Online reviews: they’re important, but when’s the right time and how’s the best way to ask your customers for one? Should you just feel it out like other important moments in life, or is there a standard procedure for such things?

Turns out, it’s a bit of both. Timing and approach play equally important roles in asking for and receiving online reviews but there’s also a certain finesse that comes into play. Lucky for you, we’ve got a few tips in store to help sharpen your online review acquisition skills.

First of all, keep it simple!  Make things as simple as possible for customers to leave a review. Have direct links to your review profile(s) posted prominently in follow-up emails, business cards, invoices and other marketing materials, and of course on your website. Include easy-to-follow directions on how to complete a review to make the process simple and easy for your customers.

Have profiles on multiple review sites. We talked a little bit about the difference between Google and Yelp in a previous post (find it here), these are the two main platforms for online reviews but there are a few others you may not want to neglect entirely (Yahoo Local, LinkedIn, CitySearch, etc.,) People vary on their user preference and having a presence on multiple sites, in addition to Google and Yelp, can bridge any gap between which sites your customer might prefer to use. Multiple profiles makes it easier for customers to leave a review your business both wants and needs. It’s okay to play favorites with Google and Yelp, but it doesn’t hurt to cover your other bases.

Be direct. It’s okay to say that an online review will help your business and to ask your customers to help you out by leaving one. Customers enjoy feeling relevant and valued, appeal to their desire to help people (i.e. YOU) by asking them to leave a review.

Provide incentives. Incentives can be a powerful tool of persuasion, but if you give a discount for leaving a review, there’s no way to guarantee it will be a positive one. You can’t control what people say, but offering a token incentive for a review, like a chance to win a drawing for a free service, or a discount on a future service, is a way to thank customers for their time.

Of course, the foundation of a positive online review is to always focus on customer experience while providing reliable and consistently good service. Keep those kinds of values in focus while you incorporate a few of the ideas provided here and obtaining reviews should come with relative ease once you get the hang of things.

For more insights on marketing strategy that actually works for small business, subscribe to the FreshLime Newsletter here. Connect with Jay Bean, Founder of FreshLime and Small Business Marketing Expert on LinkedIn and Twitter.