Studies suggest that nearly 90% of customers consult a review site before making a purchase or visiting a restaurant. When sites like Yelp and Google Places for Business first came on the scene, many companies failed to assess the impact they would eventually have on business. Reviews – positive or negative – also have a significant impact on a website’s organic search rankings. Here’s what you need to know about making local review sites – the 2013 version of word of mouth marketing – work for your business.
If you need a general overview of Local SEO before diving in, check out my article, “The Definitive Guide to Local SEO.”
How review sites work
Most people are familiar with local business review sites, the most well-known of which is Yelp. When ecommerce sites like Amazon added a review feature, a revolution was born. Now, there are myriad sites that are dedicated to allowing consumers to share and research opinions about products, services, and businesses.
Some of these sites are organized geographically, such as Yelp, and allow customers to comment on any business with a listing. Others, like Angie’s List, focus on a specific niche and may restrict access to members only. But the idea is the same: customers needing a place to vent about a customer service experience simply need to go online. Prospects looking for the inside scoop get an instant look into how a business is really performing.
Who tells your story is changing
If a customer is interested in checking out your business for the first time, a review site is often their first stop. If you’re in an industry where the majority of customers check you out on Yelp or TripAdvisor, prior to contacting you for business inquiries, this has serious implications. The result is that your previous customers are the ones giving your future customers their first impression about who you are and how you perform. That single reason alone is enough to demonstrate why review sites matter so much. I covered this more in-depth in my article “Why Testimonials are Important for Online Marketing.”
What factors get weighted when considering local reviews?
Regularity: When you check popular review sites, do you notice that your customers are sharing their feedback about your business regularly? Regular reviews are important both in terms of your organic search rankings and new customer acquisition. Businesses who have frequent reviews are seen positively by Google and by potential customers. Thus, a herd of raving customers is good for both sales and SEO.
Recency: Recency also matters. If the bulk of your reviews are from two years ago, you need to shift your focus to encouraging recent customers to give their opinions online. Recent reviews are more heavily weighted than older ones.
Sentiment: Positive feedback works in your favor. Obviously, this is true from a customer acquisition perspective, but it’s also true in terms of your Google rankings. Google can measure whether a review is positive or negative. While they’re not currently penalizing businesses for poor reviews, they may in future algorithm changes. Measuring sentiment is an evolving science. It’s important to keep in mind that there are also different metrics for sorting reviews, so the glowing ones may not necessarily appear first – on review sites or in the search engine results themselves. For these reasons, a review strategy should be a top priority for your business.
As a business owner, what can you do to improve customer reviews?
First and foremost, never pad your review portfolio with fake reviews for your company. Not only is this immoral and illegal in the eyes of the Federal Trade Commission, but Google can spot a false review from a mile away. Your business could be removed from review sites entirely as a result. If you want to improve your online review portfolio, take a proactive approach and you’ll organically get the results you want.
- Make customer service a priority: If you want great reviews, focus on making your customers happy. Take a look at any negative reviews you may have received and focus on closing those gaps in your customer service. Certain things such as shipping issues or scheduling mix-ups can typically be addressed quickly and easily. Others may require some customer service training or staff changes. Focusing on improving your business based on feedback from your customers is the first step in changing those negative reviews to positive ones.
- Respond to unhappy reviewers: Negative reviews can be disheartening to a business owner, but you always want to make sure to reach out to those who have posted them. The key here is to be professional and apologetic in your response. Sometimes you can easily and transparently resolve the problem by doing this. Your business is more likely to be seen in a positive light by potential customers. Going the extra mile can help alleviate concerns about negative feedback. Previously unhappy customers will sometimes update their reviews, improving your scores and profile as a result.
- Update your contact information: If you’re a business owner, claim your page on popular review sites such as Yelp and Google Places for Business. Keep your contact information current and create an in-depth profile about your business. A profile rich in photos, a full description, and information about what types of products and services you offer can help improve your search rankings not only within the individual review sites, but also in Google and Bing. Claiming your page can also help in other ways. Doing so allows you to respond to concerns directly on the review site, thank customers for positive feedback, and provide exclusive coupons to those who visit your review page. High quality listings and reviewer engagement will help you get more mileage out of your relationship with these review sites. I highly recommend Yext for signing up and managing all your business profiles from a central location.
- If you want reviews, just ask: The best way to get positive reviews for your business is to ask your customers to share their feedback. Depending on which type of business you own, there are a few ways to accomplish this. For example, you may want to include a call to action on your packing slips or receipts. If you’re doing email marketing, include a link in your messages so that people can share their feedback easily. You should also feel comfortable asking your customers, in an encouraging but non-demanding way. If you have loyal customers that you know will give you a glowing review, specifically request that they submit reviews about their experience with your business.
How might future Google algorithm changes around reviews affect my search rankings?
We know that Google is penalizing businesses who are posting fake reviews to popular sites such as Yelp and Google Places. But will they penalize your business for multiple negative reviews from customers? Nobody knows for sure, but I’d say it’s probable. Google can already measure sentiment in content like Tweets, comments, and reviews, and while their algorithm doesn’t take it into account at this point, I believe that this will change as we move forward.
At this year’s SXSW conference, a high ranking member of the Google team announced that they would be making changes to the algorithm later this year to help weed out the good merchants from the bad. Businesses with an abundance of poor reviews will likely be knocked down in the search rankings. If you have not developed your review strategy, there’s no better time than now to get started.
How do I claim my business page on a customer review site?
A baseline step in establishing a review strategy for your business is claiming your business page on the top review sites. Each of the major sites has a different process for doing so, but all of them are straightforward. Here are brief outlines of the processes for claiming your business pages on Yelp and Google Places for Business to help you get started.
Yelp is a key player in the customer review space. To claim your page on their site, start by visiting https://biz.yelp.com/claiming. Claiming your business on Yelp can be done in three simple steps.
First, it is going to ask you to search for your business listing by name and location. If customers have already posted reviews about your business, a listing will appear and you can simply click ‘Claim’ next to your business name. If not, you will need to go through the process of creating a new page.
The next step after you’ve found your listing or created a page is to sign up for a Yelp account. After you’ve signed up, you will be asked to verify your identity before you can claim your page. Yelp will then send you an approval and you can begin adding content to your business listing.
Google Places for Business
Getting started on Google Places for Business is simple. Business owners can start by going to https://www.google.com/business/placesforbusiness/ and clicking on the ‘Get started for free’ button. If you already have a Google account, you’ll be prompted to sign in. If not, you will need to create a new one.
Once you’ve signed into your Google account, you’ll have the option of searching for your business. Type both your name and location into the search field for the most accurate results. If nothing comes up, you’ll be able to click through to add a new business listing. You’ll then have the opportunity to update your business page with your contact information, hours, payment options, etc. The last steps are previewing the page to see how it will appear to customers, and verifying your listing.
Whether you’re running a new small business or an established one, gathering great customer reviews should be a focus of your online marketing initiative. Not only will they help attract new clients researching you across review sites, but they’ll also help bolster your website’s visibility in major search engines.
For more online marketing tips & expertise, follow me on Twitter, @JaysonDeMers.
Originally published on Dec 20, 2013 2:27 PM, updated Feb 5, 2016