Why Do Customers Write Reviews?

Who are these people who write reviews on websites like Yelp, Amazon and Angie’s List? And why do they have so much power over your success?

Contrary to some opinions I’ve heard, online reviewers usually aren’t just disgruntled customers or dishonest competitors in disguise. They view themselves as part of a community that plays an important role in helping consumers make wise choices.

Remember that these online review websites are companies, and they have a business interest in encouraging reviewers. The more reputable and helpful their community is, the more successful the company will be.

For instance, Yelp recruits active reviewers to engage in its ‘Elite’ program, offering special free events and perks to this group. You can see from my Yelp profile that I participated in this community for awhile:

Why do customers write reviews?

On a smaller scale, some companies offer sweepstakes giveaways or discounts to customers who write reviews. And we can never neglect the allure some feel of developing a following, being considered a community leader or creating a reputation as an expert (even if it’s just expertise in local restaurants).

Because online review companies develop authentic communities, your customers trust the reviews they read, and they make purchase decisions based on reviewers’ opinions. So be nice to the reviewers and encourage your loyal customers to make their voices heard.

The Diversification of Search (and Your Marketing Budget)

In the near future, Google might not be such a hot-shot in the web marketing world.

That’s crazy!” you might think. Indeed, Google has been the major research resource for the vast majority of web users. And today, Google still accounts for 66.2% of all search-engine use, with Bing-powered search a distant 29.1%.

Diversify your search marketingIt seems that Google’s serious competition won’t come from Bing (at least, anytime soon). As a web marketing expert helping businesses reach their customers on the Internet, I see that competition coming from a very different field.

The big secret is that search is so much bigger than Google or Bing. Often, navigating a Google search can be frustrating as the user tries to grope after the right search phrase to get his intended result. For instance, consider a search for a professional speaker that only results in displaying high-end audio equipment.

This search inconvenience has given rise to many niche-search products built into commerce and social media sites. On Amazon.com, customers can search categories with pre-defined criteria that makes sense, like size and type of shoes. Yelp is organized by geography, so if a user is vacationing in Savannah, GA, he can get the local scoop on that city.

With so many shopping and social media options, web users are diversifying their search methods for more personalized results.

Here are some stats on a few special-interest sites that compete for search traffic:

  • 901 million users search Facebook to find their friends and favorite brands.
  • 161 million users conduct 4.2 “professionally-oriented” yearly searches on LinkedIn (such as recruiting or networking).
  • In a month, 89 million U.S. customers visit Amazon.com to buy or comparison-shop.
  • 71 million users search Yelp for information and reviews about local businesses.
  • 50 million visitors search TripAdvisor to plan vacations.
  • 10 million women search Pinterest to find the absolute perfect wedding hair or yummy appetizer recipe.

How Search Diversification Affects Your Marketing Plan

All of the above sites provide businesses opportunities to communicate with users and buy advertising. Marketing plans are beginning to reflect interest in these offerings, with businesses diversifying their web marketing budget to include a variety of advertising and communication efforts across different sites relevant to their own customers.

If your business happens to focus exclusively on Google AdWords for web advertising, it might be time to look into diversifying your web marketing. With the right social partner, you’ll likely reach more relevant customers, who are looking for a more personalized experience and are ready to engage with your brand.

Why Isn’t Every Business Using Yelp for Customer Service?

My husband and I had a great experience dining at Jimmy G’s, so I wrote them a five-star review on Yelp.

Positive review of Jimmy G's on Yelp

Less than an hour later, I received an email from Ross, the manager, thanking me for reviewing the restaurant. At first I thought, “What courtesy! How kind! How unusual!”

But then I thought… “Why isn’t every consumer business doing this?” Ross’s simple message turned me into a raving fan. I’m even giving them publicity on my blog. And it only took five minutes of his time.

How long would it take you to write a short thank-you message on Yelp to each of your reviewers?

Beyond thanking positive reviewers, what if you could repair customer relationships that resulted in negative reviews? Usually, it wouldn’t take more than an apology and a token of your sincerity.

Wouldn’t that be valuable to your business?

Marketing Podcast: Marketing With Yelp

Listen as Dave Weatherholt and I discuss small business marketing with Yelp. Since “Getting Down to Business” airs in Alaska, we focus on the Anchorage Yelp market, but these marketing tips can apply to any small business in any city. Here’s what we cover:

  • What Yelp is and what it does
  • The kinds of people who leave reviews on Yelp
  • The local pages Yelp provides for each city
  • What marketing opportunities Yelp offers your business

During the podcast, I also mention my recent article, “Yelp for Small Business Marketing“, which includes screenshots and more marketing tips.

Listen or download below:

Marketing With Yelp

Marketing Podcast: Marketing With Yelp (7.4MB)

This segment first aired during “Getting Down to Business” on Alaska’s Fox News Talk 1020.


Yelp for Small Business Marketing

Your small business is already on Yelp. People are voicing their opinions about your business, and others are listening to their advice.

Yelp reported that 61 million people visited the site in the 3rd quarter of 2011.

Many small business owners don’t realize Yelp’s influence, let alone contribute to the conversation on the site. Including Yelp in your small business marketing plan can be a great way to build word-of-mouth-marketing. You’ll develop relationships with influential customers and encourage new customers to give you a try.

What is Yelp?

I would describe Yelp as an avid online community of passionate reviewers, eager to uphold their reputation and grow their influence. Casual users visit the site to find recommendations about nearby businesses, whether that be near where they live or where they are traveling.

Yelp got its start with restaurants, but it’s not just for restaurants anymore. You’ll find reviews on dentists, retail shopping, hair salons or even hardware stores. In many cities, the company has invested in local Community Managers, who develop and nurture relationships with local businesses and power reviewers.

Yelp Advertising

Of course Yelp would tell you the best way to improve your marketing with their site would be to buy advertising. Advertisements appear in search results and on competitors’ business pages. Below is an example showing Hannoush Jewelers’ business page with an advertisement for Rogers Jewelers:

There are a few other perks to advertising, such as the ability to display a video. Advertising on Yelp ranges from $300-$1000 per month.

Yelp Deals

Yelp also offers a way to provide customers with discounts from your business page, called Yelp Deals. Customers buy the “deal” from the site, and Yelp keeps 30% of the sale. Here’s an example of a deal, shown in a search result:

It’s hard to say how effective Yelp Deals are, but they might be worth an experiment, especially since there are no up-front costs.

More Marketing with Yelp Tips

There are several things small businesses can do to improve their Yelp marketing efforts without buying advertising or posting deals. I recommend taking these steps before making any ad buys.

First, ensure your business information is complete and up-to-date. On your business’s page, “unlock” your listing to add hours of operation, menus, pictures or an OpenTable reservations widget. Here’s a screenshot:

Once you unlock your business’s page, you’ll also be able to see handy data about the visitors to your page.

Another benefit to unlocking your page is that you’ll be able to communicate with your reviewers. Responding to your reviewers can build your relationships with them… if you do it carefully.

To respond to a negative review, consider the customer’s input constructive criticism, and try to remedy the issues the customer experienced. If you can “make it right” with the reviewer, chances are she will revise her review more positively. Even if the review is unreasonable, your business will not benefit if you reply angrily or defensively.

Responding to a positive review is much easier. Consider sending a private thank-you to the reviewer with a personalized note that shows you truly read and understood the review.

To really engage with Yelp, find out if your city has a Community Manager. This person organizes events for Yelp reviewers, and you might be able to improve your standing with local reviewers by hosting a free event just for them.

For more information about marketing with Yelp, send me an email: amanda@zooinajungle.com, or you can check out some of my reviews on my Yelp profile.

Word of Mouth Marketing

Word of mouth marketing is the most powerful strategy for getting new customers- it’s harnessing the potential for referrals. All good businesses have a treasure trove of customers who love them and could refer them to friends, family or colleagues.

But most businesses take a haphazard approach to referrals. They just hope they happen. In fact, you need to develop strategies for word of mouth marketing. It’s not enough to provide a great product and service, while hoping for the best. Fortunately, word of mouth marketing is not that difficult or costly.

Why is word of mouth marketing important?

People trust their friends and believe their advice about 1000 times more than they believe your advertisements or marketing messagaes. If you are looking for a plumber, who do you trust more for a recommendation, your brother or your phone book? (For the purpose of this article, please assume your brother is reliable.)

Because your potential customers trust referrals, and you have lots of happy customers who can refer you, word of mouth marketing is a profitable proposition. Imagine if half of your customers sent you one referral each year. What would that do for your bottom line?

How do I improve my word of mouth marketing?

Ask your customers for referrals. If they like you, and you ask in a personalized way, your customers will be eager to help you succeed and share helpful advice with their friends, family or colleagues. This seemingly simple step is overlooked by almost every business I’ve been in contact with. It’s easy and effective, so you should start asking your customers for referrals today.

When asking customers for referrals, it is common to reward those customers, but you should reward the referral for buying from you as well. Some customers might feel awkward about recommending something to a friend that they are getting “paid” for – and their friends might be suspicious as well. If everyone involved receives benefit, that concern is lessened.

Besides offering rewards, you can provide your customers with a referral marketing piece that they can use to refer you. For instance, your could give them sample products or supply postcards they can hand out. This approach is effective because it helps them to remember to refer you, gives them something tangible to pass on, and your marketing message will have a better chance to be clearly communicated.

Sometimes, customers don’t have the opportunity to refer you right away, but they might in the future. Think of the plumber example- your brother might not have called a plumber for years. How will he remember which plumber was the best? To get your customers to remember you in crucial referral moments, develop a way to stay top-of-mind with your customers. Offer an informative, interesting or entertaining newsletter; ask them to ‘like’ your frequently-updated Facebook page, or get old-fashioned and mail them something. Madison Tree Care & Landscaping mails me a quarterly newsletter with tree care advice and cute company updates. It’s informative, but more importantly, it helps me remember them. Because I remember them, I refer them. (An added bonus to staying in touch with your customers is that they might just give you more business as well!)

Word of mouth marketing extends beyond the circle of people your customers know. If they write online reviews of your business on a site like Yelp.com, their referrals will live on for years and shape the opinions of people searching online for businesses like yours. So how do get customers to write online reviews? The same way you get them to refer you. Ask them; reward them; give them suggestions.

Small businesses are especially apt to benefit from word of mouth marketing because people feel good about buying from small businesses and referring them, especially if the business is local; knowing about it provides a level of exclusivity, or the owner has a likable personality. You just have to ask!