The online review landscape is ever-changing—but according to the experts at Brand.com, there are some things that stay the same. Specifically, the influence and import of online review sites, such as Yelp.com, remain consistent across the board. A recent survey bears this out; as reported by Search Engine Land, the BrightLocal 2013 Local Consumer Review Survey finds that consumers trust online reviews more than ever, even as they spend less and less time reading reviews, forming their opinions faster and on the basis of less information. Brand.com has commented on this study in a new statement to the press.
“What this survey reveals is that, if anything, consumers are coming to trust online review sites more and more,” notes Brand.com president Michael Zammuto. “The results of this survey indicate that reviews continue to play a pivotal role in informing consumer purchasing decisions—and yet, people are reading fewer reviews, reaching their decisions and their opinions more rapidly. As such, it is truer than ever before that a single bad review can utterly ruin any company’s reputation, and sink its sales.”
“The results of this year’s survey show that more consumers are reading reviews as part of their pre-purchase research before selecting a local business to use,” the Search Engine Land article notes. “However, it also shows that they are forming opinions faster and needing to read fewer reviews before they trust (or don’t trust) a local business. This puts increased emphasis on local businesses to manage their online reputation closely and ensure that any negative reviews are dealt with in a swift and positive way.”
One of the specific findings of the study is that 85 percent of consumers say they read online reviews for local businesses—up from 76 percent just last year. “What this reveals is that online review sites are an increasingly integral part of the consumer experience,” analyzes Zammuto. “More than ever before, businesses cannot afford to ignore or to neglect online review sites.”
Another finding of the BrightLocal survey is that more consumers are reading six reviews or fewer—while fewer consumers say they read more than seven reviews. “Again, the implication is that consumers trust online reviews more than before, and are arriving at their conclusions more swiftly,” summarizes Zammuto. Or, as Search Engine Land puts it, consumers “need to read fewer reviews before they feel able to form an opinion about a business and decide whether or not it’s trustworthy.”
It’s not just that consumers read reviews, the survey continues; they also use those reviews to shape their opinions of local businesses and brands. In fact, the article notes that some 73 percent of consumers say that positive reviews make them trust a business more—up from 58 percent last year. Just 12 percent of consumers claim to take no notice of online review sites.
“Positive reviews have a real, actual impact on purchasing decision,” reports Search Engine Land. “Reviews influence both attitude and the resultant actions of consumers. They have a direct impact on whether a consumer chooses to use one business over its competitors.”
The BrightLocal survey also finds that 79 percent of all consumers trust online reviews as much as they trust personal recommendations—up from 72 percent just last year. “In other words, a majority of consumers say that they place as much stock in online reviews as they do recommendations from their friends, co-workers, and family members!” remarks Zammuto. “All of this underscores the basic point that businesses and brands live or die on the basis of their online reviews.”
Though online review sites are important to businesses, however, they are not always kind to businesses. “What’s important to remember is that sites like Yelp.com get their money on the basis of how many people click on their review links—and statistically speaking, negative reviews get more clicks than positive ones do,” Zammuto comments. “As such, review sites know that it is in their best interest to emphasize negative reviews and to suppress positive ones.”
Additionally, sites like Yelp.com do not impose any form of oversight over reviewers. “Reviewers can log into these sites and write whatever they wish, regardless of whether it is based in fact and regardless of whether they can validate their claims,” says Zammuto. “There is no accountability. Your business could get reviewed by a disgruntled employee, a vengeful ex-employee, an unreasonable consumer, or a corporate saboteur—and there is nothing that businesses can do to prevent users from leaving malicious and defamatory reviews.”
So what are businesses to do when they get hammered by bad reviews? “The first step is to know what not to do,” Zammuto explains. “Business owners should not respond to their bad reviews; they should not even click on the links, in fact, or share the links with their partners or employees. The reason for this is that any kind of activity will signal to the search engines that the offending review is relevant and valuable—which will only increase its search engine traction and visibility.”
Zammuto also recommends that companies refrain from taking legal action. “Again, this is going to result in activity that strengthens that review’s Google traction—and frankly, lawsuits against Yelp and other review sites never work,” he says.
The best course of action, for businesses beset with bad reviews, is to focus on creating high volumes of positive, brand-enhancing content—content that can suppress unwanted listings and restore the brand’s luster. “In other words, the best way to deal with unfavorable reviews is to retain the services of a leading online reputation management firm, such as Brand.com,” Zammuto concludes.
Brand.com is widely regarded as the preeminent online reputation management firm in the world, known both for its heavy R&D investment as well as its proprietary strategies and methodologies. The company’s vision is to provide clients with total control over how they are portrayed on the Web; the firm’s client list, meanwhile, spans companies of all sizes, as well as celebrities, politicians, and individuals.