The power of online reviews offers small businesses both huge advantages and risks. Online reviews greatly reduce the problem of discovery. Anyone with Google Maps and a Yelp account can find your local business, even if it is brand-new. But at the same time, a single one-star review could drive away thousands of dollars of revenue. In this guide, we’ll take you through the importance of online reviews, their major platforms, how to get more reviews, and how to handle the bad ones. In no time at all, you’ll have a sterling online reputation and a reliable system to keep those good reviews coming in. Why Online Reviews are Important Eighty-two percent of consumers use online reviews when searching for a local business, and a majority of users are more likely to buy from a site if it has product reviews, and even more consumers trust those reviews as much as a personal recommendation. Reviews are also critical to showing up in search results for local searches. If you are pursuing a local SEO strategy, a steady stream of new reviews across multiple platforms will play a critical role in how well you show up in Google. In addition, Google Maps offers “Ratings” as a filter when selecting a local business. Major Online Review Platforms As a small business owner, you have limited time, energy, and resources. Where should you focus your efforts when it comes to soliciting and addressing online reviews? Google Google is a juggernaut—not just in online reviews, but in all things search-related and, increasingly, all parts of our lives. Google reviews are the first reviews that a user will see when they google your business or use Google Maps to search for nearby businesses in your industry. Anyone can leave a review from Google webpages, making it much easier to solicit them from customers. Yelp Yelp is the second-most visited review site, with 178 million average monthly visitors across different platforms. Yelp has a website and an app that reviewers can use to write and read reviews about various businesses. Yelp advertises that 83% of their users buy or hire from a business they found on their site. TripAdvisor Behind Google and Yelp, TripAdvisor is the third-most visited customer review site on the web—and for travel, hospitality, and tourism-related businesses, it might be the most important. Founded in 2000 as a travel guide aggregator, TripAdvisor became one of the first giants of the “reputation economy,” with a die-hard army of reviewers. It is an essential first stop for anyone planning a trip. TripAdvisor has a feature that lets businesses contest any review, but that is not a guarantee that inaccurate or inappropriate reviews will be removed. Facebook Facebook is not primarily a business review site, but your business page there could rank high in Google searches—and the size and popularity of Facebook means users are more likely to see reviews from someone they actually know and trust compared to other platforms. Facebook is also an important place to respond to user reviews due to its accessibility and high visibility. Industry-Specific Review Sites Depending on your industry, there might be specific review sites that are important for your business. Angie’s List is popular for contractors, while ZocDoc is becoming a necessity for medical professionals. How to Get More Online Reviews For Your Business You can’t get positive ratings without any ratings at all. A good quantity of reviews is itself a recommendation: whether they are positive or not, having numerous reviews tells potential customers that your business is legitimate and has an established presence. Small business owners know how difficult it is to get clients to write reviews, but here are some practices that can increase your numbers. Claim Your Profiles on Review Platforms Customers can’t review you if there is nowhere to do the reviewing. Claim your business pages on Yelp, Google, Facebook, TripAdvisor, and any other relevant review sites. Since customers can create pages on many of these sites, you might find that you already have positive reviews waiting to be claimed (or negative ones waiting to be addressed). Ask Your Customers It’s just like your mom and dad said: you’ll never know if you don’t ask! Some highly motivated customers will review your company without being asked, but relying solely on them will leave lots of potential reviews on the table. Asking for reviews is itself a tricky practice. Ask Customers at the Right Time Strike while the iron is hot. Ask for a review right after your customers have experienced your product or service and the experience is fresh in their minds. This time period varies a bit depending on your business—for example, restaurant employees might ask customers as they are leaving the restaurant or the morning after a delicious delivery. But product vendors of anything from apparel to appliances should wait a few days so customers can try out the product first. Ask Customers Already Signaling Approval The easiest way to get a positive review? Ask customers who’ve already told you that they’re satisfied. This ask could be as simple as requesting reviews from customers face-to-face after they’ve volunteered that they were happy with their experience. But there are other ways to know if customers are enjoying your business. Repeat business is an implicit statement of satisfaction, whether it’s a second visit to your store or frequent browsing on your website. Reordering also signals that the customer is happy with a specific product or service. These customers should be targeted for review requests. Use a Third Party Providers like Podium can help you track customer satisfaction and solicit reviews from positive experiences. They offer both feedback and online review services, which can work separately or in conjunction. Reduce Obstacles to Reviewing One way to get more online reviews is by making the process easier for your customers. By removing any obstacles in the reviewing process, you’ll see more customers writing and submitting reviews. Provide a Direct Link to Review Your Business Send your customers direct links to your business’ page on review sites. By providing a direct link, you’re taking out an extra step that your customers would have had to take. Many platforms like Podium automate this process for your business to help you consistently ask your customers for reviews. Ask Good Questions Another reason customers might not write a review is that they don’t know what to say. You can ask questions to help inspire your customers about what to write about in their reviews. Some example questions would be: What was the highlight of your experience? Would you use our services again? What advice would you give to someone considering using our services? Timing Can you remember which restaurants you ate at last week? If you’re like me, it’s tricky to remember all of them. That’s why the timing of when you ask your customers to write reviews is so important. You want their experience to be fresh on their mind when writing your review. Respond to Reviews, Both Positive and Negative Customers will be more likely to review your business if they think it will get a response. Positive reviewers will enjoy the recognition and the sense that you will remember their support in future interactions. Negative reviewers will be more likely to contact you if they think they’ve found a way to remedy a challenging situation—which gives you a chance to improve your customer experience and turn the negative review into a positive one. Don’t Offer Something in Exchange For Reviews Offering a deal or discount in exchange for a review—even an unbiased review—can backfire. Many review platforms forbid it. Yelp, which frowns upon even asking customers for a review, will flag your business page if you are found to be incentivizing positive reviews in any way. How to Deal With Negative Online Reviews Despite your best efforts, you will receive some bad reviews. Some will be reasonable, some will not, and some will be outright lies. Here’s how to deal with all types of negative online reviews. Respond Quickly A quick response will show that you care about the customer’s concern and, if possible, correct the situation. Be Polite and Professional As tempted as you might be to tell off a customer, it will almost certainly hurt you and your business in the long run. Business owners have to be civil and respectful when dealing with complaints, no matter what. Be Genuine and Unique In other words, don’t use canned responses or auto-replies. Many brands have found out the hard way that responding automatically to every message with the same response can make your business appear insensitive. But even if you do respond appropriately to reviews, users will notice if every initial response is exactly the same. Users want to know they are dealing with a person, not a computer. Take It Offline ASAP The anonymity of social media can cause people to be unusually mean and defensive. Neutralize these counterproductive reactions by taking the interaction offline—or at least out of public view—as soon as possible. Respond to negative reviews with an offer to direct message or host a phone call. Phone calls will humanize your business by letting customers hear your apologetic tone in addition to your words. Offer to Make It Right If Warranted If you decide that your company was in the wrong after listening to a customer and carefully considering their review, then offer to make restitution. Refund their purchase or offer them a free follow-up. A loss could be worth winning a loyal customer—and a better review—in the long run. Look for Trends Online reviews are not just about maintaining an online reputation for your business—they’re also a real opportunity to improve customer satisfaction. Look for common trends in negative reviews. Are there specific products or services causing most of the complaints? Yelp will even highlight frequently used words in reviews to help you spot problem areas. Move On From Unproductive Issues While you should respond to every negative review, that doesn’t mean you have to linger over each one. You know your business and your customers: if a negative review is unreasonable and the customer is not open to a reasonable solution, then move on. Don’t let isolated experiences discourage you—or worse, convince you to change parts of your business that are working well.