Businesses turn to online reviews to grow clientele –

LOS ANGELES β€” Mike Dorausch is always on the lookout for new chiropractic clients in Los Angeles. To help spread the word about his services, he gently asks patients to say nice things about him at one of the many customer-review sites popping up on the Web.

“Online reviews is how people find us,” Dorausch says. About 80% of his new business stems from customers finding online reviews about him and booking appointments, he says.

Picking up on a trend started by the travel industry, business-listing sites by Google (GOOG), Yahoo (YHOO) and others including Yelp and Citysearch let customers rave about their favorites, or complain about poor service. That helps consumers get real-life opinions about local businesses and services. For businesses attempting to reach consumers, the feedback spreads the word in a way ads can’t. But perhaps more important, the reviews can dramatically raise a website’s visibility in search engines.

Reviews and star ratings are often cited in search results. A Google search for “Los Angeles chiropractor,” for instance, includes not only links to websites and descriptions, but also a 10-item list of local chiropractors with their addresses, reviews, star ratings and a local map at the top of the page.

“You’re seeing a lot of businesses fighting to get into that top 10,” says Greg Sterling, an analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence. “This is the most privileged position on the Internet. It’s a big, prominent placement. If you’re there, you benefit, and if you’re not, you don’t.”

Sterling says businesses will spend about $1.7 billion this year trying to reach potential local customers online, growing to $2.2 billion in 2009.

Shouldn’t every business be doing this?