Today’s 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 to find products and services 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 The Why Before the Buy℠ research, businesses without ratings, reviews and recommendations risk losing out to the competition.

For many business owners the sheer thought of asking for reviews – or even worse, the fear and risk of getting a negative review in return – can be quite a deterrence. With all the other demands business owners face on a daily basis, balancing the rewards and risks of reviews can seem overwhelming. But the good news is that it’s not as daunting as it may seem. Here are a few reasons why.

Search Ranking Boost

Unique and relevant content found in reviews can help your business appear higher up in search results. If your business has no reviews right now, your first few will make the biggest impact on your overall search ranking. 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 your overall 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.

Drive More Traffic

Reviews also increase the likelihood consumers will click to your website, which is just as important as customers visiting your brick-and-mortar storefront. Even a handful of reviews can spark a significant spike in click-thru-rates compared to businesses with little or no reviews. The math is simple. More reviews improves search results ranking. Better search results ranking leads to more website clicks. As your business continues to receive more reviews, your ability to remain higher up in search results increases. 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 can go a long way in making a potential customer confident in doing business with you. However, the quality of those reviews far outweighs quantity when it comes to building consumer trust. Fake reviews and fake 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 in building long-lasting relationships with consumers.

Handling Negative Reviews

Of course, you have plenty of reasons to fear negative ratings or reviews. Your goal as a business owner is to attract customers, not turn them away. But in spite of how much time and effort you put into creating a positive experience for your customers, there will inevitably be a time when a less than stellar review pops up. Turn that negative feedback into a positive experience. This is your time to shine. See it as an opportunity to build trust by listening to concerns, responding genuinely, and making changes as you see fit. The key is to be on guard: monitor online reviews and keep tabs on social mentions of your business.

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 towards creating connections that build trust, credibility and loyalty with customers. Therein lies the secret to your long-term success.