2013 Study: 79% Of Consumers Trust Online Reviews As Much As Personal Recommendations

Today, we at BrightLocal released the findings of our 2013 Local Consumer Review Survey. This is the third wave of this study which explores consumer consumption (aka “reading”) of online reviews and how these influence their opinions and purchases from local businesses.

More People Reading Fewer Reviews

The results of this year’s survey show that more consumers are reading reviews as part of their pre-purchase research before selecting a local business to use.

However, it also shows that they are forming opinions faster and needing to read fewer reviews before they trust (or don’t trust) a local business. This puts increased emphasis on local businesses to manage their online reputation closely and ensure that any negative reviews are dealt with in a swift and positive way.

About The Local Consumer Review Survey

This year’s survey was conducted in January-February 2013. A set of 14 questions were put to a survey panel of 3,600 consumers located in the US and Canada. We received 2,100 responses with 90% based in the US.

This is the third wave of the Local Consumer Review Survey with previous waves being conducted in 2011 and 2012.

The following 5 charts represent some of most significant key findings of this years’ survey. Full survey results (all 14 questions) can be viewed and downloaded here: 2013 Local Consumer Review Survey. A review and analysis of five key questions follows.

1. Do You Read Online Customer Reviews To Determine Whether A Local Business Is A Good Business?

  • 85% of consumers say that they read online reviews for local businesses (up from 76% in 2012)

Read online customer reviews

Analysis: More local consumers are using reviews when researching which local businesses to use. This upward trend continues from 2012 as consumers get more familiar and comfortable with reviews.

Consulting reviews is now a logical step in the purchasing cycle for all types of products and services. The increased quantity and availability of reviews makes the selection process easy for consumers. Whether they’re choosing a nice restaurant for dinner or looking for a new yoga teacher, they can benefit from reading other’s experiences and insights.

It’s important to remember at which point in the buying cycle reviews come into play:

  • By the time a consumer has started reading reviews, they have identified an issue/need they have, worked out what service or product satisfies this need and now want to select a business to use.
  • So, the path from reading online reviews to purchasing from a business is short, which means it’s crucial for local businesses to have a positive online reputation so they can convert ‘searchers’ into customers.

2. How Many Online Reviews Do You Read Before You Feel That You Can Trust That Business?

  • 67% of consumers read 6 reviews or less* (up from 52% in 2012)
  • Fewer consumers are reading more than 7 reviews – 22% vs. 35% in 2012

online review survey

Analysis: Consumers are forming opinions faster now than they were 12 to 24 months ago. They need to read fewer reviews before they feel able to form an opinion about a business and decide whether or not it’s trustworthy.

Fewer consumers are reading more than 7 reviews before they are able to form an opinion about a business. This means that business owners need to manage their online reputations even more carefully, because their most recent reviews are the ones that impact purchasing decisions.

Businesses need a policy for responding openly to negative reviews and a process for generating new, positive reviews which drive those negative reviews further down the page and ideally out of sight!

3. How Do Online Customer Reviews Affect Your Opinion Of A Local Business?

  • 73% of consumers say positive customer reviews make them trust a business more (up from 58% in 2012)
  • Only 12% of consumers said they take no notice of online reviews (down from 17% in 2012)

How do online reviews affect opinions

Analysis: Positive reviews have a real, actual impact on purchasing decisions. Reviews influence both attitude and the resultant actions of consumers. They have a direct impact on whether a consumer chooses to use one business over its competitors.

A business’ reputation is more public and more accessible than ever before. Consumers are able to see over the “wall” of corporate messaging at what lies behind. They can get a sense of a business’ true personality through the shared experiences of other consumers.

The way a business responds to public complaints and praise is equally important. Businesses need to act swiftly and positively to show they listen to and care about what their customers think.

4. In The Last 12 Months, Have You Recommended A Local Business To People You Know By Any Of The Following Methods?

  • Word of mouth remains the primary route for recommending a local business (72%)
  • Facebook and Twitter are growing strongly as recommendation channels
  • Only 8% of consumers recommended a business on local directories (down from 11% in 2012)

Facebook vs other recommendation channels

Analysis: Word of mouth remains the strongest “recommendation” channel, with 72% of consumers saying they had recommended a business this way.

The tide appears to be turning against local directories with just 8% of consumers using that channel. However, Facebook and Twitter are growing as recommendation channels, which suggests that local businesses may want to focus more effort on these channels.

5. Do You Trust Online Customer Reviews As Much As Personal Recommendations?

  • 79% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations (up from 72% in 2012)
  • Only 21% said they do not trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations

Trust online reviews

Analysis: This is the acid test for online reviews. Can they have the same impact as personal recommendations? The answer is an overwhelming yes.

Keep in mind that that “yes” comes with a few caveats in most cases — it is not a “yes, always.”

Authenticity of reviews is a key factor in whether or not consumers trust them. The increase in respondents selecting this answer shows that consumers don’t blindly trust reviews and exercise judgment to determine if reviews are genuine. Review spammers beware — consumers are on to you!

As you might predict, younger consumers (16-34) are more trusting of reviews than older consumers (55+). Older consumers are more pragmatic and skeptical, while younger consumers have grown up with in the Internet — so it’s second nature to them to read and value online reviews.

Trust online reviews - Old vs Young consumers

The full set of survey charts including additional charts with age and gender breakdown is available for download on BrightLocal

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Local | Local Search Column


About The Author: is Founder & CEO of BrightLocal.com. BrightLocal provides local SEO tools for local businesses; see their research section for the latest findings about the local search market.

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  • Michael Kosalka


    Thank you for great article. Question I have is what
    was defined as local directories for reviews? Do you mean Yellow Pages
    or Yelp? That bit wasn’t clear.

  • Ben Wright

    Really great article Myles. This really does show how lazy we Americans are becoming. Reading fewer reviews each year.

    More than 60% of consumers are reading between 2-6 reviews before choosing a business. Your online reputation is now more important than ever and trends show that it will continue to increase in importance.


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