Every year, the Local Consumer Review Survey explores the ways in which local business customers use online reviews to choose, trust, and understand businesses offering services in their area.
Since its inception in 2010, the report has aimed to help local businesses, consumers, and marketers understand the impact customer reviews can have on consumers, and see which trends change each year.
Of course, 2020 was a year like no other, and it would be amiss to start this annual comparison without an acknowledgment that nothing was normal this year. On top of the usual statistics exploring star ratings, the number of reviews, and how local businesses are asking for reviews, we also asked consumers how Covid-19 impacted usage of online reviews and local businesses. This should give context to changing trends, as well as help readers understand how the ongoing effects of the pandemic may be impacting local businesses.
Reviews can be an incredibly useful tool for attracting new customers, not only through the psychological effect they have on the reader, but by boosting local rankings so that businesses are more likely to show up for searching consumers.
Over the decade of the Local Consumer Review Survey, we’ve tracked how consumers search for local businesses online every year.
In 2020, 93% of US consumers searched online for a local business. From these, 34% searched every day, while 73% searched weekly (up from 70%).
Google My Business, Yelp, Facebook, and other sites are always adding new features that help connect potential customers with nearby businesses, so it’s no surprise that consumers are becoming even more likely to search for local suppliers online.
Online reviews are continuing to grow in importance, despite the obvious impact of Covid-19 on the local economy. 87% of consumers read online reviews for local businesses in 2020. This is an increase from 81% last year, 86% in 2018, and a huge increase from 67% back in 2010.
However, while the overall number of consumers looking at local business reviews grew, there was a small dip in the proportion “always” looking. Whether this reflects a trend of some consumers checking reviews less frequently (perhaps in line with diminished demand for local businesses this year), or whether those that have just started reading reviews have joined the “occasionally” group, it’s hard to say!
For the first time, consumers seem to be favoring mobile devices over desktop when viewing reviews. 57% of consumers looked at reviews on a PC or Mac this year, down from 66% in 2019.
But again, perhaps with the year we’ve had, this is not necessarily indicative of a lasting trend. Consumers that have seen work closures may have spent less time on desktop computers this year, or those working from home may not be as inclined to log on to a big screen in the evenings or weekends.
The proportion of consumers reading reviews on a mobile browser grew a little, with 60% of consumers saying they had read reviews on mobile this year. Mobile review reading has seen steady growth over the last few years as consumers are given more features to aid their local business searches that aren’t available on other devices – whether they’re on the move or not.
With Covid-19 shuttering many local businesses across the world, consumers were forced to choose businesses in different ways. Feeling able to trust a local business became more important than ever – with online reviews playing a key role in whether some consumers felt safe enough to use a business.
Back at the beginning of April, we asked BrightLocal users how the virus was impacting local businesses and marketers. In this, we heard how many local businesses were losing customers, pausing marketing, or having to temporarily close – so it’s no surprise that behavior among consumers saw changes in 2020.
Among the US consumers in this study, it is clear that there is no universal outcome for how consumers were impacted by Covid-19, with people undoubtedly having vastly different experiences based on how the pandemic is affecting their town. 37% searched for fewer local businesses online due to the pandemic, which is to be expected in areas where many businesses had to close.
However, a further 28% of consumers searched online for more businesses than they would in a ‘normal’ year. Many customers undoubtedly wished to find out which businesses were open nearby, which had additional measures in place such as curbside delivery, and if the businesses that were open had sufficient measures in place to help the customer feel comfortable visiting or having the business come to their home or business.
It’s a similar story in reviews. Covid-19 caused 34% of consumers to read fewer reviews than a ‘normal’ year, while 31% read more reviews. With Google temporarily stopping new reviews between March and May, Google reviews may have been a little less used in this time, as there were fewer fresh reviews to read – not to mention lower demand for businesses in the first place.
A quarter (23%) said that they had chosen not to use a business as it didn’t have health and safety measures – showing that customers really do take the content of reviews to heart.
And it’s not just how consumers read reviews that changed during the pandemic. 17% of consumers said they had written negative reviews for businesses that did not have health and safety measures in place for Covid-19. Those not taking steps to make consumers feel safe could be opening themselves up to negative reviews that could impact consumer opinion long past the peak of the pandemic.
But it’s not all bad news. 22% wrote customer reviews to support struggling local businesses. With Google adopting a high-budget advertising campaign in the UK urging consumers to support local businesses, Google’s message has been to encourage local reviews, so it’s great to see this echoed in consumer action.
Reviews play a key role in helping consumers to feel able to trust a business. Online reviews are an incredibly useful tool in influencing opinions, with many potential customers making decisions on whether to use or avoid a business before ever getting in touch with them. Companies with a poor review profile could be denying themselves a vast number of new leads without ever knowing a consumer considered them.
Negative reviews can have a significant impact on consumer behavior, making 76% of consumers less likely to use a business.
Of course, negative reviews can happen. Maybe your team is just having an off day, or a reviewer is proving particularly hard to please? One negative review is unlikely to completely ruin your chances in local search, though, so don’t fret too much at the occasional one-star rating.
However, if a business receives frequent poor feedback, or bad reviews are showing up among their most recent reviews, they could be risking a lot of potential business. Negative reviews can’t be the sole reason a company fails, but now that consumers have better tools that show them what sort of service to expect, they are better knowing which businesses to avoid.
You’ll likely have heard that unhappy customers tell 9-10 people about their experience – a statistic based on a study of Coca-Cola customers in the 1970s. Now, with reviews being so well-trusted and accessible, local businesses must be aware that one poor experience could have a far wider effect than ever before. An average local business’s Google My Business listing is viewed 1,260 times each month, meaning that a negative set of reviews could have a huge impact.
79% of consumers say they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations from friends or family. These days, word of mouth can come from outside a consumer’s social circle, with an online review having a ripple outside of a happy (or unhappy!) customer’s peers.
Positive reviews also have a big impact on consumers, with 82% of consumers saying positive reviews make them more likely to use a business. Reviews with a high star rating or a positive sentiment have a significant impact on consumers’ decisions to use a business, so it’s vitally important to ensure your reviews are in top shape.
Since our 2019 report, how consumers behave after reading positive reviews hasn’t changed drastically – they’re still most likely to turn to the business’s website next.
While some consumers may opt to visit or contact the business immediately after being dazzled by their reviews, it’s still important that businesses have a working website to back up their brilliance. Whether consumers are looking for more information on the services or products a local business offers, to find out pricing, or merely ways to contact or book time, the website needs to carefully match what potential customers may need.
|Industry||Consumers who look at reviews in this industry||Consumers who believe reviews are important in this industry|
|Restaurants / Cafés||93%||87%|
|Hotels / B&Bs||90%||87%|
|Medical / Healthcare||89%||87%|
|Hair / Beauty||85%||75%|
|Plumbing / HVAC||82%||81%|
|Attorneys / Legal Services||81%||81%|
|Construction / Roofing||80%||82%|
|Pubs / Bars||80%||64%|
|Car Rental / Taxis||78%||75%|
|Realtors / Surveyors||78%||77%|
|Accountants / Financial Services||77%||81%|
|Chiropractors / Alternative Healthcare||76%||81%|
|Removals / Storage||76%||74%|
|Fitness / Gyms||75%||71%|
|Senior Living Facilities||73%||83%|
Click Next on the table above to see more industries. To avoid lesser-used services such as senior living services or photographers being unfairly skewed, the data in the final column only looks at consumers that have ever seen reviews in this industry.
Different industries see vastly different proportions of consumers using reviews when choosing a business, with some not being as universally needed (such as wedding services or childcare services). Some industries for which consumers are highly likely to view reviews are restaurants, hotels, and clothing stores – all of which are used fairly frequently, and have broad appeal.
Medical and automotive businesses also see a high proportion of consumers reading reviews. This makes sense, because every American may need a healthcare professional at some point, and 93% of American households have access to a car.
Reviews for medical and automotive businesses are also very important to consumers when choosing a business, likely due to the higher stakes involved in picking a trustworthy provider for you, or your vehicle’s health. Likewise, reviews play a key role in whether consumers feel able to trust a dentist.
Reviews for restaurants and hotels play an incredibly important role for consumers – not only are they used by many, but they are highly important to choosing a business. And no wonder: many heavily rely on reviews to choose businesses in these industries, with entire big-name sites such as Tripadvisor and Booking.com having sites dedicated to showcasing these.
Interestingly, ‘pubs and bars’ is the industry that consumers are least likely to think reviews are important for. While these are highly-frequented businesses, I must admit that I can’t think of a time I’ve ever looked at a review for a pub – instead relying on what’s recommended by friends, or merely what’s nearby!
As we’ve seen above, there are many ways for consumers to view reviews. When it comes to individual aspects of reviews, such as recency and sentiment, there are plenty of factors that could cost local businesses customers if not focused on.
To note, this year we asked consumers to rate the importance of the above factors, and the above data reflects those that said a factor was ‘fairly important’ or ‘very important’. In previous years, respondents were only asked to pick factors they believe are important.
In 2020, the overall star rating of a business was the review factor most influential on consumer choice. The legitimacy of a review (that is, how trustworthy it seems) comes a close second. With fake reviews dominating headlines over the last few years, consumers are recognizing the very real possibility that reviews may not always be what they seem.
Interestingly, the recency of a review was considered less important to this year’s respondents than last year’s, who deemed it the most important factor. While this may be down to the slight change to the question this year, perhaps recency has become a little less important in line with a different demand for businesses in this ‘new normal’. But, with 80% of consumers seeing recency as an important feature of reviews when choosing a business, it’s by no means something to ignore!
This year, we asked respondents whether it is important for a business to be on multiple review sites. 72% said yes – meaning it’s crucial to spread your reviews across all of the places your potential customers may be looking. Start by finding the sites your competitors are listed on, and ensure you have a full and positive profile on both general and industry-specific sites.
Many a marketer will be familiar with the question from clients: “What star rating do I need?” But, as with any good local marketing question, the answer is, of course, “it depends.”
We know there’s a huge difference between a 4 and 5-star rating in the eyes of consumers, so this year, we included half-star options to try to better fit consumer expectations. We found that 12% of consumers will only use a business with a perfect 5 stars.
Only 48% would consider using a business that has fewer than 4 stars – meaning businesses falling under this threshold are risking around half of potential customers searching online. Just 19% would use a business with fewer than 3 stars.
The recency of reviews can have a big impact on whether or not a consumer chooses a business, but different people have differing ideas about how recent reviews need to be.
86% of consumers say they only look at reviews from the past three months, while a huge 73% say customer reviews must be from the last month to influence their choice to use a local business, up from last year (69%). And, a whopping 50% only take into account reviews from the past two weeks.
This means that older reviews may get less of a look in among consumers, and have diminishing returns as time goes on. While older reviews aren’t completely worthless (to readers or search engines), if consumers do not see any recently posted reviews, they may not trust that their experience would match the reviewer’s.
Local businesses should aim to get a steady stream of reviews over time – rather than making a big push and then forgetting to ask for further reviews later down the line.
For the third year running, we’ve found that the average consumer reads 10 reviews before feeling able to trust a business. Local marketers should therefore make sure the 10 visible reviews on each key review site are indicative of the business experience they want to portray, and make sure these have been responded to, in order to maximize the chances of impressing potential leads.
But, remember this is an average. 20% read more than 10 reviews, with 8% reading more than 20, so it may be worth scrolling back a little further if you want to appeal to everyone!
Respondents were asked which of the above five sites they had used in 2020 to find information about a local business – whether that was reading reviews, or finding additional information such as opening hours, contact options, and how to book.
Google reigns supreme, with 63% of respondents saying they’d used the site this year. With Google receiving 88% of search engine market share, Google My Business results for local searches can be hard for consumers to miss.
Operating directly from the SERP, Google My Business adds new features for consumers all the time, from the new community feed, to additional features aimed at helping consumers understand the Covid-19 measures businesses are taking.
In second place is Facebook, which, despite deviating from the norm of review star ratings in favor of recommendations, still plays a key role in connecting local businesses and potential customers. However, when we come to consider how much consumers trust reviews on each site (as you’ll see below), Facebook is actually the least trusted.
Yelp was used by 32% of consumers this year. This statistic may be lower than ‘normal’ years because Yelp leans heavily on industries such as restaurants, bars, and tourist spots – many of which will have seen a significant shift in demand due to the pandemic. Likewise, Tripadvisor will likely have seen far fewer users than in a ‘normal’ year, so these numbers may well change if we repeat this question in 2021’s survey.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) prides itself on being a trustworthy source of information on businesses. According to the BBB’s own research, there was a 97% increase in business profile searches year-on-year. While this was actually the least used site for local business information among our respondents, it is actually seen as the most trustworthy source of reviews – despite the number of reviews generally being lower than on other sites.
Though BBB ratings aren’t a local ranking factor, they are widely seen as a source of truth – and less easy to manipulate than some other sites. This is because, as part of the reviews process, BBB first confirms that a marketplace interaction took place between the reviewer and the business, then BBB gives the business an opportunity to respond to the review.
We thought it would be interesting to compare how trusted product reviews on Amazon are compared to the key local review sites, expecting a huge disparity between fairly trustworthy local reviews, and possibly distrusted Amazon reviews. We instead found that 78% of consumers trust reviews on Amazon – while fewer people trust reviews on Tripadvisor, Google, Yelp, or Facebook.
In 2020, there has been an abundance of articles discussing fake reviews on Amazon in the British press, so it seems surprising that US consumers are far more trusting than I am. If you have any theories on why Amazon may be more trusted than local sites, please let me know in the comments!
It’s also interesting to see that 60% of consumers trust reviews on the company website. In this question, we purposefully didn’t differentiate between a website showcasing reviews from third-party sources and first-party reviews created and displayed by the business itself. This could have had an impact on whether consumers said they were able to trust reviews displayed on the website.
Although we’ve mainly focused on the key general review sites in the survey so far, there are many niche review sites worth building a presence on, too, we asked respondents about these in the question above.
We found that, in addition to the 80% of consumers that look at general review sites, 33% also use industry-specific sites such as Healthgrades, Avvo, and Booking.com.
As was shown earlier in this report, perceived ‘legitimacy’ plays a big part in what consumers consider when reading reviews. It’s no surprise, then, that we also found that fake reviews remain a key issue in the world of local marketing: 80% of consumers believe they’ve read a fake review in the last year, with 33% saying they’d spotted multiple.
This is actually a small drop from last year’s 82% believing they’d read a fake review, though that doesn’t necessarily mean there are fewer around. Fake reviews might be better hidden, or consumers may have been behaving a little unusually this year, so stay vigilant!
67% of US consumers told us they question the authenticity of reviews, which, with many review sites suffering from the impact of fake reviews, is entirely the right thing to be doing! While we’d hate for local business customers to feel as if they couldn’t trust reviews, staying alert to the possibility of falsehoods is crucial.
Over the last few years of running this survey, we’ve been tracking how important it is for local businesses to respond to reviews they receive. But for the first time, this year we asked respondents how quickly they believe reviews need to be responded to.
When looking at consumers that read online reviews for local businesses, 96% also read businesses’ responses to their reviews – with 40% saying they ‘always’ read the responses.
Interestingly, there’s no real distinction in consumers’ perceptions of businesses responding to ‘positive’ versus ‘negative’ reviews. 69% say they are more likely to use a business that has responded to their positive reviews, while 70% are more likely to use a business that responds to negative reviews. No matter the sentiment of the feedback, consumers want to see that the business cares.
But, don’t be tempted to create a one-size-fits-all message to reply to every review. 70% would be put off if a business responded to a review with a templated response. Listen to feedback, address any issues publicly and professionally, and be sure to give your side of the story. It’s always important to remember that responses could impact a potential customer’s behavior, so keep it clean!
Despite review responses clearly being an important decision-making factor for consumers, review responses are by no means as widespread as they could be: among consumers that have written a local business review, 77% recall receiving a response to their review. Pleasingly, this is up from 72% last year – suggesting that more businesses are taking responsibility for responses.
But it’s not all good news, as fewer people received a response to every review (35%, down from 40% in 2019). There is still a way to go to ensure all consumers feel listened to – and the first step for businesses is to closely monitor reviews across every review site, and respond to as many as possible.
So, we’ve shown that responding to reviews is important, but how quickly are consumers expecting responses? Of course, it varies from consumer to consumer, with 9% saying they don’t expect a response, and a further 5% saying they have no expected timeframe.
At the other end of the scale, though, we can see that the majority of reviewers expect responses quickly, so there’s no time to waste when responding to reviews! 20% expect a response within a day, while only 39% would be happy to wait for more than three days. Just 24% have timeframe expectations of two weeks or longer, meaning those that only schedule in time to respond on an irregular basis may be causing damage to their customers’ perceptions of their businesses.
Back when I took over the Local Consumer Review Survey in 2017, I assumed that consumers would be far more likely to write negative reviews than positive ones. However, this is not the case – with consumers being far more driven to leave feedback for positive experiences. In fact, in 2020, the proportion of consumers that have written a positive review outnumbers negative reviewers nearly two to one!
With more review sites prompting consumers to write reviews for businesses they’ve used (as we’ll come on to below), consumers find themselves reviewing businesses they might not have previously considered writing reviews for. The trend of businesses asking for reviews has the impact of ‘normalizing’ the act of giving reviews: a win-win for everybody!
While reading reviews is now commonplace, the number of consumers actively writing reviews is lower (though growing): 72% of US consumers have written a review for a local business – a notable increase from 66% in 2019.
Among these, 63% say they have written a review for a positive experience, up from 60% last year. The biggest increase we’ve seen is among consumers who have written negative reviews – growing from 25% in 2019 to 32% this year. This increase could be partially down to consumers that have written negative reviews as a result of Covid-19 health and safety.
Looking beyond those that have already written a customer review, we can see that 88% of consumers would consider writing a review for a local business. Just 12% say they never would – though this is a little lower than last year, so perhaps minds can be changed!
Getting more reviews can feel like an uphill struggle, but the secret is very simple: you just have to ask!
In this survey, we found that 73% of consumers have been asked to write a review for a local business – up from 67% in 2019, and 68% in 2018 – illustrating the growth in business owners requesting feedback.
We can see that just asking for a review can have a big impact on whether a customer writes one, as 72% of those that were asked to write a review went on to do so. It’s worth noting, though, that consumers may have received multiple requests for reviews, and may not necessarily go on to write a review every time.
From in-store signage to electronic receipt, there are many ways for local businesses to ask for an online review. We asked consumers in which ways they recalled being asked for a local business review, and you can see that there are varying levels of recognition.
In many cases, it may be that few local businesses are employing this tactic, but it could also indicate that consumers may be more likely to remember an in-person or email request than they are to spot in-store signage or review devices.
In addition, we asked respondents if they had been asked to write a review in exchange for a discount (12% said yes), for cash (9%), or for a gift / free services (8%). This is against many review sites’ guidelines and should be avoided if you don’t want to invoke the wrath of Google, Yelp, or others.
Offering freebies or discounts in exchange for positive reviews can make a business’s online reputation seem untrustworthy, and could put off potential customers that become aware of the request. Stick to asking customers for feedback in legitimate ways.
Online reviews in 2020 were largely dominated by the impact of Covid-19, with many looking to customer reviews to help feel safe to visit a business, while others may have used fewer local businesses than in a usual year.
But, despite the strange set of circumstances, online reviews remain a vital source in connecting local businesses and possible customers. The vast majority of consumers look to online reviews to help choose a nearby business, and with high expectations for star ratings, the number of reviews, and a presence on multiple review sites, this isn’t a channel businesses can safely ignore.
And as we move to 2021, we expect reviews to be more important than ever to local businesses. Online reviews present a great opportunity to attract potential customers, improve local rankings, and tell your side of the story. Every business should be closely watching their online reviews, and responding quickly to feedback – good and bad.
We’d love to hear your predictions for what could change in the world of online reviews over the next year – let us know your thoughts in the comment section.
The 2020 Local Consumer Review Survey explores trends in online reviews for local businesses over the past year. It is based on the key SEO and local business reviews seen throughout the year to provide local marketers the information needed to maximize the impact of their online reputation management.
The statistics and findings are focused on local business reviews on sites such as Google, Facebook, Tripadvisor, Yelp etc.
Based on the views of a representative sample of 1,013 US-based consumers, the Local Consumer Review Survey was conducted in November 2020 with an independent consumer panel. Age group breakdowns are representative of those in the US population.
In order to provide a better understanding of those that use reviews during a purchasing decision, consumers that said they do not read online reviews were not asked questions around their review behavior.
Publishers are welcome to use the charts and data, crediting BrightLocal and linking to this URL. If you have any questions about the report, please get in touch with the content team, or leave a comment below.
Thanks for reading this year’s Local Consumer Review Survey!