BrightLocal’s Local Consumer Review Survey 2014: What Does It Tell Us?

BrightLocal has published another one of its “annual exploration into how consumers read and use online reviews.” Their Local Consumer Review Survey 2014 has plenty of discoveries small and independent businesses looking to gain an edge over their competitors could use. So what’s new with this year’s survey results and how do business owners use the information to improve their overall online marketing strategy?Before we start poring over the results of this year’s survey, let’s take a look at last year’s findings. Oh but wait, here’s some quick facts about it:

  1. The survey was conducted by the BrightLocal team from January to February of 2013.
  2. The survey consisted of 14 questions.
  3. There were 3,600 consumers that made up the survey panel.
  4. The participants were from the United States and Canada.
  5. BrightLocal received 2,100 responses, 90% of which were based in the United States.

With that in mind, we head on to last year’s results:

  • There is an increasing number of people relying on reviews, but they are reading only a few of them. This means that while they are relying more and more on reviews for their pre-purchase research, they are also forming opinions faster than expected. As a result, there is no need for them to read a couple more reviews before choosing a brand for their specific need. Majority (67%) of the participants admitted to reading an average of six reviews or less, which was only 52 percent back in 2012.
  • Majority of consumers read online reviews to determine whether a local business has a good standing with the public. An overwhelming number (85%) of consumers have confirmed their reliance on online customer reviews when checking out local businesses. The trend is steadily going upward as 2012 the result was 76 percent. There is no doubt people are getting comfortable with reviews and beginning to place their trust on them.
  • Online reviews influence how consumers look at a business. Customer reviews have a direct and actual impact on another consumer’s purchasing decisions, with 73% of consumers saying that positive reviews convinces them to trust a business more. In fact, 79% of consumers place a great deal of trust in online reviews, so much so that they value it as much as they value personal recommendations (it went up from 72% in 2012).
  • Consumers still rely on word of mouth when recommending a local business.  In fact, 72% still personally refer local businesses to their friends and relatives. It is important to note, however, that Facebook and Twitter are increasingly being used as recommendation channels as well.

To see the entirety of the survey, click here.

The BrightLocal Local Consumer Review Survey 2014

Moving back to this year’s Local Consumer Review Survey, let’s take a look at the particulars:

  • The purpose of the survey is to determine just how important local business reviews are to consumers. This includes finding out how such reviews influence the decision-making process of consumers and certain actions they perform when looking for a local business. The focus, therefore, is on local business reviews and the purchase of local business services.
  • The survey has undertaken a few changes, or rather, improvements. There are two new questions and three removed from last year. The reason? BrightLocal felt that they were no longer relevant to small- and medium-sized businesses and SEO companies.
  • The focus still remains on the North American market. The local consumer panel consists of almost 5,000 individuals, all of which were contacted. BrightLocal was able to receive 2,104 entries. A dominating majority (90%) came from the United States, while only 10% came from Canada. The survey took place from May to June.

Survey Questions and Their Categories

Now we can start analyzing the survey, beginning with the questions. Here’s how they categorized the questions:

  1. Consumption of Online Reviews
  2. Trust and Influence
  3. Reputation Traits
  4. Incentive to Recommend

They got it so well-covered, there are so many things business owners and online marketing companies can learn from the data BrightLocal was able to acquire. Let’s start analyzing the questions and the results.

1. Consumption of Online Reviews

Question #1: How many times have you used the internet to find a local business in the last 12 months?

The Lowdown: Majority of the consumers (57%) performed local search for businesses. How often, you ask? Over six times annually, it appears. This means they look for businesses at least once every other month.

Question #2: Select the Business Types you have searched for via the internet in the last 12 months?

The Lowdown: There is an increasing number of people searching for local businesses over the past year. Top searches are restaurants/cafes, doctors/dentists, general shops, and clothing and retail shops. Since these are the most visited shops and establishments, it is no wonder that they are the most locally searched businesses on the web.

Question #3: Do you read online customer reviews to determine whether a local business is a good business?

The Lowdown: An astounding 88% of consumers have read reviews to help them find out the quality or reputation of a local business. It was 85% in 2013. A significant percentage (39%) even read business reviews regularly. It just goes to show that people are getting more and more comfortable relying on these reviews.

Question #4: Which of these businesses types have you read online customer reviews for?

The Lowdown: Again, the most frequented establishments and institutions are garnering the most searches for local consumer reviews, such as restaurants (56%), hotels (35%), doctor/dentist (35%), and beauty salons (31%).

Sub-Question: How many different business types do consumers read reviews for?

The Lowdown: An increasing number of individuals are reading more reviews for different types of businesses, with special attention to hair and beauty establishments, as the growth rate for the searches is quite high. (9% in 2012, 17% in 2013, 31% in 2014).

2. Trust and Influence

Question #5: How many online reviews do you need to read before you feel that you can trust that business?

The Lowdown: More and more people are reading reviews, but they are looking up to no more than six. Consumers have also been reported to read over 20 reviews before deciding to trust a local establishment. This can serve as benchmark for companies, but they have to keep in mind that the majority reads only up to six, so they have to have a string of at least ten positive reviews.

Question #6: What average star rating is too LOW for you to consider using a local business?

The Lowdown: It comes as no surprise that 92% of users will choose a local business that has consistently earned a four-star rating. Conversely, businesses with a lower rating would find it difficult to attract new customers.

Question #7: How do online customer reviews affect your opinion of a local business?

The Lowdown: Majority of consumers (72%) admitted that positive reviews help them trust a local business more. Businesses appear more trustworthy when when they are backed up by positive reviews.

Question #8: Do you trust online customer reviews as much as personal recommendations?

The Lowdown: It is quite impressive how far consumer reviews have come in terms of winning the hearts and minds of consumers. In fact 88% of the survey participants say that they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

Question #9: When you read positive reviews of a business, what is the next step you generally take?

The Lowdown: It seems like the next logical step (for 57% of the consumers) after reading a positive business review is to visit the business’ website. This is because reading reviews is one of the final steps in the decision-making process and has a direct impact on turning potential customers into actual clients.

3. Reputation Traits

Question #10: For which of these local business types does ‘Reputation’ matter the most when choosing a business?

The Lowdown: Doctors and dentists came out at the top of the survey results as local businesses that need a solid reputation, with 47% of consumers selecting this category. Companies in the medical field or hospitality industry should ensure that their services are of the highest quality in order to avoid negative reviews.

Question #11: Which of the following ‘Reputation-traits’ is MOST important to you when selecting a local business to use?

The Lowdown: 27% of the consumers who took the survey said that reliability is the reputation trait that is most important in a local business, followed by expertise (21%) and professionalism (18%). Other factors include good value, accreditations, friendliness, and courtesy.

4. Incentive to Recommend

Question #12: In the last 12 months have you recommended a local business to people you know by any of the following methods?

The Lowdown: Quite surprisingly, word-of-mouth is still the most widely used method of recommending a local business, with 61% of the consumers providing this answer. This is interesting, since they are already online, they can use social media to recommend a business to their friends and relatives. Having mentioned that, 37% have made use of Facebook, 12% tweeted their recommendations, and 10% shared their thoughts on a local business on Google+.

Question #13: Which of these factors would make you more likely to recommend a local business to people you know?

The Lowdown: In relation to question 11, 68% of consumers have said that they are more predisposed to recommend a local business if it was reliable and professional. On the other hand, 44% have said that being friendly and welcoming is important in a local business. One thing that is also important to consider is that 9% of the consumers were willing to recommend a business if they were asked to, something that business owners might want to take advantage of for their marketing campaign.

In hindsight, what does all of these tell us?

There seems to be one reverberating idea throughout the survey, and that is business reviews are becoming more and more important to consumers with each passing year. BrightLocal has been doing their survey for four years now, and it seems like the hold of local consumer reviews is getting stronger. They have become trusted tools in the consumers’ purchasing process.

With this in mind, it would be wise for business owners to be mindful of the way they treat their customers and provide their services in order to sustain a steady stream of positive reviews. It would be an excellent move to start including local consumer reviews as part of a company’s online marketing campaign.