ADOTAS – It’s no surprise that review sites, or sites that house reviews about people, businesses, products or services, have exploded in popularity within the last year. Google’s recent change to include reviews in its ranking factors not only aids consumers in purchase decisions, but also affects businesses’ search-engine rankings. No matter where the business ranks in search results, the fact remains the same: consumers are reading business reviews before selecting a business.
In fact, according to our Local Search Usage Study, 59% of all local-business searchers say that ratings and reviews are important while searching for a business. In addition, a recent study by Deloitte showed that 59 percent of internet users believe their purchase decisions are influenced by consumer reviews. With consumers placing such a heavy weight on reviews within their purchase process, businesses are left wondering whether review sites house truly legitimate information or not.
Criticism of Review Sites
Review sites are under a lot of scrutiny as more and more consumers factor them into their purchase decisions, and this scrutiny is not without merit. A multitude of less-than-ideal scenarios can present themselves on review sites, such as:
- Most reviews posted are not verified for accuracy or relevancy.
- Businesses can potentially write their own reviews under a different user name to bolster their own ratings.
- Competitors, disgruntled employees or anyone with a grudge can deliberately slander a business through negative reviews.
- Sites that rely on businesses’ advertising dollars for their revenue can be reluctant to post negative reviews in order to keep good business relationships.
- It has been rumored that some sites offer to hide negative reviews for advertising contracts or money. Alleged instances of this have led some businesses to file extortion lawsuits. In fact, these lawsuits are so prevalent for RipOffReport.com, the site started featuring some rather interesting links.
Are There ANY Legitimate Review Sites?
The short answer is yes; but there is no guarantee that any review site is 100 percent legitimate. However, some reviews sites will rank higher than others. I’ve identified three groups in which all review sites can fit into, and graded each on legitimacy.
Grade A: Professional Review Sites
These types of sites, in addition to allowing consumer participation, conduct their own research or analysis of products and services (in-house or by a third party). The companies behind these sites are usually accredited or seen as trustworthy, and often verify reviews or complaints before they can be read by the public.
This includes: BBB.org, Consumersearch.com and Consumerreports.org.
Grade B: Neutral Review Sites
These sites allow for both negative and positive reviews without soliciting one type over the other. Consumers are given freewill to review and rate businesses they have been to in order to help other consumers make purchase decisions. Most of the time reviews are not verified and are posted immediately.
This includes: Yelp.com, Citysearch.com, local.com, insiderpages.com, Google Place Pages, urbanspoon.com, tripadvisor.com, angieslist.com, amazon.com and many more.
Grade C: One-Sided Review Sites
Review sites that solicit just one type of review from consumers, usually negative reviews. These sites rely on angry or concerned consumers to fill their site content with complaints, scams or warnings about businesses in efforts to “help consumers avoid bad experiences.”
This includes: ripoffreport.com, complaintsboard.com, complaints.com, scam.com, consumeraffairs.com, pissedconsumer.com and many more.
It’s possible that conversations about your business will happen on sites of all grades. Even though you can’t control the legitimacy of the review sites, you can control the legitimacy of the reviews being posted.
Ways to Legitimize Reviews, Regardless of Site Legitimacy
Simple steps can be taken to ensure reviews of your business are seen as more legitimate through consumers’ eyes.
1. Build a presence
Show current and prospective consumers that you want to be on review sites, not that the negative reviews forced your business name out there. By embracing a review site presence, you can show consumers that you’re confident in your business, enthusiastic to hear what consumers are saying and that you legitimately care.
Encourage all of your consumers to participate in reviewing their experiences. Remember that your business will be considered more-legitimate when you have a healthy mix of awesome, good, okay and even negative reviews.
Keep a watchful eye on your online reputation; free tools like Google Alerts and TweetBeep are great for catching business name mentions online. Constant monitoring helps to quickly identify illegitimate reviews, which is crucial, since bad reviews necessitate immediate action.
Whether you agree with the review or not, engage the reviewer in a positive way that shows you’re sympathetic to their experience and that you’re truly apologetic for the off-putting incident. Consumers find legitimacy in quick, considerate engagement with both positive and negative reviews.
Check for Credibility
The first four steps take a very proactive approach to ensuring a business has legitimate reviews. But there may be times when you find a negative review on a “Grade C” site. When all of the above fails, try to evaluate the source. Look at the site’s search-engine ranking. If they’re not getting a lot of traffic, chances are not many people are using them as a viable source, so you should ignore this completely, or write a well thought-out response, and then move on. Do not make false, accusatory claims as this will only fuel the review site to cause more controversy.
The bottom line is that you can’t control which sites will review your business. You can control, however, the way in which your reviews come across to consumers. Above all, be proactive and timely with your responses. If that doesn’t work, take the high road and ignore the ones that don’t matter.