Posted by : Amanda Stein Saturday, September 8, 2012

Online review sites like Yelp, Google+ Local, TripAdvisor and Urbanspoon are popular channels for customers to share their opinions and experiences with other people.

Many companies find that their business is being reviewed on these sites, but they don’t understand how the sites work. The following information lets you know how exactly customers use these sites and how it affects your business.

Reviewers need to register.

In order to leave a review on a review site, a customer needs to register with the site. Though these sites offer users a profile to share their information, most of them only require a valid email address. Names, pictures and other information are not required. This allows users to share their experiences anonymously.

Your company should claim your business, but doesn’t have to.

Some companies think that as long as they don’t claim their business on these sites, they cannot be affected by online reviews. But these sites don’t require your business to register in order for customers to leave reviews. If your business has not created your own page on these sites, a customer can create one for you. Though this takes the task off your hand, the customer will not fill out all the information appropriately, or they may even provide the wrong information. Now, your business is out there providing customers with the wrong (or not enough) information.

In order to use online review sites to your advantage, your company should claim your own page. Most online review sites will allow you to claim your business for free, but usually have paid memberships that provide you with additional perks. When you claim your business, you can create your own profile with the right information and you can respond to reviews by others.

Customers rate your business.

Online review sites have a ratings system in place that allows customers to give your business an overall rating. Most review sites have this rating set up as five stars, with five stars being a great rating and one star being a bad rating. Some online review sites just allow customers to leave a basic all-around rating while others provide specific categories that customers can rate, and based on those ratings, the company is given an average rating. For example, some hotel sites ask customers to rate prices, amenities, service, cleanliness and other factors separately. Then, all of these ratings are combined to give the hotel an overall score.

Most sites will then give businesses an overall rating based on the average of all reviews. Companies who have a mix of good and bad reviews may find their overall rating in the middle, while companies who have all great or all bad reviews will find their company on the respective end of the spectrum.

Customers leave feedback.

Along with rating your business, customers can also leave feedback. This means that customers can provide details as to why they chose to rate your business a certain way. Not only does this provide a reason to other customers using the site, but this can also provide you with feedback as to what your company is doing wrong and what you’re doing right.

Online review sites remove spam.

People unfortunately use online review sites to create fake reviews and spam sites with links to their own websites. Online reviews sites have rules set in place and use special formulas to determine whether or not a review is real or fake. If they suspect that the review is fake or spam, they will remove it.

Online review sites will also allow businesses to request that a false review be removed from their site. If your business notices a review that doesn’t make sense, you can ask the site to remove it. Just know that these sites have certain requirements and proof that need to be made in order for them to remove the review. They will not simply remove it because it’s bad and you don’t want it on there.
Review sites are extremely popular, and new sites are being created everyday. Your business is going to be affected by these sites in some way or another, so it’s a good idea to claim your business on the sites and know how they work. This way, you can try and use them to your advantage.

Steven Peters is a small business owner.  He enjoys giving advice to others about review tracking and online review monitoring.

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