First is the all too important perceived Trust factor: If you’ve never used review sites for your business, you must understand the perceived trust factor inherent in review sites, especially with many reviews, 10 or more at least per review site. The public perceives that these reviews are unbiased, honest customer assessments.
For the most part, this is true. Recent studies have proven that online reviews are now often more highly valued than personal recommendations. Here’s why.
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You feel that people in your circle (friends and family members) are biased in situations when they’re going to recommend someone to go to for this or that problem or need. When you get to know their personalities, you know what they’re going to say about things they like or don’t like. You also know that they’re going to refer “blank” as “the best” but only because they know them. Hardly ever does that alone mean “blank” is “the best.” But when it comes to an unsolicited stranger’s review, you don’t have that otherwise familiarity bias, therefore there’s a higher trust factor. It may sound initially kind of backwards, but, often, a review from a stranger means so much more than a personal recommendation (or at the least can complement or refute a personal recommendation). Even after stating that, I’m still always surprised at the power these “reviews from strangers” have on consumers.
Every day, people come into my place of business and say something to the effect of, “you have the greatest reviews online!” As if I didn’t know, ha. They honestly see it as totally unbiased (truthfully, they are). What they don’t realize is that I’ve also purposefully designed this to be the case; it’s not purely an accident as a result of random accolades. It’s Free! Yelp participation is free, as are most of the citation and review sites.
If I can get paying business from a free source, I’m happy. Of course, they have paid options; that’s how they make money because a certain small percentage of advertisers will pay. But, as a general rule, I don’t. I’ve been approached by them and I’ve listened to the long spiel. I actually force myself to go through it two or three times a year, mostly just to get updated on what’s new, etc. It takes an hour or two on the phone, but I’m more or less doing it for research at this point.
It’s never been a good fit for my business model, so I’ve never paid to participate, even though, for many other businesses, there certainly may be times when it’s worth it.