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Did you know that fully 90% of customers read online reviews before visiting a company — either online or at a brick-and-mortar location? What’s even more sobering, a whopping 84% of people trust business ratings they find on the internet as much as they would a personal recommendation.

Online reviews do more than just provide information to would-be customers. They can actually make or break your business’s reputation. Let’s take a closer look.

First, You Need to Be Found

The very first step toward building your online reputation through reviews and ratings is, of course, to make sure you have a presence on review sites. Google My Business, Yelp, and Facebook are the three big ones. Depending on your business, you may also want to secure listings on Angie’s List, OpenTable, TripAdvisor, and any other industry-specific directory.

Listing your business will also help your search engine optimization efforts. It’s crucial to make certain that the information you provide — especially address, phone number, and hours of operation — is consistent across all platforms. If Yelp thinks that you open at 8 a.m., while Facebook has it as 9 a.m., both customers and Google’s spiders will get confused. This, in turn, can lead to a lower ranking, negative ratings, and losing business to your competition.

A Word on Soliciting Reviews

Of course, you want to populate your profiles with great reviews and 5-star business ratings. You may even be tempted to pay a person or company to write up some glowing praise for you — but resist that temptation.

Savvy consumers can spot such fake reviews, and this deception will damage your company’s reputation to a much greater extent than having few or no ratings. Not only is this practice immoral, but it can also get you in legal hot water, too.

That doesn’t mean you are powerless when it comes to getting reviews, however. One simple way to drive traffic to your profiles on review sites? Ask your customers!

A call-to-action can be posted in your brick-and-mortar store, included in a marketing email, added to your website, or even printed on your receipt. Keep it simple: “If you enjoyed your meal, please take a moment to review us on Yelp!” or a similar invitation will suffice.

Research shows that requests like this are remarkably effective at garnering ratings and reviews. As long as there’s no payment or trade-off for positive reviews, and customers are free to speak their mind and state their opinion, you’ll be in the clear.

The Paradoxical Power of Negative Reviews

Naturally, you want all the reviews and business ratings to be positive. Or…do you?

It turns out that a spotless online review profile can actually be detrimental to your reputation. It smacks off fake reviews, and can seem less trustworthy to potential clients. If you have nothing but 5-star reviews and gushing words of praise, customers might well view your business with skepticism. If you sound “too good to be true,” chances are you will lose business.

Sharp, smart consumers perceive reviews on a sort of bell curve, giving less weight to any comment that falls on either end of the spectrum. Reviews that occupy a middle ground and that outline both the positive and the negative are simply more believable.

Of course, you want the overall impression to be positive, but it’s just fine — preferable, really — to have some reviews that discuss the pros and the cons, the areas in which your business shines and in which you’ve dropped the ball.

Your Response Matters

What do you do when a dissatisfied customer posts an angry rant? How you handle this situation is another important factor in managing your online reputation.

As the expression goes, “haters gonna hate.” There will always be a percentage of customers whom you won’t be able to satisfy, no matter how hard you try. Nevertheless, your reaction to these haters will serve as a good indicator of your professionalism — not only to the dissatisfied customer, but also to other potential consumers.

Don’t stick your head in the sand. Respond to negative reviews calmly and kindly. Acknowledge the complaint, apologize, and offer to rectify the situation.

Most importantly, do not let yourself become embroiled in a shouting match or a he-said/she-said scenario. Addressing complaints head-on and in a respectful manner might not appease the complainant, but it will appeal to everyone else who is reading the reviews and your responses.

It’s also a good idea to respond to positive reviews. A quick note of appreciation and thanks goes a long way towards establishing your business as responsive.

In short, responding to reviews, whether they are negative or positive, is an opportunity to communicate your core values, your focus on customer service, your commitment to quality, and much more. Don’t leave that opportunity on the table.

Managing Business Ratings When You’re Busy

If you think that monitoring reviews, responding to complaints, thanking loyal customers, and addressing business ratings across multiple platforms sounds like a time-consuming occupation, well, you’re right.

Your company’s reputation is understandably important to you. In a perfect world, you would respond to both complaints and commendations personally. Yet you likely have enough hats to wear without taking on another role.

It might be time to think about outsourcing this aspect of marketing to a firm that specializes in reputation management.

Many people turn to Twitter, Facebook, and other sites to spout off about poor service, or to give a shout-out when things work well. Since social media and business ratings go hand-in-hand, consider employing a digital marketing company that can handle social media management, too.

Finally…

In today’s Internet-oriented society, you simply cannot afford to let bad business ratings get the better of you. It only takes one squeaky wheel to drive off potential customers. Conversely, receiving positive reviews can do wonders for your reputation, and for your bottom line.

Invest some time in claiming your business listings, reading what your customers have to say, and engage in a respectful dialogue with them. You will see the benefits, and sooner rather than later.

Questions about local listings, on-page SEO, link building, content writing, or other digital marketing services? Give Onpage Optimized a call today!