Consumers increasingly rely on reviews to select local businesses. Mobile Internet users, especially younger demographics, base their first impressions of local businesses on reviews on third-party review sites.
While this trend isn't new, the discerning skepticism consumers view reviews with is. According to a new BrightLocal consumer review survey, consumers research local businesses through reviews on Yelp, Google, and other local mobile directories. But consumers doubt the authenticity of individual reviews, which makes them value the aggregate of newer reviews across multiple sources.
Businesses need to be aware that their previous review generation strategies may be insufficient. Instead of simply having reviews and a high rating, local businesses should focus on having recent, numerous reviews across several local business directories.
How modern consumers view online reviews
Online marketers have known for years than reviews can be a stand-in for vital human interaction and word-of-mouth recommendations. Because they're so valuable, however, businesses have transparently pushed customers to leave reviews — sometimes with the request for positive reviews specifically. This has left modern review readers skeptical of glowing claims. Individual reviews can be outright dismissed, even if they came from verified customers.
But this doesn't mean reviews as a whole have lost their power.
Their recency. The most persuasive reviews have a timestamp within the past two weeks and reviews lose most of their impact if they're a month old.
The quantity. Consumers are more trusting of local businesses that have at least ten reviews, though consumers between the ages of 18 and 34 need at least 13, on average.
The consistency of the rating across multiple sites. Respondents to the survey browse the ratings across multiple review sources like social media, Yelp, and TripAdvisor. Maintaining a consistently positive impression across most of these data points is essential.
All of these factors play an important role in consumers' anti-fraud strategy to avoid being overly impacted by a fake or coerced review. With the increased use of social media for product research and the growing use of mobile devices for local business searches, business owners can expect consumer research strategies to get more nuanced, and to incorporate several different platforms.
This information can help businesses guide their online marketing strategies for 2020. Before, local businesses have been aware that reviews were important. Now, business owners can direct their focus on collecting reviews constantly rather than relying on glowing but old reviews.
How powerful are reviews?
While consumers clearly use reviews as some part of their research journey, it can be unclear how significant of a role they play or what part they fulfill in converting online visitors to in-store customers. According to the BrightLocal survey, consumers typically took one of three courses of action after reading reviews:
Visiting business websites
Searching for confirming reviews
Visiting the physical store
For mobile searchers, this behavior could be due to their immediate need to find a location or services. They're not browsing; they're selecting which option will fulfill their need.
For desktop users, these behaviors indicate less immediate needs but clear intentions to use a well-reviewed business in the future. SEO experts can use their site-specific analytics to find the percentage of mobile audiences and desktop audiences they reach to create specific marketing plans.
However, the fact that consumers immediately take progressive steps down the buyer's journey indicates that businesses shouldn't necessarily focus on persuading consumers to take certain actions. Instead, they should convince consumers that their local business is the best option to fill a pre-determined need.
How local businesses can strengthen their reviews
While consumers may be leery of reviews, they still provide a vital informational resource. Thus, businesses should invest time and effort into boosting their presence on multiple business directories like Google My Business and review sites.
Even more importantly, local businesses should focus on ethically securing reviews. 'Ethical,' in this instance, means requesting reviews without requesting a certain star value.
Some sites like Yelp don't allow direct review solicitations at all.
Local businesses shouldn't let worries about negative reviews stop them. Not only can a few negative reviews appease people's suspicions that businesses are filtering out bad reviews, they're less likely to happen in the first place. The BrightLocal survey respondents reported that positive experiences were the most likely reason they'd leave a review, not negative ones.
Asking for reviews by email or face-to-face after an in-store interaction is an effective technique. 51% of surveyed consumers said they'd leave a review after being asked. In fact, younger shoppers aged 18 to 34 left an average of 11 reviews in 2018, and older shoppers wrote an average of five.
Asking for reviews openly, often, and ethically is one of the best ways to get marketable feedback from online and in-person consumers. Transparent review requests may even go a long way in assuring first-time visitors that they were right to trust the reviews in the first place, bringing your marketing efforts full-circle.
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