If it had not already been clear that building up a significant inventory of positive online reviews is key to attracting new customers to a business, let doubt linger no further.

A whopping 52 percent of consumers ages 18-54 “always” read reviews when searching for local businesses, and only 53 percent will consider businesses with fewer than four stars, according to a survey of 1,005 US-based consumers by marketing platform BrightLocal. Eighty-two percent of consumers overall read online reviews.

Review volume and businesses’ responses to reviews are major factors in consumers’ decision-making processes. Consumers said they tend to read 10 reviews before making a decision about a business. Of those who read reviews, 97 percent said they pay attention to the responses business owners and operators write.

We in the local marketing industry have been recommending for some time response to reviews as an important trust-building activity that lets consumers know your business is listening,” said Damian Rollison, vice president of product strategy at Brandify. “Adding your voice to the conversation is only partly about responding to the person who wrote the review. It’s actually more important because of the positive impression your responses can make on other readers — especially if you make sure always to respond in a constructive, personal, and timely way.”

As consumers become more frequent readers of reviews, they are also playing critic themselves more often. Two-thirds of the survey’s respondents said they had written reviews of local businesses. The average reviewer wrote nine reviews in 2019.

Yet some reviews are materializing through shady means. Twenty-four percent of consumers who had been asked to leave reviews said they had been offered something — a quid pro quo, if you will — such as a discount, gift, or cash in exchange for their feedback.

Those devices will land businesses caught deploying them in review jail; Google, for example, says it will remove all reviews associated with the scheme gathered by guilty parties. (Whether it actually succeeds in catching those in violation of its rules is another matter.)

In addition to solicited reviews, the survey found that review fraud is alive and well. Forty-six percent said they believed they had read multiple fake reviews in the past year, an increase of 10 percentage points on the rate for 2018.

The article Report: Reviews for Local Businesses Are Essential Ratings Below 4 Stars Are Deadly by Joseph Zappa first appeared on Street Fight.