Customer reviews are critical to growth for businesses of all sizes in all industries. Have a 5-star average rating? Good, but not good enough. Already collected hundreds of reviews? Awesome, but again, not good enough. It doesn’t matter how high your ratings are, or how many customer reviews you have. You always need more.
Customers want social proof that a business is credible and trustworthy, so online customer reviews are their most valued information source. Reviews come into the picture at all stages of the buyer journey, from the initial general research stage to the final toe-to-toe comparison stage. According to a Pew Research study, 62% of adults ages 18 to 49 use their phones to look up reviews while in-store, and about 50% of them always or almost always consult reviews before making a first-time purchase.
The cold hard truth
If you don’t have any reviews, you might as well not exist. Most businesses have a grasp on the basics: 1 star=bad, 5 stars=good, no reviews=bad, lots of reviews=good. While in general this is true, there’s a lot more to take into consideration when evaluating your online reputation. Customers value ratings, but ratings based on certain criteria. The same goes for search engines: review signals make up 10% of Google’s mysterious 200+ search ranking factors (Moz).
Some of these review signals are:
- Review quantity (number of reviews)
- Velocity of review (frequency that new reviews are published)
- Review diversity (range of sites you have reviews on)
- The recency of reviews (age of reviews)
Think about it. You could have hundreds of reviews and a high average star rating, but if your most recent review is from a year ago, for all a customer knows you could be a completely different business by now. How do they know that your current staff is as friendly and knowledgeable as last year’s? How can they be sure your product quality hasn’t declined over time? If customers haven’t been reviewing your business lately, who have they been reviewing instead?
Reviews answer customer questions
A good business should be asking these questions too, and new customer reviews will give them the answers, and the agility to make quick improvements before problems start trending.
It’s also important not to put all your eggs in one basket. In this case, that means focusing only on one review site and disregarding the rest. Different customers prefer different sites, and some take multiple sites into consideration. Consider this: one hotel is a rockstar on Google but totally absent everywhere else, while another hotel at a similar price and location has great reviews on Google, TripAdvisor, and Hotels.com. Which would a traveler be more likely to choose?
While desperate times might tempt you to try manipulating the system with fake reviews, resist. For reviews to make an impact, they need to be authentic–that means not written by friends, relatives or employees, and not written in exchange for some kind of incentive. Both search engines and customers can see right through fake reviews, and they won’t be impressed. Instead of wasting time and money on fabricating feedback, spend it on delivering great experiences that customers want to write about.
Asking for reviews
If constantly generating new reviews was easy, you wouldn’t be reading this article. Even the happiest customers often don’t think to search for your business after a transaction and leave a review. However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t willing to provide feedback when asked. The trick to asking customers for reviews is keeping the request timely and brief. Of course, asking each customer for a review at the right moment is tedious and time-consuming. Fortunately, there are several tools out there that automate the process to be manageable and efficient.
So let’s say you implement an automated software for review generation. What’s next? Blast all your customers with requests right away? Not so fast. While receiving a lot of reviews all at once might sound satisfying, it’s actually not a good idea–they appear fake even if they’re not. That’s why tools like BirdEye let you use drip campaigns to generate a steady flow of reviews, evenly distributed over time and on a variety of sites you care about.
You also need to make sure you have a strategy to monitor and respond to reviews in real-time. This helps you take action to keep customers happy and ensure the majority of your reviews stay positive. For more on this, check out our ebook on responding to negative reviews.
The takeaway: a solid online reputation management strategy is continuous. Even the companies with the best reputations have to work hard to maintain them, especially as more and more businesses start kicking reputation management into full gear. Whatever shape your business reputation is in, collecting more customer reviews will help.