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.


The Undeniable Power of Using Experts to Get Better Service

Coppa seemed all wrong.

It's an Italian tapas restaurant in Boston's South End. That's a neighborhood I avoided when I had lived there in the 90s.

They didn't have any reservations available. My wife and I didn't like that uncertainty. We had other things we wanted to do that night and didn't want to get stuck waiting for an hour.

It was tiny. I've been in a lot of tiny places in Boston. Tiny usually equals cramped, crowded, and unpleasant.

Coppa turned out to be perfect.

They had amazing food, a wonderfully cozy atmosphere, and great service. The restaurant was crowded, but they found a comfortable spot for us at a small bar looking out the window.

We never would have gone there if we had relied on Yelp. Good thing we asked an expert instead. When it comes to getting great service experiences, a knowledgeable person is still the go-to option.

The Limits of Yelp and AI

Yelp makes recommendations based on two things: algorithmically-culled recommendations of an anonymous crowd and the searcher's ability to enter appropriate search criteria.

It generally does a good job. 

Just last week, I was traveling and needed to find a place to get a haircut. Yelp was able to narrow down my search to a few highly rated places that were all within walking distance of my hotel. A quick scan of the reviews helped me pick a winner. It worked out well.

But, there are a few problems with how Yelp delivers its recommendations.

First, how do I know that the anonymous crowd shares my interests and tastes? Coppa has over 500 Yelp reviews and a strong four star rating, but I really don't know who is rating them. 

There's been plenty of times when the crowd has absolutely loved something that I just couldn't get into. For example, I've tried many times to love The Godfather movies and still don't like them.

The second problem with Yelp is the user. It's limited by whatever search criteria you use. So, if you decide to exclude the South End, then Yelp won't recommend anything in that neighborhood. That's why Coppa didn't appear in my Yelp search.

The problem, of course, is customers often don't know exactly what they want. Or, they think they do, only to be delighted later on by an option that didn't fit their criteria at all.

I experienced a similar challenge when I tried to use IBM Watson to pick out a jacket. Watson was limited by the search criteria I thought matched my needs. I received better service from an in-store sales associate who could interpret my criteria and think laterally to suggest options I hadn't considered.

 

The Power of Experts

My friend, Patrick Maguire, had suggested Coppa. 

Patrick knows a lot about restaurants in Boston. He writes the popular I'm Your Server, Not Your Servant blog about hospitality service. He also consults with Boston-area restaurants on PR, promotions, and hospitality. I definitely consider him an expert.

I had told him my wife, Sally, and I were looking for a place for dinner. He asked a few thoughtful questions that led to his recommendation.

Patrick used his extensive knowledge of area restaurants to make his suggestion. He used his perceptiveness to interpret my criteria and understand what was truly important to us. And, he used his relationship with me to effectively persuade me that things I saw as obstacles (South End, no reservations, etc.) weren't really obstacles at all.

Yelp couldn't do that. 

The other thing that Yelp couldn't do is validate my choice. Getting some insider information makes me feel good. Heck, look at the title of my blog and you can tell this is something I obviously value.

 

Accessing Experts

I wrote a little about connecting with experts in this blog post about Do-It-Yourself Learning. 

Chances are, you know a lot of people who are an expert in one thing or another. The thing I've learned is you have to approach them directly.

So, if I had made a general post on Facebook asking for restaurant recommendations, I might have gotten several suggestions from well-meaning friends who may or may not have been on-target. If I was lucky, Patrick would have seen my post, but there's a good chance he wouldn't have. 

The direct approach worked much better. I went to him because he's an expert in that area.

This means you have to think about who's in your circle that knows something about what you know. Check up on your friends' profiles on Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social networks if you can't remember who knows what.

Employees are often experts too.

They've received specialized training. They spend a lot of time answering questions and familiarizing themselves with their company's products and services. And, I can tell you that most customer service employees love getting the chance to share their knowledge.

This means your restaurant server knows the inside scoop on how menu items really taste. A retail employees knows the ins and outs of their products.

As I noted in a recent blog post, self-help tools like Yelp are gaining in popularity, but employees (and your friends) still hold the edge when it comes to nuanced or complex requests.