The world of Digital and Internet marketing is changing every single day. There are things we do as “marketers” every single day. We would have never even dreamed of doing some of the things we do today five years ago. We talk about Return On Ad Spend (ROAS) and “are we getting a Return On Investment (ROI)”. For all the changes that continue to occur, one thing that remains constant over the last 10 years is that business owners always say that referrals or “word of mouth” are their best and most valuable lead source. Given that many of us think they are our most valuable lead source, do we spend enough time measuring the importance of reviews and what is our Return on Reviews (RoR)?
Nothing has the power to bring in new customers like word of mouth, and many of today’s referrals come from online reviews. Consumers rely heavily on online reviews when making their buying decisions. About 85% of consumers read online reviews for local businesses and 90% of those claim that reading a positive review online will influence their buying decision. In early December 2013, the New York Times ran an article on how reviews are making consumers more intelligent, helping us to make better buying decisions, while also making marketers more savvy. Technology gives consumers power AND it gives us marketers more data.
Importance of Reviews
All businesses, no matter how large or small, definitely need to concern themselves with how they are reviewed online because consumers take reviews seriously. If you’ve been in business for more than a few months, you have undoubtedly faced the reality of negative reviews. As the New York Times piece pointed out, most reasonable people are going to overlook the gushing, positive accolades as well as the scathing negative customer who expects you to give them everything for nothing. So what most are left with is what’s in the middle. The average score of all of your reviews is what most consumers will pay attention to as the medium of your customer service experience.
Our decisions are swayed based on the approval or disapproval of others. The process starts when someone makes a statement or takes an action, then others will assume that person is knowledgeable about the action that they took (product, service, etc.) and they will take the person’s actions as acceptable.
We’ve all experienced this. When I was an actor in New York City and would show up for an audition in an unknown building, there were often no signs to indicate that I was in the right spot — only a closed door. I was never sure if I should open the door for fear the auditions were right behind that door and I didn’t want to interrupt someone. After a few minutes, someone would waltz by me and open it. Immediately I thought “well, he must know what he’s doing,” and opening the door became acceptable. The more people successfully do it before you, the more acceptable the action or more reliable the information.
This sets the stage for online reviews. Today, the informed consumer can do his/her research on a product or service to determine the general consensus of people having done business with any company. A lot of good reviews will reliably mean the company mostly does a good job. A lot of bad reviews will undoubtedly mean the company does not do a good job. A total lack of reviews means they are probably relatively new or haven’t established a large following, making it uncharted territory. “Only the brave enter there.”
Let’s take a look at an example. You have a plumbing issue in your home and you perform a Google search for a plumber in your local area. For the purposes of this exercise, I searched “plumbers Denver”.
The screenshot is Page 1 of the Google results, which displays several “local” plumbers on the map and the organics results below. For the purposes of this article, I have removed the paid search results to get a clearer picture of the reviews. As you can see, a company called Brothers Plumbing shows up first in the Google+ Local results and fourth organically on the page. So they have put in a good amount of time working on their website and optimizing their local results. The work they have put in has achieved them a good amount of Page 1 real estate on Google. However, one place that is a glaring misstep is their reviews. In the screenshot above, you will see they show up in the first position of Google+ Local with 39 reviews and a 2.5 star rating. The next three companies have roughly the same amount or more reviews and average 4.2, 3.0, 4.5 and 4.7 stars respectively.
Given the tribe mentality, if you have had no experience with Brothers Plumbing, would you click through to their website or call them given their 2.5 star rating? Countless studies say the answer is overwhelmingly no. Given the opportunity to select someone else with a higher review rating, users will pick the higher ratings over 85% of the time. The reason I bring up this example is that the plumbing industry is very competitive in most major U.S. markets. Without knowing dollar amounts of the investment that Brothers Plumbing has made in its online marketing strategies, I can promise it’s substantial. That being the case, they have put a lot of effort into something that may render fairly fruitless — all because they didn’t make their reviews a priority. They have likely cost themselves business as a result of their average to poor review rating. This is where the concept of RoR comes into play. This illustrates that while it is entirely possible that Brothers Plumbing may be receiving an acceptable ROI for their online marketing efforts, they are definitely missing some business as a result of their review strategy and, therefore, not increasing their Internet revenue as a direct result of the RoR.
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As a business, in today’s digital-savvy, always-connected world, we must make efforts to ensure that we are not only hurting ourselves by ignoring a review strategy but make a concerted effort to capitalize on our RoR.
The benefits of online reviews
People are always more willing to purchase a product or service recommended by others. It turns out that reviews are trusted 12 times more than other marketing materials. And just one positive review (as opposed to none) can boost sales by as much as 20%.
Beyond boosting sales, reviews also allow you to engage and connect with your customers. This kind of interaction provides a way to handle objections or complaints in real time. The careful resolution of a problem will often create a loyal customer faster than a good job will.
Furthermore, when potential clients are doing their research and they see you (or a representative of your company) addressing issues, it shows them that you are a real person, not just a company logo, and you will respond to their concerns.
Company reviews also give your brand advocates a voice. If you create a raving fan, the review platform gives them a way to do your marketing for you.
Web search benefits
Google and other search engines love reviews. They like them because they are relevant and user generated. For this reason, reviews are ranked well. The more reviews you get, the better the ranking. The reviews also provide fresh content concerning your business, which will keep you in the search rankings longer, and many times the reviews will have search engine-optimized keywords, which also help.
So how do I get people to review me?
The first review is always the hardest. The interesting thing is, reviews beget more reviews. So there are a couple of strategies you may have to employ to get a handle on your review situation.
- You Have To Ask! It’s always a great practice to start by asking your loyal customers to review your business. They already trust you and know that you have done well by them. Getting reviews is a lot like sales. If you never ask for the business, you’ll never get it. If you never ask happy customers to review you, the chances are they won’t on their own. For some businesses, you may have to offer a coupon or discount in exchange for the review, but given the pending 20% boost in sales, it’ll be worth it. However, I caution you on this practice. Most review sites frown upon this type of behavior, so you must be very careful and creative in the ways that you choose to incentivize reviews.
- Mention reviews in follow-ups. Hopefully, you are staying in contact with your current customers. Regularly request reviews in your follow-up contacts (thank you email, birthday card, or whatever).
- Make it easy. People aren’t likely to go out of their way for you if it is a hassle. If you are going to ask your clients for a favor, you need to make it as easy as possible for them. So pick one review site you favor, or even better, have a review script on your website and send people directly to it.
- Send your direct link for Google Reviews. The local space on Google Search has obviously changed several times over the last few years, with it’s newest rolling out just a few days ago. (Read more about Google My Business here) One thing that hasn’t changed is it’s importance to those searching. Getting reviews for your business on Google is one of the ways to get your business to show up on search results in your area. Xcite focuses our efforts on Google Reviews for this reason. For those unfamiliar with Google Local or Google+, getting them to find your business and review you can be difficult. Here’s a tip that will allow you to send your customers a direct link to your review form on Google+. Every Google+ URL for your page will end in ?hl=en. Our Google+ landing page is our about page and the url is: https://plus.google.com/+Xcitemediagroup/about?hl=en – you can see the ?hl=en at the end. To be able to send a client the direct link to your Google review form, simply add &review=1 to the end of any of your Google+ urls. You can see our example here: https://plus.google.com/+Xcitemediagroup/about?hl=en&review=1
Once you have reigned in your reviews you can start reaping major benefits. Always remember that reviews are customer-driven, so social acceptance will only come with quality service. If you strive to keep your customers happy and give them an outlet to share it with the world, the possibilities are endless. From there, it will be of utmost importance that you continue to keep a good pulse on your reputation — not only directly in your reviews through hundreds of different websites but also in social media in general. It is a best practice and a great idea to have Reputation Monitoring software in place for you to be able to see how your brand is viewed in the online world.