Online Reviews vs. Word of Mouth: Which One Is More Important?

It's 2019 and the way consumers search for and find businesses has changed. Let's take a look at the ways word-of-mouth marketing and online reviews compare as well as which is better for your local business.

Online Reviews vs. Word of Mouth: Which One Is More Important?

It’s 2019, and people are searching for local businesses online now more than ever. In fact, 97 percent of people say they research businesses online.

But, when it comes to choosing a local business, what’s more important: online reviews or offline word of mouth referrals?

In this article, we’ll break down the importance of both your business’s online reputation and word-of-mouth marketing, giving you a better idea of which one is right for your business.

Is Offline Word of Mouth Marketing Better Than Online Review Marketing?

Well, let’s look at the numbers and the consumer path to purchase.

Offline word of mouth used to be one of the only ways new customers heard about a business (unless you were located on Main Street). There also weren’t nearly as many businesses to choose from, making the decision easier and keeping customers loyal.

Even as late as 2008, a study found that offline word of mouth was much more credible to consumers than its online counterpart.

It’s safe to say that a lot of business owners still feel that way; online reviews don’t matter as much as where your cousin goes to get his hair cut, right?

A lot of businesses think they get most of their business from referrals. And, while a significant amount of your customers or clients just might be telling their friends about your business, the process after that new potential customer hears about your business has changed — thanks to the internet.

Here’s how that works.

Online Reviews and the Customer Path to Purchase

Even when a customer hears about your business from a friend or family, one of the first things they’re going to do is research your business online to see what others are saying about you.

They’re not just looking for anything, though. They want to see reviews.

In fact, online reviews are the second most important piece of information that consumers are looking for when they research a business online. And, 85 percent of people trust those reviews as much as recommendations from friends and family.

Don’t forget that the way people seek recommendations has changed too. People can ask for local business recommendations on Facebook or seek advice from Reddit.

We aren’t just calling our mothers to see who’s the best dry cleaner in town. We’re looking online and we are doing our research.

How Important Are Online Reviews?

Well, online reviews can contribute to offline sales. In fact, more and more people will either call or visit a business after reading positive reviews.

This is huge for a few reasons:

  1. In 2017, 37 percent of people said they’d visit a business’s website after reading an online review. In 2018, this number increased to 50 percent.
  2. In 2017, only 17 percent said they’d physically visit your business after reading reviews. This number decreased by 2 percent to 15 percent in 2018!
  3. In 2017, 10 percent of people said they’d contact your business after reading a positive review. That number went up to 13 percent in 2018.

Online Reviews Vs. Worth of Mouth by the Numbers

In my research, I found some compelling stats that build a case for online review marketing:

  1. 73 percent of consumers trust a local business more if it has positive online reviews.
  2. Even if word of mouth marketing is a powerful marketing method, it still requires some digital assistance. Marketers who use tools to power their referral programs are three times more likely to get more referrals. 
  3. When consumers need information about a business, they will turn to the internet rather than word of mouth recommendations.

There’s no doubt about it. Online reviews make people take action. They are either going to contact you or physically visit your business. This number will probably continue to increase, so now is the time to build a better review marketing strategy.

And, while word of mouth can be a great way to make new customers aware of your business, you will still need a good online reputation to hook those word-of-mouth referrals and turn them into a customer.

Ready to get started with online review marketing? Here are some resources to help:

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