The Right to Fair Reviews: Managing the Risks and Rewards

Opinion: Negative feedback is an opportunity to build trust by listening to concerns, responding genuinely and improving the offering

Did a chill pass through you when the Consumer Review Fairness Act—a.k.a. the “Right to Yelp”—went into law? The law is designed to protect free speech, and it underscores the importance of consumer online reviews by preventing businesses from using “gag clauses” in their agreements to discourage and punish customers who post negative online reviews.

Many business owners have been bracing for impact, yet while customers and clients may be less guarded about leaving negative reviews, the legislation doesn’t change the game for businesses that know the value of a positive customer review.

Businesses have the right to flag reviews they believe are abusive or defamatory even though consumers don’t always follow the seemingly straightforward path of “search it, find it, buy it.” Instead, they search at home, at work and on the go while looking at photos, watching videos, reading reviews and asking for recommendations as they inch closer to making a purchase decision.

Whether they’re looking to renovate a home, find a new family doctor or get a car repaired, word-of-mouth endorsements factor heavily into a consumer’s decision to pick one business over another. In fact, according to research from The Why Before the Buy, businesses without ratings, reviews and recommendations risk losing out to the competition.

The sheer thought of asking for review—or, even worse, getting a negative review in return—can be scary. With all of the other daily demands, balancing the rewards and risks of reviews can seem overwhelming, but reviews are an online essential. Here’s why:

Search ranking boost

In working with hundreds of thousands of local businesses, we’ve seen that businesses with just a few customer reviews are listed higher in search results than businesses with no reviews at all. Not only do higher rankings boost online presence, they also play an important role in driving customer confidence, as many people tend to overlook businesses that appear much lower in search results.

If your business has no reviews right now, your first few will make the biggest impact on your overall search ranking.

Even a handful of reviews can spark a significant spike in click-through rates. The math is simple: The more reviews, the more search results increase. The trend is obviously clear: Customer reviews lead to an increase in online and offline search traffic, and that’s something no business ever wants to turn down.

Quality over quantity

Having a lot of four- or five-star ratings are great, but the quality of those reviews far outweighs quantity when it comes to building consumer trust. Fake reviews and listings are serious red flags that quickly drive customers elsewhere. Trusted testimonials and trusted sites—especially those accredited by reputable organizations like the Better Business Bureau—can go a long way toward making a potential customer confident.

Bouncing back from negative reviews

There are plenty of reasons to fear negative ratings or reviews. But in spite of how much time and effort is placed into creating a positive customer experience, there will inevitably be a time when a less-than-stellar review pops up.

That negative feedback is actually an opportunity to build trust by listening to concerns, responding genuinely and improving the offering.

The key is to be on guard: Monitor online reviews and keep tabs on social mentions of your business. Advertisers can help by providing small business owners with a mechanism to flag reviews they believe are abusive or defamatory.

When businesses need to connect with consumers who are ready to buy, honest reviews are a mechanism for transparency and customer engagement. Even when free speech is not always in your favor, encouraging customers to leave honest feedback, even if it’s sometimes critical, can pay off in the long term. Maintaining a solid and complete online presence is the first step toward creating connections that build trust, credibility and loyalty with customers.

Stu MacFarlane is executive vice president of product and marketing at YP, The Real Yellow Pages.

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