The definitive guide to online reviews: where to feature them and how to get them

Do you feature reviews of your business online? Perhaps you’re not sure how to attract reviews or where they should appear to have the most positive impact. In this week’s blog, we’ve created our definitive guide to online reviews, why you should have them, how to get them and the best places to feature them.

online reviews

Online reviews help your customers decide to buy

One of the biggest challenges any business faces is helping new customers overcome their fear of the unknown. Before they spend their money, people want to know that they won’t regret their purchase or be made to look silly by buying into a poor experience. Positive reviews from existing customers serve as a seal of approval, a ‘yes’ vote that others have made the same decision and been pleased with their purchase. This is why reviews hold such sway.

BrightLocal’s latest Local Consumer Review Survey 2015 supported what SEO experts, content writers and marketers have been saying for some time – reviews are now an essential part of the online consumer experience.

The survey of 2,354 people (predominantly from the North American market) from July 2015 showed that 92% of consumers now read online reviews (an increase from 88% in 2014) before deciding whether or not to buy from a company. The survey also found that star rating is the number one factor used by consumers to judge a business and that only 13% of people would consider using a local business that has a one- or two-star rating.

Forty-four percent of the people surveyed said that a review must be written within one month to be relevant and 68% trust a local business more if it’s backed up by a positive review.

Other interesting review-related stats from the survey show that 14% of people use organic searches to find local businesses almost every day. Only nine percent have never looked for a local business online. Seventy-three percent of people use a PC to look at reviews, while 38% of us use mobiles, 29% of us use tablets, and 24% of us rely on mobile apps such as Yelp, Trip Advisor or Foursquare. This is the first year the survey has looked at the device used to view reviews and it is predicted that the mobile, tablet and mobile app figures will continue to increase year on year.

The type of business you run influences how important reviews will be to your customers. Consumers tend to want online reviews for restaurants, cafes, doctors, dentists, shops, hotels, B&Bs, guest houses, beauty and hair salons, pubs, bars, garages and gyms. Online reviews are less important for accountants, solicitors, locksmiths, driving instructors, taxi firms, builders, roofers, gardeners and cleaners – probably because many of us rely on word of mouth recommendations from friends, colleagues and family for services where the person will come to our house or be trusted with our financial affairs.

I was interested to read that 88% of people read between one and ten reviews before they make a decision to buy. In fact, ten reviews seems to be a useful benchmark, the sweet spot when it comes to the minimum number of reviews that your business should have.

How important are star ratings?

As BrightLocal’s recent survey showed that star rating is the number one factor used by consumers to judge a business, how much should we be panicking about a one- or two-star review or even a mediocre three stars?

star ratings

A study dating back to 2006 from the Yale School of Management looked at how consumers view star ratings. It found that an overall star rating that averaged out all the reviews does not directly influence sales. However, a one-star rating is likely to hold for more sway than lots of five-star ratings because people can be put off by reading about a very bad customer experience.

Even back in 2006, audiences were cynical. If a business only has five-star reviews, people get suspicious about their authenticity. Therefore, variation is better. People tend to see one-star and five-star reviews as reflecting extreme opinions and they will be curious about why someone has felt strongly enough to leave a one-star review. Three- and four-star reviews might be seen as being more moderate and reflecting the feelings of the majority.

The 2006 study found that it’s the content of reviews that impacts conversions. Consumers want to read what others have to say about a business or product, as this tends to give a context for the number of stars awarded. A person may give a one-star rating that seems harsh alongside the accompanying review.

Most experts agree that little has changed in the past nine years and that it’s the content and linguistic style of reviews that most influence how they are perceived, i.e. if the reviewer uses words that resonate, it will help potential customers picture themselves using the product or service too.

Ratings and Reviews can influence your rankings.

Apart from being a huge conversion factor there’s another reason that ratings and reviews are essential for your business, according to MOZ’s Local Search Ranking Factors Survey, online reviews are thought to make up over 9% of how Google and other search engines decide to rank search results. At the time of the study, review signals ranked fifth among the most important search-engine ranking factors!

ranking factors

The downside of reviews

If possible, you should aim to encourage and feature reviews in several different places – we’ll look at where in a minute – so that customers see social proof about your business, however they find it.

A report published by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in June 2015 found that, while reviews and endorsements are an important part of the buying process, they are open to abuse.

In some cases, companies have been posting fake reviews to review sites to boost their star ratings. There have also been instances of companies paying for endorsements without making this clear to consumers, or blocking/deleting negative reviews to stop them being seen.

On the flipside, the report also found that firms were writing or commissioning fake negative reviews to undermine their rivals or that customers were even blackmailing companies by threatening to leave negative reviews unless they were given a discount on their purchase.

The CMA has now made the following pledge: “We are committed to ensuring that consumers’ trust in these important information tools is maintained, and will take enforcement action where necessary to tackle unlawful practices”.

It is important to collect and use reviews in an ethical way. Consumers can spot fake reviews and, as we’ve already seen, are wary of too many five stars.

If you do get a negative review, don’t panic – even negative reviews can have a positive impact for your business if you are able to show that you are listening to your customers, responding to their comments and addressing any issues, wherever possible.

So, where are the best places to collect or feature online reviews?

The 5 best places for consumers to read your online reviews:

  1. Google reviews

For several years, Google+ reviews have been an essential part of effective search engine optimisation. Google, in looking to return the best results pages, has increasingly prioritised businesses that have reviews on their Google+/Google My Business page because the star rating is a highly visible flag that a business is well regarded.

Earlier in September there was a flurry of articles proclaiming that Google+ reviews had been dropped altogether. In reality, it would appear that – for the time being at least – Google has dropped page links and reviews from branded searches in SERPs.

What do we mean by branded searches? A branded search can be defined as “traffic from organic search on keywords that contain the organisation’s brand name”. In other words, if someone searched for ‘SEO+’ to find the company rather than ‘search engine optimisation devon’ that would be a branded search.

Run a search in Google and we can see that Google reviews do still appear but mainly when left on directory sites like Trip Advisor or on the Knowledge Graph panel to the left of a desktop screen.

Google Reviews
Online Reviews in Google


The Knowledge Graph panel is more prominent in mobile searches when it tends to be the first thing you see in the SERPs and it takes up the whole of the initial screen.

Although we cannot fully predict what impact the changes to how Google+ reviews are shown, I think it’s still important to ask your customers to leave a review on Google+.

To make it easy for them, you could give them a handout or send a short email that says:

“We hope you’re happy with your product/service. If you are, we’d love it if you could leave a review for us on Google+ to help other people decide whether or not to buy from us.
All you need to do is search for <company name> in Google and click on ‘Write review’ in the panel that appears on the right of the screen below our profile picture, map and contact details.
Then just click on the number of stars you think we deserve and leave a short written review. This will help our website to get seen on search engine results pages.
We can’t thank you enough for helping us”.

To leave a Google+ review, the reviewer must have their own Google+ account – this protects businesses from anonymous reviews.

If you want to know everything about Google+ Local reviews I stumbled across Phil from Local Visibility System and he provides a complete guide, which includes everything that business owners should know, best-practices for requesting reviews, hard-learned lessons, examples of requests and instructions for writing a Google review and a whole heap of resources too – here’s the The Complete Guide to Google+ Local Reviews

  1. Facebook reviews

A survey by Zendesk back in 2013 found that Facebook is seen as the leading resource for positive customer reviews online. In 2014, a survey by G/O Digital found that nearly 60% of people check a company’s Facebook page and Facebook reviews before making a purchase and 62% of us think it is the most helpful social media platform for buying decisions.

If you have a Facebook page set up as a local business, people can leave a review. To make sure people are able to leave reviews, you need to do the following:

  1. Make sure your page’s category is set to Local Businesses.
  2. Click About below your page’s cover photo.
  3. Click Page Info in the left column.
  4. Click to edit the Address section, add your address and click Save changes. After saving your changes, a map will appear in this section.
  5. Click to edit the Address section again. Below the map, click to check the box next to Show map, check-ins and stars ratings on the page.
  6. Click Save changes.

Once you have done this, people who visit your page should be able to click the Reviews section in the left-hand sidebar or the Reviews tab at the top of the page. They can then give your business a star rating from one to five and leave a written review.

As you can see from the screenshot below of the SEO+ Facebook page, Facebook then shows visitors your average star rating and number of reviews.

Facebook reviews
Online Reviews on Facebook

As people spend a lot of time on Facebook, leaving a review is pretty straightforward. Again, it’s OK to ask your customers if they’re happy to write a Facebook review.

  1. Testimonials on your company website

If possible, try to collect testimonials from your clients to use on your website and in your marketing. Although you might choose to feature a dedicated testimonial page on your website, another excellent approach is to use snippets of genuine testimonials throughout your website as well so that people can see social proof from other customers regardless of which page they land on to enter your website.

As people are familiar with the star rating and review format, you might want to consider incorporating that into your website design.

People often feel anxious about when and how to collect testimonials to use on their website. There are several different approaches you could try. As a project is coming to a close and you’re at the stage where the customer can see the value of your work and you’re still fresh in their mind, you could ask them if they would be willing to write a short testimonial that you could use in your marketing. If you have delivered a service or product where the full benefits take a few months to become clear, you could even agree to follow up with them after several weeks or months to ask some questions about how your product or service has made a difference. This could form the basis of a case study that includes some stats about profits, increase in web traffic, upturn in sales, or anything else that is particularly relevant to your customers.

Some customers like a steer on what to write, so you might want to send them a handful of questions that will act as a prompt.

Alternatively, you could create a questionnaire for your previous and existing clients using a free tool like Survey Monkey and send that out to them to gather reviews.

For authenticity and trust purposes, make sure you only feature genuine testimonials. Customers can spot a fake a mile off!

Since this post went live I’ve had the heads up from Phil over at Local Visibility System and he informs me that it is officially OK with Yelp and in practice OK with Google too, if you copy+paste your reviews onto your site. They don’t get filtered by Yelp and Google+ if you repurpose them, so this is something that you may wish to consider.

And let’s not forget the biggest benefit of featuring testimonials on your own website – you have complete control over what appears on the site and what doesn’t.

  1. LinkedIn recommendations

Although people cannot leave business reviews on LinkedIn, they can write recommendations about you as an individual. This is especially helpful if you are a freelancer or sole trader, or people are likely to work with you because of your unique knowledge or skillset.

LinkedIn recommendations can help to build your credibility, especially as people can quickly and easily find out more about the credentials of the person who has written the recommendation. LinkedIn recommendations are highly visible on your profile and, once again, provide that all-important social proof.

To help you generate recommendations, LinkedIn gives you the facility to contact people in your network to ask for a recommendation.

  1. Yelp, TripAdvisor and other directory websites

Google Pigeon, which was rolled out to the UK in December 2014, aims to improve SERPs for local businesses and has helped to raise the profile of directory websites in searches. You can read our article about improving your local SEO here.

By encouraging customer reviews on high profile, free directory sites such as Yelp, TripAdvisor and Foursquare, you can help to boost your business’s visibility and encourage enquiries. With Yelp, for example, customers can give your business a star rating out of five; you can also respond to reviews but, if you do attract a bad review, we would urge you to be polite and be seen to listen to the customer’s opinion. Unfortunately, stroppy responses to customer reviews have a habit of backfiring (you might want to see author Dylan Saccoccio’s response to a bad review on Goodreads for an example of how not to handle criticism).

Foursquare is interesting. The fact that people can publically check-in and announce they’ve been to a specific business can be interpreted as a positive review in and of itself. It’s rare that people want to link themselves that closely with somewhere they’ve had a bad experience. Foursquare encourages people to leave tips and reviews about a place too, so it’s embedded in the culture of the Foursquare community.

One feature I like is that, when checking in with Foursquare, people have the choice to check-in via their personal Facebook or Twitter profiles too. As Facebook privacy settings are often set you private, you might want to concentrate on Twitter to look for these check-ins. You can use a free Twitter alert service such as Warble to get notifications every time someone tweets about your business. This way, when someone checks-in using Foursquare, you can send a reply to their tweet thanking them for their check-in. This is a great way to start a conversation or to build a Twitter list of customers you can ask for reviews.

Bonus: Industry-specific review websites

I wanted to mention that industry-specific review sites can be an incredibly powerful marketing tool. While they may not generate the same amount of traffic as generic review and directory sites, it’s likely that the people viewing them will be further along the buying process and actively looking for a business within a specific niche.

Industry-specific review sites include TripAdvisor (holidays, hotels, flights and restaurants), Trusted Reviews (technology), CNET (technology), Trivago (hotels), Ciao (product reviews), Tipped (local businesses), Rated People (trusted tradespeople), and many more.

Try to keep an eye on where people are posting reviews and what they are saying about your business. If you receive a bad review, it may be an opportunity to learn or to turn a complaint around by resolving it. Some complaints may not be justified – for example, a complaint about traffic or parking – but you could address this by adding parking information or ‘How to find us’ details to your website. Everything presents an opportunity.


Finally, I’ve put together a list of further articles and resources you might find helpful:

As you can see, reviews have the power to drive traffic to your website, increase your website’s ranking, boost conversions from clicks to sales, and help build a tribe of passionate fans and followers. What action are you going to take today to generate some new reviews? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the Comments section below.

Want a Complimentary Copy of Our SEO Checklist?

Having a well-optimised website and a good selection of online reviews can be a hugely powerful combination for any business. To assist you further we’ve put together a handy SEO checklist that will help you quickly audit your website to make sure that you have all the basic requirements of good search engine optimisation in place. If you’re serious about ranking at the top of Google and increasing your website sales and enquiries, this is for you.
Grab it here >> Your Free SEO Checklist

Want more help? Take a look at our SEO UK Services and let’s chat.

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8 thoughts on “The definitive guide to online reviews: where to feature them and how to get them”

  1. Great article. It was very informative and i am using some of the ideas shown here.

  2. As a business consultant who has just expanded into providing reputation marketing services for small businesses, I’ve gotta say this article is highly informative and spot on. Thanks for taking the time to break down the Bright Local report and explain how reputation is a must have strategy for businesses moving forward.

    • Hey Michael, I think many businesses totally underestimate the power of online reviews. As consumers and Google can be guided by them it should definitely be an essential part of any marketing strategy… great to hear that you’ve expanded into providing a reputation marketing service.

  3. Thanks for mentioning BrightLocal Hazel. I found one of the most interesting factors in this years survey to be the rise of those consumers who are growing concerned about the authenticity of reviews. 31% said they will only trust reviews if they believe they are authentic. This jumped up 9% from 2014.

    Great post – very informative!

    • There were some great findings in BrightLocal’s Review Survey and it was great to be able to include a few of these within our latest post. I agree – an increase of 9% of consumers now concerned about the authenticity of reviews is very interesting. Consumers have become much more savvy and hopefully this will lead to businesses being more genuine.
      Thank you for the comment Ross.

  4. Hazel!
    Informative and helpful.
    My take-aways:
    *get at least ten good reviews
    *bad reviews can be good; depends on what you do with e’m
    *having ALL five-star reviews looks a leeeedle suspicious… to people, not just robots
    *don’t be shy; ASK for testimonials
    Finally I love the “resources” list.
    A caution to your readers! While it is true that you can bring in Yelp testimonials and feature them on your site, DON’T send an email or Facebook post to your customers to try and get a bunch of Yelp reviews in a hurry. I did this and got hand-slapped… six five-star reviews coming in during a two hour window looks particularly spammy to Yelp.
    Once again, insightful, incisive, enlightening. You sure know your stuff Hazel. That’s coming from a fella half the world away and that makes six figs a year with his SEO endeavors. LOVE your blog and service!

    Keep Stepping,


    • Hey Kurt, thank you for the heads up on the Yelp reviews – that’s definitely good to know.
      Great that you love our blog and service too – thanks for commenting.


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