When was the last time you checked out a new neighborhood restaurant, found a healthcare provider or tried a local dry cleaner without reading online reviews first? Once upon a time, if you wanted suggestions for five-star eats or a first-rate physician, you’d ask friends or family. These days, however, the wonders of the internet and the widespread adoption of mobile technology mean you can research nearby businesses in real-time, wherever you want. All you have to do is Google it.
More and more, customers are seeking out online reviews to help them determine the legitimacy and quality of a local business before going there to spend their money. For small businesses trying to compete with bigger, more established players, building a strong online reputation can be the key not only to survival, but to growth as well.
According to BrightLocal’s 2018 Local Consumer Review Survey, 86 percent of consumers peruse online reviews for local businesses, typically taking in an average of 10 reviews before they deem an establishment trustworthy. The same report also found that 91 percent of consumers aged 18 to 34 trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
Houston chiropractor Thomas Le understands the value—and necessity—of online reputation management when running a business in the digital age. After several years working in different sports rehab and wellness clinics, the 36-year-old launched his own practice, ACTIV Rehab and Wellness, in 2017. Le has been proactively generating more online feedback since opening, and he’s already seen some encouraging results. In fact, he estimates that a quarter of new patients find him after reading the clinic’s reviews. The practice has 29 Google reviews so far—all five-star ratings.
“Once we passed 12 to 15 reviews, it got to a point where we would get phone calls from people who had been searching for chiropractors online,” says Le, who recently expanded his practice into a bigger space. “They saw our review count, went to our website, liked what they saw and were convinced enough to call us. That’s what has really set us apart and helped with our growth.”
BrightLocal’s research reveals that 57 percent of consumers won’t even consider a business with a rating lower than four stars. So, you’ll want to get your ratings up as soon as possible—and keep them there—but how? You can start by making online reputation management part of your overall marketing strategy and a routine part of your workflow, says Brent Werbeck, co-founder of Get More Reviews.
“Every time you show up in the search results, it's not just one person, it's hundreds—if not thousands—that will see that review,” Werbeck said in a recent SCORE webinar on how to generate more positive online reviews and manage negative ones. “This can either be a very scary thing or a very positive thing, if you can leverage it the right way.”
The first thing to understand is the more reviews you can get, the better. Again, consumers want to see multiple reviews before they feel they can trust a business. The same can be said of search algorithms. Fifteen percent of why your business ranks the way it does on Google’s search ranking is directly correlated to online reviews. While the quality, recency and diversity of the reviews you have across different sites does matter, the number of reviews you have—regardless of whether they are positive or negative—can also greatly impact your business’s visibility online, explains Werbeck.
In other words, the fewer reviews you have, the lower your search ranking will be, which means you’ve automatically lost an opportunity for prospective customers to find you. And that brings us to the next question: How can a business increase its online review count? It’s simple, says Werbeck. Just ask.
No matter what you do, there is always going to be 5 percent of customers who love your product or service and will leave a good review, and 5 percent of customers who had a poor experience and will try to leave a bad review. After that, Werbeck explains, “you have this middle category of 90 percent of people who generally have a good experience with you, just maybe not life-changing.” (He calls this the 90/10 rule.) These are precisely the clients you want to focus on.
The challenge with online reviews, however, is that for most people, “it’s a little too difficult to take the effort to look you up online, to find the correct listing, to log in to the right review site, to do all of that, in order to leave you the review,” he continues. “But, if you can make it easy for them, they will absolutely do it. Most people, when prompted, are happy to help you out.”
Eighty-six percent of consumers peruse online reviews for local businesses. 91 percent of consumers aged 18 to 34 trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
Aside from Yelp, which has a strict no solicitation policy, a business owner can ask for reviews on almost every other review platform, says Werbeck. There are a variety of ways in which you can ask, but he suggests laying the groundwork at the point of sale by doing a quick “sentiment check.” For example, as they’re checking out, ask your customers how their visit went and if they were happy with the service that day. If the feedback is good, go in for the close. Say something like, “That’s great to hear! Our business functions well when we get customer feedback. If we send you a note, would you mind leaving us a quick review?” This lets them know you’ll be contacting them soon. That said, make sure you’ve implemented a plan to capture customer information—an email address, mobile number, or both—so that you can actually reach out.
Of course, asking for a review also means having to break out of your comfort zone sometimes. “At first, I was a little hesitant to bother people about it,” admits Le, who researches the review counts of other nearby chiropractors as a benchmark for his own goals. “But at the end of the day, if you target the right person, they won't mind writing a review for you.”
Then again, what if the customer didn’t have a satisfactory experience? In this scenario, says Werbeck, remain calm and try not to get defensive. Instead, ask questions to root out the underlying cause of their unhappiness and learn where the process went wrong. You’ll also want to empower your staff to fix issues on the spot, without getting a manager involved. That way, you can intercept the problem right then and there, before the customer decides to make their discontent public in a review. Plus, BrightLocal reports, customers whose complaints are successfully addressed in the first interaction are twice as likely to do business there again.
Once you’ve planted the seed that a review request is coming, make sure you follow up with every single happy customer. Werbeck recommends sending both an email and a text message to maximize your chances of success. In the body, provide direct links to your business’s review listings. This eliminates a lot of the guesswork, allowing customers to get where they need to go with a single click.
Werbeck advises business owners to zero in on growing Google reviews first. Why? Industry trends all point to Google as becoming the “gold standard” for reviews, he says, which handles an estimated 167 billion searches a month. “The importance of reviews, particularly Google, has increased nearly 50 percent over the last three years,” he adds, citing a study by SEO consulting firm Moz.
So, if you haven’t already, be sure to claim your Google My Business listing and download the app. Research shows consumers are two times as likely to view verified businesses on Google as reputable than those that are not. Taking control of your listing also gives you access to a host of free, interactive features that can help augment your local search presence—things like push notification alerts for new reviews, a Q&A feature that lets customers ask (and answer) questions on your business profile page, and the ability for you to share news directly with the public.
In addition to Google, the other main site business owners should start paying more attention to is Facebook, says Werbeck. Over the years, the social network has evolved into more than just a way to connect with family and friends. People are increasingly using it to find recommendations for products and services. With more than 2 billion monthly users, you can bet a large portion of your potential customers are on the social media platform.
“Love it or hate it, as a business owner, there’s a massive opportunity there to showcase your shining reputation,” says Werbeck, who recommends choosing one or two other industry-specific review platforms to prioritize after Google and Facebook.
As the reviews start trickling in, reply to each one in a timely fashion, whether it’s positive or negative. Eighty-nine percent of consumers read business owners’ responses to reviews. Essentially, responding shows customers that you care and that you appreciate their feedback. And some business owners may not know this, reveals Werbeck, but Google notifies users when a business responds to their review.
With any luck, if you’re putting your best foot forward as a business, the good reviews will outweigh the bad. But again, if you recall the 90/10 rule, getting a negative review is bound to happen at some point. What you can do is look at these instances as an opportunity to improve your business. Critical feedback can actually help reveal problematic areas in your process you weren’t aware of before, and as a result, show you what needs to be fixed.
How you respond to negative reviews can also help salvage brand sentiment by putting your customer service on public display. Of course, you should be professional and courteous in your reply. But more importantly, let the customer know you’re committed to correcting the situation, and provide a way for them to contact you or a manager directly. “Hopefully, once you take it offline, you can resolve it and maybe even work out a way for them to change the review or take it down,” says Werbeck. “We've seen it happen before.”
Fortunately for Le, he hasn’t had to deal with any negative feedback yet, but he’s prepared for it if the day comes. He’s made it a policy to respond right away to everyone who writes a review, good or bad. And whenever a good review comes in, it just reaffirms to him that he’s on the right path.
“Chiropractic is very personal,” says Le. “If you can make that connection with the patient and get them better, and they like your technique, they like your environment, it’s a reflection of you. It makes you feel confident you’re doing the right thing.”