Online reviews are a tricky topic for most business owners. It's a domain where we've traditionally had very little control. Past customers, with their different attitudes, preferences and personalities are free to talk about and characterize our business in any way they want. When you add to this the fact that for every bad experience a customer has they are likely to tell 10 people, while for every good experience they may only tell 1 or 2, it's easy to see why online reviews often don't portray businesses in fair and accurate ways. Frustrating? You bet!
Why it's important to have good reviews
It's well a known fact that good word-of-mouth is one of the most powerful and effective ways of growing a business. I happen to also be a freelance web designer. During the first 10 years of my career, I was able to enjoy a steady stream of new clients without ever having to spend a single dollar on advertising. It felt like every time I was getting ready to wrap up a project the phone would ring and the conversation would go something like this: "I need a website. Such, and such told me that you did theirs. When can we meet?". That's powerful stuff.
Online reviews are the new word of mouth!
A recent study by BrightLocal found that 85% of consumers now say that they read online reviews when choosing a local business and 79% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Want more stats? 52% of consumers reported that positive customer reviews make them more likely to use a local business compared to just 28%, who make their selection based on other factors like location and price. And the trend is moving more and more in this direction. Check out this graph showing how people have used online reviews over time.
So, whether we like it or not, it seems that online reviews and their role in the purchasing process are here to stay. Faced with this fact, business owners are left with two options: Bury our heads in the sand and pretend that none of this matters or, take an active, hands-on approach to our online reputation. If you're partial to option 2, it all starts with getting more online reviews. Here's how to do it:
1) Do an audit of your current reputation
Before diving into ways to get more and better reviews, let's get a clear picture of the current state of your online reputation. Do a Google search for your business and add the word reviews at the end. (If your business' name is more than one word long, you'll want to make sure you put it in quotation marks.) You should see a few links to the review and directory sites on which you're listed. Click around and see if you can find some reviews. (Yelp and Google+ might be the best places to start.)
Take notes of any trends that you find during your audit. Are customers reporting similar negative experiences? Are you able to reliably link these to specific departments or employees? Used correctly, this feedback can be invaluable in our efforts to improve customer service.
Addressing negative reviews
Here at Review Advantage we're strong believers in [skillfully] addressing negative reviews. If you come across any recent negative reviews during your audit, acknowledge them and say how your business welcomes feedback as part of its constant efforts to improve customer service. Don’t specifically refer to the reviewer's negative points unless you plan on addressing them. Simply let the customer (and the public) know that their feedback will be used to improve things moving forward. When appropriate talk about how you'll do this.
In order to reply publicly to reviews you might need to have an account on the review site and be verified as the business owner. Each site is a little bit different. Here's a link to Yelp explaining their requirements for claiming a business.
2) Get listed on more review sites.
The first step to getting more (and better) online reviews is to cast a wider net. We do this by getting our business listed in as many of the review and directory sites as possible. We've all heard of Yelp and Angie's List but there are a lot more sites out there that our customers are using. In particular there's what are called "niche directories" which focus on featuring businesses of a specific industry. Having profiles and collecting reviews on niche directories provides a particular boost from an SEO perspective, so definitely try to secure profiles on these sites.
One of the most important review sites out there is Google+. If you get enough reviews on Google, they will actually appear along with your listing in the search results. This increases click-through rates as it makes your listing more attractive and legitimate in the eyes of searchers.
You also need to have "rich snippets" on your site in order for the stars to be included in the search results. Rich snippets are a bit beyond the scope of this tutorial but here's a link to a good post explaining what they are and how they work. If you're not familiar with basic HTML coding, you might want to pass that along to your web developer.
Here are some other powerful sites where you should list your business:
Accurate information is critical!
You might have noticed that your business already appears on some of these sites without you having created profiles on them! That's because business profiles are created on these sites in one of 3 ways:
1. By the business owner or their digital presence management company. (Good.)
2. By random site visitors. (Not good.)
3. By automated computer programs. (Even worse!)
Needless to say, any listing created by someone other than you or your representative leads to inaccuracies. It's not uncommon for your business to appear with different telephone numbers, addresses, etc. across the Internet. Besides being confusing to folks that are looking for you on these sites, inconsistent information about your business hurts you in the eyes of the search engines who rely on consistent data points when placing your business in front of searchers.
3) Add a Reviews section to your website.
This is an easy one if you manage the content on your site with a something like Wordpress or if you pay someone to make updates for you. Add a review tab where you include your latest (most favorable) reviews and include links to the review sites that are most important to you. In some cases you're able to link the person straight to the page on the review site where they are able to post a review. This is ideal since it cuts down on the amount of clicks your customer needs to make in order to complete the desired action.
For example, one of our clients is Olive Boutique Hotel in Puerto Rico. When sending folks over to TripAdvisor for reviews, we started sending them directly to this page where they can post the review instead of the Hotel's main, profile page. After making this small tweak we saw some dramatic improvements in the rate at which people followed through leaving reviews. So definitely do this wherever possible.
Another thing you might want to do is create a "Latest reviews" block on the site's footer or sidebar. For Olive Hotel, we featured the latest 2 (positive) reviews on the site's footer.
4) Ask folks for reviews at the point of sale.
So far we've looked at ways of generating more reviews. More reviews in general means more positive reviews. However, what we really want most are positive reviews! Asking your happy customers to provide feedback while you're still physically interacting with them is a very effective way of increasing your positive online reviews.
Comment cards are excellent in this regard. In fact, Search Engine Land cites CustomerLobby CEO Ted Paff saying, "Comment card reviews solicited at the time of service can see completion rates of 80-90%." It makes sense; the point of sale is when their positive experience is freshest in the minds of your customers. Just be sure to ask permission to share the feedback on your website.
You can also provide customers with a tablet or mobile device that has your review profile open in the browser. Some sites like Facebook require that you be logged in to post a review for a business. For sites that don't, this might be a great way to collect reviews from your happiest customers, on the spot.
(BONUS TIP: Train your sales and customer service team to collect positive customer reviews during customer visits. You'll be glad you did when you see the results!)
Don't have comment cards?
Download these Free Comment Card Templates and use them to get more feedback & reviews!
5) Ask for reviews via email.
After a customer completes a purchase (and if you sell products, has received it and had time to use it), send a follow-up email marketing campaign asking them to write a review. If you have a weekly or monthly newsletter to update customers on new offerings, consider including this as a call-to-action in those emails, too. You can even create a survey to get more detailed feedback and make further improvements!
6) Include links to your review properties in your email signature.
Speaking of email, why not include links to some of your review profiles at the bottom of every email you and your staff send out?
Now, let's be honest, there isn't much in it for the person leaving the review. Even some of your happiest customers might not be inclined to take this extra step. Expressing how much you value their feedback is absolutely key. Let them know that their review will also help others make better-informed decisions.
Be sure to provide several options as far as review sites because some people prefer using some sites and not others.
7) Address negative reviews swiftly!
You're bound to get some negative reviews from time to time. When this happens it's really important to respond publicly to them. Having an active presence on review sites shows potential customers that you're engaged and that customer satisfaction is a top priority for you. Most reasonable people will not fault you for having some negative reviews as long as they can see that you're actively attempting to address each one. This is also really important from the standpoint of the unhappy customer. Studies show that 7/10 customers will return to a business that they've had a negative experience with if they feel that their complaints were addressed.
Review Advantage allows you to finally gain some control over your online reputation and the quality of your ratings and reviews. You'll be able to turn satisfied customers into positive online reviews while turning unsatisfied customers into valuable internal feedback that you can use to improve customer service.
8) Set up Google Alerts to notify you whenever your business name shows up on the internet.
Google Alerts is a free tool that lets you monitor mentions of certain phrases on the Internet. It allows you to listen in on the conversations people are having about your brand. Find out whenever people link, quote, praise or criticize you.
Google Alerts are easy to set up and are immensely helpful in managing your online presence.
So, those are some of my tips for generating more (and better) reviews online. I hope you found them helpful and are able to implement some or all of these. Got any questions? Feel free to drop us a line here. We're always happy to hear from our readers.
- Fernando Vela
Review Advantage Guy