Even the most stellar businesses face the challenge of customers criticizing them online. And while receiving a negative review sends many into crisis mode, some are learning that these critiques actually help their conversion rate.
Advice about online reputation management is packed with statistics about the role reviews play in customers’ buying decisions. BrightLocal’s latest survey found 84 percent trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation. Research from Zendesk found 90 percent claim that reviews influence their purchase behavior. More than 33 percent even regard reviews as the most important factor in judging the trustworthiness of online retailers, according to GetApp.
The natural reaction to this data is to look for opportunities to get more positive reviews. However, having too many good reviews can actually backfire.
Bad reviews are good for business.
Most business owners we work with have strong opinions about online reviews. They hate reviewer anonymity. They’re discouraged when five-star reviews get stuck in Yelp’s filter. They believe review sites are biased against businesses and try to strong-arm advertising dollars from them. And so on …
What deeper research into reviews’ influence on purchase behavior has found, though, is that there’s a bright side to bad reviews. The presence of bad reviews increases trust, the duration of site visits and conversions, according to customer engagement platform Reevoo. Here are the specifics:
- Ninety-five percent of customers suspect censorship or fake reviews when there are no negative reviews.
- Website users spend five times longer on a site when they interact with negative reviews.
- Website users convert 85 percent more often when they interact with negative reviews.
While it’s tempting to stick your head in the sand and ignore review sites altogether, you do so at your own peril. Receiving a negative review likely isn’t disastrous for your business — but neglecting your online reputation could be. Having only positive reviews or, worse, no reviews at all can have far-reaching implications.
Don’t forget that online reviews impact your local SEO.
Online reviews also play a significant role in local SEO. Review signals, such as quantity, velocity and diversity, are thought to make up 13 percent of how Google ranks its Local Pack (i.e., the map feature that highlights three local businesses on Page 1) and 7 percent of how it ranks localized organic results, according to Moz’s “2017 Local Search Ranking Factors” survey.
Why does Google give review sites such weight? Simply, it’s because consumers value them. If a user searches Google or another search engine for a local barbecue joint, goes to said establishment and enjoys the experience, then they’re primed to turn to Google for future purchases. Google’s earned the user’s trust and, by extension, their traffic.
Develop a winning review-acquisition strategy.
Before you work yourself into a review-solicitation frenzy, pause and outline your strategy. We’ve seen many small businesses do more harm than good in their unbridled enthusiasm to earn more positive reviews.
First, let’s break down the indicators of a successful presence on review sites:
- a consistent flow of new reviews that describe your current offerings and customer service
- detailed reviews that illustrate reviewers’ experiences
- balanced reviews that acknowledge both your strengths and weaknesses
You’re probably wondering how you’re supposed to accomplish this. Here’s our advice:
- Start small. Choose one or two sites to focus on. Giving customers the choice of Yelp or Google or Facebook or TripAdvisor will overwhelm them. Stick with whichever site your customers already use and find most intuitive.
- Make “the ask.” Hounding every customer to leave a review is a major no-no. Beyond its negative service implications, review sites will see a sudden influx of reviews as a red flag. How you ask is also important. Your wait staff could say, “We truly value your feedback and would love for you to share it with us and other customers on Google. You’ll find a step-by-step guide on the back of your receipt.”
- Go subtle. Have your webmaster add links to your review sites to your website. Display a Find Us on Yelp or TripAdvisor sticker in your window or at your register. Add a link and call-to-action to your email broadcasts, newsletters or receipts.
An important note: You need to ensure you and your team understand and abide by each site’s policies. For starters, read the guidelines for Google, Yelp, TripAdvisor and Zomato. Also, check your state laws for contests and giveaways and FTC guidelines.
Earning reviews is only the first step in reputation management.
You don’t get to just sit back once you start raking in reviews. The real work is just beginning. We suggest replying to every review (with the rare exception).
For positive reviews, reply to thank your customers for sharing their thoughts. Your aim here is to express your genuine appreciation and build your rapport with each customer (and with other users). If they mention your lasagna is their favorite in town, for instance, mention that in your response. Don’t be a salesperson or a robot.
What happens when you receive a negative review? It’s bound to happen, so it’s best to establish a process upfront, lest your emotions take over.
- Step away. We know your business is your lifeblood, and a negative review feels like a glaring attack. Take a walk and cool down before responding. If you can’t help but be riled up, delegate review management to someone else on your team or outsource it.
- Treat the review as a conversation. How would you handle a complaint in-store? Understand the customer’s claims and ask for clarification, if necessary. Diffuse the situation by acknowledging the customer’s right to their opinion and addressing their qualms, if applicable. If your team erred, seek to make it right.
- Implement reasonable feedback. Reviews are a valuable listening tool. No one expects you to change your signature sauce just because that one guy on Yelp said it was too spicy. But your customers will tell you what’s important to them, and it’s your job to honor their role in the success of your business. If review after review mentions poor service from a particular team member or laments your overheated waiting room, it’s time to take action.
Proactive review collection sets your business up for success.
The bottom line: Online reviews are an unavoidable player in today’s digital landscape. A proactive review-collection system puts you in the driver’s seat of your online reputation. This approach gives you nothing to fear from bad reviews. At the very least, they demonstrate your business is responsive and values feedback. But, as the data shows, you’ll also see a bump in trust and, by extension, sales.