Since 2010, BrightLocal has been conducting the Local Consumer Review Survey. Over the years, the results of this survey have become invaluable to small business owners who wish to analyze the trends in how local consumers use reviews and ratings in their selection processes.

Is your small business serious about reputation management? Are you trying to capture a larger share of your local market? Well, we promise not to bore you with too many statistics, but there are some important takeaways from this report that small business owners should really pay closer attention to.

Reviews of Your Business Help Customers Find You

When selecting a local business, 86% of customers read online reviews as a part of their decision-making process. That number continues to climb each year, too. Nearly all people between ages 18-34 read reviews when deciding whether to choose a business. That means it’s crucial that you have positive reviews of your business online, and it is worth your time and energy to cultivate more reviews for your business. Consumers generally read at least ten reviews of a given business before they trust that yours is their best choice.

The Number of Recent Reviews is More Important

If you want customers to read your reviews, they should be as recent as possible. If the last review of your business is a year old, customers are more likely to keep on scrolling. In fact, 85% of those who read your reviews believe that any that are older than three months are irrelevant to their needs.

More people are expecting your business to have multiple reviews before they can trust what is being said. Younger consumers are the pickiest about this, expecting at least 40 reviews in order to believe your overall star rating. This age group trusts online reviews the most, and they hope your business takes them seriously, too.

Ratings are Just as Significant as Reviews

If your business has less than four stars, you are missing out on a significant portion of your potential customer base. Nearly 70% of respondents said they only use businesses with four or more stars. If you have a low rating, ask yourself why. What can you do to improve your products or service to improve your overall ranking? And when was the last time you asked customers to rate you online?

Younger Customers Read and Write Your Reviews

As much as we like to complain about those damned Millennials, guess who is writing the majority of your online reviews? You guessed it! Four out of five people ages 18-34 write online reviews. Your customers in this younger age group are also much more likely to trust online reviews over personal recommendations. That means your services and products should appeal to your younger customers since they are the ones taking the time to review you as well as rely on those reviews to choose your business.

Your Responses to Reviews Are Noticed

Most consumers today know that having a few bad reviews isn’t a death sentence for a business. There are just some people out there who will never be happy. Which is why how you respond to reviews, both positive and negative, plays a role in their decision-making. Nearly 90% of respondents said they read business owners’ responses to online reviews. Your reviews, then, can become a platform for reaching potential customers.

How to Use This Information:

Having this information is helpful, but what next? Now that you know how customers are using online reviews, how should this affect your business’ decisions and strategies? Start with these three recommendations to adapt your reputation management strategy for the changing marketplace.

Ask Every Customer to Review You

There is no need to focus your request for reviews on a specific age group because, in the eyes of consumers, every review is equal. When you ask every one of your customers to review you, you are more likely to get more reviews. Seems logical, right? Nearly three-fourths of people who are asked to leave a review go on to write one. So, why aren’t you asking more of your customers for reviews?

Respond to Every Review

Whether someone leaves positive or negative feedback, you should respond to them. Consumers like to see that you are aware of and value customer feedback. Respond respectfully, even when you disagree with their opinion. Prompt responses get attention, too.

Reading a negative review can deter some customers from selecting your business, and your responses to these reviews can offer context or tell your side of the story. Tell all those potential customers what your business is really like by addressing these lower reviews.

Responses are also an excellent place to address fake reviews. Have you spotted false feedback on your business? Call it out in your response, so others know what to watch for. Trust in reviews has started to dip over time, primarily due to the prevalence of fake reviews. Business owners need to do their part to combat this problem if they want to continue to rely on reviews to bring in new customers.

Create a Plan

When you have to monitor multiple platforms to keep up with your reviews, it can be daunting. But this part of your marketing approach can’t be ignored. You must have a plan and dedicate human resources to gathering more reviews, responding to reviews, and analyzing the feedback customers share. Facebook and Google are the most popular places for people to leave online reviews. Who in your shop reads your reviews on these two sites regularly and handles them? If you can’t handle all your reviews on your own, hiring a marketing and brand management professional can help you stay on top of it all.

Without this coordinated effort, you are losing out on a valuable tool-set that could really impact your bottom line. You are competing online and in the physical space for new customers, and only when you have an effective online strategy can you hope to come out ahead in both.