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5 Ways to Embrace Online Reviews -- Good or Bad -- and Win New Customers

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With an astonishing 92 percent of consumers now reading online reviews, businesses are increasingly relying on reviews to build trust and manage their brands. But while businesses are beginning to understand the importance of reviews, most still do not use them optimally -- spending money on unnecessary services while leaving low-hanging fruit unpicked.

Related: Star Ratings Matter Just as Much as (If Not More Than) Online Reviews

The following are our top five under-appreciated tips for businesses to win new customers with online reviews:

1. Build a comprehensive review page.

When consumers research a new business, the first thing they often do is Google the brand name plus the words "reviews" or "complaints." Those initial search results can define how new customers think about your business. This is why you want to make sure you can surface a high-quality review page at the top of that search engine results page.

Your review page should contain as many reviews as you can reasonably collect. Of the 55,000 businesses reviewed on SiteJabber, businesses with 1,000-plus reviews have an 18 percent higher star rating and receive 672 percent more leads. Also, more reviews can protect you when your business receives negative reviews -- as all businesses do, as they can be read in the broader context of your business. On balance, businesses with more reviews build more trust and get more new business.

In addition to reviews, do your best to tell your business's unique story with a detailed business description, photos and videos. And if possible, add a call to action to your review page to maximize the number of leads you can drive to your site.

Finally, while many review platforms offer these services, make sure to choose carefully -- many charge thousands of dollars for their services. Managing your business's reviews and reputation should be free.

2. Showcase good reviews directly on your site.

After you've built a review page, use it to increase sales on your own website with review widgets and trust seals. These tools build trust with visitors to your website, beyond what can be achieved with testimonials or Facebook likes alone.

Review widgets can be used to display your star rating, total number of reviews and examples of positive reviews. And since these reviews have hopefully been earned on a reputable third-party review platform, they carry significant weight in the eyes of a prospective customer. Review widgets are often most effective when placed on a business homepage, and trust seals are often most effective in footers, headers and check-out or registration funnels.

Businesses that use SiteJabber review widgets have seen on-site total revenue increase by up to 20 percent within two months.

3. Respond to bad reviews promptly and professionally.

Negative reviews can be painful for any business. But even with unreasonable customers, it's critical to respond immediately and professionally. A public response that is courteous, personal and helpful can quickly turn an angry one-star review into an appreciative five-star review and win you a loyal repeat customer. If you think you can resolve a customer's complaint, send him or her a private message -- in addition to your public response -- offering a resolution.

Once the reviewer's concern has been satisfied, politely ask if the review can be updated to reflect the resolution. One recent study found that 95 percent of unhappy customers will return if an issue is fixed quickly and efficiently. Also, keep in mind that your public responses will be carefully scrutinized by thousands of other potential customers. So even if you can't resolve every bad review, those potential customers will see your professionalism and commitment to excellent service, which can win you new business.

Although many businesses fear bad reviews, it turns out that consumers actually trust reviews more when they see a mix of good and bad. On SiteJabber, businesses with 10 to 30 percent negative reviews receive over 10 times more leads than businesses with almost all five-star reviews. And studies have shown that 68 percent of consumers trust reviews more when they see both good and bad reviews -- businesses with universally positive reviews seem too good to be true.

Related: Battling Brand Sabotage: The Angry Critic

4. Use transparency to your advantage.

We've found that the best-reviewed businesses do not fear their weaknesses. Instead, they make their weaknesses clear upfront and even use them as marketing tactics.

For example, if you're a small business, you might explain that you're a mom-and-pop shop and do your best to get orders out on time, but sometimes things can take a bit longer. You can then ask customers to please excuse the delay upfront. That way, should you get your shipment out on time, the customer will be pleasantly surprised, and in any case is likely charmed by the idea of supporting a small business.

In our experience, being even a little more transparent upfront yields customers that are more forgiving, loyal and likely to write positive reviews.

5. Respond to every review.

Businesses on SiteJabber that respond to every review have an 86 percent higher rating on average than those that don't. Publicly thanking all reviewers, regardless of how they've rated your business, demonstrates to existing and potential customers that you care about your customers and makes clear that you are not just doing damage control when you respond to a negative review.

We've found that smart consumers can easily identify engaged, customer-centric businesses and reward them with more business.

Related: 5 Ways to Protect Your Brand's Online Reputation

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