In the not-so-distant past, if you wanted to find out which local business was reliable, and which wasn’t, you just walked up to your neighbor by the backyard fence and asked for a recommendation.

Today, the internet has taken the place of the backyard fence and everybody’s your neighbor. Online review sites are today’s version of “word of mouth.” Every happy (or unhappy) customer has the potential to share his or her experience at your business with hundreds — or maybe thousands — of other people.

Knowing that, do you really want to list your business with Google, Yelp, and other review sites? Do you dare open your business up to potential criticism?

Absolutely. Online reviews are far too important to avoid.

Online Reviews Make Your Business Visible and Create Trust

Reviews are another way to increase your local search engine rankings through organic means. The more people discuss your brand, the better its visibility is to Google. Each review creates unique content that’s relevant to your brand — and some review sites, like Yelp, may even come up higher in search results for keywords than your actual website.

In addition, consumers are increasingly wary and distrustful of marketing techniques. They work hard for their money — so they need reassurance that they’re going to get a certain value when they hire someone or buy a product. That’s why 90% of people check out a local business online before they actually visit it. It’s also why 89% of consumers need to read multiple reviews for your business before they’re willing to trust you.

Essentially, consumers are looking for a good reason to choose one business over all the rest. In an increasingly competitive market, that’s exactly what you need to give them. Registering your business at online review sites and working hard to get those positive reviews is the best way to do it.

The Reviews You Get Could Make or Break Your Business

A heartfelt, positive review can have a huge effect on your business. Most online review sites use a five-star ratings system — and every star a business gains is associated with increased revenues of 5%-9%. In addition, consumers tend to overlook a business that has less than four stars. They simply don’t trust them. That makes positive reviews a major driving force for foot traffic, no matter what business you are in.

However, positive reviews aren’t the only ones that consumers are reading. A single, deeply-negative review can also have tremendous consequences for your business. One negative review can cost you 22% of your potential customers. Get three negative reviews, and you’ll lose 59% of those who read them.

It quickly becomes imperative to gain as many positive reviews as you can for your business. That not only gives you more good things for consumers to read, it helps mitigate the fallout from the occasional bad review.

Start a Plan to Solicit Reviews from Happy Customers

So, how do you go about getting more positive reviews?

Whatever you do, don’t hire anybody to write fake reviews. Not only is that unethical (and possibly illegal), it can backfire on your business badly. Your goal is to build trust — fake reviews from someone paid to write them will destroy that trust in a heartbeat.

Fortunately, getting good reviews is actually pretty easy. You simply ask for them. As soon as you open your business up for reviews on Google, Facebook, or Yelp, put your plan into action:

  • Ask friends and family who have used your services or bought your product to write a review. The odds are good that they’re some of your biggest fans anyway. Ask them to be specific about what they find most compelling about your business so that their reviews have that all-so-important ring of authenticity.
  • Talk to your most loyal customers. You know who they are. Let them know what you are doing and ask them for their support. Try reaching out to the people that already support you online through your Facebook page, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest pages.

People love to be asked for their opinion, and you’ll continue to build trust by making your most loyal customers feel like they’re partners in your success.

Respond to Positive and Negative Reviews Alike

One of the biggest mistakes brands make is not responding to reviews — good or bad. Consumers want a response. Far too often — about 63% of the time — they’re disappointed.

A simple, “Thanks! We look forward to seeing you again!” can often suffice for a positive review, while negative reviews take a little more finesse. Since the world is watching, keep your tone professional and address customer complaints as openly as possible. Avoid angry, emotional responses and focus on the overall impression you want to make on others who read the exchange.

When you respond to a review, you’re telling the customer who left it that you care about his or her opinion. You’re also telling everyone else that you’re responsive to all kinds of feedback.

The Takeaway

Your customers are your neighborhood — and you need to lean over the metaphorical fence between you and engage their support.

Online reviews are a fantastic opportunity for your business. Not only do they help with local search marketing, they’re a tremendous source of information and feedback. Learn to solicit that feedback — and respond to it in earnest — and you’ll gain your customers’ trust and give prospects a reason to pick your business out of the crowd!

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