If it costs under $50, Anne Fan, a 35-year-old real estate broker from Chicago, wastes little time deciding on purchases, ranging from devices that extend her home’s WiFi to cases that protect her phone. “I briefly look at the reviews and if it’s four stars or above, and I like it, I will buy it,” she says. “But if I see a string of comments saying it broke in a month, I’ll move on—I have hundreds of choices online.”
Fan’s purchasing behavior echoes that of most consumers. Seventy-seven percent of shoppers say they’ll make a purchase based on good reviews, according to Edelman’s recently released “Trust Barometer” report. Below, some strategies on how brands can navigate this review-
Consumers have more avenues than ever to capture information before making a purchase: so-called influencers, news content, Yelp, Facebook, Amazon, Google and more. Brands are grappling with how to manage their reputation online, including making sense of the review data coming in and preparing for looming challenges such as natural-language processing and its effect on consumer reviews. “It’s not hard to talk to a brand and tell them reviews are important—we’re all consumers,” says Marc Ferrentino, chief strategy officer at Yext, a review-management platform. “At this point, everyone has bought into the concept that reviews impact the consumer journey.”
But brands that barely have any reviews must figure out how to capture more. “The trends we’re seeing center more on review strategies and how to generate more of them, how to make them more robust and personalized,” says Blake Williams, performance media manager at digital agency the Shipyard.
Williams says the agency is working with a beauty brand so users can share their skin color along with their review, making the review itself more trustworthy and “robust” to potential buyers. “It encourages additional reviews and makes it more valuable to the consumer experience,” he says. “It also becomes more user-friendly on the backend, as people won’t have to filter through options for different skin types.”
Other brands have plenty of reviews, but need to get a handle on monitoring them. Consider Massage Envy, which gets 1,000-plus reviews across various platforms each week. The massage and skin care chain has 1,200 locations, but most of them are managed by independent franchisees.
To get better insight into its reviews, Massage Envy turned to software from Yext that centralizes all the reviews from platforms such as Yelp, Google and Facebook. The ability to see what customers are saying in a centralized fashion allows the brand to identify problems that might be leading to poor review scores, like multiple complaints about a dirty bathroom, for example. Then the problems can be fixed quickly, leading to better reviews in the future. This aggressive review management boosted Massage Envy’s average score for reviews entered on its own site to 4.7 (out of a maximum of 5), up a full point from where it was prior to adopting Yext’s tools. Reviews on other platforms also saw a 7 percent lift.
Massage Envy found that it can get more positive Google search results by actively managing its reviews, says Jeanna Corley, VP of digital strategy and analytics. “We set a goal behind improving our reviews with the purpose of helping our SEO,” Corley says. “Consumers are no longer searching for just a word, but instead an entire question. And that bleeds into the voice area.” Massage Envy also saw more visibility in Google Maps, she says, adding that “more reviews equaled more SEO.”
Kevin Lee, executive chairman and co-founder of Didit, says consumers are more likely to click on links that show a business has multiple, strong reviews. So increasing the volume of reviews on third-party sites often prompts consumers to visit a brand’s website because a review “draws the eye and draws the click,” Lee says.
Large chains are just as likely to draw reviews as mom-and-pop establishments, points out Erik Jensen, VP of brand engagement at Denny’s: “We have 1,500 restaurants, so we see thousands [of reviews] a week.” Denny’s actively manages its reviews as a way to boost its SEO ranking. The chain also uses reviews to capture “sentiment analysis” from its customers. “That allows us to sort reviews across all platforms according to specific keywords,” Jensen says. “It becomes another valuable tool for us to course correct.”
Ferrentino says natural language processing is emerging as a significant force that is making online reviews even more important. The technology will allow a search engine to parse the language of a consumer’s question in order to understand his or her intent and provide a relevant answer.
He explains that when most people think of natural language, they think of voice assistants such as Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, but natural-language processing is embedded everywhere from search engines to business chatbots. “When a customer starts with a question like, ‘What is the best sushi restaurant with vegetarian options near me?’ the search engine interprets ‘best’ to mean having the highest reviews of all the options that fit the criteria in the question,” Ferrentino says. “This means that a high number of positive reviews is critical for a business to show up for this kind of search, and to rank above its competition.”
“When consumers articulate how they feel about a brand’s product or experience, they articulate that differently than a copywriter for the brand,” Lee says. “A reviewer talks differently, and their copy creates rich keywords that Google or Bing pulls from.”
And when customers search for something by asking an entire question, Lee adds, those “keywords are probably going to be found in the reviews. The copy is then more likely to be selected by Google.”