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How to Leverage Online Reviews for Increased Sales

Online reviews are out there about your company’s service or products, whether you asked for them or not. These reviews contribute to your Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and can drastically affect how consumers view your business. How can you use these reviews to help your business instead of negatively impacting your reputation?

The Effect of Online Reviews

According to a 2016 Pew Research Center survey, 82 percent of U.S. adults say they at least sometimes read online customer ratings or reviews before purchasing items for the first time, and 40 percent say they always or almost always do so. While one might assume it’s only younger age groups checking the reviews, the survey showed many adults over 40 also read them, though that drops off after age 65. 

More importantly, many people believe online reviews, though almost as many aren’t sure. According to the same Pew survey, half (51 percent) of people who read online reviews say they generally give an accurate picture of the true quality of the product, but about 48 percent say it is often hard to tell if online reviews are truthful.

However, the number of people reading online reviews is increasing. Bright Local has surveyed consumers about reviews for years. Their data has shown increasing numbers of people reading online reviews each year. One recent survey found 92 percent of consumers read online reviews sometimes or all the time for local businesses. More people rely on such reviews when deciding about products and services, and more people are trusting those reviews as they would trust a personal recommendation.

Other data showed:

  • 87 percent of people want to see three- to five-star reviews about a business before they will consider using them.
  • Of the consumers surveyed, only 14 percent would consider using a business with a one- or two-star rating.

Furthermore, Google takes into account your online ratings on review sites, using it as social proof and evidence of your authority, both of which contribute to your results page ranking.

How to Get Online Reviews

Now that you realize the importance of online reviews, the next step is to manage yours. As part of that, you need to encourage your happy customers and clients to leave reviews.

This may seem difficult to some. People are often willing to take the time to leave a review when they have had a negative experience. A few bad apples can cause a negative perception of your company. No one is perfect all the time, of course, but you can take action in order to encourage positive online reviews:

  • Just ask! Seventy percent of consumers will leave an online review if asked. Be sure to ask at the opportune time, which is immediately following a customer’s experience.
  • DO NOT send out a mass message to everyone in your circles asking for reviews. Both Google’s bots and your customers will realize what’s up if you get 214 reviews in two days, all of them five stars. You want organic, authentic reviews to come in slowly, building up your reputation.
  • Include specific instructions. Some people know how to leave reviews on a variety of websites, but others do not. Choose a couple of sites that make sense for your business and write out instructions (with screenshots) to help your customers. Google is usually the right place to start, but not everyone has a google account, so be sure to choose another platform, also. You might select TripAdvisor if you’re in a related business or Yelp if you’re a restaurant.
  • Make it a habit. Asking for reviews must be part of your routine customer process. You can do this in person, by email, or on a receipt. Choose the approach that fits your customer experience and automate it as much as possible.
  • Suggest something to say. Don’t feed people their lines. But some consumers may not know what to write about you. In your message to them, encourage a specific feedback such as, “Did you love working with us? Please write a review on Google to explain how we helped solve your problem.” The idea is to get their wheels turning. Remember, you want to make it as easy as possible for them to help you.

How to Manage Negative Reviews

No matter how fantastic your team, you are going to get a negative review once in awhile. Maybe you deserved it; maybe you didn’t. Regardless, you must address it. Many teams go about this in a bad way though, which can leave you appearing worse than before.

In his book “Hug Your Haters,” marketing expert Jay Baer suggests you think of negative reviews as constructive criticism. Embrace them in order to improve. After all, what information is a happy customer giving you? An angry customer’s comments might actually give you some valuable knowledge about your product or service that can make it better. Here are some of his guidelines for managing negative reviews.

  • Take a deep breath. Responding to a negative review by lashing out will only make it worse.
  • Remember that one or two negative reviews out of many brings balance. Consumers who see that your company has only 5-star reviews may feel suspicious. They may think, “Did this company ask all their friends to write something nice? Seems fishy; I’d better go elsewhere.”
  • Don’t wait. A full business day used to be a quick turnaround. In online time, that’s eons. Check your reviews daily (multiple times if you can) to monitor any new information. Make sure you are checking all sorts of review sites, even those where you’d be surprised to find your company mentioned. You want to respond within a few hours at the latest if you can.
  • Apologize. Even if the reviewer is flat-out wrong, your accusations won’t help.
  • Ask him or her to contact you directly so you can learn more about the issue. Remember, other people will be able to read your response. You want to reach out publicly and offer assistance, but you don’t want to continue the conversation in front of everyone.
  • Be a real person instead of hiding behind your company. Don’t say “we” as in “we the company.” Be Jane Smith, the customer relations manager. People are far less likely to get seriously angry at a real person.
  • Leverage this person’s input. Once you are communicating via email or phone, offer whatever you want. But remember, you will set a precedent by offering freebies. (That’s why you don’t want to do that online in the review space.) However, Baer suggests you provide that person a gift card or the equivalent for your product or service and ask him or her to return and then write you directly with a full account of your experience — like a mystery shopper. You might say something like, “I apologize for your experience. We want to make sure to improve our service in the future, and your feedback is very helpful. In addition to reimbursing you for your previous visit, I’m sending you two gift cards. I ask that you return with a friend and let me know if you witness the same problems again. I rely on excellent input such as yours to make sure my team is providing the best customer service possible.”


The importance of online reviews seems to be increasing. Make sure your company creates a strategy to maintain its reputation.

What helped your business improve its online reviews? Think about it. How will you do better this year?