Customer reviews of your products and services can help to build credibility and engender trust with potential clients. Reviews can also increase the number of visitors converting to buyers on your site, and positive reviews can increase the price that clients are willing to pay.
Customers reviews form just one part of the huge wave of User Generated Content (UGC) comprising opinions, advice and commentary on the web. Reviews are found in blogs, discussion groups and forums, and social networking sites.
Small businesses are not paying enough attention to the value customer reviews can bring to their company websites and search engine rankings.
In my experience one of the biggest barriers to businesses implementing customer reviews is the fear of negative comment. Take a look at this article discussing how even negative reviews can benefit your business.
According to a global Nielsen survey of 26,486 Internet users in 47 markets, consumer recommendations are the most credible form of advertising among 78% of the study’s respondents.
Customer reviews and user generated content also plays an important role in your search engine optimisation strategy: 26% of search results link to user-generated content. (Nielsen BuzzMetrics)
And the Google search results includes local results Google Maps data displaying the number of customers reviews in the search result for any type of business:
Google Maps allows customers to write reviews about your business directly and then publishes the reviews immediately. Remember you must be logged into a Google account to write reviews.
Take a look at this comprehensive overview of how Google Review works.
Google trawls hundreds of different websites for reviews hotels, restaurants and the like, but for non-tourism and non-leisure businesses I found TouchLocal.com to be the primary source of UK business reviews that Google displays, aside from the reviews entered directly into Google Maps.
Update: 27 January 2009: I am piloting the use of the Feefo free customer review and feedback service: