A Marketer's Guide to Accumulating Awesome Online Reviews

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The results of the Local Consumer Review Survey (2012) are in, and Search Engine Land pulled out some interesting pieces of data around the impact of online reviews on consumers' purchasing decisions.

So, how important are online reviews to consumers? Survey says: Very! Let's dive into some of the most interesting results to learn why consumers are relying on online reviews more, and why it's critical that your business has an expansive arsenal of positive reviews. Or, if you're already convinced of how crucial online reviews are to your business, skip past that section to read how you can generate more positive online reviews for your business.

Why Your Business Needs Quality Online Reviews

If your business relies on customers that value quality over price, this first bit of data should make you happy. 52% of consumers reported that positive customer reviews make them more likely to use a local business compared to just 28%, who make their selection based on other factors like location and price. Even more encouraging for businesses, 52% of consumers trust online reviews just as much as personal recommendations -- provided they look authentic, of course. A Bazaarvoice survey published some interesting complementary survey results of its own just a couple months back, citing that 51% of people actually found user-generated content more important than the opinions of their friends and family.

That's good news for marketers and business owners, because it means you have more control over how your business is represented. If you choose to take an active role in generating online reviews, that is.

The survey's findings also revealed that 76% of consumers regularly or occasionally use online reviews to determine which local business to use. And consumers are getting more savvy at parsing reviews for quality, too. Take a look at how consumer research behavior has changed in just the past two years.

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Most people look at 2-10 reviews to establish which business to use, with the majority falling in the '2-3 reviews' range. This doesn't mean you can stop at just 10 reviews, though. The study noted that having a large number of reviews gave users more confidence in the legitimacy of the star ratings and in the few reviews they do actually read. It makes sense -- the bigger the sample size, the more legitimate the results, right?

How to Generate Online Reviews for Your Business

So how do you capitalize on this to generate more positive online reviews for your business? Here are some ideas that businesses of all types can utilize.

Dominate Search Engines With Your Review Presence

Before we get into the creative ways to generate reviews, you must start with the basics -- setting up your presence on external review sites and social media. Socialnomics reports that for the world's largest brands, 25% of search results return user-generated content from review sites, blogs, and social media updates. Additionally, eMarketer reports that 65% of users age 18-24 consider information on social networks when making a purchasing decision. If people are writing about your brand on external review sites and on social media anyway, don't you think you should be in control of the conversation, and even encouraging it?

Grab hold of your presence on external review sites like Yelp! (you can learn how to optimize your presence in this blog post about improving your Yelp! presence), Google Places, and Insider Pages, and give your social media accounts some real estate dedicated to online reviews. Then -- and this is the key to your success here -- ask people to give you reviews.

That's right, it's just like getting an inbound link or closing a sale. You might get some organically, but if you expect perpetual success, you need to ask customers to write reviews of your business on these sites. But that's why taking charge of generating online reviews is so important -- you can focus these efforts on the right people! Would you ask a website that has no relevance to your business to link to you? Would you ask someone to buy your product or service if they didn't want or need it? Ask the happy customers to write reviews for you on these sites, and their presence will outweigh the occasional Negative Nancy that crops up with even the best companies. Incorporate your request whenever you interview a happy customer for a case study or when your customer service team comes across a particularly exuberant one.

Create a Designated Review Space on Your Website

External sites are important for generating online reviews, but your leads and customers are on your website all the time! Why not create a dedicated place for happy customers to submit their stories -- and where other site potential customers can also read those stories? Having reviews of your product or service readily accessible when site visitors are in the research phase is key -- do you really want to send them off-site to look for reviews? Housecleaning franchise Molly Maid executes this well with its dedicated testimonial section.

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Make it easy for current customers to submit their reviews so you always havd fresh content for this section of your site. If you're a HubSpot customer, you can do this quickly for your own website by setting up a landing page with a form prompting customers to share their experiences with you. You don't need a lot of fields -- just 'Name,' 'Email,' and 'Write a Review.' If you're in a service-oriented business, I recommend linking to this form on your website's homepage so your customers don't have to dig deep to find where they can provide feedback.

Not only does this let you easily collect content for a dedicated review section of your site, but it also lets you generate feedback from unhappy customers so you can resolve their issues before they take to social media and external review sites to publicize their unhappy experiences.

Send an Email Marketing Campaign Dedicated to Generating Reviews

After a customer completes a purchase (and if you sell products, has received it and had time to use it), send a follow-up email marketing campaign asking them to write a review. Give them the option to share their opinions publicly or privately. If you have a weekly or monthly newsletter to update customers on new offerings, consider including this as a call-to-action in those emails, too. You can even create a survey to get more detailed feedback that helps you make product and service improvements!

Include Links to Your Review Properties in Your Email Signature

Speaking of email, companies that get plenty of customer love are those who take advantage of every opportunity to generate new customer reviews on all their properties. Links should be included in the email signatures of everyone in your company, especially those interacting with customers on a daily basis. Be sure to provide links to all of the places someone can give a review; it gives customers the option to choose the review site they use most frequently, the social media account they feel more comfortable with, or simply to submit a review to you via email or on a landing page on your website.

Leverage Your Blog

If you're the awesome inbound marketer I know you to be, you're an avid blogger who is always looking for a hot new article topic. Take a cue from sites like UncommonGoods, which aggregates user-generated content for blog content. UncommonGoods encourages its customers to send in comments about their products and picks some of them to feature in blog posts. They tag these blog posts 'Product Reviews,' or you could choose something like 'Customer Reviews' for your own business.

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Aggregating comments in this manner not only feeds your blog, but it also lets you bring in reviews from all your online properties -- Twitter (don't forget to embed those tweets in your post), Facebook, the comments section of your blog and product pages, etc. Creating a blog post around these reviews will also give them more permanence than they receive in social media. Just think if someone typed the query 'company x customer reviews' into a search engine, and your blog post appears in the top of the SERPs!

Tailor it to Your Point of Sale

Alright, this sounds all well and good for online businesses. But when I close business, it's not online! If you close business on the phone, in person, with pen and paper, behind a cash register, or anywhere else that's not on the internet, you still have recourse to generate online reviews!

In fact, Search Engine Land cites CustomerLobby CEO Ted Paff saying, "Comment card reviews solicited at the time of service can see completion rates of 80-90%." It makes sense; the point of sale is the height of customer euphoria. Take advantage of these feelings by verbally asking your customer to write out his or her experience via a feedback or comment card. Include it on the back of their receipt. Staple it to their contract. Verbally direct them to your website, an external review site, or a social media account. Just be sure to ask permission to share the feedback on your website.

(Tip: Incentivize your sales and customer service team to collect positive customer reviews. Making this part of their bonus program is well worth the investment!)

Create Case Studies

Take serious control over generating reviews for your business by creating case studies. Often, businesses think of case studies as long, written documentation of the results customers see with their business -- but it doesn't have to be that complicated! HubSpot loves to create written content around its current customers, but we also love to create video content around them. In fact, we have an entire section of our site dedicated to case studies -- many of which include a video component -- that detail how customers from all types of industries use our product to their advantage.

We also create shorter videos called "I HubSpot Because" and promote them using the hashtag #hubspotting, where we ask customers in a more informal setting why they HubSpot -- to get more leads, to make more money, to watch the orange sprocket spin when the log in -- whatever!

If you don't have the resources to dedicate to creating case study videos but you meet with customers on a regular basis, ask the happy ones if you can take a quick 30 second video with them about why they use your product or service. Not all case studies have to be long and stuffy; just feature one or two things your product or service is capable of doing from your customer's perspective.

Leverage Your Lead Generation Content

Many businesses who try to generate online reviews focus on their customers (we have for the most part in this blog post ourselves). But have you ever considered generating reviews from your leads?

You create remarkable content to generate and nurture leads. The leads that consume your content frequently, you can infer, find it extremely helpful. So ask them to tell the world! Consider adding links to your review properties to your thank-you pages -- you know, the pages that appear after a lead downloads a new piece of content from your website. You can even include it as a secondary call-to-action in your lead nurturing content. A review from someone that talks not about your products or services, but you -- as a company that provides helpful information -- is still hugely valuable for your brand's reputation.

How do you generate positive online reviews for your business? Share your creative ideas in the comments!

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