89% of consumers read business' responses to reviews. Source: BrightLocal Consumer Review Survey 2018

The Power of Online Reviews

Online reviews can be a powerful tool in helping you provide a better customer experience. I know of a small business owner who has a creative approach to using online reviews that helps give him fresh ideas on improving the customer experience. He focuses his energy on the competitors’ lowest reviews and works with his employees to ensure his business excels in the areas where the competition struggles. This business owner truly values his customers’ reviews, responds to each one, involves his team and differentiates his business with a strong focus on excellence in customer service.

According to a BrightLocal survey, 86 percent of consumers read reviews for local businesses and 89 percent of consumers read businesses’ responses to reviews. The fact that consumers are placing so much value in reviews means your business should as well. The same survey shows that restaurant reviews are of high importance to all age groups as shown in the first row of the table below. Common categories are color-coded to help you compare them across age groups.

All age groups indicated they rely on online reviews when considering restaurants and cafes.

The survey also reveals that 40 percent of consumers only take into account reviews written within the past 2 weeks, which highlights the need to keep fresh reviews coming in.

Not All Review Sites Are Equal

An online search for "restaurant reviews pittsburgh" shows three local sources.The standard review sites including Facebook, Yelp, Amazon and Google are all great at helping to build trust with potential customers. These sites are also very effective at helping retain customers. At the same time, the standard sites are generic and plagued with fake reviews so your business may benefit from industry-specific review sites.

A Google search for “restaurant reviews” by someone located in Pittsburgh, PA. returns the three sites shown to the right. It would be a good idea for a restaurant in Pittsburgh to try to have reviews on these sites since they show up even before Google’s own reviews.

Some points to consider when selecting review sites include:

  • Does the website have a strong brand name? Is the site commonly used or does it seem to be a newcomer in the area that may not be maintained long-term?
  • Is the review site industry-specific?
  • Does the review site allow syndication of reviews or are they closed?
  • Is your top competition reviewed on these sites and how has your competition responded to their reviews?

Each review site differs slightly in its approach and policies. Below are some tips for working with Google and Yelp reviews.

Google Reviews

The reviews submitted to Google appear in your business listing in Maps and Search and can help your business stand out on Google. Some tips for making the most of Google reviews include:

Google reviews display in Maps and Search results.

  • Claim your Google My Business listing and be sure to complete the verification process. This helps make sure Google has the correct information about your business and is required in order to respond to reviews.
  • Remind your customers to leave reviews and make sure to include a message about how quick and easy it is to leave reviews.
  • Reply to reviews to build your customers’ trust by showing them you value their feedback.
  • Don’t offer incentives in exchange for reviews so that customers are encouraged to leave only honest feedback.
  • Create a short name in your Google My Business listing. When visitors use the short URL provided by Google, they will be taken directly to your business listing, making it easier to leave reviews. The short URL for reviews will look similar to page/TellYourTale/review.

Yelp Reviews

Reviews left via the Yelp website or mobile app appear on the Yelp website as well as in search results. Yelp has a very strict policy against soliciting reviews, so be sure to read this article at https://www.yelp-support.com/article/Don-t-Ask-for-Reviews?l=en_US. Like Google, Yelp wants the reviews to be based on real experiences, not incentivized, and have customers leave reviews only if they feel motivated to do so on their own.

Yelp is expanding its mobile app to include many personalization options. The idea is to display local search results that are more closely related to users’ lifestyles and preferences. Yelp will include reviews in its search algorithm to match businesses to a Yelp app user’s lifestyle. This adds a new level of importance to high quality reviews from your customers.

Review Obstacles

Having reviews on a variety of sites will help your business rank well in search results by showing that you value customer feedback. This can be a challenge since sites such as Google and Yelp tend to filter out a lot of legitimate reviews. People who have never left a review might not be visible in search results since it’s difficult to tell if the review is legitimate or just spam. This is understandable because the search engines rely heavily on automated algorithms to return search results. The more patterns the software has available, the better results it can provide. People who have left few or zero reviews don’t provide much of a pattern to work with.

What’s Next?

In an upcoming article, we’ll provide tips that will help make getting legitimate reviews onto the sites most important to your business.

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