get slathered on every post and billboard in town.

    Here come the rep management companies now….I can hear them the distance!

    Bertha :))))))))))))