Utilizing Online Reviews for Your Local Business
In an article posted in June of 2010, Local Search industry experts ranked 69 factors that influence a business’s local search ranking, and the “General Importance of Customer Reviews” came in at #6. So reviews are pretty important, from a technical, SEO standpoint.
From a business image standpoint, reviews are important as well. All of the major local listings (Google, Bing, Yahoo, Yelp, etc.) provide a means for customers to leave reviews. It’s a perfect example of the Web 2.0 concept, where users are creating the online content that other users read and use to make purchasing decisions. The local listings become a mini-social network between your business, your past customers, and potential future customers researching your business.
Small businesses need to take advantage of this framework for both the technical and social advantages it provides–so how should they do it?
Here are 3 strategies for soliciting reviews, depending on your audience:
1) High-Tech: If you maintain a customer database, periodically email your customers with links to your listing on Google, Bing, Yahoo, Yelp or others and ask them to review the service or product you provided. They’ll get the email, click the link, write something nice about you, and it’s done. Quick and easy, but opens the door for bad reviews if you’re not familiar with everyone on the email list.
2) Mid-Tech: If you have an accessible computer in-store, ask exiting customers to take 5 minutes to sit down before they leave and write you a review. This approach involves a little more work, but has the added benefit of being able to target customers that you know are satisfied with what you just provided them.
3) Low-Tech: Provide comment cards for customers to fill out, then transcribe the reviews (or have a 3rd-party such as Localis) into your online listings. This involves the most work, but provides a line of communication for less tech-savvy customers, and allows you to filter which reviews get posted online.
The 3 methods above show how customers can leave you reviews–but will they? To answer that, you may have to “incentivize.” Here are a couple ways to go about that:
1) Incentive for the customer: Depending on your business and profit margins, you may be able to offer a discount on the product or service you provided, in exchange for the review. This would definitely help secure reviews from exiting customers, and may even reflect positively in the review they give you (everyone likes a deal). If that’s too rich for your blood, you could lump a month’s worth of reviewers together, and do a raffle offering a free or discounted product to the winner. This would bring the winner back for repeat business, and could change their mind had they originally left you a so-so review.
2) Incentive for your employees: If you have a larger business, with multiple employees serving specific customers, try to make it a contest. Most good reviews collected wins, and the winner gets some perk from the business–gift card, name-on-the-wall, something. This approach could improve your business’s overall customer service image, and you could use it as a measure of employee performance.
One thing to be cautious of: there’s a concept called “review velocity” which refers to how fast reviews for a certain business are being posted online. They start coming in too fast and the search engines call BS, they think an owner or employee is just writing fake ones to gain a better ranking. This can hurt your search ranking. So if you find yourself in the fortunate position where 10 people want to write you a good review in one day, send them to different sites. Google, Yahoo, Yelp, Citysearch–spread it out–Google will eventually pull in all that data to your Google listing, and you’ll also catch the eye of users that don’t start at Google.
Ok, so now that you’ve got reviews, and they’re helping your business technically and socially–are you done? Not quite–remember how above I described the review framework as a “mini-social network”? Well this is where “your business” gets involved in that network. Most of the major sites allow for an “owner response” to a review, or a way to flag reviews as “helpful” or “inappropriate.” Utilize those features! It’s only a “network” if everyone involved is participating, and this is your chance as business owner to communicate and spread a little influence.
- Did someone leave you a good review? Flag it as “helpful” and write a response review thanking them. They’ll be back–people like to know they were heard.
- Someone leaves you a bad review? Apologize, and invite them back to rectify the situation. They may come back, they may not. But a potential customer reading that response may appreciate your effort, and come to your business despite the bad review. There’s goodwill to be gained by staying active.
- Someone leave you a bad review, that’s absolutely false? Competitors sometimes do this (terrible, I know). So flag it as inappropriate, and explain in a response how the event described did not occur, and will never occur at your business. Again, goodwill by staying active.
If you take the steps described above, you will improve your business’s image and its ranking in the local search results. This will without a doubt lead to more customers. And if you need help, contact Localis and we’ll be glad to handle your online review efforts.