Online reviews, when done well, create new customers. Done poorly, they repel potential customers. How important are online reviews? More than 80% of Americans trust them, according to BrightLocal research. A new study I just finished yesterday for my upcoming book with Daniel Lemin found that online reviews rank second—behind only friend and family recommendations—among the critical sources of information driving a consumer’s potential purchase. And among millennials? They trust online reviews MORE than they trust friends and family. But they can’t be reviews from whenever. Like the new Harry Styles ballad, they have to be FRESH! In fact, 77% of consumers do not trust reviews that are older than 90 days, says BrightLocal. Also, Google now uses “review velocity”—the pace at which your business accumulates new reviews—as a ranking factor for local search results. We are at a point where getting a consistent supply of positive reviews has a material impact on business success. Yet, SO MANY businesses entirely botch the review solicitation process. By my count, there are four ways to ask for an online review:
Online Reviews Playbook 1
Ignore online reviews entirely, and just hope and assume that some percentage of customers will be motivated to create them. This is a bad idea, since about 1% of customers will do so on their own.
Online Reviews Playbook 2
Use some sort of visual cue to encourage or nudge customers to create an online review. This is where you find things like “Review us on Yelp” window clings and so forth. This is better than doing nothing, but isn’t terribly persuasive.
Online Reviews Playbook 3
Making a whole hullabaloo out of online reviews, and either engaging in a quid pro quo (write us a review and you get a discount), or a guilt trip (what do I have to do today for you to give us a review?). This is not only a violation of the terms of service of essentially every reviews platform, but new research finds that bribing people for reviews actually produces FEWER reviews, not more.
Online Reviews Playbook 4
Providing customers with some sort of tactile, noticeable item that encourages them to write a review without feeling like they are being fully bribed to do so. If you can execute it operationally, this is the option you want.
A Brilliant Idea From Antigua
I was on vacation in the Caribbean last week. It was fantastic! On our last night in the islands, my family and I stayed at the Siboney Beach Club on Antigua: fun, cozy, boutique hotel right on the sand of Dickensen Bay, Siboney. It is run by very nice locals who aim to please. We were only there a day, but we had a great time. Upon checking out, they gave me two small bottles of local rum, and attached to each was a business card, encouraging a TripAdvisor review. Online reviews are clearly important to the owners—after all, even in Antigua rum isn’t free—and a quick check of TripAdvisor finds that they have 411 reviews, a 4.5 average, and are ranked #4 of all hotels in the St. John’s area of the island. THIS is how you solicit reviews. I’m going to drink the rum first, then write the review. Find a way to give your customers something small enough to not feel like a bribe, yet noticeable enough to make them remember you and want to write a review. If you come up with some cool ideas (and I know you will), let me know, won’t you? I’m always looking for new case studies.