Yelp can help local businesses get more customers.

One of the best ways for a local businesses to increase customer loyalty is to get steady, positive reviews for customers.

And doing this has never been easier.

With services like Yelp, Google’s HotPot, CitySearch and others, millions of local businesses are getting feedback from customers without even asking. Because it’s so easy, customers are sharing their thoughts more than ever.

Reviews are nothing new. And they’ve always been a powerful way to draw people to your business. But until recently, reviews have been limited to professional ramblings (newspapers, magazines, radio, TV) or social rantings. Remember when we used to say “word of mouth”? That was the only platform most of us had to share our thoughts about a business.

But now any of us can rant, rave or ramble all we want about our experiences with local businesses. It’s fast. It’s easy. And it gets read.

As a local business owner or manager, you need to know about this new reality. And, if you want to attract and keep more customers, you need to make it work for your business. Here are some tips to use online reviews as effective business builders.

Start with ReadWriteWeb’s useful post on getting the most from online review sites.

Their best advice: Don’t try to influence reviews.

The out-dated notion ways of controlling every message about your business is just that: out-dated. Reviews are effective because YOU do not control them. They work because they are given freely without strings. And they offer would-be customers a glimpse of what it’s like being your customer.

The only way this works is if your customers control their message. Their reviews need to be about their actual experience with your business.

Related to this (and just as important) is the advice to not freak out about bad reviews.

For customer reviews to be 100% honest (and believable) they need to have to rough spots. Because not every business is perfect. Not every customer experience is perfect. The good news is, people get this. No one will hold you to the standard of perfection.

Next, read what has to say about getting online reviews. Here you’ll learn three quick and do-able tips to put online reviews to work for your business.

If you’re still a little leery of online reviews, think about two of the Internet’s most successful businesses: Amazon and eBay. They both built their success on customer reviews. They made reviews easy. They made them useful. They have made customer reviews an integral part of their business models. And it’s worked.

The article was written by Kevin Stirtz