WORD OF MOUTH IN THE DIGITAL AGE

The Critical Importance of Online Reviews on Google

First in a Series of (at least) Two Articles

Word of mouth marketing is as old as language itself. Og is likely to have asked Mook who he knows that makes the best hunting spears. Admittedly, there is no written record of this, but the point is people seek purchasing advice from people that have had a positive experience with the product or service provider.

 

And in this digital age, where does present-day Og go for shopping guidance? You guessed it … Google. That’s where today’s word of mouth marketing is focused in the form of online reviews by customers sharing their best and worst experiences.

Local search engine optimization (SEO) is heavily influenced by online reviews from crowd-sourced online review sites like Google Maps, TripAdvisor and Angie’s List – among others. These sources of online reviews are incredibly easy to access via mobile apps, search engines and postings featured on popular social media platforms like Facebook.

Takeaway: The more reviews you enjoy on these sites drive a greater probability of your business ranking on the first page of Google. Here are just a few research results from Bright Local that underscore the critical importance of online reviews on Google

Key Findings

  • 97% of consumers looked online for local businesses in 2017, with 12% looking for a local business online every day
  • 85% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations
  • Positive reviews make 73% of consumers trust a local business more
  • 49% of consumers need at least a four-star rating before they choose to use a business

These conclusions are huge especially for small/mid-size businesses (SMB) striving to thrive in local markets. The first line of inquiry by consumers is to seek info online and to rely on the accuracy of online reviews from strangers as strongly as from a trusted friend.

Think about it … When you look for a local business, you have probably compared companies online. If one business has one 3-star review that described a mediocre experience, and a second company has a 4.6 star review across 25 reviews – most of which talk about a great experience – which company would you call?

Here’s an example of the kind of glowing reports you’d prefer when your business shows up in a Google search.

Now What?

OK. You’re sold! Online reviews are the “holy grail” of digital marketing success. So what are you doing about it … and if your answer is little or nothing … why not?

There’s an old story of a politician who lost a local election by just one vote. When she found out that a neighbor and old family friend cast the deciding ballot that led to her defeat, she was both frustrated and dismayed. When asked why, the voter replied “It would have been different if you asked me for my support.”

So what has that got to do with the topic at hand? Consider a recent study that strongly suggests businesses are missing a major opportunity by not asking customers to leave reviews. This is even more distressing when 77 percent of consumers agreed they would leave an online review if prompted by a local business. In contrast, only 13 percent of SMBs ask customers for their online feedback.

What a shame to miss multiple golden opportunities to engage with brand advocates and help them share their experiences online. BTW, 61% of consumers say they leave online reviews in order to help others, so the willingness to participate is clear.

Reasons SMBs Don’t Ask for Online Reviews

Experience points to two major reasons why SMBs don’t pursue requests for online reviews from customers.

  • Fear of negative reviews, and
  • Lack of internal process to request, monitor and respond to reviews.

Fear of negative reviews should be viewed through the prism of “it ain’t a perfect world”. You can’t and won’t please everyone. The positive side of that is it’s OK. Your business would not be perceived as authentic if all reviews described a bed of roses. Your job is to work hard to provide the kind of customer experiences that result in good reviews outweighing the less-than-good.

Now here’s a counter-intuitive thought … Bad Reviews Make Good Reviews Look Better! A study by Harvard Business School found the majority of consumers trust reviews more when they see a mix of good and bad feedback. If the feedback is entirely positive, 95 percent believe the reviews are fake or company-screened.

When you show all reviews, you demonstrate that you have nothing to hide. As a matter of fact, they highlight the fact that all of your reviews are the “real-deal”.

There is a definite payoff for SMBs that pay attention to negative reviews … gaining insight to how to be more successful in satisfying customer expectations. Case in point … a study revealed that the single most commonly expressed word in negative reviews is “disappointment” or “disappointed”. The second most used negative word, “bad”, appeared only one-third as often.

Unfulfilled expectations spawn disappointment. So future negative reviews can be minimized by better communicating to customers what they should expect, e.g. delivery times, reliability and willingness to stand by your product or promised service.

Additionally, proactively responding to negative reviews with a goal to resolve the issue illustrates your commitment to a potential customer that you genuinely care about client satisfaction. In one study, bad reviews – appropriately handled – increased conversion by 67%.

Lack of internal process to request, monitor and respond to reviews is a very real impediment for most SMBs. It requires diligent, nimble, proactive monitoring and execution to prevail in the competitive arena of being on the first page of Google.

 

What To Do … And How To Do It!

Hopefully, you are now committed to maximizing your digital marketing results by initiating and executing a strategy to aggressively invite customer online reviews and monitor and respond to results.

Now your choices are do-it-yourself or invest in professional SEO management services. In next month’s companion article, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of each avenue.

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