For businesses selling to a local market, reviews are crucial for driving customers to your door and helping you appear higher in search results.
According to BrightLocal's annual survey:
- Only 3% would consider a business with an average rating of 2 or fewer stars.
- 77% of participants always or regularly read reviews when searching for a local businesses.
- 81% of participants used Google to evaluate local businesses.
- 62% of participants think they've seen a fake review.
At the same time, a recent WhiteSpark survey acknowledged the importance of certain review factors as important local SEO ranking signals, particularly for appearing in results based on your Google Business Profile.
In other words:
- Reviews have a real impact on a local business's ability to generate leads in 2022.
- People habitually read reviews, but don't trust all of them.
- Your presence on Google is particularly important.
This is why it's important to be present and make a good first impression on popular, relevant review platforms, actively encourage new reviews, and keep an eye on the reviews you're getting.
Who writes reviews?
When it comes to writing reviews, there are a few types of people who are more likely to do it than others.
- Repeat customers
- Members of your loyalty program
- Customers who leave positive feedback via posts on Facebook or other social media
- Customers who open your email newsletter
- Customers who have already left positive reviews in the past
These are the customers you're really hoping will write reviews, because they've already expressed interest (and hopefully their positive feelings) about your business. Plus, according to BrightLocal, 35% of consumers will write a review at least half the time if asked, and 67% will at least think about leaving a review if they've had a positive experience.
This is not to say you shouldn't welcome reviews from people who are unsatisfied, but it does mean that you should give loyal, satisfied customers the chance to write reviews.
Brightlocal also found that 40% of reviewers who have had a negative experience will consider leaving a review. So what do you do when you encounter this sort of feedback?
Those with grievances against your business often fall into one of three camps: 1) former employees who are leaving a malicious review, 2) fake reviewers trying to damage your reputation, or 3) real customers who are dissatisfied.
The first two can often be reported as violating review site guidelines, while the third category requires a thoughtful reply to diagnose what went wrong and make it right.
In some cases, the unhappy customer may even update their review to be more positive after you've helped resolve the conflict.
Learn more about responding to negative reviews in this guide from Brightlocal.
Which review factors matter for SEO?
Studies over the years have indicated that some reviews and review practices count more towards your position in search results than others.
According to Whitespark's 2021 local search expert survey, these review factors may affect your search performance:
- Quantity: More Google reviews are better.
- Positive sentiment: Positive reviews and higher ratings are better.
- Quality: Google reviews with text are better.
- Keywords included: Reviews that contain keywords related to your products or services tend to be better.
- Negative reviews: Negative Google reviews (both negative sentiment in reviews and low star ratings) can weigh against you in search results.
- Fake Reviews: Reports of fake reviews on your Google Business Profile listing can weigh against you.
- Review Gating: If you are caught review gating, this can weigh against you.
Search engines aside, the following review factors are important for creating a positive impression on potential customers:
- Responses: Reviews with owner responses are better, according to Moz. Not responding to negative reviews may cost you in rank and reputation. 57% of Brightlocal survey participants said they would be significantly less likely to use a business that never responded to reviews.
- Review platforms other than Google. According to Brightlocal, Google was the most popular review platform in 2021. 81% of respondents used it to evaluate a local business that year. Still, consumers visited other popular platforms for the same purpose, particularly Yelp (53%), Facebook (48%), and Trip Advisor (38%), with BBB as a runner up at 31%. Of these other platforms, more users visited Yelp, Trip Advisor, and BBB than the previous year, while fewer people visited Facebook.
Make sure review platforms let you ask for reviews.
Before asking for reviews, make sure the platforms you want to send customers to accept solicited (not incentivized) reviews. Some platforms, like Yelp, won't accept reviews a business asked for.
Other platforms, like Google and Trip Advisor, are fine with it, unless you violate their community guidelines. Read through each platform's policies to make sure you're playing by the rules. Guidelines can also change over time, so it's a good idea to brush up periodically.
Some platforms, like Google, even provide recommendations for how to request reviews. Google prefers that you log in to your Google Business Profile, go to Customers > Reviews > Get more reviews, and generate a link to send customers. You can use this link in an email, chat, or on your receipts.
How to ask for reviews (nicely and tactfully)
- Spontaneously when feedback is given in person: Wordstream suggests that when someone compliments your business, this is a great opportunity to ask for a review. Let’s say that you’ve just finished a project for your client, and they express what a pleasure it was to work with you. This is where you can say, “It was great working with you, too. We’re on [platform] if you’re comfortable leaving us a review. It would really help us out.”
- Planned in-person follow-ups: Similarly, another good time to ask for a review is when you ask for feedback on a customer’s experience as part of your customer service interaction (during check-out, for example). A customer service representative could ask, “How was your experience today?” then, if the customer seems open to sharing, the customer service rep could follow up with a suggestion to leave a review. If you happen to have a link to your review platform on your receipt, it can be helpful to point this out at this time.
On your website
- By chat: If your website is using a chatbot or live chat to service visitors and customers, consider asking for a review at the end of the chat if you've provided something of value that can be reviewed. If your chat doesn't warrant a review on a third party platform, you should consider including an NPS (Net Promoter Score) survey to gather feedback on the person's experience with the chat.
- Through review site badges: HubSpot suggests making sure your site has links to your profiles on major review and social media sites. These are often located in the header or footer, making them visible on almost every page.
- With a review widget: Many review platforms offer official widgets for businesses on their platform. A widget is an app that you embed on a web page via a piece of code they provide. They provide widgets that can ask customer for reviews, display reviews from their platform, and can often be styled to match your company's branding.
Over the phone
- Planned review requests: At the end of a phone support session, the customer service rep can say, "Would you be willing to give us feedback about your experience?" Then, a follow-up email could be sent if the customer says yes.
- Direct Ask: Review Trackers mentions that asking customers for reviews via text is another great method if you have permission from customers to message them.
- Purchase confirmation emails: Put your request for reviews right in the order confirmation email if what your customer purchased is something they could review immediately after purchase.
- Delayed email follow-up: You should wait to ask for a review if a customer purchased a product or service that needs to be used for a few days first, Whitespark says.
In this case, you can send a follow-up email a few days or weeks after the purchase, and ask them how they like the product. Make sure to include a direct link to the place you'd most appreciate a review, such as your Google Business Profile page or Facebook.
A review request made a week after delivery
- Newsletter: A newsletter is a great place to subtly ask for a review. If your newsletter list is made up of contacts who have opted in and genuinely want to hear from you, it's likely that they are the kind of people you'd want to get a review from. This strategy can work most effectively if you have a dedicated customer newsletter for people who have already used your products or services and can speak to them in a review.
- In your email signature: You can also include a link to your review platform of choice in your email signature. This approach would be appropriate for a customer service representative who communicates with existing customers, but not recommended for sales staff who interact with potential customers before they have a chance to use your product or service.
- Personal customer outreach from staff: If your business and customer base is small, build a routine for your staff to send emails to customers they have personally worked with to ask for reviews.
- Review Express (Tripadvisor-specific) - If your business is listed on Tripadvisor, you can use this free tool. It lets you send official reminder emails to customers to ask for reviews.
- Handouts: Whitespark notes that it may make sense for your business to hand out paper review requests, such as if your business is a cleaning company.
- Cards: If your business ships products, try putting a thank you note or small card in the box that asks for a review and provides a URL to your profile on a review site. Similarly, Social Media Today suggests putting a link on your business card or appointment reminder cards. If your business is on TripAdvisor, you can get a free pack of 100 review reminder cards.
- Invoices and receipts: You can also ask for reviews in invoices or receipts. This is similar to requesting a review in an email purchase confirmation.
How to make asking for reviews easier
An email with a link to a review site is simple enough for online businesses. It really just comes down to whether or not the customer wants to do it. But what about brick and mortar businesses providing a service? If you work for a hotel, or a restaurant, or a salon, what can you do to encourage people to leave a review?
A personalized email
1. Personalize each review request email.
One easy way to do this is to insert their name. Send out a review request shortly after you last saw or serviced your customer. Avoid emailing everyone on your mailing list at the same time. This will help stagger the number of reviews you receive overtime.
2. Try review generation software.
These tools offer features like:
- Review monitoring: You get a notification when someone posts a review.
- Automated campaigns: You are able to create campaigns that automatically ask customers for a review, rather than having to ask them manually.
- Analytics: It generates analytics reports based on review site data.
- CRM integration: Some software can plug into your customer relations management data so that you can automatically ask customers for reviews at the right time. When the CRM notes that the customer has just been seen, you can use that information to trigger a review request email (or text).
As a general rule of thumb, the larger your business and the more locations you have, the more substantial the review generation software you will need. However, simple software can meet the needs of most smaller, local businesses. Some review generation software is designed for a particular industry, while others are useful for many different industries.
For small and local businesses:
- Nearby Now: Local business, service industry
- Broadly: Small business, service industry
- NiceJob: Service industry, agencies
- PulseM: Home service industry, medical industry
- Customer Lobby: Local businesses
For any business:
3. Use varied, approaches for asking for reviews, depending on the context.
Grade.us lays out several ways to ask in their article, including:
- Feedback request (e.g. "We value your feedback. . . ")
- Direct request (e.g. "Would you be willing to leave us a review?")
- Concern request (e.g. "Have you had any problems with our product lately?")
- Gratitude request (e.g. "Thanks for shopping with us today. How was your experience?")
4. Ask at the right time.
The conventional wisdom is to ask:
- Shortly after a purchase
- A little while after a purchase, if the product needs to be experienced to be appreciated
- When customers are pleased with your business, such as when they're complimenting you or have just experienced great service (although this shouldn't be used to deter people who aren't pleased)
Other good times include:
- At the end of a conversation
- After a repurchase or reorder
- After they tag you on social media
- If they are looking at other products on your website
- After they refer a friend
Review don’ts: tactics to avoid
In general, it's a good idea to read the guidelines for every review site your business is listed on to make sure you're not breaking the rules. Violating these guidelines could damage your reputation on the review site and in your customers' eyes.
Some businesses offer prizes and discounts to those who leave reviews or fill out customer satisfaction surveys, but this is a bad idea.
Depending on the platform, incentivized reviews may be flagged as dishonest and may get filtered out. Yelp, for example, forbids review solicitations and will remove reviews that break this rule.
Google and Facebook allow solicitations, but have other iron-clad rules.
For example, Google Business Profile forbids:
- the use of reviews for advertising
- manipulating reviews
- including promotions in reviews
- accepting or offering money for reviews
- mass review solicitations
Sometimes it might seem like the only way to get people to actually leave reviews or fill out a survey is to give them a chance at a prize. However, by doing so, you may receive dishonest reviews that will immediately disappear.
In the end, it's always better to delight your customers with your products or services, and then ask them for a review soon after.
Some businesses use kiosks to collect reviews, prompting customers to fill out a digital form on a tablet or computer. It's best to avoid this tactic since many reviews coming from a single computer or mobile device tend to be filtered out by review sites. Google even expressly forbids this tactic.
Conflicts of Interest
Avoid asking anyone who is not a customer for a review, such as friends, relatives, customer's relatives, employees, or colleagues unless they are also a customer. Naturally, you shouldn't write a review for your own business, either.
If someone you know is a customer, make sure that any personal relationships are disclosed. This helps you avoid looking like you're gaming the system.
Review gating and fake reviews
As Google's guidelines mention, your business should never engage in tactics like review gating. This is a practice where a business determines whether a customer had a positive or negative experience, and then invites only the happy customers to post a review.
In this way, customers with negative experiences are steered away from posting negative reviews. This is against the rules for most major reviewing sites, including Google, Facebook, Yelp, and TripAdvisor.
Another "black hat" strategy is posting fake reviews. These are filtered by Google and other platforms.
Google filters content that it deems inappropriate, including content that is:
- Fake (spam, fake comments)
- Restricted (leads to a method of buying something restricted)
- Off-topic (comments are not relevant to the location or product being reviewed)
- Sexually explicit
- Offensive (contains obscene, profane, or offensive language or gestures)
- Dangerous or derogatory
- Deceitful (The reviewer is not who they present themselves to be.)
- Conflicting in interest (such as a review from a competitor)
These regulations protect consumers and businesses from malicious content. Most honest reviews will not anger Google.
If you encounter a fake or otherwise inappropriate review, you should report it to the review platform for three reasons: 1) if someone posted a fake review of your business, it could unfairly hurt your reputation; 2) if your competitor is posting fake reviews, calling them out may improve your standing; and 3) harmful reviews could disturb your customers.
How to spot and respond to a fake review
1) To help determine whether a review is fake or not, check for one (or multiple) of these suspicious signals:
- There is no record of this person in your customer database.
- The name of the reviewer and/or their profile image is missing.
- The reviewer leaves a very low rating but doesn't say the reason.
- They reviewed many other businesses in the same niche in multiple states (Brightlocal).
- They posted a bunch of reviews within a short period of time.
- They advertise a competitor's product after bashing yours.
- They use the same phrases in many of their reviews. This could be a sign that they are using prescribed language (Marketwatch).
- All the poster's reviews are completely positive or completely negative about a particular niche.
- They use many personal pronouns, such as "I" (Cornell University).
- They set the scene more than they provide concrete details, and use more verbs than nouns.
- They use industry-specific buzz words.
- Their writing is sloppy and dramatic—poor grammar, all caps, lots of exclamation points.
Generic or clearly false information
- They reference a product or service you don't offer, a different business's name, or other incorrect information.
- The name looks fake (e.g. Jane Doe).
- They use a stock photo for their profile picture. (Do a reverse image search for their profile photo to determine whether it's from a stock photo site.)
- They use stock photos in the customer photos section.
2) Identify how this review violates the platform's policy. You will need this information later. For example, if you received a Google review that expresses dissatisfaction with another businesses's product, it would be considered "off-topic" by Google's Prohibited and Restricted Content Guidelines.
3) Once you feel certain that you are dealing with a fake review, write a helpful, polite reply that draws attention to whatever issue you have identified. For example, if they reference a product you don't sell, suggest that they might have left a comment for the wrong business. This way, every person that sees the fake review before it is taken down will know that there is something wrong with it. Plus, you may get SEO credit for replying to a negative review.
4) Flag the review. Get instructions for each of the major platforms below.
Net Promoter Score
Instead of engaging in risky tactics, encourage customers to provide honest feedback. Then, monitor your reviews so that potential customers can watch you thank positive reviewers and respond tactfully to negative reviews. According to BrightLocal, 89% of those surveyed said they would be "likely" or "highly likely" to use businesses that respond to all reviews.
You can also help identify problems by determining your Net Promoter Score (NPS). This is one way to learn how customers assess your business' performance. According to ReviewTrackers, you can determine this by asking customers to rate the likelihood that they would recommend your business from 0-10.
The results fall into 3 categories.
Promoters: scores of 9–10
Passives: scores of 7-8
Detractors: scores of 6-0
Promoters are the most likely to leave a positive review. Detractors are most likely to leave a negative review. Passives are most likely not to leave a review at all.
To determine your business' score, subtract your percentage of detractors from your percentage of promoters:
(% Promoters) - (% Detractors) = NPS
If your score is low (below zero) then you have more detractors than promoters. In this case, you might want to investigate what is causing dissatisfaction. If your score is above zero, that means that your business is doing well. In that case, this might be a good time to contact more customers for reviews, since you have more promoters than detractors.