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Online Reviews: How building your reputation online, builds your business offline

If you operate a small business, one of the single most important things you can do is take full advantage (and full control) of your online reviews. Today, we’ll give you an overview of how your online reviews impact your business, why managing your online reputation is an important building block for your digital marketing strategy, and some tips to help you get started. 

We live in a world of digital shopping assistants

Are you telling them what they need to know?

In a global survey, 74% of in-store shoppers who searched online before going to shop said they searched for information ranging from the closest store near them, locations, in-stock near them, hours, directions, wait times, contact information, and more. – Google/Ipsos Global Retail Study

For the average business owner, it’s hard to deny that dramatic shifts in technology have led to similar shifts in customer behavior. This is true regardless of industry. Today’s consumer is more informed than ever before – and a majority of that information comes directly from the digital shopping assistant in their pocket (their phone).

But before we mourn the death of retail or the loss of the personal touch. Don’t forget: the majority of sales are still happening in stores, and B2B businesses everywhere are using digital channels in surprisingly human ways.  In 2019 for example, eCommerce accounted for less than 11% of total retail sales.

The result? While foot traffic to businesses has decreased, the value of each visit has skyrocketed, because more often than not: your customer has already visited you somewhere online and they’re ready to buy.

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Online reviews link two vital elements of your business: the human element and the digital element

The truth is, 97% of consumers use digital channels to find and research local businesses before making a decision. What they see on those channels directly influences the decisions they make in numerous ways, from how they feel about you to what they know about you. Today’s consumers trust online reviews from strangers as much as the recommendation of a personal friend. Coupled with the ability to interact directly with customers, set an expectation, and encourage further action – online reviews give savvy business owners an incredible edge.

While ‘social proof’ is undoubtedly one of the best reasons to care about reviews, it’s not the only one. In 2017, a study by Search Engine Journal revealed that reviews “appear to be the most prominent factor” when it comes to displaying your business in local search results. Have more good reviews? You’ll enjoy better visibility when local consumers search for your category of business. It’s that simple.

In 2019: More than half of Google searches ended without a click.

What does that mean for a business like yours?

It means that, as consumers expect more of search engines, search engines will continue to meet those expectations. Years ago, the goal was to give you a list of relevant web pages. Today, it’s to provide an answer – and now more than ever, those answers are embedded directly in the search results.

You’ll notice this when you ask a question, like “What’s the best grass seed for Florida?” or if you search for a business and immediately find a star rating, reviews, phone number, and a link to their website.

With this in mind, it’s important to remember: when a consumer uses a review platform – whether it’s Google reviews or Yelp, it’s likely that they’re looking to make a decision. While traditional advertising is focused on enticing them, your reviews assure them the decision they’re about to make by calling or visiting is a good one. As a block in your marketing foundation: this digital evolution of ‘word of mouth’ is dangerous to ignore.

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Looking for tips to get started?

When a customer leaves a positive review…

You should always respond!  Not only does it show customers that you stand behind your product or service, but it also allows you to engage with your satisfied customers and build trust with them. 

Acknowledge them by name in the response and show them your gratitude. But don’t just stop there. Anyone can write a quick ‘thank you’. This is an opportunity to separate yourself from your competitors. 

Go above and beyond by offering them some sort of extra value, whether that is coming into your workspace and testing out a new product, or sending a complimentary water bottle or t-shirt to their home with your company’s name and logo on it. Think outside the box! Show them that you don’t just pay attention to the customers that cause headaches.

When a customer leaves a negative review…

Evaluate the feedback internally first, then respond to the review! That’s right: always respond. If the review meets the platform’s review policies and is from an actual customer, you should respond to the review directly after you’ve taken the time to chew on the feedback.

Customers have a lot of power online, and if you react emotionally the disgruntled can easily spread negativity all over your reputation. It’s easier than ever to do so.

How to respond to the review depends on the situation. If the customer was in the wrong then civilly explain to them what they did and why your business reacted the way it did. If your business was in the wrong, consider creative ways you can fix the situation, and follow through. Offer them your email address or work number so that they may contact you directly. Continue the conversation there to avoid going back and forth in public.

Not offering a solution to make it right means you didn’t properly respond to the negative review.

On most review platforms you as the business owner have the last word, so keep your response nice, short, and civil. Replying with an attack on the reviewer will only make things worse, and could cause more damage to your business and brand than the original negative review did.

An empathetic and well thought-out response to a negative review shows customers and potential customers that you care, are attentive, and empathetic.

What to do when a review is obviously fake, malicious, or written by a competitor (almost always a violation of the website’s terms of use)

Flag the review as inappropriate! For all the good internet tools like reviews can do – some people use them inappropriately. Luckily, many websites that allow customers to leave reviews also have policies in place to curb the abuse of their review system. Flag the review. If you don’t get the review taken down by flagging it then try and get in touch with the site’s support team. Whether you are able to get in touch with a support team will depend on the website, as some are easier to reach than others. If all else fails, be prepared with a civil response. 

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