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Local Businesses: How To Get Good Online Reviews That Build Business
Online reviews can make or break local businesses these days, so columnist George Aspland shares his process for cultivating (good) reviews.
Good reviews on sites like Google and Yelp can entice people to check your business out, improve conversions, and potentially help organic search engine rankings. In this article, I’ll show you how to generate a continuous flow of good online reviews that should help your local business.
Why You Want Good Reviews
Reviews Stand Out in the Search Results. Good reviews on search engines like Google and review sites like Yelp can help attract more people to check out your business, as they often feature prominently in search results.
Local reviews are not just helpful for restaurants and hotels, but for most local businesses.
We focus on a number of markets including the legal market. I was showing a prospective customer its local results in Woburn, MA for one of the areas of law it focuses on.
A competitor’s listing appeared at the top of the local results with a 4.5 star rating (see the screen shot above). The star rating makes that listing stand out, and the reviews likely play a factor in it being the top listing in the local results. (I’ll talk about reviews’ effect on rankings below.)
Reviews Can Help Improve Conversions (Leads, Sales, Signups, etc.). Having a number of good reviews can make people feel more comfortable about doing business with you. In surveys such as this one on Marketing Land, 90% of the respondents said that positive online reviews influence their buying decisions. Perhaps even more importantly, almost as large a percentage were influenced by negative reviews.
People May Choose To View Only Highly Rated Or Reviewed Sites. Some sites, like Yelp and Google, allow people to only see listings with a minimum star rating, or to sort the listings by the most reviews.
If your business is in a market where a large percentage of your competitors have online reviews, your listing may not even be visible if you don’t have enough good reviews.
Do Reviews Affect Rankings?
While Google and Bing have never confirmed that reviews have an impact on rankings, anecdotal evidence suggests it’s likely.
In a 2013 analysis for the hotel industry, Digital Marketing Works found a strong correlation between reviews/ratings and positions, specifically between Local Carousel rank and average review rating and quantity. (Note: Google’s Carousel display is being retired.) We have seen have seen similar correlations in markets we focus on and others have reported correlations, as well.
In the 2014 MOZ Local Search Ranking Factors, a survey of industry marketers which focus on local search, respondents were asked to identify and assign a percentage of influence to ranking factors. Overall, the respondents believe that review signals — such as the quantity of reviews, review velocity, review diversity, etc., are a significant factor in rankings.
Is It Okay To Ask For Online Reviews?
Whether or not it’s acceptable to ask customers for reviews depends on the review site. You’ll need to check the terms and conditions for any review site you’ll focus on — some frown upon asking customers to submit reviews, while some encourage it.
For example, Yelp discourages businesses from soliciting customer reviews. It believes that solicited reviews jeopardize the site’s integrity, as users would eventually see the reviews as biased toward favorable ones, and therefore, untrustworthy.
Google, on the other hand, suggests that you encourage reviews for your business:
Remind your customers to leave feedback on Google. Simply reminding customers that it’s quick and easy to leave feedback on Google on mobile or desktop can help your business stand out from sites with fewer reviews.
It’s important to research the terms and conditions for any review site you plan to focus on so you’ll know what is allowed. If you can’t find this information easily on their site, try searching for “[review site] terms and conditions” in a search engine.
Now, I’ll show you the process we recommend to our clients to develop a continuous stream of online reviews.
Make Sure Your Customers Are Happy!
First and foremost is to ensure that your customers are happy. You need happy customers to get good reviews! Unfortunately, unhappy customers are the ones most likely to post reviews.
You should work to identify both your satisfied and unsatisfied clients. Depending on the nature of your business, you could send out a satisfaction survey or call your customers periodically.
What we do is to ask our clients, “Would you take a call from a prospective client?” If they say yes, we know they are reasonably happy. If we don’t get an answer, we may have a problem.
If you find unhappy clients, you should take steps to learn what you need to do to correct the situation.
Find The Best Review Sites For You And Your Industry
There are many review sites. You want to focus on the most important review sites for your business and your industry. Here’s what we do for our clients:
Search On Your Brand Names. Search on your company and brand names, with and without adding “reviews” to the search. You should find most of the public reviews you already have. Check those reviews. If you have some bad reviews, you’ll want to consider if and how you should respond.
If you have a large number or bad reviews versus good reviews on a review site, you should consider focusing on this review site in order to build up more good reviews.
Search On Important Non-Brand Keywords. Let’s say you own a gym. You’ll want to do some non-branded searches relevant to your business, such as “gym new haven” and other important search queries. Scan the results for reviews, and make note of the searches you’ve done and the review sites you see on the first page or so of the search results.
Search On Brand Names Of Your Industry Leaders & Some Key Competitors. As with the non-brand keywords, scan the results for reviews and make note of the searches and the review sites you see in the top results.
After you have compiled the results of the above searches, make a short list of review sites to focus on by choosing the review sites that appear in the top search results for multiple searches along with the sites where you found you already have reviews. (Even if there are mostly good reviews, you may want to focus on these sites to keep a stream of good reviews as many people do look at the dates to see how recent the reviews are.)
Before you begin driving customers to any review sites, create or update profiles on any of the sites that allow it. You want clients and other users of the review site to see updated information. Plus you’ll have a way to respond to reviews.
Entice Customers To Submit A Review Online
Here are some tips to entice your customers to submit an online review. Again, check the terms and conditions of the review sites you plan to focus on so you know what you are allowed to do.
Create A Web Page With Links To Review Sites. You can create a web page that includes links to your profiles on some review sites, then encourage people to visit this page — for example, by putting a “Check us out on these review sites” link on most or all of your web pages and your email signatures.
Put Links To Review Sites In Your Web Pages & Email Signatures. Rather than creating a separate web page, you could put links to one or a couple of review sites on all or most of your pages. For example, you can add these links in the right or left column of the site with a headline such as “Check us out on these review sites.” Add similar links to your email signatures.
Create Business Cards With Review Site Information. Some businesses hand out a business card that includes the URL for an important review site.
I went to a surf school in Barbados a few years ago. When I was leaving (and they knew I was happy), they handed me their business card. On it was the URL to their TripAdvisor profile. Because of the number of great reviews they have (including one from me), this surf school was listed as one of the top activities in Barbados on TripAdvisor.
Hand Out A Flyer. Some businesses hand out a sheet with simple directions to get people started at a review site. However, the review process can change, so you’ll need to keep it up to date.
Just Ask. You could ask clients to submit a review on the phone or by email.
Add A Request To An Email About Another Topic. You could add a message to an email you send out to clients about some other topic.
For example, my family and I took a cooking class in Tuscany while we were there. A couple weeks later, we each received email messages with some free recipes. At the end of the message the site added, “Last pleasure to ask… can you write a review on TripAdvisor about our Tuscan cooking class?” Because of all the good reviews it had, that cooking class was ranked as one of the top things to do in that city on TripAdvisor.
About Google Reviews
If you have a local business focus you’ll certainly want some good reviews on Google Maps (Google+ Local).
However, Google requires a Google Account in order to post a review. Not everyone will have a Google Account, and those who don’t may not want to spend the time to set one up just to submit a review. So, have an alternative review site for them that is easier to post reviews on.
Also, look for customers who have a Google email account (such as email@example.com) since you’ll know they have a Google Account.
Get Reviews Over Time, On A Continuous Basis
It’s best to get reviews in a natural progression over time, so don’t ask all your clients to submit reviews at the same time. Make getting online reviews a part of your ongoing business processes.
You May Get Some Bad Reviews…
…and that’s okay. In fact, too many good reviews and no bad ones is unnatural and looks suspicious.
If you do get some bad reviews, you’ll need to decide if and how you should respond. Here are some articles about responding to bad reviews.
- 5 Tips For Responding To Negative Customer Reviews Online
- Handling Haters: How To Respond To Negative Online Reviews
- 4 Cool-Headed Strategies for Responding to Negative Comments Online
Got any other tips for cultivating reviews? Share in the comments!
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.