One day someone will make a movie about a consumer who goes 'Back to the Future' to a time when some businesses did not have reviews. Unlikely? We agree - but it's a point worth examining in more detail. What will the reviews landscape look like in the near future?
It's only natural. We all focus on this month and next month, whilst occasionally neglecting to take the long view. Here we will make some more of the predictions that regular readers are used to. Some of these will be unarguable - that there will be more reviews written next year is an obvious example. Some will involve a little crystal ball gazing, but, without appearing to boast, we have a pretty good track record on that front.
First, let's turn to 'unarguables':
- There will be more reviews: Businesses that already have reviews will have more, some of those that have none will have some. Of course, you say. But what of the implications?
- There will be businesses that engage: they will respond to their customers' comments and they will actively seek out ways to harvest and promote those comments: they will show verified reviews on their websites - not testimonials - and they will incorporate them into their marketing
- The will be businesses that remain in denial: they will simply sit back and wait for the first review to be posted, ignoring the power of positive consumer opinions to drive business
- That Google will continue to dominate: for the simple reason that it provides reviews without being interrogated. If you want Yelp - you have to go through Google. Need a hotel? you Google - and see Google reviews first. Simply by virtue of being the gatekeeper to the web for the overwhelming majority of consumers, Google reviews are the ones that get seen by everyone - even when they are not looking for them!
- That hosting verified reviews on your website will drive more and more business: all evidence points to the consumer journey being: 'search - see Google reviews - be impressed - see more reviews on the business's own website - make contact'
- That review growth will continue to be exponential: currently about one in three Google reviews are being written by first-timers - we call them 'Google Virgins' - but nearly half of them get the review bug to some degree - going on to review more businesses. This results on a ever-expanding number of reviews. Our prediction: Your business will get more reviews; if your business has not been reviewed already, it will be - soon!
Research at MIT shows that it's your most loyal customers who are most likely to leave a negative review. Wouldn't your rather they did that direct to you rather than publicly on the web? By adopting professional review management you enable them to do just that
- That succeeding generations are more, not less, likely to write and read and be influenced by reviews: Millenials, now in their late thirties, are far more likely to trust reviews and other UGC (user generated content) - by a factor of up to 50% more than Generation X (those born between 1960 and 1980) - according to global research giants Ipsos. Our personal and professional experience dovetails with this. You never hear a 30 or 40-something say 'I wont read reviews' or 'I don't believe reviews'. They get that reviews can be gamed, but they are used to applying their own filters to get an impression of a business. They are far more likely to say 'I won't consider a business unless it has great reviews'. How do you think AirBnB has grown so quickly? In a word - reviews. Our prediction: reviews will become more important by the month. Businesses with few - or none - will suffer against those of their competitors who actively engage
Just because those under 35 trust reviews more than their older peers doesn't mean that Baby-boomers and generation X don't trust reviews - just look at this chart: still 69% in the 55+ age group trust reviews. There's much more on this here courtesy of SearchEngineLand
- That businesses will soon fall into three categories: those who have great reviews, those who have no reviews and those that have reviews but look less than great. Given that the cost of the former is in the realms of a decent mobile phone contract there is no barrier to entering the review management arena. Our prediction: the first category will outperform the other two
We were one of the first outside Google to notice the introduction of the review filter - and we doubt that anyone sets their filter at anything less than 4 stars - we suggest you try it on a search for local restaurants and then imagine it being applied to your business
- The Google Filter will be introduced for all businesses: Those of you who have noticed the Google Filter on mobile will be unsurprised to hear that we predict that a version will soon be introduced for desktop. More importantly - with well over 50% of search being on mobile these days, we predict that the filter's range will be broadened to non-hospitality businesses. Our prediction: Businesses - of any kind - that score less than 4.0 out of 5 will be filtered from search
Does your heart sink when you receive an email like this? So why are businesses still sending them? Because customer feedback is central to efficient business management. But how much better to allow your customer to write a review whenever they want?
- The days of the customer survey are numbered. Good review management will perform even more of the functions currently fulfilled by customer surveys, and in a way that benefits both businesses and their customers. Our prediction: Review management will replace much conventional CRM
First adopters are traditionally the smaller, more entrepreneurial businesses - those that have the largest market share, like the household names above - will follow. By 2020 well managed Plcs will look just like this:
- That high value services will adopt review management: services such as wealth management, the medical profession and legal advice will recognise that their potential clients/patients are reassured by reviews. Our prediction: In three years' time the market leaders in these services will have adopted professional review management
Reviews are here to stay, and they are going to be more important every day. Every business needs a review management strategy, and those that are slow to adopt one will suffer. Not just because they don't look great on their own websites and in search, but because consumers are becoming conditioned to expect reviews and when they don't find them they are increasingly inclined to think that the business in question doesn't care sufficiently to engage with its customers in public. Maybe it even has something to hide? Is that the message you want your business to convey? If you have read this far, we guess not.
Speak to Karen Hutchings or Fiona Christie and they will fill in the gaps - and tell you how little it will cost your business to be a 'business of the future' today.