The Importance of Online Reviews

Way back in the Stone Age — say, 20 years ago — people used the Yellow Pages to find local businesses. Today, many of us throw the phone book into the recycling bin the minute arrives: it’s so 20th century.

These days, the number one way people find a local business is through word-of-mouth: More than four out of five of us (82 percent) ask around among our friends and neighbors to find everything from restaurants to hair salons to auto body shops, and from plumbers to physicians to day-care providers.

The number two source, though, is the cyber-equivalent of word-of-mouth: online reviews. Almost two-thirds of us (66 percent) do Internet research in addition to checking with people we know. Advertising comes in a distant third: only 37 percent of us rely on traditional ads to find local businesses. (For a great infographic on these and other results from the Small Business Search Marketing Survey by American Express OPEN, click here.)

This means that it’s essential that you be represented, and represented favorably, on sites like Google Places, Yahoo Local, and Yelp. You should get into the habit of checking these sites regularly to see what people are saying about your business. The American Express survey found that 58 percent of those who look at online reviews have a more favorable impression of a business that has positive reviews; 17 percent say they don’t read the reviews; and 25 percent say they read them but don’t allow them to affect their opinion. Clearly, relying on people to not care about negative reviews is a bad strategy.

If you find negative reviews, read them objectively as a source of possibly constructive criticism. If the customer has a legitimate complaint, fix the problem! But whether the complaint is legitimate or not, the negative review is online where anyone can read it. Deal with it by diluting its effect: swamp the negative review with as many positive reviews as possible.

The best way to get positive reviews is to ask for them. Common ways to ask are a website address on a receipt, a QR code that you provide to departing customers, a link on your website, or an email request. Gamifying this request can increase your response rate: provide an incentive, like a discount or a chance to win a prize, to those who complete a review.

Only 15 percent of consumers never use the Internet to find a local business. If you want to be found by the 85 percent of consumers who do, at least occasionally, you need to make sure you’ve got a positive presence on the most popular review sites.

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