If you run a small business, you know that attracting customers and making enough money are daily worries. In fact, they’re two of the top three things keeping small business owners up at night.
The good news is it’s never been easier for customers to find and engage with your business, even if you operate from a physical storefront. Mobile devices have redefined the local shopper’s journey, according to research from Google. These days, when people want to find a restaurant, flower shop, hair stylist, auto mechanic, or dentist nearby, they pull out a smartphone and do a “near me” search.
This means the internet is the first place customers go to find businesses and decide where they’ll spend money. Accordingly, the most important thing small, local businesses can do to attract more customers and make more money is to take control of their online reputation.
Thankfully, there are some very simple (and free) things you can do today to improve your online presence and drastically increase the odds of making more money. The data science team at Womply recently analyzed online reviews and transaction data at 210,000 businesses to answer the question, “How do online reviews impact small business revenue?” The results of that research offer a simple, step-by-step guide to attracting more customers and increasing sales.
Step 1: Claim your free business listings on sites like Google and Yelp
Your business listings on sites like Google, Yelp, Facebook, and TripAdvisor are a kind of “digital storefront.” These listings are your first impression with customers who are deciding whether or not to patronize your business. If customers can’t find you online—or can but don’t like what they see—their dollars will go somewhere else.
With so much at stake, it’s odd that 1 in 4 local businesses haven’t claimed any of their free listings, and half have only claimed one. Claiming is free, easy, and businesses that claim at their pages on at least 3 of the top review sites earn 35% more money, according to our research.
A few other facts from our report:
- Businesses that claim no listings earn 24% less revenue on average
- Claiming only one listing correlates to merely average revenue performance, so be sure to broaden your focus to multiple sites
- Google is the most important review platform, so if you do nothing else be sure to claim your Google My Business page
It’s easy to claim free listings on sites like Google, Yelp, and TripAdvisor. Take a few minutes to do it today, then add photos, contact information, hours of operation, and other information. Customers want to be sure there’s a real business behind your online profile.
Step 2: Respond to all your online reviews
Here’s a mind-blowing stat for you: 75% of businesses don’t respond to any online reviews! That’s like ignoring a customer who walks into your business.
Digging deeper, our research found that even businesses that DO respond to reviews only do so about 20% of the time. So, 80% of their customers are talking to them and not getting a response.
Given this context, it should come as no surprise that businesses who respond to more than 20% of their online reviews make 33% more money, on average. Conversely, businesses that don’t reply to any reviews earn 9% less. Being responsive matters, to your customers and your bottom line.
Customers crave authenticity and engagement from the businesses they patronize. They’ll reward you for taking the time to connect with them online, even if they have a complaint. In fact, our research found that a few negative reviews aren’t a big deal. Consider:
- Businesses with 5 stars earn less than those with 1 to 1.5 stars — 3.5 to 4.5 stars is the sweet spot
- Businesses who have 15-20% negative reviews earn 13% more than those whose reviews are only 5-10% negative
- Businesses with almost no negative reviews earn less than those with almost entirely negative reviews
In short, customers won’t punish you for having a few negative reviews, as long as you respond and show an interest in the customer’s point of view. Another way to look at it: simply responding to reviews puts you ahead of 75% of the market. That’s an easy way to stand out.
Step 3: Get more reviews
From our analysis, that’s the average number of reviews for a typical business, which spanned hundreds of thousands of businesses across dozens of categories in every corner of America. Here’s why that number matters: businesses with fewer than 82 reviews earn 15% less, and those with more than 82 earn 54% more.
What’s more, businesses with more than 200 reviews earn twice as much. The takeaway is clear: it pays to get more reviews.
It’s not just about the volume of reviews; “fresh reviews” matter, as well. We found that the average business has 9 reviews posted within the last 90 days. Businesses with more than 9 earn 52% more, on average, whereas those with no fresh reviews earn 13% less.
Customers assume businesses with lots of reviews are more popular, so it makes sense that these businesses would make more money. Getting more reviews is one of the surest ways to attract more customers and increase sales, but it’s important to have a plan and not take shortcuts.
Don’t buy fake reviews, trade reviews for discounts or freebies, ask for 5-star reviews, or ask friends and family to post reviews if they aren’t paying customers. If you get into the habit of soliciting general feedback about your business, online reviews will come as a natural byproduct.
There are lots of strategies and tactics for increasing small business revenue. Since the modern customer journey starts online, set a few simple goals to improve your online presence and attract more customers. If you claim your listings, respond to customer reviews, and get more reviews (even bad ones), you might be surprised by how much better your business performs.