Online reviews are an important factor in bringing in new customers, but many local business owners struggle with getting customers to leave reviews. When a business is competing against other local interests, the number, quality and type of reviews can make the difference between a packed house and empty tables. From local business directory listings to major review sites, these tips can help locally owned shops, restaurants and professionals get more and better reviews.
Why Good Business Reviews Are Important for Local Businesses
Reviews influence customer decisions, but it’s not the only reason that a business wants great reviews. Here’s what research shows about the influence of reviews on several major factors in gaining new customers.
- Reviews Show Up in Search Results. Good reviews often pop up when people do searches on Google and other search engines. Often, the top results for a local search include links to the best reviews on sites like Yelp, Trip Advisor and other platforms that are relevant to the business.
- Reviews Are Not Just for Restaurants and Hotels. While most people think of restaurants, hotels and other hospitality industries when they think of reviews, people look for recommendations on nearly any type of business. The trick is to get reviewed on the platforms that matter in a particular profession. Whether they’re looking for music teachers or a good real estate agent, people want recommendations from their friends and neighbors.
- Good Reviews Improve Conversions. Customers feel more comfortable working with a business that has good reviews. In survey after survey, up to 90 percent of respondents say that their buying decisions are influenced by positive online reviews. Those same surveys show that nearly as many people are influenced by negative reviews – and a healthy percentage say that they were influenced to patronize a business after seeing how well the owner or staff handled those negative reviews. (More on that later).
- A Business Without Good Reviews Might Be Invisible to Some Potential Customers. Many major review sites allow customers to set preferences that make businesses with few reviews or poor reviews invisible. If customers sort results on those review platforms by star rating, or choose to only view businesses with a minimum star rating, businesses with lower ratings simply don’t appear in their searches. This makes good reviews especially important for businesses that have a lot of local competition.
- Reviews Affect Rankings for Local Business Search Results. While it’s never been officially confirmed, most local search marketing experts are sure that good reviews result in higher ranking by search engines like Google and Bing. A number of marketing research companies have noted that there’s a strong correlation between good business reviews and a business’ position in the search result listings. Companies that focus on local searches and local US business directory listings all feel that signals from reviews – the number, diversity and quality of the reviews – have a pretty significant effect on whether and where a business appears when potential customers do a search.
Can a Business Ask for Online Reviews?
Some business owners are uncomfortable directly asking customers to review their business – and some review sites actually discourage the practice, feeling that it skews the ratings because businesses would naturally ask for reviews from satisfied customers. Others, such as Google My Business, tell owners to encourage their customers to leave reviews for their local business. The best advice is to know the terms and conditions of any review site that a business plans to direct customers to so they know what they can and can’t do to encourage customers to leave reviews for them.
How to Get Those Good Reviews
Now that it’s clear why business reviews are important in bringing in new customers, here are some tips on getting more – and better – online reviews, and making sure that they are actually helping local businesses get more customers.
Focus on Making Customers Happy
One of the unfortunate facts of human nature is that most people would rather complain than compliment. Unhappy customers are more likely to post online reviews than happy customers. On the other hand, happy customers are often excited to recommend a business that gave them a great experience. Before a business starts encouraging customers to post reviews, they should make sure that the majority of their customers are happy with them. Depending on the business, one of the easiest ways to find out how much your customers like you is to follow up with them after they visit your business. It could be as simple as providing a “How Did We Do?” postcard at the checkout register or on the table at a restaurant. Service and/or professional businesses can send out similar postcards, send an email or phone customers.
Focus on the Right Review Sites
As noted earlier, there are many different kinds of review sites, so it’s important to focus on those that are important to the industry sector or type of local business. Some are obvious – everyone knows where to post restaurant, hotel, and resort reviews. Others are not so easy to figure out, but there are online review sites for just about any profession under the sun. These steps can help a local business identify the places where they should focus on getting more good reviews.
- Search for the Business Name. A quick Google or Bing search of the company’s brand name, both with and without the word “reviews” added, will likely turn up any existing public reviews. Make a list of places that customers are already posting reviews and ratings – and note whether the reviews are mostly positive or negative.
- Search for Important Keywords Without the Business Name. Next, do a search for the services or products offered by the business without using the business name. If, for example, the business is a nail salon, search for “nail salon <your city>” to turn up review sites where customers of similar businesses post rankings and reviews. Add any of those that aren’t already on the list.
- Search for Key Competitors and Industry Leaders. Finally, do a specific search for local competitors and major names in the industry. Again, list the review sites that are in the top results, or at least on the first couple of pages.
The list of review sites that results from those searches is a pretty good indicator of the review sites that are most important to a particular business. Whittle it down to just a few of the top sites, and don’t forget to include a local business directory like FindUsLocal.com, which encourages visitors to leave reviews for their favorite local businesses.
Update Local Directory Listings FIRST
The last thing a business owner wants is to send customers to sites that show the wrong information for their business, or worse, for that wrong information to come up when potential new customers find those reviews online. Take the time to brush up local business directory listings before starting a campaign to increase customer reviews.
Five Ways to Encourage Customers to Submit an Online Review
One of the simplest ways to get online reviews from satisfied customers is to just ask for them – but there are more subtle ways to direct customers to review sites, and many of them have the added advantage of improving your local business profile.
- Put Links to Reviews On the Business Website. Linking to the business’ profile on review sites from the company’s website is one sure way to raise the visibility of good reviews. It implies that the business is proud of its reviews, and adds to the website’s authority with search engines. Include a link to the business page in other local business directories that allow customers to leave reviews.
Put Links to Reviews in Sidebars and Email Signatures. In addition to or instead of creating a separate page for reviews, a company can add links to those profiles in the sidebar of every page on the site, as well as including them in the email signature line.
Add the URL of Specific Review Sites to Business Cards. Treat the company’s local business directory page or review site profile like the company’s own website. If there’s room on the company’s standard business card, add the URL to sites that feature especially good reviews to the other information on the card.
- Tell Customers How to Post Reviews. Simple instructions on how to get started leaving reviews at various review sites can make it much easier for customers to write positive things about a business.
Add a Request for Reviews to Follow-Up Emails.
Sending out an email specifically to ask for reviews may feel too much like naked pandering – and some customers may be put off by it. Adding the request to a more valuable email, however, encourages people to leave a review and improves the chances that they’ll see the request. A real estate agent, for example, could add a quick request for reviews to their standard email welcome package sent to clients after they close on a new home.
Lather, Rinse, Repeat
The most important thing to remember is that getting good online reviews is an ongoing process, rather than a set-it-and-forget-it one-time event. Most of these tips will work over the long term, garnering new customers and new reviews in a stream. It’s important, however, to periodically monitor the reviews, respond to bad reviews, and thank customers for good ones. A simple weekly check will keep those good reviews coming in.