Online reviews are everywhere – you see them on major shopping websites; Amazon, Overstock, JC Penny and on review websites; Yelp, Google Places, CitySearch, Kudzu and more. Jane and John Doe voicing their opinion – the trend is growing rapidly. A review can make or break a decision to purchase, frequent a business or use a particular service. Local consumers are more likely to use a local business having read a positive online review. If you are a local business you need to be pro-active and come up with a plan on how you will handle online reviews. It's time to monitor what is said about your business, get listed on the top review sites, ask for reviews and respond and interact with your customers. Here's a simple "four step plan" to help you get started.

Step 1: Monitor reviews

You can use Google Alerts to monitor anything on the Web including your business. Go to Google Alerts and fill in the your information. Emails are sent to you when Google finds new results such as web pages, newspaper articles, or blogs that match your search term. If someone writes a review about your business, you will receive an email from Google Alerts.

Step 2: Top 10 Review websites

Yelp, the most popular online review website, has 61 million monthly visitors and at the end of the third quarter last year had 22 million reviews online. Yelp, Google Places, CitySearch and other review websites give local businesses, with limited marketing budgets, the opportunity to market their products and services online. For example, Yelp allows business owners to claim their listings page, upload pictures, add business details and respond to reviews. Go and claim or add your business to the top online review websites. It is a great way to get your business in front of thousands of potential customers. Below is a list of the top 10 review websites from David Nihm's 2011 Local Search Ranking Factors report.

Note: All of these sites have a free listing.

Step 3: Ask for the review

Businesses that encourage and ask for online reviews will reach a wider audience. The best time to ask for a review is after you have delivered a product or service. Make is simple and easy. Here are a few ideas.

  • Have something printed up, a brochure or pamphlet, that asks for reviews and gives instructions. Keep it at the checkout counter or in a prominent place at your business and pass it out in bags or include with receipts. You can also try using QR codes which have become quite popular directing customers to a preferred review site.
  • Send a follow-up email after a purchase or servicing a customer about their experience with your company and invite them to post a review on your website or favorite review site.
  • Add a graphic or logo on your website asking for a review on your website or their favorite review site.
  • We recently started using the "Customer Reviews & Testimonials Plugin for WordPress". What's really nice is when someone leaves a review, it is not published on our website until we approve it. Reviews are Microformat enabled (hReview) and after posted will show up in Google's search engine results page.

For more ideas on asking for reviews, checkout "Ask For A Review" on the elSue blog.

Step 4: Respond to reviews

Responding to reviews lets your customers know there is a person behind the business that cares. It's also a great learning experience finding out what people like and what they don't like. Whether the review is positive or negative take the time to respond.

The 5 star review It doesn't take much to say "thank you" for a great review. The person that left the review spent more time going to the review site to write the review for you. It's a great way to interact with your customers. When I think of all the 5 star reviews I've seen on Google Places, I don't think I've ever seen a "thank you". Whether it's a mediocre 2-3 star or great 4-5 star review, respond. A simple "thank you" will do.

The negative review. Your business may have many great online reviews, but a negative review is inevitable. Negative reviews need to be addressed and you can do this by acknowledging them and providing a solution. It's how you address the negative review that's most important. I suggest you respond politely and propose to take it off line. This way it lets customers know your concerned and value their input.

Note: Google allows you to remove reviews you have posted on Google Places. If you have a negative review on Google Places and resolve the issue with the person that posted the review, you may want to ask them to remove it.

This is only the beginning. Online reviews have become the new trend. Consumers want to read what others have to say about products and services they intend to invest in. It would be great to hear your ideas on how your business is currently handling online reviews and what your plan is moving forward.

See also:

Sources:

David Nihms 2011 Local Search Ranking Factors

Worcester Telegram Article: Business Learn to Cope With Online Reviews

Susan Walsh

WordPress websites and local search engine optimization is our specialty.

elSue Blog

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11 Responses to “A Four Step Plan To Get, Monitor & Respond To Online Reviews”

  1. Gracie says:

    Negative reviews need to be addressed and you can do this by acknowledging them and providing a solution. It's how you address the negative review that's most important.

    • Susan says:

      @Andy you're welcome! Excellent point – Google Alerts is a great tool for monitoring your competition too.

      I thinks it great that you email your customers and ask for a review. We have a hard time getting clients to do this. The easier you make it for your customers to leave a review the better. For example, having short instructions with a direct link to your listing on the top review sites – Google Places, Yelp or CitySearch. Make sure you claim these listings so that you can respond with a "thank you" when you do get a good review.

      Don't get discouraged. There are many people that are just learning how to leave a review. They are not sure what to write and how to express their opinion. The more they see others do this they will want to join in.

      The best time to send your email or ask you customers for a review is upon completion of your service or delivery of your product. I'm sure you probably already know this. All of the online store send the follow-up email asking for a review.

      Go and Google "tips for getting online reviews" – there are many good blogs and articles. It's a popular subject right now.

  2. Andy says:

    Thanks for the Google Alerts link! I never heard of it, but it looks like pretty cool tool, not just for finding reviews and for keeping up to date with all kinds of other stuff, like what your competition is doing.

    On Step 3: Do you have any advice on how to improve the response rate? I always email my customers and ask for a review, but the response rate is pretty bad. I guess in one way it's good, as my customers seem to be satisfied with the product and don't leave a bad review, but it would be nice to get some more good ones…

    • Susan Walsh says:

      Hi Andy,

      Sorry for the delay. Thank you for your comment. The feedback I get from some of our clients is how hard it is to get customers/clients to leave a review. If you are a storefront business, get their email address and send a simple thank you email with directions on how to leave a review on one of the review sites, Yelp, Google+ Local, CitySearch, your website, where ever you want the review posted. It's good to have reviews sprinked over different review sites. Many times they need to setup an account to leave a review. A perfect example is Google+ Local (formally Google Places). You need to have a Google+ account in order to leave a review.

      Having a plan in place on how you ask for reviews is important.

      Hope this helps!

      Thanks,
      Susan

  3. Great article which I've shared on our Facebook page. You've forgotten HomeStars, but we'll forgive you. :-) On our site, we've actually built tools to help local contractors build their review base, while maintaining the trust of the reviews.

  4. Katelyn says:

    Thanks for bringing all of this great ideas about reviews, this can provide a huge idea on what we must consider and choose fro finding the solution in our problem reviews….

  5. Don Campbell says:

    Great advice Susan. Reviews can make a big difference for small businesses in the rankings, and for getting customers to try them out.

    Your advice in step #3 to make it "simple and easy" for your customers to leave reviews is right on too. I made a video showing how to get a direct link to the review portion of your Google Places page.

    Also, I tell businesses NOT to ask for reviews on Yelp, because if the reviewer is not an avid Yelp user, Yelp's aggressive filter will remove it.

  6. Ahmad says:

    A few points of my own that I'd like to add:
    1. It surprises me when I see people who either have no clue about Google Alerts, haven't heard about it, or have heard about it but don't use it. Its an extremely powerful tool.

    2. People underestimate the importance of online (or offline) reviews, especially in the part of the world where I come from. A review – be it of an electronic product or a food place – can make or break your decision to buy or give the owner your business.

    3. I agree with point no.2 in the article above, however let's not forget the power of services such as FourSquare. I dont have the statistics handy, but I can safely say that it's on par, if not better, than the top review sites listed above, in terms of the number of people using it to read reviews and leave comments on businesses.

    • Susan Walsh says:

      Hi Ahmad,

      Sorry for the delay in my response. I agree with you that Foursquare is another powerful site depending on the industry you are in. If you service customers at your location it is perfect. Foursquare has many perks besides reviews. There are many more great sites that allow customer reviews. The list I included is from David Nihm's 2011 report. David is a leader and expert in local search. There are many listing and direcotry sites such as Patch, Hotfrog, Angie's List and more that have customer reviews.

      Look at how the new Google+ Local is using the Zagat rating system now. It is changing and evolving into something big every day. All businesses should have some type of review plan in place.

      Thank you for your comment!
      Susan

  7. RE: #4 Respond to reviews – I always call to thank the person who commented whether it's Google Places, LinkedIn etc

    Do you believe that it's important to have them posted because prospects can see your response to all comments.

  8. Susan Walsh says:

    Hi Maureen,

    That's great that you call to thank the people that leave you a review. It makes it personal and special. Those people will think of you and recommend you to others that may need your products and or services.

    And, yes, I do think it is important to respond online for others to see. People love to read the reviews and will think more highly when seeing a "thank you" response. They get a better feel as to who you are – that you are a real business that cares about their customers or clients.

    Thanks for your comment!
    Susan