Welcome to the Research Findings of the Annual BrightLocal Local Consumer Review Survey 2016
This survey explores how consumers read and use online reviews. The information contained in this survey helps businesses and digital marketing agencies qualify the value of consumer reviews and how reviews impact consumers’ opinions and actions when searching for local businesses. The findings of this survey are specifically concerned with reviews for local business services and not general product reviews.
About the Local Consumer Review Survey
The Local Consumer Review Survey was first conducted in 2010. Since we started running the survey we’ve seen see a dramatic shift in how consumers search for local businesses and the role that online reviews play in consumers’ research and decision-making process.
This year’s survey has evolved from 2015 with some variations on the questions asked. There are new questions, modified questions and certain questions have been removed which are no longer relevant or useful for SMBs and SEOs.
In September 2016, we reached out our US-based consumer panel and 1,062 individuals completed the survey. To provide a perspective on trends over time, we compare this year’s findings vs 2015 and 2010 data where applicable.
Why Are Consumer Reviews So Important?
A positive online reputation is one of the most powerful marketing assets a business has to convince new customers to contact them. The social proof contained within reviews and star ratings helps consumers short cut their research and make decisions faster and with greater confidence than ever before.
The growing quantity of online reviews and review sites covering more industries and services, provides huge benefits to both consumers and the businesses that fully embrace reputation marketing.
In follow-up to this survey, we published research that studies the impact of positive star ratings and reviews on both Search Click Thru Rates and Landing Page Performance. These findings, coupled with the results below, create a hugely compelling argument for why SMBs should invest more in reputation marketing.
1. How often do consumers search for local businesses online?
- 53% of consumers search for local businesses at least one time per month (vs. 43% in 2015)
- 69% of consumers search for a local business at least 6 times per year (vs. 60% in 2015)
- Only 5% said they never searched for local businesses online (vs. 9% in 2015)
This question helps determine how active consumers are at searching online for local businesses. The majority of consumers search for a local business on a regular basis with 53% of people searching at least 1-time per month (vs 42% in 2015).
Conversely, there is a significant decrease in the number of people who never search for a local business online – now just 5% of people.
2. Do consumer read online reviews to judge whether a local business is good or bad?
- More people are reading reviews on a regular basis (50% vs. 33% in 2015)
- 91% of consumers regularly or occasionally read online reviews
- Only 9% of consumers don’t read online reviews (vs. 29% in 2010)
More consumers are reading online reviews and on a more frequent basis. This ties in with the increase in consumers searching online for local businesses; and when they search they often see reviews and review sites included within the search engine results or in Google’s Knowledge Panel. So there is a correlation between more searches and greater attention/reading of reviews.
91% of consumers now actively read online business reviews. This means more and more people are searching for and reading reviews on a regular basis. This demonstrates that there is an increasing habit among consumers to proactively look for reviews – which is encouraging for businesses who have a positive online reputation.
It also appears that Google is placing more emphasis on reviews and ratings. They recently took the step to reference reviews and ratings from third-party review sites within the Local Knowledge Panel, alongside reviews from Google My Business/Google+.
This is a significant shift with Google showing that they appreciate the importance and significance of online business reviews.
3. How do consumers typically find online reviews?
**This question is new to 2016 so there is no comparable data from previous years. People surveyed were allowed to select more than one answer. The data was adjusted for this and we also deleted the people who don’t read online reviews from the data.
- 63% of consumers use a search engine to find online reviews
- 37% of consumers go directly to a review site to find/read online reviews
Search engines are the preferred method for finding online reviews — 63% of consumers surveyed said they turn to a search engine, like Google, Bing, Yahoo!, to find online reviews for local businesses.
However, there is still a large number of consumers (37%) that said they go directly to a review site (e.g. Yelp, TripAdvisor, Foursquare, etc.) to read online reviews. This may be because these consumers have a loyalty to a particular review website (i.e. Yelpers will typically go to Yelp directly to leave or look for a review. People who travel a lot may turn to TripAdvisor first.)
Because review sites and ratings are often displayed in search engine results pages, it’s possible that a percentage of the people who said they go directly to a review site do so by clicking on the review site listing in search results.
Regardless, these numbers show that having a local business listed on popular review sites and proactively growing consumer reviews is crucial for an SMB to attract new customers online.
4. Which devices do we use to read consumer reviews?
- PCs are still the most popular way to read online reviews (78% vs. 73% in 2015)
- More than 50% of consumers surveyed use more than one device to read reviews
- The people who use Mobile Internet to read reviews jumped to 61% (38% in 2015)
- Use of Mobile Apps to read reviews dropped to 18% (24% in 2015)
The majority of consumers search for local business reviews on a personal computer (PC), but mobile devices also prove to be a popular way to read reviews. Mobile devices let consumers search for local business reviews wherever they are, at the exact moment they need or want the business’ information.
Respondents to this question were allowed to select more than one answer. The findings show that over 50% of people use more than one device to find/read online reviews.
Local businesses will benefit by having online reviews on a variety of review sites, such as TripAdvisor, Foursquare, Yelp and others. Additionally, getting reviews on other platforms, like Google My Business/Google+ and social media platforms, like Facebook, diversify where a business’ reviews appear and can increase the chances to show up in search results.
Interestingly the percentage of consumers reading reviews via ‘Mobile Internet’ (61%) is significantly greater than those using Mobile Apps (just 18%). In fact the number of consumers saying they accessed reviews by mobile apps dropped by 6% from 2015.
This is most likely due to improved usability in mobile browsers and also because browsers are built into mobile device so all users have internet access on their mobile devices. Whereas you need to proactively download apps (like Yelp) to use them and a much smaller number of users will do this.
On a broader SEO note, the results highlight further the increasing use of mobile search by consumers. To capitalize on this, local businesses must ensure that they have a solid online presence — no matter what device a consumer is using. That means ensuring they have a website that is engaging, impressive and contains answers to the questions that people are searching for (i.e. uses the right keywords and content.) Additionally, a mobile-friendly website is no longer optional – it’s mandatory.
5. What type of businesses do consumers read online reviews for?
- Restaurant/Cafe reviews are the most commonly read by consumers
- Hotels/Bed & Breakfasts reviews were the second most frequently searched for business category
- Medical/Healthcare Professionals, Grocery Stores, Automotive Services and Clothing Shops are also popular
For this year’s survey, we adapted the business categories used so they mirror the most common categories that appear on review sites.
Overall, the results show that the most popular types of business reviews have not change radically since 2015.
Restaurants, Cafes, Medical, Health Care Professionals, Clothing Stores, Hotels/Bed & Breakfasts and Automotive Services are the key businesses that consumers are interested in reading reviews for.
However, these numbers do depend on the business type and how frequently consumers need to use that type of business.
For instance, businesses that consumers use more frequently are likely to have more reviews, and those reviews are read more often by consumers. But it’s important to remember that consumers still read reviews for locksmiths, accountants, pest control companies, etc., but because these services are not as regularly needed or used, those reviews are not looked up or read as often.
6. How many consumer reviews do we read before we can trust a business?
- 90% of consumers read 10 reviews or less before they feel that they can trust a business
- 68% of consumers form an opinion by reading just 1-6 reviews
- Only 10% of consumers spend time researching and reading more than 10 reviews (vs. 13% in 2015)
Consumers form opinions about a business faster than ever with 68% forming an opinion by reading just 1-6 online reviews.
Almost 9/10 consumers determine whether or not they can trust a business after reading just 10 reviews – this number should be the benchmark for SMBs/SEOs to aim for so they appeal to a broad set of consumers.
To remain relevant to those large percentage of people who read reviews, businesses must have a reputation strategy where they monitor what customers are saying about them, and also have a system which proactively get positives new reviews from customers.
Why? Well, when researching a business, most consumers look at the top reviews first. If the recent reviews are negative ones, that can significantly impact a consumer’s trust and they may not read past the negative reviews – even if there are many positive reviews just below.
Therefore, it’s important to monitor reviews regularly and focus on generating regular, positive reviews so that bad reviews are pushed down further on the list.
Many business owners don’t want to “deal” with reviews or think online reviews don’t matter. They’re often afraid of receiving negative reviews. The reality is this: People are going to leave online reviews about your business – whether you want them to or not. It’s best to be proactive and not reactive. Businesses should also see reviews as an opportunity to engage with their customers and get honest feedback about their business.
Simply asking a client or customer for a review is easy. Here’s a recent and very detailed blog post that discusses the importance of reputation marketing for SMBs.