You’ve probably been hearing stories through the grapevine for a few years now:

  • The restaurateur whose dinner service began selling out after a few positive Yelp reviews (which then got him more reviews)
  • The dentist whose new patient leads dropped to near zero after a patient who didn’t understand her pricing blasted her on Google+, Healthgrades, Dr. Ooogle and every other review site he could find
  • The established real estate agent lamenting the new need to ‘play the game’ on sites like Zillow

The review space may still be relatively new (Yelp was founded in 2004 and took more than six years to amass its first 5 million reviews), but it’s finally established enough that a steady stream of research is beginning to confirm what we already know anecdotally:

There’s an incredibly powerful, direct connection between your online reviews and the success of your business.

Bazaarvoice recently released ‘The Conversation Index” Volume 8, which contains some amazing new insights into the true power of online review marketing. What they’ve discovered is a multi-faceted virtuous cycle that begins with your very first review.

1. Your First Reviews Immediately Affect Conversions

According to the report, the first positive review of your product or service can lift sales and conversions by as much as 10 percent. Those early reviews are incredibly important, too – the first 50 can account for a conversion boost of up to 30 percent.

The benefit tapers off from there, but continues to increase with review quantity. In other words, the more reviews you have, the better your product or service will convert, indefinitely.

So having even one review under your belt can benefit your business – but how can you make that first review happen?

Well, we’ve been solving that problem for years with tools to ask, remind and guide customers through the review process. A Bazaarvoice case study found that post-purchase review reminder emails increased daily review volume for one business by 137 percent. That’s no lie. When we launched automated email reminder campaigns this spring, users told us they started seeing marked increases in new reviews, some as much as 3x-5x.

2. Even a Small Volume of Reviews Carries a Sizable SEO Benefit

It only takes about 8 reviews for their marketing benefits to start compounding. Your eighth review marks the beginning of a tangible SEO benefit for your business website (side note: make sure to claim your review site listings so you can link them to your business website).

When pushed to your website, reviews are an excellent source of ‘dynamic content’ for your page. Google loves webpages that frequently update with a steady stream of fresh content. There’s no better way to ensure consistent, fresh content for your website than to begin sharing and syndicating user-generated content (UGC – which can be anything from reviews to Instagram photos to tweets) across your website and social media properties.

(Note: The ‘steady stream’ is important in other ways, too – a consistent trickle of reviews is seen as more authentic and trustworthy than a sudden flood of 5-star reviews that all get posted on the same day. That’s why there’s no silver bullet to the reputation problem: the solution is to do good business every day and have a review process in place for the long haul.)

The Bazaarvoice report finds that reviews specifically have a strong SEO benefit when added to a product page, increasing search traffic to that page 15-25 percent. Local businesses, in turn, can put their latest and greatest reviews on a conversion page of your website in rich-snippet markup, e.g. using SEO-friendly ‘Review Stream’ WordPress plugin or other means.

The inevitable result of more search traffic? More visitors, who are then more likely to become customers. And with more customers come more reviews, which leads to more conversions, and then more traffic…

…but that’s not the end of this virtuous cycle!

3. Syndicating User-Generated Content Dramatically Increases Review Writing

Maybe it’s because you’re empowering your customers to share their experiences and giving them a voice – but the fact is that sharing UGC across your website, social media channels, etc. leads to more UGC, specifically reviews.

How big of a boost in reviews you can expect depends largely on your industry, but even the least impacted vertical (department stores) still experienced a 28 percent boost in review numbers from syndicating the UGC surrounding their business (Consumer electronics experienced the biggest boost at an incredible 324 percent).

So leveraging all of your user-generated content is like adding fuel to the fire of your already-virtuous cycle.

Side Benefit: Valuable Product Insights

A high volume of reviews (100 or more) can deliver valuable insights into your product or service – if you know what to look for. While we all hope for high ratings, those 3 and 4 star reviews are more than twice as likely to contain product suggestions than other ratings (1-3 star reviews are most likely to highlight flaws present in the product).

Beware: Authenticity is key

We say it often on the Grade.us blog, but one of the biggest takeaways from this report was that buying fake reviews is a very bad decision. Consumers are 81 percent more trusting of reviews that they know are monitored by a neutral third party – another point of value in having real reviews on third-party sites that filter or moderate out fakes.

Nearly half of consumers have more trust in a business that displays some negative reviews because they perceive them as a sign of honesty and authenticity. While some pros and cons of products or services are relative, a strong review response strategy appeals to all prospective customers – that is, they like to see businesses proactively and personally working to solve customer problems.