The old school marketing methods left a lot to be desired. How many of us remember passing mom-and-pop restaurants and thinking aloud, "I bet that's a good place to eat. Those family owned restaurants always are." We'd envision a quaint diner with homemade pies and friendly service, but what we found inside was often less than we had hoped for, --so what happened? We resigned to spending our hard-earned cash on chain restaurants. They could be trusted. It may be the boring way to go, but at least we knew what to expect. That was then; this is now. Thanks to the advent of social media and online customer reviews, businesses are feeling the impact of the ever strengthening consumer voice. Just how important is this consumer voice?
Influence of Customer Reviews on Conversion Rates
According to a study conducted by ComScore, Inc. and the Kelsey Group, leaders in the measurement of today's online atmosphere, over 25% of Internet users regularly consult online reviews before selecting a local business or service. Another study showed that 67% of local consumers have read online reviews at the same time they were searching online for information about the location of a local business. The two activities go hand-in-hand.
Customer-generated reviews not only lead to more sales, but to higher total purchase amounts as well. In fact, consumers were willing to pay at least 20% more for services with an 'excellent' or 5-star rating.
The study went on to reveal that over 75% of review users of every retail and service category claimed that the review they read "had a significant influence on their purchase decisions." Crossing every industry, this was just as true with hotel reviews as it with medical and legal service reviews.
Added Bonus! The Influence of Consumer Reviews on Local Search Optimization, LSO
An added benefit of consumer reviews is the LSO gained from fresh, unique content that can be indexed by search portals. This helps businesses with organic search results and enables them to rank for product names, keywords, specific deals, and other often searched terms.
More Reviews = More Customers
Does the actual number of reviews matter? Absolutely. An aggregate rating of 7 out of 10 stars carries a lot more weight with consumers if 50 people left the review, compared to the same 7-star ranking with less than 10 reviews. Especially useful are the local review sites which include the number of total reviews right next to the name of the star rating. Psychologically, this visual display acts as "purchase reinforcement" in the mind of the consumer and in repeated studies the number of reviews increases conversion rate.
What's the magic number? According to Reevoo, in an analysis of over 2 million reviews, there is no cap for the 'ideal number of reviews' when it comes to conversions. A business will definitely see a spike in sales after 10 reviews and trust will continue to build as the numbers grow. Recent reviews are also important. Ideally, your review numbers should increase with each passing week.
Which Review Sites Carry the Most Weight?
Just like anything else online, in order to be useful, reviews need to be placed on top traffic sites. Which are the best? Right now, the top review directories/sites include the following:
How to Get Customers to Post Reviews?
Populating the above sites with consumer reviews should be a priority of any local business owner, but how? The reviews are consumer-generated and, in case you were unaware, there are strict FTC guidelines about posting reviews and testimonials.
• Endorsements must be truthful and not misleading
• Any connection between the endorser and the business must be disclosed in the review.
• Paid endorsements are considered to be deceptive if they make misleading or false claims.
Bottom line? If any consumer interest groups, online watchdogs, or the FTC finds that your business has been posting either paid or fake reviews without indicating such, you can face legal fines as well as losing business credibility. Can you imagine: "John's Barbershop Rated Number #1 Four Years in a Row Paid for His Reviews." I don't think a business would be able to live that down very well.
Even though false reviews are obviously unethical (and illegal), you don't have to leave reviews to "chance." We live in a busy world and signing onto Yelp to leave a review is not a priority for most people, regardless of how great their experience was. So, how do these businesses with thousands of reviews get them? They make it as simple as possible. Here are some tips:
• Do you have a business website? Include a link to your Yelp or Google Pages (or switch the link from week to week). Come right out and ask customers to rate your business. Offer to send them a coupon for a percentage off of their next visit. Be sure to also include a disclaimer, such as, "We'll send you a coupon regardless of the content of your review!"
• Hold a monthly drawing from the current month's reviews on Google Pages. Go ahead and announce the fact. You aren't asking for rave reviews and you're not directing the consumer to write the review in any particular way.
• Include your business review link in the signature line of your emails. Hyperlink the url to something like, "How did you like (our service, your meal, your product, etc)? We'd greatly appreciate a review!"
• Include a link to your business on review sites on postcards, business cards, and online advertisements.
What if You're Still Being Outranked?
If you've worked your butt off to motivate customers to provide reviews and other local businesses are still outranking you with Google, consider the following tips:
• Relevance - In another article of ours, we talked about relevance. Keep this in mind with reviews as well. Remember, Google is always trying to determine if you are who you say you are and if you are located where you are listed. With that in mind, a review that reads, "John is the best carpenter in San Francisco" will hold more weight with Google than, "John is the best." Can you let your potential reviewers know this? Of course you can! If you are mentioning your review site on an advertisement, just print something like this below the link, "About to Rate me on Yelp? Don't forget to mention that I'm a carpenter right here in beautiful San Francisco!" Everyone won't remember, but even a few will help.
• Third Party Reviews - Don't rely on Google Pages for all your reviews. Comments about your business on a variety of sites, gives you credibility with Google.
• A Constant Flow - Who would you be more likely to trust? A business that received 25 reviews in the first week of December and nothing else, or 10 reviews over a period of 10 weeks? A constant flow of reviews shows that your business is alive, well and engaging the consumer, instead of the message the 25 in December could send. Possibly a business owner who wanted to rank for the holidays and coerced a bunch of friends or relatives into writing reviews. No, you're not fooling anyone with that.
Now to our least favorite part, the dreaded poor review.
A Word on Dealing With Poor Reviews
For the 25% of online users who are consulting consumer-generated reviews, guess what they're looking for? Two things: First, intelligently written, positive reviews that actually present one or more of the key benefits of the business, products or service, and second, --you guessed it, poor reviews. If a business has one or two star reviews, consumers will scroll through the rest to find them. Why? The answer may surprise you. "It's not so I can convince myself to stay away from a new business," says one online searcher, "It's really the opposite. When I read poor reviews, I'm looking for something that won't really concern me. A reviewer may rank a business with one star because they couldn't find a parking space. That has nothing to do with the true products or services. But, if a restaurant reviewer claims that the restaurant was dirty, the food was cold, or overpriced, I may think twice about visiting the establishment."
Today's consumers are frugal and they want to spend their money in the right places. How do you, as a business owner, overcome poor reviews? Don't ignore them. If you are a business owner, use poor reviews as an opportunity to improve and problem solve. Respond to the dissatisfied customer in a highly positive manner, thanking them for taking the time to bring the problem to light and offering a solution. Regardless of how distasteful, hostile, or rude the reviewer may be, always remain professional, positive, and upbeat. Potential customers will always notice the response of the business owner and your review will be critically assessed. Your positive, helpful reply can actually bring business to your door and make you out to be a hero. Everyone loves an eager problem solver.
We believe consumer reviews are here to stay. Consumers, no longer willing to blindly trust the message advertisers are sending, today's buyers want to hear from like-minded people. This is the strength of the consumer review. Use the tips we provide above to gain positive reviews from satisfied clients and you are sure to experience an increase in traffic, consumer trust, and of course sales.
There is no more effective way to gain credibility with new potential customers than to let them hear from other customers just like them. The consumer voice is the future of effective advertising.