Online reviews are vital to modern consumers – they rival word of mouth recommendations and help with the decision making process. Generating reviews is an essential activity for any local business, but there are expectations of both quantity and quality which can be a troublesome mix to perfect for anyone appointed to increase customer reviews. This holds true for all sizes of business, whatever their niche and regardless of their location.
Why focus on increasing customer reviews?
There are a host of reasons to focus on online reviews, but there’s one overarching one, and it’s as simple as acknowledging that they are a decision making tool. Within that realization, there are multiple finer points to take into consideration, not least of which is what consumers actually look for when it comes to your review profile.
Gone are the days when you’d turn to your neighbor for a recommendation for a mechanic or gardener or ask colleagues and family members for restaurant tips.
It’s a trust thing – for all generations.
In the online era, the online review reigns supreme – in fact, now the millennial generation has come of age, it’s possible that we’re witnessing the first era of consumers who grew up entirely with online reviews. Crucially, it all comes down to trust and as the new generation of consumers loses confidence in other channels, reviews have emerged as a safe haven for information.
Forbes’ Michael Fertik explains,
Millennials don’t trust advertising, celebrity endorsements or any of the more traditional, one-way communications strategies. They’re even growing skepticism of “influencers,” and are beginning to doubt their credibility. This skepticism is in large part due to the “fake news” phenomenon that has plagued (and to some degree, powered) politicians and celebrities alike over the past few years. Such untrustworthy media banter has eroded trust among U.S. consumers — and Millennials are probably the most wary of us all. So how do you build trust with younger consumers online? With user-generated content (UCG) — like reviews…Nearly all Millennials (97%) read online reviews before selecting a business, and 89% trust those reviews. And a recent UK study found eight out of 10 Millennials never buy anything without first reading a review.”
The 97% quoted by Fertik is from our own Local Consumer Review Survey – and trust isn’t relevant only to Millennials. Our research found that only 6% of 35-54 year olds don’t trust reviews.
You need multiple reviews…
Simply having a review or two isn’t enough to win over savvy consumers. Our research shows today’s consumers require an average of 40 reviews before they trust the accuracy of a star rating.
Unless you have a plan in place to consistently increase your online reviews, it could easily be months or years before you cross the 40-review threshold – and by then the goal posts may have changed. In 2017, the average was just 34.
It’s worth noting here, too, that 56% of consumers pay attention to the average star rating, so you’ll need a constant influx of positive reviews to keep your own star rating average at an acceptable level.
…and multiple recent reviews
While we’ve seen that the quantity of reviews is important, the freshness of reviews is another consumer prerequisite – which makes your task of consistently adding to your review profile all the more vital.
Even more pressing is that this expectation is spreading. In 2017, just 18% of consumers only took into account reviews from the last two weeks. Today that figure is 40%.
On top of that, 85% of consumers will disregard reviews more than three months old – so there’s no let-up in the need to be constantly reaching out to customers to increase reviews for your business.
Just to pile on the pressure still further, consumers need to read an average of 10 reviews before they feel like they can trust your business.
They attract consumers precisely when they are looking to buy
If you’ve ever found yourself searching for a new vet, an appliance repair man or cable guy, you’ve probably read the reviews before you made an appointment or committed to spending money. This is exactly why it’s important to make review generation a part of your standard marketing process – because reviews are referenced while the consumer is looking to buy.
That makes them an incredibly valuable tool, particularly for smaller businesses, as Forbes writer Cory Capoccia explains:
If you run a small business today, the single most important thing you can do to attract new customers is to take control of your online review score on sites like Yelp, Google My Business, Foursquare and TripAdvisor… In the past, small businesses had to rely on inefficient “push” methods to attract new customers. If you buy a radio ad, for example, the message has to do two hard jobs: Convince the customer to spend money with you and create urgency to do it now, before distractions take over. When a consumer uses a review platform like Yelp or Google My Business, the decision and urgency to buy are exactly what prompted the person’s search. If traditional advertising is a megaphone that enables businesses to shout and see who’s listening, review sites are tractor beams that pull consumers toward local businesses precisely when they’re actively looking to spend money. That’s an invaluable opportunity for small businesses with tight — or non-existent — marketing budgets.”
How do you increase reviews for your business?
The best way to generate meaningful, authentic and timely reviews from your customers is to just ask. Findings from the Local Consumer Review Survey suggest that 66% of consumers have been asked to leave a review for a local business – while this is still higher than one in two, the figure is lower than it was 12 months ago, when 74% of people had been asked to leave a review after a transaction with a local business.
Clearly, fewer businesses are being proactive about soliciting customer reviews – which means they’re potentially missing out on the many benefits they offer. As we have noted in our key findings,
Every review is equal – and by asking every customer to leave a review, you’re far more likely to grow the number of reviews quickly and naturally. 70% of consumers that have been asked to leave reviews went on to do so.”
Playing by the rules
One note of caution here before we dive in to the various ways you can set about encouraging your customers to review you. Each review platform will have its own terms of service and will set out what you can and can’t do as a business to generate reviews.
Obviously, all review platforms prohibit fake reviews and don’t allow you to post a review for your own business, but there are also less obvious regulations that you’ll need to abide by when encouraging customer reviews.
Google, for example, specifically states that it doesn’t allow review gating; this is the practice of using a software tool to filter out negative reviews, leaving only the positive for consumers to see. It also prevents sending bulk review requests. (For the record, BrightLocal’s Reputation Manager doesn’t do this.)
Yelp! directly prohibits businesses from requesting reviews from customers. Facebook for its part doesn’t permit incentivized recommendations.
Contravening a platform’s review policy can see you kicked off and your hard-won reviews lost so make sure you’re familiar with guidelines for the top review platforms before you devise your review generation strategy.
Once you are clear about what is and isn’t permitted on your review platforms of of choice, you can get started building up those customer reviews.
Below are some of the best ways to increase the number of online reviews your company boasts, with options ranging from asking in person to using point-of-sale tools.
I’d recommend experimenting with a number of different techniques, and mixing and matching the approaches to find out which best works for you and your client base, rather than relying on a single method only.
What you don’t want to do is stick solely to one method, as you risk missing some customers out of the sweep. If you only ask for reviews by Live Chat, for example, you won’t capture any reviews from those who don’t use your Live Chat functionality pre or post-purchase. Likewise, if you only use in-store messaging, you miss those who buy online.
Find a balance by testing a range of these options and using as many methods as are relevant to really maximize your opportunities to collect new customer reviews.
Ask for reviews in person
When you pride yourself on offering a great product or service, generating consumer reviews is an excellent way to make sure your commitment to your customers shines online.
Search Engine Land’s Brian Patterson says asking for reviews in person is the “gold standard” because it allows the team member who’s worked most closely with that customer to make the request. He explains,
There’s no better way to ask for, and get, reviews than to do it in person. The person-to-person request is incredibly effective, particularly if the requester has spent a lot of time with the customer. We’ve found that asking in person can garner you seven to eight times more reviews than asking via email. Let’s take a furniture store as an example. A sales associate might spend an hour or more helping a customer pick out and customize just the right couch for their home. They get to know each other over the course of that time, talk about where they’re from, their families, and so on. A mini-bond is built in the time spent together. At the end of the sale, there is now no person better positioned to ask for a review than this sales associate. The associate can explain that it helps other customers who are researching them and gives a true perspective on the business.”
For this method to be successful, you’ll need to first identify which members of staff have primary customer contact and then train them both on the importance of reviews and how to bring this up to the customer.
How and when a review is requested will depend on the nature of your business. In a restaurant, for example, the server could request a review at the end of the meal. A realtor could request a review when the property closes or when the keys change hands.
Ask for reviews via your website
Whether you’re an eCommerce business or a local business with a catalogue or portfolio website, there are multiple ways you can ask for reviews via your website. An easy way to begin asking for customer reviews on your own domain is to use the stickers or widgets that some platforms provide. These link back to your profile on the review platform in question, encouraging customers to share their experiences.
Another easy way to ask for reviews on your site is to fold it into your checkout process. When the visitor goes to their online cart to pay for their order, add a review request to the confirmation of order screen.
It’s a great idea to display the reviews you have received on your website to ensure you fully leverage the benefits they offer you. Having reviews posted on your site reinforces your suitability as a business at the point of sale and can reassure web visitors of your approach to customer service, product or service quality and overall reputation.
Reviews act as social proof, too, and placing them on your site means those visitors who may not have done any prior research can easily delve into your review profile. Once you have created a dedicated page to showcase your reviews, ask visitors to review you and give links to your chosen review platforms to make it easy for them to do so.
Ask for reviews via SMS
Have you considered requesting a review via SMS? If your contact form or customer communications allow customers to set their communication preferences, some clients may select the SMS option. If so, you can use SMS messaging to request a review. This is a particularly effective approach for service industry firms, says John Lincoln, CEO of Ignite Visibility.
…some service industries may benefit from SMS review requests… Any home service – think landscaping, internet installation, etc. – could send a prompt follow-up message asking if the service was satisfactory, and if so, would they mind leaving a review? Even better – combine that SMS with an email message to pack a one-two punch. But for best results, don’t skip the email.”
Speaking of which…
Ask for reviews via email
Requesting a review via an email to your customer is one of the most common approaches employed by those building a review profile and for good reason – it’s a very effective approach and one that most consumers will feel comfortable with.
If you use a reputation management tool, you may well find that it offers you a review request template to get started. You should also be able to add your own email text if you prefer. Those new to review requests might wish to begin with the template and then refine and make their own over time.
Many consumers will actually expect a review request to be emailed to them shortly after doing business with a company. We talked about each platform having their own rules and regulations a little earlier. Even though you may think requesting a review is an acceptable practice, some platforms explicitly forbid this.
Yelp, for example, doesn’t want you to ask customers to leave a review and Google prohibits bulk email requests for customer reviews. Make sure you brush up on the guidelines before you send out your review request email to ensure you stay on the right side of what is and isn’t permissible.
Once you known what you can and can’t do, you’ll need to craft your email:
- The best review request emails are clear, concise and feature a call to action. Keep it short and snappy and no more than a paragraph or so.
- The email should feature your branding so the recipient is clear on who’s asking for a review. Visible branding can also help prove the email’s authenticity so make sure the design is consistent with your website, social media profiles and catalogues.
- Use personalization to make an instant connection with the recipient.
- Add the order number, product name or other service details to refresh your recipient’s memory and ensure they review the right thing.
If you need a little inspiration, these 20 review request emails from brands such as Etsy, Gap and Crate & Barrel are very helpful.
Ask for reviews via in-store messaging
Although you’re looking to increase your store of online customer reviews, the way you request those reviews certainly doesn’t need to be solely digital in approach. A successful campaign will see a range of methods deployed and a diverse approach to requesting reviews sustained.
You should be well versed in promoting your special offers and new products in your location, and many of those same tactics can be used to request a review.
If you have a physical bricks-and-mortar location, you’re missing a trick if you don’t ask for customer reviews with in-store messaging. You can do this in any number of ways – if you’re a bar with a big screen TV to show sports for example, you could display a branded screen when there’s no game to show which reminds customers to head to TripAdvisor to leave their review.
Posters on the wall, stickers, even pins on employee uniforms reminding patrons to leave a review are all great ways to increase your review volume. Printed reminders on receipts, catalogues, menus and leaflets also shouldn’t be discounted.
Ask for reviews via in-store kiosk
If you have the space, installing a kiosk in-store where people can leave their review can be both convenient and effective. This could be something as simple as a tablet stand (similar to that which you’d use at your booth during a conference or expo) placed next to the register or door, with a tablet bolted on and your review platform of choice loaded up.
If you have a bigger space, such as a large car dealership or store over multiple floors, you may need more than one.
Again, this is a method that can be adapted and personalised to suit your brand. If you’re a young, fun clothing boutique or salon, you could convert an old photo booth and make it a fun review kiosk which becomes a real feature of your store. Don’t be afraid to get creative – but remember to employ plenty of in-store signage to make your review kiosk stand out.
If you’re interested, BrightLocal’s Reputation Manager offers a Kiosk Mode right out of the box!
Ask for reviews via business card
What’s on your business card? Your name, job title and contact information will certainly be on there. Perhaps you also have your social media handle and website address.
However, you perhaps don’t have an invitation for the recipient to leave a review and a link to your preferred site or review generation platform.
This is an easy addition to make and can be incredibly effective, especially if you’re in a field where you hand out dozens of cards each week (such as sales manager, marketer, solicitor, accountant or similar).
Ask for reviews via Live Chat
If your website has a Live Chat function, fold a review request into standard operating procedure. Your customer service team or even chatbot should end each conversation with a request for a review.
The great thing about this method is you can easily provide both a link to your preferred review platform and instructions for leaving the review without any extra effort.
Ask for reviews via your booking system
Any point of contact with your customer is an opportunity to increase your customer reviews, so make use of your booking system to help you in this task.
You can remind customers to leave a review with a message on screen when the booking is made, add it to the email confirmation sent from the system to your customer, and include it on e-tickets and vouchers issued to the customer.
If your booking system sends a transactional message after the booking has been used, you’ll most certainly want to include both a request for a review and a link for your customer to do just that.
Ask for reviews via physical receipts
Both online-only businesses and bricks-and-mortar locations can use physical receipts to ask the customer to leave a review:
Add a line or two of text to your register receipts asking customers how their experience was and providing a review platform name, inviting them to leave their own review.
If you email receipts to customers, add the same text plus a link to your review platform of choice at the bottom of the receipt or invoice.
If you enclose an order receipt, invoice or even a returns slip in packages you ship to customers, ensure the request to leave a review is also included on that document.
For those physically shipping items, it’s well worth considering taking this a stage further and including a flyer which asks for a review and provides a step-by-step guide for those who aren’t sure how to do so.
Ask for reviews via NFC box at reception
If you have a fairly modern smartphone, you’ll almost certainly have NFC. Essentially, this technology allows for wireless data transfer. It’s what powers contactless payment systems such as Apple Pay. So if you’ve ever tapped your phone to the terminal to pay for your morning latte at Starbucks, you’ve used NFC.
According to Cameron Faulkner, the US mobile editor at TechRadar, this tech is becoming increasingly common and is already being used for similar applications:
Passive NFC ‘tags’ are being built into posters and informational kiosks to transmit additional information similar to how scanning a QR code can trigger launching a web address, offering a discount coupon, or a map to download on your smartphone.”
If you have an NFC box set up at your location, you can pair this with Link Mode from our Reputation Manager to allow visitors to leave a review quickly and easily.
Taking it to the next level
Now that you have an extensive selection of ways to ask for your reviews in your arsenal, it’s time to take your customer review collection to the next level. While these aren’t technically ways to reach out to get reviews, they are additional steps you can take to consolidate your review process and maximize the impact of your efforts.
Monitor your business locations
If you have multiple physical business locations, monitoring the performance of each will allow for a direct comparison of review profiles.
Look at the data for each location and identify which ones are underperforming in terms of review velocity (frequency of reviews left for that location). You may also want to look at percentage of positive versus negative reviews while you have the data to hand in case further steps need to be taken to nip problems in the bud.
When you know which location is generating the least amount of reviews, you can focus your review generation efforts there.
Respond to reviews
Whether you have one location or multiple, get into the habit of responding to reviews and answering any questions posed within the body of the review.
Responding to reviews is important for a number of different reasons; it’s a Google ranking factor according to the Moz Local Search Ranking Factors study, it also shows customers that you value their feedback and it gives you a chance to deal with any negative reviews. The more responses and acknowledgement of reviews consumers see, the more likely they are to leave one for you when asked.
What’s more, 89% of consumers read local businesses’ response to reviews as part of their research. Neglecting to respond in a timely fashion could mean that you fall at the last hurdle and leave consumers to continue their search for a local business.
Use review platform tools to generate reviews
Many of the major review sites provide tools to help you generate more reviews. TripAdvisor and Yelp, for example, both provide physical stickers to place at your location encouraging customers to review you. (It’s admittedly pretty hypocritical that Yelp is allowed to ask your customers for reviews but you can’t, but what can you do?)
Google has a Google My Business Marketing kit containing free stickers, posters and social media posts. TripAdvisor additionally has a range of useful assets including the ability to print physical request cards, a collection tool and downloadable flyers.
Showcase your reviews in an attractive way on your site
Making your reviews visible on your site can also help you to attract more reviews, and when connected with schema, they can generate your average star rating in SERPs for your business.
Ensure that they are easy to find and presented in an attractive manner. You can use this page to link back to your review platforms, encouraging visitors to leave a review for your business.
Turn your reviews into Google My Business Posts to attract more reviews
When your campaign to increase customer reviews kicks into high gear, you might find that Google also lends a small hand to help you showcase your best reviews.
As of April 2019, Google My Business has suggested positive reviews to be showcased as a Google My Business Post. Suggestions are based on four and five star reviews your business has received and you’ll have the option to edit the suggested review before publishing the Post.
Generating customer reviews is an expansive and multi-tiered discipline. Online reviews wield influence not just on consumers but on Google, too, meaning that as a business owner, you need a wealth of review generation strategies at your disposal.
While it may be tempting to rely on a single familiar method such as issuing an email request, there are many more ways to reach out to your customers to ask them to review your business.
To seriously increase your review count, it’s advisable to put several of these tactics into action. Just don’t forget to first check the guidelines for each review site and commit to monitoring results so you can adjust your approach if needed.
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