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Benefits of online customer reviews for business
Each review posted online by a customer is a form of advertising for your business. Your name and product are exposed to readers, increasing their awareness of who you are and what you do.
Online reviews cover many more businesses than other media sources ever would, including many small businesses. They can provide the kind of mass exposure that you might never be able to afford through traditional marketing channels.
Improved search engine results
Reviews can also influence internet search engine results. Search engines such as Google take into account how many times your business name is mentioned in reviews. If you're mentioned a lot of times, you're likely to appear higher in the search results for a particular type of business than one that isn't reviewed very often.
Research shows that consumers generally trust peer recommendations more than they trust advertising. Consumers are most likely to trust recommendations from people they know, but many also consider online sources to be credible.
For example, a 2015 Nielsen survey of 30,000 internet consumers from 58 countries found that 83% of respondents trusted recommendations from people they knew, while 70% trusted consumer opinions posted online. Every online review that recommends your business is a powerful form of marketing.
Constructive criticism and suggestions
Some online reviews may raise concerns or suggest improvements related to your business. This can be a good opportunity to resolve a customer's problem and/or improve business practices. After all, many of the customers who raise concerns in online reviews would still complain about your business to other people, even if they didn't post a review.
At least if the complaint is published where you can see it, you have the opportunity to address your customer's concern and respond publicly, if you feel this is necessary. Many customers also have good suggestions about better ways to do things, or new products that you could offer, so review sites can be a free source of great business ideas.
A closer relationship with customers
Like many other forms of social media, online review sites give you the chance to develop a closer relationship with your customers. You're likely to get to read reviews from a range of customers, many of whom might not otherwise tell you their opinions of your business. You can also reply to both positive and negative reviews, demonstrating that you're interested in what customers have to say.
Through your replies, customers can get to know you as an individual, not just 'business x'. In fact, some review sites (e.g. Yelp) require business owners to post a clear personal photograph before they are allowed to respond to reviews. Many customers enjoy knowing the person behind the business, and may become more loyal to you as a result.