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Love them or hate them, customer reviews have a massive impact on small businesses. Online review sites such as Google and Yelp are often the first point of contact between a customer and a business. In fact, some studies suggest that your revenue could be affected by as much as 9% for each “star” you have.
Read on to learn about the importance of customer reviews, how popular review sites work, and how to encourage positive - and manage negative - feedback.
Why Reviews Matter
Customer reviews are powerful for small businesses. Reviews left on Google, Yelp or other review websites help potential customers decide whether they want to purchase from you–or your competition.
We use reviews so often we may not even realize how seamlessly they influence us. Consider the reviews for each of the two dental practices below. Let’s say you just moved to a new area and need a dentist. Like most people, you turn to Google to find a local practice.
Which of the two offices are you more like to try to make an appointment?
Dentist A is the clear winner. You would likely not even click on Dentist B.
With one simple Google search, your customers can easily compare your small business to competitors and learn about the customer experience they are likely to have. More positive online reviews can be the final nudge potential buyers need to purchase or contact your company.
Some statistics about customer reviews to keep in mind:
- About 95% of customers read reviews before making a purchase.
- For every one-star increase that a business gets on Yelp, they see a 5-9% increase in revenue.
- Customers require a business to have at least 40 online reviews before they believe its average star rating.
- Negative reviews can stop an average of 40% of buyers from wanting to buy from a business.
Let’s forget the numbers for a second. You’ve put sweat and tears into building a great business yet it might not look as great online. So frustrating, right!? By getting more reviews, your online profile will more accurately reflect the fantastic business you’ve built. Plus, getting more reviews will help make sure that one bad review won’t tank your whole rating due to a one-off poor customer experience.
Where Customer Reviews Live
There are hundreds of online review platforms where customers can provide feedback about your organization. Depending on your industry, some are more relevant than others. For example, Yelp is a popular customer review website for restaurants, whereas TripAdvisor is more common for hospitality bookings.
Most reviews have similar features like the ability to see some basic metrics and respond to the reviews on the platform, but there are some features specific to each platform you might find helpful.
Let’s “review” the advantages and disadvantages of creating a profile on some of the most popular channels.
Google's Google My Business is a user-friendly tool for small businesses to maintain their online presence across Google - the world's number one search engine. To help customers find your organization, you can set up a free account, verify your business, and begin telling your story.
Potential customers can quickly learn essential details of your small business such as:
- Products and services sold
- Business address
- Link to business website
- Phone number
- Hours of operation - especially relevant during COVID!
- Virtual tour and pictures
And of course, how past customers rated and reviewed their experience of working with your organization.
- Google is a free resource for all users. Since neither the business nor the customer pays, many view Google as a trustworthy source of local business information.
- Maximize the visibility of your business. Organizations with GMB listings appear higher in local search results.
- Access to customer support chat. Business owners can take advantage of a support chat, allowing customers to message you directly from your GMB listing.
- A Google My Business card is included on search results. If someone searches for your business name, you’ll get plenty of real estate to promote services and features you’d want your customers to know right away.
- Google reviews help with Google Map rankings. Google Maps is one of the hallmarks of local search engine marketing. If you have a Google My Business listing, potential customers will be able to find your business when searching on Google Maps. When people search for something like "dentist near me", both Google Maps and Google Search will be used to retrieve results. Without a listing, you’re invisible when people are searching using maps.
- It takes more than positive reviews to achieve an overall 5-star rating. According to Google, GMB calculates overall ratings based on user ratings and other factors to ensure the score reflects the establishment's quality.
How GMB Ranks Reviews
Google My Business allows users to sort customer reviews by:
- Most relevant
- Highest rating
- Lowest rating
Site visitors can also filter results by popular terms mentioned in reviews. For instance, customers can filter and see all reviews that mention “brakes” for an auto repair shop.
Yelp is a one-stop-shop for customer reviews of local restaurants, bars, retail stores, services, and more. As of 2020, Yelp has more than 178 million monthly users visiting their platform with over 5 million business listing pages.
- Credibility. Consumers expect to find B2C businesses on Yelp. If they cannot find you, it may set off a red flag in their mind.
- Opportunity for paid advertising. Doing so can place your business at the top of a user’s search query.
- Pay to play. Yelp for Business is typically $350-$500 a month.
- If you do not pay for a Yelp subscription, your competition is listed ahead of you.
- Additionally, if you aren't paying, your customers will show up on your actual page as "similar businesses" taking up real estate that should belong to you.
How Yelp Ranks Reviews
Yelp first shows site visitors a business’s Recommended Reviews. Recommended Reviews showcase the feedback that best reflects the opinions of the Yelp community.
Furthermore, users can sort reviews by:
- Newest first
- Oldest first
- Highest rated
- Lowest rated
- Yelp Elite (User accounts with well-written reviews, high-quality photos, and a detailed personal profile)
With each review, users can rate the feedback as useful, funny, or cool.
While each social media platform has a different way of sharing information about brands to prospective customers, Facebook is one of the only social networks that allows businesses to receive and display reviews. In fact, Facebook single handedly earns 19% of all customer reviews.
We should note, Facebook has a different rating system than other review websites. Facebook asks people if they recommend a business rather than requesting a 1-5 rating system.
As stated on Facebook's help center:
A Page's rating is based on multiple sources, such as the reviews and Recommendations people share about business Pages on Facebook. Only Pages that allow Recommendations may show a rating, and a Page may not have a rating if it hasn't received enough Recommendations.
Keep in mind that when someone recommends a business, they can select an audience to share it with. For example, if they post a Recommendation and select Friends as the audience, only their friends can see their Recommendation. Only Recommendations that are shared publicly are included in a Page's overall rating.
Most people have Facebook. With almost 3 billion users, your business page can be seen by the people in your area.. and beyond.
It is easy for customers to share natively on Facebook. Since Facebook pages and posts are easily shared, your biggest fans can quickly magnify your promotions, reviews, or page content. It’s especially handy when friends write words like “looking for a recommendation” as Facebook automatically treats business pages differently in that reply.
Customers are more likely to leave a review. Facebook makes it really easy to leave reviews on a business page in just a couple of clicks.
Businesses can choose whether or not they allow customer reviews on their page. If your business is in a transitional stage or you don’t feel like you can adequately respond to reviews, you can choose to turn off the reviews feature. However, reviews are powerful and should be taken advantage of. Approximately 85-90% of consumers read reviews before making purchasing decisions.
Facebook offers business tools like shopping. Facebook offers options for businesses to create a helpful list of products or services, and even makes it easy for the user to make a reservation or complete a transaction.
Facebook has native support chat. Facebook Messenger is one of the top communication platforms in the world. You can turn it on and let your prospective customers ask questions and more.
It's more regulation work. Depending on how large your customer base is, marketers must factor in time to moderate and respond to reviews on yet another platform.
- Earning little to no reviews can look suspicious. Zero reviews can be just as bad as poor reviews. People are wary of Facebook business pages with thousands of followers but only a few reviews.
How Facebook Ranks Reviews
Facebook users can rank reviews by:
- Most helpful
- Most recent
As with any other Facebook post, users can react, comment, and share the review.
TripAdvisor aggregates reviews and opinions about travel destinations, lodgings, eateries, and activities throughout the world. The popular website and app also allow users to book travel arrangements, making it a natural go-to resource for travelers. As of 2019, TripAdvisor features 730 million user reviews and has become one of the most popular travel websites in the U.S., featuring over eight million listings.
Very popular with travel enthusiasts. Reviewers regularly share both reviews and photographs of experiences which can be a pro as long as your business looks great, but be aware: there’s nothing to stop a user from sharing a negative picture.
Confirming or creating a listing exposes your business to a larger audience. Unless a user is really searching for your business, it could fall below the first page. Paying attention to your listing can keep it in the top of the choices a traveler or shopper may browse through.
Critical for International visitors - Outside the US, TripAdvisor is one of the most used review sites. So if you want international visitors to find you, it’s a must.
Less active users than Facebook and Google. In prioritizing where to focus efforts, it is useful to keep in mind TripAdvisor's average monthly traffic of 28.27 million, compared to Facebook's 85.57 million or Google's 158.03 million.
Reviews are incentivized. Since TripAdvisor users can earn points by posting reviews, some only leave reviews to earn points and win badges. While this incentive encourages a higher quantity of reviews on the platform, this “gamification” leads some consumers to question the quality and trustworthiness of feedback.
How TripAdvisor Ranks Reviews
The Popularity Ranking is based on the quality, recency and quantity of reviews that a business receives from users — and the consistency of those reviews over time.
Reviews are ranked by:
- A 1-5 bubble rating review.
- Recency is ranked higher than a good or bad rating.
- A Popularity Ranking algorithm that measures a business' ranking over time.
How to Choose a Good Review Service
When setting up an internal process for online reputation management (ORM), you should consider several factors. Foremost, you should decide if you are going to use an ORM management platform.
While you can attempt to track customer reviews manually, managing multiple platforms or any significant volume of customers and reviews is tedious and time consuming without the help of specialized services.
When on the hunt for a good review service and platform, ask yourself the following questions:
Does the service have experience working with my industry?
With hundreds of online rating websites, your review management partner must have experience working with more than the obvious choices.
For instance, beauty retailers would require a partner experienced in Foursquare, Yelp, and Facebook. In comparison, real estate firms would be more aligned with a partner experienced in Zillow and Realtor.com.
What strategies can a review management expert implement to improve my overall business?
Review management companies are great for increasing positive customer reviews on a variety of platforms. But that's not usually all they can do. These companies often support your small business by:
- Increasing your website's search engine rankings.
- Increasing your engagement with new and prospective customers.
- Improving or maintaining customer satisfaction.
- Gathering valuable feedback from your customers.
How much help will they actually provide?
Many review platforms are software only, or you have to pay a third party to help you manage the listings. You may be left with email-only support, or just an FAQ to find your way around. If you’re in the business of running a business, you’ll probably want an expert to help you, so find a service that will be your true partner for little to no additional costs.
How to Earn More Positive Reviews
If you've made it this far in our guide, you understand the correlation between positive customer reviews and sales revenue. If you don’t run a great business, you probably cannot solve that by buying reviews - a really terrible practice that most users can see right through. But if you DO have a great business, you want your customers to speak for you.
So how can your business gather more positive online reviews from your customers? Try these four tactics.
1) Ask customers for reviews
The best way to grow your online reviews is to simply ask your customers for them. Research shows that nearly 68% of consumers will leave a review if they are prompted to do so. Make requesting reviews part of your process by running periodic email campaigns, training staff to regularly ask for reviews, and including links to review platforms on your website, social media channels, and in email correspondence. You can also put signage up in your store or shop encouraging customers to leave a review.
2) Create customer incentives
Buying reviews is a grey market tactic that is frowned upon by the best businesses. You should avoid this practice if you can. But let's face it. People love cash and rewards. It is the reason so many companies offer referral programs to encourage new business. This tactic can help collect online reviews. If you must, show customers their time and feedback are valuable by offering coupon codes, gift cards, or your thanks AFTER they’ve left an online review - ideally whether it’s positive or negative. Be sure you understand the rules of each review platform before handing out any rewards.
3) Streamline the process
Another best practice to earning more positive online reviews is creating a streamlined, fool-proof process for your customers. Remember, their time is valuable. If a task takes longer than a few minutes, they will likely get distracted or opt-out altogether.
For example, when sending an email to customers, don't just ask, "Can you leave an online review?" Instead, make sure the email includes a link to your review site profile so they can complete the request right away. Maybe even include some thought starters about your business’s key values and services.
4) Share positive reviews
Don't underestimate the power of social proof as a marketing tactic. As customers start sharing positive reviews, keep the momentum going by featuring them on your website and social media channels. Doing so can inspire other customers to do the same.
What to Do About Bad Reviews
A bad review doesn’t mean you’re a bad person or a bad business. The first rule of thumb for online reputation is that businesses must accept good, bad, and ugly customer reviews. In fact, customers are more likely to trust reviews if they believe they’re real, and they don’t look real if every single one is positive. Research shows that 82% of shoppers specifically search for negative reviews. Only having 5 star reviews reduces your business' credibility as they come across phoney.
If you’re running a real business, criticism is inevitable - your employee - or your customer - may just have had a bad day.. Here are four tips to consider when you find yourself on the wrong end of customer feedback.
1) Respond to negative reviews
The worst way to handle a negative review is to ignore it. When you ignore a negative review, you allow the commenter to control the story. As outlandish as a comment may be, potential customers are more likely to believe in its validity if there is no response from the company in question. Answer politely and respectfully to every type of review you receive. Be careful about how, or if, you dispute their version of the truth, it can actually make you look worse.
Plus, bad reviews aren’t all that bad. They are your 2nd chance to win back disgruntled customers. In fact, research shows that 56-70% of customers who had a negative experience will do business with you again if you resolve the issue.
2) Answer quickly, yet thoughtfully
Often customers who write a poor review do so soon right after their encounter with a small business. They expect a quick reply remedying the negative experience. Time does not heal all situations.
Responding quickly also can dampen the response from others that look to pile on. Ignoring the negative review will be more likely to invite additional negative comments.
In addition to a timely response, be sure your reply is thoughtful and unique to each commenter. Feedback, as they say, is a gift. Negative feedback is an opportunity for you to further engage with customers and prove how responsive you can be in a difficult situation. So apologize and sympathize, and try to find a way to resolve the issue.
Responding quickly can help you retain customers, and make them even more loyal in the future.
Bad reviews also highlight the pain points customers experience throughout their journey with your business. Others could have had a similar experience but didn't care enough to report it. Although negative reviews hurt, it should be a learning lesson for how your processes can improve. Which leads us to the next step.
3) Take necessary action to correct issues
According to a WebPunch study, 33% of online reviewers seek resolution for poor customer experiences. How you compensate them can range depending on the problem and how big an impact it had on them.
Go the extra mile not only to express your apology but show that your small business wants to make it right. In this case, actions certainly speak louder than words. Remember to take note of any trends and find a path to address the underlying causes.
4) When all else fails, take it offline
Bantering back and forth with dissatisfied customers can put your brand in an even more unflattering light. Without overstepping, ask the customer for their contact information or the best way to communicate with them further.
How to Leverage Reviews to Get More Customers
There are several ways for great business owners to turn their online reviews into more customers. For one, you get the opportunity to learn when a customer had a bad experience. Without the help of reviews, customers will simply stop doing business with you if they had a negative experience (and they’ll quickly share that negative experience with others). In fact, unhappy customers typically share bad experiences with up to 16 people.
When we dive into the research, we learn that you can actually win back those unhappy customers!
63% will return if they receive an apology
52% will return if offered a discount
49% will return if given proof service has been improved
On the other hand, you can share positive customer reviews on your website, social media, marketing emails and other marketing materials to offer consumers the social proof they need to make a purchasing decision. The more reviews you have, the more customers you will attract as you present yourself as a great business with a strong history.
Here are four tactics on how to leverage reviews to get more customers!
1) Feature customer reviews on product and service pages
Did you know 63% of online shoppers seek out websites that have product reviews? If you have already started generating reviews, they should be at the forefront of your product and service pages right now.
Consumers are hesitant to trust brands they've never worked with before. What better way to convert site visitors to customers by proudly displaying their peers' positive experiences with your brand?
Don't stop there. Feature customer reviews on other areas of your website, such as the home page and resources section.
2) Create customer testimonials or case studies
After receiving a few online reviews, flag customers who provided an exceptional rating and commentary. Consider contacting these customers to ask if they would provide a longer written or video testimonial.
Ask the satisfied customer questions such as:
- What were their challenges?
- How did they become aware of your company?
- How did your products or services help solve their pain points?
Stories resonate with people. Picturing how your product or service solved real-world challenges can push prospective buyers to make that next step.
3) Turn negative reviews into positive business improvements
Frequently business decision-makers are too close to their brand, products, and services to see opportunities for improvements. Negative online reviews can shine a light on just that. If there is a recurring hiccup or pain point in how customers describe their experiences, you should review that part of your process.
If you make an improvement based on feedback from customers, be sure to highlight those changes in your responses to reviews, social media, and more. Customers that were less than delighted before will be so proud of their contribution that they may become your most loyal customers yet. Keep in mind, there is a wealth of research proving that businesses who apologize or try to resolve issues with unhappy customers are more likely to see those customers return. Some studies say as many as 70% of customers can be won back.
4) Respond to all reviews!
Reviews are opportunities to engage with your customers, so you should respond to every one of them, good or bad. Thanking customers for positive reviews and chatting with them about your business will build loyal customer relationships. Plus, these conversations will teach potential new customers more about your business’s products or services as well as your attentiveness and care for your customers.
Going one step further, send a personalized thank you note to those who provided a high rating. This extra touch furthers your relationship with current customers. As a result, customers will feel their business is valued and appreciated. It will encourage them to continue giving you their business. Plus, they are more likely to become brand promoters and recommend your products and services by word of mouth.
Building Your Review Site Profiles
Each review site has varying steps to set up your business profile. To make completing all your review profiles as easy as possible, you’ll want to have a few things prepared.
Before you start, gather or decide the following:
- The one and only way you’re going to refer to your business name. Keep it consistent. For example The Candle Shop and Candle shop may look like two different businesses.
- Your business address (physical location or business address if you’re not transacting at your location.)
- Photos of your business. Have a photographer take some nice ones if you can afford it.
- Logos. Get .png versions of your logo in rectangular and square format.
- Description. Carefully craft a story of your business that you’ll use consistently across your profiles. Below is a great example for the GMB listing for Explainly. You can see their full listing here, with their description singled out below.
Here’s a great one:
Crafting Your Review Profile's “About Us” Statement to Get the Most Calls and Visits
People don't buy what you do; they buy why you do it. If you talk about what you believe, you will attract those who believe what you believe.
- Simon Sinek, Author
You should heavily reflect this ideology in the "About Us" section of your review site profile.
You can write a lead-generating narrative for your About Us section by following these steps:
Step 1: Describe "the way things were." Set the scene of your industry before you started your business.
Step 2: What was the problem? Explain the industry's challenges and customers' pain points that caused you to take action. Describe your 'aha' moment that made you realize there was a better way.
Step 3: Rising to the challenge. What was your process for finding a solution and starting your business? Explain your business's mission of solving specific challenges.
Step 4: Encourage the next steps. Incorporate relevant call-to-action links at the end of your About Us statement. For instance, a link to your product page, email subscription page, and social media channels. This encourages site visitors to continue their journey with your business.
Building Your Google My Business Profile
Creating your profile is as easy as completing a series of screens using Google’s wizard. To get started, follow the steps below.
1. Go to google.com/business.
2. Log in with your Google account. If you don't have a Google account, create one here.
3. Enter your business name.
4. Enter your business address. You cannot use a PO box.
5. Determine whether you are a storefront or a service provider.
6. Pick your primary business category. Google determines where and when your listing will show up for search queries based on your business category.
7. Select applicable attributes. For example, restaurants can share if they offer dine-in, delivery, take-out, etc.
8. Add your website URL and phone number. Google My Business tracks users that visited your website or called your business from this listing.
9. Verify your local listing. You can achieve this by mail, phone, or email. The site will give you several options, so pick the one that’s fastest.
10. Finish populating your GMB profile. Items to include right away are your business hours, products and services sold, and "from the business" description.
Building Your Yelp Business Profile
Many businesses have a Yelp profile even if they’re not actively managing it. That’s why Yelp calls this “manage” your business. Just a few steps to get started.
1. Go to https://biz.yelp.com/.
2. Claim your business profile.
- Select "Manage my free listing."
- Enter the name and address of your business.
- If your business is listed, select "Claim Your Business."
- If your business is not listed, select "Continue." Fill in all of the fields and be as specific as possible. Then select "Add Business."
4. Include all the information Yelp requests. This will include whether you accept credit cards, have customer parking, what ambiance you provide, and more.
5. Write a company bio. Yelp offers three subsections of a business's bio: specialties, history, and an owner or manager bio.
6. Upload high-quality photos of your establishment.
Building Your Facebook Business Page
Like other sites, this process is just a matter of filling in a few pieces of information and adding some photos.1. Go to facebook.com/pages/create.
2. Select the type of page you want to create. In this case, it will be "Business/Brand."
3. Enter your business information. This includes your name, category, address, phone number, and email.
4. Add pictures. Start by uploading quality photos or logos for your profile picture and cover picture.
5. Create a username. This is how customers will find you on Facebook.
6. Add more business details. This includes your Facebook Page's About section, hours of operation, products or services offered, price ranges, and more.
7. Create your first post. Before engaging with people on Facebook, it is helpful to add a post introducing your business.
8. Publish your page. Once your page is live, start inviting existing Facebook friends to like the page.
Additionally, to allow customer reviews and recommendations on your company’s Facebook page, follow these steps:
- Go to Facebook Business Manager.
- In the upper right-hand corner, click Settings.
- Click Reviews.
- Toggle the button for “Allow visitors to review this Page.”
- Click Save Changes.
Building Your TripAdvisor Profile
1. Check if you are already listed on TripAdvisor. You'll want first to establish if someone has already listed your business by visiting http://www.tripadvisor.com/owners.
To claim an existing listing, click on the "Claim Your Business" option.
2. Create a business listing. If there is no listing for your business, visit https://www.tripadvisor.com/GetListedNew and start the process of creating your listing.
3. Fill out the basic personal requested information.
4. Fill out the requested business information.
5. Enter your map location.
6. Include your contact information. TripAdvisor will use this to verify your business.
7. Provide property information. If you have a restaurant, you'll include the type of cuisine, pricing, and any other special features.
8. Include a property description. This should be a few sentences free of HTML code.
9. Add a business profile photo. TripAdvisor requests that the photo be a JPG or GIF, not exceed 100KB, and be free of borders and logos.
10. Submit your application. Once TripAdvisor reviews and approves your listing, you will have access to the TripAdvisor Management Center, where you can update details and respond to customer reviews.
Soliciting Reviews Without Breaking the Rules
You now know the significance of customers submitting reviews on review sites such as Google, Yelp, Facebook, and Instagram. Before reading this guide, you may have heard that these platforms do not allow businesses to request reviews from their customers. That is not always the case.
Each review site has different policies regarding how organizations can boost their ratings. For instance, Yelp strictly discourages businesses from asking for reviews in any form. Google on the other hand, encourages businesses to send requests for reviews, even giving businesses a way to generate custom links to make the process easier.
To help get you started, use these tips to collect reviews without being penalized. But keep in mind, you should always read a review site's guidelines to adhere to their exact policies.
Asking old customers for reviews
While asking new customers to leave online reviews is straightforward enough, there are some strategies you should consider when reaching out to previous customers to make sure that review platforms don’t remove these ‘old-customer’ reviews.
Sending personalized emails
First off, it’s essential to personalize your emails when reaching out to prior customers to make sure that you’re putting your best foot forward when requesting online reviews. You definitely want to avoid sending anything that feels like a mass-email or spam that could actually encourage someone to leave you a negative review. So, when reaching out to old customers, it’s best practice to directly contact them with an individualized email, LinkedIn message, or phone call.
In fact, you’re more likely to see better results too! 74% of marketers see an increase in customer engagement when they send personalized emails versus mass emails.
Since review websites live or die by the credibility and helpfulness of their reviews, most have automated systems for flagging potentially invalid or harmful reviews. One way to get flagged for potentially fake reviews is to, for example, go from 10 reviews to 100 reviews in just a month because you sent out review requests to your entire contact list all at once.
Instead, use a drip campaign to fly under the radar. A drip campaign is an email marketing strategy where you limit the number of contacts you email every day. If you have a 500 customer contact list, you could email just 10 customers each day, asking them to leave you a review, so that their feedback feels more organic and don’t sound any alarms.
Email marketing software
While personalizing emails and limiting the number of customers you contact each day doesn’t sound too complicated, it can get tedious and timely to manually monitor and implement these strategies- especially if you’re not a digital marketing savant. Using email marketing software like Constant Contact or MailChimp, you can both:
- Easily customize emails for large lists of customers
- Automate drip campaigns to limit the number of emails you send at a time so that you don’t have to manually maintain it.
Make it easy for customers to leave a review organically
While people sometimes need a little push to write a review of your brand, there are times where a product or service is so exceptional that customers seek out review sites themselves.
For this reason, it is crucial to have links to popular review channels readily available.
- Include icons in the header or footer of your website.
- Link to review platforms on your social media profiles.
- Add links in the signature of your emails.
Making this easy for customers will help increase the reviews they leave for your business without being asked directly.
And never shy away from simply asking customers for reviews. You can ask customers when they're leaving to review your business. Although asking later, once they've gotten value out of your product/service, is always better.
Share positive reviews from previous customers.
Don't underestimate the power of social proof as a marketing strategy. As customers start sharing positive reviews, keep the momentum going by featuring them on your website and social media channels. Doing so will inspire other customers to do the same.