The way modern consumers shop for and engage with products, vendors, and brands has changed. What once was a word-of-mouth market has pivoted very quickly into a technology-driven, online review-powered economy. More than 80% of modern consumers use online reviews as the first step in making a purchase decision – a number that provides both opportunities and challenges for small businesses. On one hand, online reviews can be proactively managed with the right strategy. On the other hand, however, are negative reviews or reactive reputation management strategies that can quickly spiral out of control.
This guide will deep-dive into the three main tenants of reputation management to uncover everything small businesses need to keep track of when building, executing, and profiting from online reviews and reputation management.
Part 1: Understanding the Review Generation
Barely twenty years ago, if a consumer wanted to purchase a new mattress or was looking for a new car dealership to patronize, he or she would simply ask around to friends, peers, and colleagues for recommendations. This could have been a neighbor who just made a mattress purchase or a friend who had an uncle in car sales. Today, in the digital consumer economy, everyone who made a mattress purchase in the last ten years is available for a recommendation for the consumer.
Online reviews are now the number one place consumers look before making a purchase or vendor decision, and just because consumers aren’t personally related to those giving reviews doesn’t make much of a difference. 88% of consumers trust online reviews just as much as a personal recommendation.
The way online reviews typically work is that a consumer will do online research for a particular product, brand or service. Either on a dedicated review site (more on these later) or through a Google search, a consumer can find any number of written reviews, star ratings, and consumer feedback on goods or services rendered.
Why Online Reviews Matter
With so many consumers beginning their purchase journeys online, it makes sense for brands to have a strategic approach to online reviews. But why do these reviews – and a brand’s reputation that these reviews cultivate – actually matter so much? There are two main reasons: revenue and SEO.
Right out of the gate, online reviews have an extremely high impact on a business’s revenue growth. Online reviews impact as many as 67.7% of purchase decisions every year, and consumers are only becoming more vocal and outspoken online. The more reviews your team has, the better your online reputation becomes, and, then, the more inbound revenue your business can generate.
In the small business marketer’s handbook, online reviews might stick out as an underappreciated secret weapon. Influencing new consumer revenue is only part of the story. Online reviews can also help bring in new customers and build a strong brand presence online. This is through Search Engine Optimization, or SEO. Every time a consumer writes an online review and mentions the name of your business, it becomes part of your online brand. And, in 2019, online reviews account for around 10% of search engine ranking results. Simply put – if a brand has more online reviews, they can show up higher in search results for new customers.
Where to Focus Online Reviews
When it comes to online reviews, all sites are not created equal. From Yelp to Facebook to Home Advisor to Google itself, there are dozens of online review sites out there that your business can focus on. Knowing where to spend your time, energy, and money all comes down to data. With the right online review management platform, your team can see exactly where reviews are coming from and the average ‘rating’ of reviews. With these insights, your team can double-down on reviews sites that might have higher conversion rates or ratings and pass on those that aren’t bringing in a ton of traffic.
Just remember that online reviews are part of a larger reputation management strategy. Just as you wouldn’t make a game-changing strategic decision about your company without consulting data, so too should data be the main driver in reputation management decisions.
How to Ask for Online Reviews
One of the trickiest parts of online reviews is actually receiving them from customers. Actually, it’s more like actually receiving positive reviews from consumers. As humans, we are always excited to complain or voice our opinion about a situation that didn’t go according to our plan. The same can be said for online reviews. A customer at a restaurant might leave a bad dining experience saying “I can’t wait to leave a bad review!” while a customer at that same restaurant who had a good experience might just leave a nice tip or thank the chef.
With this in mind, it is often necessary for businesses to go out of their way to ask customers to leave online reviews. There is definitely a sweet spot when it comes to asking for reviews. Too casual and customers probably won’t leave anything. Too forceful and your team might come off as pressuring. Here are a few pro tips to keep in mind when asking for online reviews:
Keep an open mind. A business can’t expect to receive only glowing reviews, and it certainly can’t ask customers to leave only positive reviews. Just remember that even a negative review can have some untapped revenue opportunity, as we discuss later.
Make it easy. Leaving an online review for a business or brand shouldn’t involve jumping through a ton of hoops. One link, one click, one page – that’s all it should take. Whether you use an app or email or in-store promotion, ease should be the name of the game.
Be consistent. During certain times of the year (such as the holidays, for example), many B2C businesses tend to see an uptick in traffic. This can often lead to an uptick in reviews. The most successful reputation management strategies, however, focus on bringing in new reviews all year long for a thorough, consistent review pipeline.
At the end of the day, the easiest way – for a brand and for a consumer – is to solicit online reviews through text messaging. With a simple question sent via text, customers can get in, leave a review, and be on with their day, without ever having to leave their smartphone.