Why you should cultivate and respond to online reviews

Online reviews are more important to your clients and prospective clients than you may know
Good old word of mouth is online, giving landscapers an opportunity to grow their businesses. (Photo: Norwood Themes, Dreamstime)

As long as grass and weeds have grown, landscape professionals have relied on old-fashioned word of mouth to attract new clients. This most fundamental of marketing approaches still applies today, although the culture of connectivity has created a new way for users of your services to share their opinions, and it reaches a much, much greater audience—online reviews.

Numerous websites and social media platforms, such as Houzz, Yelp, Facebook, Google, Angie’s List, HomeAdvisor, Twitter and countless more are making online reviews one of the most influential tools consumers rely on before hiring a service. As U.K.-based SEO firm BrightLocal found in its “Local Consumer Review Survey 2018: Local Business Review Habits” study, an astonishing 88% of Americans trust web reviews as much as personal referrals. That means having a defined strategy for using positive reviews—and responding to negative ones—is something of a necessity if you intend to remain competitive in today’s web-focused environment.

[Related: Make the most of your online marketing: Landscapes 2018]

This is the first in a four-part series on online marketing and how to actively use consumer reviews in a digital marketing plan, rather than a passive influence that business owners can’t control.

Consider these eye-opening statistics from the BrightLocal survey and a 2014 study by YouGov, a global market research firm:

  • 86% of consumers read local business reviews.
  • 78% of Americans read reviews online before buying a product or service.
  • Consumers read an average of 10 online reviews before they feel they can trust a business.
  • 79% read online reviews to ensure the service or product is good.
  • 57% of consumers say a business needs to have an average of four or more stars before they’ll use them.

Take these statistics together, and it’s clear that monitoring and responding to online reviews should play a key role in your marketing and prospecting efforts.

It may seem like a lot of fuss to monitor a suite of platforms for a mention of your company name, but doing so will pay dividends. People who post online feedback are doing so because they think it’s helpful to other shoppers, and indeed it is. Reviewers typically aren’t malicious, as the YouGov study of reliance on and trust in online reviews revealed only 12% of them seek to expose subpar providers.

Getting started

Encourage employees to ask for reviews. You don’t want anyone to be pushy, but having employees say something like, “Thanks so much for using XYZ Landscaping. If you like the service you receive, we’d appreciate a review on Yelp, Google or your favorite platform.” You can also add a line to your business card indicating that reviews are welcome, and list your preferred sites. You may be surprised by the results, as people love to write reviews. In fact, eight in 10 adults 18–34 years old have written reviews, and 41% of those older than 55 have done the same.

List the sites where you’ve been reviewed and create a plan for responses. In this business, sites like Houzz, Yelp, HomeAdvisor, Facebook and Google tend to be fertile sources of customer feedback, but there are plenty more you’re probably not watching. To see what you might be missing, try searching Google for your industry + reviews + your location (e.g., “landscaping reviews Vail”). Repeat the search once more, but this time, include your company name: “XYZ Landscaping reviews Telluride.”

Reviews on sites like Google can even increase click-through rates to your website, so put a plan in place for regularly checking these sites, and set a mandatory response time to ensure you maximize the benefits of online reviews.

In fact, Google is often the easiest place to leave and find reviews, so landscaping businesses would do well to focus on this popular platform. The “2018 ReviewTrackers Online Reviews Survey: Statistics and Trends” found that 63.3% of consumers indicate they’re likely to check Google for reviews before using a business, followed by Yelp at 45.18%.

“We get the most frequent reviews on Google … it’s all word of mouth,” says Dan Mulvaney, owner of Colorado Springs-based JBT Landscaping and Outdoor Design.

If possible, respond to each and every review. Americans love reading product and service reviews, and a whopping 89% of consumers read businesses’ responses to reviews. Prospective clients want to see how—and if—you handle difficult situations. This is particularly important to younger clients, as a mere 5% of 18–34-year-old Americans never read reviews, so if the platform permits it, a response will reap rewards and help distinguish you from the competition. That’s because although 51% of Americans expect a response to each review they write, only 63.3% have ever had a company respond.

Prepare a research plan. Know that it won’t always be easy to determine who left a particular comment, so you may have to do a bit of digging. If the client’s name doesn’t appear in the review, the username might contain clues, as might the overall context of the message. Go back to your client list, determine the employees involved, and be sure you have a strong understanding of what happened before responding.

It’s also a good idea to create a review log that includes the platform, date, star ranking, username, text of the review, your response (if possible), a summary of the products and services provided, and the date of your reply. Add as many notes as possible, and watch your data for emerging trends.

Employ reviews in your social media and other marketing efforts. A quality review can serve as a potent testimonial, so go ahead and post rave reviews on your website, Facebook page, Twitter feed, etc., and incorporate it into other marketing materials.

Look for Part 2 of this series to learn more about how to respond to negative reviews. Have you successfully integrated online reviews in your marketing plan? Use the comments to share your experiences with your peers or email Danielle Andrus, managing editor, to tell your story.

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