I may be going out on a limb here, but I'll bet when you were starting your business, online review management was the last thing on your mind. It's just a hunch, but I imagine you were running pretty hard in the early days and worrying about your review strategy wasn't exactly top of mind.
Besides, in an ideal world all you need to rack up a bunch of good reviews is outstanding service and a customer friendly attitude, right?
But you've been in the game for a while now. You've picked up a little road rash along the way. So you know that we do not live in an ideal world.
We live in a world where your reputation can get scuffed up pretty quickly. 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.
Fans are cool. They love everything you do. With them, you can do no wrong. Haters, on the other hand, think your license should be revoked and you should be immediately banned from the business.
What's left are regular folk. They're actually the majority of people out there. 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, it would 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 would seem to make sense, a study by online services provider Womply raises a little doubt about that theory. I recently read an article on SearchEngineLand.com that highlighted this study and pulled a few 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 to your business success so go out and get some.”
What makes this study interesting and worthy of bringing to your attention is its size, scope and 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.
- Businesses with a higher number of reviews than the average generate more annual revenue than businesses with below average review counts.
- Businesses that reply to more than 25% of their reviews earn 35% more revenue than average
- Businesses with a rating between 3.5 and 4.5 stars earn more revenue than any other rating.
A New Old Online Review Management Best Practice: More Is Better
I can badger my clients to get more reviews until I'm blue in the face. Sometimes it seems that I'm having little effect moving the crowd on this point. So, it's a good day when I get some stats to back up my 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 study, the average number of reviews across all the businesses they surveyed was 82. Businesses with review counts about the average had fatter bottom lines.
Personally, I doubt it was the actual number of reviews that generated that extra revenue. Probably more of an “if this, then that” kind of scenario. Businesses that tend to generate more reviews tend to have corresponding better business practices. Chances are they had specific business systems and practices in place for routinely generating reviews.
The actionable for this stat is to take a look at the number of reviews you have and determine if you are 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.
Good Online Review Management Means Always Responding to Reviews… 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.
Below 25% you're leaving cheddar on the table. That isn't too hard to believe. Responding to reviews gives a warm and fuzzy to the people who write the reviews and sends the message to the people who read them. It says you care about what your customers think.
The 50% cutoff is a bit of a head scratcher for me. According to the study, above that level, you don't get much more of a business boost from responding to reviews.
There may be some fuzzy math in those calculations though. As Greg Sterling notes, that statistic reflects all reviews lumped together. The study doesn't differentiate between positive and negative review responses.
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.
My reputation is one of my most valuable business assets. 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 they write affects my reputation. And that 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 negative reviews.
People who write negative reviews are, by and large, emotional and pissed off. They're not trying to leave a little constructive criticism. They're trying to hurt you.
Part of online review management includes safeguarding your reputation. To make sure your word is the last word, you should routinely check your Yelp profile, your Google reviews and any other review sites 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.
The study may say that above 50%, there's no added value to your bottom line. But that's a particularly useless piece of data. If you routinely monitor for new reviews, what are the odds that you'll come across a review, whether positive or negative, and simply decide not to respond. That would be silly.
The Hidden Value of Three Star Reviews
Nobody's perfect. You know it. I know it, and according to this study the public knows it as well. As we noted earlier, the study found that businesses with a rating between 3.5 and 4.5 stars earn more revenue than any other rating. I call this the common sense statistic.
Remember those three groups of people with their hands all over your review profile? The non-emotional group in the middle are just as likely to leave a three or four star review as they are a five star review. According to this study, this is pretty darn beneficial as far as your review profile goes.
I suspect the drop off in revenue for businesses with near perfect star ratings profiles may be due to a lack of believability. People who use reviews to help make decisions rely on the wording in reviews as much as the star ratings. Fake reviews are pretty easy to spot.
A business that has a high star rating coupled with honest reviews isn't going to suffer here. Whereas it's easy to be skeptical of a business with a near perfect profile that has
- Mostly stars with no comments
- Mostly one or two sentence comments or
- Generic comments that don't justify the star rating
Caveat and Conclusion
A single study does not a marketing strategy make. As Greg Sterling is quick to point out, “Correlation does not necessarily mean causation.” What does seem apparent is that success with your online review management strategy is very much tied to how proficient you are at routinely generating reviews.
The best system I've found is the one I use with my clients. It's free, it's easy to use and it removes the friction that prevents most business owners from routinely asking for reviews.
Rabid fans and haters are self starters. They'll write reviews whether you ask them to or not. If this doesn't produce the quantity of revues you need for your market, you'll need a process for generating reviews that's a seamless part of your regular business systems.
There is no shortage of business systems on the market for generating reviews. As you sift through the many systems available to you, as you try to evaluate one system versus another, try to ignore all of the snazzy marketing and focus on the only question that matters.
Will you actually use it.
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