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Why Testimonials Matter for Small and Local Businesses

Posted by Loree O'Sullivan

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image credit: purplejavatroll/flickr cc

If you're anything like most consumers, you view vendor product descriptions with a little bit of suspicion. Before you click "add to cart" on Amazon or other eCommerce websites, there's a very good chance you scroll through the reviews. An abundance of one or two-star reviews may cause you to abandon the purchase of a product that otherwise seems perfect. Even though consumer opinions and feedback can vary, online reviews are an important tool for impartial feedback. Harvard Business School reports that a one-star difference in a restaurant's rating on Yelp can impact revenue 5%-9%. Whether your brand deals in products or services, there's a good chance your prospective customers are taking the same steps to read up on your reviews.

66% of consumers trust online reviews and recommendations from other customers. Testimonials and other user-generated review content are the third most-trusted form of advertising, second only to personal recommendations from friends and family and branded websites. For small and local businesses, working to increase your company's positive reviews on Yelp, Google local, and other forums can be critical to successful digital marketing. Join us as we review just why testimonials matter to small and local businesses -- and how your company can ethically increase your positive reviews online.

Do Online Reviews Really Make That Much of a Difference?

Chances are, when you search your company's name, or company's name and location, third-party review sites come up on the first page. Even if you have an active content marketing strategy, your company's website and social media pages probably won't knock Yelp down. If you've claimed your page on Google local, your star rating is prominently displayed in the top right hand of search results. Google, Bing, and other major search engines understand that consumers need to review user-generated testimonials before they will be comfortable making a purchase.

Regardless of whether your reviews are positive, negative, neutral, or nonexistent, your prospective customers are actively looking for them. Small and local business marketers should understand the importance of reviews and how their brand currently stacks up when building a testimonial strategy. Inc.'s Michael Fertik writes that customer reviews can typically be sorted into the following categories:

  • Trumpeting: Glowingly positive reviews of your company.
  • Canary in the coalmine: Overall positive or neutral reviews that point to one or two small issues with your quality, customer service, or another factor.
  • Stop sign: A massive volume of negative feedback. When these reviews build up, it can devastate small business revenue.

Even the best brands are likely to receive a negative review or two during their time in business. Even with stellar customer service and quality, your company likely can't please anyone. The trick is to actively monitor your online feedback, and use these reviews as an opportunity to resolve damaged customer relationships.

How to Protect Your Company's Online Reputation

Online reviews lend legitimacy to your brand. Actively monitoring your online feedback to ensure it's mostly positive can protect your business from significant drops in revenue. Here are some ways to protect -- and improve -- your company's reputation.

1. Develop a Policy for Negative Reviews

Your organization needs a procedure for dealing with negative reviews quickly. Perhaps you'll decide to designate someone on your marketing team to respond online within 24 hours, and reach out directly to unhappy customers. Use negative feedback as an opportunity to display your customer service skills. If you're unfortunate enough to be targeted by a troll's unreasonable attack, the best response is probably to avoid engaging.

2. Don't Buy Reviews

If your company needs some reputation damage control, buying positive reviews isn't the right place to start. It's unethical. Fertik writes that you're likely to be discovered evenutally, and could lose all trust with your prospective customers. 

3. Build Up a Good Online Presence

If your business hasn't established a presence on Yelp or Google Local, it doesn't absolve you from online reviews. You'll still earn feedback, but you won't have an opportunity to respond. Maintain an active presence on online review sites and complete your profile, by uploading photos, linking to your website, and responding publicly to comnments.

4. Place Testimonials On Your Website

Show that your company values your customer's feedback by prominently featuring testimonials, customer success stories, and case studies on your company's website. Testimonials can act as social proof for prospective customers on your site.

5. Actively Encourage Reviews

Even your happiest customers may not think to drop you a positive review on Google Local or Yelp. However, don't be afraid to ask outright for positive feedback from your most satisfied buyers. When it comes to encouraging online feedback and testimonials, there's both ethical and unethical approaches. Here's a few of both.

Ethical

  • Make it easy for your customers and offer to help if it's their first time on Yelp
  • Politely ask, and be clear that you're not requiring feedback
  • Sincerely thanking your customers who take the time to write a testimonial or review


Unethical

  • Providing sample testimonials for your customers to copy and paste online
  • Exchanging reviews with other business owners in the area (unless you're truly satisfied with their companies)

While consumer trust can vary year-to-year, the importance of third-party feedback is unlikely to change. For small and local businesses, online reputation management is crucial. As long as search engines are a common tool for product and service discovery, your company's reputation on Google Local and Yelp will be a visible part of your online presence. By taking an active role in ethically encouraging testimonials and reviews, you can work to build social proof and positive branding.

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Topics: inbound marketing

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