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4 Ways SMBs and Local Business Owners Can Use Online Reviews to Get Ahead

According to the 2015 Small Business Market Research Report by Infusionsoft, customer referrals and word of mouth are the most effective sales and marketing tactic for SMBs and local businesses around the world.

In terms of effectiveness, word of mouth ranks ahead of e-mail marketing, networking, social media, search engine optimization (SEO), and traditional tactics — particularly for small businesses with fewer resources to invest in sales and marketing.

4 Ways SMBs and Local Business Owners Can Use Online Reviews to Get Ahead 1

“Word of mouth remains a key lead generation effort for most businesses, whether they have a website or not,” according to the Infusionsoft report.

“Because small businesses generally have fewer resources to invest in marketing, they focus heavily on strategies that generate tangible results. Customer referrals and word of mouth were cited by 62 percent of respondents as one of the three most effective marketing strategies.”

Online Reviews: One of the Most Potent Forms of Word of Mouth

One of the most potent forms of word of mouth is online reviews — as posted by consumers on sites like Yelp, Google, TripAdvisor, and Facebook.

With 4 in 5 consumers relying on online reviews before making a buying decision, and 50 percent believing that reviews (positive and negative) are the biggest peer-to-peer trust factor in the path to purchase, it is obvious that online customer-generated reviews carry tremendous word-of-mouth potential unmatched by other components and considerations, like professional reviews, advertising, natural search engine results, or information shared by salespeople.

The emergence of online dynamics that help drive leads also means that visibility is no longer a privilege exclusive to businesses with a large sales and marketing budget. In the age of Yelp and TripAdvisor, word of mouth has gone digital, and it is possible to gain a competitive advantage using freely available online resources and content. Particularly with online reviews, word of mouth is amplified by the power of crowdsourcing.

Here are 4 ways SMBs and local business owners are using online reviews to get ahead.

Build and manage brand identity and reputation

By claiming your business listing on review sites and customer feedback channels, you can more effectively build your brand identity and manage your online reputation.

So plant your flags on these digital properties as soon as possible. That way, you empower existing customers to voice their opinions and experiences and connect with your business through relevant interactions — while also allowing potential customers to find you outside of your website and social media profiles.

Read MORE: Top 9 Reasons for Claiming Your Business Listings and Review Site Profiles

If you are just starting out or getting ready to open, take some time to understand the online reviews landscape and identify which websites are most relevant to your business.

Yelp, Google, and Facebook are obviously among the most popular sites that publish customer reviews across multiple business categories, but having a presence and prioritizing engagement on niche-specific review sites like TripAdvisor and OpenTable (hospitality and restaurants), Cars.com and DealerRater (automotive), and Vitals and RateMDs (healthcare) can further boost your sales and marketing efforts.

When claiming or creating your business listing, make sure the business information you provide is complete, consistent, and correct. Your NAP data (business name, address, and phone number) is particularly important. Images, content and copy, and other types of business information should also be conveyed with a certain level of quality and professionalism.

By paying attention to details like these, you can put yourself in a great position to build a successful brand presence across all relevant online review sites.

Leverage opportunities for promotional outreach

SMBs and local business owners may not always have the budget for a splash-making radio or TV campaign; hiring a third-party SEO agency may even be out of the question.

Fortunately, the majority of online review sites offer tools and services at little to no cost for business owners hoping to improve their visibility and drive sales.  

Yelp, for example, has Yelp Deals and Gift Certificates. TripAdvisor offers a direct booking platform as well as the TripConnect cost-per-click campaigns. OpenTable, which hosts restaurant reviews written by diners, also serves as a restaurant reservation platform. Even Facebook has a suite of free and paid tools for driving in-store sales.

A well-drafted, budget-sensitive promotional campaign on online review sites may just be the thing to get your name out there. It’s okay to start small. Once your promos prove to be successful, you can explore paid opportunities designed to help you reach a wider audience.

Foster consumer trust and loyalty with review responses and forum participation

Modern consumers expect brands and retailers to be proactive and engaged on social media and reviews and feedback channels.

  • According to Search Engine Watch, 7 in 10 Twitter users expect to receive a response from brands that they reach out to. Of these, 53 percent expect it in less than an hour.
  • ReviewTrackers research, meanwhile, shows that 52 percent of customers expect to hear back from brands within 7 days of giving an online review. 1 in 4 are more demanding, expecting a response within 3 days, while 21 percent expect brands to have a response time of 24 hours or less.

Engagement and responsiveness have an effect on your brand reputation; for certain business categories, review responses directly link to sales and revenue.

Online reviews and customer feedback channels create a unique opportunity for your business to foster customer loyalty and consumer trust. By responding to what your customers are saying and by actively participating in conversations about your brand, you can set yourself apart from the competition and fully appeal to your audience’s needs and expectations.

Embrace customer feedback and generate reviews to support search and social

Savvy SMBs often use online reviews and customer feedback to maximize their investments in social media and search engine marketing.

Read MORE: Build Online Reviews and Reputation, Instead of Just Social Media Likes and Followers

A review management strategy supports social media efforts by extending the traffic and attention your brand gains to include online review sites; it also supports your search marketing initiatives by bolstering your brand presence and visibility in places where consumers are often ready to engage.

With limited resources, SMBs and local business owners will inevitably face challenges running their business, particularly when it comes to generating quality leads, converting visitors into customers, building brand reputation, and maximizing marketing and sales ROI. Leveraging the word-of-mouth power of online reviews and customer feedback can help address these challenges and boost your performance, no matter the size, type, or budget of your business.

Crystal Shuller

Crystal is the Director of Customer Happiness for ReviewTrackers. She's known around the office for E-mails that make everyone smile, and she has a bag of tricks and tips to help businesses solve their problems and delight their customers.

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