Those familiar with local search ranking factors will need no convincing of just how important review signals are for wider search visibility. Moz’s 2017 Local Search Ranking Factors survey eloquently confirms this, concluding review signals yield a 13% influence in local search. What’s notable about this figure is that behavioral signals were rated at just 10%, and social signals at 4%.
Search aside, online reviews are becoming more important to consumers year-on-year. The BrightLocal 2016 Local Consumer Review Survey was definitive in its findings;
- 84% of consumers trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendations for a business, product or service.
- 91% of consumers read online reviews.
- 74% of consumers say that positive reviews make them trust a local business more.
- 50% of people now read online reviews regularly, compared with just 33% in 2015.
- Only 9% of consumers today neglect to read online reviews, compared with 29% in 2010.
- Just 5% of consumers say they don’t pay attention to online reviews. This is down from 11% in 2015.
Your most valuable marketing asset
The power of reviews is nothing new. Word-of-mouth has long been the most successful form of marketing. The challenge today is that those spoken neighbor-to-neighbor recommendations are now digital snippets accessible to all and available online forever. Making and maintaining a fantastic business review profile is not solely about reputation management. It isn’t just a PR exercise, though that plays its part.
A strong review profile is one of your most valuable marketing assets. It’s a conversion optimization tool. A trust signal. A mode of customer acquisition. And of course, a crucial ranking signal.
Increase your Google Reviews
Building an incredible customer review profile starts with Google. A Google My Business review (or at least the average star rating) is one of the first things consumers will see when they conduct a search on Google or Google Maps, so naturally it’s also the foundation of a positive review profile.
Our own research determined in 2016 that 7 out of 10 consumers will leave an online review if asked to do so. You can offer an incentive such as a discount on a subsequent purchase for a review but common sense, the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Endorsement Guides and Google’s own policing of incentivized reviews should be your yardsticks for what is and isn’t ethical.
For ease of reference, Google’s policy states, “Conflict of interest: Reviews are most valuable when they are honest and unbiased. If you own or work at a place, please don’t review your own business or employer. Don’t offer or accept money, products, or services to write reviews for a business or to write negative reviews about a competitor. If you’re a business owner, don’t set up review stations or kiosks at your place of business just to ask for reviews written at your place of business.”
Develop industry-specific review profiles
Once your framework for increasing Google reviews is in place, move onto industry-specific review sites. If you’re in the travel industry, sites like TripAdvisor are ideal. If you’re in interior design, Houzz could well be your main aim. There are thousands of niche review sites covering most sectors. Too many to choose from? Begin with the most popular and work from there. Our giant list of Niche Review Sites may well come in handy, too.
Don’t neglect social media reviews
Social media—Facebook in particular—is another crucial building block in your mission to create an incredible review profile. If you haven’t actively pursued reviews via Facebook previously, simply go to settings, and check that the Show Reviews option is switched on.
After Facebook comes a host of directory sites like Yelp, Bing and Yahoo!. These are critical for local search so should form part of a well-rounded profile.
Don’t fall into techie traps
Building a stellar review profile organically and effectively is not without its pitfalls.
Firstly, never collect reviews on your site using an API. Google’s algorithms are able to detect if most of your reviews are coming from the same IP address. Obviously this can rouse suspicion – even if each review is completely authentic.
Likewise, avoid asking people to review your business while they’re on the premises, as they might be connected to your Wi-Fi. If they are, Google will see the same IP on the review and the business; it can appear as though you’re simply leaving reviews for yourself, even if that’s not the case.
Instead, set up a reviews page on your website which directs customers to the relevant review platform. This dedicated review page can also be set up to show some of your best reviews, as well as things like TrustPilot ratings and any other awards or testimonials you might want to showcase.
Don’t be tempted to ‘fake it ‘til you make it’
One of the most important things you can do to build a trustworthy customer review profile is to prioritize authenticity as much as possible. To the uninitiated, there’s little harm in buying a few fake reviews to get the ball rolling. However, in practice, just one fake review picked up by Google can result in your whole business being removed from the web’s most valuable directory. Getting reviews online is not a quick fix. It’s a long process and there are no shortcuts.
It’s possible to do ‘too good a job’ of generating reviews
Slow and steady really does win the race! Having a colossal volume of reviews can look inauthentic, especially if you’re a small local business. People are naturally suspicious of businesses with thousands of reviews, especially when your competitors only have 100 or so.
When questioned for our Local Consumer Review Survey, 73% of consumers were of the opinion that reviews older than three months were no longer worth taking into consideration when choosing a local business. Focusing on obtaining a smaller number of reviews consistently is not just a more sustainable approach, it’s also the more strategic play for customer acquisition.
Following on from authenticity, it’s important to focus on high-quality reviews. Be on the lookout for Google ‘Local Guides’ – these are individuals who review a lot of businesses on Google and their reviews carry a lot of weight, both with Google and with other users.
Embed review acquisition and management at every stage of your operational process
Developing a strong review profile is rarely a job for one. Your wider team can also make a significant contribution to the process, provided that they’re sufficiently trained on your firm’s reputation management policy beforehand.
Identify opportunities where reviews would fit naturally into your day-to-day operations. For example, you could train sales associates in making after-sales pitches for reviews to encourage customers to share their experiences of doing business with you (but remember the aforementioned no-WiFi rule).
You may also consider offering bonuses to employees that get great feedback. It’s discouraged to incentivize the actual reviews with cash offers or free products, but there’s nothing wrong with incentivizing your employees to solicit feedback as part of wider customer service actions.
Blaise Lucey, Senior Manager, Content Marketing at Criteo suggests adapting the way you request reviews to your particular product in a Marketing Land article. He advises, “Make reviews a cornerstone of your product onboarding experience. If you sell a physical product, put in a printed reminder to review the product in the packaging.
“If you provide a service, add on a prompt to review to any follow-up communications. Apps often use in-app notifications based on behavior to target people who keep coming back.
“Whatever you do, think about how you can contact customers and ask for reviews. If you have a loyalty program, ask for reviews from those customers in particular.”
Realistically, reviews need to be a consistent part of your strategy. If you have a sudden influx of reviews one week and then nothing for three weeks after that, it can look strange to visitors and to Google. If you’re getting a handful of reviews each week however, it shows that you’re creating steady streams of satisfied customers that feel moved to share their thoughts. It’s important to make sure you have recent reviews as well as older reviews—keep them coming in organically as much as you can.
Handle negative reviews with grace
Not every review is going to be a glowing, five-star assessment of your business. Even the most respected of establishments have the odd negative review. There will always be customers who felt they had a poor experience and want to share it with others. This is where your reputation management skills will be put to the test. Moz has six sage words of advice here, “Keep calm and have a strategy.”
Firstly, you should make sure you respond properly to each and every negative review. Some reviews you receive might come across as unpleasant, unreasonable—perhaps even downright unhinged. But by responding in a completely professional manner, you show off your exceptional customer service skills to other potential customers and you demonstrate that perhaps the original reviewer may have been a little harsh.
Keep in mind that negative reviews can actually become a positive. In fact, research shows that having some negative reviews can actually help you win more business. Entrepreneur columnist Jeremy Gin explains, “Although many businesses fear bad reviews, it turns out that consumers actually trust reviews more when they see a mix of good and bad. On SiteJabber, businesses with 10-30% negative reviews receive over 10 times more leads than businesses with almost all five-star reviews. And studies have shown that 68% percent of consumers trust reviews more when they see both good and bad reviews—businesses with universally positive reviews seem too good to be true.”
Address bad customer reviews directly and be realistic
When you’re composing a response to a negative review, always remember that your words are not just for the reviewer’s benefit. Anyone who visits your review page trying to get an idea of the kind of business you are will be able to see how you respond.
Don’t resort to generic responses when confronted with negative reviews. Consumers want to see that you’re willing to step up when a customer has had a bad experience. They don’t like to see other users being fobbed off with a pre-written response from the management which doesn’t address or even mention the particular problems faced. A genuine apology, an acknowledgement of what went wrong and an outline of steps taken to rectify the issue is appropriate in most cases.
While a poor review can make you feel like your entire reputation is about to be derailed, it’s important to remember that having a 100% 5-star review rate can actually work against you. More seasoned online shoppers will admit to being skeptical when faced with a perfect score. Cynical or not, it’s easy when presented with nothing but five star reviews to assume that some must be fake, even if that’s not the case. The occasional negative review can actually keep your profile looking organic and trustworthy.
Forbes contributor and SEO expert, Jayson DeMers confirms this, saying, “Having more reviews for a product means you’ll have a higher conversion rate. This may not seem strange until you notice I said ‘reviews’ and not just ‘good reviews’. That’s because the presence of bad reviews can also have a positive effect on your conversion rate. A blend of good reviews and bad reviews shows that you aren’t trying to hide anything, and makes the good reviews seem more sincere. Imagine finding a product with hundreds of 5-star reviews and not a bad or critical review in sight—you’d probably be suspicious, wouldn’t you? The more reviews you have, and the more honest they are, the more products you’re going to sell—as long as the negative reviews don’t overwhelm the positive ones.”
Flag inappropriate reviews or request removal
If you feel that a review has overstepped the boundary between constructive and insulting, you can flag it up to Google and request it be removed. Google will look for language that is against its guidelines, including the use of profanities or abusive language. Unfortunately, this isn’t a tactic which can be used against fake reviews, because the flagged reviews are sent to Google without context.
Other review platforms will have their own policies when it comes to abusive or defamatory reviews. In some cases, you’ll be able to request a negative review be removed—you’ll usually have to show that it was malicious, defamatory or downright untrue.
How to get reviews from customers
There are a number of ways to ethically request customer reviews. A combination of two or more methods is most effective, but only trial and error will determine what best suits your particular customer demographic. If soliciting reviews is new to you, try these suggestions and then refine your approach based on what works and what doesn’t:
- At point of sale, hand out postcards or business cards with the URL of your review page (or logos of your preferred review sites) on it. Customers are more likely to leave reviews if you make the process easy for them.
- Send out personalized emails to your customers, thanking them for their business and asking for honest reviews.
- Simple reminders are important. Many consumers won’t specifically plan to leave a review, but remember that 7 out of 10 are happy to do so if asked.
- Make it as easy as possible for customers to leave a review by offering a range of formats and streamlining the process. Try to ensure they only have to click one link and avoid asking them to log in in order to vocalize their opinions.
- Reach out to customers promptly to encourage them to leave a review after a sale. If you get in touch with them two weeks after their purchase, they’re far less likely to post an accurate review than if you contact them a day or two later.
We’d love to hear your thoughts
We’d love to hear how you deal with customer reviews. What techniques do you use to solicit customer reviews? How do you go about maintaining a strong review profile?