A business owner’s guide to reviews

Reviews can make or break your business. Here's why responding to reviews is a necessary evil for small businesses, and guidelines to how to respond to reviews, good and bad.

Reviews can make or break your business – but it’s not just about what your customers say, it’s also about how you respond to their feedback.

We recently had a client who informed me that they didn’t see any value in responding to reviews, positive or negative.  We were somewhat taken aback by this approach as it seems intuitive to us that businesses would want to address what is being said about them online, so here’s our guide to why responding to reviews is a necessary evil for small businesses, and guidelines to how to respond to reviews, good and bad.

Why are Reviews Important?

Online reviews influence purchasing decisions

These days it’s very easy to leave an online review for a business – you can review them on Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Yelp and many other sites, as well as on industry-specific sites such as Tripadvisor, Takealot or Amazon.

It is also very easy to find reviews – a Google search with “reviews” at the end of your business name will give you an idea of the sites where reviews for your business already exist; and your business may also show up on local search listings on Google which gives your business a star rating out of 5, and links through to reviews on Google.

Research indicates that people are increasingly relying on reviews – factors that influence how much they rely on the reviews for their purchasing decisions include how many reviews, overall star rating, how recently the reviews were left and if the business responded to reviews. (Source: BrightLocal Local Consumer Review Survey 2017)

Google thinks that reviews are important

Perhaps one of the most significant reasons why reviews are important is because Google thinks they are.  Although the exact algorithm behind Google’s ranking of search results remains a very closely guarded secret, there is some evidence that review scores, the number of reviews, the recency of reviews and whether the business responds to reviews could influence up to 13% of a listing’s local search result.

Reviews can help you improve your product or service offering

Putting to one side the potential marketing impact of reviews, ultimately reviews provide your business with feedback about what you are doing well and where there is room for improvement.  It can be very difficult to read negative reviews of your business, especially when you put your heart and soul into it every day, and even more difficult to remain calm and respond in a measured fashion.  However if negative reviews allow you to improve your product or service offering and to have more satisfied customers in the future then it’s worth it.

Why is Responding to Reviews Important?

There’s nothing more annoying than being ignored.  Responding to reviews makes the reviewer feel valued, as well as giving potential customers a sense that your business values its customers and is willing to incorporate customer feedback into future improvements.

The assertion that responding to reviews is important is also backed up by research:

How to Respond to Reviews?

Responding to positive reviews is relatively easy – you may want to thank your reviewer for their custom and feedback, and encourage them to return soon.  Try to vary and personalise your response, but keep it short and sweet.

Negative reviews are more challenging.  Try to be genuine in your response, keep it respectful and nice.  And bear in mind the guidelines of the review site.

Review Site Guidelines

Google recommends that you read and respond to reviews and gives the following guidelines for responses to reviews:

  • Keep responses short, courteous and respectful;
  • Thank reviewers and use your response as an opportunity to tell them something that they might not have known about the business – for example if the review criticises your limited vegetarian menu, you might want to respond by letting them know that next time they should let the chef know that they are vegetarian and then the chef will offer them more options than are on the menu; and
  • There is no need to offer incentives or advertisements in your response since your reviewers are already customers.

In TripAdvisor’s Management Response Guidelines they advise that responses should:

  • not include correspondence from guests or snippets of travellers reviews
  • not include incentives or promotional content
  • be relevant to the review in question
  • respect reviewer privacy
  • be easy to read

Facebook doesn’t specifically issue guidelines for responding to reviews or recommendations, but they are clear in their assertion that people are more likely to keep engaging with your page if they can expect interaction in return. (Source: Facebook)