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Key Takeaways from ReviewTrackers Local Search and Online Reviews Survey 2017

  • Over 50 percent of consumers often or always check out online reviews, while only 34 percent seek out information on discounts and pricing.
  • 36.4 percent of consumers agree that Google reviews, reviews on other websites, and local search rankings are the most important factors when looking for a business.  
  • 67.7 percent of consumers say that at least half of their searches result in a visit to a local business. These visits then eventually translate into sales, with at least half of local searches eventually leading to a purchase for 57.7 percent of consumers.
  • 62.7 percent of consumers believe that online reviews are “important” or “very important” when choosing a local business.
  • Only 3 percent do not consider reviews when making a purchase decision on a local business.
  • 69.9 percent of consumers read reviews in the beginning of and during the research phase, when they start to gather information (discovery) and when they make a list of options (comparison).
  • Only 38.9 percent of consumers actively use rating filters, but this does not stop those who don’t use filters from assessing businesses based on their rating scores. 63.29 percent of consumers trust businesses with overall ratings of 4.0 or 4.5 stars out of 5, while a measly 2.5 percent trust businesses with overall ratings of 2.0 stars or less.

Introduction

Online reviews and ratings of businesses on websites like Yelp, Facebook, Google, and TripAdvisor have the power to shape consumer behavior. This holds especially true today, when consumers are eager to validate their purchase decisions — and attempt to do so by using social media and real-time feedback from other consumers as their key resources.

What’s not always clear is how exactly consumers use local search services and online review sites to find and assess businesses, as well as what kind of impact reviews and ratings have on their path to purchase.

This is what we set out to explore. The first-ever ReviewTrackers Local Search and Online Reviews Survey examines in greater detail the research and decision-making process of today’s consumers, with the goal of helping marketers discover strategic approaches to improving local search performance and managing online reviews.

About the ReviewTrackers Local Search and Online Reviews Survey

In January 2017, ReviewTrackers reached out to a U.S.-based consumer panel with a 39-item, two-part survey.

The survey is primarily concerned with how respondents interact with local search information and online reviews of local businesses across a number of categories and industries; it does not cover or include consumer-generated product reviews such as those found on Amazon.

Read on for a summary of our survey findings.

Questions

What specific types of information do you most commonly look for when searching for a business?

What specific local search factors do you consider most important when making a purchase decision about a business?

How many of your searches result in you buying from a local business?

On a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 means “not at all” and 5 means “very important,” how important are online reviews when selecting a local business?

At what stage in your evaluation process for a local business do you most frequently look at online reviews?

Do you use rating filters? What is the star rating you trust the most?

On a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 means “never” and 5 means “always,” what specific types of information do you most commonly look for when searching for a business?

Key findings:

  • Location and hours rank as the top two types of business information consumers often or always search for.
  • Over 50 percent of consumers often or always check out online reviews, while only 34 percent seek out information on discounts and pricing.

Analysis

As one might expect, consumers — equipped with and empowered by an expanding range of Internet devices — are fairly active in searching for specific types of information when assessing local businesses. In fact, only a small percentage of survey respondents admitted to never or seldom looking for local business information like online reviews, location, hours, directions, and discounts.

Based on the results, it seems that convenience plays a significant role in consumers’ research and decision-making process, with location and hours ranking as the top two types of business information they look for.

Interestingly, consumers are more active in trying to find online reviews than in hunting for discounts, which can be taken to imply that having an effective reviews and reputation management strategy may be more beneficial to local businesses than launching special promotions or offering discounted prices. (Previous studies have already suggested that better reviews and higher ratings can lead to greater demand and pricing flexibility.)

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What specific local search factors do you consider most important when making a purchase decision about a business?

Key findings:

  • 39 percent of consumers consider photos as the most important local search factor. But almost an equal number of consumers disagree, with 37 percent considering photos as not important to their search for local businesses.
  • 36.4 percent of consumers agree that Google reviews, reviews on other websites, and local search rankings are the most important factors when looking for a business.  

Analysis

This question aims to examine which part of search results — specifically, information found on search engine results pages (SERPs) — matters most to consumers.

According to findings, the presence of photos tied to a business listing may or may not matter greatly, depending on the consumer. But what could be a powerful differentiator in local search is the presence of reviews.

With Google now displaying review data (including overall rating scores and review snippets) in search results and Knowledge Panels, it makes sense for local businesses to drive engagement with search users and potential customers by leveraging online reviews on Google as well as on other review sites. Google itself has made it clear that reviews can influence local search rankings — and are factored into its algorithms for determining where businesses appear on SERPs.

Need to build out your reviews on Google? Download this free customizable handout, which comes with easy instructions for your customers on how to leave reviews of your business on Google.

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How many of your searches result in you buying from a local business?

Key findings:

  • At least half of local searches eventually result in a purchase for 57.7 percent of consumers.
  • Moreover, for 26.6 percent of consumers, most of or all their local searches eventually lead to a purchase.

Analysis

One of the most interesting aspects of local search is how it affects visitor traffic and revenue.

Based on survey results, 67.7 percent of consumers say that at least half of their searches result in a visit to a local business. These visits then eventually translate into sales, with at least half of local searches eventually leading to a purchase for 57.7 percent of consumers.

These findings serve as one of the latest demonstrations of how local searches conducted by consumers often carry high purchase intent. To drive conversions, businesses must work on improving local search rankings on Google and develop a strategy for securing more (and better) reviews, optimizing their information on business listings across the Web, and creating user experiences that inspire in-store visits and sales.

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On a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 means “not at all” and 5 means “very important,” how important are online reviews when selecting a local business?

Key findings:

  • 62.7 percent of consumers believe that online reviews are “important” or “very important” when choosing a local business.
  • Only 3 percent do not consider reviews when making a purchase decision on a local business.

Digging deeper into how reviews influence purchase decisions in specific business categories, we also found that:

  • 47.7 percent consider reviews as “influential” or “highly influential” when choosing a new local restaurant, outranking branded social media posts (17 percent) and ads (11 percent).
  • 57.3 percent consider reviews as “influential” or “highly influential” when choosing a new local bank, outranking salesperson information (14.6 percent) and TV ads (9.8 percent).
  • 65.5 percent consider reviews as “influential” or “highly influential” when choosing a new primary care physician, outranking salesperson information (11 percent) and social media posts (10.8 percent).
  • 61.7 percent consider reviews as “influential” or “highly influential” when choosing a new insurance agent, outranking salesperson information (16.5 percent) and social media posts (10.8 percent).
  • 72.2 percent consider reviews as “influential” or “highly influential” when choosing a new local automotive repair business, outranking social media posts (16.4 percent) and salesperson information (14.9 percent)
  • 66.1 percent consider reviews as “influential” or “highly influential” when choosing a new local automotive dealership, outranking salesperson information (20.6 percent) and social media posts (14.9 percent).

Analysis

Online reviews rank highly in terms of importance for consumers looking to make a purchase decision on a local business. Across multiple business categories and industries, reviews are more influential than any paid advertising.

These findings echo the results of previous studies, which found that:

  • Approximately 4 in 5 American consumers read online reviews before making a purchase decision. 79 percent do so to make sure the product or service is good, 61 percent read reviews to make sure the product or service works, and 53 percent read reviews to make sure that they don’t get ripped off. (YouGov)
  • 4 out of 5 consumers reverse their purchase decisions based on negative reviews. (Sprout Social)
  • 7 percent of consumers read at least 20 online reviews before they put enough trust in a business. (eMarketer)

This aptly reflects the vital shift in today’s marketing landscape, where consumers — instead of marketers — are responsible for shaping the way a brand or business is perceived. Ultimately, what customers say about your business on online reviews — and how you respond to these reviews — can sway purchase decisions more so than can brand-driven marketing messages and traditional customer acquisition efforts.

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At what stage in your evaluation process for a local business do you most frequently look at online reviews?

Key findings:

  • 69.9 percent of consumers read online reviews in the beginning of and during the research phase, when they start to gather information (discovery stage) and when they make a list of options (comparison stage).
  • Only 4.1 percent read reviews at the stage where they have already made an initial choice and are looking to double-check it.

Analysis

Online reviews serve as useful resources for consumers at every stage of their journey, but they are particularly impactful in the early stages.

These numbers reflect similar findings made by Social Media Link: that 83 percent of consumers discover businesses every month through peer-to-peer reviews.

Indeed, along with local search results, reviews are an important peer-to-peer contribution to trust, helping shape the first impressions that consumers have of a business. As a foremost source of information, reviews are particularly useful at helping consumers discover new products and services through local search.  

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Do you use rating filters (for minimum average star ratings) when you search for information about local businesses? What is the star rating you trust the most?

Key findings:

  • Only 38.9 percent of consumers actively use rating filters, but this does not stop those who don’t use filters from assessing businesses based on their rating scores. In fact, 63.29 percent of consumers trust businesses with overall ratings of 4.0 or 4.5 stars out of 5, while a measly 2.5 percent trust businesses with overall ratings of 2.0 stars or less.

Analysis

Star ratings do matter, despite findings showing that only approximately 4 in 10 use rating filters in their local searches. According to survey results, the ideal rating for purchase probability is 4.0 stars out of 5, followed by 4.5 stars out of 5.

Once again, it seems that consumers perceive ratings closer to a perfect 5.0 as too good to be true, and they appreciate less-than-perfect reviews and ratings as an important element in their research and decision-making process.

Just because a 5-star review may be perceived by consumers as too good to be true doesn’t mean you shouldn’t shoot for perfection. Businesses should continue to focus on building amazing products and services, as well as on delivering superior customer experiences.

At the same time, survey findings suggest businesses must also recognize that consumers specifically seek trustworthy, authentic, and therefore often imperfect reviews and ratings. It’s critical that you’re able to resist the temptation to delete, ignore, or censor critical reviews and low ratings.

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Conclusion

The continued growth of online reviews has led to a shift in consumers’ purchase behavior, from the way they search for local businesses to the way to make purchase decisions. In particular, the impact of reviews on local search performance, online reputation, and revenue is undeniable. Using the information contained in the ReviewTrackers Local Search and Online Reviews survey, you can more accurately qualify the value of reviews and learn new ways to effectively leverage them in ways that benefit your business’ bottom line.

For more information on survey methodology and results, send us a message, leave a comment below, or send an e-mail to [email protected].    

Brian Sparker

Brian Sparker is the Product Marketing Manager at ReviewTrackers. Brian aims to solve customer communication problems and help businesses collect and understand customer feedback.

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