By Chas Cooper

Online customer reviews have a big impact on local business sales, so “getting it right” can boost revenue and “getting it wrong” can cost dearly.

That’s because online customer reviews have a big impact on whether prospects become customers. Nowadays, 93% of consumers check online customer reviews to decide if a business is good or not, and 85% trust online customer reviews as much as personal recommendations.

It doesn’t matter if your prospects find your business through advanced digital marketing like SEO or SEM/PPC, or if they find you through good old fashioned word of mouth, walk-in traffic, or a big billboard on the side of the highway. Once they learn about you, the next thing they do is go online to read reviews.

If you have a strong customer review profile, prospects turn into customers. If your reviews are bad, prospects go to your competitors instead.

To make sure your customer reviews work for you and not against you, make sure you don’t make these 6 all-too-common mistakes.

1. Focusing on the Wrong Review Sites

There’s a power law that governs online customer review sites: Only 2 or 3 review sites have a huge impact on your sales. All the other review sites are just icing on the cake.

So prioritize your efforts!

First focus on the #1 most important review site. Don’t worry about any other site until you get that site’s review profile working well for you. Then move on to #2. And only after #2 is working well, then move on to #3 (if you have an important #3).

Once you have your top 2 or 3 review sites working well, start alternating between these top 2 or 3 review sites to make sure they always have “fresh” reviews. (See Mistake #4 below.)

How do you know which sites are the most important to your sales?

For most local businesses, the answer includes at least 2 sites from the “big 3” review sites: Google, Yelp and Facebook. So ask your customers where they go to look at reviews to find out which sites are most important.

If you are in an industry that has an industry-specific review site, then that site is most likely one of your important 2 or 3 review sites, too. For example, the real estate industry has Zillow, law firms have Avvo, travel and hospitality has TripAdvisor, and so on.

2. Low Average Star Rating

A low average star rating can hurt sales more than having no reviews at all!

So above all else, make sure you have 4.0 stars or above. If you have a local competitor with more than 4.0 stars, then either match or beat them to avoid losing business to them.

The best way to improve your average star rating is to pre-screen customers before encouraging them to write a review.

If you go to a restaurant and the owner asks how your meal was, and you say, “It was great,” then the owner might say, “Tell all your friends!”

But if you say, “Honestly, it was terrible,” do you think the owner will tell you to “Tell all your friends!?” Of course not!

So why would you encourage people to tell their friends via Google, Yelp or Facebook, if they aren’t happy yet?

Instead, pre-screen to find out if each customer is happy. If they are happy, encourage them (politely without pressuring them) to share their experience in an online review. But if they’re not happy, ask them what you could have done better.

Unhappy customers give you a great opportunity to learn how to improve your business, which is why you would be wise to adore all of your customers, happy or not. Chances are that if you can make lasting improvements for one unhappy customer, your improvements will make many more customers happy the same way in the future.

By pre-screening to encourage positive reviews only after you’ve earned them, and by continually improving your business from unhappy customer feedback, you stand to drive your average star rating up and up.

3. Not Enough Reviews

Your average star rating is only credible if you have enough reviews. If you only have a few reviews, your prospects will think those all came from your drinking buddies.

To make your average star rating credible, get a lot of reviews to show a consistent pattern of excellence.

How many reviews are enough?

A good general rule of thumb is to shoot for at least 30 reviews. But if you have a competitor with significantly more reviews, then match or beat that competitor.

As a bonus, in addition to making your average star rating more credible, a higher number of reviews also helps your business rank higher on most review sites’ search results.

4. No Recent Reviews

So you’ve got a high star rating and lots of reviews to make that star rating credible. Good job!

Can you stop there and call it a day?

Unfortunately, no.

Consumers don’t believe reviews are relevant if they’re too old. In fact, 77% of consumers think that reviews aren’t relevant if they’re older than 3 months.

So how often do you need new reviews?

A good rule of thumb is to get an average of 1 review every 3 to 7 days. At this rate, you’ll always have enough fresh reviews to satisfy at least 82% of consumers.

A word of caution: Don’t get too many reviews! Yes, it’s possible to get too many. If you get too many reviews all at once, the review site’s fraud detection algorithms may filter out your reviews as “fake reviews.”

…which brings us to common mistake #5 ….

5. Filtered Reviews

All major review sites like Google, Yelp and Facebook have algorithms that systematically detect fake reviews. Some (like Yelp) are extremely unforgiving, regularly filtering out authentic reviews as fake. Others (like Google) are more accurate at separating fake reviews from real reviews.But none of the review sites are especially accurate…including Google. (Sorry, Google.)

This means that many authentic reviews from perfectly happy customers get filtered out as “fake.”

Avoid getting your hard-earned positive reviews filtered out by avoiding the kinds of signals the algorithms look for to identify fake reviews.

These fake review signals include:

  • A sudden spike in the number of reviews your business gets
  • Reviews from people who have a history of reviews that get flagged as fake
  • Lots of reviews from people who have never written a review before
  • Reviews from people with very little information in their profiles
  • Reviews with language that is excessively positive or negative
  • Exceptionally short reviews
  • Reviews from a location that is nowhere near the business address

6. Inadequate Review Profiles

If your business has an incomplete or inadequate profile, your business may not rank as high when your prospects search the review site for local businesses. If your business doesn’t show up when the prospect searches, it doesn’t matter if you have a great star rating and lots of unfiltered, positive reviews.

So make sure you complete every bit of information you can in your business profile. Go the extra mile and add lots of photos of your business and your happy customers. Include information even if it’s “optional”and not “required.”

Pro tip: Make sure you use exactly the same identifying information on all your review sites, including your business name, telephone number, address, website, and email address.

By “exactly the same,” I mean “EXACTLY the same.” Don’t list your phone number as (123) 456-7890 on your Google profile, but as 123-456-7890 on your Yelp profile. List them exactly the same…character…for…character.

Why is this important? Google uses this identifying information to figure out that your Facebook page and your Yelp page and your Google MyBusiness account all belong to the same business. If Google gets mixed signals from different review sites, your business may not show up in Google search results as prominently when your prospects search.

Get the Appreciation You Deserve

As a small business owner, you’re truly an unsung hero. You create jobs and give employees meaningful work. You make customers happy and raise everyone’s standard of living. And, if you’re like many small business owners, you make many sacrifices along the way to help others before helping yourself. In my book, that’s pretty heroic.

The single most satisfying part of my job is seeing small businesses finally get the appreciation they deserve. Happy customers love to express their appreciation on review sites. They usually just need to be given a reminder and an easy way to do that.