I was at this great event recently, called Social Media Crash Course hosted by the Baltimore Business Journal. The speakers were sharing valuable social media tips and ideas, but one piece of advice had me puzzled: don’t ask customers for reviews.

customer-reviews-online

This seems like a waste of a great opportunity and contradicts what we advise our clients at our Baltimore web design and online marketing firm. However, considering this tip came from a Yelp representative, I can see why she was so against soliciting reviews. Her reasoning was that if 100 people go to your business’ Yelp page and post something like “this business is awesome, you have to buy from them” it will look fishy. And there is no doubt about it, but consider this:

–    Asking for a review doesn’t equate to getting a review. Out of those 100 customers you ask, you might get 10 reviews if you are lucky.

–    There is no guarantee a review will be positive.

Sadly, many audience members took that advice for truth and will probably avoid asking their customers for reviews. It’s like feeling sick and not going to a doctor because you are afraid to pick up more germs at the hospital.

Please, DO ask your customers for reviews 

  • Reviews are third-party endorsements that 61% of consumers rely on while selecting products and services to fit their needs.
  • Reviews are especially important for businesses in the restaurant industry, where 57% of people make their choice of a food vendor based on reviews.
  • An ecommerce website with 50 or more reviews per product can see as much as 4.6% increase in conversions
  • On-site reviews help SEO by supplying fresh user-generated content.
  • Reviews on search engines can help improve visibility of your online map listings.

Not all reviews are created equal

Consumer reviews are trusted more that the product/service descriptions written by the manufacturer/service provider, but less than personal recommendations from friends and family. Word-of-mouth is still the biggest influencer when it comes to purchasing decisions.

Word-of-mouth-review

What types of online reviews can you get?

  •  Customer testimonials on your website. They are typically the least trusted as they can be easily forged. You can have a testimonial submission form on your site or enter them manually by copying what customers sent you in writing.
  • Internal product review system for an ecommerce site
  • Reviews on major search engines (Google, Big Reviews, or Yahoo! Local)
  • Reviews in business directories and on consumer review sites (Yelp, CitySearch, Angie’s List)
  • Facebook and LinkedIn recommendations
  • Reviews on major online retailer sites (Amazon, eBay, Esty)

So, how do you go about asking your customers for reviews?

If you have a physical location, place a review book in a prominent spot. It will mostly be for in-store use, but you can take pictures from it for social media or type up the reviews to put up on your website.

Feature links to online review sites on your website. Don’t include all of them though – only select one or two that are most valuable.

Email your customers and ask to review a service you provided or a product they purchased from you (don’t forget to include direct links to make it easier). Do it while the purchase is still fresh, but after a customer had an opportunity to try the product or test the effectiveness of the service.

Occasionally remind your social media followers to leave reviews. Remember that the life of a tweet or a Facebook post is very short, so you need to keep repeating the message to reach as many people as possible.

Encourage reviews by holding a contest or an ongoing sweepstakes. You could choose one winner on a monthly basis from the pool of customers who leave reviews.

A few things to keep in mind when you are hunting for online reviews

Now, let’s go back to that reason why the Yelp representative was actively advising against asking for reviews. When you are dealing with major review-aggregator websites, such as Google, Yelp or Yahoo, you have to deal with internal algorithms that filter out certain reviews. These systems exist mainly to get rid of fake reviews, but, sometimes, even legitimate reviews may get filtered out or flagged as inappropriate and removed.

While I don’t know exactly how these algorithms work, from a bit of research and personal experience I put together these red flags that might affect the validity and success of a review:

  • The review is too shortgoogle-review-button
  • The review is too short
  • The review is overly positive or sounds like a sales pitch
  • Several similar reviews are published within a short period of time
  • The review is a duplicate of a different review left on the same siteangies-list-review-us
  • This is the first review a customer has ever written (as soon as he/she set up an account)
  • A reviewer doesn’t actively participate in the community and/or maintain their profile

So, ideally, you want reviews from people who already have a Yelp, Google or Bing accounts and enjoy reviewing businesses. However, there is a first time for everything, so don’t hesitate to ask customers for reviews.

Just stay away from bad practices and you’ll be all right!

–    Don’t be too pushy and don’t harass your customers.

–    Don’t ask your employees, friends or family members to review your business – the reviews must be authentic.

–    Don’t tell your customers to leave a positive review – you want a well-balanced one (by the way, negative reviews can be useful too!)

–    Don’t pay for reviews. It’s a fast way to get them, but you’ll most likely get caught sooner or later.

As you can see, asking your customers for reviews is a great marketing tactic that can bring awesome results when done right. And don’t take every advice you hear for ultimate truth – do your research and compare information before you make any serious changes to your business strategy.

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