Can Responding to Reviews Boost Conversions?


Can Responding to Reviews Boost Conversions? - Eric Sachs SEO

Online reviews have been a contentious topic for a very long time. Depending on who you ask, they’re either the best way to connect with your customers and clients or an incredibly risky endeavor that can backfire, leaving you to deal with significant public relations disasters. This uncertainty often leads businesses operating in the online sphere to avoid getting involved in reviews whatsoever.

I’m not convinced that’s the right approach. I’ve seen social proof and word of mouth work magic for businesses; it can be the very core of what drives someone’s product or service viral. Plus, there’s plenty of convincing evidence to illustrate that responding has more benefits than disadvantages.

According to at least one recent study by a digital marketing agency involved in search engine marketing research, probably not. The study in question backs the theory that more positive reviews directly influences how likely sometime is to “convert” after finding a company through a paid search result.

First, I want to break down the study’s findings and make them a bit more approachable and easier to understand. Then, I’ll give you helpful tips to improve your own reviews and tell you how, when, and where to respond to them when they crop up.

Review Study Statistics

The agency behind this particular study put a significant amount of effort into finding hard evidence instead of solely relying on personal experience. Altogether, they included information for just over 7,000 businesses pulled from Google Adwords campaign data (a total of 93 million impressions) and 32 months of historical user review data pulled from Google Reviews.

Researchers identified two interesting points:

  • Businesses with higher star ratings were much more likely to see a higher conversion rate. Businesses with low stars suffered beside their higher-rated search result competitors.
  • There is a statistically significant difference in conversion rates between businesses who responded to reviews and those who do not respond to reviews, for better or worse.

Here’s what that looks like in practice.

Businesses who had the lowest average of stars in the study (3.31 stars) enjoyed a conversion rate of around 10.42 percent. That means just over 10 percent of all searchers clicked through or interacted with the business’s search result once they saw the number of stars.

Businesses on the other end of the spectrum (4.96 stars) enjoyed conversion rates closer to 12.83 percent – over two percent higher than their lower-star counterparts.

Exactly how much is two percent really worth? It’s difficult to say because there’s so much nuance in search, but the company doing the research approximated it to mean a loss of around 13,000 potential leads for the lower-rated companies. In terms of localized search and local business, this is a significant loss.

But it’s just the beginning; they also looked at whether or not businesses responded to reviews (both positive and negative) and how their responses influenced the decision to convert.

When businesses responded to approximately 8 percent of customers who left reviews, conversion rates shot up to 13.86 percent. In comparison, businesses who responded to just 5 percent of reviews lost conversions, ending up at just around 10 percent. We can infer that having a policy to just plain never reply significantly hampers conversions.

More Evidence From HBR

It isn’t just this particular agency doing the research, either; Harvard Business Review released a similar article sharing the same mindset back in February of this year. Instead of focusing on Google Reviews, they looked at reviews on travel site TripAdvisor, who has a robust community that very often aids travelers in making decisions about where and how they travel.

HBR’s review demonstrated an uptick in conversions directly alongside efforts to begin responding to reviews for the very first time.

First, they estimated that around half of all hotels currently respond to around a third of all received reviews on the site. Then, they looked at the other 50 percent of hotels who don’t normally respond to reviews (including newer hotels who are less likely to have reviews in the first place) and how their ratings changed when they began to respond.

HBR’s data showed that when non-responsive businesses began responding to reviews on TripAdvisor, leads began leaving around 12 percent more reviews. Most importantly, this increase in reviews translated out to a star rating increase of around 0.12 stars. Given that TripAdvisor measures stars by the half-star, it was enough to bump many hotels up to the next level.

Relating back to the previous study for a moment, let’s consider a hotel who has a hard star rating of 4.20 (shown as 4 stars on the site). An increase of 0.12 stars effectively bounces that hotel up to 4.5 stars on the site. We can infer that this tiny but influential increase probably means an increase of 2 to 3 percent in lead conversions – and that’s no small feat.

What it All Means

Tempted to call it wash since it’s only 2 to 3 percent? That tiny percentage can be the difference between hundreds or thousands of new leads, giving credence to the concept that online businesses should not only encourage reviews, but respond to them when they’re left.

Sure, exactly what that 2 to 3 percent looks like will depend on your business and how many conversions you enjoy now. If you’re converting 10 people a month, it’s an extra two to three people. If you’re converting 100,000 people, it’s worth a bit more (around 2,000 to 3,000 people). But either way, it’s impactful and requires only minimal effort on the part of the business.

The biggest takeaway here is that reviews have a powerful ability to influence conversions, especially where paid search results are concerned. We’ve known for years that higher ratings directly correlate to a higher perceived trust rating online. But simply having reviews isn’t enough; visitors and leads want to see businesses interacting with reviews, thanking clients, addressing complaints, and being involved, too. Responding to reviews is an important tool in a complex, competitive organic search engine marketing environment.

How (and When) to Respond

Now, down to what matters: how – and when – should you respond to customer reviews? The answer isn’t always as straightforward as you might think. You have to develop a sixth sense for intention and place your efforts where they’re most effective.

Glowing Reviews

Don’t be afraid to thank customers for leaving positive reviews. It takes only a second to thank them for their business, yet this one simple action can improve loyalty and keep them coming back time and time again. Every positive new review (even if it’s a repeat customer) means an improvement in perceived trust, a boost to your star rating, and potentially, more conversions. Keep it professional, simple, and respectful for best results.

That said, don’t feel like you need to respond to every positive review, especially if you’re large, have multiple locations, or have thousands of reviews. Pick the ones you want to stand out and address them instead.

Average Reviews

If the review in question is lukewarm – often the case for clients who like you, but just had a subpar experience this time around – you should definitely respond. There is an opportunity to save the customer here; your words can make a big difference between whether they turn it around or leave for good. Thank them for any praise, address their complaints directly by telling them you hear them, and let them know how you plan to address the issue to eliminate it in the future.

Remember: average reviews aren’t necessarily bad, so you shouldn’t look at them like a black mark on your reputation. They’re an opportunity to improve and increase loyalty if used right.

Negative Reviews

Completely negative responses are a bit trickier; you have to really understand what the intention is before you address them. Moz’s resource, “Diagramming the Story of a 1-Star Review” does a really good job of illustrating just how different intent can be message to message.

First, start by determining the individual’s intent. Are they being flat-out malicious or do they have a legitimate complaint? Remember that what you might find ridiculous isn’t necessarily ridiculous to the customer; they have different perceptions. Don’t assume that anger necessarily means malicious intent.

That said, there have been instances of competitors and irrational customers leaving malicious reviews with incredibly damaging lies on review sites in the past. Malicious reviews should be reported to the site in question. If they aren’t gaining traction, ignore them – encourage your loyal customers to leave more positive reviews to push it down.

If the person has a legitimate complaint, such as a terrible experience with your business, take the time to address it as soon as you can. Start off with an apology, and be accountable – that’s what matters most. Then, demonstrate how you plan to be accountable and/or offer to speak with them one-on-one in person or over the telephone. If they’re particularly angry, try to encourage them to speak with you privately to prevent misunderstandings in the public sphere.

Most critically, never be tempted into falling into mean-spirited insults or subtle jabs, no matter how angry or frustrated you feel. While we’ve all been in a situation where we know a customer’s complaints are unjustified, “two wrongs don’t make a right” applies here. If you’re upset, walk away, take a breath, come back later and respond when you won’t risk coming across the wrong way.

If you’re really struggling with a malicious review campaign or can’t seem to control online reputation issues, it may be time to call in the pros. This is where having a solid digital marketing agency on your side can help. Don’t be afraid to reach out for advice; everyone needs guidance once in a while.

SEO virtuoso, CEO @Sachs Marketing Group. Focused on being of service to business owners - helping to better position them in the eyes of their audiences.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *