So much of search focuses on being found. But being found doesn’t do much good unless you’re also chosen. The only thing worse than not being found is being found and rejected from consideration.
There’s no doubt that online reviews play an increasingly central role in the consumer path to purchase. Research consistently shows that the vast majority of consumers — as high as 9 in 10 consumers, in one survey — say they are being influenced by both positive and negative reviews during their decision process.
Yet, despite this clear trend in consumer shopping behavior, a surprising majority of small business owners continue to ignore or delay development of an online reviews strategy. Yodle’s inaugural “Small Business and Online Reviews Survey” of 300 SMB owners nationwide in December 2013 found that many SMB owners underestimate the value of reviews and are not completing the basic tasks to remain competitive in today’s reviews-focused marketplace.
Here are six tips to jumpstart your business’ handling of online reviews:
The vast majority of SMB owners (78%) care if their business receives negative online reviews, according to the Yodle survey. However, only half (50%) of SMB owners believe that positive online reviews are important or very important. The rest of SMB owners either don’t have an opinion or think that positive reviews are unimportant or very unimportant.
Key Takeaways: When it comes to reviews, both negative and positive reviews play a role in driving consumer action. Positive reviews demonstrate to potential customers that past customers have had a good experience with your business and provide specific examples of your business’ strengths.
While negative reviews are viewed unfavorably, they can be countered by a higher quantity of positive reviews. On many listing platforms, both the number and sentiment of reviews left by customers determines where the business will appear in search.
So, where should your business be focused on obtaining positive reviews? Obviously, it differs by market and industry, but overall, SMB owners see value in positive reviews posted to specific websites, including:
Therefore, developing a positive reviews strategy focused on these sites as well as other local websites is a great place to start.
Approximately 55% of SMB owners said they don’t receive any online reviews, while 24% said they don’t know if they receive online reviews.
Key Takeaways: Many SMBs are receiving few or no reviews for their business, meaning that when consumers review their products and services online, they are being left in the dark as to what past customers think of their products and services.
A lack of reviews could convince a potential customer to look to other businesses to spend their dollars. Or, as I’ve personally done before, the lack of reviews may simply be used as a screening factor to narrow down the selection.
Especially when a large number of search results appear, such as in a list of restaurants, I’ve whittled down the selection to a manageable number by simply ignoring those without reviews and then choosing from those remaining. So not only do reviews help with SEO, they help with my personal ranking factors (and probably your prospects’, too).
It’s no surprise that so many SMBs get no reviews when the vast majority of SMB owners don’t ask for online reviews. According to the Yodle survey, just 13% of SMB owners are approaching customers about posting online reviews.
Why haven’t SMBs asked customers to write reviews? A strong 43% of SMB owners said they simply haven’t thought about it, while a collective 32% said they either don’t think it’s appropriate to ask or don’t have an easy way to do it.
Key Takeaways: SMB owners should recognize that with the widespread proliferation of online reviews, they need to ask customers to leave feedback on their businesses. While there are sensitive situations where it’s inappropriate to ask for reviews, generally SMB owners should feel welcome and empowered to ask customers who enjoy their business’ services to share their opinion.
And, in light of the importance of positive reviews mentioned above, it should be an easier ask of a person who has had a good experience with your business, as compared to getting someone to remove their complaint.
SMB owners who do ask for reviews do so in a variety of different ways, including asking in person, emailing customers, doing so over social media or calling customers, among other approaches.
SMBs should choose whatever method works best and is most comfortable for them and their business. However, when the request is made, it should be lighthearted and respectful so the customer doesn’t feel pressured to share their experience.
Most SMB owners today said they spend little to no time responding to online reviews. Approximately 69% of SMB owners spend no time monitoring for online reviews left about their business, while 29% only spend 1-5 hours a month doing so. Only 20% of SMB owners said they actually respond to online reviews written about their business.
Key Takeaways: The only way for SMBs to know what customers are saying about them online – positive and negative – is to regularly monitor the conversation.
For the majority of companies that receive few reviews, the impact of each review is significant. A five-star rating for an SMB based on one user submission could get immediately cut in half by a single one-star rating. So the fewer reviews a business has, the more important it is for the SMB to monitor the conversation regularly or risk their online reputation quickly deteriorating.
When a customer leaves an online review, the best practice is for the business to respond — and not just if the review is negative. If a customer leaves a negative review, the SMB should thank the customer for sharing their experience and provide a clear path toward resolution of the issue.
Usually, it’s best for the business to share that they will contact the customer directly via phone or email to discuss their discontent, or ask for the customer to contact them. If a SMB doesn’t respond, it can appear as if they are neglecting their customers’ concerns; while if an SMB does respond, it shows to potential customers the high quality of service they can expect from the business.
The Yodle survey showed that more than 3 in 4 (77%) of SMB owners who do respond to online reviews generally respond to all reviews about their business — not just negative reviews.
Just 14% of SMB owners said they post online reviews to their websites, meaning that only about a third of those small businesses that receive online reviews and have a website are placing reviews on their site.
Key Takeaways: Posting positive online reviews legitimizes an SMB and sets expectations about the quality of service potential customers can expect.
SMBs that combine their own claims about their services with third-party reviews are best positioned to demonstrate the strength of their offerings. Keeping an updated flow of positive online reviews on an SMB website can go a long way and requires little effort.
Perhaps one of the key reasons why many SMB owners do not engage with online reviews is because they do not trust the system. More than 6 in 10 (61%) of SMB owners think that review sites favor businesses that pay to advertise with them, while only 10% don’t believe that to be the case.
Additionally, half (50%) of SMB owners said they are unfairly impacted by negative reviews compared to larger businesses, while only 20% of SMB owners contradicted that opinion. Forty-three percent of SMB owners also stated that online reviews are unfair because they don’t verify that people who leave reviews are actual customers.
Key Takeaways: SMBs have legitimate concerns about the online reviews system that they should continue to voice to review sites. However, while the system may not be perfect, SMBs nonetheless need to work to improve their presence within it rather than simply neglecting the system outright.
The benefits that online reviews can provide to businesses outweigh the imperfect nature of them if managed properly. Those businesses that allow their frustrations with online reviews to overcome them will inevitably lose business to both other SMBs and larger competitors who make an effort to engage in the space.