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Small Biz Focus: Why Online Reviews Matter — The Obvious and Not So Obvious

This column is sponsored by BizLaunch, a division of Arlington Economic Development. This is a guest SmallBiz Focus post written by Justin Gooderham, owner of Dalton Digital in Arlington.

For small businesses, your online reputation can make or break you.

This is especially true for local businesses. About 88% of Google searches on mobile devices are for services or goods in the area, which means that a large number of potential customers who are looking for information on local businesses can be persuaded one way or another based on online reviews.

So, what exactly is an online review? It’s a digital rating of a business or product created by a consumer that appears on a website. Reviews can appear on the company’s own website — think Amazon ­– but review aggregator services like Yelp and Google My Business are just as popular. For home service providers like painters, handymen and landscapers, websites like HomeAdvisor are popular places for customers to leave reviews — good and bad.

Below are three reasons why online reviews matter, and how you can leverage them to grow your business.

1. Digital Word-of-Mouth

In the days before the internet, if you had a positive­ or negative­ experience with a business, you would tell a friend or two and they might tell a friend or two. Nowadays, your online review for a business can be seen by thousands. These ratings are an important factor in a customer’s decision on whether to hire or patronize a business.

According to one study:

  • 90% of consumers read online reviews
  • 88% trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations
  • 31% are likely to spend more on businesses with “excellent” reviews
  • 72% say that positive reviews make them trust a local business more
  • 94% of online shoppers say that they will avoid a business with negative reviews

Take Action Today

Set up a Google My Business listing (GMB). It’s a free and easy way to showcase your business and provides a convenient forum to start gathering reviews. Ask customers to review you by simply sending them a brief, friendly mail and linking to your GMB listing.

If you have more of a niche business, there is likely a review aggregator website specific to your industry, like Angie’s List. Find yours, create a profile and ask customers for reviews.

2. Online Reviews are a Two-Way Street

Consumers today expect companies to respond to their comments. While no company looks forward to a negative review, it can represent an opportunity to connect, clarify or gather feedback that can ultimately help your business in the long run. Be sure to consistently monitor your online review channels and websites and take the time to respond to good and bad reviews­ alike.

While most websites do not let you alter or remove negative comments or reviews, they will usually let you respond. Doing so in a timely, non-defensive and cordial way shows that customer — and potentially hundreds of others — that you care and are responsive to your customers.

Take Action Today

Google yourself and your company name or go to Yelp or your industry-specific review website and do a search. Websites like Yelp allow customers to provide a review about a business, even if the business has not set up a profile.

If this is the case, you can “claim” the page as the owner, which gives you the ability to reply. Identify all the websites that are showing reviews about your business and respond accordingly. Again, be sure to thank happy customers for their review. This goes a long way when others are reviewing the comments.

If there are negative comments, do your best to understand where the customer is coming from and offer to make things right. Don’t lose your cool, as this can reflect poorly on you by others who are monitoring.

3. Increase Your Google Visibility

One of the not-so-obvious benefits of having online reviews is their direct impact on how Google ranks your business in its search engine result pages (SERPs). Google’s goal is to provide its customers (people searching online) with the best possible experiences and SERPs. To that end, it sees businesses with a significant number of four and five-star reviews as “good” and rewards them accordingly by showing those businesses higher up on the Google page.

What this means is that positive customer reviews are an increasingly important factor in Search Engine Optimization — the process of improving where your website shows in the Google rankings. All things being equal in terms of a website’s content, Google will likely show a website with more online reviews higher up than a website without many reviews. Again, Google is all about showing what’s best for the person doing the Google search.

Take Action Today

Evaluate your online presence or ask a digital marketing agency to provide an audit of your search engine visibility. Chances are you are not fully taking advantage of online reviews and their ability to help you show higher in Google searches. For example, the words that customers use in their reviews matter when it comes to increasing your Google rankings.

A review such as “John Smith company did an excellent job installing our new hardwood floors in Arlington” is more effective than “John Smith company did a great job and we are very happy with them.” Those keywords “hardwood floors in Arlington” have a benefit and signal to Google that the business receiving this positive rating performs a certain type of service in a specific location. That can help your website show higher in the Google results.

The Takeaway

When it comes to getting more customers, what others think of you is critical. Online reviews play an increasingly vital role in how we shop, research, evaluate and hire businesses. Provide your happy customers with a means to sing your praises online and you’ll be on your way to showing higher on Google and growing your business.

If you need help with your website or digital marketing strategy, let’s connect. Dalton Digital is an award-winning Arlington-based agency that helps small businesses by designing stunning websites and driving growth through search engine marketing and sales training. 

Come to our free workshop September 25th in Arlington for more information.  

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