Small business owners can’t afford to ignore online reviews. If you own a business, you should be interested in what people have to say about you online. Customers tend to rely on reviews like they rely on word-of-mouth information from people they trust. In fact, most people put more confidence in online reviews, even from complete strangers, than they do in marketing literature. With this expert advice, you can turn customer reviews into a powerful marketing tool.
Of all the components of digital marketing, online reviews can sometimes cause the most confusion and frustration among small business owners. How are you supposed to know where customers are leaving reviews? Should you respond to them? How important are reviews to your business’ reputation? These are all important questions to answer.
It can take some time and effort to create a strategy for handling online reviews. If you’re proactive, you can turn reviews from a hassle into a powerful tool for building trust, winning new customers, and improving your search engine rankings. The key is to know proper etiquette so you don’t end up coming across as desperate, dishonest, or (heaven forbid) rude. In this article, we will discuss the importance of online reviews, the best online review site platforms, how online reviews affect SEO, how to ask and respond to them (especially negative reviews), and answer some frequently asked questions about online reviews. We have a lot to go over so let’s get started!
Table of Contents
What Are Online Reviews?
An online review is feedback left by customers on websites like Google, Facebook, Yelp, etc. When a customer leaves a review, the comment (often accompanied by a star rating) is posted publicly on the business’ profile. Online reviews also appear in Google search results and Google Maps when customers look for a business.
Naturally, all your business reviews from across the web and on your social media pages are a big part of your business’ online reputation because they come from customers. Your online reputation is one very important way for you to distinguish your business from the competition. Online reviews help give customers a better idea of how long a business takes to respond to an inquiry, how fast the job was done, how good of a job they did, and so on.
Why Do Online Reviews Matter?
Online reviews can be a powerful marketing tool. Nearly 95% of consumers read reviews before committing to a purchase. Customers will see them whether you like it or not, so it’s worth your time and effort to encourage good reviews and capitalize on the results to gain the trust of new customers.
Not all products or services are of high quality. Additionally, some companies stoop to false advertising by showing pictures of products that are not accurate to what they actually offer. There is a greater sense of comfort and confidence in buying products that have good reviews from other buyers.
Online reviews give your customers valuable information that you can use to improve your business. They help address multiple areas of your business including hours of operation, cleanliness, courtesy, salespeople, and the quality of your services and products. Taking advantage of your online reviews helps your business take a step back about what’s really working and what isn’t working.
How Influential Are Online Reviews With Customers?
The short answer is online reviews are very influential with customers. In fact, they can make the difference between winning or losing a sale.
In 2019, online shopping overtook in-store sales for the first time. Consumers used to hold items with their own hands and see them with their own eyes before purchasing. But even then, they usually invited opinions on purchases they planned to make. It’s human nature to get the approval of friends and family before buying something. Why put yourself at risk of having a bad experience when you can learn from the experiences of others?
With the rising popularity of online purchases, consumers can’t hold products before they buy. They are now expected to trust pictures and descriptions. There are also select features on some platforms that let you visually place an item in your home to get an idea of what it might look like. However, turning to reviews helps customers avoid making unwise purchases. Customers used to rely primarily on sales pitches to choose which products to buy. Now, comparing reviews is as easy as typing in a few words and clicking on a few links with your mouse.
Even if you have the best salespeople in the industry, that alone won’t guarantee success. You need to make sure your online reviews paint you in a positive light. If they don’t, you need to launch a campaign to try to improve your online reputation.
What Are the Best Online Review Sites?
There are many crowd-sourced review sites that have a powerful impact on businesses. Whether you own a plumbing business or you sell hair products, reviews can help you or hurt you. There are usually three main reasons why customers use review sites:
- Visibility: Reviews for businesses are often visible even when customers aren’t actively looking for them. For example, if you search for a local company’s name, Google results will most likely include not just contact information, but current ratings for the business. Such company ratings are highly visible, which can be a good or a bad thing for you, depending on how you rank.
- Accessibility: There are multiple search engines, mobile apps, and even social media platforms that offer online reviews. If you want to find out more information about a product or business, you can almost always access and locate at least one review online.
- Trustworthiness: Most consumers consider online reviews to be trustworthy. They assume previous customers wrote them. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. It’s possible for competitors to leave false reviews in order to make another company look bad. It’s also possible for hired individuals to leave fake positive reviews about a company or product. Though in many cases, such reviews are easy to spot because they sound insincere or sales-y. This can make customers more reluctant rather than encourage them.
The best site for you may depend on the type of business you own. These sites are important for just about every small business owner:
- Google Maps
- Bing Places for Business
- Yellow Pages
- Better Business Bureau
If you run a service-based business, these sites are important to know about as well:
- Angie’s List (contractors)
- HomeAdvisor (contractors)
- Kudzu (contractors)
- Yelp (restaurants and retail)
- OpenTable (restaurants)
- TripAdvisor (travel and hospitality)
- Healthgrades (medical)
- RateMDs (medical)
- Avvo (lawyers)
Google Reviews for Small Business
Before you start asking customers to leave a review of your business on Google, be sure to claim your Google Business Profile. When you claim your business on Google, you can receive notifications when a customer leaves a review, and respond to each review individually. These reviews and the accompanying star rating will show up when customers see your business on search results pages and Google Maps.
Reviews From Social Media
As social media continues to expand and become more popular with a variety of audiences, online reviews are more pervasive. Virtually any product or service has at least one review attached to it. And customers can easily share their reviews across a variety of social platforms. Reviews are one the best ways for consumers to avoid wasting money on poor products. It’s also a great way for you to build a reputation of trust, if you are proactive.
Facebook Reviews for Small Business
Facebook’s ratings and reviews feature is automatically enabled when your page is categorized as a local business with a physical address. You do have the option to disable reviews on your page, but then you won’t receive the benefit of positive reviews from customers and the boost in your search ranking from having reviews on Facebook. Be sure to track and respond to all your reviews on Facebook, just like you would on any other platform.
Yelp Reviews for Small Business
Out of all the online review platforms out there, Yelp tends to cause the most frustration among small business owners. “Yelp’s filter is a big headache for businesses because it can often hide some of their best five-star reviews,” said Ryan Erskine, senior brand strategist at Brand Yourself. “It’s frustrating for sure, but it’s important to know that the filter is fluid, meaning that a hidden review can resurface again.”
It’s better to play by the rules and try to get as many positive reviews as possible. It’s better for companies to put a Yelp strategy in place to use it to their advantage or they might find future issues down the road. Here are some of tips for working with Yelp:
- Do not purchase reviews for your business. Yelp has a sophisticated algorithm and is far too smart for this behavior. Yelp filters these purchased reviews from your customers and it can even result in your profile being flagged.
- Do not solicit reviews at your working establishment. Yelp knows if reviews are coming from a single IP address. (Yelp discourages business owners from asking directly for customer reviews.)
Do Online Reviews Affect Search Engine Optimization?
Reviews not only help build trust and loyalty for your business’ services and products, but it also builds authority, trust, and credibility with search engines online. Search engines are all about giving the user what they want and are looking for. They do this through different SEO techniques and strategies to help improve the user’s experience. If you’re thinking about your customers, it’s important to keep SEO at the forefront of your mind when creating the best online experience for them. Having reviews does increase clicks and interactions with your business from search results, and that increase in interaction does have a positive effect on your website’s search engine optimization (SEO).
Along with building trust and credibility, responding to reviews helps improve your local SEO and rankings. Why does it help you may ask? When you respond to your customer’s reviews, it shows search engines that you care about answering their questions/responses to help create a more positive experience for them. Even with negative reviews, responding to them by helping resolve the situation, can result in a more positive outcome. When you show you care about your customers, search engines will appreciate and take note of it by improving your local rankings. Whether it’s through a Google My Business profile, or online review site, make sure to respond to your customers for better SEO results.
Can I Ask Customers to Leave Online Reviews?
Yes! In fact, your business should make a habit of asking customers for online reviews. However, asking customers for feedback and/or reviews can be a delicate process. The last thing you want to do is come across as overbearing or annoying. But you also want to be proactive so you can get positive feedback. Opening the invitation for them to leave a review can be one of the best ways to receive honest and genuine reviews.
Think about the last time you left a review. Was it because you liked a product or because you had a bad experience? People are more likely to leave reviews when they’re angry about a service or product they received. It’s human nature to want to blast your frustration from the rooftops. Many reviewers “punish” companies they dislike by leaving very critical reviews wherever they can. However, with the right approach, any reviews can become your company’s secret weapon.
Should I Ask Customers to Leave Reviews on One Site or All of Them?
It’s best to target a few review sites rather than just one. Focus on the platforms where you attract the most traffic and visibility. You want to make sure positive reviews appear in as many places online as possible. You also want to stay focused so you don’t get overwhelmed monitoring and posting responses (and so that you don’t overwhelm your customers with requests!). If you don’t have any reviews, try starting with one site and then move on to others as you gain more feedback.
How To Ask Customers for Feedback
The key to launching a review campaign is to make sure the reviews are authentic. Don’t ever stoop to hiring freelance writers to make some bogus write ups of a product they have never tried. Both search engine algorithms and your customers can see through those. Instead, create opportunities to collect honest feedback from your customers. Here are a few suggestions to help get you started:
Verbal Invitation or Telephone Conversation
In the first scenario, satisfied customers express gratitude in person for a product or service. You then kindly thank them and ask them if they would be willing to leave an online review. For most businesses, an in-person invitation is not likely to happen. However, you can take the opportunity to invite feedback over a telephone conversation. For example, if a customer calls your business to get a problem or question resolved, this can be a good opportunity. Consider asking for a review if you have resolved the situation to the customer’s satisfaction.
Sending a personal email to customers can make them feel appreciated and valued. Choose a handful of loyal customers to email. Thank them for their business and reinforce their importance to you. In closing, kindly ask for a review on a specific platform. Post a link to the platform to make the process as easy as possible for your customers.
A thank-you message is a great way to solicit feedback in a natural way. When customers make a purchase, send a thank-you card or email showing your appreciation for their business. In a non-pushy way, invite them to share their most recent shopping experience online.
After they have purchased a product online, or finished a service in store, sending a follow-up text message can help incentivize customers to leave a review. Sometimes people can be in a hurry to their next destination or home and don’t have time to immediately post a review to your site. Sending a text message sends them a reminder to leave a review if they had a positive experience with your business. You could also send them the link directly in the text to help direct them to creating a review.
One way that benefits customers, and helps increase potential sales, is by offering discounts for leaving a review. Whether it’s a free item on their next order, or a certain percentage off, incentivizing customers helps generate more reviews for your business. Even creating a raffle or contest for a specific prize can help generate more reviews as well.
Here are a few more pointers to help you further craft a review strategy:
- Where do you want reviews? Google? Facebook? Yelp? Be explicit and provide directions when offering customers a link where they can post a review.
- When will the suggestion for a review happen? Is it before they convert or after?
- How will you help your customers understand the benefit of leaving you a review? Make sure you communicate that to them.
- Who will respond? Have a response strategy, and not just a canned response. Customers want to engage with real people.
How To Respond to Negative Feedback
Ignoring a bad review is never a good idea, as it demonstrates to people that a business either doesn’t care or doesn’t know what is being said. Even if you haven’t received negative feedback yet, you will. Negative reviews can raise weak points in your business, and tell you a lot about your customers—so you should be engaged and introspective as you manage your company’s online reputation.
When you see feedback from a disgruntled customer, don’t ignore it. Instead, acknowledge it and issue a sincere apology. You can start by following these steps:
- Apologize right away: Tell the concerned customer your business will look further into the problem.
- Don’t try to solve the problem right away: You’re probably angry, but you don’t want to make things worse. Write down your initial thoughts but don’t send it until you’ve had other people on your team read it.
- Never use the words “but” or “try”: “But” negates everything that came before it. For example, saying, “I’m really sorry you feel that way, but our food is wonderful,” won’t do a lot to satisfy your angry customer. Don’t say you’ll “try” to remedy the customer’s complaint. You either do it or you don’t. When people hear “try” they often think their issue will never be resolved.
- Be honest with yourself: Do you have a recurring problem? If one person out of 100 says your products or services stink, it’s likely they simply don’t like your offerings. But if 50 people voice the same criticisms, you may have room for improvement.
- Don’t freak out over a few negative reviews: Your business can’t please everyone. For the most part consumers will still give your company a chance even if you get an angry comment or two.
- Always act professional: Ask your dissatisfied customer what you can do to make things better. If they come back with something ridiculous, then be straightforward and offer a compromise.
- Never make any jokes: People generally don’t like jokers when they’re mad. This is especially true online. People can’t see your face or hear your inflection. Instead, they’ll often hear the opposite of your intention. Customers complain because they feel they’ve been ignored, disrespected or cheated in some way—make them feel you’re addressing their complaint with empathy.
- Make it more personal: With your online reviews it’s important to be empathetic, acknowledge their concern, write a response to show the customer complaining (as well as the rest of your audience) that you care about their concern, and even if you’re at fault, be honest about the situation. You can even make it more personal by using the pronoun “I” instead of “we”.
Online reviews are an essential part of any reputation management campaign. If you’re struggling with negative reviews, work on your internal customer service processes and don’t forget to respond to negative reviews in a timely, professional, and friendly manner.
Online Review FAQs
Should I Respond to Positive Reviews?
Yes! It’s just as important to respond to positive reviews as it is to respond to negative ones. Thank happy customers for their business and for taking the time to leave a review. Thank people for positive reviews. The more engagement, the better! That engagement helps you grow your good reputation and develop more loyal customers.
Should I Ever Pay for Positive Reviews?
It’s also important to know that you should NEVER pay for positive reviews. Paying for or otherwise bribing customers to leave reviews is a bad idea. Don’t fall for companies offering to get you good reviews for a fee. Customers have an expectation that online reviews are unbiased, which means that paying for reviews will destroy your credibility if you are found out (and most customers can tell when a review isn’t genuine).
Can I Review My Own Business?
No. Not only is this unethical, you’re likely to get caught. Customers are sensitive to this, and will not respond well to fake reviews from friends or family members. Even trying to influence customers can be bad. Instead, encourage past customers to share honest feedback about their experience with your company to help you continue to improve your customer experience over time.
How Do I Remove Bad Reviews?
In most cases, it’s impossible to remove reviews. Trying to silence customers typically backfires, and the review hosting site will know that. However, in some cases you may be able to appeal to the site to have a review taken down. Small business owners should know that reviews online are allowed to have negative opinions, but they cannot offer facts that are false in their review. You might also be able to have a review taken down if it’s downright abusive or irrelevant to your business.
What Are the Biggest Mistakes Small Businesses Make With Online Reviews?
There can sometimes be two big mistakes business owners make related to reviews. The first is ignoring them completely. Second, you need to monitor your online reviews. Negative reviews happen, but responding to them is a great way to not only smooth things over, but show future customers that you really do care about their experience.
Rising in Rankings
Responding to reviews isn’t the easiest task to undertake, but can be one of the most important factors you need to consider in improving your business online. There are a variety of ways to help improve your business online. One of the best ways is through implementing SEO into your digital marketing strategy. SEO can seem complicated and too hard of a task to take on, but that’s where Manta can come in and help!
Here at Manta, our goal is to help small businesses grow online through affordable and accessible SEO services. We’re there every step of the way to help grow your business online. Get started today by learning more about our affordable small business SEO services!