Can’t buy me love: A small business owner’s guide to boosting positive online reviews

About the Author: Ashley Thomson
Ashley Thomson

“Any business that has delighted customers has a salesforce out there. You don’t have to pay them, you don’t see them, but they’re talking to people all the time.”
–  Warren Buffet

In my previous blog, Six Steps for Small Businesses to Handle Negative Reviews OnlineI ran you through what to do when bad reviews happen to good businesses. Now that we’ve covered off damage-control, let’s take a look at what small business owners can do to boost their positive online review hit-rate.

Good reviews: 4 reasons your business needs them

Considering the adage, ‘time is money’, giving much thought to what a happy customer is saying online about your small business may seem like a waste of a precious resource. If it ain’t broke… right?

At Tenfold we take a different approach; I mentor my small business coaching clients to play the long game when it comes to encouraging online reviews. Even a small investment of your time can really pay off in the form of:

1. Free advertising

Paid promotion has its place – you can control the conversation about your business and target the right people. It’s like walking up to someone at a party and introducing yourself (and, ok, having a little brag). It’s a great way to show the confidence you have in your business and get your name out there. (Downside: it can cost a fair bit of moola!)

A positive online review, on the other hand, is like someone at the party grabbing you by the hand and making the introduction. They will do all the work for you, raving about how happy they are with your product or service! No bragging necessary and you don’t have to pay a cent!

2. Social Proof

Psychology describes a phenomenon where human beings behave in similar ways to each other (also known as “the norm”) because, well, we just want to know we are doing the right thing! This is called Social Proof and it has a powerful influence over almost all the decisions we make.

For your small business, this basically means that if people can see that other customers have chosen your brand over your competitors’ (and have been happy with the experience with you), they are more likely to make the same choice.

Another interesting (and useful) effect of social proof is that if a customer sees a positive review of a business they have used, they are more likely to:
a) leave a review, AND
b) leave a similarly positive review.

So good reviews generate even more good reviews. You can imagine what this could do for your sales and profits!

3. Boost in your online search rankings

The 2017 Moz survey found that in addition to building greater trust and a higher Click Through Rate (CTR), review ‘signals’ (quantity, quality, etc) influence your Google ranking by as much as 13%!

Why does that matter? For every increase in rank (e.g. moving from 9th position up to 8th position) equates to a 50% increase in traffic. The more positive online reviews you have, the higher your business will rank and the more likely people are going to find you online.

Google reviews have the most clout with 81% of customers using the site, so it makes sense to focus your efforts there. That said, other sites such as Facebook, and industry specific review sites can play a key role as well.

4. Credibility for your marketing efforts

There are lots of practical ways you can leverage the power of a positive review in your small business. You can add quotes from reviews to your:

  • Websites – you can add testimonials, ‘call outs’ or sidebars
  • Sales and marketing collateral – brochures, pamphlets and direct marketing materials
  • Blog posts
  • Packaging
  • Email signature

If that’s not enough to convince you, research shows that displaying reviews can double or even triple a business’ conversion rate! (h/t the Spiegel Research Centre)

Stats and facts 

There are some compelling stats about online reviews and customer behaviour; here’s a quick rundown:

  1. 93% of customers say that reviews influence their purchase decision
  2. A 3.3-star rating is the minimum your business needs for customers to consider engaging with you
  3. Google reviews is by far the most visited review site (81% of customers have visited it in the past year)
  4. 77% of customers are willing to leave a positive review if you ask them to.
(h/t Podium)

A note on fake reviews

Don’t “fake it ‘til you make it.” It may be tempting to get your family and friends to go online and write a few glowing reviews on your behalf. Don’t. Just don’t. I mentor my coaching clients to avoid this dubious practice because it is often easy to tell which reviews are fake, and many sites have strict rules and processes to encourage users to report them. If you get caught you may get suspended from the site and it can damage your reputation.

It is also important to note that paying your customers (or even offering other incentives like a discount or freebie) in exchange for positive reviews is not acceptable, and even breach of some commercial laws in some places. Don’t worry, there are genuine ways to encourage customers to spread the word about your business.

How to encourage those good reviews for your business

Give them something to talk about

As Warren Buffet says, focus on really delighting your customers and “don’t settle for satisfied”. If you go the extra mile for them, they will tell people about it!

Claim your digital storefronts

You likely already have a Facebook page and an official website, but you may be surprised where else your business pops up in the online marketplace. Do a search and you may find that you are already listed on Google reviews,, WOMO, TrueLocal or other industry specific review sites.

Make sure that you claim these listings and treat them as the online storefronts they are. Check that your contact details and hours of operation are correct and add your websites, photos and other collateral. You will then be able to use this profile to respond to any reviews now and in the future (if you have read my last blog (link last blog) you will know how important this is).

Bonus tip:
You can manage your Google business listing and reviews via Google My Business. This guide outlines how you can do this in 3 easy steps:

Make it official

I coach my Tenfold clients to add “Ask for a review” as an official step in their sales process. This helps to position it as an important part of every customer interaction.

It can be nerve-wracking the first few times, but remember, 77% of customers are happy to do it they may just need to be asked.

There are a few things to keep in mind when you ask for a review:

  • Make sure your customer was happy with their experience. It seems obvious, but it is worth considering the experience from the customer’s point of view and thinking “what are they likely to say about my business?”
  • Tell them why you need the review.  Is it so you can keep improving your service or to spread the word about your great product? Let them know how it will help you.
  • Make it easy. The fewer steps a customer needs to take to leave a review, the more likely it is that they will follow through and actually leave one. Bring the opportunity to their inbox in the form of a follow up email. Include a link to your preferred review site, so that all they have to do is click, type and press “post”. You could also consider including a request for a review in your email signature, newsletter or add an easily visible button on your website.
  • Be grateful. Take the time to thank your customers for their effort in leaving a positive review. Their simple act has just helped you advertise your business, boost sales and build trust with potential customers. And be willing to reciprocate by providing reviews, if the opportunity arises.


Our four-step plan for Google Reviews

Many of our coaching clients have achieved great results using this exact plan for collecting Google reviews:


Step 1. Create a list of review requests

Your list doesn’t have to be high tech; on piece of paper or in excel will be fine. The list should include:

  • the name of people you’d like to request reviews from,
  • how you know them (they could be existing clients, past clients, staff members who worked in your client’s business, suppliers etc)
  • the date you requested the review, (so you can follow up any slow pokes), and
  • the date they posted the review

If a contact has already given you a testimonial or provided praise in writing (might be an email, a Facebook comment or a text message), use that. There are two main benefits of using their own words:

  1. It saves them time from having to think about what to write in their review
  2. People like to agree with their own thoughts (i.e. they won’t challenge a review that they wrote themselves!)


Step 2. Email your contact

Use different emails for whether the contact has given you written praise or not:


Email to client (current and former) with testimonial:

Hi <client name>,

I’m writing to ask if you’d be willing to put a review on Google for us. It’s quick and easy – simply click the link and add some stars and your comments.

To make it even easier for you, I’ve grabbed some sound bites from the testimonial you gave about your experience with <your company name>. Save time by copying and pasting them into the review, and remember to hit the stars!


Just click here to add your review and some stars, and you’re done!

Thanks <client name>! All of us here at <company name> really appreciate it!

Kind regards,
<Your name>

P.S. By the way, to post a Google review you will need to be signed in to your Google Account. Don’t have one? Sign up for a Google account here.



Email for contact (current and former clients, alliance partners) without testimonial:

Hi <client name>,

I’m writing to ask if you’d be willing to leave a review on Google for us. It’s quick and easy – simply click the link and add some stars. You’re also welcome to add some comments about your experience with <company name>.

According to Google, the most useful reviews are balanced; e.g. “I looked at other X businesses and found <company name> to be a cut above.” (or something like that)

Just click here to add your review and some stars, and you’re done!

Thanks <client name>! All of us here at <company name> really appreciate it!

Kind regards,
<your name>

P.S. By the way, to leave a Google review you will need to be signed in to your Google Account. Don’t have one? Sign up for a Google account here.


Step 3. Acknowledge the reviews on Google

Google will email you when someone adds a review for you. Once you get that notification, pop back online and make a comment to thank the reviewer.


Step 4. Repeat steps 2-3 and watch the stars add up!


A few more tips:

Keep reviews current. When including customer reviews in testimonials, websites, pamphlets etc make sure they are not getting stale, or they risk losing credibility. As a guide: for online use, try to refresh reviews every 3 months or so. Updating your printed materials this often is likely too difficult (and expensive) but each time you do a new print-run, use the opportunity to change your review quotes too.

Just a reminder from last time about setting up Google Alerts; if you haven’t set that up yet, then definitely put it on your to-do list – you won’t be sorry! Here’s how to set up Google alerts.

Bad reviews are not always so bad after all. Visit our previous blog to see how you can use the negative reviews to improve the customer experience and invite them back.


Bringing it all together

The results speak for themselves: reviews can significantly influence the purchasing decision of potential buyers. Follow these steps to cultivate good reviews and drive maximum value for your business.

Image source: By ingen uppgift (Scanpix) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons