More Stars or More Reviews: Which is Better for Your Online Review Profile?


I'm willing to bet that when you were just getting started the phrase online review management meant absolutely nothing to you. I imagine that if you did put some thought into it, you'd come to the conclusion that all you'd need to do to get good reviews was provide outstanding service to your customers.

And I also imagine that by now, you realize that it's a little more complicated than that.

We live in a world where your online reputation can get scuffed up pretty quickly. So much so that you need to actively protect it from all sorts of bumps and bruises.

There are three groups of people that have a tendency of putting their fingerprints all over your online reputation: rabid fans, haters and regular folk.

Rabid fans are cool. They love just about everything you do. Haters are the exact opposite. They think your business license should be revoked and you should be thrown down a deep hole.

What's left are regular folk. They don't love you. They don't hate you. They're just regular, non-emotional people that fall somewhere in the middle.

Of the three, wouldn't it be nice if you could only hear from that first group of people. Your Yelp, Google and Facebook profiles would be filled with nothing but five star reviews from people who think you're the best thing to come along since sliced bread.

While that does seem like a really good thing, a study by online services provider Womply raises a little doubt about that theory. I recently read an article at that highlighted this study and came to some very interesting conclusions.

Reputation management studies are nothing new. A new one seems to pop up every week. They all seem to have the same message and come to the same conclusions. “Online reviews are important so go out and get some.”

What makes this study interesting and worthy of bringing to your attention is its size, scope and as I said, some of its conclusions.

Womply looked at reviews and transactions data “for more than 200,000 U.S. small businesses in every state and across dozens of industries, including restaurants, salons, auto shops, medical and dental offices, retailers, and more.” The key difference between this study and others on reviews is local business transaction data. Womply was able to connect review and presence management best practices with revenue outcomes.

Greg Sterling, Search Engine Land

This study covered a lot of ground. However, mixed in with all of that data were three stats that jumped out at me.

  1. Companies with a higher than average number of reviews generate more revenue than companies with below average review counts.
  2. Companies that reply to more than 25% of their reviews had earnings 35% higher than the average.
  3. Companies with a rating between 3 1/2 and 4 1/2 stars earn more revenue than any other rating.

An Obvious Online Review Best Practice: More Is Better

I can badger my clients to get more reviews until I'm blue in the face. Sometimes I'm successful, sometimes I'm not. So, it's a good day when I get some stats to back up all this ranting.

More is better. That may have been common sense before, but now I have some context to work with. Instead of just telling my clients to get more reviews, I have a target they can shoot for. Beat the average and you're good. Shoot below the average and you're hurting your bottom line.

In this particular study, the average number of reviews across the 200,000 or so companies they surveyed was 82. Companies with more than the average had fatter bottom lines.

Personally, I think this might be a correlation doesn't imply causation kind of thing. I doubt that it's the number of reviews that generated the extra revenue. It was probably more of a situation where a business with systems in place to generate reviews, also has systems in place that tend to generate higher revenue.

Be that as it may, the actionable for this static is to take a look at the number of reviews that you have and try to figure out if you're above or below the average for businesses like yours in your market. If you're above the average, keep doing what you're doing. If you're below, it's probably time to make a few adjustments.

Does Good Online Review Management Mean Always Responding to Reviews? Yes, Maybe.

I'll bet your local marketing guru says that you should respond to all of your online reviews, whether they're good or bad. Am I right? Well according to this study there's a sweet spot for responding to reviews and it lies between the 25% and 50% level.

If you respond to fewer than 25% of your reviews, you're leaving cheddar on the table. That doesn't seem like too much of a stretch. Responding to reviews sends the message that you honestly care about what your customers think.

The next stat is a bit of a head scratcher for me. According to the study, once you're at the 50% level, responding more frequently to reviews doesn't give your business that much more of a bump.

There may be some fuzzy math in those calculations though. As Greg Sterling points out, that particular statistic reflects all reviews lumped together. The study doesn't dig into the weeds and break out percentages of positive or negative review responses by themselves.

As far as I'm concerned, this particular part of their study is interesting but irrelevant. Regardless of what the study says, when I'm talking online review management, I always advise my clients to respond to every review that comes in. There are two reasons for this. One is philosophical, the other is practical.

Online Review Management

From a philosophical standpoint, this is simple. My online reputation is one of my most valuable business assets and reviews affect my reputation. So I believe that I should get the last word. Doesn't matter if the review is positive or negative, many paragraphs long or a just quick throw away comment. Whatever someone writes and posts online affects my reputation. And my reputation belongs to me.

If a review comes in and I don't respond in some way, I'm essentially giving someone other than myself the power to shape the conversation about my business. That is a non-starter. I wouldn't let that happen in the physical world. I'm certainly not going to let it happen online. You shouldn't either.

From a practical standpoint, active online review management means you're always on the lookout for mentions of your business. This is particularly important with those unflattering online reviews.

People who write negative reviews are, by and large, emotional and pissed off. They're not trying to leave you a little “constructive criticism.” They're trying to hurt you.

Part of online review management is about safeguarding your reputation. To make sure your word is the last word, you should routinely check your Yelp profile, Google reviews and any other review sites that are specific to your industry.

While you're at it, creating a Google Alert is always a good idea. Put the world's largest search engine to work scouring the internet for any new mentions of your business name and the names of any prominent members of your staff.

And if you are doing active review management, that stat about responses above the 50% level not helping is particularly useless. Think about it. If you are in the habit of monitoring for new reviews, what are the odds that you'd come across a review, whether positive or negative, and simply decide not to respond. That would be silly.

The Value of Three Star Reviews

Nobody's perfect. You know it and I know it. And according to this study, the public knows it as well. As we noted earlier, the study found that between 3 1/2 and 4 1/2 stars is the sweet spot for generating income. To me this just seems like common sense.

When you see a stat that connects near perfect ratings with a drop off in revenue, I believe it's due to a lack of believability. Among people who pay attention to reviews, words matter more than stars. It's easy to be skeptical of any business with a near perfect profile when there's:

  • Mostly stars with no comments or
  • Mostly one or two sentence comments or
  • Generic comments that just don't match the star rating

Caveat and Conclusion

A single study does not a marketing strategy make. What does seem apparent is that success with your review management strategy is very much tied to how proficient you are at generating reviews.

Rabid fans and haters are self starters. They'll write reviews whether you ask them to or not. It's that middle group of regular folk that you've got to work on. The system I use with my clients is free, easy to use and takes that uncomfortable friction out of asking for reviews.

There are quite a few review systems online. When you're sifting through them it may be a little tough to do an apples to apples comparison. My advice? Keep it simple and focus on the only question that really matters. Will you actually use it.

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