Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert may have been the vanguard of a new trend in business marketing.
Over the last decade, online reviews have become one of the most important decision-making tools for buyers seeking the best price on electronics, the tastiest vegetable lo mein, the most trustworthy plumbing contractor, or the widest selection of shoes.
Hundreds of thousands of Yelp, Foursquare, and Google+ reviewers are entering the fray and offering their own “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” to help prospective buyers choose a restaurant, café, hotel, HVAC service, or other local business.
The numbers are astonishing. Studies suggest that “for nearly nine in 10 consumers, an online review is equally as important as a personal recommendation.”
And the number of reviews is important, too. One or two blurbs may not cut it. “Eighty-five percent of consumers are satisfied once they have read up to 10 online reviews for a local business.”
Even in the business-to-business (B2B) space, online reputation and reviews are becoming increasingly important. In a recent study of B2B reviews on Clutch, we found that doubling the number of client reviews can increase a company’s profile views by up to 60 percent.
How to get online reviews
The question becomes, “How do you get online reviews for your business?”The best way is simply to ask for them!
There are several ways to do this, most of which are relatively painless. With just a few small changes in procedure, you will soon be swimming in reviews. Of course, whether they are good or bad reviews depends entirely upon you and your service.
Ask for reviews in person or on receipts
It is as simple as that. Just ask your customers to leave reviews.
If you run a storefront or eatery, you or your checkout clerks can politely ask customers—if they are pleased with their experience—to visit a review site and leave some positive feedback.
If that is not practical, you can approach the issue from another direction: leave a note on your customer receipts asking for a review. Be sure to include a website address to make it convenient.
Ask for reviews online or via email
If you have an online presence, be sure to add a link to appropriate review sites from your website.
Whenever possible, acquire your customers’ email address and email a follow-up asking them how satisfied they were with your service. In this email, ask them to share positive feedback with others, and again link to Yelp, Foursquare, Google Local, or other appropriate review sites for your industry.
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Finally, tweak your website to allow reviews there, rather than simply sending visitors to external review sites. Not only does this provide great social proof to subsequent visitors to your site, but you can improve your visibility with Google as well.
Mike Essex at Econsultancy explains how these reviews help boost search engine rankings: “[It’s an] obvious step, but one that is missed a lot […] You’ll find your product pages rank higher by having more unique content.”
Offer free samples
Another painless way to get people talking about you is to offer free samples in exchange for an honest review. This works especially well for book publishers, game developers, and other media companies.
However, take heed of the word “honest.” Never try to “buy” a good review.
This can backfire catastrophically, as when “publishing giant [Elsevier] got into hot water after offering gift vouchers to anyone who would give their textbook a five-star review.”
Make sure your company profile is complete
Be certain to complete your company profile on review sites. Nobody wants to spend time in a half-finished building; likewise, nobody wants to spend time on a half-finished page.
Customers are much more likely to leave reviews if it looks like you are actively engaged, so the more information you include on these sites, the better. Talk about your business’s history, its current ownership, and add profiles of staff members. All of these things encourage customers to read and learn about your business, which in turn makes it more likely they will interact with you online.
In addition, post a bunch of pictures on your profile. The more visual interest you provide, the greater the customer engagement. A smiling face or a group shot of employees in costume for Halloween goes a long way toward starting a relationship with potential reviewers.
How to make the most of your reviews
Once you have started getting great reviews online, don’t just let them sit there. Take advantage of them, and parlay them into new business.
Suggest other similar products or services
When customers leave a positive review of a product or service you provide, it is an ideal occasion to do some old-fashioned cross-selling.
Mike Essex at Econsultancy explains: “[One] thing Amazon does well is to use my reviews to recommend other products that I may like in the future. So by reviewing products, I am helping myself to discover other products that I’d like to buy.”
Take the opportunity to suggest similar or complementary products or services your reviewers might also enjoy. Are they raving about their new fertilizer spreader? Maybe they need a new riding mower to cut all that quickly growing grass.
You already know these people like your stuff, and you know they had a positive experience buying from you the first time. Therefore, these customers deserve your full attention. Remember, the cost of customer retention is vastly less than the cost to win new business.
Sharing your positive reviews with others lets them know that people think your business is the bomb!
Link to reviews from your website; that way, your visitors can read what others have said about you. Even better, consider displaying particularly flattering reviews on your own website within an iframe.
If you are on social media, tweet links to your best reviews. Post snippets from flattering reviews on your Facebook or Google+ business page.
Don’t worry if it seems self-serving—it is. But promoting your good reviews is one of the best ways to take advantage of them.
Respond to your reviews (especially the negative ones)
Someone has left a crummy review of your business or product, and now it’s sitting there online where everyone can see it, stinking up your business like a pile of garbage. You keep gnashing your teeth, and is that gnawing sensation in your belly an ulcer? You end up ignoring the review because thinking about it just upsets you.
Many people do not realize that responding to online reviews is a terrific way to improve their brand image and build customer loyalty.
Everybody messes up occasionally, but how you deal with the fallout is what matters most. If readers see that you respond with concern to a negative review and that you try to correct the problem to satisfy the unhappy customer, you can transform that negative review into an opportunity for fantastic public relations.
Even when reviewers praise your product, be sure to respond in kind. Tell them how much you appreciate them taking the time to leave the review, and explain how valuable it is (and they are) to you. This type of interaction has profound consequences and often leads casual buyers to become raving fans.
The following flow chart offers a helpful way to evaluate social media posts, and provides a response strategy for the different types of feedback, both positive and negative, that your business might get online:
What you should never do
The one thing you should never do is to leave fake reviews of your own business or service. It may be tempting, especially if your site or product is languishing online with only a handful of lukewarm reviews.
Don’t even think about it.
John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing Consultants explains why: “Consumers can spot a fake review anywhere! We’ve all read them. The reviews that seem just a little too positive, full of too much praise and adoration. The ones that you just know were written by the owner.”
“A fake review is even worse than no reviews. It makes both you and your business seem shady.”
A fake review is even worse than no reviews. It makes both you and your business seem shady, and it encourages blowback. No matter how sneaky you think you are, readers can tell a puff job when they see it.
Just don’t do it.
With a bit of effort and patience, you can develop a healthy collection of positive reviews for your business if you ask for it and make it easy for people to leave feedback. Offer incentives, but never offer freebies in exchange for positive reviews alone.
Once you have the reviews, take advantage of them. Share them with your audience, and use them to suggest other products to the reviewer. And always respond professionally and courteously to reviews, even bad ones. By showing concern and attempting to solve problems, you can turn a bad review into a win for your public image.
Lastly, never, ever try to pass off a fake review as real. It won’t work, and you’ll only tarnish your brand.