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Getting reviews from your customers has always been a worthwhile exercise for any business, but today it’s more important than ever.

From a purely pragmatic point of view, there are a number of benefits to acquiring customer reviews:

  1. You will be acquiring testimonials you can use in your marketing efforts
  2. You will better understand what you may be doing right and/or wrong in your business
  3. You will actually improve the visibility of your business in the Google search results

This last point might come as a bit of a shock, but the evidence is mounting that Google is paying close attention to customer reviews. In fact, reviews appear to be the most prominent ranking factor in local search, helping businesses rank well even if they have low quality link profiles.

That point alone makes it a worthwhile exercise, but that’s not what we want to talk about today.

Online Reviews are the New Social Proof

Social proof is a psychological phenomenon in which people follow the actions of others. In the context of our online experiences, social proof tells us that we are more likely to buy from a 5 star business than a 1 star business.

By now, we’ve all seen this kind of star rating while browsing the internet. There are entire websites dedicated to reviewing businesses, such as Yelp and TripAdvisor. Even the online juggernauts Google and Facebook have integrated their own star rating system for their users to share their experiences.

The power of the customer review cannot be underestimated in its influence on other potential customers. Of course every business will tell you that they’re great, but if an unbiased third party tells me that, I’d be much more inclined to believe it.

In fact, one recent study suggests that customer reviews are the most powerful purchase influence. Another study found that 88% of consumers consult reviews before making a purchase, and yet another study indicated that 63% of consumers are more likely to make a purchase from a site that has customer reviews.

One hesitation businesses have in soliciting online reviews is the fear of receiving a bad review. However, receiving the odd bad review is not necessarily a bad thing. Actively replying to bad reviews and looking to resolve a situation illustrates to your new potential customers that you care about your clients. A study actually found that bad reviews can increase conversion by 67%.

Not All Review Sites Are Created Equal

While many businesses focus on the established platforms like Yelp and TripAdvisor, smart marketers also know that Google reviews are far more important. Millions of consumers find businesses, brands, and services through “Googling”, and your Google reviews, ratings, and customer feedback that appear on Google Maps and Google search results.

A recent annual survey by SEO software company Moz attributed 10 percent of traffic value to reviews. The reviews hosted by Google became radically more relevant in the context of mobile search and local search, because the search results displayed will actually be near the searcher, making it more likely they will take an action.

As it relates to your search performance, creating your business listing or claiming and managing your business information via Google My Business is fundamental to your success.

How to Improve Your Review Signals on Google

Once you have claimed and verified your Google My Business listing, it’s time to start accumulating reviews.

Ask For a Five Star Review

It seems so simple, doesn’t it? But business owners rarely do this.

If you’ve just served a customer – either face-to-face or online – and they’ve had a great customer experience, ask them to jump online and give your business a five star review.

What you’re actually doing here is stockpiling the good reviews. People rarely buy something and then decide to give you a five star review; they paid their money and you delivered the goods or services – that’s how it should work. But if something goes wrong in that process, people don’t mind throwing the one star reviews around!

Now’s the time to get on the front foot and stockpile those happy customers. No matter how good you are, a bad review is inevitable – there’s just no pleasing everyone! But if their angry one star review is offset by dozens of five star reviews, the damage to your reputation is minimal.

Never Request Reviews in Bulk

You may have accumulated a large number of customer contact details over the years. Now is NOT the time to get in touch and ask for a five star review!

If they haven’t done any kind of business with you recently, and you start soliciting for reviews, it may taint their view of your business.

Only ever ask for a review after having recently dealt with a customer.

Respond to Online Reviews

Whatever the review, good or bad, respond to it publicly. When you ask a customer for a five star review and they deliver, jump online and thank them publicly. Don’t be a robot and use the same wording each time – take the time to provide a personalised response.

When the inevitable one star review turns up, don’t panic – respond sincerely, apologise for their negative experience and ask if they can call or email you to resolve the issue.

Not only does responding to reviews help drive engagement and create the kind of fresh content that is typically crawled by search engines; it also shows that your business values feedback, helping boost shopper confidence and foster consumer trust. This, in turn, demonstrates your ability to close the feedback loop, as well as encourages more people to share their own experiences through reviews.

As a final recommendation, your review responses should be drafted with strategic keywords in mind. Highlight the services and products you provide with wording that mimics the way people search for your business. Don’t miss out. The opportunity afforded by this platform is priceless to your marketing, reputation management, and customer acquisition strategy.