Your online presence isn’t only defined by what you put out there, but what others put out there about you. Reviews are one of the most influential factors on your online reputation – they make up 10% of criteria for how Google displays results, and can have a substantial impact on potential customers’ perspectives of your business, with 87% of consumers looking to online reviews to learn more about local businesses in 2020.
Of course, you don’t write the reviews of your business – your customers do. So how can you navigate reviews and ensure they help – instead of harm – your business? We’ve put together a review rundown, going through the top 9 factors that influence reviews in 2021, as well as 4 ways you can affect your review standing online. Read on to learn about the real influence of reviews, discover review-related customer trends, and check out our advice for what you can do to improve the impact of reviews on your online reputation.
1. The Impact of Online Reviews
Reviews play a vital role in influencing consumers’ trust in a business and, subsequently, which businesses customers choose to support. The reach of reviews has grown – 87% of consumers read online reviews for local businesses in 2020, a 6% increase from 2019, and a 20% increase from 2010.
Many prospective customers determine whether or not they will frequent a business based on reviews, before ever interacting with the business itself. 79% of users report trusting online reviews as much as personal recommendations from friends or family.
2. More People are Writing Reviews
According to a 2016 Pew Research Center study, 38% of customers never leave reviews on products and services. But this is changing. In 2020, 72% of US consumers reported having written a review for a local business, a 6% jump from 2019.
The vast majority of customers report writing reviews based on positive experiences, with 63% reporting having written a positive review, up from 60% in 2019.
However, the increase in user reviews isn’t all good news. The number of consumers writing negative reviews has also increased, with a 7% jump in negative reviews between 2019 and 2020.
3. Both Positive and Negative Reviews Can Make a Major Impact on Business
Let’s start with the positive. Reviews that speak well of a business’ product and customer service have a substantial influence on consumers – 94% of consumers report that positive reviews make them more likely to use a business. After reading positive reviews, the majority of consumers will visit the business’ website.
How great of an impact positive reviews can have, so can negative reviews in the opposite direction. 92% of consumers are less likely to frequent a business after reading negative reviews.
While this number can be intimidating, most businesses will have a combination of both negative and positive reviews. Thus, these impacts are usually dictated by the pattern of reviews. If the reviews are generally positive, consumers will be inclined to learn more. If the reviews are generally negative, consumers will be deterred. An average local business’ Google My Business listing is viewed over 1,200 times each month – with this listing highly visible in search results for most businesses, the impact can be considerable.
4. What Matters Most in Reviews
When customers are reading reviews, certain factors rise to the top to influence their consideration of your business. According to BrightLocal’s 2020 Local Consumer Review Survey, consumers ranked the following factors in terms of importance:
- Star rating
While star rating took the number one spot, it was close between all five of the top factors:
5. How Many Stars Do You Need?
Although a thorough review can help consumers make informed decisions, your business’ overall rating has a huge impact on customers. Only 48% of consumers would consider using a business with fewer than 4 stars, which means that businesses that fail to reach the 4-star mark may be at risk of losing half of potential customers searching online. As stars go down, these numbers do too – only 19% of potential customers would consider a business with fewer than 3 stars.
However, while a perfect, 5-star rating may seem ideal, that is not necessarily true. Although 12% of online users won’t use businesses with fewer than 5 stars, a study conducted by the Spiegel Research Center showed that purchasing likelihood typically peaks at ratings between 4.0 – 4.7 stars, and actually decreases as ratings approach 5.0.
6. Quantity Matters
The more reviews, the better. For the third year in a row, BrightLocal’s Review Survey found that the average consumer reads 10 reviews before feeling able to trust a business. Although this is just an average, with many individuals reporting reading more or fewer, BrightLocal’s research also found that, on average, consumers require a business to have 40 online reviews before they believe its average star rating. Businesses with lower review counts run the risk of seeming unestablished or flying under the radar when consumers are researching businesses online.
What’s more, the likelihood for a product to be purchased is 270% greater with just 5 reviews over a product with no reviews.
7. Timing is (Almost) Everything with Reviews
If your business has several reviews that are not current, it may not do you much good. Maintaining up-to-date reviews is vital for building trust with potential customers. 80% of consumers cite recency as an important feature of reviews, with 73% of consumers reporting that they only pay attention to reviews written in the last month, up from 69% in 2019. What’s more, 50% – half of online users! – only take reviews as recent as the past two weeks into account.
8. Multiple platforms
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket when it comes to review platforms. While Google is the most popular platform for user reviews, 72% of users report that it is important for a business to be present on multiple review sites.
63% of users reported referencing Google reviews, but with the prominence of Google My Business listings in search engine results, it can be hard for users to miss. The Better Business Bureau (BBB), coming up as the fourth most popular review platform, is also considered the most trusted platform, with Facebook receiving review scrutiny.
Although it is important to be present on multiple review platforms, not all platforms are created equal. Make note of which platforms receive the most engagement from your customers and which platforms are most relevant to your business.
9. Reacting to Current Events: COVID-19’s Impact on Reviews
The pandemic introduced a new set of considerations for businesses in 2020. 67% of consumers said they would not use a business if reviews said that COVID-19 health and safety measures were not in place, and 17% of consumers said they had written negative reviews for businesses that did not have these measures in place. Conversely, 22% of consumers reported that they wrote customer reviews to support local businesses struggling due to the pandemic.
Although events like the COVID-19 pandemic do not occur often, events that can impact your industry or community should always be taken into consideration.
What Can You Do?
Reviews are one aspect of your online reputation that is totally in the hands of the consumer. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t impact the state of your online reviews.
Claim Your Google My Business Listing
Your Google My Business Listing will populate on the right side of search results for consumers searching for your company, or in Google Maps results. Claiming your listing will allow you to keep the information up-to-date to ensure customers are getting the most accurate information about your business, and reducing any chances for confusion or misinformation.
Prioritize Soliciting Reviews
Asking customers to leave reviews is one of the most reliable ways to send more reviews to your business online – 72% of customers surveyed left a review when asked.
The most popular methods to solicit reviews are:
- In person
- On a receipt
- On social media
- Over the phone
When soliciting reviews, make sure to be polite and direct. As most review platforms discourage or disallow incentives being offered for reviews, refrain from doing so when reaching out to customers.
Display Your Reviews Where Consumers Can See Them
Make sure your reviews are easy for consumers to find. If possible, even display reviews on your website. Retailers that avoid featuring ratings and customer feedback can appear untrustworthy to consumers, potentially deterring them from their business. If your business is featured on more niche review websites, consider highlighting those on your own website, or other industry-specific forums.
Responding to Reviews Isn’t Just Recommended, but Expected
It may seem counterintuitive, but one of the best ways to handle negative reviews is to embrace them. Negative reviews offer your business an opportunity to establish credibility and authenticity in how you respond. Google has even confirmed that responding to reviews has an impact on your business’ SEO.
Additionally, consumers who post negative reviews often want a response. 20% of consumers expect to receive a response within one day of posting a review, and 96% of consumers reported reading business’ responses to other reviews, with 40% reporting reading those responses every time they were researching a business.
If you do choose to respond to negative reviews, make sure to apply specific attention to each review you respond to. 70% of users reported that they would be put off if a business responded to a review with a templated or recycled response.
Online reviews are a powerful resource in SEO and online reputation, and can be a positive resource if you know how to use them. Soliciting new reviews and engaging with negative reviews will allow your business to make the most of this crucial SEO tool, and help you establish online reviews as an asset to your business.