The New Rules of Online Reviews in 2024
Recently, the Journal of Marketing Research published a study about the effect of online reviews, and researchers have uncovered something surprising.
I’ll get to that in a second but first a little online review review. (heh)
For the past ten-ish years, the prevailing wisdom was that basically everyone reads online reviews, and buyers trust them as much as they trust the guidance of a friend. Once business owners realized this, we all went bananas trying to get as many reviews as possible.
Lots of people still do trust online reviews. In a study earlier this year, almost half of people (49%) say they trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation.
The thing is, this is an annual survey and the year before 79% of people said they trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation.
That’s a huge drop in trust over a very short time frame. So what the heck happened to online reviews this year? Well, I bet you can guess.
Why do dramatically fewer people trust online reviews this year than did the year before?
Another study by German researchers offers a clue.
Over the past year, there has been a lot of public discussion of fake reviews, and fake reviews lower the trust in all reviews.
The problem of fake reviews has existed for at least 10 years, but in the past year governments and online sellers are doing much more to stop them from proliferating, which means more people have heard about them. For example in the US, new FTC rules threaten huge fines for companies caught purchasing fake reviews. Amazon came out publicly and asked for help combating them.
These actions prompted a ton of news coverage, and more people than ever now understand just how widespread fake reviews are.
You may have started to think about this yourself. It’s become such a common topic of discussion that a lot of people are approaching reviews with much more skepticism than they did even a few months ago.
They Still Read Them, Though
Despite more of the population getting wise to phoney reviews, I still recommend my clients work to get as many (real) reviews as they can.
The reason I recommend maintaining a review program for your business is because even though fewer of us trust reviews, we’re all still reading them.
Another surprise? People still trust negative reviews. In other words, you need to keep soliciting reviews because while clients are more doubtful of positive reviews, they’re as sensitive as ever to the negative ones.
This kind of makes sense if you think about it. No one is buying negative reviews. Of course they can be manipulated as well, but not on the same scale of positive reviews where a few hundred bucks can buy you dozens of faux fans.
New Research on Online Reviews
Which brings us to the new study I mentioned earlier. Italian researchers have published the first research that examines the effect of individual reviews on consumers.
We’ve studied the effects of all reviews on whether someone is likely to buy for more than 10 years. We know that if a product is rated 2.2, it’s not nearly as likely to be chosen as a product rated 4.2.
This study examined whether a single review (negative or positive) presented on the product page was enough to change the customer’s buying journey, independent of the product’s overall rating.
The answer is yes, if it’s negative. The team found that a single negative review decreases the likelihood of purchasing by 48%.
What It All Means For You
To me, this just underscores the importance of good, genuine reviews. Yes, it’s too bad that people are less likely to take those reviews at face value because of the increase in fake reviews.
However, it’s actually pretty easy for most people to spot a real review. Real reviews have personal/specific details that a fake reviewer would not include. This means you need to ask your customers to include specific details when you ask them for their review. You could ask them to include:
- When they visited your business and why
- What prompted them to make the purchase
- How does your offering compare to others they’ve tried
All of this information is unlikely to be found in a fake review.
Respond to Negative Reviews Strategically
Finally, because we know that a single negative review can have a devastating impact, it’s important to respond strategically.
If someone leaves you a negative review, the single most important thing you can do is immediately bring in as many positive reviews as you can. Reach out to loyal clients and ask them. Enlist everyone you know who might be willing to help. (Following the platform’s terms, of course. No one is suggesting you get into the fake review business yourself!)
Instruct reviewers to be specific. Typically reviews are sorted by recency, so you want your most recent reviews to be positive.
Next, you need to respond to the negative review. If a buyer reads it, they should at least see your response to the critical review.
I personally believe the best answer to a negative review is always (always!) “Thank you for your review. I’m so sorry your expectations weren’t met. Let’s talk offline about how I can fix this.” And that’s it.
Even if you know they aren’t a customer. Even if you know they’re a terrible customer. There’s zero benefit and a ton of risk to arguing or correcting someone in a bad review. All customers want to see is a business committed to making things right.
I thought of this recently when I went to review a restaurant I really enjoyed. My enthusiasm to leave a good review waned somewhat when I saw how the owner was responding to the few bad reviews. To wrap things up today, I’ll leave you with a few examples of what not to do.
Still unsure on how to set up a review system that helps you get those positive, genuine customer reviews your business needs? We have a guide that will help you to do it in a few steps. It’s 100% free, and you can download it here.