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A version of this article written by Fundera originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com.
Ratings and review sites, such as Yelp and others, have been in the news lately. There have been accusations that paid subscribers to these sites can delete their negative reviews and that many businesses actually pay for positive reviews. Naturally, consumers become wary and wonder if they can trust the reviews—good or bad.
So the question remains—are getting positive reviews still an integral part of the success of a small business?
The answer is yes, especially for retail stores and professional services. Why? According to BrightLocal, 88 percent of consumers trust online recommendations as much as personal recommendations.
However, not all reviews are equal. Here’s where your business should focus:
Word-of-Mouth. In many cases, these are the best types of reviews for local business owners. When someone has a good meal or experience in your establishment, they will post pictures and tell their friends on Facebook and Instagram to visit your business. The same is true if they have a negative experience—though consumers tend to post more if they’ve had a bad time. These reviews are real and they can significantly impact your bottom line.
Testimonials. These differ from word-of-mouth since they are written testimonials about your business. Who are the online influencers or industry experts that might write a review of your products or services? Consumers listen to these people and often follow their suggestions. Cultivate relationships with them, so their praise for your business will come more organically.
Search Engines. If I do a search on your business, how many review websites will appear on the first page? What kind of ranking do you have on those sites? If there is a stream of complaints about poor customer service or other negative comments, it’s going to cost you business. You can fight this by garnering new, current positive reviews, which will drive the negative ones down the page.
Of course, just by being in business, you’re going to get some negative reviews. Don’t panic. If all your reviews are positive, consumers likely won’t believe they’re all real. And smarter consumers can usually see through the negative reviews written by competitors or the ones left by customers who are never satisfied.
You can use the negative reviews too. Treat them as free market research. If you own a restaurant, for example, and customers are complaining that your fries are soggy—maybe your fries are soggy and you need to do something about them.
But bad reviews can hurt your business. Is there anything you can do to fight the negativity? Try these methods:
Ratings and reviews—the good and the bad—are part of being in business. The best way to fight the negative ones, and get more positive ones is to do your best to exceed your customers’ expectations.