Why Online Reviews Are So Important

The importance of getting reviews online

Living in Manhattan, you’re constantly bombarded with restaurant options. You could probably eat at a different place every day and never repeat one. With all these choices, deciding where to grab some grub can be daunting. Most New Yorkers turn to review sites like Yelp or Foursquare to help them make a decision. We check reviews because we want the biggest bang for our buck. We don’t want to waste time trying options we’ll ultimately dislike.  We want to see where other people are eating and what they think of it before we make a choice. In the digital age, that information is constantly available, and it’s important because it demonstrates engagement.

We’d rather go to a restaurant that has a 4 star review and 500+ written comments than one with a 5 star review with 2 comments. We trust the herd, we want evidence that others have interacted with a business. When we see 500+ comments, we think about how 500 people were sufficiently impressed with this place to take a minute to write a review. About three-quarters of individuals trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. More than half say that positive online reviews make them more likely to frequent a local business.

Businesses Can Ask for Reviews, Solicitation is Another

Online reviews are a part of life in the digital age. They allow you to see what you’re doing right and wrong in real time; never before have we had such insight into the minds of customers. So, as a small business, how can you get yourself on the online review map?

The best way to build a reputation online is to ask for reviews from your customers, but be careful, Google has cracked down on over-aggressive review solicitation. Solicitation violates Google guidelines, asking for reviews is OK. Generally speaking, passive requests, such as a form letter that gets distributed to clients giving them the option of leaving a review, or providing a link on your website to your Google Plus page, are permissible.

Make the area of your website where clients can post reviews easily accessible. Include a prominent button asking for reviews on your email list and put a physical sign in your store. Let your customers know that their experience is important to you and they’ll be more than happy to talk about it.

Your brand used to be made up of advertising dollars and local word of mouth. The advent of the Internet effectively strapped a rocket to the base of word of mouth and shot it into the stratosphere.

Don’t Create Spam Reviews!

If you’re in Pittsburgh, and a bunch of your reviews come from a random guy in Texas, with 5 or 6 Google Plus followers, who just happened to mention some of the keywords you’re trying to rank for in the review, you may not think people notice, but they do. Spam reviews are obvious to users and search engines pick up on patterns. To quote Google’s policy for removing reviews:

Don’t use reviews for advertising or post the same or similar reviews across multiple places, don’t post fake reviews intended to boost or lower ratings, and don’t include links to other websites. For certain types of businesses that are prone to spam, we also reserve the right to prevent reviews from publicly appearing across Google.

The idea is to make customers so happy that they can’t wait to talk about you and your business, not to try to trick a search engine. Google has cracked down on bad reviews in the past and will continue to do so in the future.

Ethical Considerations

In addition to marketing considerations, some businesses, such as law firms, have to be mindful of ethical considerations that can arise with online reviews. For lawyers practicing in Florida, we put together this guide to ethically accumulating reviews. For lawyers practicing in other states, we recommend speaking with your state bar before asking for reviews.

Image by Flickr user Spazzø

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