Ensuring your business has a great reputation on consumer review sites such as Yelp, Google Local and TripAdvisor isn’t just desirable — it’s essential. A 2014 survey by BrightLocal found that 39% of consumers check online consumer review sites “regularly" while 49% do so “occasionally” before deciding which business to patron. More interesting, 88% of consumers say they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
In essence, online customer review sites can have a large impact on your reputation and bottom line. You should take steps to build a strong, favorable reputation through these sites. Here are some ways to do that:
Be proactive in managing your presence on review sites — and use the free tools available to you.
There are many good reasons to be proactive about managing your presence on review sites. For one, recent updates to Google’s search algorithms have given better search results placement to the local businesses’ profiles on sites like Yelp, according to Search Engine Watch. Search-engine optimization (SEO) experts say that having more online reviews bolsters a small business’s organic search rankings overall.
You can improve your search ranking even further by taking advantage of the tools that consumer review sites offer businesses. Yelp for Business Owners, for example, allows companies to post photos and videos of their business and their hours of operations, offer coupons or discounts, respond to questions and reviews left by customers and monitor traffic to their Yelp page. Google My Business offers similar features. Using these tools to build out your presence on these sites could make it easier for consumers to find your business and get key information they need.
Encourage your customers to leave online reviews.
Business owners may be nervous about inviting consumers to leave reviews. After all, not every review will likely be glowing. But chances are good that the bulk of reviews will be positive if you ask your customers — nicely — to leave them.
“For example, you may want to include a call to action on your packing slips or receipts,” writes Jayson DeMers, an SEO expert, on Forbes. “If you’re doing email marketing, include a link in your messages so that people can share their feedback easily.” Also consider giving discounts or coupons to people who check out your profile as a way to get them to return to your profile, DeMers suggests.
Give customers other outlets for critical feedback.
Customers often leave negative reviews because they don’t feel like the business gave them another outlet to vent their complaints. But giving customers a way to express their opinions before they post them online can be a good way to avoid surprising bad reviews from surfacing online and correct problems before more customers report the same issues. You might ask customers to fill out a survey. Also, make sure to take every upset customer call seriously. That customer may be one step away from posting a very negative review online — and you might be able to avoid that situation.
Respond to negative (and positive) reviews.
A business owner can generate goodwill by taking time to respond to negative reviews. The tone should be apologetic and professional. (Yelp offered some tips for how businesses can better respond to online critics.) Also consider responding to positive online reviews — as it’s always good to encourage happy customers and show you’re listening to them too.
Focus on your customer service.
Of course, the best way to ensure fabulous reviews is to offer top-notch customer service. Pay close attention to how your employees treat customers and ask your customers directly — perhaps through surveys or directly — to assess customer experience and leave feedback. Train your staff on the appropriate ways to deal with customers who are difficult or upset. Kelly Spors is a freelance writer and editor based in Minneapolis. She previously worked as a staff reporter for The Wall Street Journal, covering small business and entrepreneurship.