The Growing Power of Online Reviews

If you own a small business, how comfortable are you with web sites that allow people to leave reviews of your business online?

I worked as a cook in a few restaurants during my days in college. A couple of those establishments were well respected, in the middle of town, with customers who would return regularly, and served quality fare.

I started working at another restaurant, after it was recommended to me by a friend, and with the lure of a substantial raise. It was near a heavily trafficked interstate, and I’m not sure that many folks came back for a second meal – the menu and food served were on the downside of average, and the main source of customers were people traveling down that main highway. I left after three months, less than happy to be associated with the place.

The first two restaurants are still open, and still do a thriving business. Word of mouth has been good to them. The other restaurant must have run out of diners who hadn’t heard of it before and didn’t know to stay away; it’s been closed for a few years.

I wonder how long it would have stayed open in these days of local search and online reviews.

An interesting area of growth lately in local search for businesses has been the use of reviews to let searchers know more about the place they’ve found in a local search. I wrote about a process for aggregating reviews that Google filed a patent for, in June, in a post titled Innovating Product Reviews at Google.

A couple of high profile news articles looked at online recommendations and reviews in more detail this last weekend, and if you own a small business, the first one I list is highly recommended.

The San Francisco Chronicle ran an excellent article on the power of internet reviews to effect small businesses on Sunday – Amateur reviews changing approach of small businesses. (via Guy Kawasaki)

The New York Times also covered online recommendations and reviews on Monday in Help for the Merchant in Navigating a Sea of Shopper Opinions registration required (via Greg Sterling )

Here are some review sites that seem to have a wide national coverage. A number of these include restaurants only, but others have a wider range. If you’re a business owner, how would you feel about customers posting reviews of your business in sites like these? Hopefully good, because people will post reviews whether you want them to or not.

The San Francisco Chronicle article talked about some businesses that looked at the feedback their businesses received in review sites and then made positive changes to their businesses because of that feedback – and now encourage customers to write more reviews about them. Do your customers discuss your business on one of these review sites?

I didn’t include smaller regional review sites in my list, and there are many of those. It’s easy to find them – just go to a place like Google Local, and look for businesses that are similar to yours in your area, and see where reviews about those sites are from. It’s not a bad way to find local directories either.


Author: Bill Slawski

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