Here you can see twelve branches listed A-L. The key statistics are:
- This time 12 months ago they had just thirteen reviews between them
- Now they have 77
- Of those 77 reviews, 38 are harmfully* negative - that's almost exactly half
- In October 2015 only seven branches had any reviews at all, now all twelve do
- In October 2015 only one branch had a Google score, now seven do
- In October 2015 there was no Google Filter, now all branches fail the filter
- The only branch with a Google score in 2015 (H) has seen that score decline
What has happened to drive this extraordinary growth? And why is it so overwhelmingly negative?
There is now no doubt that the explosion in Google reviews is a result of the following factors:
- Consumers have become increasingly aware that they can post a review very easily
- Once signed up to Google to post their first review, there are no barriers to writing the second and subsequent reviews
- Continued growth in the smartphone market has meant that more reviews can be written on the move, on public transport, in a restaurant or coffee shop, even walking down the street
- Consumers speak to each other. Those that have written Google reviews reassure others that 'It's not difficult'
- The motivation is so much greater to post a negative review. Estimates from a scientific study into the behaviour of Yelpers and TripAdvisor reviewers suggests that consumers are up to fifteen times more likely to write a review if their experience has been a negative one
- Happy customers generally don't write reviews unless asked to (consider the most reviewed branch - B above - 19 reviews in a year - under two a month, from a footfall of dozens a day)
So what has happened?
Google reviews have burst onto the scene and taken the business unawares. It's as simple as that.
What should businesses do?
They have four options:
- Do nothing - and see its reputation drift even lower over time - and its branches filtered from local search
- Channel customers opinions to one of the independent review sites: was a solution when the independent sites showed prominently in search, but the inflexibility of such a solution was highlighted when Google began giving overwhelming prominence to its own reviews
- Attempt a DIY solution - essentially inviting its customers to leave reviews to Google direct. Better than option 1, but missing a great opportunity to harness its happy customers' opinions to display on its own website and, crucially, to manage negatives before they are posted to Google. Remember that cherry-picking customers to write reviews to Google can hand an advantage to your competitors
- Adopt professional review management and get great reviews to its own website, manage negatives in private, and get great reviews to Google
We will repeat this article in twelve months time - it will be interesting to see what has happened by October 2017.