People often ask me, "Will customer reviews help or hurt my business?" Several months ago, I advised readers not to panic over customer reviews and to claim their accounts on Google Local, Yelp, and other sites that list businesses and accept reviews. Since then, I've come across a mix of opinions regarding customer reviews, and I still think that good, honest businesses benefit from reviews, even if they aren't always full of praise.
Recent research shows that consumers who post reviews not only refrain from being overly negative, but want reviews to be balanced and informative. This is really good news for honest business owners like you.
Consumers Don't Rush to Post Negative Reviews
e-Marketer recently reported on a November 2014 study by YouGov which says the top reason (at 62%) US Internet users post reviews is to help others make good purchasing decisions. Another said they thought it's "polite" to provide feedback, and a quarter or so were split between making sure the word gets out about good businesses out there and their own positive experiences.
Even so, people say we're all monsters when we get online!
But at the same time, 86% of respondents told YouGov that while they think online reviews are trustworthy, they are uneasy about how kosher some actually are. Fully 80% believe some business owners write their own positive reviews of their businesses, and over two-thirds suspect businesses post negative reviews about their competitors. Just over two-thirds question product reviews, wondering if the purported customer actually purchased the item. This accounts for why Amazon reviews include a notation from Amazon is the purchase was verified.
Most Of The Skepticism Revolves Around Yelp
Most of the negative attitude toward reviews involves Yelp. I spoke to a friend who mainly uses her Yelp account to research places to stay, visit, and eat when she travels. So far, she claims she hasn't been misled. She also posts her own reviews when she's had a truly exceptional experience and for shops she regularly visits.
Over the past couple of years, though, Yelp has been tricky for some businesses to navigate. Many report accusations of extortion, based on perceptions that businesses that decline to buy advertising on the site are "punished" when Yelp's filter fails to catch questionable negative reviews or removes positive ones.
Apparently, Yelp gives more weight to reviews from members (account holders) than those from non-members. Is this fair? My friend thinks it is, and explained that as a member, she actually feels responsible toward her fellow Yelpers by posting honest reviews when she is so moved. Plus, she points out, there's no charge to join Yelp.
My friend's experiences echo those of the YouGov study. (She does not participate in surveys from that site). She believes Yelp has far fewer negative reviews than Google, and attributes this to Yelpers being, on the whole, a more positive group of people. They want to share good experiences and will simply ignore businesses that are average or otherwise uninspiring. Unless there's a real issue they want to warn their fellow Yelpers about, they don't go negative.
I asked how she sorts through Yelp to select a restaurant or hotel when she travels. She says she gravitates toward businesses that have lots of reviews and looks for patterns.
- Was there a long gap during which there are no reviews?
- Are recent reviews generally positive?
- Do positive and negative reviews tend to be in agreement?
A few negative reviews won't turn her away if positive ones more than compensate for them. She is also impressed when business owners respond to reviews and says she revisited a restaurant she gave a middling review for after receiving a response from the owner.
Should I Risk Getting Yelped?
I still urge everyone who owns a business to claim the Yelp listing, lest a competitor get hold of it for even a short time.
No review site is perfect, particularly if it's free to join. Read this article from former Yelp employee Rani Sweis, who argues that Yelp can help business owners learn and adapt from negative reviews. It's hard to argue with this, particularly since the quality of writing on Yelp is much better then the angry spittle you find elsewhere. If nothing else, the reviews there will be clear about what's working and what isn't at your business.
In many ways this issue is really based on how you handle any given review. Are you actively managing your review page? Do you review the page regularly? Do you respond to both positive and negative comments? Letting people see how you deal with a negative comment, often times, tells people more than the comment itself. Skillfully turning a negative into a positive goes a long way and learning how to do this is easy.
Many business owners live by the adage, "There's no such thing as bad publicity." Handled properly, this may just be true.