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What Do Customers Care About in Your Online Reviews?

It’s no secret that online ratings and reviews of businesses have become critical to entrepreneurial success. But what matters most about online reviews in the opinions of prospective customers? In a new survey, a whopping 92 percent of consumers say they read online reviews, up from 80 percent last year. In addition, positive customer reviews are the number-one influence on whether customers use a business — above other factors such as location and price.

But not all reviews are created equal. Here are the four things customers care about most.

1. Stars: The star rating of online reviews is the number-one factor customers consider when evaluating a business. Just 13 percent of customers will even consider using a business with a one or two star rating. However, while 43 percent say a three-star rating is the minimum they will consider, there is also a substantial subgroup (38 percent) who won’t consider any business with fewer than four stars.

Takeaway: Don’t just skim your reviews to watch out for negative ones; read them and act on them. Even in positive reviews, are there comments that suggest ways you can improve? If you’re getting a lot of three-star ratings, how can you bump it up? Boosting your review to four stars can nearly double the number of customers willing to patronize your business. Ask your customers: Conduct surveys by email, in your business or on social media about what they’d like you to do differently.

2. Quantity: The quantity of reviews is the second most important factor in making a decision. However, just because you have a lot of reviews doesn’t mean consumers will take the time to read them all. Four in 10 will form an opinion after reading one to three reviews (down from 29 percent last year). Very few (just 12 percent) bother to read more than 10 reviews.

Takeaway: 10 reviews seem to be the sweet spot. Once you maintain that number of recent reviews, most customers will feel comfortable doing business with you. However, you also want to make sure that the most recent reviews (the ones appearing at the top of your listing) are positive. This is why it’s so important to regularly monitor your reviews and respond to negative ones. By solving the customer’s problem, you can turn negative views into positive ones. And by encouraging new reviews, you can move negative reviews further down the list so prospective customers are less likely to see them.

3. Recency: Almost half (44 percent) of respondents say a review has to be written within the past month in order for them to consider relevant. 84 percent don’t consider reviews over six months old to be relevant.

Takeaway: Once you’ve got 10 reviews, don’t rest on your laurels. Depending on your industry, you need to ensure those reviews stay fresh — especially if you’re in a business such as restaurants, where potential customers expect to see a lot of activity. Continue encouraging your customers to review you on whatever ratings and review sites your business is listed on.

4. Authenticity: Consumers are losing trust in reviews to some extent. While 68 percent say they trust businesses more if they have positive reviews, that’s still a small decline from 72 percent last year. Perhaps one reason for the decreasing trust is that consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about fake reviews due to recent media coverage of the topic. That said, 80 percent of consumers say they trust reviews as much as they trust personal recommendations. What builds trust in reviews? “Authenticity” is cited as the most important factor.

Takeaway: Pay attention to how authentic your online reviews sound. You may get great reviews, but if they sound fake, they may not serve your purpose. Again, encouraging new reviews is the best way to ensure that you get a good number of reviews that meet the authenticity criteria of potential customers.

If you do have good reviews that meet all of prospective customers criteria, be aware that the next step most customers will take is visiting your website (48 percent). Is your website ready for them? Make sure your website is up to date, answers questions customers may have about doing business with you and, last but not least, is mobile friendly in case they’ve been reading those reviews on their smartphones.