For today’s consumers, the first stop, whether they’re hiring a cleaner or making an appointment at a new salon is the same: online reviews. In fact, reviews have become one of the main means that customers use to make decisions. It makes sense, too—when searching for a service, reviews are often the first thing to pop up. Customers are accustomed to looking for star ratings. If ratings are too low, the consumer might dismiss the business or read the reviews to see why.
In the US, 82% of adults have read online reviews before making a purchase at some time, and 40% of them said they always do. Potential customers are drawn to online reviews because they offer a chance to see the feedback of other customers—a source that is often considered trustworthy. Customers can also see how the business responds to any negative reviews. Businesses should be aware of how these reviews can impact their business and how they can engage with them to boost their brand. (1)
Here are some key reasons why online reviews are important to businesses:
Everyone wants their business to be easy to find online. They also probably want to increase their online traffic. Reviews can help businesses of all sizes increase their visibility and generate traffic. It may not necessarily matter whether the reviews are good or bad—more reviews will likely mean greater visibility. This can lead to increased sales for the business and, potentially, new clients.
Online reviews can be written on multiple platforms; ideally, businesses should have multiple reviews on all, or at least some, of them. Some of the most popular places for online reviews are:
A business will need to engage with each of these platforms on its own terms. For example, to have Facebook reviews, the business first needs to create a page and then encourage people to leave reviews. This can be even more beneficial to a business if customers see reviews from people they’re friends with on Facebook.
Google may be one of the first places customers see reviews—especially if they search specifically for a business. If a customer sees that a company has reviews on both Google and Facebook, they may be more likely to choose their services.
Online reviews help to build trust between customers and businesses. They’re an easy way for customers to give feedback directly to the business, or to let other customers know their experiences. Additionally, when businesses respond to the feedback correctly, it can help build customer trust.
One way to build trust through reviews is by responding to negative reviews in the right way: with a professional message that tries to address any issues raised in the review. This can help restore a customer’s loyalty after a bad experience if it ever faltered. More importantly, it can show others how the business responds to any negative feedback it receives.
Reviews also allow businesses to get to know their customers, and what they want. This may provide an insight into views they weren’t aware of before. For instance, in-market testing, they may have only tested a certain target demographic that doesn’t include everyone in their actual customer base. Basing business practices on what people who actually buy a product want, and fixing any problems that have come up, can help resolve problems and improve the business’s overall performance. Without these reviews, the business may have been oblivious to any issues.
Customer engagement is crucial for any business. It’s how they know if they’re doing a good job, if customers like their products, and that they have dedicated customers in the first place. Online reviews encourage customers to get involved and to stay engaged. Strong customer engagement not only helps the business know what their customers think, but it also helps bring on other stakeholders.
A study from 2007 found that if a business wants to expand, they should guarantee strong customer engagement because then they'll be more likely to gain stakeholders. Stakeholders like to see customer engagement because it can help indicate that the company they’re investing in will make a profit. Online reviews are one of the easiest ways to engage with customers. To encourage reviews, businesses can ask customers to leave them when they make a purchase. If the purchase was made online, the business can make this process even easier by providing a link via email indicating where the customer can leave a review.
By engaging with their customers more, a business can better understand what their customers want. Understandably, businesses that understand their customers’ desires will be better positioned to create products and offer services that will sell well and be reviewed positively.
Everyone makes mistakes, and when a business does it’s important for them to resolve any issues that result. Negative reviews may seem bad for a business, and they can be if they’re severe; however, it’s been found that occasional negative reviews about minor issues can actually benefit a business.
Businesses should keep in mind, as mentioned above, that the way they respond to negative reviews can have a major impact on their public image. If they respond defensively or rudely, it will reflect poorly on them, and customers may decide not to use their services if this occurs. At the same time, it’s been shown that businesses who respond in a professional and reasonable way are more likely to create loyal customers.
If, for example, a business were to respond publicly and blame the customer when it was clear that the business was at fault, it would send a very negative message to all customers. Instead, businesses should respond as quickly as they can in a professional and polite way. A study looking into whether the impact of negative online reviews can be mitigated found that when e-commerce sellers engaged with their negative reviews in a positive way, it helped the business and the reviews didn’t have a harmful impact overall.
What does this look like in the real world? Imagine a restaurant customer leaves a bad review because they had to wait over an hour for their meal to arrive. Even if there was a legitimate reason for the delay, the business owner shouldn’t focus on making excuses. Instead, they should apologize and offer the customer something, like free drinks, on their next visit. This response shows potential customers that the business cares and wants to rectify issues that come up. The customer who had a negative experience is also more likely to return.
Online reviews are an easy way to get free advertising for any business. Whether positive or negative, reviews raise brand awareness without the business needing to pay. The business can then include positive feedback in its paid advertising.
They also may not need to spend as much on marketing campaigns, such as social media advertising, because they can promote the positive reviews. This can be done by including them on their website. They could either link to, or embed, the reviews on a relevant page, or they could contact customers who left the reviews and ask them to elaborate further.
Positive online reviews have been proven to increase sales, which makes intuitive sense. If a potential customer sees positive reviews for a business, then they’ll be more likely to trust the business. This is especially true if other businesses offering the same or similar products have negative reviews, or if their reviews are not as consistently strong.
A study looking into the relationship between online reviews and sales found that reviews definitely have an impact on sales. It also found that customers considered things like review quality and reviewer exposure. Successful products that didn’t have many reviews usually had more detailed and informative reviews. This may help other customers understand why they should or shouldn’t purchase the product.
The more reviews a business has, the more likely it is that their search rankings will increase. This is because search engine optimization (SEO) relies on a site’s authority, and one way to build authority is through backlinks. Every time there’s a new review, or a review is posted on another site, it will link back to the business’s page. If these “backlinks” are from high authority sites, such as Facebook or Trip Advisor, it may increase the authority of the business’s page even more.
Online reviews are important because most consumers check them before contacting a company or making a purchase. In fact, they’re often the first interaction that people have with a business at all. So, it makes sense that reviews would have a significant impact on factors like trust and brand loyalty.
Positive reviews can lead to more sales and help with visibility, but even negative ones can act as free advertising and potentially even increase a business’s SEO. Businesses of all sizes should be encouraging their customers to leave reviews, then spend time monitoring and responding to them. All negative ones should be replied to promptly and professionally.