Word-of-mouth always had a significant impact on any business’ success. You don’t have to be a marketing expert to understand the tremendous value of a pool of happy customers that will “organically” tell their friends and family about the wonderful experience they had with your business. From that perspective, not much has changed in terms of the nature of how word-of-mouth works and its essential importance for the long term success of any business. According to Nielson, 84% of consumers said they trust recommendations from family, colleagues, and friends to some extent – making these type of recommendations the information source ranked highest for trustworthiness. Furthermore, 74% of shoppers identify word-of-mouth as the #1 key influencer in their purchasing or hiring decision. [Ogilvy]

In recent years, online reviews have moved to the forefront of online commerce, with both search engines and social media sites integrating them into search result pages and online business listings. According to Nielson, 68% of users trust online opinions from other consumers, which is up 7% from 2007. Furthermore, 88% of online users trust online reviews written by folks they do not know in person as much as they trust feedback from family and friends. [BrightLocal].

So how does a business owner go about generating positive online reviews for their business and maintaining a positive buzz for their products or services online? Here are 5 tips that can help:

Incorporate online reviews into your service funnel

In order to encourage your customers to review your business online, make sure you offer them easy ways to do so. Placing a direct link pointing to where you would prefer the customer to leave a review about your business in a predominate area of your website is a simple way to offer your clients the opportunity to do so. You can also include this link in a follow up email. A clear, direct link that is easy to remember and share (yourwebsite.com/review or yourwebsite.com/feedback are both great options) can mean all the difference between gaining a positive review online or not.

Spread your online review portfolio across many different channels

To the unsuspecting user, reviews posted on a business page on Google places may seem to offer the most exposure as most of us use Google as the first place we visit online to search for products or services. That being said keep in mind that search engines such as Google keep a close eye on a variety of sources when calculating your business website and listing rankings. Diversifying your online review portfolio is an important part of a long term online marketing strategy. Lastly, some users may already have active profiles on review websites such as Yelp or Yellowpages.com and may be more comfortable leaving your business feedback there. Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.

Don’t sweat the negative reviews

You can’t please everyone! As you continue to generate reviews for your business online, eventually you will come across a negative or natural review a user will post about your business. It’s all part of the process. Unless a negative review is intentionally malicious or hateful, we usually recommend our clients ignore it. Instead, use a negative review to inspire you to get out there and generate 5 new positive reviews to balance out the single negative one. Lastly, there are many examples online (Such as this story about a customer leaving a negative review for a coffee shop on TripAdvisor) where a negative review a user posted online is outrageous enough to snowball into a story many blogs pick up on and write about, resulting in generating fantastic exposure for the business involved online.

Respond when appropriate

Many sites (including Google Places and Yelp) offer business owners who have claimed and verified ownership over their business listing the opportunity to respond to reviews left by customers. Use common sense when responding to customer reviews online. If an unsatisfied client left you a negative review you are entitled to respond online. Make sure that your response is professional and related to any specific issues your client brings up in his review. Remember that your response will be seen by anyone visiting your listing so make sure you respond in a mature, business-like manner and don’t get carried away by any temporary emotions or anger.

Be patient!

Rome was not built in one day and neither will your online reputation. Be persistent and in time you will see your online review pool growing and your online ranking improve.