Small Business Online Reviews

Are you intimidated by the prospect of customers reviewing your business online?

A string of positive reviews of your business from satisfied customers can help you win new customers. Even the occasional bad review isn’t necessarily bad news if you know how to handle it right.

Here’s a rundown of online review site do’s and don’ts for small business owners.


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3 Online Review Do’s for Small Business Owners


1. Do thank reviewers for their feedback

Your customers’ time is valuable, and feedback is information you can use to improve your business or keep it on the right track. Whether your reviewers leave a positive, negative, or middling review, take a moment to thank them for sharing their experience. This shows each one that you value their input. Try to leave a slightly different response on each review, though, to show that you’re responding personally and not just copy-pasting boilerplate replies.

Thank-yous also show prospective shoppers that you’re paying attention to the customer experience. This can increase the likelihood that they’ll buy from you, because they know that if there’s an issue, they can trust you to work to resolve it.

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2. Do invite customers to contact you directly with concerns

The simplest way to keep customers from leaving negative reviews is to keep their experiences with your business as positive as possible. Customers leave bad reviews when they’re frustrated and feel disrespected, so do your best to avoid slighting your shoppers. Provide great service, follow up with customer satisfaction surveys to spot problems before they spill over onto review sites, and treat each problem as an opportunity to show your customers how much you care about their experience.

That said, listening to upset customers isn’t easy. It can be hard to hear criticism of your business without jumping immediately to your own defense, but it’s something every successful business owner must learn to do. Effective listening is a business skill that you can master with practice, and it’s the best way to resolve customer concerns before they turn into an angry online review.

[bctt tweet=”The best defense against negative reviews is providing outstanding experiences for customers.” username=”hostgator”]


3. Do carefully encourage your customers to leave reviews

There are different schools of thought about asking customers to leave online reviews.

Yelp officially discourages businesses from explicitly requesting customer reviews. Instead, Yelp recommends that businesses link to their Yelp profile on their site and in their email signature line. “Find Us on Yelp” signs can steer customers toward your reviews without making a direct ask.

Other marketing experts, though, advise asking for reviews in a variety of ways, such as inviting fans to upload video reviews to your YouTube channel and offering incentives for leaving any type of – whether it’s good or bad.

Ask for online reviewsIf you decide to ask your customers directly for reviews, tread carefully. Most consumers are bombarded with review and feedback requests from every business they interact with and can feel annoyed by multiple requests. They may take their business elsewhere if your review requests or incentive programs make them uncomfortable or call your ethics into question.

One effective strategy that got me to leave a review for a cleaning service was the knowledge that my cleaners would get a performance bonus if I left a review that described their work and mentioned them by first name. I was happy to do so, because

  • The cleaners were different at each service call, so if I didn’t leave a review, I wouldn’t have to face disappointed workers during the next housecleaning.
  • The incentive encouraged the cleaners to do great work, while I didn’t get any compensation beyond a clean house, which I was already paying for.
  • There was no request for a positive review, only a review that described my experience and mentioned them by first name.
  • This company already had a track record of following up with me after each service call for feedback as part of their continuous-improvement program.

Because I felt the review request came from the business owner’s motivation to make her business better, rather than to coerce me into saying something positive, I was glad to leave a review. Knowing that the cleaners would get a bonus for their work made me feel good, too.

Those are the do’s. What about the don’ts?


3 Online Review Do’s for Small Business Owners


1. Don’t respond right away to negative reviews

Most of us don’t enjoy hearing criticism, especially if it’s public and/or harsh. As tempting as it may be to dash off an immediate response to defend your business, wait until you’ve had some time to cool off and think through the best way to respond.

Read over this list of ways to respond to negative business reviews, and respond appropriately when you’re ready. A sincere apology, an offer to make the situation right, and private communication with the reviewer can help defuse the situation, show review readers that you care about your customers, and possibly even lead the negative reviewer to come back with a more positive review later on.  

[bctt tweet=”Take a breath before responding to negative #onlinereviews to avoid reacting emotionally.” username=”hostgator”]


2. Don’t disclose private or personal customer information

Even when you’re responding to glowing reviews, don’t include private or personal information about the customer or their purchase, even if you know them in real life. You may end up tipping off a surprise gift recipient about what they’re getting from Aunt Edna, or you may embarrass a power reviewer who doesn’t want his followers to know what he buys to treat his chronic elbow rash.

Discretion in review responses is especially important for healthcare providers, due to HIPAA regulations. The Washington Post has reported on the fines, lawsuits, and other bad outcomes doctors have faced for revealing protected patient information when responding to reviews. If your business falls under HIPAA’s scope, respond to reviews with the utmost care, to avoid violating HIPAA and to show potential patients that you respect their privacy.


3. Don’t fake reviews or “pay for play”

Writing online reviewsEven experienced businesspeople can be tempted to impersonate positive reviews to talk up their business. (Remember the media uproar over Whole Foods CEO John Mackey’s embarrassing alter-identify as WFM stock enthusiast ‘Rahodeb”?) Don’t do it, because you’d likely be unmasked at some point, and then your customers’ trust in you will be gone.

Along the same lines, don’t tarnish your ethics by offering customers incentives to leave positive reviews. It’s perfectly acceptable to encourage your customers to check out your business profiles and reviews on Yelp, Google, and other platforms. However, your customers’ choice to review–and what they say in their review–should be entirely up to them, uninfluenced by offers from you. If you have a good customer service program in place and are good at responding to customer concerns, those reviews will almost certainly be positive.

Want to know how to embed your review site profiles on your website? HostGator Support has the answer for you.


What are your tips for managing online reviews? Please share in the comments!

Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelance B2B content marketing writer. Her specialty areas include SMB marketing and growth, data security, IoT, and fraud prevention

2 thoughts on “Is Your Small Business Making the Most of Online Reviews?

  1. Reviewing feedback received by the customers is very important as they tend to lose faith in your product/service if you fail to do so. Customer satisfaction survey is the best way to directly connect with your customers and show how much you care for them. I have always used sogosurvey’s online survey tool as they offer amazing features at the lowest price, a wide variety of reports as well as awesome survey templates.

  2. Thanks for the interesting article. How do you see online reviews as a possible marketing tool? I believe there is nothing wrong with throwing in a little marketing in your response, highlight some good stuff of your business and connect relevant keywords with you…

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