By Lauren Pezzullo

Whether you’re a high-end retailer with brick and mortar locations or simply a small online-only company, you know how important it is for business to make yourself stand out from the crowd. And one of the smartest ways to get a leg up on your competition is much easier than you think—through customer reviews.

It might make you nervous thinking about airing any potential negative reviews to the public, but a customer review can actually be the bait that turns a potential browser into a bona fide buyer. In fact, according to one consumer review survey, 84% of people trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation. Here are the most important reasons why you should encourage customer reviews, and how you can get started in no time.

Customers Gather More Information This Way

Reviews give a personal degree of qualitative information that can’t be fit into a product description. By giving your potential customers immediate answers to their very specific questions, you’re giving them more control over their buying experience. This results in a more positive buyer experience (with a more positive association of your brand), and also cuts out their wait time for a response from customer service. After all, 21% of shoppers abandon their online cart if the process takes too long. We’re an instant-gratification society, and cutting down on a buyer’s shopping research means an increased likelihood of a sale.

They Trust Strangers More Than You, A Business

A social proof is one of the strongest instincts for a potential customer—it’s why we think more highly of the restaurant with the long line rather than the cafe with the empty parking lot—even if we know nothing about the food. This powerful tool gives your business a convincing sense success from unbiased sources who have already done the work. Because no matter how honest you are in your advertising, you’ll never be more trustworthy than a fellow customer who has no opportunity for financial gain.

It’s Good for Your Business

SEO is everything these days, since driving traffic turns conversions into revenue for your business, all from just a couple of clicks—and customer reviews are a boon for your SEO. Not only are you creating fresh content, you’re also boosting keyword traffic, improving your product rankings, and increasing your page authority in Google’s favor.

Plus, not only do the positive reviews also help your business; the negative reviews do, too! How is that possible? Read on below to find out why, as well as how to get started with customer reviews of your own.

Make Your Review Process Easy and Intuitive

A star rating system works for every kind of service and goods, from software reviews of business intelligence tools to feedback for fashion retailers, with 58% of people saying the “star rating” is the most important metric. Make the review page easy to find and simple to review, without a lengthy login process. Include calls to action on products pages, or within emails and invoices. To get started, try some of the apps and add-ons like this “Product Reviews” page from Shopify.

Get Started on Social Media

Reviews on your site are great for customers who already know about you (even if only by name), but by spreading your reviews to social media, you invite a whole new wave of exposure. This way, it’s also easier for reviewers, since they don’t have to go out of their way to find your site. Set up your business with sites like Yelp, Facebook and Google My Business.

Don’t Forget to Follow-Up

Whether good or bad, it’s essential that you respond to as many reviews as possible, but especially the negative reviews. This is your chance to set things right, by apologizing for any mistakes, errors, or less than stellar service, and offering a way to make it right. Not only will this turn around your unhappy customer, but potential buyers will appreciate the integrity of your business. In fact, negative reviews can improve your business if you handle them the right way. Improved SEO, free content, and better business? Sounds like there’s no reason not to add customer reviews!

Lauren Pezzullo is an east-coast-raised Austinite and musicophile who writes about the latest software trends and best practices for TrustRadius. She’s currently at work on her debut novel.