According to a report by Infusionsoft, customer referrals and word of mouth marketing are the most effective marketing strategy for small businesses. Consumers are always looking for validation from their family and friends that they are making the right decision and recommendations do just that. The problem for small businesses is the reach of a customer’s word of mouth is only as far as that individual’s personal network, or at least it used to be.

Now with the proliferation of online review sites, a customer referral can reach thousands of potential customers it wouldn’t have in the past. That’s why small businesses should shift their focus from cultivating offline word of mouth and instead encourage customers to leave reviews online.

Consumer trust

At first, it might seem strange that a star rating and words on a screen could have as much sway as a recommendation from someone you actually know, but it’s true. A study by BrightLocal  found that 80 percent of consumers surveyed trusted online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

Online research has now become the norm. People now spend hours of time reading about products and services online before actually making a purchase. We are now living in a ROBO economy, which means consumers research online and buy offline. That’s why it is important for even small businesses to cultivate a robust online presence, so when consumers inevitably look you up online they won’t be left wanting.

Ubiquity of review sites

One of the easiest ways to improve your online reputation is by building up a portfolio of online reviews across multiple review sites. The hardest part is deciding which ones to focus on. Google and Facebook are no-brainers just because of the sheer number of consumers that have accounts on those sites.

But there are also a number of industry specific sites that might be of value to your business. The greatest strength of these more focused sites is visitors are typically further along in the decision-making process and are more sophisticated and knowledgeable than those conducting research on more generalized sites. The key is making sure your reviews are consistent across all of those sites. It can be confusing for a customer if you have a high rating on one site and a significantly lower rating on another.

Increased visibility

Having reviews on multiple sites will not only amplify the reach of your customers’ recommendations but will also help increase your business’ visibility to search engines. That is because online reviews are a key factor in Google’s local search algorithm. And as we mentioned previously, because so much research is done online before a customer even walks through your doors, it is imperative for them to be able to find your business when conducting a search.

How to secure reviews

Hopefully by now, you’re convinced that online reviews will help you attract more eyes to your website and more bodies through your doors. But you might still be wondering, “What can I do to get customers to review my business?”

The first thing you should do is ask. You would be surprised how many of your customers would be willing to leave a review, but it’s not something they might normally think about doing. The second thing you need to do is make it as easy as possible for your customers to leave a review. This can be accomplished by implementing an online review management platform that streamlines the review process. We’ve compiled a comprehensive list of best practices that can be accessed here.

Stay on top of marketing trends with Podium

Request a demo to see how Podium’s cloud-based solution can help you use text messages to invite your happiest customers to review your business. Podium’s efficient, mobile process can help your business collect 15x more reviews than traditional platforms, which in turn will improve local SEO and ultimately boost revenues.