4133802287_d1a22bc775_zAsk any business owner about the best form of advertising, and he or she will no doubt tell you “word of mouth” – the effect of positive referrals from happy customers. People trust the recommendations of others who have had great experiences as customers – from retail to restaurants, medicine to manicures, electricians to embroiderers.

The internet has changed the way we give and receive referrals, testimonials and endorsements. Online reviews are the new “word of mouth.” A positive review online may be seen by masses of potential customers who may not have found your business otherwise. On the flip side, a negative review can go viral and quickly ruin everything a business has strived to build.

The good news is that businesses can manage their online reputations. The first step is in understanding how online reviews rate so highly when one searches for information.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the science of achieving and maintaining a strong online presence. Reviews are critical in developing your visibility by giving your business listing extra weight – the more reviews you receive, the more points you gain for legitimacy. The better those reviews are, the better the chance your local search ranking will increase. For example, if your listing in a search result has 15 reviews with an average of 4.5 stars, this indicates to the searcher that your products and services are trustworthy.

Data confirms what we already know – the vast amount of information online means consumers can quickly find the answers to their questions without ever making a phone call, going to a store or asking a salesperson. By the time someone is checking out online reviews, they’ve already decided what they would like to purchase. Now, they are set on selecting the right business to fulfill their needs. Often, the search is happening on a mobile device, and the searcher wants to purchase right now.

In a survey conducted by local search analysts, about 85% of consumers reported reading online reviews and 67% said they read only 6 reviews or less before forming their opinion. According to another survey by Dimensional Research, 90% of respondents claimed that positive online reviews influenced their buying decisions, and 86 percent said their buying decisions were influenced by negative reviews.

Your Google+ business page is the best place to collect online reviews, because Google (the largest and most popular search engine) will always find these reviews. Google Carousel is a feature that highlights the highest ranking results in a revolving carousel at the top of the page. When a consumer searches on a mobile device, Google Maps shows the highest-rated results closest to the user’s current location. Google Now for mobile devices provides users on-the-go with review counts and average ratings, displayed prominently.

Still, it is also imperative to monitor other search engines. As of March 2014, Yelp reviews have become integrated as part of the Yahoo interface. Yelp also powers Bing’s local search experience. Apple now uses Yelp on its Maps application, and uses the service to provide content to Siri when she is asked “any good burger joints around here?”

To be visible in local searches and show potential customers the strengths of your business, take the proactive approach to managing your online reputation. You’ll be able to garner more positive reviews, show your attention to customer service and boost your online visibility in the process. Check out SmartRep, a new reputation management tool through SmartLink Internet Marketing. Call 561-688-8155 for details.

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