New tech provides an added punch.
By Joe Dysart
New free tools from Google™, Bing™ and Twitter™ are making it virtually effortless for businesses to solicit a positive review from a satisfied customer—and then instantly redistribute that review to the customer’s online social circles. The technology, essentially a recommendation button that is clicked to indicate an endorsement, can be added to any business web page or product page in seconds.
Phil Tyson, CEO, AGI Group Inc., Sarasota, Fla., is among the believers when it comes to the power of online reviews. “They have helped to increase our business between 10 and 20 percent,” Tyson says. “Customers like to read the testimonials—it adds credibility to the information we provide, and allows them see how the product may work at their home.”
Jon Yoder, Internet sales for Veada Industries Inc., a boat seat and tent camper materials manufacturer in New Paris, Ind., agrees with that assessment. “Online reviews and testimonials have helped generate confidence and a level of trust with customers and potential customers,” he says. “By viewing an existing customer’s review, along with any pictures, a potential customer is able to visualize and gain a first-hand account of a recent upholstery project.”
Many reviews users, including AGI Group’s Tyson, believe that specialty fabrics businesses should embrace the concept of transparency along with online reviews, and allow negative reviews to run alongside the positive, even if the practice makes you feel a bit squeamish at first.
“If the critique is honest, it is a great opportunity for improvement,” Tyson says. “Everyone makes mistakes, but it’s really about how you respond to an unhappy customer or negative feedback and resolve the situation to everyone’s satisfaction. Ultimately, a negative review can result in a positive influence on your business.”
Marty Schulte, owner of EclipseSunshades.net, adds, “I definitely agree that negative reviews add credibility to a business. Consumers are smart and realize that no business or product is perfect. This, plus the large amount of information online, makes it difficult to hide the negative. It’s important for businesses to embrace negative feedback, as it lends credibility to an establishment and provides a level of transparency.
“When a customer has a negative experience, we reach out and do what we can to resolve the problem. Even though the initial experience may have been negative, we find that these customers appreciate the individualized attention and frequently purchase from us again. Allowing potential customers to view the process that leads to a negative experience being resolved can be very valuable.”
One way to counter unfair reviews is to solicit fair reviews during the purchasing process. Eric M. Scop, vice president of sales and Internet marketing at Retractableawnings.com, Miami Gardens, Fla., says his company sends along a request for a testimonial every time it emails shipping information on an order. “We request that they send a testimonial and we obtain their permission to post the testimonial on our website,” Scop says. “We chose this method as it allows us to have the testimonial in writing.”
Becoming a solicitor
Another easy way to solicit reviews is to post free online review tools on your website. One of the newest is the Google +1 recommendation button, rolled out last summer and currently used on more than a million websites, according to Vic Gundotra, senior vice president of engineering at Google. A click on the +1 button authorizes Google to take a personal endorsement someone posts on your site and run it under Google search engine returns associated with the company or product, under Google ads for that company, or on the recommended company’s website. If the endorsement comes from a member of the new Google+ social network, it gets even sweeter: for “thumbs-ups,” Google is also authorized to run a photo of the member along with the review.
“This isn’t social simply for the sake of social,” says Pehr Luedtk, CEO of PowerReviews Inc., San Francisco, Calif., a popular online review platform that has incorporated the +1 button into its own reviews platform. “It’s a way to drive real business results by leveraging the power of recommendations made between friends and peers.”
Web surfers using the service must be signed into a Google account to see and click on the +1 button. If you’re logged into Google Mail, YouTube, Google Apps or the new Google+ social network, for example, you’ll be able to see and click on +1 buttons. While Google reserves the right to display a +1 recommendation to any Google user, Gundotra says that the search giant is most interested in showcasing the endorsements to friends and acquaintances in the reviewer’s social circles on Google. Currently, that translates into the social connections the reviewer has on the Google+ social network, Gmail™ or Google Talk™ chat list, Google Contacts, Google Reader™ and Google Buzz™.
A relentless tweaker, Google has already found a way to turbo-charge the +1 button when used on the Google+ social network. A click on +1 now activates +Snippets, a function that automatically includes “a link, an image and a description in the sharebox,” says Gundotra. “They’re a great way to jumpstart conversations with the people you care about.”
Publishers can benefit from +snippets as well. With just a few changes to their webpages, publishers can customize their +snippets and encourage more sharing of their content on Google+. More details are available on the Google Webmaster blog.
In addition to offering businesses an easy way to broadcast positive reviews to all Google users, +1 recommendations (especially in great numbers) are being used by Google to boost search engine returns. “Google has confirmed that this new feature will be used as part of its ranking algorithm for organic search results,” says Alex Membrillo, principal, Cardinal Web Solutions, Atlanta, Ga. “Although it will be only one factor of many, the number of recommendations a page receives through the +1 button will be considered as a possible indication of that page’s relevancy.”
Programming for profit
Not surprisingly, Bing and Facebook have decided to partner to promote a rival recommendation program that’s just as easy to use. Dubbed the “Bing Bar,” the kudos maker enables anyone logged into Bing to use a universal Facebook “Like” button to endorse a company or product page to their friends on Facebook. Facebook users are well-acquainted with the Like button, which they’ve been clicking on for months now to indicate a thumbs-up approval of companies with Facebook pages, or companies sporting a Facebook Like button on their websites. Redistribution of Like reviews on Bing is done in much the same way as on Google, with endorsements showing up in Bing search engine returns, as well as on the Facebook social network.
“The best decisions are not just fueled by facts; they require the opinions and emotions of your friends,” says Yusuf Mehdi, senior vice president at Bing. “Search is now more than a fact finder—we’re marrying fact-based search results with your friends’ street smarts.” Bing is also using Likes to alter search engine results by pushing Liked companies to the top of search engine returns of Facebook friends who happen to pull up the Liked company during a search on Bing.
Still another recommendation service is available from Twitter, offering a free “Tweet” button that can be easily added to any website. The beauty of Twitter’s button is that a business need not be a member of Twitter—or even understand how Twitter works—to derive promotional benefits. Simply embed the button on key pages of your website and Twitter users will handle the rest by clicking the button and instantly tweeting to their followers about your company, product or service.
For analytics fiends, there’s even more good news: Google’s latest update of its free Google Analytics™ service enables marketers to track all the endorsements they’re receiving from the +1 button, Facebook Likes and Twitter’s Tweet button.
“Our ‘Customer Testimonials’ page is one of the most viewed pages on our site, and many of our customers have been referred to us by friends, co-workers—even strangers,” says Eclipse’s Schulte.