Online Reviews Have the Power to Move the Market

Operating any business can be an extremely rewarding experience. There are times, however, when even a company’s best efforts can fall short – and in today’s world of social media, comments that once were regarded as “word of mouth” shared among a few acquaintances can now “go viral” on social media platforms in a matter of hours.

“Their reputation is earned. They are exactly what we had read about…”

Those two small sentences – taken from an actual customer review of a repair garage found online – should make even the most experienced garage owner sit up and take notice. Today we live in a connected world where consumers take their cues from one another, reputations are made and destroyed online and competition could not be more fierce. The bottom line? Online reviews have great potential to impact your bottom line.

How prevalent is the internet among today’s shoppers?

“They’re doing their research online and then they’re coming into the garage and buying the repairs needed.”

And they aren’t just limiting that research to the vehicle. They also are researching the companies themselves and forming opinions from what they read. According to the 2016 BrightLocal Local Consumer Review Survey, 68% of consumer form an opinion by reading just one to six reviews. (The good news is that 73% of consumers think that reviews older than three months are less relevant.) When a business receives a positive or negative review, there is a tremendous opportunity to build trust and enhance reputation in demonstrating respect for a customer’s experience and point of view.

A Plethora of Review Sites

How do consumers find reviews? It turns out that a full 63% use a search engine such as Google or Bing. Search results can vary from your company website to any number of independent review sites. With a simple click, customers and prospects alike can read opinions about products and services with an eye toward making definitive purchasing decisions.

From the well-known Yelp and the Better Business Bureau to various rating and rip-off sites to social media platforms and reputation-management companies, it is highly likely that a repair garage business is being reviewed somewhere other than its website.

A little savvy sleuthing will help to identify the precise sites on which a business is appearing. Interested observers – and that should include someone on staff at every repair garage can make quick work of this task by Googling their business name plus the word reviews in quotes – “(Your Company’s Name) Reviews” – for specific phrase results. This trick delivers comprehensive search results and insight to where a business is being reviewed.

Nor surprisingly, word-of-mouth recommendations continue to be powerful, but the survey revealed that 84% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations – providing they feel the reviews are authentic. Nearly 95% of consumers believe reviews are either fake or company-screened when a site only presents positive reviews- and handle them appropriately. A bad review handled promptly, courteously and empathetically shows the public that while sometimes mistakes are made, the business wants to exceed customer expectations.

Reviews that trend (continue to gain readers) prompt a full 54% of people to visit a business’ website – and once there, viewer confidence can be reinforced further when the business places video testimonials, news about industry awards or any other influential recognition on its home page.

While a strong, upbeat internet presence doesn’t necessarily cancel out negative reviews it does provide a much-needed counterbalance. If a company isn’t getting tis message out on the World Wide Web, potential customers are only getting half the story.

If company executive believe reviews are market movers – and they should – can commit an employee’s time and energy to a robust review/reply program, think strategically and ask customers to review their experience online with the business. While each individual has a preference of review platforms, it’s preferable to use research information to direct review requests to one specific platform.

Powerhouse review platforms, like the three discussed below, give a heavy assist with search ranking. Third-party software/platforms can also have a positive effect on search functions.

  • Yelp has a very rigid algorithm and discourages review requests. It’s believed that too many positive reviews will flag a business and not all will appear in the review search results.
  • Google encourages a business to solicit reviews. However, the reviewer must have a Google account and may no review a business anonymously. If a company representative has verified the business with Google (highly recommended), that person may post replies and flag reviews the company feels are fake or inappropriate.
  • Facebook’s review popularity comes from its users’ frequency on the platform. Facebook also allows businesses to post replies and request suspected fake or inappropriate reviews be removed.

Google and Facebook, as well as many third-party review/reputation companies, also allow companies to send or share a link directing the consumer to a review page – and the company’s designated social media liaison can then circle back and post the best reviews on its website as testimonials.

The BrightLocal survey, by the way, revealed another interesting tidbit regarding a review factor that 58% of those surveyed paid the most attention to: star ratings. Sentiment of reviews is the second most important factor at 47%.

While a company can spend large amounts of money paying an online expert elevate its rankings on pages when a more generic search is made through SEO (search engine optimization), developing a solid review strategy can also have a positive effect on a company’s search engine ranking. On the other hand, ignoring reviews – especially poor reviews – can be detrimental to the business. It’s estimated that review “signals” account for nearly 10% of Google’s (highly secretive) total ranking factors. Higher ranking equals higher placement in search results.

Why do reviews count for so much? Relevant, valuable, user-generated content is likely to spread. Consumers engage with reviews, they comment on, share and rate them. In doing so, they contribute to long-tail keywords used in searches. Each of these actions is a factor in ranking signals.

A business can aid the SEO process by working with its webmaster to utilize rich snippets. This behind-the-scenes, structured data markup delivers pertinent information to search engines. Anyone who’s ever logged onto a search engine has seen this – the additional descriptive text under a search result. These rich snippets serve as a preview of Google search results, adding extra information to a search listing including brief information about the site’s content and even, in some instances, star ratings.

It’s not just about a one-time sales or service experience. Reviews have the power to amplify a company’s online presence regardless of the content of the review, good or bad, and should play a respected role I nits digital marketing strategy.

Of course, even when embracing the opportunities presented by negative reviews, keep in mind that a disproportionate number of bad reviews will hurt a business. In such situations, it may be wise to consult an online reputation management professional. Online reputation management is simply managing what is seen by consumers when searching a specific business name. The results on page one are of utmost importance. A company cannot remove negative comment – so the objective is to have ample positive reviews and other public relations appear first, pushing the negative reviews to the second or later pages.

That said, if an online reputation management company offers to “scrub” negative reviews, run far and run fast. That’s just not how things are done in the digital world. Instead, successful online reputation management includes a number of actions including review platform and social media management – both encouraging reviews and responding to reviewer comments, positive and negative – and smart SEO.

Reviews happen. Even if company managers are not aware of and reading their business’ reviews, chances are good that it is being reviewed somewhere by somebody. In today’s increasingly connected world, businesses need to work to stay up-to-date on what the public is saying about it – and be ready and able to respond to the good, the bad and the ugly. The need to interact and reply professional is critical, whether the review is a positive comment or an unreasonable rant.

“Homer Simpson once said, ‘The Internet? Is that thing still around?’ Yea it is – it’s not going away. And that’s a good thing. It is, provided customer-based businesses understand how to manage it.

- Evanne Schmarder


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