The Most Important Review Site for Small Businesses

Love them or hate them, online review sites are an important part of small business.

Customers use sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and others to search for businesses like yours, read customer reviews, and even leave feedback. In fact, a 2018 study from BrightLocal found that 86 percent of US consumers use online reviews to help find local businesses.

The challenge is there are so many review sites that it's hard to know where to start. And you have a small business to run, which means you don't have a lot of time to mess around.

Fortunately, I've done the research and found which one site customers rely on the most. Here are the results along with how you can easily take advantage of these insights.

Website with customer ratings.

The Most Popular Review Site

I surveyed 1,004 adults in the United States in January 2019 to ask which online review site they rely upon the most. Google is by far the most popular.

Graphic showing the most popular online review sites. Google has 60% of the market.

There are two caveats to be aware of.

The first caveat suggests Google’s percentage may be overinflated. I used Google Surveys to do this study. It gives you a fairly random demographic sample, but in this case it also increases the likelihood that respondents would prefer Google, since they found my survey on Google. That's a huge grain of sand to keep in mind as you look at the data.

Just to check the results, I conducted an informal survey within my own network. And guess what? Google was still tops, followed by Yelp and then Facebook.

The second caveat suggests Google’s percentage may be underinflated. Think about how you naturally search for a business. I recently went to a used furniture store to look for a new table for The Overlook. When I got there, the store was unexpectedly closed so I needed to find somewhere else to go.

Instinctively, I opened the web browser on my smartphone and Googled "used furniture store." Google instantly gave me a list of stores near my location along with their ratings.

According to HubSpot, Google owns 70 percent of search engine traffic. That number jumps to 85 percent for searches on mobile devices. In other words, Google is how customers search for reviews when they don’t realize they’re searching for reviews. 

What Can You Do About It?

The first thing you should do is claim your free business listing on all the major platforms your customers use to look for you. While Google is the most popular, the other sites get their fair share of traffic, too. Womply has published some helpful guides.

Make sure you respond to every review a customer leaves you. Keep in mind your response isn’t just to the reviewer; it’s a signal to other potential customers that you care about service. BrightLocal's data reveals that 89 percent of customers read business's responses to reviews. 

Now here's where focusing on Google can pay off. Remember how I quickly found a highly-rated used furniture store by searching on my smartphone? 

Google uses reviews to help prioritize which businesses it shows when potential customers search for businesses like yours. So you can improve your search rankings without hiring an internet wizard. All you have to do is work on getting a lot of good reviews for your business. And here's the kicker—unlike Yelp, Google is perfectly okay with you encouraging customers to write reviews!

The company even provides this helpful guide.

More Resources

Here are a few additional resources to help you drive more customers to your business with online reviews.

You may also benefit from my LinkedIn Learning course, Serving Customers Using Social Media.


How to Attract More Customers with Google My Business

Many small business owners hope Google will bring in more customers.

Some try to advertise using Google Ads. Others wade into the mysterious world of search engine optimization (SEO). The latter often involves hiring an internet marketing wizard who makes strange suggestions for your website.

There's another way Google can help you bring in more customers. It's easy and it's free. Let me show you how this works.

I'll be arriving in Watertown, South Dakota tonight to speak at a Watertown Convention and Visitors Bureau luncheon tomorrow.

Naturally, I need to find a place for dinner, so I Google "restaurant watertown sd." Here are the search results:

watertown.jpg

Get Listed

Wouldn't you like your business to be one of those top choices when a customer searches for something relevant?

Notice Google prioritizes three options. It shows each one on a map. At the bottom is a link labeled "More places" where I can search for additional restaurants. 

All of the additional search results, including TripAdvisor and Yelp's "Best 10" lists appear in the search results below this box. 

morelinks.jpg

That's pretty good visibility to a prospective customer. I'll see even more choices if I click on "More places" or click directly on the map. This also reveals a larger map that shows where each business is located.

restaurants.jpg

The good news is these restaurants did not pay for advertising to get listed there! These search results come from Google My Business.

Companies can claim a free listing by providing some basic information such as your business name, address, phone number, business category (restaurant, etc.), and website. It's also a good idea to include your hours of operation.

One word of caution—make sure you keep this information up-to-date. You want your customers to know if you change your hours of operation, update your restaurant menu, or move to a new location.

 

Add Details

Customers can see more information when you click on an individual business listing. Here's what I see when I click on the listing for Guadalajara Mexican Restaurant.

guadalajara.jpg

Notice the photos at the bottom. You can upload photos of your business to your Google My Business listing and Google will display them alongside photos contributed by customers.

This is an excellent way to visually entice people to pay a visit!

 

Improve Your Ranking

Google uses an algorithm to decide which order to display businesses when customers search for particular terms. There are three primary factors that contribute:

  • Relevance
  • Distance
  • Prominence

Relevance refers to how closely your business matches what a person is searching for. The best way to improve your results is to make sure your Google My Business listing is complete and accurate.

Distance is Google's attempt to provide the closest options to the person who is searching. Not much you can do about that one aside from opening a ton of locations all over the place. That may not be feasible, so...

Prominence is Google's estimate of the business's popularity. There are several factors that contribute to this. A big one is the number and quality of Google reviews.

Reviews, my friend, can be used to your advantage because they are often overlooked by big businesses!

 

Maximizing Review Power

There are two ways to think of reviews. One is how Google uses them and the other is how customers view them. Let's start with Google's own description:

Google review count and score are factored into local search ranking: more reviews and positive ratings will probably improve a business's local ranking.

OK, so it's great to have lots of five-star reviews. No surprise there. 

Some businesses go to great lengths to get good reviews. They provide incentives. Employees are implicitly encouraged to engage in survey begging.

Do yourself a favor and skip those gimmicks. Pressuring customers for good reviews can hurt service quality. There's another way to improve your reputation that customers will appreciate.

Let's look at the first few reviews for Guadalajara Mexican Restaurant in Watertown:

reviews.jpg

This restaurant has a terrific overall rating of 4.4 stars (out of five).

Now, some business owners might freak out because there are a few bad reviews. The first review shown is only three stars and is somewhat critical.

This is actually a plus!

That's because a few negative reviews can make a business more trustworthy. Customers are wary of any business that has all positive reviews since it raises suspicions that the reviews may be fake.

There's another plus here as well. Notice the response from Carlos Vega, the manager. Vega responded quickly, apologized without getting defensive, and invited the customer to return. 

This tells customers that management is listening to feedback. Presumably, the restaurant is using this feedback to continuously improve.

These Google My Business listings are for individual locations. Most large businesses I see fail to respond to customer reviews. That's because social media is typically handled at the corporate level. 

Here's where the personal touch of a small business can really shine.

 

Resources

Here are a few resources to get you started.

  1. Get your Google My Business listing and make sure it's up-to-date.
  2. Learn how Google determines business rankings.

Of course, there are other places a customer like me might search for a business. The big ones are Yelp and TripAdvisor and your business should have a presence there, too. Each offers a free business listing.

My online training course, How to Serve Customers Using Social Media, can help you make sense of them all. You'll need a Lynda.com account to access it, so here's a 30-day trial if you're not already a subscriber.