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Managing online reviews

Word of mouth recommendation has always been one of the most powerful ways to drive new customers to your business. Find out about the review marketplace, how to build and manage your presence, and when it might be right to use review management software.

Guide

12 min read

1. Overview

Word of mouth recommendation works as a form of “social proof”, as people often look to those around them to help make purchase decisions. When customers can’t visit your premises in person, reviews can be particularly important to help them judge the credibility of your offering.

Positive reviews can improve your conversion rates and even your search engine rankings. Plus, some customers won’t make a purchase without checking reviews first, so they play an important part in building the reputation of your business. Therefore, it’s not surprising that many businesses proactively use reviews as one of the major elements of their marketing strategy for building a positive reputation.

Even those businesses choosing not to proactively use online reviews still need to be aware of how review sites and social media work and keep an eye on them. As quickly as reviews can grow public confidence in your business, they can also contribute to significant reputational damage. Many people will be able to give examples of where negative reviews have put them off buying from a business.

That said, as with most things, the decision of whether to devote time to managing reviews is not straightforward. Review sites often move the goalposts by changing the process for capturing and displaying feedback. Some review sites have a constant battle with fake reviews which can make customers sceptical as a result. This is an ever-changing area, so businesses need to monitor this situation and adapt as needed, anywhere they have a presence.

2. Understanding the review marketplace

The first step in managing reviews is to understand where you might want to have a presence. For some platforms, you may have a business listing without being aware, so it is worth looking out for this and deciding if you want to claim your profile. Most review platforms fall into one of three main categories:

  1. Review sites and directories – cross sector or sector specific
  2. Reviews in online marketplaces
  3. Social media reviews

1. Review sites and directories

There are several well-established review sites and directories with different options for free and paid-for services. Some are relevant for businesses in all sectors, and others are sector specific.

Here we highlight a few well-known sites to give an overview of how this market works to help you know what to look for when deciding if and where you should have a presence.

Cross-sector review sites

The following platforms host reviews for businesses across a wide range of sectors. This is not an exhaustive list, but it illustrates the different approaches that you are likely to come across.

  • Google My Business is a straightforward, free tool that helps small businesses raise their local profile in Google’s search results, ideal for businesses which serve customers face-to-face with physical premises (e.g. a shop, hair salon, or cafe) or offer a service in a specific local area (e.g. a plumber or personal trainer). A Google My Business Profile may exist on your business without you ever creating or claiming it. Customers can publicly place reviews and ask questions about your business and by claiming your profile you can respond to these. This detailed guide will help you to decide if you want to claim your Google My Business profile.
  • Yelp also focuses on businesses and home services in some local areas, including trades and cleaners, garages and car washes, salons, dry cleaners and restaurants. As with Google My Business, your profile may exist without you creating it, but you can claim it for free to be able to edit your profile and manage reviews. Yelp offers paid-for services (with an initial free-trial) where you can select the positioning of your photos, add your logo and a portfolio of your work, and block ads from competitors on your page. You can also share news about special offers and your posts will be promoted in the app and in weekly emails to people who would potentially be interested.
  • Trustpilot has a model where any size of business in any sector can use it for free, and has a paid service offering additional features. Businesses may be featured on the site without being aware, as customers can place reviews on any business. At no cost, businesses can have a profile page, unlimited review invitations, and a limited number of verified review invitations (verified reviews are where there is proof the individual reviewing is a genuine customer). Businesses receive alerts when a review is made and have the opportunity to respond. The paid-for option enables business to use the Trustpilot branding on advertising, customisable templates for review email invitations, stars for your website displaying in search engine results, social media integrations, and more advanced analytics.
  • Feefo’s model is a paid-for service for businesses in any sector to collect invite-only verified reviews. This protects businesses from fake feedback. A business cannot have a profile without having signed up to the service. Feefo publishes all reviews on the business’s Feefo reviews page, and although businesses may choose to only publish positive reviews on their own websites, every Feefo rating is used to calculate their overall rating. If brands attempt to game the system by only inviting customers they know are happy to leave reviews, then customers can raise that directly with Feefo. There are tiered pricing plans covering various services from ability to collect photo and video reviews, and share reviews on social media, right up to feeding reviews into your PPC ads, collecting feedback via text message and survey functionality.

Sector specific review sites

Rather than try to be all things to all people, some sites focus on a single sector or group of related sectors, ranging from care homes, to professional services to restaurants. This can enable them to offer other relevant services such as booking functionality. These examples illustrate some common approaches.

  • Tripadvisor is a global review site featuring 8 million businesses in the travel industry and covering accommodation, visitor attractions and places to eat as well as airlines, cruises and car hire. As with Trustpilot, customers can review any business whether or not the business has claimed their profile. Once a business claims their profile, they can be listed for free and customise their listing and add photos, respond to reviews and access basic analytics. There is a fee for extra features, such as selecting your best reviews to feature, add videos, adding contact details to your profile page to make booking easier for browsers, and more prominent placements on the site. Overall ratings are dynamic and even if your listing receives great reviews, this is measured in comparison with competitors who may also have improved ratings recently.
  • TrustATrader is a paid-for UK online directory for trades including plumbers, skip hire, decorators, IT services, block paving, and domestic appliance repairs, and is centred on customer reviews. Businesses have to apply to be listed, providing a number of customer references. Before approving the application, the website checks if the businesses have a minimum of two years’ experience and are members of their relevant trade associations and have any mandatory certification - e.g. electricians and gas engineers. They also limit the number of businesses listed for each trade in a specific area so businesses can have confidence their annual fee is likely to generate a return. If a customer leaves a negative review, the website will follow it up to validate it and try to resolve it before publishing it. Businesses can prepare their own profiles and add photos, showcase their best reviews and use the TrustATrader branding on their other marketing.
  • TrustRadius is a global review site for the business technology and software sector supporting areas such as marketing, HR, sales, IT, customer support and accounting. Reviewers are authenticated via LinkedIn or their work email address, and their experience of using the product is checked before the review is published. Reviews are invited by the website or the listed business and are checked to be objective - e.g. not employees of the business being reviewed. As this is a B2B site, incentives are used to encourage reviews, to increase response rates, and encourage reviewers to consider their review more carefully. Businesses can claim their profile for free and paid-for options enable businesses to use various features such as custom questions, and Salesforce intent integration and Chrome Quotefinder extension.

2. Reviews in online marketplaces

If you sell through an online marketplace there are many benefits - you can reach large numbers of people who are already shopping through that website and potentially benefit from the marketplace’s infrastructure to manage payments and tracking orders.

However, part of that infrastructure includes the ability for customers to review sellers and products, so monitoring and managing your reviews are key. Higher numbers of positive reviews tend to boost your conversion rates and your rankings in the marketplace’s search results. Each marketplace has a slightly different approach to managing reviews.

  • Etsy has a five-star scale for buyers to rate and comment on purchases and collates them to create an average review for a shop for the last 12 months. Shop owners can only respond to reviews of three stars or less to resolve issues. If a buyer leaves a five-star review, they’re invited to add photos of the item (shop owners can remove any that are unsuitable) and then Etsy encourages them to share it through social media.
  • Not on the High Street uses the Feefo review platform to manage reviews on its marketplace. Customers receive an email a couple of weeks after their item was dispatched, to allow time for any issues to be resolved. Customers leaving a negative rating have to leave a comment as well and sellers have to respond promptly, with responses going on the live site. The overall star rating for a seller is based on the percentage of positive reviews.
  • eBay LINK provides a seller feedback score as a percentage of people leaving feedback who had a positive experience, as well as an overall star rating which shows how many buyers have left feedback for that seller. It captures more detailed feedback ratings for product descriptions, communication, and postage. Top rated sellers can receive an eBay Premium Service badge when they offer free postage within the UK. On a product page, feedback is displayed in two ways - related to those who bought that specific product from that seller, and then the feedback for that seller as a whole. More unusually, sellers can also leave feedback for buyers - although it has to be positive.
  • Amazon enables customers to add text, photos or video to their review after selecting a star rating. They provide detailed community guidelines covering what is and is not acceptable within a review. Sellers are able to respond to reviews publicly and then have direct contact through Amazon’s own buyer-seller messaging system, but sellers aren’t permitted to engage directly through other channels such as their own business email or social media.

For more information about online marketplaces read our introductory guide.

3. Social media reviews

  • Facebook recommendations and reviews are turned on by default when you set up your business Facebook page. It is simple to turn this off, but Facebook suggests that even if you don’t have any reviews, then having it turned on shows you are transparent. Customers simply answer a question “Do you recommend business name?” and instead of a five-star rating, customers can only choose “yes” or “no” before leaving a comment. It can be easier for Facebook users to leave reviews via Facebook as it saves them having to set up an account on a different review site. Customers can choose an audience to share a review with and restrict it to their friends. Only reviews that are shared publicly contribute to a business page’s overall rating. Note that Facebook Marketplace (which falls into the category of online marketplaces like those above) has a different approach to reviews based on a five-star system.
  • Instagram has no specific feature for you to collect reviews. Either you need to share reviews collated elsewhere, or deliver great service so customers post great feedback and then share their posts.
  • LinkedIn Service Pages is a recent development on LinkedIn that enables businesses to showcase their services free of charge, and allows them to invite up to 20 first-degree connections to provide a review. For tangible products, LinkedIn Product Pages enable page followers and visitors to leave verified recommendations and constructive feedback for tangible B2B products, and businesses can highlight customers who use their product in the “featured customers” section. Product Pages is limited to businesses selling software products just now and is in the process of being rolled out for other products.

3. Building and managing your presence

With so many options for managing reviews (and the fact that you might have an online presence you’re not in control of just now) it can be hard to know where to start. The following steps should help you decide the approach that’s right for your business.

Check what sites you may already have been listed on

If you find your business does have a presence you weren’t aware of, your next decisions are:

  • Do you want to claim your profile or ignore it for now? It may be that there is hardly anything on any profiles that exist, and your business has no real need to generate exposure through reviews - perhaps you are operating at capacity, you already have enough word of mouth recommendation or your business doesn’t take on new clients from “cold” leads because you offer a complex service. You may feel there is no real need. In this case, simply diarise a monthly check to ensure nothing is happening on these platforms referring to your business without you being aware. Remember it could be possible for someone else to try to claim your profile which would be a hassle to sort, or one day you may need to quickly generate business for reviews in which case it will be handy to be set up ready.
  • If claiming your profile, how professionally do you want to present your business? Even on a basic free-of-charge profile, some platforms will have scope for well written descriptions and inclusion of one or more high quality images.

Decide how important reviews could be to sustain and grow your business

Even if managing a simple free profile, it still takes staff time to monitor and respond to reviews. If you opt for a paid-for service, then it will take more time get the most from it, and you need to be clear it can offer a return-on-investment. Before committing, consider how important reviews could be to your business growth - is it just a case of reactively defending against bad or fake reviews damaging your reputation, or will proactively gathering more positive reviews be key to bringing in new customers?

Identify the best platforms to build reviews, if appropriate

If you decide to pursue review management as a strategy, consider the following when choosing a platform to establish if it’s credible:

  • Does it have a high enough level of traffic, from the right locations, to reach people who could be your potential customers?
  • Does it clearly distinguish between reviews that are verified and not verified (so it’s clear where there’s evidence that reviews have come from customers who are genuine customers of your business)?
  • Does it have clear policies to manage fake reviews, and what is the latest industry commentary on how effective these are?
  • Do the various features, benefits and costs make it practical for you to use in your business?

Assign responsibility for each stage of managing and responding to reviews

  • Monitoring: Depending on where you have a presence and how you have set up your profile, you will either need someone to monitor alerts coming in that a review has been placed or go to the relevant platforms to check.
  • Responding and managing: A prompt response is worthwhile for positive reviews (thanking them) or negative reviews (thanking for feedback then trying to resolve the issue). It can be tempting to ignore negative reviews, but the negative impact is often reduced (and can even become positive) if your response is quick, fair and reasonable, provides further information, and encourages further dialogue through your customer service staff to resolve the issue. Occasionally some negative reviewers will then update their comments or ratings (but never ask them to do this). Some review platforms offer resources such as template responses to help businesses to respond constructively, rather than emotionally, to negative reviews.
  • Dealing with fake reviews: Every platform has its own policies for dealing with fake reviews. Take the time to understand this up front so you know exactly what to do if it happens to your business.
  • Requesting feedback: Research shows that people with a negative experience are far more likely to proactively leave a review than those with a positive experience, therefore it is worth prompting customers to leave a review to achieve a better balance that more accurately reflects your business. This might happen automatically if you use an online marketplace, or you could promote this through messaging on your site or on your premises, or by email or text message if you have permission.
  • Leveraging positive reviews: After all the work to capture great feedback, remember to make good use of positive quotes and ratings across your marketing.
  • Analysing and adapting: Of course, reviews aren’t just about marketing your business - they can provide valuable insight into things that aren’t working as well as they should, products that aren’t up to standard, or issues with staff training. Sometimes they can provide ideas for new product or service development or new markets to move into. So, don’t just take a narrow view and focus on reviews one-by-one. Take a step back and collate and analyse the insights to create a fuller picture of your business as a whole.

For more information about responding to customers online, see our handy guide.

Stay above board

It goes without saying that as a business, you need to follow the rules - don’t post fake reviews on competitors and treat all reviewers with respect when responding - especially when they have left negative reviews. Don’t encourage biased reviews from staff, friends or people with a financial interest in your business, or pressure customers to leave positive reviews, and never change negative reviews. No matter how tempting, long-term it can backfire and cause serious damage to your reputation.

4. Review management software

There may come a point when it would be helpful to use review management software to manage your online reviews if:

  • online reviews are a major part of your marketing strategy and you need to manage your presence on several review sites
  • your business has a number of different locations (e.g. a chain of cafes or shops) meaning you have several different profiles to monitor
  • you don’t have other software (e.g. email marketing software or customer relationship management software) which can help with some elements of managing reviews including requesting feedback and running surveys

Review management software can make it easier to:

  • track and respond quickly to reviews from several review sites in one place without multiple logins
  • automate your requests to customers to place a review
  • run customer surveys then use responses as reviews
  • feed reviews directly to your website
  • analyse the numbers of reviews and carry out sentiment analysis
  • benchmark against your competitors

Some software has sector-specific versions for the likes of hospitality or retail which may have features more suitable for your type of business.

You will need to check upfront that any software you use can integrate with review platforms you are using.

To give a sense of the sort of services that are available, here are some examples:

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