Customer Experience Blog

The Complete 2019 Guide to Online Reviews

By Avinash Patil

 online reviews guide

The Online Review Revolution

The internet was taken by storm with the entry of Google and later it became the go-to hub for everything that was needed.

But, reviews were always there, it is just only in the recent past that the internet has made them popular by giving it a medium that is transcending limitations and boundaries.

Even when online reviews didn’t exist, we did ask for the opinions and recommendations of our friends, didn’t we?

Sensing this opportunity, some folks decided to cash in on this untapped market and today we know them as ‘Third-Party’ review sites.

The turn of the century saw the emergence of TripAdvisor and Yelp which holds a considerable influence when it comes to online reviews.

Their high authority and reputation gained over the years and made them the two of the most important websites to have your business listed on.

Now, let us move to understand the importance of online reviews.

Importance of Online Reviews

1. Customers are becoming smarter

Online reviews are a form of social proof which has a high trust factor because it is generated by the users themselves.

Since customers are the best judge of a product, their experiences expressed in words through reviews will assure other potential customers that the product is good enough.

In fact, 88% of customers trust online reviews from strangers as much as personal recommendations.

With a whole lot of information available on the internet, customers are making informed decisions than ever before. Reviews are known to produce an 18% upliftment in sales.

2. Helps drive brand reputation

If you recollect, we mentioned that having a digital presence is a must in this digital era. How will customers reach out to you?

The first thing to do in order to establish a brand presence is to go and claim your Google My Business listing. As Google is the numero uno search engine, the reviews present there play an important role in building your online brand image.

Having positive online reviews adds to your brand credibility and paints a good picture of your brand.

When your existing customers rate you high and pen down positive reviews, other potential customers are likely to come across the same.

But, building your brand reputation takes efforts. First and foremost, there shouldn’t be any deficiency in your product or service. Even if it happens due to some reason, make sure you take steps to resolve the same. 

3. Boosts your SEO ranking

Your online reviews determine how well you rank on search engines. Apart from Google, other high authority websites like TripAdvisor and Yelp too account for a higher SEO ranking.

Believe it or not, Google reviews account for 13% of the total factors required for a higher SEO ranking.

The higher the number of quality reviews, the higher will your page rank.

Now, you must have noticed that whenever you google a place and the search results pop up, the first three results always stand out.

The top three listings having the star ratings are known as ‘snack pack’ results. Those snack pack results drive a large amount of traffic to your website.

If you want to see your place rank there, work on increasing your reviews.

4. Helps increase revenue

Now everything that a business directly or indirectly does should affect the business in a positive way. Online reviews does that pretty well.

Traditionalists don’t really believe that online reviews can help drive revenue. But, would you believe if we told you that isn't actually the case? An increase in online reviews by one star drives a 5-10% increase in revenue.

What’s even more interesting is that customers are willing to spend 30% more in buying from businesses that have excellent positive reviews. 

According to a BazaarVoice study, one review can bring about a 10% increase in sales while 200 product reviews bring about a stunning 44% increase in sales.

So, these are the reasons why online reviews are important and capitalizing on them has tons of benefits.

Types of Reviews

Online reviews have more to what meets the eye. There are categorized into two types - 

1. Unsolicited reviews

Unsolicited reviews are online reviews that are voluntarily given by your customers. They do so if they have had a good experience with your product or service.

Now, don’t get your hopes too high. Unsolicited reviews also include negative reviews which have a higher incidence of happening. Why?

Blame human nature. Whenever our expectations are completely shattered leaving us unhappy, we tend to complain a lot and that is completely reasonable.

Positive unsolicited reviews do a good job in increasing the brand reputation of a business.

It is so because they are high on quality as they tend to come from genuine customers. This is why unsolicited reviews are important to businesses irrespective of their industry.

2. Solicited reviews

Solicited reviews is an ambiguous term. In common parlance, it refers to the online reviews which are generated unethically that is to say by the brand themselves. They are paid reviews which the company pays for in order to increase the number of positive reviews.

Soliciting reviews is not entirely a bad idea but, how you do it matters. Requesting the customers to drop reviews is one fair and ethical practice. So, what’s unethical?

Bribing your customers with monetary incentives which are against Google’s or a particular review website's policy is unethical. In order to combat the growing menace of solicited reviews, Google has updated its review policies.

As per the new policy, Google prohibits sending out review requests in bulk. The move came after Google discovered that a large part of its reviews just contained star ratings without any review mentioning the experience.

This undermines the basic purpose of online reviews. Yelp being its biggest competitor has quality reviews with its content serving the original purpose of helping out customers.

This is a step in the right direction as businesses on the pretext of asking reviews had the undue privilege to screen the negative reviews and only feature the positive ones.

So, now that you are familiar with the types of reviews, let’s learn how your business can generate reviews the right way.

Generating online reviews

Generating online reviews can be tricky. On one hand, Google is telling you not to solicit reviews from customers but, you need online reviews for your business to stay afloat.

If you are breaking your head, you are in for a moment of relief as we have listed the steps to generate reviews (fair reviews, of course) from your customers.

Set up profiles on all major review sites

When you want to generate reviews, the basic thing you should and must get right is to set up profiles on all popular and major review sites. Ponder for a minute!

When you don’t have a proper review page or a profile set up, how will your customers be able to review?

Now, based on the popularity and the presence they command, we have compiled a list of review sites that you should be listed on.

1. Google

Google being the largest search engine is the most preferred one worldwide. Having a complete Google My Business page adds credibility to your brand. It is also convenient for people to reach out to you.

Ensure that all your business details such as map, phone, website, and other details are mentioned. And, yes it does help in SEO.

2. Facebook

Facebook is arguably the largest social media site. With 2.2 billion users worldwide, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that Facebook occupies the second place as a review hub after Google.

With nearly every person on Facebook, brands should leverage the same for its high responsiveness.

3. Yelp

With 171 million customer reviews and a combined average of 75 million unique visitors including web, mobile and app, Yelp no doubt is a high authority website.

With such jaw-dropping numbers, it would be foolish not be on Yelp. To give a brief yet concise idea about Yelp, here are the rating distributions.

  1. 1 star equals 16%
  2. 2 stars equals 7%
  3. 3 stars equals 9%
  4. 4 stars equals 20%
  5. 5 stars equals 48%
     

4. TripAdvisor

There is one place no matter what you do, if you are in the travel industry, TripAdvisor is a review site that you shouldn’t overlook.

“Could you give us a reason?”

As of 2017, it had 600 million reviews and over 7 million listings.

It is a high authority website and is known for updating its algorithm frequently to ensure that businesses don’t become complacent.

Increasing your TripAdvisor rankings will definitely see a spike in your hotel bookings.

5. Amazon

According to Search Engine Journal, Amazon is the leading review site. Here is a percentage that you just can’t ignore.

42% of its customers have left at least one review. It comes as a surprising fact, that Amazon is the largest review site in the US. If you are a retailer who wants take the e-commerce route, then tick Amazon as one of the review sites to be listed on.

Also, don’t forget to include a detailed product description. If your product is good, reviews and testimonials will soon follow.

6. Encourage your customers to leave reviews 

You are more likely to get something only when you ask for it. Satisfied and happy customers would be happy to drop in reviews if you just put in a word.

But, to earn a review, you got to provide the best in class customer experience. If there is any shortcoming in your service, they will be unsatisfied and you lose.

I would quote a personal example where I had been to a popular cafe which has outlets across India. Having gone along with a friend, the food and service were excellent. Since we had a positive experience, we were requested by one of the staff members to leave a review on Zomato.

He even assisted me when I got stuck. This is a simple approach which works every time.

You could also send emails requesting customers to leave reviews. And yes, don’t send them in bulk. Consider sending review request emails only to the customers who had a positive experience.

Oops! Don’t forget to add a personal touch.

Here is a sample email requesting reviews from customers.

email requesting reviews
 

If you get the chance to take in-person reviews or testimonials, don’t hesitate to do so.

7. Make it easy for them to leave reviews 

Encouraging your customers is good but, if you don’t make it easy for them to leave reviews, how will they do it?

Let’s face it. Unless it is easy and it doesn’t require much of an effort, only then we tend to do a task. How many times have you done something when it required you to put in too much efforts?

No, right?

Which is why making it easy for your customers can easily help you generate reviews.

But, how do you do it?

Pretty simple. Include links in your website. Grand Sheraton gets it right.

grand sheraton link to tripadvisor 

You can include a feedback link for them to add a review without gargantuan efforts.

8. Reward them with incentives 

Who doesn’t like rewards? Rewards are given as a token of appreciation for commendable work done. It not only boosts the morale but gives people something to look forward to.

It applies to online reviews as well. Before you go out giving incentives, keep in mind that bribing customers by offering monetary rewards is going to land you in deep trouble. Soliciting reviews using unethical practices will be met with a Google penalty.

And, that’s a death sentence for your brand. So, what are the ethical ways of offering incentives?

1. Offer discounts

Discounts are an obvious incentive that businesses have been offering since time immemorial. Coupon codes and free credits are now in vogue. Also, provide cash discounts wisely.

Here are some points you should factor in before deciding to offer discounts-

  • Will the discount be offered on the purchase of a single item or the purchase exceeding a certain cash limit?
  • What are the products that will have discounts?
  • Is it for a limited period or an indefinite one?

Think about these and only then offer discounts.

2. Start Referrals

Another strategy to generate customer reviews is starting a referral program. Word of mouth is an underrated tactic to drive conversions and sales.

Along with a requisition to write reviews, provide them a referral link so that they are incentivized to share it with their peers and family. Referrals help acquire customers without you having to spend a single penny on customer acquisition.

Your trusted and loyal customers will spread positive word of mouth reviews and get customers for you.

Psst...here is another good news!

You will definitely be on cloud nine after hearing it. Referrals help increase your NPS and correlates to customer loyalty.

Convey the importance of online reviews to your staff

Your employees play a pivotal part in delivering a joyous customer experience. Similarly, the team handling reviews should be conveyed the effect online reviews have on your brand reputation.

Engaged employees will always perform exceeding expectations and delivering quality work. Encourage them when they do a good job and impart training if they have a string of bad performances.

Jeez! We lost track of time, didn’t we? Now, we aren’t done yet. You might want to learn these secrets of online reviews.

Trust us, it is worth your time.

Let us now learn why responding to reviews is paramount to your brand’s success online.

This is where the actual thing starts!
 

Why you should be responding to reviews

 

It is time you realized the importance of the review revolution. Put on your thinking hat and reflect.

Responding to reviews is the most rudimentary thing that customers expect from you. It shows that you value them and are willing to listen to what they have to say. How would you feel if someone ignored you?

You would be pissed! Your customers are no different.

Ignoring customer reviews sets a negative impression in the minds of the customers. Other prospective customers may notice this and will decide not to buy anything from you without any second thoughts.

Now, though brands do tend to understand the importance of replying to online reviews, yet they commit the silliest of mistakes.

For your understanding, we have mentioned all the necessary things to follow while responding to reviews.

Responding to positive online reviews

A common tendency of brands is that they choose to ignore the positive reviews. 

Here are two samples of replies to positive reviews.

  • "Thank you!" 
  • “Thanks for taking out time to review us, xxxx. We really loved having you over and look forward to your visit again. Have a great day.”

These are the responses to a positive review from a restaurant. Which one sounds really appreciative and pleasant?

The second one, obviously!

Responding to positive reviews shows that you are courteous and acknowledge the customers for their time. Addressing them by their name shows that you are paying attention and care about them.

From free advertising to boosting your SEO rank, positive reviews really works wonders for your brand.

Not to forget, when you respond to a positive review, the chance of them becoming a loyal customer is high. Positive reviews can help you improve customer experience.

Responding to Negative Reviews

Brands dread negative reviews so much so that it gives them sleepless nights. They are to businesses what Kryptonite is to Superman.

Many businesses make the catastrophic mistake of not responding to negative reviews. We urge businesses to mend this habit otherwise they are destined to go out of business soon.

Negative reviews are more likely to influence people than positive reviews.

Even if there are 10 good reviews and 1 bad review, the human mind will start falling prey to doubts. This way customers become hesitant to buy from you and you lose them.

Here is a step by step professional approach to help you respond to negative reviews.

1. Respond quickly

Spring into action the minute a negative review shows up on the reviews sites that you are listed on. Ideally, it should be 24 to 48 hours but, if you can do it sooner, there is nothing like it. The sooner you respond, the better.

You don’t want your potential customers to be swayed, do you?

2. Accept your mistake 

Whenever a negative review pops up, brands either ignore it or outrightly deny it.

Acknowledge it and be accountable. Respond in a professional manner and take measures to rectify your mistakes. 

3. Take necessary actions

Negative reviews often, if not always highlight the customer issues. If a customer has posted them, assure them by responding that their issue would be solved. Make an attempt to reach out to them.

4. Be dignified

Disgruntled customers will be pissed and their anger will make them blurt out expletives and profanity. Just because the negative reviewer has left a scathing review, it isn’t gentlemanly behavior to act the same way.

Be calm and composed and assure them that their issues will be resolved at the earliest.

Now, here are some do’s and don’ts that you should keenly adhere to.

Do's 

  • Be respectful
  • Have the courage to accept constructive criticism (However brutal they might seem)
  • Respond on time
  • Resolve issues 

Don’ts 

  • Ignore the reviews
  • Take more time to respond
  • Assign responsibilities to interns and inexperienced staff 

Another vice that cripples businesses are the fake reviews whose impact leaves businesses reeling with damage of an inexplicable magnitude.

Combating Fake Reviews

One of the perils of having an online presence on various review sites is having to deal with fake reviews. 

It is probably a competitor or an unreasonable customer with whom you had a tiff in the past. It can be a pain in the neck when you are being subjected to it without you doing any wrong.

For instance, Google My Business Listings are the most preferred review place. Despite Google having a superior algorithm in place, it still does a poor job in combating fake reviews.

Below are the following steps to combat fake reviews. 

1. Respond to the fake reviews 

Follow the basic step. Even though it is a negative review, you should still respond to them. Why?

Because your other customers wouldn’t be aware that this a fake review. By acknowledging and offering to solve the “problem”, you are creating a good impression.

It is recommended to take a look at Google’s policies pertaining to review responses. 

2. Flag the review

Google and most review sites have the option to flag reviews that are malicious and suspicious. It could either work for you or against you. 

Baffled?

If your business has fake positive reviews, your reviews will be flagged by genuine customers who didn’t have a good experience with your product.

On flagging the review, you will get a confirmation for the same.

3. Search the Google Community Help section

Search for answers in the Google Community Help section. Chances are, you will find the answers easily.

There would be businesses who would have faced the same problem. Answer threads containing the required info posted before can provide the solution that you are looking for.

Top Contributors or angels in disguise as we like to call them might escalate your issue. This has a higher chance of you finding answers sooner.

4. Provide an explanation

Google or any other review site will not take down a review without a valid explanation. Include a well-crafted explanation containing the following details such as-

1. The name of the business, address, phone number, email, website. Not to forget your Google Maps link.

2. Precisely write why the review should be removed. Add a professional touch. It should persuasive enough.

3. To make your answer compelling, state the policies that it violates.
Mention the reason why it is fake.

4. Have any documentation that supports your claim with you. The stronger the evidence, the higher the chances for the review to be taken off

It is not just Google reviews that are hard to take down but even others like Yelp and TripAdvisor too have the same problem.

If you are in the hospitality industry, battling fake reviews on TripAdvisor can leave you exhausted.

Influence of Online Reviews across Industries

A question that bothers even the well informed folks is ‘How relevant are online reviews to our industry?’

While some tend to give it a pass, the ones who ask this question deserve a pat on their back.

Here are the top 3 industries that are affected by online reviews. Guys, we know you are waiting with bated breath. So, without further ado, let’s begin!

1. Retail 

The key to retail industry success is mainly due to online product reviews. Amazon, the largest ecommerce site relies mainly on product reviews, information and ratings to drive sales.

In what appears to be a trend that is going to evolve with time, retailers and e-commerce businesses are investing 18% more than before in order to garner online reviews, and user-generated content.

Why shouldn’t they? After all, online reviews build credibility and enhance your brand reputation. This brings us to another key trend that is here to stay - Mobile. 70% of the customers prefer to buy from a retailer whose mobile app has reviews.

So if you haven’t made your site mobile responsive or app functionally good, it’s time you did.

2. Hospitality 

It wouldn’t be wrong to say that the hospitality industry was the first one to experience the influx of online reviews. Even the stats prove this point.

Do you know the percentage of customers who won’t eat in a restaurant which has less than 4-star rating on Yelp, TripAdvisor and Google?

It is 33%!

And, 4 out 5 people opine that a hotel which responds to reviews care more for their guests.

We could go on and on with the stats but, you get the point, right?

Build the brand reputation of your hotel with Google reviews. Leveraging Google reviews is the stepping stone to build an online reputation.

3. Healthcare 

With the retail and hospitality industries becoming more customer-centric with online reviews, the healthcare industry is fast catching up.

51% of the people check reviews to gauge the reputation of a doctor. Yeah, you are not supposed to google your symptoms but, you can google your doctor.

Parents are a worried lot when it comes to their child’s health. 30% of the parents decide to go to a pediatrician only after seeing the online reviews.

So, hospitals and doctors are you taking note?

Hope so!


Conclusion

Online reviews are going to stay and it’s time businesses stop taking it for granted. The blog post is a comprehensive guide covering elaborate information on online reviews.

Give it a read it once or twice and do let us know your thoughts in the comments. 

Topics: Online Reviews

Avinash Patil

Written by Avinash Patil