Whether it’s an appliance, a pair of running shoes, or a handyman—each time you have a choice to make that involves spending money, you have a process you go through to make that decision. And chances are, somewhere in that process, you check online reviews.
Why wouldn’t you? For consumers, online reviews are an excellent way to get an idea of what to expect from a product or service before shelling out cash. For businesses, that makes them an important part of the way your brand and products are perceived by the world.
Why Are Online Reviews Important?
Online reviews are powerful. BrightLocal research found that 82% of consumers read online reviews about local businesses, and they read an average of ten reviews before they feel they can trust a business.
For consumers, online reviews feel like the best snapshot they have into what they’ll get when they make a purchase from you.
5 Benefits of Online Reviews
Beyond helping prospective customers in the research phase of the purchasing process, online reviews also provide local businesses with a number of important benefits.
1. Consumers trust online reviews.
You may feel your branding and marketing presents an accurate and trustworthy picture of the experience you’ll provide.
But most of us have been burned by a scam, a bad product, or a negative customer service experience at some point. Those businesses can be just as good at talking themselves up as legitimate businesses. For a consumer, hearing from another customer is more convincing.
A customer’s point of view is immediately more trustworthy than the word of a business, because they have nothing to gain by praising a company or product. They’re unbiased. And as the end user of a product, they have experience that’s directly relevant to other consumers.
Say you’re considering a pair of shoes you’ll be wearing on your morning runs. A customer review that comes from another runner provides valuable information about how someone like you rates a shoe in the categories that matter to you, be they comfort, durability, or a tendency to get smelly.
2. Online reviews provide social proof.
Social proof is the idea that people are more likely to make a decision if they know a lot of other people have already done so. It can take a number of different forms—brands promoting newsletters by saying how many subscribers they already have, or businesses boasting that they’re the most popular option in a particular space.
If someone’s trying to decide what accounting software to choose, for example, knowing that the majority of business owners have gone with a particular brand can serve as a shorthand. Instead of doing extensive research, they can assume all those other people knew what they were doing and go with the same product.
Social proof is a valuable tool for brands in all its forms, but online reviews are one of the most powerful versions of social proof out there. That’s because customers know they’re authentic. And because they often get specific. Knowing a bunch of other people use a product because the website says so tells you something. But knowing a specific person uses it for the kind of purpose you plan to use it for tells you more. And seeing a customer review from them that outlines the specific things they like and don’t like about the product—that’s immensely helpful to someone in the process of choosing between multiple options.
Social proof also comes into play regarding the number of reviews you have. People will trust a star rating more if it comes from an average of 500 reviews versus two or three. So while the content of the business reviews is important, how many people are purchasing your products and then taking time to leave a review after matters here too.
3. Online reviews are good for SEO.
SEO (search engine optimization) is the marketing field that comprises all the tactics you can use to increase the chances of your website showing up in the search engines. SEO is complex, and search engines take a lot of different ranking factors into account when deciding which links to put on page one of the search engine results page (SERP).
But for local businesses in particular, reviews play an important role.
In a 2018 analysis of local rankings factors, experts surveyed by Moz estimated that business reviews account for over 15% of how Google determines rankings for the local pack—the results that show up alongside a map in local results. And they figured they account for about 6.5% of local organic rankings.
While that means that getting a lot of good reviews isn’t going to put you at the top of Google alone, it suggests they can make a big difference. If your business cares about SEO (and any business with a website should), then trying to get more online reviews is a smart tactic to include in your strategy.
4. Online reviews increase conversions.
When online reviews are readily accessible to interested prospects, they bolster their confidence in making a purchase. Someone on your website trying to decide whether a product is worth the money or not will be much more likely to go through with the purchase if they can scroll down and see reviews from dozens of other customers weighing in on what they like (and don’t like) about the item.
And surprisingly, it’s not just good reviews that have that effect. Bad reviews can increase a conversion rate by 67%.
On the surface, that makes little sense. But think about it: when a customer sees a mix of good and bad reviews, it makes the good ones more convincing. If a product has 1,000 reviews and all of them are five stars and only talk about the product in superlative terms, you might start to get a bit suspicious—not one person out of 1,000 had a less than perfect experience?
Having a lot of reviews that show a diversity of experiences and opinions makes them all more convincing and powerful. And anyone interested enough in a product to read through a number of reviews is someone already far down the path of purchase, which also helps explain how a person who reads a bad review might be more likely to convert.
5. Reviews help you understand your audience better.
One of the golden rules in business is you need to understand who your audience is, and learn how to speak directly to their wants and needs. Businesses go to great lengths to better understand their prospects and customers—audience research, focus groups, customer interviews and surveys, and data analysis on user behavior. All of those are valuable, but reviews give you the same kind of information for free.
Every time a customer provides a review, they deliver unbiased, honest feedback about your product and services. In addition to letting you know whether they’re satisfied or not, reviews often get into the details of how they feel. They may include specific mentions of features they like or think could be better. They may highlight if they like the product, but not the customer service. Or they may provide specifics on how different types of audiences are using your products.
Reviews reveal valuable information you can put to use when making updates to your current products or deciding on new products to add to your business model. They provide insights into who your audience is and what they care about that you can use when crafting accurate buyer personas and creating your marketing strategy. And they reveal the language your customers use when talking about your products, something especially important when choosing what keywords to target in your SEO and pay-per-click strategies.
If you get enough reviews to give you a cross section of information on how different customers feel about your brand and products, they become a treasure trove of information to help you build a more successful business over time.
How to Get More Online Reviews
Before your business can reap any of the benefits of online reviews, you need customers to take the time to provide them. Since giving a company an online review takes time and effort, most customers won’t bother. Figuring out how best to nudge them to take the time can be tricky.
And just in case it needs to be said—online reviews have to be genuine for them to deliver the value we’ve discussed. Paying for reviews makes a business look sleazy. Customers can generally spot inauthenticity. And you risk being penalized by the review site, or even fined by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Your goal should be real reviews from actual customers. Here are a few steps you can take to increase your positive review numbers.
Step 1: Make sure your product is high quality.
Before you take the step of encouraging more reviews for your product, consider if your product is good enough to get positive reviews from customers. The last thing you want to do is get those review numbers up, only to see a majority of one and two-star reviews come in. Yikes!
The first, basic step to getting more good reviews for your product is to have a really awesome product. If you haven’t yet, do some user testing or quality control testing. Does your product do what you’re saying it does in the marketing? Is it durable and reliable? How does it compare to similar products in terms of quality and features?
If your product’s been on the market for a while already, spend some time reviewing the feedback you’ve already gotten to see if there are key areas for improvement you should address. Once you’re confident you’re delivering a top-notch product to customers, then you can move onto the work of getting more reviews.
Step 2: Prioritize customer service.
When you think about your best customer service experiences—the type that earned your loyalty—they probably didn’t start with everything going right to begin with.
The times a brand really gets the chance to shine is when customers face a problem or question you have to address. If a package gets lost in the mail or a product breaks, are you prepared to deal with it in a way that will wow your customers?
You’ll get some reviews from customers that have a straightforward experience with your product. But many customers are more likely to take that time if you deliver an exceptional customer service experience in response to a problem they had. So make sure your customer service team is full of people that are qualified and equipped to provide customers with satisfactory solutions to any issues that arise.
Step 3: Ask for reviews directly.
Once you’ve checked the most important boxes for getting good reviews—making sure your products and service are good enough to earn them—the next step is fairly straightforward. Ask people directly!
Customers are more likely to take five minutes to leave a review for you if you give them that direct nudge. Let them know it means a lot to you and their opinion matters. Consider including your ask in the confirmation email after they make a purchase, with links to primary review sites. Or send a followup email timed to go out right around the time their product comes in the mail.
If you’re running a small or local business, go ahead and include language in your request that emphasizes how important reviews are to small businesses like yours. You might even mention how leaving a review helps out other customers. Giving them an emotional reason to care about taking that small step makes them more likely to do so.
Step 4: Make it extremely easy for customers.
People are busy. While leaving a positive review could theoretically take only a minute or two, when your customers have a long list of other tasks they need to worry about on any given day, even that can feel like too much. Anything you can do to remove barriers from the process and make it extremely easy to leave that review increases their chances of doing so.
To start, make sure you already have a profile on all the main review sites. If a customer heads over to Yelp to review you and finds you’re not there, they’re more likely to scrap the whole idea than to go check and see if you have a Google listing. While you may prefer they stick to leaving online business reviews on your own site or a particular review platform of your choice, if they have a preferred place, you want to be there.
Then put links to all the places a customer can go to leave a review in spots that make it easy for them to access—your website, your confirmation and follow up emails, your marketing emails—anywhere you can think of.
Clicking on a link is easier than navigating to a website on their own. And while the time difference may be minimal, the convenience can be the difference between whether or not a customer chooses to take that action.
Don’t Overlook the Importance of Online Reviews
Whether or not your business chooses to be intentional in encouraging and monitoring your online business reviews, they’ll still play a role in the decisions your audience makes.
If you want to increase trust in your brand and drive more sales, making online reviews a part of your business model is smart. You can’t force customers to leave a review, the ultimate decision is always up to them. But you can take steps that increase the likelihood they’ll take the time to leave you an online review.
Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.