The Small Business Guide To Customer Reviews

Getting online customer reviewsYour business can live or die based on customer reviews.  It's a reality you as a business owner needs to embrace.

Whether you like it or not, the internet has given your customers a soapbox to voice their pleasure or discontent when it comes to how they feel your business treated them.  They may be right, they may be totally off the wall, but that doesn't matter.  The only thing that matters is that they can do it, and you need to understand that.

A Shift In Power

In the old days, if a customer was unhappy with the way a business treated them, they might vow never to shop at that business again.  They may tell a few friends and family members, but that's probably as far as it would go.  Limited reach.  With the internet, provide crappy service to the wrong person, and something like this could happen.

While your customers now have a platform for voice their opinions about your business, you still have most of the power.  You have the ability to create a great customer experience, or a terrible one.  The businesses that tend to hate customer reviews are the one's who treat their customers with indifference.  If you treat them well, they will treat you well, nothing to worry about.  You'll always get that one customer who's never satisfied and will leave a poor review no matter what you do.  The good thing is that most people know the difference between a  “complainer” and a valid review.

Why Are Online Customer Reviews Important?

The obvious answer is that people who are considering doing business with you often look for confirming evidence that it's ok to do so.  Reviews from their peers plays a strong role in determining if they will call you or not.  Despite the fact that some online reviews are fake, people still tend to trust them as cited by a recent report from Forrester Research.

When it comes to search engine optimization (SEO), specifically Local SEO, online customer reviews play a role in how your website (as well as your Google Plus Business page) ranks in the search engine results.

People are influenced by online customer reviews

Source: 2013 Zendesk survey

3rd Party Review Sites

While having customer reviews and testimonials on your website can lend credibility to your business, people still know you were the one that put them there in the first place, so they take it with a grain of salt.  3rd party review sites like Yelp and Angie's List, tend to be more trusted as the customer is able to write and publish the review without the input of the business itself.  You never see bad reviews on a businesses's website, but you may see lots of them on a 3rd party website.

Love them or hate them, you need to learn how to work with them.  You're customers can leave a review on one of these websites and their isn't much you can do about it except respond appropriately.

Tip: Review sites use algorithms to filter out fake reviews. Read here to find out more.

How Do I Get Customers To Leave Reviews?

That can be tricky.  The majority of  reviews come from a small percentage of people.  People that write reviews tend to be very happy or very unhappy.  Some people make writing reviews a natural part of their experience with a business, others never even think about it.  So what do you do?

  1. Ask for reviews.  The best time to ask is when you've completed the work and the customer is happy.  They are feeling good about the experience so strike while the iron's hot.  If no response, send a really nice follow up email 3 days later to remind them.
  2. Make it easy. Give clear, simple instructions on how to leave a review for whatever site you want them to leave it on.  Print up instruction cards (or create an email template) that explains the process for them.  The more hurdles you can remove for your customer, the more likely they will leave you a review.  Some people will start the review process, but quit when they get stuck (and frustrated).
  3. Don't offer incentives.  Your customers will leave a review because they like your business, offering incentives will dampen that goodwill.  You don't have to buy reviews, you just have to ask for them. Not convinced?  Read this.
  4. Rinse and repeat.  For every 10 customers you ask, only 1 might leave a review.  If you're consistent with asking, at the end of the year you'll still have quite a few reviews under your belt.  Think of it as a long term strategy.

Sample Email

Dear Mrs. Smith,

This is Julie from XYZ Company.  Just wanted to say thank you for choosing us for your recent home renovation project, we value your business and look forward to working with you again in the future. If you were happy with our work and the service we provided, we would consider it an honor if you wrote a review for our business.  It will take less than 5 minutes and you can start by clicking here (insert link to your company page on review site).  Once again, thank you for choosing XYZ Company.  If you have any questions, feel free to call anytime.

Kind Regards, Julie

Where Should I Ask My Customers To Leave A Review?

There are thousands of review sites to choose from, but only a handful are worth your time.  Many of the major review sites are feeders for smaller sites, meaning a review on the Yellow Pages website could possibly result in the review showing up on other review sites as well.  Below are some of the top review sites in the USA and Canada.  This isn't a complete list of review sites, though this is a good place to start if you're just getting started.  You're business may not be a fit for all of them, as some (like Homestars and Angie's List) cater to certain types of industries.


Google +

Yahoo Local Listings

City Search (There is currently no way to add your business listing, if you want to try manually, read this article)

Yelp (Caution: If your customer isn't an active Yelp user, their review will most likely not stay active)

Judy's Book

Angie's List

Insider Pages



Google +

Yelp (Caution: If your customer isn't an active Yelp user, their review will most likely not stay active)

Yellow Pages


Slow and Steady wins the race

Don't run out and solicit everyone you know to write you a review.  Not all at once anyway.  Review sites use sophisticated algorithms to detect fake and paid reviews, getting too many at once will set off alarms.  Think of it as a long term marketing strategy and look to develop a system where you can pick up a few quality customers reviews each month.  If you can do this, you'll be ahead of 90% of your competitors.


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CEO at 3Bug Media
Gary Shouldis is the founder of 3Bug Media, a web marketing company that helps businesses create 360 Marketing Strategies to dominate their market. His blog is read by over 20 thousand small business owners a month and has been featured in the N.Y. Times Small Business, Business Insider and Yahoo Small Business.
5 replies
  1. Izzy
    Izzy says:

    Excellent post, something i am constantly trying to drum into the small business clients we have. One thing I always make a point of telling them, and a lot make this mistake, is don’t copy/paste a review from Google+ to show off on your own website, this can lead to your Google+ review disappearing. If you absolutely must show it off then take a screenshot and upload it as an image.

    You may be interested to read a post we recently published which gives new business owners advice from existing business owners. Love to know your thoughts on it.

  2. Stewart
    Stewart says:

    Getting customers to leave reviews online is tough, have had little success up to this point. I guess consistently asking for them is key to getting more over the long term. Thansk

  3. Shannon Olivia
    Shannon Olivia says:

    Thanks for including Canada, I see there are some differences from the States. The Yellowpages are important? I didn’t think anyone used it anymore.

  4. Gary Shouldis
    Gary Shouldis says:

    A long term approach works best. Many business owners get frustrated when they can’t get their customers to leave reviews. You have to accept the fact that the majority won’t do it, even if they were happy with the service. If you can get 1-2 a month, you’re ahead of the game.

  5. Gary Shouldis
    Gary Shouldis says:

    There are some websites in the U.S. that don’t have a presence in Canada, and vice versa. YellowPages is important in Canada because they provide listing and review information to a lot of smaller directories. That’s why I recommend a first starting point in optimizing your local SEO is to make sure your Yellow Pages and Google+ business information is accurate.

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