For the past six years, US research organisation, BrightLocal has published the findings of its annual survey into consumer reviews. Year in and year out, the findings establish the absolute supremacy of online reviews as the primary driver of consumer behaviour and this year’s survey made some interesting observations that are key to both businesses, and consumers alike.

While the percentage of those going online to read reviews before contacting a business is still as high as ever – over 90% – this year’s survey delved further into the behavioral habits of those reading reviews – what they look for, how long they spend reading reviews, and what their next steps are afterwards – than in previous years.

For the first time respondents were asked how many minutes they spent looking at feedback before making a decision, and the average response time of over 13 minutes is an eye opener. In reality it suggests that consumers are discerning and the time going over reviews is the legwork before picking up the phone. Reviews form the bulk of the critical information required before considering purchase or engaging services.

“We were impressed at how long some consumers spend researching local businesses, but really, this isn’t a very long time to impress, so it’s important that they like what they read! Whether consumers are reading reviews in-depth or skimming for keywords, consumers can get through a lot of information in this time. This means a business’s online reputation management strategy should be far more robust than ensuring the top review is positive towards your brand.” (Source: “Local Consumer Review Survey 2019,” BrightLocal).

Another key finding is the huge percentage – over 97% – of respondents who admit they read a business’ response to feedback. This figure is up from 89% last year and establishes what a huge, and easily accomplished, advantage it is for a business to take a few minutes to reply to reviews – good and bad. It signifies effort, gratitude and portrays an online conversation that instills consumer confidence.

“Responding to reviews is your chance to demonstrate what your business and customer service are really like. If you respond promptly, politely, and helpfully to less-than-glowing reviews, you have the opportunity to influence far more than the person who left the original review. This is your chance to tell your side of the story, as well as to help change the mind of the reviewer.” (Source: “Local Consumer Review Survey 2019,” BrightLocal).

What consumers value when looking at reviews is also a critical factor influencing decision making and this year’s survey listed the order of important information with the currency – or how recent reviews are – at the top of the pile.

Most important factors in reviews

  1. How recent reviews are
  2. The business’s overall star rating
  3. How many reviews a business has
  4. How legitimate reviews appear to me
  5. The sentiment of the existing reviews

Currency has steadily grown as a huge influencer as reviews have become more and more sought after. It speaks to trust and believability – that the business is present and current. Considering that most things we look for online are recent – news, social media, travel information, for example, then it makes sense that reviews need to ne as recent as possible too.

Furthermore – when asked how recent reviews need to be to influence decision, 48% of consumers say they only pay attention to reviews written within the past two weeks, whereas 84% believe that reviews older than three months aren’t relevant.

For businesses committed to offering a transparent and honest assessment online, reviews are an essential element of overall success but tweaking how they deal with reviews and how they work to ensure they are recent, can only increase their overall worth and effectiveness.