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How often do you perform an online search to learn more about a business or product before visiting or purchasing? How often do you find yourself scrolling through reviews to see what others’ experiences have been? Have you changed your mind on a purchase or dining decision because of what others have shared online?

Some business owners have caught on that positive reviews are more likely to attract customers than no reviews, or negative ones. Furthermore, reviews are a signal that can help your performance in Google’s local pack search results.

Could there be a negative review of your company somewhere online that you don’t know about, that could be causing you to miss out on potential connections or sales? This should keep you up at night. You need customers to run a business. So the first DO right out of the gate is to have a strategy in place for monitoring and managing online reviews. This should be part of your plan for taking control of your local SEO.

Before we get to more review best practices, allow us to expose a few “worst practices” that we’ve seen (you probably have, too), and that we don’t recommend you practice:

The DON’Ts

Don’t Fake Reviews.

Don’t be like the small engine repair company we recently stumbled upon that attempted to balance increasingly strong negative reviews with fake 5-star write-ups, and even a review left by the owner’s wife who, amazingly, gave the business 4 stars and went on to use the platform as a Facebook-comment type of post, responding to an actual customer’s negative review. We shouldn’t have to tell you that Google reviews are not an equivalent arena to Facebook disagreement threads.

Don’t Ask Friends and Family to Write Reviews.

If you are a new business or have no or few reactions online, don’t attempt to “get the ball rolling” with reviews by having your employees, family, and friends write some. Not only could this violate the review policy for some third party sites, but the reviews are clearly going to be biased and based on the person’s personal affiliation with you, whether or not they actually had a great experience.

If a friend or family member leaves a review of their own accord…well, that’s very sweet of them to do. But you shouldn’t encourage it. (Plus, what happens when your own wife leaves you 4 stars instead of 5? No one needs that drama in their life.)

Don’t Ignore Your Reviews.

Google My Business and Facebook make it very easy to respond to reviews customers leave on your profiles. If it’s not realistic to address each one as it comes in, set aside a window of time each week to view and respond to recent reviews.

…But Don’t Rant at Your Reviewers.

So you got a negative review. Yes, it’s totally fair for you to be upset and even question the writer’s sanity because you’re clearly awesome, but get these feelings out of the way before your fingers hit the keyboard to respond. We all know the old adage, “You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” Don’t respond to reviews out of anger or disbelief. Believe your customer is upset, and believe your business depends, even in a very tiny way, on you handling the situation tactfully.

You owe it to the customer, and to your business, to acknowledge the review, make an effort to make it right with the customer, and show other users that the brand cares enough to respond to reviews. A brand that doesn’t show it’s listening is a brand that, in the eyes of the customer, isn’t listening.

Remember: Other potential patrons will see your response. In this case, you could write something like, “Thank you for sharing your experience, Janice. We value excellent customer service, and I am sorry to hear this was not what you experienced today. I would like to discuss this with you in more detail and learn more about where we went wrong and what we could do better – could you call me sometime this week? –Tammy, General Manager.” A response like this also initiates a “best practice” of taking the conversation offline to resolve any problems on a more personalized level.

The DOs:

Do Have a Designated Review Manager.

Whomever you put in charge of handling reviews is up to you, whether it’s your social media manager, your in-house SEO, or someone who oversees quality assurance matters for your business. If multiple people are handling reviews, create some standard guidelines for replies, such as a preferred brand voice or “canned” responses that can be customized for common themes or concerns.

Do Respond to Positive Reviews.

Your first thought might be to monitor reviews with damage control in mind, but happy customers should be acknowledged, too. We know your employees’ time is limited, but it can do a lot for customer retention and delight when someone who has devoted their time and energy into writing a positive review is rewarded with a personal thank you from the business. Consumers are much more inclined to let you know when they’ve had a negative experience, so it’s a big deal when someone cares enough to sing your praises in a public space. Make the most of that to build your online reputation.

If your company is reviewed frequently and gets a large number of positive ratings (what a good problem to have!), prioritize responding to the positive reviews that have the most value for your business. Obviously, you don’t need to respond to every 5-star review that is only a rating, without accompanying text. It’s nice they gave you high marks, but save the thanks for customers who made the effort to explain why you earned them.

Do Use Reviews to Shape Policies, Practices, and Employee Training.

Look for trends in reviews that might point to internal issues – or strengths – that are worth discussing with your team or using to revamp customer service policies and practices. Reviews can be a goldmine for gathering information on what your customers want, expect, and appreciate from your company. Paying close attention to them can pay off big-time when it comes to shaping how you do things for the benefit of your bottom line.

Optimizing your patrons’ offline experience matters, because potential customers are referring to others’ experiences before deciding whether they should spend money with you.

Do Make it Easy to Write Reviews.

Use receipts, social media, print materials, emails, etc. to direct your customers to sites where they can leave reviews. If you send emails at close of sale or as a service follow-up, this can be as easy as including a link to your Facebook profile, Google My Business listing, or other third party site, and a soft request like, “If you had a positive experience, please share a review on _____ to help others learn more about us.” (However, be aware that it’s against Yelp’s policies to ask for reviews on their platform.)

We hope these tips help you develop an online review strategy that works for your unique business situation. If you have further questions, get in touch