Survey: After Reading a Good Review, Most Consumers Visit SMB Websites

SEO firm BrightLocal is out with its now annual Local Consumer Review Survey 2016. The survey had just over 1,000 respondents.

It reveals a paradoxical pattern: consumers appear to have a specific yet mostly superficial approach to online review consumption. Here are some of the general findings:

  • The vast majority of consumers (91%) rely on reviews regularly or at least occasionally to inform their purchase decisions
  • More than 60% use a search engine to find reviews rather than navigating to a particular review site
  • The dominant device on which reviews are read is the PC (at least here), though a majority also read reviews on mobile devices
  • Restaurants and hospitality are the most common categories where consumers seek out reviews (medical follows thereafter)
  • Most people seek between 4 and 10 reviews to feel confident about a business
  • Most people look at more than one site to find reviews about a business or location (especially in travel)

BrightLocal Reviews Survey

As indicated, the survey seems to reflect that most people don’t look closely at reviews. The majority look at some overall metric and don’t go much deeper than that. For example, 80% here are not paying attention to whether a business has responded to reviews, let alone what was said.

BrightLocal review survey

In terms of the need for freshness or recency, the survey reflected that most people want to see reviews that are no older than six months but 51% expect reviews a month old or newer.

One of the more interesting findings concerns consumer actions taken after reading online reviews. These respondents are: 1) visiting local business websites or 2) going to the physical business locations, much more often than “contact[ing] the business” (e.g., phone calls). It’s not clear whether the website visit then leads to a contact (email, call, form) however.

BrightLocal review survey

I’m often critical of the notion that SMB websites figure prominently in the conversion process. But this finding above suggests that they do, even though the SMB website is not the original way the business was discovered.

The question of whether business owners should ask for reviews is hotly debated because of Yelp’s position on the matter discouraging it. Others emphatically argue that business owners must ask for reviews. The finding below validates the “ask for reviews” camp, suggesting that only a minority, if asked, won’t provide an online review.

BrightLocal customer survey

Furthermore, aggregate data show that the majority of SMB customers generally hold favorable opinions and would likely offer positive reviews if asked. As Ted Paff of Customer Lobby has said, this is the silent, happy majority.

The last finding I wanted to call out is one that LSA survey data has also flagged before but it’s worth highlighting. The dominant place where people are recommending/reviewing local businesses online is on Facebook. Twitter is something of a surprise here in the number two position.

BrightLocal review survey

Facebook recently introduced a bunch of new tools for local discovery and commerce and has been incrementally moving in this direction for several years. However this slide reinforces the idea that the company has a massive still-unrealized opportunity in local.

2 Responses to “Survey: After Reading a Good Review, Most Consumers Visit SMB Websites”

  1. HI Greg. Thanks for covering this year’s survey. I think the point you make about people being superficial in judging a business through their reviews is interesting. I think the truth is more nuanced and he’s how we interpret the results –

    1. Users are time poor and so overall Star rating gives them a quick & universal way to validate a business and compare vs. competitors. Star ratings enable them to make decisions quickly & with an acceptable level of confidence that the results of their choice will be good.

    2. Users do read content of some reviews but not that many. Again consumers want to make quick decisions and a cursory read of 1-10 reviews is what most of them do before making a decision.

    3. Users want to read recent reviews that describe a business/service as it is today – not how it was 3/6/12 months ago.

    So it’s only recent reviews they’ll consider and this makes it critical for SMBs to generate new reviews on a regular basis. Achieving a good star rating and then stopping isn’t a good tactic; a review strategy that generates reviews on an ongoing basis delivers fresh proof to customers that a business is ‘still’ good – i.e. don’t rely on past success to deliver future customers.

    4. The sentiment of reviews is important. So even if a business has a high star rating, if the sentiment of reviews will sway consumers.

    So if an SMB has some recent low-star reviews with negative comments in them, these will have a big impact on consumer decision making.

    5. The more important the decision the more research a consumer will do (pretty obvious really). So if someone is looking for a local plumber to fix a tap they’ll spend a short amount of time researching businesses. But if a consumer is searching for a cosmetic surgeon then the value of the job is greater, and the risk of a bad result is higher; so more research & evaluation is done.

    I’m a big advocate of SMBs asking for reviews. Why not? It’s not a criminal act to say if you like what we did then please tell other people. Businesses have been doing this for hundreds of years, well before the likes of Yelp claimed ‘ownership’ of recommendations. If you don’t ask you don’t get.

    The line should be drawn at incentivization or coercion. Hopefully the irony of Yelp’s own sales practices and their review rules is not lost on anyone reading this!

  2. Greg Sterling says:

    Thanks Myles. Agree that businesses must ask for reviews. What’s interesting is that Yelp is allowing the Yext review generation product to go forward and not trying to block it.

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