What’s the big deal about online reviews?

Online reviews are no joke (as much as there are endless hilarious and entertaining reviews out there). More than 88% of shoppers look at reviews before making purchase decisions, so they’re a HUGE deal. Unfortunately, many business owners don’t manage their reviews effectively.

Everything you need to know about online reviews.

Step-by-step instructions for getting great reviews.

Products & services that can help with your reviews.


What are the top business review sites?

Businesses should strive to get reviews on websites and social networks that are popular and easy to leave feedback on. Below are the 10 most important sites, depending on your business. Use this list when choosing where to encourage customers to leave reviews.


How do I get more reviews?

Customer reviews prove credibility. Without them, a well-established business is no better off than the new guy on the block.

If you’re getting started, strive to get at least 10 positive reviews. Once you have ten, shoot for 50 reviews, which has been proven to result in a 4.6% increase in customer conversion (Reevoo).

1. Set up profiles on multiple review sites. If customers can’t find you, they won’t be leaving reviews. Refer to the mountain diagram in my listings article for industry-specific sites, too.

2. Ask. Business owners who ask for reviews are more likely to get them. No matter how much a customer loves you, people are busy and need to be reminded. [Warning: This is surprisingly controversial with sites like Yelp. Regardless, many review generation platforms have taken the stance that requesting reviews is important and have removed sites like Yelp in order to continue providing review request services.] 

3. Put up visible suggestions in your business, such as a window sticker that says “Review us on Yelp,” a poster you can put at the till, or tent cards on tables.

4. Use software to send reminders to customers via email. Doing this regularly maintains a trickle of reviews, which will make you more trustworthy than if you get a surge of reviews every few months. Skip to the GET REVIEWS HELP section below to get suggestions of automated tools.

How should I respond to negative reviews?

Every business receives bad reviews—it’s impossible to please everyone. No matter how great you’re doing, there will always be people who wish the soup was soupier, the rooms were roomier, or the cave was slightly less cavernous.

If you keep that in mind, negative reviews start to feel a lot less like a kick in the pants and more like what they are: a great source of feedback.

That defensive feeling? Shake it off. Haters gonna hate.

Here’s what you need to remember when responding to negative reviews:

1. Do not ignore them—ever! Other people are seeing them and getting a negative impression. Make sure you’re part of the conversation.

2. Take time to respond. Not too much time, though. Just make sure you don’t react purely on emotion (it’s hard not to take a bad review personally).

3. Be kind and genuine. Even though you’re responding to a single person, remember that the audience is much larger and far-reaching. Not only will other people be able to see the response, but it’s possible those people could share the review within their own social circles.

4. Be specific. If a customer mentions something specific about your business, use that in your reply. Not only does this demonstrate that you are not a robot, but it makes the complainant feel heard and understood.

5. Remember that feedback and criticism can be helpful. Reviewers have taken the time to write something—thank them, even if you don’t agree. They may have relevant points. For example, if every review says that Cheryl is the worst, maybe Cheryl needs to go.

6. Offer to take the conversation offline. You would never have a heated debate with an unhappy customer in your store while others were around, would you? So why do it online? Offering a phone number or a way to connect privately ensures the reviewer that you want to fix the situation while taking things out of the public eye. Also, if you decide to offer a discount to make up for the bad experience, it’s best not to do this in front of others—it might encourage bad reviewers to get free stuff.

Boloco hits a home run on Twitter

Reviews don’t always come in the form of stars. The restaurant Boloco was able to fix a Twitter situation before the customer had even left the establishment.

A woman sent out a tweet complaining that the music at a nearby Boloco was too loud. Their marketing team noticed the tweet and called the restaurant and told them to turn the music down. Boloco then got a description of the woman (from her Twitter profile) and delivered a cookie to her table before retweeting her original message with the word “done.”

Imagine being the person who sent that tweet. You’d be wowed, right?

She was. The woman praised Boloco on Twitter, which her followers then started talking about and sharing. She even wrote a blog post on the experience, the content of which has since spread to books and other blog posts, including this guide! Boloco turned a noise complaint into internet fame for their restaurant.

How should I respond to positive reviews?

Cars.com conducted a study of 10,000 car dealerships and found that auto dealers who responded to ALL reviews, not just the negative ones, received the highest ratings.

When replying to positive reviews, many of the principles are the same—be courteous, thank the reviewer, and take time to develop a thoughtful response.

Here are some key differences:

1. Share the review. Good reviews are the testimonials of the digital age. It makes sense to use them in your marketing.

2. Use them to improve your business. You might think the best thing on your menu is the spaghetti, but what if every reviewer raves about your pizza? Maybe you should start pushing pizza more—or maybe it means not enough people know about the spaghetti, and you might want to offer a special.

3. Get personal. Did the reviewer mention something specific? Without letting the response get too long, share a personal anecdote or offer a shared opinion. For example, if the reviewer loves your decor, thank them and tell them where the inspiration came from.

4. Reward staff if they are mentioned explicitly. Out of 1.6 million reviews, the words “service,” “friendly” and “rude” appear in 40% of reviews (Vendasta). Reward your staff who go the extra mile—it’s good for morale and will perpetuate good service.

BONUS SECTION: Why Yelp matters

Yelp matters because it’s massive. It has a core of loyal followers, and as the world’s largest review site, all businesses should care about what’s being said there.

In fact, Yelp scores 30% higher than it’s next leading competitor in terms of most frequently used review sites. With almost half of consumers using Yelp, local businesses can’t ignore it (Statista).

The downside of Yelp reviews?

Many small business owners don’t like Yelp.

They think its algorithm is ambiguous and it’s negative towards small businesses. Yelp has also been criticized for favoring businesses that pay for ads and ridiculing those who refuse.

Despite your opinion of Yelp, you need to accept its influence. With 142M users, it can either help or hinder you, and recognizing the significance of a positive Yelp presence can give you an advantage over those who refuse to pay attention to it.


Step-by-Step Guide to Getting Great Reviews

This section is broken into three parts that’ll help you improve your online reviews.

Your main goals should be about generating more reviews than your industry average, improving your overall rating, and increasing the amount of sites with reviews about your business.

How to generate more customer reviews.

How to improve your average online ratings.

How and why to leverage more review sources.

Part I: Get More Reviews

Step 1: Just ask

As mentioned above, asking for reviews is the most effective way to get them. This method works best for contractors, mechanics, professionals, and any other service provider who provides a personal, face-to-face experience.

1. Don’t assume your customers know how to leave a review. Printing out instructions and having them handy can be helpful.

2. Let customers know the importance of reviews to the success of your business and make sure to perfect your timing. If you have follow-up calls, for example, add it to your list of things to do.

3. If all else fails, some review sites let you print paper copies of reviews and mail them in. Yes this sounds ridiculous, but it can be effective depending on your customer base. Some people prefer good ol’ pen and paper.

Step 2: Leave a suggestion card in your store

By passing out printed cards with your contact information, you can remind customers to review your service on-the-go.

1. Download this Suggestion Card Template pack.

2. Add your logo, review links, and contact information.

3. Print the cards and leave them around your establishment or pass them out.

Step 3: Order window clings for your doors and windows

One way to remind people about review sites is by putting stickers on your doors and windows.

1. Request a window cling from Foursquare here (free)

2. Request a Yelp window sticker here (free)

3. Order stickers, window clings, and decals from Angie’s List here (starting at $10.45)

4. Order a Google sticker here (starting from $12.95). Pro tip: Google sends an official “Review Us” sticker when your company verifies its listing. Right now, it’s not possible to purchase more stickers directly from Google. If you need more, you can order them through a site like Follow Me Sticker.

Step 4: Add review reminders to your email signature, business cards, newsletters, receipts, napkins, menus, binders—anything.

The more places customers see your review links, the better. You can add simple text links or, if you want to get fancy, buttons and banners.

1. Download this Review Buttons file

2. Update your email signature with the buttons to the review sites where you want to get more reviews. If you need help creating an email signature, use this tool for free. You can also use an advanced tool like WiseStamp for $6/mo.

3. Update your business cards with the logos in the Review Buttons file

4. If you have other materials that you can add review logos to (receipts, napkins, menus, binders, etc.), add the logos from the Review Buttons file.

Step 5: Put review badges on your website

What good are reviews if nobody sees them? Whenever possible, you should show them on your site by using a review badge or “widget”. Many review sites offer buttons for free. Here’s what they look like: 

Choose the ones that are most relevant for your industry and add them to your site.Here’s how to do it for Yelp:

1. Create your free Yelp business account here

2. Send an email to your customers saying that they can now find you on Yelp (you’ll need to have a few reviews before you can gain access to the badge). Don’t explicitly ask for reviews, but nudge people in the right direction. Warning: This is a bit of a grey area. While Yelp says you’re not supposed to solicit reviews, they do encourage business owners to let their customers know they can be found on their site.

3. Choose a Yelp icon to add to your site here. Save the icon you'd like to use to your computer, then upload it or send it to your web person.

4. Once you have enough reviews, you'll notice that a new menu item pops up when you login to your Yelp business account - "Review Badges."

5. Add the badge to your website. Decide where you want it to show up (example: the sidebar section, at the bottom of your homepage, etc.) and insert the HTML code or get your webmaster to do it for you.

Angie's List

Industry: Any


Industry: Home


Industry: Any


Industry: Health


Industry: Legal


Industry: Home


Industry: Tourism


Industry: Any


Industry: Any


Industry: Wedding


Industry: Real estate


Industry: Home

Step 6: Add a review generation widget to your website

In addition to badges, you can add forms and widgets to your website that encourage customers to leave reviews.

Typically, these forms sit in the sidebar of a web page, and the responses can either be published on your site or sent to a review site.

That reminds me: there are two different strategies to using review generation widgets:

1) Keeping reviews on your site, or

2) Publishing reviews on other sites, such as TripAdvisor, Angie’s List, Facebook, etc.

The benefits of keeping reviews on your site is that you can control which ones are public and which ones are private. The cons of keeping reviews on your website is that you aren’t growing your reputation on sites like Google and Yelp, which many customers use to find businesses.

If you want to generate reviews and keep them on your site, try free plugins like this (WordPress only). If you don’t use WordPress or you want to publish reviews to different sites, skip to the next section and I’ll suggest other tools.

If you don’t have the budget for review generation tools, you can create your own simple widget by creating a box on your website with the following info:

Step 7: Send follow-up emails

Many customers would happily leave a review if they didn’t forget about it. Requesting reviews through email is extremely effective. In fact, businesses that send review-request emails see more than 80% of their ratings and reviews generated through those emails (Bazaarvoice).

1. Write an email or a series of emails requesting reviews from your customers. You don’t need to be elaborate—follow the example below.

2. Enter the content into your email system. If you don’t have a system to create or manage email campaigns yet, check out Mailchimp. For suggestions of specialized review gen tools, check out the section below.

3. Send these emails to customers as soon after they’ve purchased as possible.

4. Don’t expect a high response rate. Even though your customers might express interest in leaving a review, retailers say only 7% of their email recipients complete a review (Bazaarvoice). DON’T GIVE UP. Send more than one request if necessary and try email variations until your results improve.

5. Check with your favorite review sites to see if they have review solicitation options. For example, TripAdvisor’s Review Express tool lets you build templated review emails and send them out to up to 1,000 customers.

Warning: Yelp HATES when you ask for reviews. If you do, you might get a few positive reviews in the short term, but if your customers are not active Yelpers, Yelp’s spam filters will eventually toast their comments.

Step 8: Dig deeper into the services of sites where you want reviews

Unlike Yelp, other sites are actually helpful when it comes to getting reviews.

For example, Angie’s List encourages businesses to ask customers to leave reviews. They offer a program called Fetch as a free way to collect ratings from your customers, where every 90 days they’ll contact your customers and ask for reviews.

Here are twenty review sites and links to their advertising services:

Step 9: Set up Google Alerts to capture hidden reviews

Did you know there might be reviews about your business that you don’t know about on sites like blogs, social networks, and more? Don’t let them go unnoticed. To set up some simple monitoring, do the following:

1. Go to Google Alerts.

2. Type your business’ name into the bar at the top. If your business is more than one word, put quotation marks around it (see below).

3. Click Show options to decide how often you get alerts, from which sources, and to which email account.

4. Click Create Alert.

5. Create as many alerts as you want for a variety of terms in order to keep track of wherever you’re mentioned online, including your own name, your specific products, your employees’ names, and even your competitors. Get creative!

Once you have alerts set up, you’ll start getting emails every time your terms are mentioned online. Use them to get in touch with the people who reviewed you and ask if they can post the review on a review site. Usually people are happy to oblige.

Note: There are more powerful tools than Google Alerts to do this kind of thing, but they cost money. Check them out in the FIND REVIEWS HELP section below.

Step 10: Print and display positive reviews in your store or office

Advice from Wordstream: One technique for getting more reviews is to print them out and hang them on the wall in your business. Enlarge them so they’re easy to read, frame them, and put them where they can be seen.

Part II: Improve Your Ratings

Step 1: Fill out your review response templates

If you need inspiration for how to reply to reviews, check this out:

1. Download this Review Response Template pack.

2. Read the templates and choose which ones you like best.

3. Fill in the blanks and personalize them for your business.

Step 2: Respond to your negative reviews

Target negative reviews first, since those are doing the most damage to your reputation.

First, make a list of all the negative reviews you can find. There are tools called reputation management solutions that can do this automatically, which I’ll list in the next section.

Second, write personalized responses or use one of the templated responses from the previous step to reply using these principles:

1. Apologize and sympathize in your response. Acknowledge the customer’s concerns, even if they are unfounded. Example: “I’m sorry to hear about your bad experience.”

2. Add some marketing by explaining other customer experiences. Example: “We’re normally known for our exceptional attention to detail, and we regret that we missed the mark.”

3. Move the conversation offline. Provide contact info with someone at the business so they can discuss the problem in person. Example: “My name is [name] and I am the [owner / manager]. If you’d like to discuss this further, please contact me at [phone number / email].”

4. Keep your response short and sweet. Don't go into too much detail or ask questions. This will prevent saying something that might cause the upset customer to add more negative feedback by replying.

5. DON’T include your business name. You don’t want this review showing up in search results for your business.

Step 3: Remove negative reviews (or at least bury them)

If the interaction with the negative reviewer went well in the previous step, politely ask them if they could update their bad review.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

If all else fails…

Get more positive reviews to bury your negative reviews.

Since review sites don’t let business owners delete bad reviews, your next step is to drown it in a sea of great reviews, then anyone reading them will see a bad review as more of an outlier for your business.

Step 4: Respond to your positive reviews

After your negative reviews are dealt with, move on to the positive ones.

First, make a list of all the positive reviews you can find. Again, there are tools called reputation management solutions that can do this automatically, which I’ll list in the next section.

Second, write personalized responses or use one of the templated responses from step one to respond. Try using these principles:

1. Thank the customer and ensure they know a real person is behind your reply by mentioning something specific they said. Example: “Thanks for complimenting our barista Jodi. You’re right, she is always smiling!"

2. Add a little marketing. Your reply is public and will be read by others, including future customers, so throw in some marketing. Mention a behind-the-scenes reason they had a great experience or a new feature or promotion. Example: “Did you know we just started a free coffee card?”

3. Invite the customer to do something. Ask the customer to return, use another service, or spread the word. Example: “Next time you’re here, you should try ____!” “We hope to see you again soon, and bring a friend!”

4. Use your business name in your response. Using it will help the positive review appear in search results.

Part III: Spread Your Reviews

Step 1: Make a list of which review sites you’re listed on

Check off which of the following top eighty review sites you’re already listed on:

NOTE: If you don’t want to check each site manually, you can use a listings management tool to do it for you. For suggestions of listings management tools, see my blog post on online listings.

Step 2: Prioritize your list and make a timeline

Using the list from the previous step, prioritize which sites you want to go after.

1. Cross out the sites that don’t pertain to your business. For example, if you’re a doctor, cross out Cars.com, WeddingWire, etc.

2. When you’ve got your list of sites whittled down, your goal is to create business listings on the remaining sites with unchecked boxes. Since you probably won’t be able to get through all of them in one sitting, create a realistic timeline. Shoot for X number of new listings every day or every week.

Step 3: Start claiming, creating, and updating your listings

Now the legwork of claiming, creating, and updating your listings begins.

1. Claim the listings on the sites where you’re already listed (see how)

2. Ensure that the listings you already have are correct (see how)

3. Create listings on the review sites where you don’t have them (see how)

Again, I can’t stress this enough: I HIGHLY recommend using a listings management tool that will do all of this work for you automatically. Plus, the tool will protect you from listings that might change over time.


Review management solutions

There are lots of companies out there that would be glad to help you manage your reviews.

With paid review collection services like ResellerRatings, Demandforce, and Shopper Approved, the idea is that you write a check and someone else makes calls, sends emails, and writes letters to your customers to bring in reviews.

Careful: some of these companies only post reviews on their own platforms, which usually aren’t as visible on Google. Meanwhile, the ones that post to places like Yelp may be doing so dishonestly. If they don’t comply with the terms of service from review sites, there’s a chance your business could face backlash.

If you are an agency, local media company, or another entity that sells products or services to SMBs and you want to offer a review management solution, check out Vendasta’s Marketplace.

Before you dive in and start buying tools, I recommend seeing where your reviews currently stand with the Report of Pain.

The Report of Pain is an online marketing grader that’ll show you your marketing performance in five categories: listings, reviews, social media, website, and advertising. Find out where you’re winning, where you’re losing, and what to do next. [Full disclosure: I run that site.]

Get a personal recommendation

If you want a recommendation for a local marketing provider, email me your name and location. I’ve got a list of great providers in every major US city, as well as other centers.

Bottom line: Do what’s best for you

If you aren’t sure what’s best between review management tools vs. local marketing providers vs. doing it manually, price them out and weigh your options. What it really comes down to is if you want to pay for an instant service or save some cash.

If you decide to manage your own reviews but don’t have time to do it properly, you run the risk of letting it slip through the cracks and ultimately hurting your bottom line.