72% of consumers in a recent survey said that they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations from friends (hint: way more than they trust ads). The vast majority of consumers do research online before making a purchase, even if they buy in person, and many check reviews while they’re actually in a store.
All this means that online reviews can be very good for your business. If your business happens to be a restaurant or retail store, or if you manufacture things sold in those environments, they’re downright necessary for your business.
Paying people to write reviews or writing your own reviews can backfire. Consumers perceive these tactics as dishonest, and getting caught can get you banned from sites and harm your reputation.
So what can you do, apart from being good enough to inspire some positive reviews? Asking customers for reviews is fine. Providing samples to good reviewers is also fine. Giving a little guidance to the people from whom you request reviews is also acceptable.
I’ve been involved in several studies regarding online reviews myself lately (I’m a “top reviewer” at Amazon.com, so I’m on researchers mailing lists), so I’ll be glad to share what I’ve learned recently:
- The most effective reviews, in terms of product choice, are moderate reviews. Both super-negative and super-positive reviews are less likely to influence product choice. Objective-sounding reviews that mention positives and negatives are the most effective. One study also found that “well argued” reviews perform better, which I find very plausible, but I have no tips for getting your customers to write well-argued reviews.
- Longer reviews are more influential than shorter ones. The studies that make these claims are just counting words, but one mentioned that reviews with lots of tangential personal information (“I bought this for my husband because he…”) don’t show the benefits of longer reviews that contain more relevant information.
- People write reviews for two main reasons: altruism and a desire for notoriety. I’m an altruistic reviewer, myself, but people who do research on this subject clearly believe that people get a kick out of being a top reviewer. If you can figure out a way to pat people on the back for their reviews, you may find that you get more reviews. If I owned a restaurant, I think I’d put people who wrote great reviews on the menu or in the hallways along with the Employee of the Month or something. Just be sure not to cross the line by rewarding them with tangible goods.
With no further ado, 15 sites that allow reviews of businesses: