by Aaron Baar, Staff Writer, November 15, 2016
This column has covered the importance of reviews in the past. They are an important tool to entice customers unfamiliar with a business to know what they’re getting into. New research is showing just how important those reviews are.
In its annual Local Consumer Review Survey, BrightLocal finds online reviews are becoming more important for customer determination. The survey of more than 1,000 consumers finds 91% of consumers are reading online reviews. Though this is down slightly from the 92% of consumers who cited reviews in the 2015 survey, the number of people who said they “regularly” read reviews is up 17% over the previous year. Most of that shift came from those who only “occasionally” read reviews last year.
“There is an increasing habit among consumers to proactively look for reviews — which is encouraging for businesses who have a positive online reputation,” writes the company in its evaluation of the data.
While just over a third of consumers go to third-party review sites (such as TripAdvisor or Yelp), nearly two thirds are relying on the reviews they find through simple Internet searches. The kinds of businesses consumers read reviews for runs the gamut, from restaurants to senior living facilities. Most consumers read between four and six reviews (from two to three different sites) before feeling comfortable patronizing a business, and 87% of people say a business has to have between three to five stars in a rating before they will utilize them.
Taken together, this all points to one thing: reviews matter. Consumers rely on them to make decisions, and businesses need them to stand out among a myriad of search results.
Which leads to the final — and perhaps most important — finding of the BrightLocal survey: Half of all customers will leave a review if they’re asked to do so. According to the survey, 70% of consumers said they’ve been asked to write a review, and only 20% said they didn’t follow through on the request. (Thirty percent of customers, meanwhile, said they had never been asked, which seems to be a pretty high number, considering how important reviews are to winning new business.)
Asking is hard (just ask any awkward teenager looking for a prom date). But there are right ways and wrong way to go about it, BrightLocal notes. Don’t ever pay for reviews or offer discounts to reviewers. (It’s unethical and perhaps illegal.) Don’t get too many reviews too quickly. (It will set off third party review sites’ algorithms.) Don’t ask or require your customers to leave a positive review. And use the feedback, both positive and negative, to improve your business. (Duh.)
“A positive reputation is one of the most powerful marketing assets a business has to convince new customers to contact them,” the company says in its write-up of the findings. “The growing quantity of online reviews and review sites covering more industries and services provides huge benefits to both consumers and the businesses that fully embrace reputation marketing.”