Online Reviews: What You Need to Know Now!

By Lisa Evans

ReviewsAs consumers, we’ve all done it: you Google a new product you’ve heard about and then read the reviews to see what other people think of it. Other people’s thoughts and impressions can hold a strong influence over your purchase decision. Bad reviews? You move on. Good reviews? You keep on reading and decide if it’s the right thing for you.

The same holds true for finding a new restaurant, a dog-sitter, or even finding a new retail shop to browse: yours.

Have you checked out the two most prominent online review sites, Yelp and Google, to look up your own business? If you haven’t yet, it’s not difficult to get started, and you’re not alone. According to Martin Shervington, a leading expert on all things Google, as of Dec 2014, only 37% of businesses have claimed their Google listing, a whopping 63% have not. And, if you don’t yet have a place on your own retail website where fans can leave you a review, consider adding one – it’s a great source of customer feedback.

Both Google and Yelp will ask you to verify or claim your business and to prove you really are the rightful person to be in charge of it. On Yelp, the sign up link is, and on Google, it’s as simple as typing in Google My Business into the search engine. Both the Google and Yelp sites have rules for businesses about soliciting reviews, so be sure to read and understand these before deciding which platform to choose.  If you are trying to boost reviews to your own site, these rules don’t apply.

As of early August 2015, Google has also tinkered with their local search results listings, which may impact your store if you have not yet claimed it via Google My Business.  Previously, if a consumer went to Google and typed in something like “dress store near me” they would be shown 7 local business, along with a Google map, full address and phone number of the local businesses. Not anymore. 

In the newly rolled out version of local listings, as Jennifer Slegg of TheSEMPost writes, “these spots are now available to only 3 businesses,” and this smaller list, or “snack-pack” no longer includes a full address, just a street name, for the business. Google + links have also been removed, because, as Slegg notes, “Google has pushed for local businesses to claim their page officially,” one more reason for you, as a retailer, to go out and claim your store’s page sooner, rather than later. The last place you want to be is behind the 8-ball with Google.

Now What?

Ok, so you’ve claimed your business and built a review section on your own website. Now comes the fun part – actually getting people to leave reviews for your store. Be aware: Yelp clearly bans any businesses from directly asking for or offering an incentive to leave a review – all Yelp reviews are done strictly voluntarily. As SEO expert Calin Yablonski of Inbound Interactive states, “Google has no problem with you asking customers to review you, but they’ll discount reviews filled out on an in-store kiosk or computer — too many reviews from the same IP.”

Yablonski also offers great advice for the novice review-gatherer: be patient. “Even if you implement a great review-capturing process, it’ll take a while before you’ve built up a solid body of feedback. Don’t get discouraged.” He says, ” Sustain your effort and keep on plugging away.”

What Works?

Through his work with hundreds of local business, Yablonski has found there are a few simple, basic steps that will help you get reviews for your business.

  1. Ask your happy customers for a review. Whether you ask them while they are still in your store, or if you ask them via email, ask them. “If you have a customer who you’ve done a really great job with or who is fan of your products or your services, it’s significantly easier for you to send an email directly to that person requesting they leave a review on whichever platform you select,” Yablonski notes.
  2. Let your customers know you want their feedback. Everyone has an opinion, and frequently people are willing to share their thoughts – but you need to let them know.
  3. Remind your customers to review you. “For a coffee shop, this might be a reminder on the receipt. For an ecommerce retailer, perhaps it’s a slip of paper included in the shipment with a reminder or incentive to review, provided that’s within the rules of the site,” Yablonski offers.
  4. Put up signs in your store/Make it fun. If a few people have already given you good reviews, print up their quotes and make a fun display behind the counter or in some other super-visible spot in your store.
  5. Use Your Customized Email list. If you are already building up an email list to send out coupons, etc., make sure to email your loyal fan base and ask them to give you a review. You can embed a link to the review site of your choice – or your own web site – to make it even easier.
  6. Make it simple. Be sure to let your customers know HOW to leave a review. Both Yelp and Google require a user to open an account before someone can leave a review. For some people, this could be confusing. As Yablonski explains, “I would suggest that you streamline the process, not just, for example, publish a tweet, but publish a tweet with a link to a page that explains why your business deserves a review, and also provide the steps that a person should take to leave that review.”
  7. Use remarketing or retargeting campaigns. If you have your own website and have an existing e-commerce site, using Google’s AdWords or another remarketing tool is a good way to prompt people who have just purchased an item to leave a review.

Facing the Fear

Asking customers to leave you online reviews is akin to opening a large door to an unfamiliar venue filled with people you may or may not recognize, in a very public way.  Many companies have Facebook or Twitter accounts and are used to the vagaries of the Internet, especially in regard to trending gossip and viral images or videos. If you, as a retailer, have a social media account, whether Instagram, Facebook, or any other, you are aware that people will post just about anything online.

reviews-250“This is the classic fear of companies who hold out on getting involved in customer reviews, and where the reality of today’s communication really comes to light,” says Yablonski. “The truth is, your business has little control over whether or not people will talk about your brand.  Your only choices are to engage with or ignore people when they talk about your store.”  So your choice is to face the feedback head on, or walk away. “If you remain silent,” Yablonski states, “only one perspective will be being shared: the reviewer’s.”

You, as the administrator of your social media accounts or your own retail web site, can set parameters about what posts can be published, or removed. Something you need to really consider it is that people may use social media to “sound off” about an experience in your store or with one of your staff. If an unhappy customer posts a comment take the feedback at face value.

Yablonski offers sound advice from his local business experiences: “If you’re most worried that someone might say something nasty to you online, your defense is two-pronged:”

  1. Learn from the feedback and improve your business so future complaints will be mitigated
  2. Work to generate positive contributions to the review ecosystem.

The harder you work to make your customers happy, and make them feel heard and valued, the more they will respond to you as a trusted local retailer.

Taking The Bad with the Good

So, you’ve made the plunge and have been collecting reviews for a while, but then, you get an honest to goodness bad review, not just someone mouthing off on the Internet. What now? In general, Shervington notes, “there are at least two types of negative reviews. One is from a competitor who gives a one star review in order to drag you or your business down. The other type of review is from a customer who didn’t have a good experience with your business.”  What is your next step?

Both Shervington and Lisa Barone, a professional digital strategist, recommend responding to the negative review, while trying to understand the reviewer’s perspective. As Barone states, “If a complaint is legitimate, you owe it to the customer to acknowledge and respond to their frustration.”  Oftentimes, remaining open and friendly is the key to effectively ending a complaint. Saying something as simple as “We’re sorry. Please come in and we will try our best to make things right,” can go a long way in smoothing over ruffled feathers, and can sometimes also lead to a second, more positive, review from the same person. Barone offers, “Address the problem directly, apologize and make it right. Always be sincere, direct, and polite.”

You will also want to take the discussion offline as quickly as possible. Barone points out that “once you’ve acknowledged the issue and offered to help, do whatever you can to draw the conversation away from the public eye. You want to show you are proactively responding, however the nitty-gritty details don’t need to be shared with the general public.” The alternate question is whether or not to respond to positive reviews customers leave for you. The overall thought here is that it depends on the venue. For social media accounts, “people won’t be surprised to see a brand engaging with every single review,” says Yablonski. It’s up to you as to how far you want to take it, but a simple gesture of appreciation is always a good thing.

Your best overall strategy for your retail store in regard to gathering reviews, Shervington suggests, is to gather together a “war chest of positive reviews.” The more positive reviews you have, the higher your overall rating will be on Yelp or Google, and having a few negative reviews will not greatly affect your overall score.  

And, let’s not forget the human factor. In this ever-more digital age, responding to a negative review with an open and understanding attitude – and genuinely trying to make your customers happy – is what it’s about. Happy customers will leave you good reviews. Good reviews will spark more customers. Happy customers continue to come back to your store to spend their money – with you.