If you’ve been in this business long enough, you’ve seen plenty of change. For years, people bought from companies based on word of mouth. They found vendors through the telephone book. Then the internet changed everything, and for a while, the company had the big advantage. Creating a webpage allowed you to put your company brochure online for anyone to find.

Your website was an affordable way to tell people what services you offered and how good you were. But around 1999, the internet changed everything again. The term “web 2.0” defined the start of the era where your customers had the advantage. Suddenly, your online presence became a two-way conversation; your customer could tell you – and the world – what they thought of your services.

Online reviews became very important to your company’s reputation.

And that matters when a buyer Is looking at your business. Almost literally, the first thing a potential buyer will do is google your company’s name. What comes up in the search is your company’s first impression, for better or worse. Smart buyers know that they’re seeing not only what actual customers have to say, but what potential customers are looking for. More than 60% of customers check Google reviews online before they visit a business.

There are several important factors within your online reviews. The first is how many there are. If you’ve been in business for more than a couple of years, you should have a fair number of reviews. I recently looked up two local HVAC companies that have been in business for more than 60 years. One had over 5,600 Google reviews (average 5 stars.) The other had 21 (average 4.9.) Which company has a more passionate and engaged customer base? Which company is more likely to get new business and referrals from current customers?

The good news is that the number of reviews your company has is fixable. First, do a good job of exceeding customer expectations. Next, ask satisfied and delighted customers to post a review online. Add a line to your invoices or receipts: “Did we do a great job? Please take a moment to post a review online.”

The quality of the reviews is also important. Most buyers are savvy enough to realize no company is perfect; there will be an unhappy camper or two somewhere among your satisfied customers. What matters is trends. Did you reply to the review with empathy and try to fix the problem? Is there a theme in the less-than-positive reviews: pricing, experience of the crew, response time, customer service? If there’s something the company is not doing well, the buyer will want to know.

They’ll also look for positive trends. The glowing reviews that mention cost savings or response time help the buyer know what’s working well and what customers will be concerned about under new ownership. “Another company told me I’d have to replace my system, but ABC A/C bought me another five years with a $200 repair.” “My heating system broke down on Christmas Eve, but ABC A/C had someone there within 2 hours.”

The buyer will want to have a clear picture of what the company does best (don’t mess it up) and what could be improved under new management. They’ll also be looking for reviews that mention specific key staff; it’s important to know who the superstars are in the company. The one exception is the owner; if every great review mentions the current owner, it signals that he or she might be essential to the company’s success. That increases risk for a buyer, both because the company may not operate as well without the owner and because the company’s reputation may be too tied to the owner personally.

There’s one more reason you should be paying attention to your online reviews, especially on Google. If Google sees you have good reviews, your website will be ranked higher in organic search engine results. That means you show up higher than the competition – a definite advantage.

Here’s a tip

Before you put your company on the market, set up a Google alert for your company name. You can do it in a few clicks at https://www.google.com/alerts. You’ll get an email every time your company name appears online. This will alert you to reviews, compliments and complaints on sites you may not check frequently, like Facebook, community blogs, and the Nextdoor app.
Finally, be sure to capture some of the best reviews and put them on your website, so customers and potential buyers can see you’re both paying attention to your online reputation and proud of it.