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Online reviews in review: How to make the most of customer reviews on the Internet

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In today’s market, online customer reviews can make or break a business. We live in a digital world where seeing is believing and word-of-mouth referrals reign supreme. If you haven’t given much thought to what people are saying about your business online, it’s time to pay attention.

The rise of online reviews

In 1999, the Internet birthed three game-changing websites — Epinions.com, RateItAll.com, and Deja.com — which launched the social trend now known as ‘online reviews’.

Within their first year of life online, the three sites amassed millions of consumer reviews, critiquing everything from movies to appliances.

This phenomenon has revolutionised modern commerce, influencing virtually every kind of consumer purchase today, from finding a doctor (many patients now first consult RateMDs.com) to choosing a restaurant (today’s discerning diners first scan the menu at Yelp.com or Zomato.com).

brightlocal_2015_local_consumer_review_surveyWhy should we care so much about online reviews?

In the digital age, your business’ online presence is just as important as your real world, bricks-and-mortar operation – in some cases, it’s even more important. Your business website is your virtual business card, a snapshot of what your brand is all about.

That said, your website should look good and function smoothly.

But, to get the most from your website, you also must make it easy to find. No business owner wants their website to lag behind in search rankings, lost in an infinite sea of digital rivals, all competing for eyeballs. This is where the online reviews come in.

Positive reviews boost conversion rates more significantly than any other local SEO tactic. Why is that? Positive online reviews boost conversions because they offer what we call ‘social proof’ that the business is reputable and can be trusted.

The recent 2015 Local Consumer Review Survey questioned 2354 individual consumers from Canada (10 per cent) and North America (90 per cent) to gauge the impact and importance of online reviews in the current digital landscape. Conducted by BrightLocal, the survey found that:

  • 92 per cent of consumers now read online reviews;
  • 68 per cent say that positive reviews make them trust a local business more; and
  • Star rating is the main factor used by consumers to judge a business.

brightlocal_2015_local_consumer_review_survey_statisticsWhen consumers search for you or your business category on Google or Google Maps, one of the first things that they see is you customer reviews and star rating. Those first impressions are crucial.

A healthy collection of recent, positive reviews can win you a new customer. An absence of reviews or a painfully low star rating can be deal breakers.

Simply put, the benefits of building a healthy folio of positive online reviews are twofold: your website will land higher in search rankings and you will grow your business.

How to turn the negative reviews into positives

The threat of a bad review is often enough to spur business owners towards prompt resolution and compensation. Understandably, many dread the negative review.

But bad reviews shouldn’t frighten you – negative consumer feedback can actually be good for business. View it as an opportunity to engage with your customers and build rapport. By responding to negative reviews, you show a willingness to listen to your customers and act upon their concerns or complaints.

Some business owners react to negative reviews by simply cringing, sticking their heads in the sand, and hoping that the harsh reviews will go away. NEWSFLASH: They won’t go away.

If you ignore your negative reviews, you’ll give readers (your potential future customers) the impression that you’re indifferent to what your customers think about your product or service.

By responding, you show that your business is dynamic and capable of righting its wrongs. In some cases, a response can provide additional context to prove that a complaint is unfounded or unfair.

When responding to customer reviews, aim to satisfy the reviewer and make a positive impression with readers. Of course, you won’t be able to appease every unhappy customer but, by engaging with complaints, you’ll show that you’re committed to customer service and you value customer feedback.

6 steps to boost your reviews

  1. Google business verification: Google favours verified businesses so you should first create a Google+ page for your business and get verified!
  2. Don’t be shy – ask: Ask customers for feedback, urging them to talk about their experience online. You might even choose to incentivize the request. For example, you can offer customers a discount on their next purchase in return for an online review.
  3. Engage with existing reviews: Online reviews are an opportunity for meaningful dialogue with your customers. Never let reviewers feel like their feedback has fallen on deaf ears. Respond to every review, whether it’s positive or negative.
  4. Plug your google page on your other platforms: Once your Google+ page is verified, promote it to an extended audience on your other social networks, such as Twitter and Facebook. In your promotional Tweets and posts, encourage friends and followers to leave you an online review.
  5. Online and offline call-to-action: Even if your customers have had a wonderful experience doing business with you, it may not occur to them to leave an online review. Don’t be afraid to give customers a nudge – sometimes people just need a little encouragement. Hang a clearly marked sign in your restaurant or shop, or embed a prominent call-to-action on your homepage, asking customers to write you a review.
  6. Don’t fake it: As the benefits of positive reviews become more evident, some businesses will try to tip the scales in their favor with questionable tactics. Avoid the temptation to manipulate your star ratings with fake reviews. Consumers are savvier than you might think. The BrightLocal Survey showed that 21 percent of review-reading consumers don’t trust reviews enough to let them influence their opinion of a business.

How has your business been affected by the growing power of the almighty online review? Have you found an effective way to encourage your customers to leave reviews? Share your stories in the comments below.

Nital Shah is the founding director at Octos with more than 8+ years of experience under his belt in this field with a profound level of expertise in search strategies, planning and management. He has served big corporate brands of Australia and is proudly managing Octos, one of the top 16 SEM agencies in AU and NZ after the big win of Google ‘All Stars’ Competition 2015. He is a talented and motivated individual who likes to keep everyone around him happy and content. Nital can be connected here on LINKEDIN.

Nital-Shah

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