Online reviews on websites like Yelp, Google, Facebook, and TripAdvisor play a huge role in consumers’ purchase decisions.

According to research by ReviewTrackers, 49 percent of consumers always or often check online reviews, and Search Engine Land reports that 72 percent trust reviews as much as they do recommendations from friends and family.

2017 Online Reviews Survey. ReviewTrackers.

Regardless of whether you’re marketing a small and medium-sized business or managing an enterprise-level organization with hundreds or even thousands of locations, it’s clear that reviews have a direct impact on your marketing results and performance.

Reviews equate into one of Google’s three primary local search factors.

Google has explicitly identified the three primary factors influencing local search rankings and results.

These are:

Relevance: How well does your business listing or website content match what a user is searching for? This question is at the heart of Google’s relevance factor. Having complete, detailed, and up-to-date local business information improves your relevance and helps match your listing to specific local searches.

Distance: This is pretty literal: it refers to the distance between your business listing’s indicated location and/or service area on Google and the location term used in a Google search query. The location term is the user’s location, determined based on the device they used for searching.

Prominence: How prominent is your business, online and offline? According to Google, “some places are more prominent in the offline world. For example, famous museums, landmark hotels, or well-known store brands.” Online prominence, on the other hand, is based on the kind of information available on the Web about your business. This includes the quantity and quality of your online reviews, as well as online scores and ratings.

“Google review count and score are factored into local search ranking,” Google has stated. “More reviews and positive ratings will probably improve a business’s local ranking.”

Apart from direct information from Google, independent research firms and marketers have also highlighted the impact of online reviews on local search performance.

  • According to Moz’s 2017 Local Search Ranking Factors report, information from Google My Business ranked as the top factor, followed by external location signals, on-page SEO, link signals, and online reviews.

“The overall trend is clearly moving towards businesses who are investing time and energy into their review strategy,” said Power by Search’s Colan Nielsen. “Reviews = trust and increased CTR.”

Added Casey Meraz of Juris Digital: “If you’re looking to continue to increase your visibility, don’t ignore reviews on Google and third-party platforms like Yelp. Potential customers are reading these and looking at these. Many of the click studies we have done show that users are more likely to click on highly rated businesses with consistent positive feedback. Even if you rank below a competitor in a local pack, you can snag more clicks just by focusing on running a good business and getting positive reviews.”

Reviews have a shelf life of 3 months — outlasting marketing posts on Facebook and Twitter.

Another way to demonstrate the marketing value of reviews is by comparing their shelf life with that of marketing content on social media, such as tweets and Facebook posts.

Shelf life of online reviews: Search Engine Land suggests 69 percent of consumers believe that reviews older than 3 months are no longer relevant. Meanwhile, 15 percent believe that the only relevant reviews are the ones written within the last 2 weeks.

Shelf life of tweets: According to Moz, 18 minutes is the average lifespan of a tweet, while GaggleAMP found that 92 percent of tweet engagement (impressions, clicks, and shares) occurred within the first 48 hours of posting.

Shelf life of posts on Facebook: Research by Wiselytics reveals that 75 percent of engagement on a Facebook post occurs within the first 5 hours, and 75 percent of people who will get to see a brand’s Facebook post will have seen it in the first 2 hours.

These studies show that the shelf life of online reviews is (much) longer than the shelf life of tweets and Facebook posts.

While this shouldn’t be taken to mean that your marketing team should stop sharing, listening to, and managing tweets and Facebook posts, it brings to light the role of reviews — especially given their longer shelf life — as an essential part of any digital marketing strategy.

Reviews foster consumer trust more effectively than promotional marketing content and branded messages.

Social proof is described as a psychological phenomenon in which people follow the actions of others in an effort to reflect what is considered correct behavior for any given situation, including online experiences. Simply put: social proof influences people’s decisions on how they should behave.

The trust people place in online reviews make online reviews the new social proof.

  • According to Forrester, content found in consumer-written online reviews (46 percent) ranks ahead of posts by companies or brands on social networks like Facebook and Twitter (15 percent) in terms of trustworthiness. Consumers also trust online reviews over natural search engine results.
  • Research firm eMarketer found that 7 percent of consumers needed to read at least 20 reviews before they put enough trust in a business.
  • According to Modern Comment, 72 percent of consumers trust reviews as much as personal recommendations made by friends and family, while 78 percent say that seeing management respond to reviews makes them believe that the business cares more about them.

These numbers make it clear that consumers take positive reviews and high ratings as social proof that a product or service is worth the purchase: “This has great reviews, so I’m buying it.”

Reviews also provide social proof for consumers who want to know what to say as they contribute to the conversation. For example: a customer’s opinion about a TripAdvisor-listed hotel with 99 reviews and an average rating of 4.7 stars is less likely to go against the grain and offer a counterpoint to all the positive feedback. The customer thinks, “This has great reviews, so I’m going to say the same about it.”

Reviews offer insight into the customer experience.

Delivering the best possible customer experience has become the No. 1 priority for companies today, and an increasing number of marketers also consider “CX” as one of their most important business benchmarks.

An integral part of understanding — and improving — customer experience is a marketer’s ability to manage customer feedback in channels where consumers are likely to talk about their experiences. Online review sites are one such channel.

With diners eager to voice their opinions on Yelp after a trip to a restaurant, and hotel guests looking to validate their booking decisions by turning to reviews on TripAdvisor, it’s clear that online reviews contain information and insights essential to achieving a big-picture view of what customers are saying.

Final thoughts

Online reviews should be welcomed with open arms by marketers of all tactical viewpoints (instead of scaring them away). Not only can reviews be leveraged to improve search performance and visibility; they can also serve as a powerful tool for fostering consumer trust, driving loyalty, understanding customer experience, and helping marketers adapt to the ever-changing digital landscape.

About the Author: Chris Campbell is the founder and CEO of ReviewTrackers, a Chicago-headquartered software company that helps over 30,000+ businesses measure and transform their customer experience across 85+ review sites. A digital marketing veteran and brand strategist with extensive entrepreneurial experience, Chris founded ReviewTrackers in 2012 to help businesses and brands make data-driven decisions about what their customers truly need and want.