Review or Recede: How Online Reviews Can Make or Break Your Business

It’s remarkable that in this day and age, many business owners tend to overlook the importance of online reviews. The very same people who won’t select a hotel without consulting TripAdvisor, or who’ll skip the hot new restaurant because of one bad review, can fool themselves into thinking that potential clients won’t do the same for them, or that their reputation is so stellar that they don’t need any more kudos floating around in the cyber community.

“Everybody already knows me. I’m the ‘TOP DOC’ in my field,” is typical of an objection we’ve heard all too often in response to recommending a beefed up online review presence. It sounds good, and may even be true. But it’s ignoring the reality on the ground. According to a Pew Research Center study conducted in late 2016, “82% of U.S. adults say they at least sometimes read online customer ratings or reviews before purchasing items for the first time, including 40% who say they always or almost always do so.” And those reviews aren’t just important for their quality – another report recently published in the journal Psychological Science shows that the more reviews you have, the better – even if your overall ranking is lower, people would rather see 2,500 reviews with a 4.5 rating than 500 reviews with a 4.9 rating. More is better.

So what can you do to make sure that your business is on the right track and making the most of your online reputation management strategy? Here’s what you need to know about why online reviews are either an opportunity for growth –  or a missed opportunity.

Understanding the Customer Journey

In recent years, there has been a sea change in the way that potential customers search for what they need. Where once they would ask a trusted friend or family member, now they take matters into their own hands and follow a multi-hop trail from various social media sites to websites, seeking out what total strangers have to say. They’re no longer satisfied with a quick search: instead, they spend significant amounts of time on their phones, their tablets, their laptops and then back to their phones, checking and rechecking to make sure that they’re selecting the option that represents their best possible choice. Ratings are important, and so are the number of reviews (as referenced above, the number of reviews is REALLY important. More on that later.) But what’s probably most important of all is what real people who have used a service or product are saying about their actual experience.

What does that mean for you? It means that in order to best manage your online review presence, the first thing you need to know is who your potential clients are, and where they are seeking their information. What are the websites and review sites that people are most likely to look you up on? Once you’ve figured that out, you know where to direct your current clients. So what’s the second thing you need to know? It’s that your strategy for getting those online reviews posted has to include a way to have people write about their experience – real examples of what they liked and loved about you. Not only is this most meaningful for the people who are checking your reviews – it can also help you to guide the customers that you most want to acquire directly through your doors.

What’s Happening in SEO These Days?

Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, has gone far beyond keywords. Google’s search algorithms may constantly be changing, but there are some things that are consistent, including the fact that the more click-throughs and positive reviews a business gets, the higher its Google rankings are going to be. So who gets the most click-throughs?

Think about your own Google searches. You’re looking for a business or service, and you type in a few keywords. The first thing that’s likely to come up on your screen is what’s known as the “local 3-pack” – the three businesses closest to where you are, complete with their map listings. If you’re presented with three nearby listings and a map, and there’s nothing there but name, address and phone number, then they all seem pretty even, right? But what if one has lots of stars indicating a bunch of highly positive reviews? That’s where you’re headed, right?

What you’re seeking an affirmation of another business’ integrity and customer satisfaction is what you need to give to your own business. Don’t feel bad – most businesses have overlooked this important step. But you need to understand that Google seeks the greatest number of reviews to give your business a higher ranking – and potential clients view those reviews as a good reason to give you a second look.

You’re the Top

Cole Porter wrote about it decades ago (if you’re under 50 and have never heard it, or a fan, click here), and it’s just as true today. Everybody wants to believe that they’re winning.

People are no longer content with a physician or dentist or plumber or interior designer who is merely good at what they do. Everybody wants to know that the service or professional who they’re working with is the absolute best. You may well be the ‘top doc’ or have won all of the customer satisfaction awards in your category, but these days you need to get that message across through the explicit content in your reviews, the number of reviews you have, and in your top position in Google’s rankings.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Tortoise and the hare, grasshopper and the ant. We’ve all heard the stories time and time again, and it’s just as true in the digital age.

https://youtu.be/90stI9UWVtk

If you want to win the reviews war, you need to be diligent, meticulous, and consistent in your approach. That means that you need to build in a multi-phase follow-up mechanism, asking for a review and providing sites, links, and directions for where you want them posted. Do it in the office, on your website, and via email after the appointment or sale for every client that’s had a positive experience. You need to do it every time. The more you build this into your business process, the easier it becomes, and the more you – and your clients – will get out of it.

What does the client get out of writing you a positive review? First, when you ask them to write a review, you’re letting them know that their opinion matters to you-you’re letting them know that they’re important. You’re also telling them that you’re always looking to improve the service you provide and are eager to hear more about how they think you can do that. When you convey that message, the customer knows that you’re looking to hear something positive, but they still get the flush of knowing that it is important to you that they were fully satisfied.

One important thing to note here: an essential component of online reputation management is your own engagement in the process. The businesses that have the greatest success are those who respond, both to positive reviews with a simple ‘thank you’, and to negative ones with a show of concern. Don’t get too frustrated by negative reviews – they’ll always be there – but don’t ignore them either.

Studies have shown that a single negative review can turn a potential client off more easily than a positive one can draw a client in. Your best response is to show concern and try to make things better. Even if you don’t get that client back, the people reading your reviews will see that you care and are willing to reach out instead of just to defend yourself.

Online reviews are a make or break part of growing your business, and should be viewed as an opportunity. The more positive feedback you can get, the more you encourage new clients to choose you above all others.