As a business owner, you’re always looking for ways to improve your bottom line. So, it might interest you to know that consumers are likely to spend 31% more if a business or product has “excellent” reviews.
It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, from digital services to fishing charters, it’s extremely uncommon for anyone to make any kind of purchase without doing some research first—and that means searching for online reviews.
Just think about the last time you bought something huge, like a car, an appliance, or even a vacation.
How much time did you spend searching and researching before making a final decision?
If you’re like 93% of consumers, you did some (or likely, all) of that pre-purchase research online.
But online reviews aren’t just important for big-ticket items and services. They’re also a critical part of digital marketing for small businesses—especially ones that are locally-focused.
But you probably already know that having good reviews is good, and having bad reviews is bad. So why am I talking?
Because as important as we all know online reviews are, they’re actually even more important than you think.
Here’s pretty much everything you’d ever need to know about online reviews as a business owner—including:
- Why reviews matter for your website’s SEO…
- How you can get more of them, and…
- How to use them to your advantage—even the ones that aren’t so glowing.
Why Online Reviews are So Important
#1 – They’re a major factor in local SEO.
Local SEO is all about making sure your business appears as prominently as possible in search engine results for relevant searches. And online reviews are a major part of that.
Having reviews makes your business more visible on search engine result pages (SERPs). In the sea of pixelated text that is a SERP, reviews are one of the few free ways to help your site really stand out. As dumb as it may sound, those star graphics that show up in review snippets make your site look more visually appealing and more likely to be clicked on. They really do make a difference.
Furthermore, Google’s algorithm—as well as the algorithms of all major search engines—are weighted toward fresh content, which means that new (or recent) reviews can have an impact on your ranking.
This Moz report from 2020 shows that Google review signals (i.e. number of ratings, recency, sentiment, responses from the business owner, etc.) are thought to be the 2nd most important ranking factor in local SEO. That’s no small thing.
(Oh, and Google has explicitly revealed that online reviews are a factor in their local ranking algorithm. They also explicitly state that managing and responding to reviews will help improve your SEO—more on that later.)
#2 – Online reviews don’t just win clicks from search engines—they win over customers.
When you’re searching for any product or service online, you want to be able to trust who you’re doing business with. The best SEO and the most strategic digital marketing in the world won’t matter much if people don’t trust your business.
Positive reviews from happy customers obviously help build trust and credibility with potential customers, but they don’t all have to be 5 star experiences.
Negative reviews can actually help build trust as well—as long as you respond to them in a constructive way. It shows that you’re willing to listen to feedback and address any issues that may come up. It also shows that you care about customer service and your company’s image.
There’s been some research that has shown customers are actually more likely to trust a company with less-than-100%-perfect reviews, as long as those reviews are honest and transparent. So don’t worry if you don’t have a perfect 5.0 stars—just make sure you’re being honest about your product or service, and that you’re responding to reviews in a professional manner.
This isn’t the time to get defensive or argumentative—just try to help the customer and resolve the issue.
When possible, use the ability to “manage and respond” to your company’s Google reviews as an opportunity to build your brand’s trust and credibility, rather than damage it.
#3 – Besides SEO and Trust, Reviews are a Powerful Form of “Social Proof.”
Whether you know the term or not, you know what social proof is—it’s that simple truth that people are much more likely to do something if they see that others are doing it.
In the digital realm, this manifests itself in things like likes, shares, and yes—reviews.
But note that social proof isn’t just about numbers—the quality of that proof is a factor, too.
For example: A single 4-star review written out by a real, identifiable human with a photo (and other reviews on their profile) carries more weight than ten 5-star ratings from some questionable accounts who have only ever reviewed one thing—your company.
This, other than the obvious ethical violations, is another good reason you shouldn’t bother even attempting any fake review chicanery. (Yet another good reason is that these days, you’re verrrry likely to get caught and suffer consequences—like being banned from Google. Permanently. Which really doesn’t help your SEO much.)
The takeaway here is that, when it comes to social proof, quality trumps quantity every time.
But you do want both.
You want as many high-quality reviews as you can get, from real people—that also look like they were written by a real person.
Easier said than done, right? Yeah, definitely.
OK—I’ve convinced you that more reviews = more sales.
Now let’s talk about how to actually get both of them.
How to Get Reviews for Your Business
Just like every business wants to rank #1 in search results, every business wants to have a ton of “5.0” reviews.
And just like with SEO, the process of getting those reviews can be difficult and time-consuming for business owners who already have enough on their plate—a plate which they are probably also spinning along with a dozen others.
That said, there are a few relatively simple things you can do to encourage your company’s customers or clients to leave online reviews.
Here’s a high-level overview of the process you’ll need to go through to get more reviews:
1. Make it easy for them.
The first, most important step is to make it as easy as possible for your customers or clients to leave a review. The easier you can make it, the more likely they’ll be to do it.
Unless you have a true brand evangelist/brand stalker on your hands, 99.9% of people aren’t going to jump through hoops to leave a review—no matter how satisfied they are with your product or service.
People are busy. So don’t make them search for your listing or figure out how to leave a review. Have links to your company’s review profiles on your website and in email signature lines.
These are generally less effective than an actual digital link, but you can also include physical copies of those links in your brick-and-mortar location, any marketing materials you hand out, or in a thank you note after someone does business with you.
2. Ask them directly.
A personal ask is often the most effective way to encourage customers or clients to leave a review. You can do this in person, over the phone, or even through email.
Just remember to be polite and not too pushy—the last thing you want is to make someone feel uncomfortable or obligated to leave a review. A simple, “If you’re happy with our service, would you mind leaving a review on Google/Yelp/Facebook?” will often do the trick.
It’s also a good idea to thank people who do leave reviews, whether they’re positive or negative. Just a simple “Thanks for the feedback!” shows that you’re paying attention, and care about what your customers have to say. That alone is more than most businesses do, and will honestly help you stand out from your competition.
3. Give them a reason.
Offer an incentive, like a discount or coupon code, for taking the time to leave a review. This can be a great way to increase the number of reviews you get, and it doesn’t have to be anything too big or expensive. A small discount on their next purchase can be enough to encourage people to leave a review.
Just keep in mind that you can’t offer an incentive specifically in exchange for a positive review—that’s against the rules for, basically, everywhere you can leave an online review.
4. Let them know how appreciated they are.
Say thank you! Showing appreciation will make customers more likely to leave positive reviews and come back in the future.
A simple “thank you for your business!” is a start, sure. But it’s better to send a handwritten thank-you note, or just give them a follow-up call or a personal email after their purchase to make sure they’re 100% happy.
Keep in mind that people tune out things like “we appreciate your business!” several times a day.
By going the extra step beyond to show that you authentically appreciate their business, you’ll not only encourage them to leave a review online—especially if you ask them or have the links in your email signature—but they’ll also be more likely to come back and do business with you again in the future.
I’ll admit it—getting online reviews can be a bit of a pain. But the process doesn’t have to be complicated, and the benefits for your business are more than worth the effort:
- Improved search engine optimization (higher SEO ranking)
- Increased visibility in search engines (stars and snippets)
- Better conversion rates for the visitors coming in from those search engines
- Social proof to further persuade your visitors to become your customers
- Improved customer confidence (trust) to help gun-shy visitors pull the trigger
Whether you’re doing it for the SEO or to improve customer confidence—or both—online reviews are a powerful tool in your digital marketing tool chest. (You have one of those, right?)