Not long ago I wrote about the reasons why user testimonials are essential for companies operating in the B2B space. That doesn’t mean they’re any less important for business to consumer (B2C) companies, though.
Independent online reviews are particularly valued by consumers, although they’re more difficult to come by than a user testimonial page on a website. This makes them a vital part of content marketing, and one that influences the success of your business significantly.
Influence of Online Reviews for Businesses
A 2013 survey of customer service and business results for mid-sized companies found that a whopping 90% of customers said their buying decisions were influenced positively by reading online reviews, while 86% were influenced by negative reviews. Other research shows that online reviews have a higher impact on consumers (51%) than factors such as price or location (28%). According to an older study, 52% of consumers actually placed as much or more trust in online reviews than they did in the personal recommendations of family and friends. The key is to be sure they are independent and appear authentic, which the often-anonymous testimonials on company websites simply don’t do.
Where Reviews Live
So, where should reviews live if not on your company website? The research shows that consumers find more positive reviews on Facebook, while independent review sites typically carry more negative ones. Sites like Google+ Local and Yelp are the first choice for experienced users when they’re looking for reviews, as well as “specialist” review sites like TripAdvisor (travel) and Zagat (Restaurants).
This has both benefits and disadvantages for you. The benefits include:
- Authenticity: There’s no question that the reviews are independent and genuine, particularly on sites that require a user account and a login. Because few people are likely to take the trouble to create a false identity just for the purpose of posting a review, the consumer can be fairly sure the reviews are real.
- Distance: If you do get negative reviews, chances are a good percentage of your regular customers won’t see them. They’ll keep buying from you without ever going looking for information beyond what they find on your site.
- Syndication: There’s no reason why you can’t use the good reviews as content too – both for social media updates as well as republishing / linking to them on your own website. In fact, the ideal way is to cross-pollinate between your site and the various online review sites. This also helps with other aspects of inbound marketing such as link building, which ultimately benefits your SEO and your ranking in search.
Obviously, there are disadvantages too:
- Lack of control: When you get a scathing online review, there’s no way to remove it. This forces you to handle it publicly or to ignore it.
- Longevity: You can run but you can’t hide. You can close down your website, change your company and domain names and even reposition completely, but there’s no way to get rid of pesky bad reviews. Even if you aren’t aiming to escape them, if they include broken links and other legacy problems there’s nothing you can do about it.
Customer Service Value
The customer service value of online reviews for businesses extends beyond the obvious benefits of inbound marketing, however. By managing the fall-out of a negative review or a complaint publicly, you can try to get the reviewer to either retract or edit the text. If you can’t succeed in doing that, you can at least establish a public record of your attempts to resolve the problem. Often, this is actually more beneficial than a positive review, because it gives you a chance to showcase your customer service efforts and that has unlimited value.
It makes no difference whether your product is a $10 value item or a $1 million item, customers want to know what other customers think. And for anyone in the B2C environment, no online reviews these days equates to little or no credible reputation.