For small businesses, online reviews have become increasingly important. Consumers are transitioning away from using phone directories and warming to online search to find local goods and services. Because these reviews show up when consumers search online, they can literally make or break a business.
There are two primary reasons why online reviews have become so vital to small businesses. First, consumers who conduct online searches value the opinions of other customers, and thus tend to choose those businesses that have the most positive reviews. In a recent study by Opus Research, 35 percent of small businesses said they have received customers from positive reviews. Further, 84 percent of consumers are now being influenced by online customer reviews, according to a survey conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation.
The second reason why online reviews are so important to small businesses is that they can improve search engine rankings. Simply put, businesses that have more reviews rank higher in search results. This can be extremely helpful to a business that is trying to get the attention of customers amongst a lengthy list of competitors who also have an online presence.
Positive online reviews placed on Google, Yahoo!, CitySearch, Yelp, Bing and a growing number of other sites have become powerful tools that can generate tremendous consumer interest – even catalyzing the success of some businesses. Others have been hurt by negative reviews that have damaged their online reputation. For small businesses, the key is to simultaneously build, monitor and manage online reviews to maximize the influence generated by these sources of online word of mouth.
To begin increasing your business’ number of reviews, the best place to start is by simply asking your best customers. Make it simple for them by sending a follow-up email with links to review sites or putting a review dashboard on your website that your customers can access to write a review. You can even encourage them to provide a review from a mobile device while they are in your place of business.
With so many sites where customers can now leave reviews, it can be challenging to stay on top of everything that is being written about your business. However, there are a number of good sources for following your reviews. Google Alerts can provide you with automatic updates whenever your business is reviewed or mentioned in a blog or online publication. And some of the review sites will send you emails when reviews are posted. MyReviewsPage is another good tool that enables you to both monitor and request reviews from customers.
By encouraging customer reviews, you do risk the chance of getting negative feedback from a customer. While a bad review is never good, a small amount of negative feedback among a large volume of positive comments can actually add credibility to your business. And, if you proactively address the bad review by reaching out to the customer, you can impress potential customers with your promptness and dedication to customer service.
Originally published Aug 14, 2010, updated Aug 12, 2020