Online Reviews for Small Business

Businesses and industries have been evolving since man left the hunting and gathering lifestyle behind. Now, that evolution has gotten to the point that every brand, business and service is reviewable online, and it’s almost a guarantee that any public business will be reviewed. There are dedicated online services in business to make money off exactly that, think Yelp. So with all of the possible ways to be reviewed, how can a business take advantage and gain benefits from those reviews.

If there is an industry that’s exempt from being reviewed, that would be one of the biggest surprises of this decade. Reviews for the big commercial enterprises are as prevalent as their advertising. Automotive, real estate, retail, food, home improvement and all of the other things people are seeking to buy are the most commonly seen sources of reviews. Car dealerships thrive or dive based on the reviews they receive for customer care. Big box stores are loved and hated by their patrons, and one bad experience written up from an unhappy customer can reach a national audience. If it’s for sale, or being sold by a business, then there’s bound to be online reviews about it.

While the reviews for the Walmarts, Olive Gardens and ReMAX offices are the stuff of household discussions, small businesses aren’t free from being hit by reviews and being the focal point of conversation as well. Hometown service providers may not be getting national attention, but their customer base still wants to talk about their experiences, and they want to see what others have to say before making their first visit. It’s unlikely any dentist, masseuse or dog groomer has avoided being reviewed online by their customers as well.

So, with that in mind, what are some of the advantages and disadvantages of online reviews? Clearly the disadvantages can be disastrous, when someone attacks a business with bad reviews, or competition start fanning the flames of a business war with misinformation, then customers will be lost. An easy target is a business that isn’t prepared for damaging reviews, and if that’s known, then it won’t be long until the sharks start closing in. However, a business that’s ready for the onslaught can turn that in their favor. Knowing how to use those reviews to advertise itself, how to effectively respond to negative comments so that others can see the customer care that’s offered in response, figuring out how to get reviews to make search engine results post that business at the top… all of that is possible, and the right actions will ensure more customers find their way to any business.

Establishing the Business Online

Anyone can build a space online to call their own. The fact is, most people already have. Children have been doing it with ease since the 90’s when the net started to become a household necessity. With close to 30 years of experience, modern society has latched onto the world wide web and won’t let go. The web has become our community, we interact, share, organize and develop ourselves in ways never before possible. With so much at stake, with so many people delving through web page after web page, it’s become clear that a business must be well established online to thrive.

There’s a big difference between having a business web page, and using a web page to the best of its abilities. Being established online means more than just building a space, or creating a Facebook account. It means being seen. In our parents and grandparents day, they said the biggest three biggest factors to running a successful business were location, location, location. That hasn’t changed, but the idea of a location isn’t what it used to be. The physical address is losing ground to the website address. The businesses that operate most successfully know this all too well. Just picture for a moment. An online bookstore run out of a garage. That’s how it all started. The physical address meant nothing to them then, and it means just as little today. What mattered was being seen by online consumers, having them directed to that little webpage where they could peruse some books and find a cheap deal. Now is a constant online destination. Everyone knows that address just as well as they know their home address. While that’s the supreme example of an online business presence, that’s the type of notoriety every business should aim for within their communities and industries.

While is almost entirely an online destination, and most small businesses rely heavily on having people enter their establishments, the concept of needing that online presence to really stand out is the same. As it is now, up to 90 percent of customers visit the webpage of a business before they even consider stepping through the door. Online sales themselves corner almost 10 percent of all retail sales in America, where the transaction occurred with no face to face connection at all. That’s over $434 billion dollars spent online to buy goods in 2017. To get a piece of that, businesses need to have an online presence that gets noticed.

Developing that online presence is daunting, especially for smaller business that may not have the resources for much investment into their online activities. However, it’s not how much money that a business invests into their online presence, it’s how well that investment works.

Since nine out of ten people start their experience with a business online, think about what makes them want to visit a business. SItes that list full product lines, services, simple contact information and offer access to product information find that they have more success inside the store as well. People like having information before they explore something new. They want to know what they are getting into before the head out to see it. They want to be prepared, and they want the businesses they frequent to be just as prepared as they are. That’s the first step to having the best online presence a business can have, build up the websites, and social media accounts so that they prepare customers for the experience of visiting. Make it more appealing, have a call to action to spur potential customers to move and watch how it entices those people to buy. The power of the right online presence can get anyone to make spontaneous purchases, while they browse around to find what motivated them to look at the website in the first place.

Using Online Reviews

Once online visitors have begun placing orders, visiting the business in person and receiving their products then they’ll start talking about it. If the business’s online presence was enough to spark action from a customer, then it won’t take long to spark them to create a review. Whether that review is just talking about the interaction with their friends and family behind closed doors, or posting it publicly online for everyone in the world to see, it will happen.

So if those reviews are happening, then who is it that uses those reviews after they’ve been completed? Research has shown that 82 percent of adults in America read online reviews at least sometimes when they are preparing to make a purchase or visit a business. Of that, it’s those that are under the age of 50 that use them most often. Slightly more than half of the under 50 demographic say they almost always use online reviews. That’s a very large portion of our society, and one that can’t be ignored as while they mature, the younger generations will be even more embedded in online culture.

It’s touchpoints like online reviews that have big impacts on customers whether they have visited the business or not. A touchpoint is any interaction that changes a customer’s thoughts about a brand, service or product. Online reviews can sway customers towards, or away from any business. They shape how the customer feels without them even realizing it. To use that effectively, reviews must be monitored by the business, so if anyone has a bad experience it can be addressed, publicly if possible, so that the reaction can also shape customers feelings about the business. Good reviews will reach customers in a positive way without having to be involved. They act as advertising in a way, highlighting the best parts of the business without any fuss. Bad reviews do the opposite, and are a touchpoint that works against a business. A business can always turn that around though, by creating that follow up touchpoint to reach customers that want to hear the whole story.

Combining Online Presence and Online Reviews

The next step, after building on online presence that can be reviewed, is merging the power of the two pieces together to grow a business. Something weird happens when a business’s online presence starts to get noticed. The business starts to become even more recognized without having to add content or spend time reaching out as much online. As people talk, mention and share links to your business, that raises those links in the search results. Part of how search engines operate, is they scour the web for the count of links that lead to on online page. Every link found somewhere else counts like a popularity vote, and the more votes the business is getting then the higher the search results place it.

The aspect of being talked about online can feed off itself, snowballing as it goes. While it’s rolling along, smart businesses continue to give it a nudges so it doesn’t slow down. One of those nudges is by either overt or nonchalantly requesting more reviews. The bigger the online presence gets, the easier it is to drop a hint that consumers should mention the business they love so others can find it too. Happy customers are often ready to jump when they are asked to give a review outright as well, because it makes them feel good about the impact they are having. As the online presence grows, so does the opportunity to add a few more nudges, which just keeps growing both more and more with every step.

The worst thing that a small business can do is fail to monitor the reviews and online interactions that people are having. There are many great tools that can help with exactly that, so that the business never misses a word that’s being spoken about it. Before people have a chance to start talking, or before anymore is missed, it’s time to research those tools that help monitor reviews. The feedback from reviews that is discovered can help fix issues that the business didn’t realize it had. When people are talking about the negatives, it provides insight into how to improve, and often those customers won’t say it directly to the business. Review sites are a gold mine when it comes to helpful hints to move a business forward, but failing to monitor those reviews leaves those opportunities buried.

There’s been a lot of discussion about why to respond to negative feedback in reviews, which is clearly a necessity, but what about responding to positive reviews as well? Honestly, it’s very important too. While there may not be as much to say when someone has been praising you, it’s been proven that up to nearly 80 percent of people that received feedback on their positive review from business management become more frequent and stronger customers. The benefits of responding to positive reviews are similar to those for negative reviews. When others can see how a business responds, it can put that business in an even more positive light in their eyes. When a thoughtful, and engaging, response is given, then it gives other possible customers more reason to visit the business themselves. Those positive responses will boost customer retention, bolster customer growth, and ultimately improve revenue for the long term, just by staying involved in the process of online reviews.

Part of the process of reviewing a business is interacting with social media. People often gloss over it, but think about social media interactions for a moment. When a post is added to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or Pinterest what happens to it? People see it. If it’s something interesting to them, or fits needs and desires they have, then they’re likely to show that they like it. Each like on social media is a mini-review, as it shows to the world just how many people appreciate what the business as posted. Along with that, every social media platform gives ways to make comments, share or otherwise bring up what they like or don’t like about the post. Those comments are basically a review as well. Of course some will be well thought out, and easy to engage with, while others will be lacking much substance, but they can give businesses an idea about what is working. The more a post gets shared, the more it has a chance to find new customers, and if they glance through the comments and see good engagement, then they’ll likely take the time to reach out and make contact too. As with all things online, they snowball quickly with just a little nudge.

How Customers are Using Online Reviews

Talking about how a business can use their online presence and reviews to grow is certainly a major aspect of what this is all about, but taking into consideration how customers use the reviews is just as important. While it’s likely anyone that reads this has also used online reviews already to help determine what they are likely to buy or request service from, it’s good to think critically about how reviews are used on the whole.

The most intuitive aspect of reading reviews is that the customer is looking for advice and recommendations. They likely have a product in mind that they want, so they just need some support in making the decision on what brand or business to consume from. People don’t like to admit it, but they are subject to mob mentality and peer pressure on a regular basis, and online reviews feed that. When they see the mob going after that brand new fidget spinner, then they suddenly think they need one too. Online reviews exacerbate that issue, but if your business is the one doing the selling, then it’s most definitely not a problem, it’s a feature.

The other big aspect of reviews online, when it comes to customers, is that they can use them to weigh business against business. If two competitors, or more, are fighting for the same market space, then why not do some comparative shopping before making a decision. Customers feel better knowing they have options, so it’s likely they’ll be using that to their advantage. Which lends reason for businesses to be watching their competition online as well, so that they can see how to get a leg up on whatever tricks or strategies they may be employing.

Reaching the End

Online business reviews are here to stay. Savvy businesses will use them to their advantage, while others lose leverage and fall behind. Those online reviews are a treasure trove of information. Customers’ wants, desires, needs and more are buried inside the writing they post online. Possible new customers are skimming through them as we speak. It may not be easy at first, but now is the time to get that business’s online presence dialed in, start interacting, and reaping the benefits that only come from monitoring online reviews like a boss.