All online consumer reviews, including those in Google My Business (GMB), are an invaluable part of your online digital marketing plan. The impact they have on perception and sales cannot be overstated.

After all, potential consumers know that your marketing copy itself is inherently biased in favor of your products and services. It must be. But they trust user-generated content, like online reviews, because they know that users have nothing to gain. They will post what they honestly believe about the products. They also have first-hand experience. This is especially important in the world of online shopping, where many people buy products without ever holding them or even seeing them in person.

How do people use these reviews? On average, they read 10 of them prior to taking that next step and buying the item. When asked if they used positive reviews to influence them to buy, 91% of consumers admitted that they did. On top of that, when asked if they trusted those reviews the same way they would trust a family member or a friend, 76% claimed that they did.

That last number is astounding. Potential consumers do not know the reviewers in the least, but the vast majority of them put as much stock in what they have to say as family members. Again, the impact these reviews can have on sales is tremendous and must be considered.

How Do You Cultivate These Reviews?

So, now you can see how valuable these reviews are, but that’s just the first step. How do you leverage this to grow your business? How do you handle customer reviews and build up the trustworthy image you’re after?

There are a number of steps you can take, but it all begins with customer interaction. Effective, helpful customer service is a must. When you treat your customers well, they’ll treat you well in return. Likewise, one even semi-negative interaction can be enough to trigger a harsh review that you can’t shake.

Customer service even helps when there are issues with products or services. You can find plenty of five-star reviews where people talk about getting a defective product that was promptly replaced for no extra cost by a helpful, caring customer service rep. It is possible to have customer service that is so good that it turns negative reviews into positive reviews. Nothing else can do that, and it must be your focus.

Take an Active Approach to GMB

When using GMB, you have the option to claim your profile or create it from the ground up. You absolutely want to do this and you need to verify your ownership. This can help you interact with customers, keep tabs on reviews and much more. You need to take this active approach. Don’t neglect or even abandon that profile. Claiming it also helps it show up on Google services like search pages and maps. This helps with far more than just reviews and can also increase foot traffic.

Invite Customers to Leave Reviews

Many customers are not going to seek out your profile and choose to leave a review on their own. However, when invited to do so, they’ll be more than happy to oblige. Touch base with them, usually via email, and give them a few simple steps to find your GMB profile and leave a review if they had a positive experience. Tell them that you value their business and invite them to contact you if they ever need anything. You can build up brand loyalty and make them feel like “part” of the company, and then they’ll be more likely to leave a review.

It often sounds too simple, but many business owners who struggle to naturally get reviews, even from satisfied customers, find that all they really need to do is ask.

Remember That Negative Reviews Are More Likely

One key thing to remember is that negative reviews are more likely. People expect to like the products that they research and buy. If they do, they often don’t review it at all. That satisfaction feels like par for the course. The only way they leave the review is if they have a negative experience. It falls short of their expectations, they feel frustrated, and then they turn to reviews as a way to vent that frustration.

The best way to counter this, as noted above, is by having excellent customer service. Asking for reviews can also help. It doesn’t eliminate negative reviews, but it can increase the percentage of positive ones so that the feedback is more genuine overall. If you have 95% satisfied customers but the 5% are far more vocal about their displeasure, it can make the experience people had with your products and services look far more negative than it actually was.

Never Break the Rules

Google My Business has some very strict review rules that you definitely want to follow at all times. They care about the integrity of the process. Violating the rules can have stark consequences. Don’t be tempted to do it for the apparent short-term gains.

For instance, don’t write false reviews of your own business. Don’t create secondary profiles for this purpose. They can suspend your profile. Plus, if customers figure out that you’re writing positive reviews yourself, they’re not going to make a purchase. They won’t trust you or your company. The whole reason that so many of them trust reviews as much as recommendations from family members is that they think reviews are honest and authentic. They think reviewers have nothing to gain. Make sure it stays that way.

Another rule to remember is the prohibition against “review gating.” If you ask for reviews, ask all customers to leave a review. Don’t try to vet them. For instance, do not contact people and ask if they liked your products. When they respond that they did, then you ask them for a review. If they respond that they did not, you don’t invite them to review. Of course, you want the positive reviews from people who liked your products or services, but you cannot be proactive about seeking out only those buyers and therefore skewing the overall results.

Respond to Reviews and Focus on Fresh Content

It’s not all about what you don’t want to do with GMB. You do want to take an active role. One way to do this is by responding to the reviews that you get. Per Google itself, this can help with your local SEO efforts. It shows that you’re involved. It helps consumers. It makes people more likely to contact you. Don’t just create your profile and forget about it. Use it frequently and interact with those who visit or review it. This gives you the best long-term results.

You also need to remember the importance of fresh content and current reviews. The reviews tell people who want to use your business how it is doing. A five-star review that someone left five years ago still shows up on the profile, but it leaves potential customers with a lot of questions. Is the company still the same today? Is it the same owner? Do they have the same business practices? Just because it was a five-star business in 2015 doesn’t mean it’s a five-star business in 2020.

Plus, if you neglect the profile and there’s a long stretch with no new reviews, customers will ask why. What made it is so that this company used to get rave reviews and now gets nothing? That’s almost as damaging as a negative review.

Answer the Positive Reviews, as Well

Reviews are often difficult to get. Positive reviews are also incredibly helpful. Never take them for granted. Take a moment to respond to anyone who is kind enough to leave one. Thank them for the kind words, add enough personality to it that they know it’s not a copy-and-paste response, and use that to build customer loyalty. When you do so, people feel that personal connection with you and your company, and the odds are greater that they will:

  • Leave more positive reviews in the future
  • Become a repeat customer
  • Recommend your business to friends and family in person

Think of it this way: If someone came into your store in person and complimented you, you wouldn’t just smile and say nothing. You wouldn’t ignore it. You’d thank them, you’d chat with them and you’d tell them to let you know if there was anything else you could do for them. Take that same approach with online reviews. It can help with your branding by showing how helpful and committed to your customers you are, and it can make the reviewer a fan and a customer for life. That’s worth taking a few minutes to respond to every positive review.

What Can You Do About Fake Reviews?

Unfortunately, fake reviews do happen. People may spam your GMB profile with fake reviews. Disgruntled employees may try to ruin your reputation after getting fired. Someone who works for a competing business may attempt to harm your reputation so that they get the sales, instead. It happens. The internet makes it difficult to verify everything and people often feel like the anonymity gives them a free pass to do whatever they want without ramifications.

If this happens, keep the professional outlook noted above. Don’t belittle reviewers or insult them or try to prove them wrong. You can be 100% right and it still makes your company look bad. Fight that impulse. Remember that fake reviews do happen and you can’t prevent that. Don’t take it personally.

Instead, just report any fake reviews. If they do violate Google’s guidelines, they can remove them for you. Google has a vested interest in making sure that businesses get accurate feedback. Just as they will remove false positive reviews, they can remove false negatives. Honesty and authenticity are the most important factors. Just flag the review, email Google Support, and let them deal with it. Don’t engage the negative reviews yourself.

Business in the Age of Reviews

It’s clear that online reviews have changed the way businesses work and present themselves to the public. Most people research businesses, goods and services online long before they make a purchase. They can be massively swayed by just a single review. Anything that comes up when they punch that search into Google has the potential to make or break a sale. You can’t avoid this, especially in the time of smartphones, when all of that information is always just a quick voice search away.

The key is to embrace it and to use both the positive and negative reviews to your advantage. Focus on how you can address each one with a customer service mindset. Be helpful and courteous at every turn, and you can build massive customer loyalty and a great online reputation. It does take time and work, but few things are as important to the continued success of your company, so it’s absolutely worth it. If you’d like to learn more, we’d be glad to help here at Online Edge.