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4 Things to Know About Online Reviews (and Why You Can't Afford to Ignore Them)

Online reviews have more impact than ever. As a business owner, you ignore them at your own risk.

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For many business owners, brand reviews on sites like Yelp, GMB and other review platforms may sometimes seem a little like background noise — unavoidable and always there, but also easy to lose track of or forget about, particularly with so much else involved in managing a competitive enterprise. 

But in an age where business success rides on the brand-consumer interaction online, waving off your online reviews as filler or noise is most likely a huge, potentially even costly, mistake. Consumer review sites are not only extremely popular (Yelp alone receives over 142 million unique visitors each month), but review platforms also tend to get top billing in local and brand search pages across Google. 

Harvard Business Review reports that a range of organizations — from Stanford Health Care to nine of the 10 biggest U.S. retailers — see the value in establishing online-review ecosystems. It's become commonplace for potential customers to turn to online recommendations, and when it comes to your own business, you can bet that reviews are having an impact, not only on your brand, but also on your bottom line. 

Related: How to Use Reviews to Your Competitive Advantage

Unconvinced? Here are four things you should really understand about online reviews and their influence — and why it may be time to turn up the volume on your business review presence.

1. More customers read them than you think

It can be tempting to think that only a small subset of your customer base is actually reading your reviews online. After all, who but a tiny fraction of people are actively searching or even care about online feedback of your brand, particularly when it comes from people they’ve never met? 

As it turns out, a lot. In fact, according to a 2016 study by the Pew Research Center, fully 82% of U.S. adults say they at least sometimes read online customer ratings or reviews before purchasing items for the first time, and 40% of that set say they almost always or always do so. That means for every ten prospects searching your brand online, eight are combing through other people’s comments about your business before becoming buyers. 

Depending on your brand’s online reach, that could translate into thousands or even millions of customer eyeballs scanning your company reviews each day. 

2. Customers really trust online reviews. A lot.

According to another Pew Research survey, the vast majority of American consumers (81%) say they base decisions on their own online research. In fact, people preferred this route over asking family and friends for input (43%) or even soliciting expert opionions (31%). For some industries, the review-trust relationship is even more undeniable. As an example, some people won't even consider eating at a certain restaurant before turning to Yelp or other review sites for guidance. 

B2B customers trust online reviews even more. A 2018 survey by G2 Crowd and Heinz Marketing found over 90% of B2B buyers are much likelier to make a purchase after finding a positive review online. If B2B services are your focus, your online reviews are where the brand bonding starts.  

Related: 5 Tips for Getting More Online Reviews for Your Small Business

3. Review quality makes a huge difference

One sour customer review can reflect poorly on your brand, affect customer sentiment and, yes, it may even turn some customers away. But it’s when that negative commentary (even if it’s a fake review) gets lumped in with others and affects your review site rating that you may really start to feel the sting. 

In theory, star ratings represent the sum of your review presence on any given site. And the quality of that rating has a real impact on the brand-buyer relationship, affecting not only how customers feel about your business, but also where they spend their money. 

For better or worse, your star ratings on Yelp, Facebook, TripAdvisor and elsewhere have a direct and immediate influence on customer behavior and, ultimately, your business revenue. 

4. Review responses really do matter

Is review engagement really necessary? Responding to reviews may seem a bit tedious or unnecessary to the swamped local business owner, but it’s also something many consumers look for and even expect when combing through online feedback. 

To illustrate, a whopping 89% of customers read business responses to reviews, per Harvard Business Review. That figure makes clear that a business's failure to respond to customer comments — whether they be positive or negative — doesn't go unnoticed, and might even begin to generate mistrust.  

Related: 3 Tips for Dealing With Negative Reviews Like a True Entrepreneur

So, what does this actually mean? For better or worse, it seems to show that review responses not only have an impact on your customers, but that they also have a direct and significant influence on your bottom line, creating a conversation customers value and nudging them even closer to the point of purchase. 

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