Customer reviews and testimonials. You both love them and love to hate them. Getting a negative one is a gut punch, getting a positive one feels awesome, getting none at all is a stressor, and they take valuable time to manage — if you’re even doing that at all yet.

If you own or assist in running a business, you’re probably already well aware that online customer reviews matter, whether you’re a local business or not. You’ve probably seen the effects firsthand.

A guide to customer reviews and testimonials

Brightlocal says 98 percent of consumers read online reviews for local businesses in 2023. In fact, 87 percent of consumers would not consider a business with an average rating below three stars. That’s huge.

Reviews are absolutely necessary to stand out among your competition. There are so many valid questions about them, though. Just how much do they really impact your online presence? Do they help your SEO? What’s the best way to manage them? Where should you start if you’ve never managed them before?

This article will give you a high-level overview of customer reviews and testimonials, plus we’ll also dive a little deeper into review audits, how to manage your reviews, how to get more of them, and more.

Do customer reviews and testimonials affect SEO?

Think of SEO like a wagon wheel. The wheel’s spokes are all the different pieces of SEO, and the wagon is your website. If you remove certain SEO pieces, your wheel gets weaker and doesn’t offer as much support to your website. The spokes all work together to support (send traffic to) your website. They also all support each other.

What does this have to do with reviews? Well, reviews are one of the spokes!

YES, reviews affect SEO. However, they work differently for local businesses than they do for non-local ones.

For local businesses, Google has gone so far as to plainly state that reviews on your Google Business Profile can help your visibility (ranking) in the local pack area of search results:

“High-quality, positive reviews from your customers can improve your business visibility and increase the likelihood that a shopper will visit your location.”

If you’re not concerned with local pack rankings, reviews are still a spoke in the wheel, but they play more of a supporting role for the other spokes.

How reviews support your overall SEO landscape

  • Your presence on review sites increases your brand mentions across the web, plus links (although these links aren’t as valuable as others not controlled by you).
  • Some review sites often rank on the first page of results in Google’s SERPs, giving your brand more real estate if you have reviews there.
  • Mentions and reviews across the web contribute to your trust factor, the “T” in Google’s E-A-T guidelines.

How else do reviews affect your company?

If you haven’t yet seen just how much customer reviews and testimonials can affect your potential customers’ decisions to work with you or choose your product, buckle in. It’s really significant.

As referenced above, Brightlocal runs a local consumer review survey annually. While their survey is focused on local companies, we can assume that there’s a similar amount of reviews left across the board, whether you’re local or not.

In 2023, Brightlocal found that:

  • 88% of consumers are likely to use a business if they can see the business owner responds to all reviews, whether positive or negative.
  • 38% of consumers expect a local business to have a minimum average of 4 stars before they would consider using it.
  • Only 6% of consumers said that an average star rating does not impact their decision to use a local business.
  • 46% of consumers feel that online business reviews are as trustworthy as personal recommendations from friends or family (down from 49% in 2021).
  • Google is the most trusted review platform across all industries.
  • Email is the most effective way to ask your customers to leave a review.
  • Consumers are more than twice as likely to consider using your business if they can see you actively responding to positive and negative reviews, so make this a crucial part of your strategy.
  • Ramp up your social presence this year: 35% of consumers use YouTube to find information about local businesses, 32% use Instagram, 20% use TikTok, and 35% of consumers consult their local news.
  • 76% of people “always” or “regularly” read online reviews for local businesses.

You get the overall trend here. You must. Have. Reviews. Period. Good ones, at that.

What is a review audit, and how do you perform one?

A review audit can be valuable whether you’ve managed your customer reviews and testimonials for a while or are just looking to start. In a nutshell, a review audit just means you find all the reviews of your business on the web, take note of them, and use that data to inform your overall review strategy.

To start, open Google and search for your business name plus the word “reviews.” Now you’ve got a whole list of review sites with reviews of your company — some you may never have even seen before! Reviews have a way of coming out of the woodwork.

Follow these steps to perform a basic review audit:

  1. Create a spreadsheet or document with the following information:
    • Review site name
    • URL
    • Total number of reviews
    • Overall rating
    • Star and/or rating breakdown — how many of each rating you have
  2. Record the order in which the websites appear on the search results page(s) to help you decide where to focus your review acquisition efforts.
  3. Run a search for just your company name, without “reviews,” and record which review sites show up that way as well.
  4. Use all of your information to create a hierarchy of importance. Which sites should you focus on getting more reviews for first? Are there some that are possibly dissuading new customers or clients?

How to monitor online reviews

Monitoring online customer reviews and testimonials can be a big job, or it can be a more manageable job, depending on how much budget you have for spending on a tool or two. There are many to choose from, and most of them do a pretty great job.

It is also possible to monitor your reviews without a tool (or with just the free ones + manual effort), especially if you don’t have reviews rolling in every day.

Let’s take a look at paid tool monitoring vs. free tool/manual monitoring.

Use a paid tool for review monitoring

Many of the top review monitoring tools (also called reputation management tools/software) will cost you upfront, but you’ll save time on review management, and in some cases, have help getting more reviews.

These are best for companies or brands that have reviews coming in pretty consistently, have a need to get more reviews as quickly as possible, have multiple locations to monitor, or otherwise just have a big job to do with review management.

  • Birdeye: Captures real-time customer feedback, ratings, and sentiment across every channel — review sites, social media, and surveys.
  • Podium: Helps businesses collect and manage online reviews, gather feedback, and text customers.
  • ReviewTrackers: Track all your online reviews from all major review sites in one central location.
  • Has developed several review collection solutions, including Merchant Review Collection, Product Review Collection & In-Store Review Collection.
  • Rize Reviews: Monitor your customer feedback across multiple digital platforms and stay on top of your online reputation with Rize Reviews’ online review monitoring service.

Please note, there is a very large number of review monitoring/management tool options. You’ll need to look around to find one that sounds right for your business or brand. You can start with these lists (with reviews) from G2 and Capterra.

Use a free tool for review monitoring

There are free tools that you can use to monitor your reviews, too! These tools can be used alone or in combination with your own more manual monitoring.

  • Google Alerts: This service will look for new mentions of any search term and email you when it finds a mention. However, be warned — it often will not see new reviews on sites where you already have a review profile.
  • Google Business Profile: You can be alerted whenever a new review is left on your Google listing.
  • Free Review Monitoring: Similar to Google Alerts but claims to not miss new reviews.
  • RepCheckup: Monitor reviews in one dashboard. Free for one location — costs a fee to add more.

To monitor your customer reviews and testimonials manually, choose a day and time (once a week if you don’t often get reviews, a couple times a week if you’re seeing them coming in consistently) to click through the list of review sites you made during your review audit. Take note of any new ones on your spreadsheet and respond publicly if at all possible (yes, to good reviews AND bad).

How to deal with bad reviews

Ah, the question on everybody’s mind. What the heck do you do when someone on the internet says that, for lack of a better term… you suck?

Well, there are approximately 1 million articles out there about how to do this effectively, so we’re not going to go in-depth here. Instead, we’re giving you a very simple task list to complete when you get negative reviews. Copy-paste to your email or whatever you’d like to save it as a little guide!

Got a negative review? Follow these steps ASAP

  1. Take a breath. Negative reviews happen to everyone. It’s not a personal attack. Instead, it’s an opportunity for great customer service to shine through.
  2. Decide how you’ll make it right. Do you remember that old saying, “the customer is always right?” Even if you think the customer is wrong, they felt wronged enough to write that review. Misunderstandings and mistakes happen. Decide how you’ll attempt to delight the person. It could be a call from you, the company owner, a credit to their account, a free something — whatever makes sense for your business and this situation.
  3. Craft a public-facing response. Keep it calm, courteous, and short. You should NOT write a whole story showing how the customer is actually in the wrong. In fact, that can backfire in huge ways. Instead, use something like “I’m afraid we got our wires crossed” or “I’m sorry there’s been a misunderstanding here” or just “I apologize for the issue.” Even if you did nothing wrong, apologize anyway. Offer whatever you decided upon in the above step, and give a way for the reviewer to contact you personally.
  4. Implement damage control. Add the review to your audit spreadsheet if you’re using one and shift your focus to get some more positive reviews wherever the negative one was added, if you need to push it down or fix the damage it did to your overall rating.
  5. Ask for a redo. If the reviewer seems placated, it’s not out of line to ask if they’d consider changing their review to include how they feel now after your reparations. Use your best judgment and people skills.

Tactics for getting more online reviews and testimonials

Every company, no matter what they do, wants more positive customer reviews and testimonials. Right?

Getting them, though, can not only be time-consuming but also confusing. Are you supposed to ask for reviews? How do you ask? How do you send reviewers to the right channels? Can you give them something in exchange for a review?

Let’s go over some review acquisition FAQ.

Frequently asked questions: Getting more online reviews

Is it OK to ask a customer or client for a review?

In a nutshell, yes, except for on Yelp. Their guidelines clearly state that you cannot ask people to leave a review there. Otherwise, it’s generally fine to ask if a customer or client will write a review for you or rate you/your products.

Can I offer people an incentive for leaving a review?

Yes and no. You should not offer to give them something for free or to give them money in the form of a gift card or voucher. What you can do that’s a somewhat gray area across review platforms is offer, say, a percentage off their next purchase or other incentive to come back. If you do want to offer a gift card, the reviewer must state in the review that they received a gift card in exchange for the review. Keep in mind that if the majority of your reviews state that they received something in exchange for their honest review, it can come off as untrustworthy.

Should I use a tool that helps me get more reviews?

If you have the funds, they’re great. Tools make it easy. There’s some setup in the beginning, but then they’re generally really easy and helpful. You just have to weigh if the expense makes sense in terms of how much human, manual time you’d be using to do the same thing.

What are some ways to ask for customer reviews and testimonials?

Sending an email or SMS with a link isn’t the only way to ask. You can also consider including a link or QR code on your receipts, asking yourself (or have employees ask) in an in-person interaction, or calling the customer or client after they’ve purchased from you.

Need help getting more customer reviews and improving your online presence? ClearVoice’s expert team of writers and editors has you covered. From email marketing campaigns to social media copy, we can handle all of your content needs today. Talk to a content specialist to get started.