While doing my Christmas shopping this year, I found myself turning to online customer reviews for those purchases that were going to set me back more than a few bucks. I realized I was checking these out without even giving it a second thought—turning to reviews submitted by complete strangers was just an automatic step for me in my shopping adventure. Turns out, I’m not alone in this well-trusted habit. According to Search Engine Land, 79% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Are you kidding me… 79%? I expected a majority, for sure, but not that many!

Take another look at that number—79%—and make sure it registers, because that’s a pretty good sign that you need to be thinking about your own company’s online reviews if you aren’t already doing so. I found Search Engine Land’s 2013 Local Consumer Review Survey to be fairly enlightening, so I’d like to share just a few more stats with you that should really drive this point home.

reading reviewsThe Number of People Using Online Reviews is Increasing

This survey has been done annually for the last three years, and each year the number of consumers that say they read online reviews “to determine whether a local business is a good business” has increased. This upward trend reflects consumers’ increased confidence in such reviews.

Perhaps even more important is the timing of when these reviews are being read. According to the survey, consumers are reading reviews after they have decided what product or service they need and are ready to find somewhere to make their purchase. This means that reading reviews typically comes right before the consumer is going to make their purchase. This, in itself, is precisely why you need to have a positive online reputation.

Reviews Make an Immediate and Lasting Impression

Need another reason to focus on building a positive online reputation? Consumers will read fewer than 7 reviews before they form their own opinion. Translation: only your most recent reviews will impact their purchasing decision. Sure, a long page of glowing reviews looks great and certainly cannot reflect badly on your business, but throw one negative review right up there at the top and you have some damage-control to do. Be sure you have steps in place to handle negative reviews in a timely manner, and have a clear plan to get more positive reviews in quickly so that any negative ones get pushed “below the fold.”

Both positive and negative reviews should be viewed as opportunities for you to build your reputation. For those glowing reviews, show your good manners and say “Thank you!” With negative reviews, respond quickly and politely. Once the issue prompting the bad review has been resolved, ask the reviewer to remove or update their original review to reflect the positive outcome. If, for some reason, you cannot reach a resolution with the reviewer, post a short note about the attempts you made to fix the situation so other consumers can see your efforts.

One more interesting thing the survey uncovered was the fact that Facebook and Twitter are growing in terms of being “recommendation channels.” Yelp, DealerRater, Yahoo! Local, and others are still going strong, but as more consumers start using social media as their primary source of reviews, you will want to focus your attention in that direction as well.

reviewsMake Leaving a Review Easy

You’ll want to make it easy for customers to leave you a review. At Launch Digital Marketing, we’ve been doing this for our clients by adding “review” pages and sites that include the links a consumer needs to quickly leave a review. By providing a selection of links and sites to leave reviews through, the consumer can choose the option they are most comfortable and/or familiar with.

As you make New Year’s Resolutions for your business, be sure to add “build positive online reputation through online reviews” to that list. If you need help fulfilling that one, all you need to do is give us a call. Happy New Year!