In today’s digital reality, consumers and producers alike have adapted a business plan that relies almost exclusively on the internet and social media. As any business owner will tell you, online presence is becoming as important, if not more important, than print marketing or even a physical location for conducting business. Many companies exist exclusively online, meaning they rely solely upon their reputation across the web and varying social media platforms in order to draw in new customers and keep their current ones.
As we make the shift from print media to digital, it is critical to establish and maintain a successful and reputable presence online. One of the most effective ways that small business owners can secure a strong digital existence is through customer-based online reviews. Cultivating, monitoring, and responding to these reviews is affordable, quick, and requires no special training or expertise.
Why Should I Care About Online Reviews?
If you own a small business, you may be tempted to neglect aspects of your website such as a review page or links to a Yelp or Facebook profile. Running a business is a complex and time-consuming task, and without a huge corporate office to dole out responsibilities to a fleet of office employees, it may seem unrealistic to make time for any tasks outside of the basic necessities required to keep your company running smoothly. However, recent research suggests that online reviews have a significant impact on your customer base.
In one survey, 90% of customers said their buying decisions were affected by online reviews. Furthermore, 65% of users ages 18-24 said their buying decisions were influenced by social networks. Our online reputation has the power to sway a potential customer either towards or away from our business; when a customer Googles your name and sees an average 2.5-star rating, chances are they will continue scrolling.
Location, Location, Location
When business owners begin to face the daunting task of garnering online reviews, they are often overwhelmed by the droves of social media and customer-based review platforms. As previously discussed, small companies don’t have the time, money, or manpower to invest hundreds of hours towards setting up online marketing tools.
The first important step in setting up your online profiles is in deciding which review sites are most important for your specific line of work. As a general rule, every business should focus primarily on establishing a presence within the “Big Three” review sites: Google, Facebook, and Yelp. Beyond these frontrunners, it is advisable that you assess and examine niche or industry-specific review sites as places to create a review page or profile. For example, attorneys may want to accumulate reviews on Avvo or lawyers.com, while medical professionals focus on Healthgrades or ZocDoc.
Each industry is different, and just because some niche sites exist doesn’t guarantee you will find one that is beneficial to your business. As always, be sure to consider all available options for your individual situation and make your decisions from there. If you choose to move forward with review platforms in addition to the Big Three, a general rule is to dedicate yourself to cultivating reviews on somewhere close to five sites. This prevents your reviews from being spread too thinly across a large number of profiles, which waters down overall ratings. The best thing for your reputation is a steady stream of positive feedback on a limited number of review sites.
Generating Good Reviews
In order to successfully accumulate and maintain a good rating, a number of interconnected factors must work in accordance with the customer reviews themselves. Here are some actions to take in order to create and preserve a good reputation on the web.
Dominate Search Engines. The first step to accumulating positive feedback online is through setting up a presence on external review sites and social media. Nearly 25% of search engine results gather user-generated content from review sites, blogs, and social media networks.
Create Designated Review Space. On your company website, be sure to set up an internal page for customer reviews. This can be a tab titled “Feedback”, “Testimonials” or even just “Customer Reviews.” This page serves two distinct purposes. First, it allows current and former clients convenient access to a review opportunity. Unlike Yelp or Facebook, this page will allow your clients to submit reviews without creating a profile or clicking through a maze of links. Secondly, these reviews are readily available to potential customers who find themselves on your site. If someone Googles “car repair in dallas,” a link to the Joe’s Body Shop website may pop up on the first page. In between browsing the shop’s hours, rates, and services, users will be able to easily find and read genuine customer reviews without having to backtrack to the results page and find you on another, third-party review site.
Establish Online Profiles. Once again, this step encourages you to focus foremost on the Big Three review sites (Yelp, Facebook, Google). Even though platforms like Google Business do not require you to set up a profile to get reviews, it is important to do so anyway so you can respond to any questionable or negative feedback your company receives. In the case of negativity, it is prudent to reply to the reviewer publicly through the site instead of through a personal email. This shows other visitors to the page that you both acknowledge the review and are proactively working to rectify the issue at hand.
Engage in Email Marketing. An email marketing campaign can be a great way to inform customers of their review opportunities, without making them put a ton of effort into leaving a review. The best time to prompt a review over email is about three to five days after the transaction. Make sure the email comes from a personal address, preferably that of the associate who interacted with the client you are emailing. Instead of directly requesting a review, simply notify your client that they have the opportunity to leave one, indicating that you would be very grateful if they wouldn’t mind taking the time. Attach a direct link to where you want them to leave the review; this saves them the hassle of trying to find the platform themselves.
Focus on the Point of Sale. The absolute best time to ask for a review, if possible, is when you are face-to-face with your customers. After spending a significant amount of time together, a mini-bond usually forms between seller and buyer. If you have facilitated a successful interaction that is ending in a sale or deal closing, be sure to mention or suggest that they leave you a good review online if they enjoyed their experience.
Avoid Incentive Programs. Be wary of offering incentives to complete reviews, especially if you are looking for reviews on third-party sites. Many of these sites are very strict about how businesses can ask for reviews, and you may lose all of your reviews or even be fined for offering incentives. Instead, feel free to offer incentives or discounts on your products or services themselves. This will ultimately lead to increased sales and increased sales lead to more people receiving the aforementioned email prompting them to review your business. Just make sure you remind users to disclose any discounts or incentives in their reviews.
There is no one-step cure-all method to creating or even improving your ratings on Google or Yelp. However, be confident that there are realistic, effective ways of taking control. Open a new tab, create your Google Business profile, and start responding to those negative reviews or reach out to a customer who’s excited to leave you a positive one.
Remember, online marketing doesn’t have to be about high-tech analytics or fancy behind-the-scenes programming. Interpersonal engagement with clients is what makes your small business special, so make those every day interactions meaningful, make sure you’ve taken the necessary preemptive steps, and be confident those five-star ratings will be headed your way in no time. If you’re interested in further information, guidance, or assistance in improving any or all aspects of your digital marketing strategies, visit Osky Blue online at https://oskyblue.com or give us a call (866) 675-9411.