If you’re hungry for feedback about your business and always looking for ways to improve, you’re probably pouring over every word of each online review you receive. You might bask in the praise and worry about the not-so-great feedback. However, it’s normal to wonder how much reviews truly matter and if anyone else analyzes them the way you do.

While consumers may not obsess over your brand’s reputation the way you do, they are probably paying attention. As you’ll discover below, most consumers read reviews before they decide to purchase. While it’s important to understand just how many people read feedback, it’s equally crucial to know who they are and what they want.

How Many People Read Reviews?

Almost all of your potential customers investigate your online reputation before they convert. In fact, one survey found that an astounding 97 percent of customers turn to online reviews before making purchases.

Online reviews also have a compounding effect on how many people know about your brand, and thus, read reviews. While Google’s algorithm is complicated and shrouded in secrecy, it’s safe to say that having reviews helps your SEO efforts.

The more people write about your company, the more Google and other search engines pay attention. Then, when people search one of your local keywords, your business ranks better and they are more likely to see you. Of course, if they leave reviews, the cycle continues and your bottom line grows.

Where are Readers in the Buying Process?

While it’s crucial to understand that almost all consumers read reviews, this information does not quite underscore the importance of this feedback. You should also consider how the internet has affected the buying cycle and where these consumers are in this process.

Before the internet changed it all, the steps to buying went as follows:

Awareness - ads or seeing the storefront

Consideration - visiting or calling

Intent - compare goods

Decision - buy via store or mail order

Now, consumers may still go through each of these phases, but the messengers are primarily online. The internet is now the central hub for each step, and reviews can play a part in any of the first three steps.

For example, if a customer writes a review on Facebook, it can end up in her friend’s feeds, which creates awareness for her friends. Consumers may also see reviews when they visit your website during the consideration phase. Finally, people use ConsumerAffairs and other third-party review sites to compare products and services during the intent phase.

In short, review readers may be anywhere in the buying process. Better yet, the feedback can help move customers to the phase you really want: decision-making.

What is the Impact on the Bottom Line?

While reading praise about your business is fun and it’s great to know that other people read it as well, reviews are only as good as the money they bring in. Luckily, reviews are great for your bottom line as well. Recent research finds that improving a local restaurant’s online reputation by just one star can increase revenue by up to 9 percent.

Reviews are important for B2B companies as well. Forty-five percent of adults in the United States say that finding something negative online will cause them not to do business with that person. On the other hand, 56 percent of these consumers say that a positive online review sealed the deal in their purchasing decision.

Businesses that sell luxury items and other high-priced goods benefit the most from online reviews. When websites display reviews for expensive items, the conversion rates increase 380 percent.

As a business owner, you cannot afford to underestimate the power of your online reputation. Not only is almost every possible customer reading online reviews, but they are in several stages of the buying process. Cultivate your online reputation and see what happens to your bottom line.