Why negative online reviews get more traffic than positive ones?

Screaming for helpWhy do we relish bad reviews? Oliver James warns, “We want to hear about bad things happening to other people, because it makes us feel better about ourselves.”

If you believed the experts, you’d think that the only way to succeed online was to be nice, fair, and generous.

The reality is different. I’ve been writing online since Netscape launched it’s first browser. So, I’ve seen a lot. Just by observing things online you can learn tactics that – if you want – you can apply to your own business. If you want.

Bad v Good Reviews

One of things I’ve noticed is that, negative reviews provoke people into a response. It seems that if something is framed in the right way, you can tempt people to get off the fence and

Don’t believe me?

How much time do you spend reading reviews of the best restaurants in town? Very little, I’d say. But, when you see someone lay into some celebrity chef, it’s hard not to lean forward and read with glee why the gold star eatery is really an over-priced dive.

Jay Rayner makes this point on The Guardian, saying that, “Nobody would want to read a bunch of my positive appraisals. But give them write-ups which compare the food to faecal matter, the decor to an S&M chamber and the service to something the staff of a Russian gulag would reject for being too severe, and then readers are interested”

How to write bad reviews

Let’s say you want to run an experiment and see if bad reviews do get more traffic. Here’s a suggested approach, and some warnings.

  • Choose a topic you are familiar with. Don’t rant about something about which you have no knowledge. Readers will pick up on this very quickly.
  • Find other articles that have covered this topic from a POSITIVE angle.
  • Write the article and pepper it with inflammatory phrases, slightly outlandish claims, and extreme conclusions. Looking for inspiration? Listen to Rush Limbaugh or others like him.
  • Make sweeping statements. Use phrases such as ‘as everybody knows’, ‘only a fool would disagree with..’, ‘it’s obvious to an intelligent person that’ and so on. Use these constructions to provoke the reader into contradicting your claims.
  • Support your arguments with quotes, stats, and other evidence that proves your assertion.
  • Close the article by defying the reader to oppose your view. Or to step forward and agree with what you said.

Risks with bad reviews

While this does work, you can’t write endless posts dissing others. It gets tedious after a while. You’ll develop a reputation as a ranter. Instead,  balance the negativity with more reflective posts. This gives the readers a chance to pause and get their breath back. Then, when the moment is right, launch another scathing attack on the next hapless victim

Is this approach justified? Is it a dignified way to make a living? Should you do it?

It depends.

Like many things in life, it’s critical to know what motivates others. What makes them take action online? What tactics can you use to persuade (read: Influence) readers online.

Maybe I’m wrong. What do you think?