Note From Tommy: This “Expert Series” post is a little different from the others that we did, in that it’s not an interview but a guest post Bryan O’Neil has written. I’ve known Bryan for a number of years, he’s been in the Internet Marketing industry for several years now and helped write the book on site flipping in it’s early days. Bryan runs several ventures with Optimum Feedback being one of them. Below is a post Bryan has written about the current state of online reviews and his predictions for the future.
The online review landscape is ever changing, with more people than ever before relying on online reviews before they make a purchase – online or offline. This becomes evident from Optimum Feedback’s recent research project Online Reviews in Numbers, which found that 84% of US adults trust online reviews as much as they trust a personal recommendation. This is up from 80% in 2015, indicating a significant change.
But where is the review landscape going? Are Yelp and Tripadvisor going to take Google’s place when it comes to reviews? Is it still possible for a local business to survive without reviews in a few years’ time? Is anything going to significantly change in the way reviews work?
No-one has the actual answers, of course. But fueled by the thought that even the 1985 movie Back to the Future made at least 10 predictions that came true 30 years later (and we’re certainly no worse in predicting future than Robert Zemeckis), I thought I’d give it a go.
Here are my 6 predictions on how online reviews will change in the next five years.
1. Online Reviews will be Personalized
Whether we like it or not, big data and personalization have been hot topics already for several years, and this isn’t likely to stop anytime soon. Google, Facebook and others have gone to great lengths to utilize every ounce of personal data that they have on you, and to deliver what they call “personalized experience”. In layman terms, this means ads that you’re most likely to be susceptible to.
But recently, personalization and data mining has started to quickly shift from the big corporations to smaller players. And there’s no reason to believe that consumer reviews will be left out.
My prediction is that by 2022, the overall online review experience will be much more than the current “search for a company” > “scroll through reviews” sequence. It’s far more likely that reviews will be tailored based on the individual needs and wants of each user.
With machine learning and semantic analysis software getting more and more accessible and Big Data only growing, the Yelp of 2022 is likely to know exactly whether you’re the type of person who cares most about prices, or someone for whom good customer service is a non-negotiable thing. And the reviews you will see first are going to reflect these personal preferences.
2. Reviews by friends and acquaintances will gain significant importance
For a long time, reviews and personal recommendations have been compared. Many studies have found that nowadays that over 84% of US adults trust online reviews as much as they trust a personal recommendation.
But what does this have to do with the future? Quite a lot! It’s my belief that the split between personal recommendation and online reviews will begin disappearing, and by 2022, you will get personal recommendations via online review platforms.
With popular review platforms getting more and more popular and people becoming more willing to review the businesses they visit, it’s very likely that soon enough nearly every business in your area will have at least a few reviews that are written by people you know personally.
Review sites will then prioritize these reviews, to show you what people who’s opinion you trust think of the business.
Apart from the obvious advantages, this will also help review sites combat the ever-growing and huge issue of fake reviews.
This movement can also significantly increase the prominence of the likes of Google and Facebook. How many people do you know who have an account with Yelp.com? But now think how many people you know who have a Facebook account? I’m guessing a lot.
3. Google Will Dominate the Review Landscape
For a long time now, Google has been in the business of driving other businesses out of business.
What do I mean by this? Think of Google Maps (who remembers Mapquest or Via Michelin maps any longer?) Think of the Android operating system (Nokia OS anyone?) Think of Gmail (how many people do you know who still have an email address ending @comcast.net?
And with Google already having a review platform integrated into the search engine, it would be naive to believe that they’re not banking on driving external review platforms out of business. Their advantage? Everybody uses Google! It’s incredibly easy for Google to start offering a “one stop” experience, and most Internet users are suckers for convenience.
And the best part – Yelp gets most of its traffic from – you guessed it – Google! So it doesn’t take Google a whole lot to “switch off” Yelp and others, so to speak.
4. More Businesses will Interact with Reviewers
Business owners and marketing managers are quickly learning the importance of interacting with online reviews and reviewers. Our internal data suggests that from 2014 to 2017, interaction with online reviews has increased by a whopping 284%.
Major review platforms are nowadays almost considered at par with customer support channels. It used to be that reviews were somewhat “disconnected”, but nowadays with the majority of people relying on online reviews before visiting a business, this mindset is quickly changing.
My prediction is that by 2022, it will have become standard practice for all businesses – small and large – to interact with reviewers on an ongoing basis and address any complaints raised publicly. Furthermore, data suggests that more and more people tend to voice their concerns publicly through reviews and social media platforms, rather than looking for a solution directly, making this change even more likely.
5. Many Reviews will Shift to Social Media
With social media platforms gaining more prominence every year and showing no signs of stopping, this is certainly going to affect the consumer review landscape as well.
It’s already considered a norm for any reputable business to have a Facebook Page, and a large number of people are turning to Facebook (rather than Google or other channels) when looking for service providers.
This tendency is very likely to continue well into the future, and by 2022, it’s probable that a very large part of online reviews will be distributed through Facebook and other social media channels. This prediction goes nicely in hand with personalization of reviews discussed above, as for social media giants, the Big Data is already there for them to take advantage of.
As such, I believe that traditional review-only sites will further decline in their prominence as reviews will slowly consolidate to search engines and social media platforms.
With this in mind, it’s as important as ever to have a strong Facebook presence and be ready with the shift when it happens.
6. Review Management Services will Thrive
With reviews increasingly deciding which businesses succeed and which ones fail, business owners and marketing managers are already today constantly looking for solutions that help them manage their reviews, as well as solicit more reviews.
Some businesses resort to using expensive outsourced services costing upwards of thousands of dollars per month, others utilize platforms like Optimum Feedback to help them get more reviews and decrease the impact of negative reviews.
“Build it and they will come” is no longer the case, and it takes significant time and resources to properly manage one’s review acquisition strategy. As more companies are devoting resources to this, it’s our prediction that by 2022, the majority of business owners who value their time will have started using a review management platform.
With most of your competitors using advanced tools to gather more and better reviews, those businesses that don’t will simply fall behind their competition.
It’s undebatable that consumer reviews are extremely important for businesses of all sizes – both in 2017 and in 2022.
These predictions can turn out to be accurate or otherwise, but the fact is that reviews are already the primary driver of sales, and with the overall awareness growing by day, every business that wants to keep ahead of their competition needs to take consumer reviews seriously, rather than hiding behind the “customers in my industry don’t care about reviews” line, which has been proven inaccurate in virtually every single industry.
Beat the competition and take your business’s reviews into your own hands!
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