5 Step Strategy for SMB’s to Own Online Reviews

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Online reviews have become the power behind purchasing decisions, and local consumer surveys back this statement by showcasing statistics, such as:

52% of users are likely to utilize local business with positive reviews and this number is comparable to the trust given to word of mouth reviews from friends and family.’

So, why are so many small businesses underestimating the power of online reviews? Is it because the business owner is fearful of negative reviews? Or is it perhaps because the local business is unaware of the authoritative statistics which suggest the influence of online reviews should be harnessed for business growth?

Whatever the reason, if small and local business owners do not begin to utilize online reviews platforms to their full potential, they will see their business falter against their competitors who do include reviews in their marketing strategy.

Statistical Analysis for Online Reviews

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(1) How many online reviews do digital users read before making a decision?

Most purchasing decisions are based on a user reading between 2 to 10 reviews.

(2) How many reviews are needed to establish legitimacy in terms of rating?

The larger the sample size and better the star rating, the more the confidence the user establishes in the business.

(3) How many small business owners feel reviews are important?

Only 25% of small business owners feel online reviews are important.

(4) How many small business owners utilize online reviews proactively?

32% of small business owners are proactive about their online reviews according to a study by Yodle. Yodle CEO Court Cunningham suggests that according to most small business owners, they do not have the time to ‘engage with customers online’.

(5) How long does it take to utilize the power of online reviews?

It takes only 20 minutes a day to harness the power of online reviews, and establish a meaningful presence.

Creating a Strategy for Gathering Online Reviews

As a digital marketer for small business clients, I have found the amount of information online can cause small business owners to become overwhelmed. If I initiate a search for ‘online reviews’, I am literally bombarded with cheat sheets, marketing guides, top 10 online review points, and more. So the question becomes: How does a small business owner, already stretched for time, even stand a chance amid such noise?

Here is the mistake many small business owners make: they focus on information meant for the big brands.

The information I find online is often aimed at targeting businesses which operate with colossal budgets. However, unlike their big business counterparts, small business owners have to really streamline their strategy, and work within budgetary constraints, for success. So in order to create a successful strategy, they should aim to target only their direct audience. If the focus is narrow, the strategy becomes simple.

The suggested strategy below will focus on creating a presence for small and local businesses for organic search reviews.

Step 1: Focus Google Plus and Yelp

The big brands may utilize several, or all, of the various websites like Bing, Yahoo Local, and CitySearch, but small business owners cannot often afford such luxuries. Fortunately, they do not always need all those sites. For a small business owner just stepping the virtual review world, these two sites can be considered the ‘baby steps’ towards a more powerful strategy for harnessing digital reviews.

Google Plus: A vast majority of internet users tend to use Google as their search engines of choice. Common sense would thus suggest your marketing strategy includes reviews in Google Plus, so you show up in the search results as per your keyword focus.

When I searched ‘Plumbing and Heating Supply Philadelphia’, I got the results displayed in the screenshot below. If you look at the first three organic results, they have the number of Google reviews given under the website link. If the reviews are positive, there is a better chance the consumer will contact the business. No review, no contact lead.

Image Source: google.com
The second reason you want your business to have reviews is so the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) results rank you higher.

Claim your business listing in Google Plus today, and start getting reviews.


Many small business clients I had thought Yelp was in the business of ‘paid reviews’, and thus could not be trusted. Here is my rebuttal on this thought. Even if Yelp has ‘paid reviews’, you can still lend legitimacy to your business by answering the reviews, whether negative or positive. Furthermore, Yelp reviews rank higher in search engine results. There are 132 million visitors to Yelp a month, and it has 57 million consumer reviews and growing.

As a marketer, I have learnt to believe in the numbers, and setting up your business on Yelp should be a no brainer.

Step 2: Identify 2 Review Sites for your Business Industry Niche

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There are myriad websites which allow business owners to ‘claim’ their listing, and have reviews posted. Using the same principle as used above choose two that will best suit your needs.

You have to conduct shrewd and thorough research before you choose two sites which offer the best in terms of return on investment. Think Tripadvisor.com for travel sites, OpenTable.com for restaurants, and AngiesList.com for local services.

The best way to select a review site based on your niche is to search for your industry keywords (localized) and see which review sites pop up. It will give you a good idea of how your competitors are doing for reviews, and help you narrow down the list.

Step 3: Ask for Reviews

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You will hear many marketers claim asking for reviews creates a false impression. However, done right, it can give your business a significant boost. Don’t create a script for your reviews though. Instead, develop a simple process. Clients should be able to ‘star’ rate your business, and if they want to leave a comment, it will be an additional bonus. Another way you can gather reviews is by nudging clients towards the review sites:

  • Add Buttons/Icons/Badges for the review websites you are listed on to your web page, blog, or store front.
  • If you have a store front, ask customers for reviews.
  • Contact former customers for reviews.
  • Add Loyalty perks for customers who leave reviews.
  • If you have a web page, incorporate a customer review card/comments section at the bottom of the checkout page.

Step 4: Respond to your Reviews


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Appreciate the time the customer took to leave the review, and ask if there is any way you could have improved the service.


(a) Take responsibility – Sometimes, customers will be unreasonable. Even then, own the critique. Businesses which do not take responsibility appear to be shirking the problem.

(b) Compensate the reviewer – Compensate the reviewer in some way, whether through a product or service, and then ask them to take the time to provide another review. Any effort on the part of a business is appreciated.

(c) Describe the change – If there is a negative review for your services, improve, and then describe the change, and how much thought was put into improving the service due to the review.

(d) Never get defensive – Your comments are like footprints to your business. Always think carefully before posting.

A business owner in Montreal said, “I handle negative reviews online the same way I would in the restaurant. You deal with it as an owner, you address the problem, and rectify it as fairly as possible.” (Valarie Girard, Les Deux Gamins in Montréal, QC)

Step 5: Use Images, Create Case Studies, Dominate Social Media

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Going visual may be the most difficult aspect of your marketing strategy, yet it remains its most essential aspect. Online reviews have to be realistic. Sometimes, asking for reviews may create a ‘false’ perception which is then hard to alter favorably. However, through visual testimonials taken at the moment the purchase process is completed (or at the end of the service), a more emotive perception can be created.

If someone had a meal at your restaurant, ask them to take a pic and then upload the review. If someone was at your hotel, ask them to provide any pictures they do not think will be an invasion of their privacy. You have a gift basket business, rock it by uploading images of immediate sales made.

Yes, this is a more time intrusive step but the images your business gathers can be used on Instagram and Pinterest. Visual marketing is the biggest social media marketing gimmick out there today. Guaranteed.

Words of Wisdom

Online reviews are the best way to drive local traffic to your business, and for all those small business owners who think they cannot do this, I leave you with the words of Guy Kawasaki: “Provide a safe first step … Don’t put up any big hurdles in the beginning of the process. The path to adopting a cause needs a slippery slope.”

He may not have used them in the context I have appropriated, and yet his words apply, and they make sense. If you, as a business owner, simply claim your business listing on Google and Yelp, you will have taken the first step towards creating a business strategy for online reviews. Yes, it is that simple.

I am a digital marketing consultant with a focus on small and mid-sized enterprises. I believe the focus of every business should be on creating a consistent brand identity online and offline.

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