The benefits of hanging out your washing in public: Three lesser known facts about customer reviews

By Tim Hinchliffe March 21, 2017

Many SMB owners gave a knowing smile when the South Park episode “You’re not Yelping” aired. In the episode local businesses are terrorized when over-zealous citizens all become critics on review site Yelp, and try to use it to their advantage. While the episode portrayed digital reviews in a classic tongue in cheek fashion, it does raise some interesting points about just how important client reviews are for modern businesses.

Back in the pre-internet era, client reviews were left on pieces of paper in suggestion boxes, or told directly to managers, allowing businesses to craftily censor the information they then re-shared in the public sphere. However, now in the transparent modern age of digital media, businesses have lost the power to ‘sweep things under the rug’, and run the constant risk of having their dirty washing aired in public if customers are dissatisfied with any aspect of their service.

But in a more positive light, if your business is doing things right, for every bad review, there should be multiple good ones. Recent studies show more than 70% of consumers say positive reviews make them trust a business more, and more than 30% said they are likely to spend more at a business with excellent reviews.

Here are three things that businesses might not know about public reviews, which they can use to their advantage:

Online reviews are not optional, they are essential

Think back to important decisions you have made in your life. Buying your first car, choosing the college you were going to apply to, or choosing a wedding venue. The chances are that you didn’t jump straight into these decisions without first running them past someone else first. You looked to contacts who you trust for personal recommendations and referrals, to save yourself from ill advised and costly hastily made decisions.

Considering social media, and chat platforms like Whatsapp now make it easier than ever to communicate, many businesses assume that they can rest on their laurels, relying on their engaged community of customers to pass on the good news to friends and family.

However, it is more important than ever to make sure reviews are available online, as potential customers are likely to bypass personal contacts, instead placing their trust in the online community. According to BrightLocal, nearly 90% percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation, even though they are posted by complete strangers.

In the modern digital age the quantity and quality of the reviews you receive can have a massive and direct impact on your company’s bottom line. According to an infographic from invesp 90% of consumers interviewed said they read at least one online review before trusting a business, and 86% said they would hesitate to use a business which has negative reviews. And even if you receive some low reviews, it’s always better to share, as recent studies show even 1 star reviews have a 107% better conversion rate than no-reviews products.

Reviews are important for SEO and critical for network-effect businesses

Considering that the internet – and thus search engines – are now the main discovery tool for choosing businesses, SEO is becoming increasingly important for all companies regardless of whether they trade online or not.

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Enabling customer reviews on your site can have a positive effect on your company’s organic search rankings. According to MOZ’s Local Search Ranking Factors Survey, online reviews account for 10% of how Google and other search engines decide to rank search results. With each new review written, the amount of unique content on your site increases. For Google’s algorithms this means you’ll be seen as having higher authority, more relevance, and, as such, a higher chance of getting those pages ranked higher on search engines.

If that weren’t enough, there’s actually a way to microformat the reviews on your site so Google can index them directly as “rich answers” for user queries. Ostensibly, this would allow a review of your product to be featured above the fold of normal search results for specific queries, dramatically amplifying your search visibility.

This is especially important for network effect businesses, which grow in strength as they bring on more users – think AliBaba, Ebay, Lyft and Groupon. Reviews accelerate growth, and growth compounds over time, so if discrepancies in user bases grow too much over time this can effectively make less popular sites irrelevant.

The onus is on the owner to ask for the review

If the South Park episode is anything to go by, it would appear that consumers are reviewing for their own personal enjoyment. However, a deeper look into the psyche of the consumer shows that 70% review because they want a response from your business.

A common mistake is expecting clients to leave reviews without any prompting. But it is up to businesses to encourage users to share their opinions.

Some tactics include creating handouts which provide clear instructions on how to leave reviews on specific sites. This is especially useful for older demographics who are less tech savvy. Other suggestions include linking to review sites on your website and social media pages, training staff to encourage on the spot reviews, and requesting a ‘Find us on Yelp’ sticker for your business.

Another option is to create customer incentives to increase reviews. Some local search directories allow you to share coupons and discounts on their sites, and Facebook includes a function which allows you to share special offers for reviewers and fans. You could also advertise special deals or discounts in store for people who show a review they have left – regardless of whether it is flattering or not.

For businesses, reviews are a means of ironing out the bumps and improving service. So instead of living in fear of a malicious or scathing review, encourage your customers to give as much feedback as possible, to their benefit and your own.

Charlie Wright is the co-founder of Eventerprise, a global platform for the events industry that connects event suppliers with event hosts. He founded Harlequin, the UAE’s leading provider of corporate event services, and is now based in Cape Town, South Africa.