The internet is full of online review sites; some are dedicated to serve specific industries, and some are generic across multiple industries. For example we have a dedicated review site for the property industry – raterAgent. There are a ton of great things about online review sites that can really help a business succeed and take them to the next level. However, there are also some important drawbacks that could potentially harm an excellent business, if they choose the wrong one to engage with.

One thing we know for certain is that online review sites are here to stay, from things like toasters to Tanzania – everything is reviewed. So let’s clear up some of the pros and cons for business users when using these sites.

The Pros
Good online reviews bring in new customers
People frequently look for reviews of a business online to check its trustworthiness, customer service levels and legitimacy. By reading about the experiences others had there, they are better able to assess whether that business is a place they want to spend their money. Online review sites provide a virtual way to use "word of mouth" advertising.

Prove your trustworthiness and transparency
In engaging with and promoting an online review site, you are open to the truth, be it good or bad you are embracing the thoughts of your clients. This benefits your brand image as you are seen as being transparent, even if you have some bad reviews. If you respond to these bad or average reviews it could actually be more powerful than a lot of good ones, you are seen as acknowledging the problem and you are willing to rectify it.

Hardly anyone trusts reviews on your own site
If you have a testimonial page on your site with non-independent reviews on, you are more likely harming yourself than benefitting. Most savvy people online will know that non-independent reviews hosted on your own site can quite easily be skewed to show you as the ‘best business in the world ever’. Having these reviews on an independent, checked and controlled site means they can’t be skewed as easily and are seen as far more trustworthy. Some review sites even allow you to create live feeds from their sites to yours, so you can keep your beloved testimonials page, the reviews will just be from a better, far more trustworthy source.

Review sites can increase a company’s reach
It's not just local people who read online reviews, that’s why they are online. People from around the country (or even world for that matter) read them. For a business that has a physical location in one town, positive online reviews can bring them out-of-town clients. People selling on eBay, Amazon, and Etsy have found themselves with customers from around the world thanks to reviews on these sites themselves. This type of reach can make a business more profitable than it ever could have been on a local basis alone.

The Cons
It’s easy for competitors to post false reviews on some sites
On most review sites, it is easy for competitors to register under a variety of names and post negative reviews. This is a form of corporate sabotage for the digital age, and there is little a business can do about it unless they can 100% prove the negative reviews were from a competitor. Some review sites like raterAgent aim to change this however. They check every single review that comes to the site using a triple lock check, first using a 13 point algorithm that goes through things like IP addresses, then going through a manual check on social media and other sources, and if the review is in dispute they will contact the reviewee for proof they used that agent. Only after the review has gone through that process will it be posted to the site.

You can't please everybody
A company just can't please every single person in the world, no matter how amazing its product or service may be. While most reviews may be positive, there will almost always be a negative one or two. Everyone has their own opinions, likes and dislikes. Opinions are not something that a business can control. But they can control the responses given to these reviews, some people actually say a negative review and a response are more valuable than 5 excellent reviews. People like to read how the business responds to bad reviews, so provide a great explanation to the review and provide them with an alternate means of contact to show you’re committed to continuing the conversation if required. Remember, these reviewers will run through brick walls to ‘vent’, so make sure that any review site that you’re using gives you the ability to know that these are not fakes – or you’ll spend a lot of wasted time on reviews from your competitors …

People like to read negative reviews
It's strange, but people like to read negative things; like bad celebrity gossip, people just can’t stay away from the stuff. It’s been found that people tend to count the good reviews and actually read the negative ones. That's why if a product or service is shown to have even just a handful of negative reviews on an online review site, people are going to be naturally curious as to why those negative reviews were posted and what they say. People will seek out these reviews and read them. It's just not something that can be prevented, as those negative reviews can't be hidden, but it can be controlled by your response. After reading a bad review people will seek a response to this, if there isn’t one then they assume it’s all true and their purchase could be swayed by what was said.

Online review sites are generally excellent places to gain new business and increase sales. Getting plenty of good reviews on an independent site can even be part of a sound marketing strategy. While there are drawbacks to public online review sites, they are small – and manageable if you’re using the right review partner – in comparison to the huge benefits these sites bring, assuming a business really does have an excellent product or service to offer.