Online reviews are one of the most effective ways to drive potential customers to your business. Sure, you can spend thousands of dollars trying to shoot your business to the top of the google search engine results page (SERP), but that can be expensive and inefficient. In addition, while being at the top of the SERPs can show that you’re an established business, it lacks the authenticity and brand trust that an online business review can provide.
Why Positive Online Reviews Matter for Your Business
Positive online reviews help captivate the attention and interest of customers. Similarly, online reviews can effectively establish trust and confidence when consumers either search for your business specifically or search for a general product or service your business offers. Studies show that if a customer trusts your business’s online reviews, they’re likely to spend 31% more than companies with lower reviews. Simply put, favorable online reviews can significantly and positively affect your customers’ purchasing behavior.
The three examples below show the positive user experience (which Google aims for) for the consumer/searcher as well as the cost and time efficiencies for businesses who leverage online reviews for their business.
It’s a Friday night and you and your family decide you want ice cream as a late-night snack. Curious about what your options are, you conduct a search for ice cream shops near you. Along comes the top-rated ice cream shops in your area with their respective company reviews.
You’re in the market for a new car. Sure of the make and model, but unsure of the dealer, you perform an online search for relevant dealers in your area. Tada, results and online reviews.
You’ve recently moved to a new town and it’s time for a dental checkup. You want an established dentist that you can trust and is conveniently located. You do a quick online search for general dentists in your area who have good customer reviews.
It’s time for a dental checkup, but your original dentist no longer cuts it. You want a dentist that you can trust, will be around for a while, and is conveniently located. You do a quick online search for general dentists in your area. Again, dentists with customer reviews.
In all of these scenarios, you’re likely going to choose the business with high-ranking customer ratings and those featuring reviews that highlight their reliability, expertise, and professionalism.
Online reviews also matter to your business because they act as an inexpensive way to attract potential customers and don’t demand a significant contribution in effort from managers and owners. Unlike other marketing techniques like email-blasts and social media campaigns which require time, money, and effort, an online review strategy can be easily implemented and have a fast, positive impact on your business’s success. Google, Yelp, and Facebook reviews not only help your business get discovered, but also allow you a chance to prove the excellence, professionalism, and reliability of your business.
Key takeaways: Online business reviews aren’t just an effective, efficient alternative to SERP initiatives and other marketing efforts, but they are also a highly reliable method for establishing your business as trustworthy and professional. Additionally, positive online reviews require little in the way of time and money investment and can encourage customer spending habits to ultimately boost your bottom line.
Just as it’s important to understand the positive impact reviews can have on your success, it’s equally as important to understand how leveraging these business reviews can further benefit your business. Review the following comprehensive how-to guide for leveraging local business reviews and navigating the “ins and outs” of online reviews.
How to Leverage Online Reviews and Use Them to Your Advantage
While the control of online reviews lies largely in the hands of past and potential customers, there are still several ways you can use these reviews to your advantage. Below are five key ways to leverage your online business reviews.
- Increase brand exposure. Prior to the internet, people would rave or complain about businesses via word-of-mouth. Today, this word-of-mouth concept has carried over into customer reviews that increase your company’s visibility. Not only do good reviews reflect positively on your products and service, but they also help improve search engine optimization (SEO) of your business by creating unique, up-to-date content on an ongoing basis.
- Identify keywords for your products and services. By tracking the common words customers use to describe your products and services and implementing these keywords into your product positioning, keyword targeting, tags, and content creation, you can significantly improve how your brand ranks on an array of different search platforms.
- Highlight positive reviews in PR and influencer outreach campaigns. Key individuals like local celebrities, well-known public figures, or established professionals can be used to influence others to check out your business. Products and services that are backed by dozens of positive reviews can be a great way to show these influencers, as well as PR teams and journalists, just how much customers love, use, and rely on your brand.
- Improve your brand with customer feedback. Reviews are priceless ways to take advantage of customer feedback and increase sales. Furthermore, you can also use these reviews to quickly identify and solve product issues, analyze patterns, determine what customers rave about so you can deliver more of it, and keep an eye on the competition.
- Directly engage with customers. You can easily build brand loyalty by replying to a customer’s review. Whether you thank them for their business, acknowledge the constructive feedback they offer, or request additional feedback, responding to a customer’s review makes them feel seen and appreciated by your company and will help to establish a client-business relationship that boosts and solidifies your customer base.You can also use reviews to salvage poor customer experiences. If a customer posts a negative review on a product you offer, for example, you can quickly connect with them to inquire about what went wrong, what improvements can be made, what they’d like to see more of, and what you can do to restore their trust in your brand.
- Increase sales with positive reviews. Ultimately #4 and #5 will work together to increase your business’s sales! Customers respond to positive reviews as much as your willingness to resolve a negative one. They will be more apt to buy if they can recognize both the quality of the product as well as the company’s investment in its customers.
Key takeaways: Customer reviews can be priceless tools for marketing and establishing your brand. When leveraged properly, online reviews can increase brand exposure, boost SEO positioning, encourage positive feedback, and make customers feel valued and appreciated.
The SEO Impact of Local Business Reviews
Whether it’s on mobile or desktop, businesses with online reviews can find themselves near (or at) the top of local search results relating to their products and/or services. In fact, there have been strong correlations found between online business reviews and local search engine results.
Of the over 200+ ranking factors in Google’s search engine algorithm, almost 10% of the total weight is estimated to be review signals such as review quantity, review velocity, and review diversity. It’s presumed that Google’s local algorithm, which is different than generalized SEO algorithms, weighs reviews more heavily and provides brick-and-mortar business and retail chains with a great opportunity to influence their online search presence through positive online reviews.
Click-through-rates (CTR) are a key factor within Google’s local algorithm. Online company reviews tend to receive more engagement, or CTR, with increases in yellow stars. This, in theory, means that a higher quantity of online reviews and a higher CTR translates to a higher likelihood that your business will be displayed near the top of the search engine results. Combined with a high CTR for your site, the large quantity of positive reviews indicates to Google that your website offers the best user experience and serves the correct type of content that matches their search intent. This is the power that online reviews can provide any business, big or small.
In addition to catapulting your business to the top of local searches through local SEO, customer reviews can also benefit your business by increasing revenue and building consumer trust in your brand. A recent study by Harvard Business School (HBS) found that a one-star increase in a restaurant review can lead to a 5 to 9% increase in revenue, which can result in anywhere from $50,000-90,000 in additional revenue for a $1M/year business.
Imagine what these numbers look like for automotive dealerships, law firms, or dental practices that increase their online business reviews. When considering this substantial impact, it’s no surprise to learn that 88% of consumers have been influenced by an online customer service review when making a purchasing decision.
Key takeaway: The velocity, quantity, and diversity of online business reviews all have a substantial impact on local SEO results and can greatly benefit both the online traffic to your website as well as the foot traffic to your actual business. This can also be an ideal way to oversee online reputation management by knowing how people are talking about your business, what they are talking about, and what they are or are not saying in regards to your company as a local business.
All in all, online business reviews are a critical piece of your business’s success cycle: The better and more prolific your reviews, the better your SEO ranking will be; the better your SEO ranking, the more you’ll attract customers; the more customers you attract, the more reviews you’ll garner. Ultimately, positive online reviews result in improved brand recognition and an overall increase in your business’s revenue.
Gain Trust and Credibility through Company Reviews
Generating online business reviews is one thing, but managing the online reviews is another. Enter online review management. Consumer trust and credibility is another benefit that businesses can realize through online business reviews. According to BrightLocal, 79% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Furthermore, 73% of consumers say positive customer reviews make them trust a business more (up from 58% in 2012). Trust and credibility are ingrained in online business reviews and local search allowing consumers to have to have a clear view into any business. It also allows a business to provide complete transparency into what they offer their customers and how well they offer it. That’s why we at Podium say that we help good businesses prove it.
Last of all, online reviews allow a business to engage with past and current customers. Through online reputation management, businesses can monitor and quickly respond to positive and negative reviews on Google, Yelp, and Facebook. According to a recent study, 70% of respondents said their opinion was changed after a business responded to a review. Therefore, you should choose a review to response ratio that is realistic for you and do your best to stick to it. For example, a ration could be to respond to 3 out of every 5 positive or negative reviews left.
Positive online review response
Taking the time to respond to a few positive online business reviews is a great way to show that your business cares and is proud of the experience they were able to provide. Showing that your business is grateful for the company review also shows potential customers that your business thrives to create an experience like that for every single customer.
Negative online review response
On the flip side, taking the time to respond to a negative company review can have an even larger impact. In fact, 41% of consumers see a brand’s response to an online review as a sign that the brand really cares about its customers. This is a chance for your business to act fast and right whatever wrong the customer feels your business made. The above is a great example of taking a cool-headed approach in responding. They follow a few simple steps that can turn this negative into a positive for any potential customer:
- They apologize.
- “We’re sorry to hear…”
- They approach the review with a calm and collected response (cushioned-defense).
- They offer a pro-active way to right their wrong.
- “We’d like to do what we can to change that”
- They ask to continue the conversation privately.
- “Please contact our Customer Service Manager…”
What happens if the negative response isn’t legitimate? Hootsuite suggests that regardless of whether or not the complaint is legitimate, you should address it and apologize. Tell your side of the story in a sympathetic manner and offer to help correct the issue in anyway possible. Again, by addressing negative online business reviews, you get the opportunity to show that your brand has real, genuine people behind it and that you care about your customers’ experience.
Focus Online Business Reviews on the Most Effective Online Review Sites
Not all reviews sites are made the same. For example, Google reviews, in most cases, will carry more clout than your average niche, vertical-specific review site. Yelp reviews, in general, will also carry more authority than most other review applications. So which online review site is right for your business and which should you focus on?
In a general sense, it’s beneficial for all businesses to focus on the Big 3. That is, Google reviews, Yelp reviews, and Facebook reviews. Why? Because all three online review sites give your business a much larger audience and chance for exposure. Once you tackle the Big 3, moving into the niche online review sites like Avvo or Houzz, will help supplement and increase your online review strategy.
Google has arguably the most prominent online review site. For starters, Google reviews have the potential to put you near the top of the search results page (as seen below). Many businesses will see this as the sole reason for focusing on generating Google reviews. While Google’s online reviews are a great starting place, it should not be the only factor to your online review strategy. Not everyone has a Google Account, something that is required to leave a google review, meaning you must supplement those efforts with other online review sites. Besides, Google isn’t the only online review platform that can rank in the search results.
Yelp’s online review platform is also a great general option for most businesses. Yelp touts an astounding 135 million unique users and while tilted towards restaurants, provides categories for almost every vertical. The online site’s reviews CAN also show up in Google search results, show your hours of operations, and show pictures from user contributions.
With nearly 1.4 billion monthly active users and 890M daily active users, Facebook is an online review site to be reckoned with. One main advantage to Facebook reviews is that most of your customers use Facebook and will already be logged in (via mobile or desktop) allowing you to easily direct them straight to your review page. While Facebook reviews arguably aren’t quite on par Google and Yelp reviews, the platform is fast-approaching.
Niche Online Review Sites
Lastly, vertical-specific online review sites are a great way to supplement your online review strategy. Do a quick search for “Lawyer review” and you’ll likely find Avvo. A quick search for “doctor reviews” will serve up Healthgrades.com. And, a search for “home builder review” will bring you Houzz. These examples of supplemental online review sites are crucial for any complete online review strategy. Use them to your advantage, but don’t rely on them as your sole engine for online reviews.
How to Ask for Online Reviews
Many businesses that already have a review strategy in place will tell you that collecting reviews isn’t always the easiest thing to do. So what’s the best way to generate them?
As a general rule of thumb, don’t incentivise for online reviews. Offering an incentive in exchange for a review may lead to a biased review that might not accurately reflect that specific customer’s experience. You may argue that it’s just business and you will do whatever it takes to increase revenue for your business. I admire that tenacity, but some online review platforms like Yelp do not.
A good alternative to incentivising is to choose an online review management platform that works for you and your customers. There are many online review management platforms out there but choosing one that works for both sides (your business and your customers) is key.
For example, the odds of a dental patient filling out an online review that they received through an email a few days after their visit is very slim. In fact, our statistics at Podium show that only around 2-3% of those patients will click through to get to the actual review. After they have clicked, the completion rate drops even further for those that have to sign into the online review site. Rather, a text message directly to their phone, before or as they leave the dental practice, show to have around a 68% click rate and a 15% completion rate (up to 15x the email approach).
A similar argument can be made for automotive dealerships and almost any other industry vertical that collects online reviews. The investment in an online review management platform is one that can yield significant results, comply with terms and conditions, and cut away the awkward moments of asking for a Google, Yelp, or Facebook review.
If you currently maintain an online review strategy, make sure you’re focusing first on the Big 3 (Google, Yelp, and Facebook reviews). These three sites can help increase your business's online exposure and increase brand trust. After you have a firm grasp on continually generating reviews for the Big 3, start to supplement those efforts with vertical-specific online review sites. Make it a point to respond to a certain ratio of positive and negative responses. This will help show your potential customers that you care about their experience. And, when you respond to a negative one (most everyone reading this will at some point) keep a cool head and approach it with a problem-solving mindset. Last, choose an online review management platform that works for you and your customers. Generally, text-based online review management platforms will work be more efficient and cost-effective than traditional email platforms.
If you don’t currently focus on gathering online reviews, head over to Google My Business and claim your business/location. Also, make sure you do the same on Yelp and Facebook. From there, take similar steps as mentioned above and watch those reviews flow in.