May 4, 2021
Categories: Uncategorized

This is a guest post written by Jessica Schleder, the founder and CEO of Adoptimize

Call me a snob, but you probably won’t find me dining at a restaurant that has a rating of fewer than 4.2 stars on Google. And, I certainly wouldn’t take my dog to this vet:

screenshot of google review showing a veterinary practice with three stars and a terrible review.

I’m not alone: only 48% of consumers would consider using a business with fewer than 4 stars on Google. In fact, evaluating reviews online is now the status quo. In the last year a whopping 93% of consumers used the internet to find a local business, and 87% took the additional step to read the online reviews.

So why does this matter for animal shelters? Animal shelters are inherently local “businesses” because they serve local communities, and Google is how your community finds you:

screenshot of graph showing the growth of google search trend for "animal shelter near me" over the past five years
Screenshot of graph showing the growth of Google search trend for “animal shelter near me” over the past five years.

Your shelter’s Google listing and reviews provide the very first impression pet parents, adopters, and donors form of your organization (even before they decide to visit your website). Google listings also provide a place for the community to ask questions and provide feedback. Joining in the conversation and being transparent are imperative to building a positive relationship with the public.

The process of updating your organization’s information and responding to comments online is called Online Reputation Management. Online reputation management (ORM) is a form of digital marketing that monitors for and addresses any damaging content or feedback that negatively impacts your organization’s brand. ORM is often used for combating negative reviews, unfair press, and misinformation propagated by keyboard warriors. It’s different from standard PR, which is proactive and used to strengthen a brand.

I know – ORM sounds like one more thing to add to your never-ending shelter to-do list. Unfortunately, you can’t opt-out. Almost every single animal shelter already has a google listing with ratings – whether you signed up for it or not.

So, how are municipal shelters, private humane societies, animal control organizations and rescues doing with ORM? Not so hot, by the 4-star standards. This was a random selection of animal sheltering organizations across the country:

Screenshot of random shelter ratings
Screenshot of random shelter ratings varying in star ratings

We can’t just write off low ratings as keyboard warriors because the stakes for shelters are too high: a rating of less than 3.5 stars affects conversions by 20-25%. For shelters, it means a potential adopter chooses to go elsewhere. It means that someone surrendering a dog (who only needed behavior help!) turns to Craigslist. By not addressing our shelters’ online reputations, we’re hindering our ability to fulfill our missions. And that directly hurts the animals we’re dedicated our lives to serving.

The good news is that online reputation management is free, and once you have your listings set up, it’s a low time commitment.

Getting started with ORM in less than 10 minutes

Online reputation management is comprised of three tactics: (1) monitoring and responding to reviews and news, including removing/suppressing negative reviews and promoting positive reviews, (2) review outreach, and (3) search engine optimization. I’m going to cover the basics of (1) monitoring and responding to reviews to get you started.

1. Claim your Google My Business page

Protecting your organization starts with being part of the conversation. To do this, you need to claim your shelter’s Google My Business page listing. A Google My Business page allows you to post information about your shelter (such as hours, location, photos), respond to questions from the public, and get alerts for new reviews.

Use questions the public asks as an opportunity for education and transparency.

Claim your account: 

  • For a new listing: the set-up process asks general questions about your organization and takes about four minutes. Once you’re done, Google will send you a postcard within five days to verify your location.
  • For an existing listing: if your listing has already been verified by someone, you will have to request access from them. If you don’t know who owns the account (ie: if it was claimed by a volunteer from five years ago), don’t worry! You can report a problem, which will be reviewed quickly. Google is in the business of having correct, authentic information, so they want to help you with this.

2. Start responding to reviews

Once your listing is claimed, you can start responding to reviews within Google My Business. You need at least four to five reviews and ratings for these to appear in Google search results. Remember these best practices when responding:

  • Respond to every review within 24 hours
  • Positive reviews: thank them!
  • Negative reviews
    • Use a positive tone. Own up to mistakes, and do NOT be defensive. Thank the user for their feedback.
    • Contact the reviewer directly. You’ll have a better chance at resolving the issue (and asking them to take down the review!) if you talk human-to-human.
    • Try to make it right. Negative reviews can be changed to positive ones if the reviewer feels you’re trying to do the right thing.
    • Request to remove negative reviews if they violate a Google Terms of Service:
      • Spam and fake content
      • Off-topic
      • Restricted content
      • Illegal content
      • Terrorist content
      • Sexually explicit content
      • Offensive content
      • Dangerous and derogatory content
      • Impersonation
      • Conflict of interest

Here’s a great article on what you can do if you see any of these kinds of reviews.

screenshot of Google Review's interface
Example of Google Review’s interface.

3. Set up Google Alerts

Google Alerts is a tool that will notify you in real-time when your specified keywords are published on the web. This is a great tool to track mentions of your shelter and people that work there. I recommend setting up alerts for your shelter, area + “animal shelter,” director and for other shelters in your area.

What are your peers doing?

Looking for some inspiration? Here are some shelters that are doing fabulous ORM:

Cincinnati Animal Care

Humane Society of Silicon Valley

Humane Rescue Alliance







The Reputation Management Consultants