We are in an age where having an online presence for your business is a necessity. A website with product or location information, an e-commerce arm, social media—any and all of these things are important for establishing legitimacy and are well within your means to create them.

A tougher question for business owners is the extent online impact outside of their control—mainly, review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor—can affect their growth. With so much competing information out there about the efficacy (and truth) of online reviews, is it still worth your time to help cultivate a positive reputation on these outlets?    

In short, absolutely. Good reviews about your business equal business growth, and not just because it looks better than having bad reviews (although that certainly helps).

If you need one takeaway from all of the following points, note this: Consumers love online reviews.

They read them, and for the most part, they trust them. Now, here are five ways this simple truth affects your business.

Good reviews increase confidence in your brand

If somebody is visiting a review site or searching in Google for a business in your industry, chances are good they’re in the market to make a purchase. But many small- and medium-sized businesses lack the brand recognition that huge companies like Target or Pizza Hut carry. Good reviews create confidence in your product where there once was, well, no information at all.

And because they’re researching you online, good reviews will be crucial in helping consumers make up their minds. A BrightLocal survey says that 85 percent of consumers admit to reading online reviews, and that 67 percent of consumers need just six reviews or less to make a decision. And those numbers will likely continue to increase as time goes on.

Good reviews improve search engine optimization

“SEO” is sometimes as much art as it is science, since we can’t say exactly what Google’s algorithm accounts for and uses to send certain results to the top of their results pages. The best SEO marketing advice is to have a quality, mobile-responsive website that produces good content, but it’s also thought that “review signals” is one of eight “overall ranking factors” that affect where your page ends up.

Review signals are the various factors that culminate in, essentially, your review presence, including number of reviews, number of review sites you’re on, and the number of authoritative reviews. Lots of good, varied, quality reviews will boost your search performance, and now that Google has recently made more of an effort to put Yelp results at the top of their search pages, that kind of visibility will pay off.

Good reviews create opportunities for lead generation

Perhaps someone is looking for a restaurant in a part of town they’ve never been before, wants to shop near their office or needs to find a vacation hotel (these are some of the most common business type searched over the last few years). They know where to search; what they don’t have yet are the results.

So search rank in Google is one thing, but ranking first on review sites will create a whole new type of lead generation. Consumers who have never heard of you will feel they can trust you due to your placement on Yelp, and the higher the better: Humans are beginning to develop more digitally minded brains that skim rather than read, so you’ll have a limited amount of time to make an impact.

As an added bonus, the backlinks from Yelp will increase your SEO ranking—a continuous loop of improvement. 

Good reviews can be made into legitimate marketing material

You can use Yelp reviews themselves on your website and in other promotional materials. People mostly trust online reviews as much as they do personal recommendations, so a stunning review of your business can go a long way if featured in the right place. There are some guidelines for how to do this (e.g., ask the reviewer themselves for permission, note that the review is from Yelp, don’t quote out of context) but feel free to use good reviews as a driving force for future business.

Bad reviews offer opportunities for improvement as well

Bad reviews are a part of life, and we must take them with the good. While we’d all love perfect ratings all the time, bad reviews can actually help businesses to grow in a couple of important ways:

  • If their bad review is legitimate, you can learn from their feedback. You can’t promise a flawless experience for every customer, but if you see trends or even shocking claims worth investigating in your reviews, you can use them as fodder for changing aspects of the business for the better.
  • Turn a bad review into good PR: Responding to bad reviews with thoughtful, apologetic (if necessary) and positive public messages is a good way to offset a bad review and convince new readers to give your company a shot despite these outlying experiences.

While you can’t explicitly ask for reviews on sites like Yelp, you can let customers know that you’re available online, and find ways to encourage their thoughtful feedback. Nowadays, the difference between a well-reviewed business and a poorly-reviewed one (or just as badly, a site that has no reviews or online presence at all) could be the difference between a company that survives and one that doesn’t.