The marketing platform BrightLocal releases an annual survey about the state of online reviews: who’s posting them, who’s reading them, and how they impact consumer behavior in some of the nation’s largest industries. In its 2020 survey (the most recent version available as of November 2021), BrightLocal asked more than 1,000 consumers to identify which “review factors” they cared about most, such as how many stars the business had earned or whether the posted review featured photos.
Unsurprisingly, star rating ranked as the number one review factor, with less than half of the survey respondents willing to “use a business with less than four stars.” Review authenticity scored as the number two ranking factor, highlighting how important it is to avoid compensated reviews — a subject we covered on our blog last week.
This week, we’ll be focusing on the third most important factor for review readers: recency, or when a review is posted. After star rating and authenticity, recency was the factor that readers cared about most, raising some important questions for business owners and digital marketing agencies. For example, how much significance do consumers attribute to old reviews? What qualifies as “old” in this context, anyway? And are there any potential benefits from responding?
We’ll answer all of those questions, plus share some practical tips that can help you improve your review response strategy. There’s lots of ground to cover, so let’s jump right in.
Do Consumers Read (or Care About) Old Reviews?
The answer to this question varies, depending on who you ask and what exactly you mean by “old.” The short and simplified answer is that, the older a review gets, the fewer consumers care about its contents — but perhaps not to the degree you might expect. So what does the data tell us about perceptions around reviews as they age?
In its 2020 survey, BrightLocal asked respondents about “how recent reviews need to be” in order to influence their decisions. Among more than 1,000 participants, precisely 50% said that they only paid attention to reviews from within the past two weeks — a modest increase from 2019 (48%), preceded by a dramatic spike the year before (40%). However, that doesn’t mean that older reviews have no impact on shoppers. On the contrary, 23% of BrightLocal’s respondents said they considered reviews that were up to one month old, while 13% said they cared about reviews that were up to three months old.
Past that threshold, there was a sharper drop-off, with only 6% of respondents saying they looked at reviews from within the past six months, and just 5% caring about reviews up to one year old. Only a tiny sliver of survey respondents — just 3% of those interviewed — said that age made “no impact” on the power or relevance of an online review.
Here’s another way of conceptualizing the same data: nearly nine out of 10 consumers, or about 86%, “only pay attention to reviews written in the last three months,” while about 73% “only pay attention to reviews written within the last month.”
The question for business owners is, what are the implications of this data? Is responding to old reviews helpful, or even necessary?
Is it Worth Responding to Old Reviews?
Different business leaders offer different answers to this question. However, most seem to agree that there can be advantages to replying to older reviews, provided you respond in an appropriate fashion (which we’ll share tips on in the next section). Given the recent data, here are five points to keep in mind as you begin to sort through your unanswered review pile:
- If you’re tackling a large pile of older reviews, prioritize responding to the most recent comments and ratings first, since these are your current customers and/or prospects. Remember, most consumers are focused on reviews from within the past 90 days — plus, it’s vital to show that you are responsive to customers who need your immediate assistance.
- “Most” doesn’t mean “all.” Just because the majority of consumers ignore reviews over three months old, that doesn’t mean there is no one reading — or paying attention to your replies. Remember, based on BrightLocal’s 2020 data, more than 10% of consumers care about six-month-old or year-old reviews: not exactly a negligible figure. Though the impact of a review unquestionably diminishes with age, your response is still an opportunity to make a favorable impression on consumers.
- Even if the review is old, responding shows that you’re making efforts to address and acknowledge all customers. For example, if your business has been hampered by a poor reputation or image in the past, responding to old reviews sends a signal that your new management is serious about making improvements and leveling up its customer service initiative.
- You should implement different strategies for replying to positive reviews, neutral reviews, and negative reviews. This step is important regardless of a review’s recency, as we discussed in our post about the power of personalization. For more tips on replying to reviews, skip ahead to the end of this article, or explore some of the links above.
- No matter how many reviews you have, how recently they were posted, or how many platforms they’re dispersed across, an online review management platform can help you stay organized. Shout About Us is a powerful review management platform and custom response service designed for digital agencies and brands, making it effortless to sort, manage, and track all of your clients’ ratings.
If you aren’t convinced yet, learn more about the benefits of responding to online reviews, which include better client retention, increased consumer trust, and improved local search rankings.
Tips for Responding to Older Reviews of Your Business
Many of the same principles that apply when responding to recent reviews are equally valid for older review responses. On the other hand, there are also some review reply strategies you’ll need to adjust slightly. Here are some essential tips for replying to negative, neutral, or positive reviews from the past.
Tips for Responding to Old Reviews
Regardless of whether a review is positive, neutral, or negative, you should always:
- Use the reviewer’s name in your response, unless it is anonymous or inappropriate. If so, simply omit it from your reply.
- Thank the reviewer for sharing their feedback, even if they only left you a star rating or one-word comment.
- Assure the reviewer that your team is always available to provide support and deliver the best experience possible. For a positive review, this might take the form of an invitation to come back again. For a negative or neutral review, it should be framed as a commitment to delivering an improved experience. While you can’t rewind or erase the past, you can demonstrate that your company is paying attention, listening to feedback, and moving toward a brighter future.
Tips for Responding to Old Positive Reviews
If the review is positive, be sure to incorporate the tips above. In addition, your response is also a great opportunity to update and educate the reviewer on exciting ways your business has changed since their last visit or purchase. For example, you might be able to use language such as, “We hope we’ll have an opportunity to serve you again in the future! The next time you visit us, be sure to check out our [ new program, promotion, location, product, or other feature that might appeal to the customer ].”
Tips for Responding to Old Negative Reviews
If the review is negative or neutral, it’s probably too late to resolve the customer’s issue — for example, a three-month-old complaint about a broken laundry machine. However, it’s still important to demonstrate that your brand provides great customer support — even if that wasn’t always true in the past. Inserting words like “still” or “continue” can help bridge this gap: for example, “If you still need assistance with [ the issue ], please let us know and our team will work to resolve it promptly!”
Beyond offering support and solutions, you should also:
- Apologize for the negative experience, while stressing that you strive to provide exceptional service and customer satisfaction.
- Provide an email address and/or phone number where the customer can reach you. Even if they do not contact you or follow up, providing this information shows that you are serious about providing dependable customer service.
For detailed tips on responding to customer reviews, check out our guides to handling 1-star, 2-star, or 5-star ratings, which will walk you through a successful response strategy one step at a time. You can also explore some of Harvard’s tips for dealing with bad reviews, which we wrote about here.
Schedule a Demo of Our Custom Review Response Service for Agencies and Brands
Don’t have time to write custom replies to all the reviews that your clients receive? Shout About Us has you covered with scalable, client-focused review management solutions designed for digital agencies and brands. We work with Qebot, V Digital Services, 411 Locals Business Services, Curious Jane, Suds Creative, and other industry leaders who trust Shout About Us to help power growth.
Ask how you and your customers can benefit by leveraging our review reply service or reputation management platform. To learn more about our Review Navigator or US-based team of 24-hour response scribes, book a demo today.
Emily Homrok is a freelance copywriter with more than seven years of writing experience. She joined the Shout About Us team as a content strategist in 2020.