How to encourage online reviews (and why they are important)

Reading Time: 8 minutes

 

One of my clients is currently working towards increasing the number of reviews about their services online, and it made me realise that despite the large amount of time I spend online, and the amount of products and services I consume, I personally don’t leave many reviews…

In an attempt to rectify this, and encourage some “good internet karma” I spent some time over the weekend providing online reviews for some recent items, including a course I attended and a podcast I regularly listen to (and enjoy).

As mentioned, I have a client who is focused on this area at the moment, but I know many other businesses who would benefit from knowing more about how to get online reviews.

But first:

What types of businesses benefit from online reviews?

Not every business needs to seek online reviews. While they do offer a range of business marketing benefits, businesses who focus on seeking online reviews require a constant (or growing) high volume of sales to help keep their pipeline full.

They could be either a product or service based business, looking to grow, or maintain their customer base.

Online reviews tend to be very common with ecommerce product-based businesses, but are also prevalent in service-based businesses as well, especially those who generally find new customers through word-of-mouth.

Why are online reviews important?

Online reviews provide social proof and brand credibility

Word-of-mouth remains one of the highest sales sources, and this is literally someone seeking (or receiving) recommendations from another person.

Another key part of the word-of-mouth process, is that once a person has received a recommendation, they often search for them online, and read other reviews (if they exist) or evaluate them against other providers who do have reviews.

According to a recent survey by BrightLocal:

  • 84% of people trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation 
  • 54% of people will visit the website after reading positive reviews 
  • 73% of consumers think that reviews older than 3 months are no longer relevant 
  • 74% of consumers say that positive reviews make them trust a local business more 

However, despite our reliance on online reviews, not everyone is an active online reviewer!

I have spoken with many businesses who assume that their clients will all leave them glowing reviews online, but the reality is, while we like to read them, we don’t always like to write them…

In fact, 50 percent of consumers have been asked to leave a review about a business and actually left a review.

Source: BrightLocal

And according to Sensis’s 2017 Social Media Report (Australia):

  • 22% of social media users have provided online ratings.
  • Among those who do provide ratings, the average number they posted this year increased from 9 to 16. 

Online reviews provide SEO and ranking benefits

Despite word-of-mouth marketing, online search remains a huge factor in research and purchase decisions, and online reviews have a role to play here as well.

Reviews on sites such as Google My Business (used for Google Maps) provide more “weight” to listings, but it’s a weight that makes them rise higher in Google’s search results.

Google bases local ranking on 3 main factors:

  • Relevance; how well matched the listing is with the search query
  • Distance; how close the business is to the searcher
  • Prominence; how well known a business is

And reviews are factor in the prominence rating:

Google review count and score are factored into local search ranking: more reviews and positive ratings will probably improve a business’s local ranking.

Source: Google

This “weighting” also occurs on other sites, such as Facebook and Yelp when searching for Pages and Businesses.

Integration with Google Adwords

Google My Business reviews can also be integrated with Google Adwords campaigns, providing more social proof for searchers, and helping your ad to stand out in search results.

Positive reviews versus negative reviews

We can’t really have a discussion about online reviews without discussing positive and negative reviews.

A risk of any type of feedback or review, is that it might not be what you want to hear. Obviously we would all prefer to just have positive reviews, but unfortunately this isn’t always the case.

Your business might be having a bad day and provide a less than ideal experience for a client (who then shares it online).

There may be an unexpected issue with your product or service that provides a bad customer experience.

And sometimes there are just some people who aren’t a good fit for your business, or who can’t be pleased.

These situations and more can result in negative online reviews, and people are often more likely to share a negative experience than a positive experience.

It’s not all bad though. We can actually learn a lot from negative reviews!

The benefits of negative reviews

A negative review can provide vital feedback about your business, and allows you to communicate with the person (as most quality review sites and tools allow a response).

It’s far better to have an opportunity to respond and rectify the situation publicly rather than not know about the experience and have the person potentially continuing to tell people in person.

Diplomatic online responses to negative reviews also show others that the business is monitoring their reviews and care about their clients’ experiences and feedback.

Interestingly, having no negative reviews (or JUST perfect reviews) can seem a little too good to be true, and also make people distrusting of a business.

Most people know that it is difficult to be perfect ALL the time, and the odd negative review can add some reality to your online presence.

I’m sure we’ve also all seen businesses with nothing but 5 star reviews (and often no written review) that just look like the owner’s friends and family have given it to them, rather than genuine clients.

Despite this, we would prefer to focus on encouraging positive reviews, which is what we are going to continue focusing on in this post.

Feedback/surveys versus reviews

Before we go too much further, I need to stress that online reviews are different to seeking direct feedback from a client, though they can be related.

You may send clients a direct survey after a sale, or completion of a project. In these cases, this information may be provided anonymously, and may be a grittier look at the quality of the product or service required.

With this type of feedback businesses should be looking for opportunities to improve their service, or seek confirmation that it is appropriate.

Feedback surveys can also work hand in hand with online reviews, where the first step is to sent clients’ the survey, and if a positive response is received, you can then follow up with a request for an online review.

Aim to get reviews online first, then repurpose them elsewhere

Our focus here is also about getting online reviews first, to help with social proof, brand credibility, search engine ranking etc. Once you have these online reviews, you can then make good use of them elsewhere (see below).

Do not buy reviews (or have family/friends provide fake ones)

Buying reviews is against Google’s guidelines.

Yelp actually advises businesses to not ask for reviews, and advises that it may be illlegal. Yelp has a Consumer Alerts program to let people know about businesses that engage in this sort of activity.

And beyond these guidelines, it is deceitful and provides an inaccurate, inauthentic representation of your business online.

Remember that good internet karma I mentioned? This is a surefire way to lose it.

How to encourage positive online reviews

Focus on 1-3 relevant review sites

Your digital marketing strategy should indicate which review sites are most relevant to you, and these are the ones you should focus on.

It is far better to try and condense your reviews in 1-3 places that are likely to reach and convert most clients, than dilute them across a large quantity of random review sites.

Common review sites include:

  • Facebook Pages (with Reviews enabled)
  • Google My Business (used for businesses with physical locations in Google Maps)
  • Local search directories such as Yelp, True Local, Yellow Pages etc
  • Niche or industry review sites such as TripAdvisor, Product Review etc
  • LinkedIn Recommendations (for personal reviews)

Know which sites you are going to focus on, and claim (or set up) and verify your business listing, completing as much information as possible. As these listings also contribute to your online presence and search rankings.

Make asking for reviews part of your process, and do it soon after service

It sounds simple, but seeking reviews should be part of your sales process, not an afterthought. It’s far easier to get a valuable review from someone soon after they have done business with you, than emailing all of your customers once a year and asking them to.

Ideally it should be done as soon after the service is completed.

For online sales, this can be automated, in a follow up email, or even by using Google Customer Reviews.

For more manual transactions, it may occur after you have completed your service, or after sending the final invoice.

Give people a reason why

The presenters of the podcast that I reviewed on the weekend end every show with “If you enjoyed this podcast, please leave us a review on iTunes, Stitcher or Soundcloud to help others find us”.

It is simple, but effective.

Don’t just ask people to review you, but give them a reason why. It may be as simple as “to help others find us” or “to help us improve our service” or “to share your experience with others”.

It’s simply an emotional incentive to encourage the review.

Ask happy customers

If you want to get positive reviews, you’re more likely to receive them from happy customers. So rather than asking everyone for an online review, you may limit your requests to people who have enjoyed your product or service.

You may know these people personally through your dealings, or encourage your team to be discerning about whom they ask.

Utilising a feedback survey first can also assist with determining who to follow up with for an online review.

Ask in person

Where possible, do ask people in person. It may not mean they will definitely leave a review, but they are more likely to be personally invested, or feel emotionally compelled.

Failing that…

Ask in a simple email

Send a simple, personal email who’s only purpose is to ask for a review.

Don’t hide it at the bottom of an email or invoice, or include any other distractions.

Just ask for the review, and include the link/s to the relevant review sites to make it super easy for them to click on and submit the review immediately.

You may even like to advise how long it may take them.

In lieu of a personal email, you can also set up an automated email that sends at the appropriate point in the process. Even if sent from an email marketing system, this email should be simple, direct, and free from other distractions. No social media account links etc, only links to the review sites.

Provide context

I have found when asking for testimonials, that it helps to provide people with an idea of what you would like them to focus on.

As we know, only a small proportion of people leave online reviews, and I am confident that a factor for those who don’t is that they don’t know what to say.

While still keeping your request simple, you can also include some suggestions of what their review could focus on, e.g. customer service, speed of service, quality etc.

Other methods of encouraging online reviews

In addition to good ol’ fashioned face-to-face and email, you can also use the following methods to attract reviews:

  • Online tools and widgets; such as Google Customer Reviews, or widgets such as TripAdvisor’s that embed reviews into your site, and can request more
  • Email signature; if you are constantly seeking reviews, it may be worth including a simple call to action in your email signature
  • Newsletter; again, for regular reviews, it may be worth including in your newsletter
  • Website; depending on your product or service, it may be suitable to include a button, widget or other call to action on your site to encourage reviews

Provide incentives

Please note, this is very different to paying for reviews. The podcast I mentioned reads a review out at the end of each show (a nice lead in to their request for reviews), mentioning the reviewee and also provides a link to their website in their show notes. This is a simple way of acknowledging and rewarding reviews that may suit some businesses.

Other businesses may choose to provide a random prize to a reviewer each month or quarter. The emphasis here should be on “random” though, not “best”. As you don’t want to be seen to be manipulating reviews.

Respond to and thank all reviewers

Yes it takes time, but if you’re seeking online reviews, you’re going to be reading them anyway, so take a little extra time to simply “Like” it (if on Facebook) or comment/respond if appropriate.

As mentioned above, negative reviews should always be responded to, even to acknowledge the issue and apologise if required.

Give to get

While not a fool proof way to get reviews, I honestly believe that if we want people to review our businesses, we need to make the effort and review those whom we have done business with.

That internet karma goes around!

How to make the most of your reviews

And finally, while online reviews are great, it doesn’t have to stop there. You can make the most of your reviews by repurposing them in other places. For example:

  • Create a Testimonials page, featuring your best, or most expressive/detailed reviews
  • Use relevant reviews in your sales proposals
  • Use in other marketing, e.g. sharing individual reviews via your social media channels
  • Depending on the review, it may be pertinent to advise or ask the reviewer first if possible.

Now it’s over to you. Do you have any other surefire ways to encourage positive reviews from clients? Let me know in the comments!

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