Consumers are spending more consciously than ever, and according to a recent survey, 62% of respondents are trying to cut costs wherever they can. To help make the most of their spending, they turn to online review sites before visiting a new restaurant, hiring a service pro to work in their home, or even shopping for the holidays. You as a business owner can take the first step in attracting these consumers by winning their trust before they’ve even entered or interacted with your business.
For many small business owners, developing a great online reputation is key to connecting with new and longtime customers. In a recent survey commissioned by Yelp and conducted by Material, 2,000 Americans were polled to see how a business’s online presence on review platforms influences their ability to trust that business.*
Online reviews can be an impactful way to build and maintain credibility with customers. In fact, 72% of respondents who read reviews say it’s rare for them to visit a new business without checking online reviews first, and 61% say they trust these reviews about the same or more than referrals from their own friends and family.
So what makes consumers see a business as reputable, and what can business owners do to improve their online presence and build consumer trust? Survey respondents revealed insights on several key factors that influence their trust when reading online reviews, and these findings can help business owners understand how to put their best foot forward for both first-time and returning customers.
Respond to every review, even the positive ones
Responding to all reviews, even the most glowing reviews, can ignite consumer interest. In fact, 56% of respondents say an owner replying to customers’ reviews would make them trust the business more. Similarly, 87% of review readers say they’re more likely to look past a critical review if they see that the business has responded and adequately addressed the issue.
By claiming your Yelp Page and logging into your Yelp for Business account, you can respond to your customers to let them know you appreciate their words of praise or their constructive feedback. Most notably, consumers aren’t always hyperfocused on that one critical review you may have received—the survey found that respondents read a median of five reviews before deciding if they will visit or buy from a business.
Pictures can be worth a thousand (review) words
The survey found one of the biggest factors that influences respondents’ trust in a business’s online presence is if they have photos of their storefront or service offerings (47%). Consider taking five minutes from your day to upload your own photos, which can help attract customers and keep them engaged.
We’ve seen the benefits of strong visuals with businesses like Rescue Air, a heating and cooling company based in Richardson, Texas. Though you might not think an HVAC business would have many photos to upload, more than half of their images on Yelp were uploaded by them. From showing team members in the field to thank you treats from happy customers, imagery has helped humanize their business.
Avoid asking or incentivizing customers for reviews
While it may seem like a strategic marketing tactic or a way to expedite the growth of your online reputation, 55% of review readers say they wouldn’t trust businesses that asked customers to leave a review. As one can imagine, soliciting reviews may make people feel pressured to inflate their rating, as opposed to someone who was motivated to write a review on their own. Indeed, 46% of people who read reviews admitted they would write a more positive review than originally intended if a business asked them to, and 42% admitted they would provide a better star rating.
Solicited or incentivized reviews are also something Yelp’s automated recommendation software is engineered to help detect, providing a more level playing field for all businesses—regardless of their promotional savvy or marketing budgets. That’s why Yelp does not allow businesses to ask for reviews, unlike other review sites. For the last decade, Yelp also proactively places an alert over a business’s reviews to warn consumers when there is credible evidence that someone associated with the business is incentivizing people for reviews. So although it may be tempting to ask a customer at the register to leave a review, it’s best to prioritize your customer service efforts and let reviews happen organically.
Leverage online review sites to share important business information
A majority of consumers visit review platforms for more than just reviews and ratings. In reality, just 7% of all respondents say they visit online review sites only for the reviews. Many rely on other helpful details about a local business. For example, people say they rely on these platforms to view a menu (61%), confirm operating hours (57%), and check the address (54%), among other things. Business owners should regularly check that their online information is accurate because it can also increase your discoverability on other platforms that rely on SEO. The last thing you want is a customer scrolling past your business online because they don’t know if you’re open.
Give customers an experience to write about
Seeing detailed customer experiences in a business’s reviews improves trust for 57% of survey respondents. This could include descriptions of a business’s ambience, customer service, and more. For example, the owners of Tortoise Supper Club in Chicago, IL consistently deliver a unique, elevated dining experience, complemented by live jazz music, memorable decor details, and an overall swanky vibe. By prioritizing the elements of your business that customers fondly remember—from a warm smile that greets them to quickly responding to them via phone or email—you’ll create a friendly and inviting environment that has long lasting effects.
In the end, many local businesses are passionate about maintaining a strong online presence and creating experiences that are worth reviewing. Adding helpful and colorful details about your business, keeping your online information up to date, and engaging with your customers on review platforms and social media can humanize your business and create a deeper connection with your customers—both existing and potential. Reviews are important, but being an active participant in your online reputation and delivering an in-person experience that exceeds customer expectations is even more important to consumers.
*Material Survey 2022. This survey was fielded by Material among 2,000 people aged 18+ in the United States. The survey was conducted online during the period of August and September 2022 and has a margin of error of +/- 2%. Results of any sample are subject to sampling variation. The magnitude of the variation is measurable and is affected by the number of interviews and the level of the percentages expressing the results.
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The information above is provided for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice and may not be suitable for your circumstances. Unless stated otherwise, references to third-party links, services, or products do not constitute endorsement by Yelp.