Yelp, Google, and TripAdvisor are just a handful of some of the most powerful tools on the internet. The sites, and many others like them, offer the public an opportunity to voice their opinions on everything from local restaurants to vacation destinations here and abroad. And if you own a small business, those opinions may just matter more than anything.
Why the rise in review sites?
Review sites have become one of the most useful tools in e-commerce today. When you look at the numbers, it is easy to understand why. Nearly 300 million users in the United States take to the Internet every day. This is twice the number than in 2001. And around seven in 10 people now own smartphones, which are quickly becoming the go-to resource for information.
Along with the widespread availability of connected technology came a huge boom in the number of people turning to the Internet for information about products or services. By some estimates, 97 percent of shoppers don’t make a purchase without looking up info online first. Some of these simply use their devices to find a local business, while the majority dive straight into reviews before visiting a retail establishment or web-based store.
“Near Me” is the new standard.
We have become so accustomed to using our phones and tablets to find local businesses that our default search method is to add the geo-tag stipulation “near me.” (Restaurants near me, shoe stores near me, etc.) When a business pops up in these results, they are shadowed almost immediately by reviews, which customers use to determine whether or not they want to shop at that location.
All of this is good news for small businesses because positive – and negative – reviews have a heavy influence on customer behavior. Almost all shoppers skip over businesses with less than three stars if a better alternative is available.
How small businesses can use reviews to their advantage.
Because reviews so heavily influence shopping habits, small business owners can use this to their advantage. Here are a few tips on how to do just that:
- Ask for reviews. Most review sites explicitly forbid paying for reviews or trading incentives for them, but you can ask your customers to post about their experience with you and your business. Nearly 70 percent of consumers report that they are willing to leave an honest review if they are asked.
- Interact with your customers. When someone leaves a review, respond to them publicly on the platform where they posted. If it is positive, thank them for their time. If it is less-than-flattering, apologize, and then ask them to reach out to you so that you can make it right.
- Read reviews with an open mind. Perhaps most importantly, you can use reviews to make changes to how you operate. For example, if you get regular comments about the speed of service, take this as constructive criticism. When used as a springboard for positive change, even bad reviews can catapult you toward success.
- Take ownership of your sites. Most businesses have an online presence, whether they like it or not. If you have yet to claim all of your auto-generated listings on search engines and review sites, you are missing an opportunity. Do a search for your company name, and you may be surprised to find what’s out there that you can use to maintain your online presence.
If you own a business, don’t be afraid to embrace what the public has to say. Long gone are the days when people asked their neighbors for recommendations. Today, the entire Internet is the community where people turn when they are ready to make a purchase. Online reviews are a valuable marketing tool, and they may be all you need to achieve the success you deserve.
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