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Online ratings and reviews are an inescapable part of the real estate business today. But just how much do the opinions of past buyers and sellers affect the actions of prospective ones? The answer may surprise you.

One source of information I use to help me advise agents on digital marketing best practices is BrightLocal, which measures overall consumer online behavior through a range of key data points.

The following five statistics, pulled from BrightLocal’s recently released 2020 Local Consumer Review Survey, make a compelling case for how real estate agents should approach this important aspect of their business.

1. Are customers paying attention to online reviews of local businesses?

Yep — and they are doing it in increasing numbers. From 2019 to 2020, the percentage of consumers who checked out online reviews of businesses of interest rose from 81 percent to 87 percent. Or, put another way, only one in 10 do not.

We’re now in “a review economy,” said Tom Ferry, the top-ranked real estate educator and bestselling author. Today, clients and prospects are consulting online reviews before they purchase anything, whether it’s spending $10 on Amazon or $10,000 on Expedia.

Those same customers search through agent online profiles and company histories before deciding whether to reach out to you. An agent with only a small sampling of reviews, old reviews or no reviews, will almost certainly lose a potential client to the competitor who sports a healthy mix of positive online engagement. 

Your collection of positive reviews tells a story of dedication, service and winning negotiation skills. And best of all, it’s being said by clients, not the agent.

2. How many reviews do consumers need to trust a business? 

For the past three years, the average consumer has read 10 reviews before taking the plunge and engaging a particular business. I think this number and frequency comes as a surprise to many of us.

Consumers are consistently consuming far more reviews than we thought. That average number of reviews required before taking action rises in relation to the cost of the product or service they are investigating. 

So if an agent expects to earn the trust of someone and be chosen to handle their home purchase or sale, he or she will probably need 10 positive reviews at a minimum on any platform that carries information about them.

3. What percentage of customers asked to leave reviews actually do?

I often come across agents who feel that they are bothering their clients by asking them to write a review. However the survey found that 76 percent of consumers willingly provide this kind of online assessment.

So, don’t worry. Reach out. It’s clearly become a necessity if nearly 90 percent of consumers want to read them and three quarters of consumers will leave them! When an agent delivers superior service and great guidance, an appreciative client will likely want to help. It’s the law of reciprocity at work.

So, agents should always ask for a review from customers who have a successful purchase or sale. Asking is the first step. It may also be the hardest, but it will get easier. Make it part of your checklist and have a template with email copy including links to your preferred review platforms ready to go with your thank you or follow-up. A few prompts can be provided to get them started and up your rate of response. 

There are also online reputation management systems that can automate the process for you. GatherUp is one example. (Writer’s note/discloser: We internally use GatherUp products, but make no money for mentioning it.) If someone doesn’t respond within a few weeks of your request, it’s worth it to follow up. It’s a good excuse to check in to see how they’re adjusting.

4. What percentage of consumers who read reviews read the response from the business?

Almost all the people who read online reviews — 97 percent according to BrightLocal — not only watch for the business to respond, but make judgments based on what they see. This means that all businesses, including real estate agents, need to respond to online reviews — ideally within 24 hours.

Whether or not it’s a positive review, consumers notice that a business took the time to show appreciation that they and other consumers are taking their time to comment. If it’s a positive review, responding with a short and sweet “thank you” or message of well wishes and appreciation will suffice. 

5. What about responding to negative reviews?

Do you lose points by ducking a negative review or gain some points by directly addressing it? It turns out the most important point is that you respond. The BrightLocal research determined “there’s no real distinction in consumers’ perceptions of businesses responding to ‘positive’ versus ‘negative’ reviews.”

If anything, the edge goes to those who face up to the negative reviews. Seventy percent say they are more likely to use a business that has responded to their negative review, while 69 percent say that about those responding to positive reviews. 

Clearly, regardless of the type of review, the key is showing you care and that you’re willing to engage regardless of the comment. And the way we respond to criticism is a better test than how we respond to compliments. LeBron James said, “I like criticism. It makes you strong.” 

So respond graciously and professionally. Accept online reviews as part of communication with the market and potential clients will give motivated agents a boost in engaging prospects and elevating their online reputation. 

Lisa Suazo is a Marketing Technology Director with WEST, a Williston Financial Company in Denver, Colorado. 

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