If you are a small business owner and you don’t have a Google Alert set for your business’s name so you can see what people are saying about your business online, stop what you are doing right now and set one.
That’s because customer reviews have become one of the most influential factors in whether or not new customers choose your business – or old customers return. The way consumers make decisions about the products and services they choose has changed and it’s largely due to the universal access to the Internet.
In less than a decade, people have gained the ability to access online resources from their mobile devices wherever and whenever they want. That means that reading what others have to say about a nearby take-out place or comparing prices at area car dealerships is literally the push of a button away.
People go online while standing in line at stores, driving in their cars (even though technically they aren’t supposed to), and while waiting for the clock to chime the hour so they can leave work or school. Online reviews have replaced word of mouth and even traditional marketing platforms like TV, radio and newspapers as one of the primary ways people find out about new products and businesses.
So, yes, it’s important that you understand what people are saying about your business online. You could say that your business depends on it.
What Reviews Say about Your Business?
Thanks to the popularity of social media with its immediate reach and constant updates, it shouldn’t surprise you that 61% of consumers say they read online reviews before making decisions about products and services.
First-person reviews from people they know – or even complete strangers – provide the basis for potential customers to understand a business from a peer consumer’s point of review. They feel as if they are getting a more honest and impartial insight about the product or business in question than they would from a slick marketing campaign or advertising push.
You can expect online reviews to become even more influential in the future. According to a recent survey by the Nielsen Company, online customer reviews currently are the second most trusted source of product information and messaging, with about 70% of respondents saying they trusted online reviews, an increase of 15% in just the past four years.
Changing the Face of Retail
Some predict this trend will cause retailers to change their approach to marketing – and even operations. Due to the popularity and influence of online reviews, a single positive or negative review can have a significant impact on sales, brand popularity, and the success of the business. So quashing bad reviews and promoting good reviews after they are posted will likely become a priority for most businesses.
This shift will result in changes. For example, many of today’s online reviews are posted anonymously. But eventually, there may be a shift toward reviews being linked to specific user’s identities on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms.
This benefits both the businesses and the consumers. It makes online reviews more credible because readers can associate a real name and a face with the review. And it will cut down on the number of people who chronically complain or criticize all the time because they won’t be able to hide behind the mask of anonymity.
It also will create an interactive connection that allows businesses to reach out more easily to customers who are dissatisfied so they can repair relationships and hopefully get negative reviews removed before they can do more damage to the business’s reputation.
Friends and Family
Right now, it’s sort of like the Wild West online where anything goes. But as social media platforms become more sophisticated, eventually people will start relying on reviews posted by their family and friends – rather than anonymous strangers – before making the buying decision.
Another development will be that users will be able to tell more about their reviewer and use this information to gauge its relevance to them. For example, when you read an online review about a business, you probably will give it more weight if it comes from somebody who is more like you –the same age, sex, geographic location, and even educational background and social status – than from a person who writing from a completely different perspective.
What to Do Right Now
These changes aren’t occurring in some pie in the sky future. They are happening right now. And your business can expect to see the benefits of these improvements within the next few years, if not months.
In the meantime, it’s critical that small businesses understand and hear what people are saying about them online. Set a Google Alert for your business’s name and make it a priority to check the results regularly so you can get ahead of the curve.
Author Bio – Sameer Panjwani, the author of this article, writes occasionally on behalf of Mondovo.com, an all-in-one toolset for tracking keywords, backlinks, site pages, content performance, social presence and everything in between.