The approximately 33 million small businesses spread out across America are all struggling to make their mark online or soon will be. The business landscape has skewed ever more heavily toward promoting and conducting business online.
One of the areas that too many businesses overlook as part of their marketing strategy is online review management. If online review management is a new term for you, keep reading. We’ll cover what you need to know about it from the ground up.
When you first take your business online, you worry about essentials. You get a domain name and snag web hosting. Then, you build or have someone build the website for you.
If you’re wise, you make sure that you get a mobile-friendly website that works well on phones and tablets.
Once the core website is up and running, you turn your eye at least partially away from technical concerns and begin to worry about the content on your site. This is when you begin your marketing strategy and, not so coincidentally, begin worrying about search engine optimization.
Few marketing strategies survive long online if those strategies don’t improve your search engine performance in some way. So, you must play ball by employing SEO best practices. If you use those best practices well, you enjoy better search engine page ranks.
Of course, businesses and their websites differ from other kinds of websites in one key way. People will leave reviews about your business on your website, on review websites, and on social media. These reviews can help or hurt your online brand reputation.
Given how these reviews can affect brand trust, you need some kind of online review management system in place.
Online Review Management Overview
Online review management isn’t a one-stage process. Rather, you can break it down into these four areas of concern:
- Securing reviews
- Review monitoring
- Review responses
- Reviews as marketing
You can think of it as a bit like a review life cycle from the business’s side of things. Beyond the obvious concern over brand reputation, though, why should you care about reviews or managing them?
Customers will often check out reviews before they even visit your website, buy a product, or get a service from you. If you don’t take an active hand in managing your online reviews, the first thing a potential customer reads about your business may well be negative. That can cost you a sale before you ever had a chance to put in your two cents.
We’ll look at each area of online review management, in turn, to help keep things organized.
For new businesses, reviews often seem a bit like the weather. It’s hard to accurately predict when you’ll get them. It’s also hard to know what they’ll bring until they arrive.
With a bit of thought and careful planning, though, you can do a lot to manage when and what kind of reviews you get. Ultimately, you want reviews from happy customers. Yet, happy customers typically leave fewer reviews.
They get the product or service. Things go as expected. They move on.
Unhappy customers, on the other hand, get the product or service. It doesn’t go as expected. They’ll routinely leave a bad review and, on top of that, they’ll talk to lots of people about it.
That divergence in behavior makes it crucial that you secure reviews from the silent majority of happy customers.
Getting Reviews from Happy Customers
There are a few strategies for getting those reviews from happy customers. Almost all of them boil down to variations on one strategy: ask for reviews.
If you do a lot of your business in person, you can encourage reviews when people leave your business. You can say something like:
“If you were happy with our service, please leave us a review online.”
If you favor a particular online outlet, you can ask them to leave a review on your Facebook page, Yelp, Foursquare, or a similar site.
If you primarily sell products online, though, it’s often a little trickier. You can offer the customer an option to leave a review as part of the checkout process.
Automated Follow Up
Of course, it’s often more effective to ask for reviews after the customer has a chance to use your product or service. That’s where an automated follow-up system works best.
These systems will generate an email asking for a review and send them out. In most cases, the system will generate the email after a fixed period of time, such as three days or one week.
The idea is that the customer has enough to use the product or service and come to a conclusion about it. Since most customers are satisfied, a little nudge is often sufficient to get them to leave a review.
The key takeaway here is that you must make the ask at some point. No, not every customer will leave a review. If you can get even a percentage of your customers to leave a review, though, the number of positive reviews will help to drown out the occasional negative review.
Also, bear in mind that there are a lot of places your business listing can show up that may offer options to leave reviews. If you’re not sure you’re listed everywhere you should be, consider getting a power listing service to get your site listed everywhere with accurate information.
Review monitoring is exactly what it sounds like. Once you pin down the key places online where people leave reviews about your business, you keep tabs on your business or products on those sites.
There are a couple of ways you can handle this process.
The most direct way of monitoring your reviews is through manual monitoring. Sadly, it’s also the more work-intensive choice as well.
You literally visit each review site on your list every day and see what people say about your business, services, or products. This approach doesn’t always seem bad when you first open up shop.
After all, most new businesses only get reviews sporadically. If your business, products, or services get popular, the number of reviews you get daily can grow exponentially.
While your main concern is negative reviews, you can’t ignore the positive reviews, either. There will be more about this in the “reviews as marketing” section below.
The amount of time you must invest in manual monitoring wil grow if your business grows. At some point, it can become too much time to reasonably devote each.
Your other main option is software-based monitoring. There are many software packages out there designed for this exact purpose. The precise features available will vary from application to application, so this will just offer a general overview of what they offer.
In general, these programs monitor the reviews for negative phrases. You can think of it as a type of social listening.
When a review contains a negative phrase, the software will send you an alert. You may get the alert as an email or directly from the software.
The alerts let you check the reviews promptly and, if necessary, take action. For example, say that someone leaves a review that says they got terrible service at your business from someone named Johnny.
You can track down Johnny, or have a manager do it, and get the details of the interaction. If the situation warrants it, you can take appropriate action. The appropriate action can range from reprimands to firing the offending employee.
Once you deal with the situation, you can then go to the review and leave a response. That brings us to the next section.
Some business experts hold that you should respond to every review. That’s a golden ideal, but impractical for almost all businesses. There is a time cost to replying to reviews, which means you must respond where your responses will do the most good.
In other words, you must always respond to negative reviews. There are some key dos and don’ts when it comes to responding to negative reviews.
On the do side:
- Do apologize
- Do talk about what you did or will do to resolve the issue
- Do remain calm
On the don’t side:
- Don’t pick a fight
- Don’t get personal
- Don’t assume your business can’t make mistakes
While some people will leave negative reviews to try and get something out of a business, that’s rarely what is at play. In most cases, people leave terrible, scathing reviews when something went spectacularly wrong.
An employee was obnoxious or rude. The product failed completely. The service didn’t do what your business said it would do.
Even if the customer doesn’t accept the apology or proposed resolution, people reading the review will see that you tried to make things right. That can win over potential customers who were on the fence.
Reviews as Marketing
It’s all to easy for business owners to think of reviews as purely transactional. The business provides a product or service, the customer may leave a good or bad review. Transaction complete.
The reality is that reviews can serve a much bigger role in your business than you expect. After all, a review is functionally a testimonial about your business or products. So, how can you can use those reviews as part of your marketing efforts?
A lot of review sites will actually provide you with a widget that you put on your site. For those new to the world of website building, a widget is essentially a comparatively small bit of computer code that you can insert on your website that will do things.
In the case of review site widgets, the widget will display recent reviews from review site on your website. If you mostly get good reviews, that is a great way for you to offer social proof that you provide good services or products.
Manually Add Them
Every once in a while, someone will write you a review that is so good, so positive, so absolutely glowing, that you want to draw special attention to it.
In cases like that, you can add the review to your site manually. In fact, this is often preferable because then it becomes a permanent fixture on the site.
With widgets, the reviews on display will often change based to roll in the most recent reviews. While those positive reviews are beneficial, they aren’t necessarily your most positive ones.
Keeping those particularly positive ones front and center is often more beneficial in the long run because they paint you in such a positive light.
Print Marketing Collateral
While print marketing isn’t as popular as it once was, it’s still a key tool in many businesses’ arsenals. You can take some of those particularly glowing reviews and add them to flyers, door hangers, brochures, and even catalogs.
While people may gloss over something they see on screen, they’ll often pay more attention to something they read when they hold it in their hands. The combination of senses creates a stronger memory and makes a deeper impression.
As noted above, this marketing potential is why you cannot simply gloss over positive reviews. You must review them periodically as well because they could become a staple of your overall marketing strategy.
Online Review Management and You
Online review management is an important process in your business for several reasons. One, staying on top of negative reviews helps you protect your brand reputation. Seeing negative reviews also lets you catch problems in your business, such as mouthy employees infuriating customers.
Staying on top of reviews can provide a net benefit by letting you incorporate your best reviews into your marketing. You can put them on your website directly or via widgets. You can even put them in your print marketing.
Latitude Park offers digital marketing services, including review management. For more information, contact Latitude Park today.