Online reviews are undoubtedly success determinants in today’s interconnected world. The internet revolution, which is still in its nascent phase, has reached a point where people trust and look for online reviews of their peers before making a purchase decision.
There exists a strong, invisible thread that connects the psyche of digitally-savvy customers and the suggestions of total strangers, and this thread is becoming all the more important.
The trend is more visible among digital natives as they are the ones who are less hesitant to experiment. The Internet has become their go-to medium when it comes to finding, understanding, and reviewing a product or service.
According to a consumer survey done by ReviewTrackers, 63.6% of internet-friendly users said online reviews are important for them as they search for positive reviews before visiting offline businesses.
These staggering numbers are an indication that there is no respite for offline businesses from the impact of the Internet revolution.
When it comes to online stores, the target audience is more likely to read online reviews before making the decision to buy a product or service.
The research firm Dimensional Research recently did a study on 1,046 US natives and found that 90% of them relied on positive reviews online before clicking the final checkout button.
One of the reasons for more people depending on online reviews is because reviews, at times, act as the only source to know whether or not others found the product useful.
This trend among peers is critical for businesses that provide both services and products because people gauge the quality, durability, and performance of the product based on the general sentiment of the online reviews.
The research article titled “Influence of Consumer Reviews on Online Purchasing Decisions in Older and Younger Adults” by Bettina von Helversen says that the digital natives (younger generation customers) tend to display their bias toward products with positive customer reviews.
The research also found that in cases where reviews are absent, the users tend to choose products based on the other distinguishable attributes, but their numbers are visibly less.
All these studies are an indication that building a positive online presence through customer reviews has become one of the significant building blocks of creating a brand.
Importance of Online Reviews in Brand Building?
Traditional Mass Communication theories suggest word-of-mouth as one of the most effective communication channels.
However, the incredible growth achieved by the internet has given a new dimension to vox populi in the form of online reviews.
Before the internet blew up into the giant it is today, purchasing decisions were influenced by friends, family, and close associates. However, in the changing times, the relationship of the buyer is a factor that least affects the buying decision.
Online reviews are more viral in nature wherein what matters is the overall sentiment shared, which is either positive or negative.
Be it a Google My Business review or a product review on Amazon, it has the power to influence the buying decision of a prospective internet-savvy customer. This makes online reviews an integral part of future branding strategies.
Why Consumers Trust Online Reviews
As we discussed earlier, the youth are keen to know the experience of their peers before purchasing a product or choosing a service. This has put the impetus on providing the best information about companies and services through the platforms frequented by the target audience.
Customers trust online reviews as it gives an overview of the experience other people had with the product or service. Another underlying factor that connects these total strangers is the necessity to buy the product or avail the service.
Since, products and services are intended for specific demands of the target audience, the general sentiments aired through online reviews are taken seriously. This is more likely to happen with businesses that are less transparent about the quality of their services.
The accessibility of online reviews to all internet users via Facebook, Google, and other popular platforms has made it easy to read and write reviews. Since these services are available across all platforms, they can access it on the go.
Since the touchpoint of almost all online searches is Google, the reviews that appear in the search engine matters a lot. Google’s updated UI provides a sneak peek into the reviews even before the user can see the first result.
A quick search for “best oncologist in california” gives you a list of the top-rated doctors or cancer centers.
This list, commonly called Google Map Pack, is segregated based on the number of positive customer reviews provided by people who visited the establishment.
Are online reviews trustworthy?
There is a general sentiment among the buying personas to trust negative reviews more than positive ones. This could be entangled with the psychology of the customers however, the impact it makes on business is far-fetched.
A study conducted by Pew Research among US online buyers in 2016 found that 82% of Americans believe that the reviews they read online are “generally accurate.” Interestingly, there is an increasing trend among online stores to seek out negative reviews.
It is believed that overly positive comments and reviews about a product or service makes the target audience a bit more skeptical about the authenticity of the reviews. Social commerce specialists Revoo did a study on consumers and found that they spend 4x more time on site reading and interacting with negative reviews, resulting in a 67% increase in conversion rate.
This indicates that there are chances that the reviews that users find on Google and other popular review-based sites are manufactured. However, online review sites like Yelp, Facebook, Amazon, and Google My Business have come up with stringent policy changes to eliminate such tendencies in the market.
Google recently announced they are training the algorithm to detect fake reviews posted on Google My Business, which once again points to the importance of online reviews as one of Google’s ranking factors.
Advantages of Online Reviews
- In the internet age, Online Reviews are considered as free advertising for businesses, as most of them are posted on third-party websites.
- Brand mentions across the web will help in better brand positioning. This will give an edge for businesses that are struggling to beat the competitors due to lack of trust.
- With more people recognizing the brand, there is a chance of improved conversion rates for businesses.
- Ranking on search engine will become easy with positive reviews as Google and other key players in the search industry values the popular sentiment of the target audience.
- Addressing negative reviews with proper solutions will help leverage the trust on your brand.
- Businesses can identify the common issues faced by the customers and can come up with actionable solutions.
Disadvantages of Online Reviews
- Full 5-star reviews can cause suspicion and there is a growing tendency among buyers to doubt the authenticity of such businesses – be it a local business or a small business. When it comes to a well-established business, the overall sentiment may vary.
- Unattended negative reviews of product or business can irk the potential customers.
- Most third-party review sites come with a cost. Choose them wisely as some may not be frequented by your target audience.
- May need a dedicated resource to filter out malicious comments from review sites.
- Reviews must come on a regular basis or users may feel a little insecure seeing outdated reviews.
How Online Customer Reviews Help SEO?
In addition to showcasing your business establishment in a positive manner, online reviews can help you drive more users to the website if you have an online presence.
According to reports, Google Reviews help in improving the rankings of a website on the Search Engine Results Page. Google algorithms are trained to understand the number of reviews received on both it’s own platforms and other third-party websites. In addition to this, Google had recently bought a patent that helps to understand the social proof of businesses by check the overall sentiment on social media channels.
Positive customer reviews about a business is a strong signal for expertise, authority, and trust. Google gives a definitive edge to websites that have a good online reputation.
The latest Google Quality Rater Guidelines has a dedicated section for Customer Reviews of Stores/Businesses. This indicates the importance of online Customer Reviews in ranking a website.
Since online customer reviews are prone to misuse, Google has recently updated its algorithm to crack down on sites that try to gain undue attention by faking customer reviews. The latest QRG clearly states that “it is also important to read the reviews because of the content of the reviews matter, not just the number.”
1. Google Trusts its Users and Not Businesses!
Time and again, Google has reiterated that they value the users rather than the websites listed on the search results. Online Customer reviews are considered as a quality signal by Google.
The search engine giant uses it to push a website up/down based on the aggregate of the reviews. However, the QRG categorically states that it’s not the star ratings that matter but the genuine words written by the users.
The purpose served by Reviews and Links is closely interconnected. A site that receives backlinks from high authority website ranks well on the search results page as Google considers it as an endorsement for quality.
Likewise, when it comes to businesses and products, Google considers online customer reviews as a personal recommendation for the quality of the services offered. In addition to this, Google pushes it up either in the SERP or in the Map Pack based on the general sentiments.
2. Getting on top of Map Pack or SERP Means More Targeted Traffic
Businesses and product-based websites ensure they get positive customer comments/reviews from the users as this greatly impacts the way Google ranks these sites.
If you search for a product; for example, “iPhone 6 screen guard,” the first two results are product pages that have positive customer reviews.
Getting on top of the search results page naturally invites a lot of targeted traffic, thus increasing the conversion rate. However, the quality of the services provided by the business is critical in garnering positive reviews.
If a majority of the customers are dissatisfied with the product or service offered, they may leave negative reviews. This will not only affect the online visibility of the site but also the number of footfalls to the offline store.
3. Building Brand Awareness Through Customer Reviews
When your customers leave a review about a product or service that your store offers, they are inadvertently helping you build the brand.
For example, an Indian restaurant owner based in New York may want to rank for some Indian Cuisines. The website has already been optimized for the names of the cuisines as they are the keywords.
However, imagine a customer leaving a Google review after a recent visit to this restaurant.
The review may feature the name of the dish that was served and an extensive detailing of how it tasted.
This gives Google and other search engines enough clues to rank this restaurant for the queries that users search for in the same locality who may want to taste the same dish.
How to Respond to Negative Online Reviews?
If you’re running an online store with thousands of footfalls every day, it’s possible that you may receive a few online negative reviews. This is the same with websites that gain considerable online traction.
When it comes to an offline store, the majority of the complaints revolve around employee behavior and poor customer service. This can be fixed easily by giving the employees extensive training on customer service and satisfaction.
On the other hand, you can also devise other methods such as real-time text messages and phone calls or a dedicated kiosk for customers to share their grievances.
It’s important to address the concerns of the customers before they develop into negative reviews.
It’s important to know that a negative review is not the end of the world, nor will it affect the business adversely.
However, it’s a major concern if the negative reviews outweigh the positive ones. In this case, the business owner has to look into the problems faced by the customers and mend them so that all future customers are satisfied.
If the customer has faced genuine grievance, it’s important to apologize as potential customers may read the review and have a biased impression about the business.
Leaving a negative review unanswered is as bad as not attending to an angry customer throwing tantrums. It may confuse other customers, and they might choose not to revisit the store.
Do and Don’t of Responding to a Negative Online Review
It’s advised to check your review profiles regularly and act swiftly when there’s a negative review. This is an important part of your brand building strategy and must be done with utmost care.
The importance of crafting a message that you can post in response to the negative review is twice more important than responding to a positive review. Knowing this, here are some simple do’s and don’ts when it comes to replying to negative feedback.
- Put the blame on the customer
- Blame your staff
- Accuse the customer of lying or exaggerating
- Hold off apologies
- Refuse to be accountable
- Use slang or informal language
- Write an essay as a response
- Reply to reviews that implicate illegal behavior; it would be better to seek legal counsel if this occurs.
- Sincerely apologize for the bad experience
- Empathize with the customers
- Claim complete responsibility, as the owner of the business
- Provide something that you think might help resolve the conflict. The customer has a chance to give you a 2nd chance (a refund, a meal on the house, a replacement product, a discount)
- Show your commitment to solving problems that have been raised and explain to the customer how you will remedy the situation
- Be honest and transparent about the reason for the mistake
- Let the customer know that you want to offer a great experience and in doing so, invite them for further in-person complaints and customer feedback
- Keep it short but sincere