Because of today's reliance on online rating platforms like Yelp, TripAdvisor and Google Reviews, customer reviews have a great deal of power when it comes to how your company is perceived online. Without a solid presence and positive rating on these platforms, the chances of reeling in potential customers becomes thinner. 

As a result of the weight online reviews hold, there have been a lot of unscrupulous, spammy tactics to try and artificially inflate five-star reviews in order to rank higher online. Despite this, there are plenty of effective, respectable ways to gain more positive customer reviews online. Here are five places to start.

1. Create a contest.

No matter what business goal you're trying to achieve, contests can help you get there faster, and positive reviews are no different. For instance, if you own and operate a bar, consider hosting a contest where the winner is gifted a free meal and drinks at your establishment. To enter the contest though, participants must leave a positive Yelp or Google Review -- only if they're happy with your service, of course -- and send you a screenshot of the review to prove they did.

Every entrepreneur out there more than likely has dozens of happy customers who would love to support their company but haven't taken the extra step to leave a good review yet. By providing an incentive for them to do so, you'll be able to zero in on these types of people, resulting in you ranking higher on the respective review platform you drive participants to.

2. Lay it all on the table.

If customers are genuinely satisfied with the service you're providing to them, they'll be happy to help you where they can. So much so, that there's even a principle of consumer psychology to describe the natural need for humans to return favors: the principle of reciprocity (as described by serial entrepreneur, Robert Cialdini, in his iconic book on sales, Influence).

Use this principle to your advantage. Lay your cards on the table by letting your customers know -- whether in your email newsletter or in-person -- how important five-star reviews are when it comes to ranking high on platforms like Yelp and Google Reviews, as well as how this directly impacts your sales numbers. If they truly like your business, they'd be more than happy to take a minute and give you a positive review.

3. Ask for reviews on receipts.

Another clever way to increase your online reviews is by asking for them on all your business receipts. If you run a traditional, brick and mortar business, then this would go on your paper receipts. If you run an online business, include it in all your email receipts. By sheer numbers alone, your reviews are bound to increase as a result. 

4. Retarget past customers.

Thanks to handy tools like tracking pixels (which record a customer's web activity, such as site visits, clicks and purchases) when it comes to online advertising, entrepreneurs are able to retarget past customers with social media ads, email marketing platforms like Mailchimp and more. Take advantage of this by sending along a follow-up email to past customers explaining the importance of having positive reviews online and asking them to leave one if they were satisfied with your product or service.

5. Make it simple.

When it comes to internet marketing, one of the simplest yet effective ways to improve results, from click-through rates to engagements on social media posts, is to decrease the amount of decisions a potential customer has to make. In short, by making all your processes simpler, engagement will skyrocket as a result. 

This can also apply to gaining positive customer reviews. For example, instead of asking your customers to leave you a review on Yelp, Google Reviews, TripAdvisor, Foursquare and Facebook Reviews, simply pick one site as your primary platform. To my clients and readers, I always recommend siding with Google Reviews given the power the company has when it comes to improving your SEO, position on Google Maps and more. That being said, no matter which platform you decide on, limit it to one so your customers will have a streamlined, easy decision to make when you ask them to leave a review.

The internet has provided entrepreneurs with an unprecedented amount of accessibility to resources, knowledge and opportunities. While this accessibility is certainly good, it has also made competition across all industries reach an all-time high, making it harder than ever to rise above the noise. 

One surefire way to be heard online and increase visibility is by having a large number of positive customer reviews online. By applying the tips laid out in this article, you'll be able to drive up your rating without having to resort to spammy tactics. Best of luck.

Published on: Nov 28, 2018
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.