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The latest word on online reviews

A recent study by online marketing experts provides a great reminder of how important it is to stay on top of online reviews of your business.

 
BrightLocal released the results of a study in which it analyzed how often consumers refer to online reviews and how much those reviews influence their choice of whether to use a particular business. Here are the highlights:

 
Customers are making decisions based on fewer reviews: The study indicates that more consumers are reading reviews as part of their prepurchase research before selecting a local business.

 
However, it also indicates that they are forming opinions faster and needing to read fewer reviews before they decide on a local service provider.

 
A full 85 percent of consumers say they read online reviews for local businesses: The study was conducted in the first quarter of 2013, so that number’s probably even higher now.

 
For comparison, 76 percent of consumers said they read online reviews in the 2012 study. It would be surprising if the number were not at least 90 percent by now.

 
This shows that consulting reviews is now a standard step for consumers before purchasing all sorts of local products and services. The increased quantity and availability of reviews makes the selection process easy for consumers.

 
Only 12 percent of consumers say they take no notice of online reviews: Whereas 73 percent of consumers say positive customer reviews make them trust a business more. That’s a jump of 15 percent
from 2012, and remember, the latest survey was conducted in 2013.

 
Almost 4 out of 5 consumers trust an online review as much as a personal recommendation from a friend: The 2013 survey found that 79 percent of consumers placed as much trust in the online review, whereas 21 percent trusted personal recommendations more.

 
So what’s this all mean? Short version: You can’t afford to ignore your online review reputation. Online review sites are becoming more trusted by a wider spectrum of consumers, especially as sites continue to improve at weeding out fake reviews (whether positive or negative).

 
Just one really bad review — especially if it’s prominently displayed on one of the more popular sites — can be devastating to your business. You need to be regularly keeping tabs on how your business is being reviewed and encouraging satisfied customers to review your company positively.

 
However, as we’ve noted before, never compensate a customer in exchange for a specifically positive review, because this can (and almost certainly will) blow up in your face. Instead, target the customers you know are very satisfied with their experience and merely ask for a review, not a positive review.

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