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