Ratings and review sites, such as Yelp and others, have been in the news lately and not for the right reasons: Accusations have circulated that paid subscribers to these sites may be deleting customers' negative reviews and that many businesses actually pay for positive ones.
Related: How to Spin a Bad Online Review
Naturally, consumers have become wary and wonder if they can trust the reviews -- good and bad.
That leaves us with the question: Is getting positive reviews still an integral part of the success of a small business?
The answer is yes, especially for retail stores and professional services. Why? According to BrightLocal, 88 percent of consumers trust online recommendations as much as they do personal recommendations. However, not all reviews are equal. Here’s where your business should focus:
1. Word of mouth
In many cases, these are the best types of reviews for local business owners. When customers have a good meal or experience in your establishment, they will post pictures and tell their friends on Facebook and Instagram to visit your business. The same is true if they have a negative experience -- and consumers tend to post more if they’ve had a bad time. These reviews are real and can significantly impact your bottom line.
These differ from word-of-mouth reviews in that they come from acknowledged sources. Who are the online influencers or industry experts who might write a review of your products or services? Consumers listen to these people and often follow their suggestions. Cultivate relationships with them, so their praise for your business will come organically.
3. Search engines
If I do a search on your business, how many review websites will appear on the first page? What kind of ranking do you have on those sites? If there is a stream of complaints about poor customer service, or other negative comments, this feedback will cost you business. However, you can fight back by garnering current, positive reviews, which will drive the negative ones down the page.
Of course, just being in business, you’re going to get some negative reviews. Don’t panic. If all your reviews are positive, consumers likely won’t believe they’re real. And smarter consumers can usually see through the negative reviews written by competitors or the ones left by the type of customers who are never satisfied.
You can use the negative reviews, too. Treat them as free market research. If you own a restaurant, for example, and customers are complaining that your fries are soggy -- maybe your fries are soggy and you need to do something about them.
4. Fight back against bad reviews.
Bad reviews can hurt your business. Is there anything you can do to fight the negativity? Try these methods:
Get involved in social media. Consumers are less likely to leave a bad review if they’ve engaged with the business owner, either in person or online. In addition, monitoring what people are saying about your business on social media gives you the opportunity to answer consumer complaints.
Ask your customers for feedback. It’s okay to ask your loyal customers to leave positive feedback when they have a good experience with you. If they’re loyal, they obviously like your business and want to see it succeed.
Challenge negative reviews. Don’t let negative reviews go unanswered. If you think you have a competitor bashing you, contact the review site directly with your concerns. You can also use the “business reply” section on review sites that enable you to tell your side of the story. It’s often best to apologize to the customer online, so other consumers can see you’re interested in keeping them satisfied; then take the conversation with the unhappy customer offline. In more instances than not, you’ll mollify the angry customer, who will then likely post about his or her positive experience online. In some cases, you will never be able to make that customer happy, so stop wasting time and move on.
Ratings and reviews -- the good and the bad-- are part of being in business. The best way to fight the negative ones and get more positive ones is to do your best to exceed your customers’ expectations.