Word Of Mouth Is More Important Than Ever For Local Businesses

Online Ratings are the new Trust Currency

Virtually everyone in business is familiar with the mantra “the best form of advertising is by word-of-mouth.” Yet, uttering those words these days might make you sound more old fashioned than Ward Cleaver.

Today you’re much more likely to hear about things like blogging, backlinks, hashtags, interactions, and conversions. However, while many of the old guard marketing practices are gasping for their last breath, the notion of word-of-mouth remains surprisingly relevant. People still need and value the experience of a trusted adviser.

But the trusted adviser role is changing from one that favors in-person (offline) authority to one that favors online authority, and it largely follows the generational shift. For Millennials, online ratings are a form of trust currency.

Good reviews help you sell more product on eBay, get more fares if you drive for Uber, rent your home on AirBnB, and sell more books on Amazon. Higher seller ratings actually result in higher revenue. People will pay a premium to 5-star sellers because of perceived trust.

Trust has always been a key to success for local business. Let’s look at three ways the trust factor has been amplified online:


Let’s face it, friends are rarely experts. The experts are online – blogging, commenting in forums, being quoted in news sources, etc. The more obscure a topic, the less likely your friends and family can be of much help. Some websites even reveal dubious extreme reviews, leaving one to wonder if the writer was a former employee with a grudge, or a planted dummy social profile set up to boost product sales. Expert sites overcome this issue.

You might not be CNET or G2Crowd, but if you sell a product or service, you likely are an expert. Writing up some helpful, educational blog articles that address common issues helps demonstrate your expertise not only to prospective customers but also to search engines. Furthermore, you can garner third party credibility by submitting your own product or service for review on other expert sites such as those mentioned above.


Nothing can tear down a bad argument or bad information faster than the web. During the presidential debates, CNN and other sites had “Fact Check” pages to expose the veracity of candidates’ statements. Post false information on Wikipedia and it will quickly be corrected. Wonder if something you hear from a coworker is fake news? Snopes it. The web has a way of righting wrongs.

Similarly, a little genuine dialogue goes a long way toward building brand trust. It extends the conversation and broadens reach to your audience. Conversation makes you real in the eyes of an online audience, and people still want to do business with real people. Some of the best social media pages are successful simply because they are written by passionate people talking about the things they are passionate about.

Let’s say you are interested in hiring a landscaper to do some backyard projects and you stumble across two local landscaper pages. Company A has a long string of daily posts by Joe (the owner) with seasonally relevant gardening tips, before and after pics of his work, and responses to customer questions; Company B has one post from 2 years ago and a coupon for saving 25% on a first project. Which company would you call? As a business owner, which customers would you want? Customers responding to Company A are more likely to value quality over low price.


There’s a difference between one friend recommending a book, and 500 reviewers on Amazon giving it an average of 4.5 stars. One can even read what the high scorers liked and what the low scorers didn’t like. Sure, the personal recommendation of a friend with similar interests is powerful. But when that friend isn’t readily available, a dozen or more 5-star ratings is a more-than-sufficient substitute.

If you run a local service business, you know that positive online reviews are essential, and that it takes only one or two bad reviews to seriously harm your credibility and your bottom line.

Here are a few simple suggestions:

  1. Make sure you are leveraging all the major review sources, as well as proper markup on your website to take advantage of the SEO benefits associated with reviews.
  2. Resolve issues immediately. Numerous studies have shown that customers don’t expect companies to be perfect. They do, however, expect them to right their wrongs.
  3. Ask for honest feedback following interactions. Customers who can give direct feedback immediately are less likely to go online and vent their frustrations later. Studies show that customers are significantly more likely to respond if feedback requests are made within 24 hours of the interaction.
  4. Ask for a positive review. Upset customers have motivation to leave negative reviews. Satisfied customers rarely think about it. So ask them. You could even consider offering an incentive.  An occasional negative review may be inevitable, but enough positive reviews will minimize their impact. Here again, invite customers to leave reviews as soon as possible to maximize response rates.
  5. Find third party sources to review your service or product. It will unlock expertise trust, and provide valuable inbound links which help your search engine rankings.

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