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Owning Your Online Reviews: Tips, Tricks, and Best Practices (Part 1)

Recently I extolled the virtues of online reviews for small businesses. Reviews are important for consumers, because they help sort out “good” businesses from “bad.” We’ve all had bad experiences with businesses; experiences we don’t care to repeat. And so more and more, we go online to read what others have had to say before the first visit.

As much as a review can tell customers whether a business is good or bad, it can also provide insider information for potential new customers. If most of the reviews for a tiny taqueria rave about the tamales, chances are high that I’ll try the tamales when I go. If some reviewers warn to avoid the masseuse named Kate at a day spa, I’ll make sure the receptionist doesn’t schedule my appointment with her. If reviewers are suggesting that Mondays are the sale days at a local clothing boutique, you can bet I’m clearing time next Monday to check it out. You get the drift.

Reviews generate buzz about your business.
Reviews generate buzz about your business.

Online reviews elevate awareness for your business in ways that your company website can’t, because current customers are sharing their unique experiences. And if those experiences tend to be positive, more customers will be encouraged to go — generating more sales. In fact, generally speaking, every extra star in a business review leads to a 5-9% jump in revenue.1

Yet a majority of small businesses still ignore review sites, or mistakenly assume they’re only good for restaurants (not true — in 2011 the number of reviews for retail shops surpassed the number of reviews for restaurants on Yelp according to Darnell Holloway, Yelp’s manager of local business outreach).

If you’re one of these business owners, I’ve got good news. Here’s a guide to taking charge of your presence on review sites, with some tips, tricks, and best practices to take along with you.

Finding or setting up your business

Even if you have never looked at a review site before, your business may already have a profile page. Why? Because review sites often pull business data from public records, or sometimes a user has already tipped the site off to your existence. Search review sites for your business first, and if your page exists you can usually claim or “unlock” it. If your business is unlisted, go through the steps of signing up and setting up your information.

Which review sites matter

All review sites matter — some are just more influential than others. Here are the top three:

Angie’s List

Angie’s List reviews are known for quality because users actually have to pay for a membership in order to conduct research. This helps weed out fakes and crazies — you know, the ones behind those extreme rants and raves often inexplicably written with the caps lock on. Instead of the star system, businesses are graded on an A-F scale, and the reviews are geared toward service-based businesses.

Yelp

Unlike Angie’s list, Yelp is a free review site that operates on a 5-star system. Yelp’s system also favors independent businesses, which is good news for the little guys. How? Well, since an experience at a chain business is likely to be the same locally as it is anywhere else, users don’t tend to bother with them. Michael Luca’s restaurant research corroborates this — when Yelp penetrates a market, he says, “there is a shift in revenue toward independent restaurants.”

Google+ Local

Formerly known as Google Places, or casually known as Google Reviews, these are the ratings from Google+ users that pop up along with the pertinent information (hours, location, phone number, etc.) when you search for a business on Google. Since Google remains one of the top search engines, it goes without saying that these reviews are highly visible — and highly important. Like most sites, Google+ Local pages operate on a 5-star review system, but if you own a restaurant, you may also see an additional Zagat (0-30) score derived from your existing reviews.

Yahoo! Local, Insider Pages, Citysearch

These sites have less of the eyeball share than the top three, but they’re probably still worth your time. Insider Pages’ and Citysearch’s reviews get indexed by search engines, so even if a customer doesn’t bother looking on either site, he or she may still come across one of their reviews while searching for your business.

TRICK: A word about Bing Local. While Bing has currently surpassed Yahoo! in search engine market share (up to 17.4% of the usage over Yahoo!’s 11.9% as of May 2013), Bing’s local search results are powered by Yelp. So in other words, if you’re good on Yelp, you’re good on Bing.

BONUS TIP: There are some “niche” review sites not mentioned here that, if your business falls into their category, it might behoove you to add to your list. For example, if you own a restaurant, you’ll want to check out Urban Spoon.

Got it. So what now?

Now that you’ve zeroed in where to focus your efforts and made sure to create and thoroughly fill out your business owner accounts on those sites, what next? Next you’ll focus on how to get reviews, how to respond to the reviews you have, and how to keep the momentum going. Click here for the next post!

 

1 Based on a study of the Seattle restaurant industry by Michael Luca, a professor at Harvard Business School

 

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