Nowadays, online reviews are everywhere. If you shop for anything online (and let’s face it, who doesn’t these days?) you’re probably accustomed by now to being greeted with “star ratings” for products you’re looking at. Once you buy a product, you’re likely to be asked to write a review or give a rating shortly after you receive it. And it’s not just for retail shopping. Do you use Google Maps for directions on your phone? If so, I bet you’ve gotten requests to review places you’ve been. There’s no question that online reviews are ubiquitous, but just how important are they to your business?
The Modern “Word of Mouth”
There was a time when it was understood in business that word of mouth was a powerful marketing tool. A really good referral from a satisfied customer could be more valuable than almost any amount of advertising. The best salespeople knew this, and would always ask for referrals from customers they were working with.
But in today’s fast paced world of digital communication, word of mouth seems quaint and perhaps even obsolete. While we may not be discussing our purchasing habits quite as much over lunch or at the office water cooler, the conversations still happen - on line. Consumers are indeed talking about their buying experiences, but they’re doing it on sites like Yelp, or on Google listings, or on your social media pages. You might even say that online reviews are today’s equivalent of word of mouth.
Consumers trust online reviews
You don’t need to take my word for it. The numbers speak for themselves. Search Engine Land has reported that 88% of consumers they surveyed state that they trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation. That alone is a startling testament to the power and importance of online reviews.
Consider that most of those online reviews can be expected to come from total strangers. Also consider this: if you’re not using online reviews as part of your marketing plan, you’re missing out on a valuable way to reach 88% of your target audience, who are looking for information that you’re not providing.
Better Understanding of Your Customers
Online reviews don’t just help you close a deal with someone who’s looking to make a purchase today. They’re also part of a longer term investment in a number of ways. Not the least of these is creating a forum for you to obtain sincere feedback from people who have used your products or services. It’s a great way to develop a deeper understanding of what your clientele is happy or disappointed with, and to make adjustments to your offerings to keep you continuously improving.
Improved Search Engine Rankings
Opening up a channel for online reviews gives you the added benefit of improving your search engine rankings. First, the simple fact that you have enabled customer reviews on your site immediately gives you increased credibility. Additionally, each new review posted becomes fresh, unique content, which means more visibility to the search engine bots that crawl web pages. And that means that you’ve got a better shot at getting high rankings. There’s yet one more benefit in this area: It’s possible to microformat your posts of reviews so that they can be indexed directly by Google. This is likely to result in the reviews turning up above other search results as “rich answers”, giving you even more search engine visibility.
It’s good customer service.
I’ve already mentioned, above, the value of giving your customers the opportunity to provide their feedback after the sale. It should be seen as an integral part of the education and evolution of your company and your offerings. But opening the door for online reviews also affords you a wonderful forum in which to respond to that feedback, and that’s a vital part of customer service. We all love to receive positive reviews, and show them off for the world to see. Don’t forget though, that negative reviews also have value. Rather than trying to hide or delete those reviews, try to see them as an opportunity to use your customer service prowess. Even a review that’s less than glowingly positive can be turned into a positive experience, and make you look good, if you respond to it promptly, and address the customer’s concerns.
Unless you’re selling products specifically targeted to baby boomers, most of your audience can be expected to be made up of millennials. One of the main features of this generational demographic is that they can hardly remember a time in which everything was not available online. Thus, they rely heavily on online reviews, and also, generally speaking, love to share their experiences. You can expect that customers will share the reviews that they post, immediately giving you more visibility. And in the social networking sphere, reviews and even ‘likes’ posted to your company’s pages by your customers means that you’ll be seen by their followers as well.
In conclusion, the answer to my initial question, “How important are online reviews”, is a resounding “extremely important”. It’s one of the tools available to you that can put your company on more of a level playing field with much larger competitors. To close, here are a few piece of advice for using online reviews: