For this post, like many others, I’m indebted to a client for a discussion about this topic. As you can guess, there’s no single magic number of reviews that you can aim for and then relax once you’ve attained your goal. Even if there was, you’d still need to keep seeking reviews because anyone reading reviews wants to see a review of the business or product as it is now, not how it was three or six months ago.
The good news is that there is now some reasonably good data around on this topic, so we can get some guidance.
Why Do Reviews Work?
Today there’s a huge buzz in Internet marketing circles around online reviews. That’s because they’ve been shown to be an excellent way to attract business. In fact, it’s been reported many times that shoppers trust written online reviews second only to personal recommendations from family and friends.
Why are reviews so effective at attracting business? This occurs because reviews have become the latest form of what’s called “social proof“–a well-known psychological and social phenomenon where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behavior in a given situation, observing what others are doing in order to decide how to behave. It’s a case where we can do online what we are accustomed to doing in our everyday interactions with each other.
The recent BrightLocal survey showed that nearly one-fourth of consumers say that in order for reviews to influence their buying decisions, the reviews should be no more than two weeks old. That’s a strong result showing that recency matters–so you need a continuing flow of reviews.
I’ve heard that there are two answers that consultants give: either “that depends” or “you’re going to need to give me more money.” In this case, it’s the first answer–how many you need depends on the purpose you have in mind.
If you ask how many reviews it takes for someone to make a purchase, the real number is likely one–one review that’s credible, that has enough detail, that the reader actually believes. Of course, for even one review to be credible, it needs to be found in the company of other reviews, so just one isn’t enough after all.
PowerReviews conducted a study with Northwestern Univesity They found that the number of reviews required depends on the length of the reviews. When reviews are shorter, more reviews are needed to cause sales to occur; fewer reviews are needed if the reviews themselves are longer.
Brightlocal, in their 2017 survey, got some numbers. The good news is that only 26% read 11 or more reviews before they believe they can trust a business. Two or three reviews will do the job for 29% of review readers, 34% need four to six reviews, and 20% need seven to ten reviews. Looking at this cumulatively, 86% of review readers will trust a business after reading seven to ten or fewer reviews. And with just two or three reviews, 32% of review readers can trust your business.
That tells us that a relatively small number of reviews can do some good in convincing people to do business.
The leaders all have over a thousand reviews! Notice that the highest average scorer, Le Diplomate, has the top rank, even though the two restaurants ranked below it have more reviews.
Here’s the result of another search, for “Urbana, Md. dentists”. The top listing here has 117 reviews and an average score of 4.9. Note that they’re given top billing even though Urbana Dental Spa has the same star rating, but only 11 reviews. It appears that Google is comparing the number of reviews for the businesses it retrieves.
Now we know how many reviews we need to get into those top listings on Google My Business–more than the nearby competitors! So keep an eye on how many reviews your neighboring competitors are getting, and attempt to get ahead of them.
A word of caution here–the number of reviews is not the only factor that Google considers in the Google My Business listings that it presents at the start of page one. In order to get here, your site must also have quality content, presented in such a way that Google understands that you have what it considers quality content.
How Many Stars Do I Need?
In the examples above, it was clear that the average star rating was a factor in ranking as well. The BrightLocal study compared purchaser behavior for various star ratings, for three categories of purchases: hair color, light bulbs, and salon hair color. For all three, the optimal range for purchase was between 4.2 and 4.5.
That’s right, the rate of purchase actually drops off for a star rating above 4.5. The research team believes that a score that’s close to perfect may seem to be too good to be true. Negative reviews can actually have a positive impact because they can help establish authenticity. An earlier study by PowerReviews showed that consumers view the absence of negative reviews as suspicious.
This is really good news for a business that’s seeking reviews because it tells us that the occasional negative review won’t hurt us; it can actually help us. As long as it’s merely occasional, and the average star rating stays above 4.2.
For some services, such as medical and dental services, there may be an exception. Would you want a surgeon who botched only 5% of her surgeries? Likely not. Or a dentist who made a real mess of one in 30 fillings? Probably not. There are some services that are of great importance, where we may want a result that’s closer to perfection than the range of 4.2 to 4.5. The only evidence I can offer to support this idea is a few sites of dentists with star ratings about 4.5 that do attract patients.
The Bottom Line
First, find out how many reviews you have today on the most important review sites. You can count them on Google, Yelp, and other sites, or you can get a free report by clicking here.
Then see how your average star rating, recency, and number of reviews line up with the numbers given above. If you don’t measure up well, then consider a review management service, such as Dave’s Certified Reviews.
Whatever you do, though, even worse than doing nothing is the fraudulent practice of writing or hiring people to write fake reviews. The reviews will not be as effective as genuine reviews, and if you get caught you’ll pay a heavy penalty.