At the dawn of marketing, companies dictated the rules of the market. Businesses would create demand and try to persuade customers that their products were the best.

Now, with the spread of social media platforms and review websites, customers are in charge. You will not be successful if your product has only 1.2 stars on Amazon and barely any positive reviews. The sound of peer-to-peer information is becoming louder and louder, and marketers have to listen to it.

But in the abundance of reviews, how do you filter the information and decide what data is valuable enough to analyze, and what can be left out? What can you actually deduce from online reviews, and why are they so important?

Why Are Online Reviews Important?

You probably understand intuitively why online reviews are important for your business, but let's look at some numbers. Nearly 87% of consumers claimed to have read online reviews in 2020, whereas the same figure was at 81% the previous year.

The significance of online reviews rose during the COVID lockdowns when going to stores became impossible for most people and products such as home workout equipment and hand sanitizers suddenly increased in importance. In fact, roughly 31% of consumers said they read more online reviews because of COVID.

It is also important to know how people read online reviews. A full 73% of online consumers said they read only recent reviews (no older than one month).

Finally, how often do people write reviews? In 2020, 72% of consumers said they left a review online, whereas 66% said so in 2019, the same study found.

So how do you extract valuable knowledge from online reviews and make smarter data-driven marketing decisions?

Here are five essential lessons marketers can learn from reading online reviews.

Lessons You Can Learn From Reading Online Reviews

1. How Your Product Is Perceived

Although some reviews might be dry and uninformative, you will stumble upon many customer comments that are detailed and well-argued. They state exactly why they like or dislike your product or service and even tell you how to improve it.

Internet anonymity has brought out many negatives in people, but it has also allowed for candid and honest opinion. Some reviews might seem harsh and blunt, but at least you receive a completely honest opinion without the sugar-coating of communication in real life, where people often try to be polite and agreeable.

Moreover, online reviews help you analyze your place in the market and understand where you are in the POM influence mix:

  • Preferences, previous experiences, and beliefs
  • Others' input, including online reviews
  • Information received from Marketers

Customer purchase decisions are driven by a combination of those three elements. Every product perception relies on them, and you should strive to find a balance and cover all three equally. If you place too much emphasis on one and leave out the other two, you will waste resources and generate results that will have been better had you included all three.

2. How to Build an Emotional Connection With Customers

It is no secret that customer experience has become a centerpiece in most companies' decision-making processes. CX is often the No. 1 priority, right after pricing and even the product itself, and its importance will continue to grow in the coming years.

How do companies provide the best user experience and generate more long-term customers? By creating an emotional bond with their customers.,

You eventually lose a quarter of your audience after providing only one bad customer experience, according to research conducted by PWC. Human interaction and friendly service are the top of the list of what people value the most in a company.

However, be aware of the negative consequence of capitalizing on your customers' emotions. Manipulation can have a reverse effect, and it will not be met with the level of connection you're looking for.

For example, in 2014, Audi decided to rebrand its Instagram page and air a six-hour-long compilation from various artists who drive Audi cars, sharing their stories under the hashtag #PaidMyDues. What had seemed like a good idea that could potentially humanize the brand and attract more customers eventually backfired: Audi's followers were not happy with that type of content, and they kept asking for familiar photos of cars. Audi continued the campaign for another two weeks and ended up losing followers and receiving tons of negative comments.

When trying to establish an emotional connection with your customers, you have to understand their needs and deliver the best product and Customer Experience to address those needs.

3. Why Negative Reviews Are Not Always A Bad Thing

It might come as a surprise, but bad reviews are not necessarily a bad thing.

First of all, completely clean and complaint-free customer reviews come across as fake and untrustworthy. The likelihood of a decision to purchase is at its peak when the rating is between 4.0 and 4.7 stars and drops when it nears 5.0 stars, according to Spiegel's research on online reviews.

To take advantage of negative online reviews, use the opportunity to reply and build a deeper connection with your customer base. Some 20% of customers expect an answer within one day after writing a review, so take the opportunity to change their mind about your company and build a personal relationship.

Nearly 63% of customers never hear back from the company after leaving a review, whereas 45% are more likely to use the service if they see that the company responds to negative comments, Review Trackers found.

Such an approach attracts even those customers who never leave reviews, because they see how you respond to negative reviews of your service. A genuine and personal response will make you seem more reliable and responsible, and it will humanize your business.

4. How to Boost Your Online Presence

Online reviews help you enhance your online exposure in two ways.

The first is through SEO rankings. As a marketer, you have probably used that technique to promote your business. When you publish articles that describe your industry and products using proper keywords and link-building, you increase the chance that people will learn about your business. Also, online reviews get you noticed in Google searches and expose you to new clients. The more high-quality reviews you have on multiple specialized websites, the higher your ranking.

Second, by engaging with your customers and giving them a platform where they can exchange their opinions about your product, you turn them into your brand ambassadors. That is the most cost-effective solution for brand promotion, and it creates a community of loyal customers who will stand behind your company.

5. How to Provide Social Proof

It is only human to seek other people's opinions, especially about something you are not an expert at. When we read content by credible influencers, experts, celebrities, and friends, we are more likely to trust them. That creates so-called social "proof"—proof that a particular service, hotel, restaurant, laptop, car, etc. is worth your time.

Besides providing arguments for or against the purchase, reviews often tell the full story of how the customer perceived the brand before, during, and after the experience. That creates a complete picture of the company, customer service, quality of experience, and other important aspects.

Is There a Catch?

Are all online reviews great? Could comments also be harmful, and, if so, how can you mitigate the repercussions?

As you are no doubt aware, online reviews have their downsides. First, you should not underestimate the impact and possibility of fake reviews. Your competitors or even ex-employees can leave a fake negative review that might jeopardize your ratings. Since the people behind such comments have agendas, your attempts to address those comments would be futile.

Also, people tend to memorize only the negative parts of an experience and quickly forget the positive. As a result, customers generally leave comments only after having a bad experience with a company. At the same time, readers are also more likely to focus on negative reviews and neglect the positive messages, which leads to an unbalanced perception of the brand.

Another disadvantage of online reviews is their prevalence among the online community. There are so many websites where people can voice their views that marketers cannot physically process all of them.

That's where social listening comes in.

What Is Social Listening?

Social listening platforms collect all the data about your product from various sources and compile them in one comprehendible format. Based on preselected keywords, the social listening tool crawls the Web and gathers every mention about your company from media, websites, and other online sources, and stores them in one location.

Moreover, social listening platforms do not stop at simply collecting and storing your data. Using AI-driven technology, they analyze, categorize, and organize information, as well as build metrics for you. Based on those numbers, you can compare the number of positive and negative comments and make data-based business decisions.

That kind of analysis is usually referred to as sentiment analysis, and it helps you to identify the good, the bad, and the ugly of your product and the company itself. On top of that, you can monitor the mentions of your competition to see what it does right and wrong.

* * *

Humans are social beings, and we tend to build our opinions alongside others. Learning to use online reviews to your advantage can be powerful for your business. It can expose your brand to new audiences, build a strong community of loyal customers, and teach you a lot about your clients' needs.

More Resources on Online Reviews

Best-Practices for Developing a B2B Online Review Program

Five Ways Marketers Can Benefit From Online Reviews

When Your Reputation Is on the Line (and Online): 'Manipurated' Author Daniel Lemin on Marketing Smarts [Podcast]

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image of Aleh Barysevich

Aleh Barysevich is the founder and chief marketing officer of the companies behind SEO PowerSuite, professional software for full-cycle SEO campaigns, and Awario, a social media monitoring app. He is a seasoned SEO and social media expert and speaker at major industry conferences, including SMX London, BrightonSEO, and SMX East.

LinkedIn: Aleh Barysevich