Small business owners are underestimating the importance of online reviews — negatively influencing their communication with customers as a result, according to a new survey conducted by local marketing provider Yodle.
Yodle, which provides online marketing tools for merchants, surveyed 300 small businesses in the service industry and discovered that a majority of them did not see online reviews as important. Meanwhile, 90 percent of customers consider reviews to be a necessary component of effective interaction with companies.
“Small business owners are not investing enough time and energy” in maintaining their online presence in the form of reviews, said Yodle CEO Court Cunningham.
According to the survey results, only 13 percent of small business owners are actively pursuing online reviews from their customers. The survey identified Facebook, Google Local Listing, Angie’s List, Yelp and CitySearch as specific review sites.
Though Cunningham does not consider the survey to be applicable to small businesses in general — restaurants, which generate heavy activity on review sites, were not included — the findings were enough to indicate a sobering disconnect between businesses and their customer bases, despite a broad acknowledgment of the importance of the Internet in customer retention and acquisition.
“Most [small business owners] get that their community is going online to do their research first,” Cunningham said. “But the online reviews system is very, very cumbersome. There often isn’t a marketing person on staff that can spend hours not actually doing work to spend time there.”
The system to which Cunningham refers is the processes in which businesses ask customers to write reviews across an array of review and social media sites. The survey reveals that small businesses see this as a separate and unnecessary process from their day-to-day marketing strategies.
In addition to lacking the necessary resources to drive new reviews, the majority of small business owners also believe review sites are biased in favor of businesses that advertise on those sites.
“There is healthy skepticism of paid review sites like Yelp,” Cunningham said of advertising swaying the online reputations of businesses. “Yelp has repeatedly denied that they do this, but the general belief is that it’s a racket, and you have to pay them. That’s the perception.”
Yelp, along with Google Local Listing, is the largest repository for online reviews of small businesses, Cunningham said.
Streamlining customer outreach with social media is one solution to this business/consumer divide. Most business owners consider industry-specific sites and their own websites to be the most important places for review postings, according to the survey, but connecting Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media accounts to review sites like Yelp can provide a first step into bridging what Yodle considers a detrimental gap.
“This should be a wake-up call,” Cunningham said. “These businesses need to get active before their competitors take advantage in doing so.”
Annie Melton is a reporter at Street Fight.