By now, everyone knows that online reviews can have a tremendous impact on consumers’ purchasing decisions. Ultimately, a single review — positive or negative — can tip the scale in favor of one company over another. No doubt, the power of reviews on Google+, Yelp, Angie’s List and other local search directories continues to mount.
Review prominence in search results is also rising, as they often appear for a business just below their company website and make up the majority of the corresponding top 10 search results.
Major search and review sites weight online reviews very highly, and the online “word-of-mouth” credibility they offer local businesses is huge. Reviews are gold citations for local marketers, and without them, many businesses risk not being found in local search results.
However, it hasn’t been easy for local businesses to generate reviews, particularly outside of the hospitality industry. Demonstrating the challenge, Saurage Research found that while 84 percent of Americans say consumer reviews influence their purchase decisions, only 28 percent have written reviews — often when they’ve had a negative experience rather than a positive one. Not to mention that, in order to mitigate fake reviews, many legitimate reviews are getting stuck in review site filters. (We’ve all heard about Yelp’s overactive review filter.)
Reviews are critical to online visibility and in getting leads to convert. Surprisingly, a brand or business can win the overall online visibility game — appearing high in search results — but then lose prospect interest or a customer lead because they either have negative reviews circulating the web or, worse, no reviews at all.
With all of these challenges, how can local marketers reap the benefits of online reviews for the best local search visibility?
Local businesses should first evaluate their visibility across major review sites and directories, e.g., Angie’s List, Google+, Yelp, YP.com, and any relevant vertical-specific review sites. If a business doesn’t have a presence on these sites, they should create or update their listing or business profile to improve SEO.
Once a profile is created, businesses receive notifications when new reviews are posted. Monitoring existing reviews and customer feedback is also a good way to see how staff is doing across many or a few business locations.
It might seem natural to address only negative reviews, but business owners should respond to all reviews and ratings whether positive or negative. This makes an excellent impact on all future prospects reading reviews.
Furthermore, negative reviews have the potential to stay online for years, so it is important to deal with any issues quickly and provide resolution for the customer. As long as the majority of reviews aren’t negative, people will value the business’ professional approach and responsiveness.
Asking for online reviews shouldn’t be overwhelming, and local businesses need to make it easy for their team to encourage loyal customers to provide reviews. Placing a Yelp sticker on the business’ door, offering customers a printed card with instructions on how to leave a review, or even just making a verbal request, are all perfectly legitimate ways to encourage customers to leave feedback. Customer reviews are some of the most compelling marketing content available to businesses and have the greatest potential to influence new customers.
If a simple process is set up for employees to request a quick review — it might even be valuable to offer employees incentives for gaining reviews — the collection and promotion of reviews can be easier. For certain service-based businesses, e.g., home improvement contractors, asking for a testimonial via a video or taking a photo with a customer and the completed job quickly shows the inherent stamp of approval and is easily shared across social media channels.
When a local business generates good reviews, it should always use those testimonials to their advantage by posting them on their website and/or Facebook page, including them within a company newsletter and sharing them with employees, since good reviews serve as a good team morale booster. Businesses need to circulate these reviews as wide as possible since they demonstrate their quality or leadership role within their industry.
Review filters are a double-edged sword for local businesses. On one hand, they can be very helpful for weeding out negative reviews written by a competitor or an unjustified, unruly customer. They can also prevent good reviews written by real people from making it online.
To prevent this from happening, local businesses should “follow” Yelp reviewers who have posted positive, filtered reviews in order to boost their credibility. Yelp reviewers can often help push their reviews through the filter if they complete their profile information by adding a picture, connecting their profile to their Facebook page or providing reviews on a frequent basis.
Good, bad or ugly — what has your online review experience been?