By Brad Plothow
Many small businesses still operate as if customers find them while window shopping or thumbing through the Yellow Pages. Truth is, these days when someone wants to find a local restaurant, plumber, or tire shop, they pull out their smartphone and do a “near me” search.
In many cases, what they find first isn’t a list of websites for those businesses. Instead, their searches typically return profiles for those businesses on Yelp, Google My Business, TripAdvisor, or similar online review sites. This represents a major shift in how consumers find and patronize small, local businesses.
This sea change has caused trepidation for small businesses because anyone can post anything about them for all to see, but online review sites actually present an incredible opportunity. Think about it: millions of people search these sites every day precisely when they’re looking to spend money.
In a way, online review sites like Yelp and Google have created the world’s best marketing channel for small businesses. All you have to do is make sure your business shows up when consumers search for your products or services, and when they do find your business’s profile they like what they see.
Here are three tips for making online review sites work for your business instead of against it:
Just as your business has a physical storefront, it also has many digital storefronts,. That includes your business listings on Yelp, Google, etc. The first step to taking control of your online business presence is to claim your business’s free listings on these sites.
By doing so, you’ll be able to edit critical business information, including your hours of operation, photos of your store, and links to your website and menu (if applicable). You’ll also be able to respond to customers who post reviews about your business. Most importantly, you’ll ensure that nobody else claims your business’s page and distorts the public’s view of your company.
If you just take this one step, you’ll be doing better than most small businesses. According to a national study by Brandmuscle, only 33 percent of of all Yelp listings and 44 percent of Google My Business listings have been claimed. Even worse, only 23 percent of businesses update their online listings on these sites. That means consumers are less likely to find these businesses when they perform a “near me” internet search.
If you donit have time to claim your business listings on every site, prioritize Google, Yelp, and Facebook, which are the most-used review sites, according to Statistica.
Word of mouth is still the way consumers decide where to spend money, but the conversation has moved online. According to research from BrightLocal, nearly 9 in 10 consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations from friends and family.
When people find your business on Yelp or Google, they look for specific information to decide if you have what they want. Above all, they look at your overall star rating and the review content posted by past patrons.
Everyone is going to get a negative review from time to time, so it’s no use trying to fight it. What you can control, however, is how you respond – and if you respond at all.
You should respond to all reviews because there’s evidence that simply posting a response has a positive impact on revenue. It doesn’t have to be hard. For positive reviews, just post a simple thank-you message to show you care. For negative reviews, apologize briefly for the bad experience – even if it’s not your fault. And then give the customer a way to contact you via email or phone so you can take the conversation offline.
Getting more online reviews helps your business in two ways. First, it ensures that your online review score more closely matches the customer experience by swarming outlier negative reviews. Second, it frames your business as current and up-to-date because 73 percent of consumers think reviews that are more than three months old aren’t relevant.
For most small businesses, getting more reviews will naturally lead to a higher star rating. To accomplish both of these vital tasks, just ask your happy customers to post a review. Research shows that 7 in 10 consumers will post a review if you ask them to.
Online reviews aren’t a problem. They’re the ultimate opportunity for small businesses to attract more customers. Owning the online conversation doesn’t have to be daunting. Take a few simple steps and watch as more customers find your business automatically.