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Conquering Your Fear of Feedback: Embracing Review Websites

By Jesse Butts | October 11, 2012

Many entrepreneurs are scared stiff by unfavorable reviews of their businesses that might be lurking in cyberspace. That fear often means negative feedback on review websites are never addressed, only compounding the problem.

While some consumers are foregoing review sites due to an abundance of false reviews, these sites still exert major influence in consumers’ sales processes. According to recent studies, 62 percent of consumers read online reviews. And of those review-reading consumers, nearly 70 percent trust recommendations from users they don’t know from Adam.

The process of monitoring and responding to online reviews and comments (sometimes called “online reputation management”) is imperative for virtually every small business.

Overcoming Your Apprehension: Monitoring and Participating in Review Sites

As you begin exploring online reviews directed toward your business, follow a systematic approach, such as:

  1. Create Google Alerts for your business and product names so you receive real-time updates when websites—including review sites—mention you.
  2. Search for your business name or product for reviews. 
  3. Prioritize which negative reviews warrant immediate feedback. Keep that list handy as we'll address this issue below.
  4. Spend time establishing business accounts and keeping up to date on the most popular review sites, including:

Yelp. The big kahuna of all online review sites is almost ubiquitous with the term “online reviews.” “Customers love us on Yelp!” stickers adorn many small businesses' front doors and display windows. Consumers check the review site before going out for everything from dining to yoga classes to making photocopies. And even when they’re out on the town, they’ll still whip out their smartphones to access their Yelp apps in order to find the best businesses in the area.

Angie's List. Although this “Reviews you can trust” website is pay-only and doesn't allow businesses to receive preferential treatment, it might be worth your time to pay for an account in order to monitor the status of your business. If you’re in contracting or the home-improvement industry, take special note of Angie’s List. A business owner's account is free and allows you to respond to reviews, receive alerts when new reviews are posted and create an online storefront for your business.

Google Maps. While not dedicated solely to reviews, Google Maps does allow users to add and read reviews for map locations. As one of the most popular websites in the world (Google is currently ranked #2 worldwide and #1 in America), Google Maps users span many demographics and interests. Once viewers have found a review on this site, they’ll likely forego other review sites.

Insider Pages. This review site is gaining traction for audiences most concerned with finding professionals, contracts, and health and lifestyle services. Retail and restaurant business owners should focus their efforts on other sites. But if you’re in the medical or services fields, this site is worth checking out periodically.

Viewpoints. Rather than focusing on businesses, Viewpoints provides visitors with a list of products and large-scale services to choose from. This approach alienates many small businesses from the running; however, if you’re in manufacturing or a similar industry, see how your product is faring against your competition.

CNet Reviews. Tech companies and online services can reach new heights—or be taken to the cleaners—on CNet’s reviews. The site’s editors often provide a ranking for companies and/or their products coupled with user reviews and average ratings. These tech-savvy reviewers often focus on businesses’ marketing matching the product or service’s performance. If you’re in the tech space, keep a close eye on this site.

Amazon.com/Third-Party Reseller Sites. If you sell your wares through third-party reseller sites such as Amazon.com, Half.com, eBay, etc., keep an eye on your product reviews. They’re often a reflection of your business, as most negative comments deal with billing and shipping issues.

The Don'ts of Online Reviews

Before rolling up your sleeves to improve your review status, familiarize yourself with the online review taboos. Unfortunately, many small business owners only harbor the best of intentions as they try to improve their online reputations, but their tactics often violate accepted norms and review site policies. In either case, you'll often lose the trust of the online community—and your positive reviews will be deleted. 

  • Don’t write reviews yourself. While it may be tempting to get one great positive review up there, many can spot owner-created reviews a mile away. And even if you've fooled a few people, many sites have sophisticated filters. Finally, it violates nearly every review site policy. Yelp recently deleted numerous positive reviews from a syndicate of business owners who wrote positive reviews for one another. 
  • Don’t solicit reviews from customers. Most review sites forbid you from requesting reviews from anyone—customers, employees, neighbors, etc. Review sites can detect patterns, and a spate of positive reviews will often trigger their filter mechanisms. Those filters can, by accident, hide positive reviews you didn't solicit, leaving you worse than you began.
  • Don't ever—ever—offer compensation for writing reviews. Nearly every review site forbids this practice. While you can find disreputable vendors (called "black-hat" vendors), their reviews are often so poorly written and obviously fake you'll do much more harm than good to your reputation, even if you aren't caught. Offering to pay customers for reviews, besides violating review sites' policies, may offend rather than entice customers. They'll perceive you as a dishonest entrepreneur and may report you to review sites.

Steps to Improve Online Reviews

You may be thinking: Without the power to write reviews myself or ask customers to do so on my behalf, I'm completely out of options. Not true. These steps will help your reviews improve over time.

  • Make customer service a top priority. Negative reviews are usually a reflection of poor customer service. Get to the root of the problem. Determine what negative reviews have in common and address the issue in your business. The best way to curb more negative reviews is eliminating the issue that causes them. The best way to create more positive reviews is to create the most positive customer experience within your power.
  • Encourage customers and prospects to visit your company profile on review sites. Yes, we just told you not to ask for reviews. Now we're telling you to encourage people to check out your online reviews? Precisely. The nuanced difference is simple: Review sites allow and encourage you to spread the word about your online presence. (After all, review sites want visits.) Of course, this may not be the best tactic if your online review profiles are already riddled with negative reviews.
  • Respond promptly (and professionally) to any negative reviews. Most review sites offer an option to publicly respond to negative remarks. Embrace this opportunity. Apologize for the problem. Explain the facts. Provide contact information and encourage the reviewer to seek resolution. Reviewers can often update their reviews, giving you the opportunity to turn a diatribe into a paean. 
  • Recognize positive reviews. If the site allows you to respond to comments, respond to glowing reviews too. Let customers know how much you appreciate their business and positive review. If you know the customer who wrote the review, pick up the phone and tell them how much you appreciated the kind words. 

Creating impressive review site profiles takes times. It's a gradual process, not an overnight phenomenon. You should, however, experience an uptick in inquiries and sales as your online review profiles become something to be proud of.

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