We’ve all done it – checked online reviews before choosing a restaurant, picking a plumber, or booking a hotel. While reputations can be earned (and destroyed) on customer-centric platforms like Yelp, Angie’s List, Google, and Facebook 365 days a year, during the holiday season, those reviews can be powerful tools for boosting seasonal sales and improving customer acquisition rates.

Why? Because at this time of year, online searches are up, thanks to the ever-increasing number of consumers who are turning to e-commerce sites to do their holiday shopping. Given the hyper-local focus of search engines like Google and Bing, all types of businesses should plan for an increase in local online traffic.

Not only will more people be visiting your website, they’ll also be checking out your user-generated reviews, since many search engines now display your company’s online review site before your actual website, meaning that the first impression many people make of your business might well be based on what’s in those reviews.

Online Reviews Impact Consumer Behavior

User-generated reviews hold an awful lot of weight these days, with nearly 9 out of every 10 adults surveyed saying that they trust anonymous Internet-based reviews just as much as a personal recommendation (or warning) from a close friend, neighbor, or colleague.

It’s also important to note that many people place a greater amount of trust in online reviews if there are “multiple reviews to read”, providing them with a way of averaging out the positive and negative comments so they can form their own, personal opinion about both the validity of the reviews, and their perception of the subject business.

So, what do your online reviews say about your small business?

Managing Your Reviews = Managing Your Reputation

If you haven’t done so recently (as in, sometime during the last 48 hours), go ahead and ‘Google’ your business using your mobile device.

*Why use your smartphone to search? Because that’s what more and more consumers are doing, and therefore, it’s important for you to see what your clients and prospects are seeing online.

Scan through any online reviews that pop up. Are they positive, negative, or neutral? Do they sound ‘legit,’ or does it look like your competition has been ranging an online war against your business, one fake review at a time?

Once you have an idea of how your online reviews look, it’s important to enact a strategy to respond to all reviews, regardless of the sentiment. Tools that provide automatic notification when new reviews are left can help you stay on top of comments, while a comprehensive, pro-active campaign can be designed to transform those reviews into opportunities to provide positive customer interaction and brand awareness for your business.

This holiday season, why not make a resolution to tune up your online reputation and deal with your reviews on sites like Yelp and Google? By being proactive, you can harness the power of consumer-generated online feedback to boost your business in a way that’s effective, immediate, and budget-friendly!