A Guide For Getting and Keeping Online Customer Reviews

Online ReviewsMy last post was supposed to be about how to get more reviews on your site, however I got sidetracked by the concept of Social Proof so I went with that instead. I thought I could sort of touch on both in one post, but quickly realized that how to get more reviews on your site needed its own post. Boy, was I right!

I apologize in advance for this lengthy post! Researching this topic really took me on a journey. As I read more, I found lots of contradicting info out there. It goes to show how the rules of review sites change as sites wise up to the incentives and tactics being used to boost review numbers. So I wanted to share not only what you should do, but what will get you into trouble with review filters as well.

Why Reviews Are Important

So what’s the big deal about reviews (and why is this post so long)? Reviews help to build trust for your website and your business. Potential customers want to eliminate their feelings of uncertainty when they’re buying a new product or looking for a new service provider. Reviews help them to quickly learn from the experiences others have had with your company, which makes them feel more confident in their purchase decision.

Maybe you’re thinking reviews don’t really matter for your business because most of your competitors don’t have any. It’s true that some industries are naturally reviewed more than others. But even if your competitors don’t have any online reviews, you still need to be focused on acquiring reviews for your site. Reviews can be your unique competitive advantage.

Speaking of competitive advantage – in the world of search engines and rankings, competition is fierce. It’s possible that reviews can help your site rank higher in search results. However, a proven benefit of reviews is that they bring more traffic to your site. Positive reviews give potential customers reason to click on your site, and more click-throughs mean more business for you.

Which Sites to Focus On

The most important thing to do when you decide which review sites you want to focus on is to read the guidelines. Tactics such as incentivizing users to review your site may be fine on one site, but it may get you filtered on another.

So how do you determine which review sites are the best for your business? Start off by doing a competitive analysis and see where the most valuable reviews are for your industry. Take note of how many reviews sites in your industry typically have to create a benchmark for your review acquisition efforts.

Also, be aware that some review sites are more influential than others. A good way to figure out which ones are the most important is to see where they rank on the search results page. Obviously, you’ll want to focus your efforts on the review sites that show up on the top of the list, such as Google+ and Yahoo Local. However, you don’t want to ignore the less popular review sites. A lot of times, reviews from less popular review sites like CitySearch and Insider Pages will be picked up and displayed on other local search engines. You probably won’t want to focus your efforts on these less popular sites, but you need to be aware if your reviews ever do show up there.

What NOT to Do

There is a lot of misinformation out there about how you should go about getting those reviews. Certain tactics that are published out there you really should avoid. Here are three I found that I’d like you to take out of your review acquisition strategy right now:

1) DON’T set up a computer at your business for people to write reviews.

Review sites, especially Google+, know the IP address the review is coming from. If your page has a ton of reviews from one IP address, that’s a sure way to get them filtered and removed.

2) DON’T copy testimonials from your website to create reviews.

Duplicate content will get you a penalty in search engine results and could get your reviews filtered and removed. Don’t ask your customers to just re-write their testimonials for you word-for-word. If you want to use a review as a testimonial on your website, you can do so by taking a screen shot and using it as an image instead of text.

3) DON’T use incentives.

For one thing, if Yelp catches you incentivizing for reviews, you’ll be in big trouble. Other review sites are a bit more lenient on this policy, so you may be able to use incentives like discounts and coupon codes to get more reviews. However, your loyal customers don’t want to be bought. They want to feel like they’re a valuable partner in your business, so trying to buy them may actually insult them. Letting them know that their opinions and thoughts are valuable to you is a much better way to get their attention.

How to Get Reviews

OK, now that you know what not to do, how should you go about getting those reviews?

Timing

Space out your campaigns so you receive a slow stream of reviews over a longer period of time. Short spurts of lots of reviews set off red flags to the filters. You should also try to have the reviews posted as close to the time of the transaction as possible. That way it’s on top of your customer’s mind and therefore easier for them to write a review.

Segment by Account

If your customers have a Gmail or Yahoo account, start by asking them to review you on those sites.

Let Your Customer Choose Where to Review You

You can tell your customers that you prefer certain review sites, but ultimately you should leave the decision up to them. You want to make the process of reviewing you as simple as possible, so let the customer use the site they’re most comfortable with.

More On Keeping it Simple

The simpler your review process is, the more reviews you’ll get – it’s as simple as that!

Go through the process yourself, then create easy-to-follow instructions. Make sure to include many options on it so your customer can pick the one that works best for them. Check out this great review flowchart from Phil Rozek at Local Visibility. You can print these directions out and hand them to your customers or send them in an email.

Promote Your Review Sites

Include links to your profiles on Google+, Yelp and anywhere else you are accepting reviews on your website, email signature, business cards, etc. Letting your customers know where your profiles are will make it more likely that they’ll go there and post reviews on their own.

Tell Your Customer to Be Honest

In some of the other articles I read, it was suggested that you should only ask your happy customers to review you. While positive reviews are best for your business and for getting traffic to your site, ignoring negative reviews isn’t going to do you any good. Reviews not only help to drive more business to your site, they also should help you have a realistic idea of how your customers perceive you. You should take negative reviews into consideration and use them to improve. Don’t try to shield yourself from them. Besides, 100% positive reviews looks suspicious to the filters so you need a few negative ones in there anyway. Just remember to always respond to both your negative and positive reviews. You want to show your customers that you are learning from the negative feedback and that you truly appreciate the positive feedback.

Resources

This is by far the best resource for how to get more reviews I found on the Internet. It’s primarily focused on Google+, but it’s still a comprehensive resource on this topic with lots of helpful advice:

The Complete Guide to Google+ Local Reviews – and Especially How to Get Them – Phil Rozek

What are your tips for how to and how NOT to get more reviews for your site?

What I Learned About “Social Proof” From My Trip to Total Wine

Total WineThe other day I was at Total Wine, a wonderful store. I don’t know anything about wine, which is why this store is perfect for me. They have so many features on the shelves that help me pick out a wine. They tell me if the wine has won any fancy wine awards or if it has a high rating from those people who rate wines. I told you, I know nothing about wine!

What I love the most about Total Wine are the “staff favorites.” “Staff favorites” are marked throughout the store with a picture of the staff member and a callout that says, “[Staff Person]’s Favorite.” Then, the staff member will personalize it by writing a short statement about why they love that particular wine. For me, it’s a no-brainer: If the price is right on a bottle of “staff favorite” wine, that’s the one that’s going in my shopping cart. It saves me from spending hours wandering around the store trying to find the right wine and it cures me of the uncertainty that I’ve just purchased a crappy bottle. If someone who works at a wine store recommends it and it’s a style of wine I know I like, I’m willing to give it a try! And I’m not the only one – there were consistently less bottles left on the shelves where the little “staff favorite” cards were positioned. Some of the staff-picked wines had already sold out, or only one or two bottles were left.

It is obvious that personal recommendations are extremely important for businesses today, whether or not the store has a physical location. I’d say it’s even more important for an online business to eliminate customer doubt because of the lack of physical evidence when it comes to online purchasing. Everyone needs assurance that what they’re buying, whether it’s a bottle of wine or a bigger commitment like a car, is going to be a good investment. As I looked at the dwindling inventory of staff picks at Total Wine, I wondered what the best way would be to create an experience like this online where the customer feels more assured of their purchase. What was the answer? More reviews on Yelp? More Facebook likes? I wasn’t really sure.

About a week later, I read an article on Fast Company by Russell Kogan that identified what I’d experienced at Total Wine as “Social Proof.” The article talks more about how people tend to follow a crowd (i.e. pick a crowded restaurant over an empty one) because if other people are doing something, it lets our brains know that it is safe for us to do the same thing. That’s because we assume that the other people have assessed the risk and deemed the action as safe or good. In the case of Total Wine, it only took one person (a staff member) to say that a certain bottle of wine was good. However, coupling that with the missing bottles demonstrated that lots of other people agreed, making it more likely that I would trust the recommendation and buy the wine myself.

The problem for an online business is that people can’t see whether or not you have a crowd. Reviews and likes on social media are definitely a great way to show people that you’ve built a community and that people trust you . One way to get more reviews for your site is to ask your customers for them. You can prompt them to write a review after they make a purchase, for example.

While reviews on social media are important for any business (not just ecommerce sites), there are a lot of other methods you can use to “Social Proof” your business’s online presence. For example, Kogan uses a live sales feed on his business’s website. Having a live sales feed creates an environment where the customer feels less alone in their shopping experience. Seeing that others are making purchases at the same time will make them feel more at ease that the products are good and the site is trustworthy.

Do you have any ideas on how you can “Social Proof” a website or get more online reviews?