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The Future of Online Business Review Sites

January 7, 2014 - Posted by Angela von Weber-Hahnsberg

Online Business Review Sites

 

What’s the deal with online business review sites? Sites like Yelp, Google+ Local, and Angie’s List have long been regarded as important places for businesses to manage their online image, but recently, there has been a bit of a kerfuffle involving their trustworthiness.

Studies conducted a few months ago by the likes of Maritz Research and Consumer Reports document both consumer and business perceptions of the most popular online business review sites, as well as the way in which they affect purchasing decisions. The unfortunate results of these studies? While businesses almost universally lament the unfair practices of the review sites, most customers still trust them and use them to choose which businesses to patronize, and which to avoid.

Consumer Trust

It seems strange in today’s world of social media-driven everything, where friends are constantly connected and sharing their experiences on a regular basis, that the words of complete strangers would still hold so much sway over an individual’s purchasing decisions. But according to a Maritz Research study, 75% of online business review site users feel that the information presented there is generally fair. 60%, however, add a caveat – they only pay attention to the actual comments left in the reviews, and not the ratings.

The general consensus seems to be that by reading the comments skeptically to weed out reviews that seem too positive (probably written by the owner of the business or someone they paid to review them) or too negative (might have been written by someone out for revenge), and finding remarks that discuss things applicable to their own current needs, consumers believe that they can still get a good feel for a company’s business practices from online business review sites.

Consumers are also intelligent enough to disregard rankings and comments if there are only a small number of them – only long lists of reviews, most of which correlate with each other, have the power to persuade one way or the other. Reviews may be written by strangers, but there is safety – and persuasive social proof – in numbers.

Skewed Ratings

Businesses, on the other hand, are not nearly as trusting of online business review sites. There are actually entire sites dedicated to bashing various review sites for what businesses say are their unfair practices. While on the surface this could look like a case of sour grapes due to bad – but justified – reviews, a study conducted by Consumer Reports verifies that these sites don’t quite provide the unbiased, reliable reviews they claim to.

Complaints about Yelp, for instance, abound. Businesses contend that their review filtering algorithm often posts negative reviews, while removing positive ones as spam – unless a business is paying to advertise on Yelp. Then, suddenly, they claim, the positive reviews start showing up in a company’s profile.

According to CR’s study, however, there is some good news for businesses. In general, online business review sites do tend to skew results towards the positive. First of all, it turns out that satisfied customers are more likely to post a review. And secondly, because these sites offer businesses a way to connect with dissatisfied customers to make things right, users often come back and change or even delete their negative rating once the situation has been resolved.

Reputation Management

So what does this mean for your business? And what does it mean for the future of these online business review sites?

As much as some businesses would like things to change, it looks like the review sites are here to stay.  And as long as customers trust and use them to make purchasing decisions, it will also remain vitally important to manage your company’s reputation on each of them. Claim your company’s profile on each one. Monitor the comments and reviews. Reach out to dissatisfied customers, and once issues have been resolved, see if they are willing to update their review. And if online business review sites play a big role in sending business your way, it might be prudent to invest in some advertising on their sites, since that’s where a majority of your customers find you.

In the end, however, the very best way to take control of your online presence is to have a stellar website, a blog filled with valuable content, a strong email marketing strategy, and a powerful presence on social media. The more meaningful connections you make through your own online marketing efforts, the less a few online reviews will mean to your bottom line.

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