Marketing teams have to pay close attention to online reputation management now more than ever, as even the most successful marketing teams will tell you, it’s consumers, not marketers who truly own a brand’s story online, especially when it comes to search engine results.

Reviews posted about a brand help to give search engine crawlers context by providing a snapshot of the general engagement level and sentiment surrounding a particular company or product. A search engine’s main goal is to provide the most relevant information to consumers, so it makes sense that the higher engagement level they perceive, the higher they’ll rank the brand in search results. Basically: if people are talking about you, Google sees that you’re worth talking about and that others may be interested in seeing that conversation.

If enough user-generated content exists about your brand, your search results may also contain star ratings and review content displayed natively on the search results page, making the sentiment of those reviews crucial to shaping the first impression a user has of your brand.

Even the most artfully crafted and clever marketing messages can be torn down in an instant by unsatisfied customers.

In the end, the nitty gritty of the how and why search engines do what they do doesn’t really matter, because the result is the same: if a consumer sees negativity surrounding your product or service online and they may choose to steer clear of it.

A survey conducted by BrightLocal showed 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation from a friend or family member and the same report found that 40% of buyers form an opinion of a business after reading just one to three reviews. This means you have limited time to make an impression, so you have to make it count. This is why user sentiment can make such a significant impact on the success of your business.

Considering many review listings will rank higher than even a business’s own website in search results, paying attention to what’s being posted about your brand on these sites and encouraging a steady stream of customer reviews needs to be at the top of every marketer’s to-do list in 2017.

Reviews do more to serve the bottom line than simply being a channel for customers to get their issues resolved.

It’s all about social proof. You’re letting your existing customers do your heavy lifting for you by building a knowledge library for consumers researching your product, the more customer-generated content you have the more trustworthy you’ll appear to consumers who will be able to make more informed decisions about your business.

A report by Invesp shows that 72% of consumers will only take action with a brand after reading a positive review. Collecting customer feedback, especially through reviews or testimonials can give you the social proof you need to earn the trust of consumers and convert them into customers. And that’s what it’s all about, right?

Having unbalanced sentiment displayed for all consumers to see in your search results is a clear no-no, but what about having no presence at all?

Consumer logic would dictate the following: if no one is talking about this product or brand, this product or brand must not be worth talking about. Even worse, a consumer might not feel they can trust a brand or product if it hasn’t been “vetted,” so to speak, by consumer reviews. They may feel safer going with a competitive offer that comes complete with the social proof they were looking for.

Brands who are letting a blank space exist online where their customer’s voice belongs risk giving their competitors an opportunity to shine brighter in their absence, grabbing the attention of consumers who aren’t going to waste their valuable time looking on page 8 of Google or risk buying a product that has no social proof online when they don’t have to.