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Most business owners know that websites such as Twitter and Facebook can give them a marketing boost. However, there is a new type of website that small business owners should attend to: the business review website.

Citizen review websites offer the public a huge opportunity. They can share their experience, good or bad, with others via the world wide web. This not only allows customers to vent, it allows them to influence other people’s decisions.

Studies have found that forty percent of people research consumer decisions online, even for offline purchases. While many are looking for basic information such as when a store is open and where it is located, they certainly are likely to read the reviews.

These review websites, which include Yahoo Local, CitySearch, and Yelp, are a powerful way of reaching out to the public and generating buzz about your establishment. However, because they are consumer-driven, the small business owner may feel that they are not in control of this powerful tool. Nonetheless, there are a few ways that you can have an influence on customer reviews.

1. Offer an excellent customer experience. If you drop the ball on services or products, even occasionally, there is a good chance that millions of people will have the opportunity to hear about it from the perspective of your unhappy customer. Similarly, one happy customer can singlehandedly reach the same huge audience. This means that you must give the best possible experience to every single customer.

2. Visit review sites and respond personally to reviews. Many sites will allow business owners to post as well. This means that you can post a short but polite rebuttal to bad reviews, or thank customers who have left a good review. Some businesses go the extra mile and personally contact people who have left reviews, apologizing to the disgruntled and offering small discounts for a second try.

3. Ask for feedback. A good way to do this is by posting a notice asking customers to give you a review on one of these websites. Another option is to offer an anonymous review either in your premises through a comment box or on your website through a feedback page. Many people only want to be heard; if you give them that opportunity, they are less likely to publicly trash your business.

4. Use good feedback as a marketing tool. If you have overwhelmingly good reviews, why not post a few key quotes in your locations? At the very least, you can link to a review website that has positive feedback about your business. Potential customers know that these reviews are not influenced or solicited by the business owner, making them all the more powerful.

If you think that these review sites won’t affect your business and your brand, think again. Yelp alone had more than 29 million unique visitors this September, and the number is only growing. Many offline media sources such as the New York Times are noticing the success of these sites and adding business review to their own online repertoire. Review websites can make or break your business, so learn to use them to your best advantage.

Mash Bonigala

Mash B. is the Founder & Creative Director of Logo Design Works. Since 1998, Mash has helped thousands of businesses express their brand messages through creative and award winning logo designs.