It’s a fact: sometimes no amount of advertising, Tweets, or direct mail can reach your customers the way an online review can. We’ve learned to shut out the noise that some brands still insist on putting in our ear, and we’re more inclined as consumers to listen to what our peers say about a company.

Since 76% of customers look at online reviews before making a purchasing decision, you as a company have the opportunity to really benefit from what your customers are saying about you on the Internet. That’s fine and good, you say, but where should I send customers to write an online review? Which sites are the most reputable? Which will send me the most traffic?

Our Favorite Eight Sources of Online Reviews

Don’t despair, dear reader. I’m going to introduce you to 8 of the best places to get company reviews from your customers and drive traffic to your website and through your doors.

1. Yelp

Yelp has become the de facto spot to review a company and see what others are saying. I personally have avoided certain catastrophe by reviewing a restaurant’s page and seeing that there were hundreds of one-star reviews and plenty of complaints. Yelp helps me decide where to spend my money, and the fact that it’s easy to share socially means your business gets even more exposure when someone reviews you. Do a search on Yelp to see if your business is already listed. If it’s not, claim it here.

2. Angie’s List

If you’re a service provider, especially in construction or remodel, this is the place you need to be to boost your company reviews. Angie’s List requires members to pay and they can’t review companies anonymously, which automatically increases the quality of your reviews. Your account, however, is free, so if you’re not already on there, sign up.

3. Trustlink

trustlink

CorpNet likes Trustlink for a few reasons. One, it makes it easy for customers create company reviews. Two, a company can post coupon codes and special deals for Trustlink reviewers. Your customers can even become a “Groupie” with the click of a button, which just means they’re big fans of yours and want to tell everyone. There are also other resources, including articles, community forums, and information on the latest scams to avoid. Sign up here.

4. Google My Business

Naturally, if you’re trying to move up search results, you’d want to hit Google. There’s some that have issue with the fact that Google ranks its own results from Google My Business, Google+, et cetera, above other results, but if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. If you have a Google + account, make sure you set up a Business Page. Once you’ve got that set up, there’s a tab where customers can review you. And if you’re a restaurant, your Zagat ratings will also be pulled into your Page, since Google acquired Zagat. Once you have company reviews, they’ll pop up on other Google properties, like Map and Search. More SEO for you!

5. Facebook

While Facebook keeps tweaking the layout and features of Business Pages, one recent addition I noticed is the Recommendations box. (It’s on the right column of Business Pages). There, visitors can easily rate you up to 5 stars and leave a comment. It’s dead simple. Unfortunately, when I tested this out, it didn’t seem like it posted my Recommendation for CorpNet to my own timeline. Bummer. Still, it’s worth the effort to encourage your Facebook fans to leave a quick recommendation.

6. LinkedIn

You didn’t know there were company reviews on LinkedIn, did you? They’re kind of hidden, but since you want to be in as many places as possible, if your customers spend a lot of time on LinkedIn, it’s worth investigating.

Under your Company Profile, there’s a section for Products and Services. There, your customers can recommend any of your listings.

 7. Consumer Reports

While Consumer Reports allow you as a business to set up a profile, it does include its own reviews of products, as well as consumer reviews. And it is one of the most respected sites for finding product and company reviews. There is a community forum section where members (who pay for the privilege of accessing the info on the site) can discuss brands and make recommendations.

8. Yahoo Local

I’m the first to zero in on Google as the de facto search engine, but I’d be remiss if I ignored the others.  Yahoo, in particular. While it’s a lot quieter on Yahoo Local than on Google Local, it’s still worth the effort to make an appearance on the site. The section of Yahoo’s site provides company info and reviews for all manner of businesses. And when you do a search on Yahoo, the star ratings are right next to the results, making it easy to choose the one with better reviews.

How to Foster Great Company Reviews

One of the biggest obstacles small businesses have with online reviews isn’t getting negative ones: it’s getting them at all. Especially for brick-and-mortar businesses. It’s easy enough for a customer to agree to review you on Yelp when she’s in the store, but the task quickly slips her mind once she leaves. Here are some strategies for encouraging customers to follow through on the review.

1.Email them the link. You should be emailing your customers regularly anyway, so include links to the top two or three sites you want reviews. Explain how important online reviews are to the success of your business, and encourage them, if they had a good experience with your brand, to leave a review.

2. Create an in-store opportunity. Set up a tablet with your review sites bookmarked, and invite customers to review you on the spot. Just don’t stand over their shoulders, or they might not be as honest with their reviews.

3. Offer incentive. While you don’t want to buy a review (Yelp has serious guidelines against this), there’s nothing wrong with offering a little motivation to get the review. Offer 20% off a customer’s next purchase if they review you online.

Managing Your Online Reviews

It’s important to stay on top of who’s reviewing you and what they’re saying. If you’ve registered for Yelp, you’ll get a notification when there’s a new review. Always respond to the review publicly, either thanking the customer for his kind words, or to help resolve an issue a disgruntled customer is having.

Bad reviews aren’t always a business-killer. How you handle the negative situation is extremely important, so never show your emotions in your response to an unhappy customer’s review. If you’re upset by what he said, take a day to cool off, then come back and put on your best “customer is always right” face, even if you don’t think he is. Apologize and make it right. Offer a refund, free meal, whatever it takes to turn this customer around.

If you successfully turn the angry customer into a happy one, ask him to revise his review to reflect his new state. It will go a long way to securing other customers when they see how willing you are to make a customer happy.