Whether good or bad, reputation is a powerful business force. When used correctly it can be a huge aid to driving more visibility and customers to your business.
A powerful online reputation is a great form of social proof, and can give potential consumers, as well as business partners and suppliers, the confidence to buy from you or use your services.
In the digital world, reviews aren’t just recommendations, they’re intrinsic to SEO success, making reputation management an incredibly important concept to both understand and deploy regularly.
Why Are Reviews So Important?
Developing a strong reviews pipeline is no easy thing, and you should expect to make a fairly hefty investment of time, effort, and trial-and-error to arrive at something that works for your business and is effective in delivering a steady stream of new reviews for your business.
Of course, making this commitment becomes much more palatable when it’s clear what the benefits are. Before we get onto the process of formulating your review strategy, though let’s look at why this action is so essential by outlining the many business benefits of online reviews.
1. Online reviews are an SEO ranking factor
The Local SEO Ranking Factors survey has consistently found that reviews are a vital component of local search visibility. It classifies signals from reviews as the third most important factor for local pack rankings, with multiple review-related signals overall contributing – things like the number of reviews, proportion of positive reviews, frequency and consistency of reviews and diversity of reviews are all key.
Google itself has also confirmed the importance of reviews, but its advice is nuanced and underlines the importance of having a review management process in place.
In its support page it says,
“Interact with customers by responding to reviews that they leave about your business. Responding to reviews shows that you value your customers and the feedback that they leave about your business. High-quality, positive reviews from your customers will improve your business’s visibility and increase the likelihood that a potential customer will visit your location. Encourage customers to leave feedback by creating a link they can click to write reviews.”
Over and above the power of a review as a SEO ranking factor in its own right, Google review count also contributes to prominence (or authority), which is one of the trifecta of broad considerations Google uses to determine the best match for a local search user.
2. Positive reviews help with clickthroughs
There has been some suggestion that search users tend to click through less to a website now than ever before, thanks no doubt to the richness of search results. Our own annual Local Consumer Review Survey has found that click-through rates have increased, with 50% of local consumers clicking through to a business website in 2018, versus just 37% the year before.
More recently, research carried out by Rand Fishkin found that in the first three months of 2019, 48.96% of US searches didn’t result in a click through to a website, an increase of 12% on the same period three years earlier.
Anything you can do to improve the likelihood of a search user clicking through to your website should therefore be embraced – and a strong review profile can help you do just that. A study we carried out in 2016 found that positive reviews increase CTR by 22%.
3. Reviews increase trust and conversions
We have long since established that online reviews have replaced traditional recommendations given by peers, with 9 in 10 of us now trusting an online review as much as a personal recommendation. It should come as no surprise, then, to learn that that trust directly translates into an uptick in both faith placed in a business and enquiry levels.
The BrightLocal Landing Page Performance Study concluded that reviews increase trust by 11% and that positive ratings increase the likelihood of a consumer contacting a business by 12%. Wondering how this ties into your review pipeline action plan? We’ve learned that consumers need an average of 10 reviews before they feel they can trust a business. At the same time, a review needs to be no more than two weeks old for it to impact a local consumer’s decision making.
Clearly, you need to be proactive about acquiring positive new reviews for your business if you are to reap the SEO, trust, and bottom-line business benefits. The only way you can be assured of obtaining the steady stream of reviews you need is by having a very effective reviews strategy in place.
It needs to be practical to deploy, work effectively for a range of different types of reviewer and perform consistently over time by generating enough new reviews each week to satisfy both Google and the ever-savvy online consumer.
Developing Your Review Strategy
You may have got to this point and wondered why your business doesn’t already have a review strategy in place. Don’t be disheartened by this – our research shows that you’re not alone. In fact, our latest Online Reputation Management Survey found that there is a strong disconnect between the importance placed on reputation and the effort made to manage that reputation.
While 87% of respondents classed reputation management as being very important to their business, just 17% of their time is actually spent on reputation management tasks. The most common barrier preventing more emphasis being placed on reputation management was clear, with half of respondents citing a lack of time. This barrier can easily be breached by putting a solid review strategy in place.
Whether you’re managing a single location or grappling with a multi-location business, we’re here to help. Now that you’re sold on the importance of reviews, let’s go ahead and work through the process of creating a functional, effective review strategy you can deploy right away.
Step 1: Set review targets
We have seen that both Google and consumers expect a fairly extensive batch of reviews, with positive new reviews joining them consistently. We’ve also heard that local consumers want to see a minimum of 10 reviews before they feel they can trust a business – but only factor in reviews from the last two weeks in their decision-making process. This can lead you to set unrealistic targets which is a quick path to becoming demoralized and giving up on your review profile strategy.
If this is your first time building an online review profile, you’ll need to be realistic. The size of business and client base needs to be taken into account, too. If you’re a small, niche business making holiday decorations by hand, for example, targeting five new reviews each day probably isn’t going to work for you. But aiming for five per week may do.
You also need enough reviews to convince Google to trust you so this must be factored in when you set your review targets. To work this metric out, you’ll need to do a little sleuthing and determine how many reviews your competitors have. You want to at least emulate their review count, and surpass it if possible.
Our Google Reviews Study found that 74% of local businesses have at least one Google review, with the average number of reviews sitting at 39. Those in positions 1-3 were found to have an average of 47 Google reviews.
If you’re beginning your review strategy from scratch, this makes a good starting point when setting your review targets.
To get an idea of the average for your industry, use BrightLocal’s Local Search Results Checker to see local rankings and then check up on key rivals. Keep in mind that you need to add reviews consistently so you that have a good store of recent reviews to satisfy consumer expectations.
Step 2: Select the review sites you wish to focus on
There are literally hundreds of review sites online, ranging from the very niche to the very general. Selecting which review sites you want to focus your review generation efforts on is an important second step – too few and you won’t generate enough to make an impact, but too many and you’re likely to confuse your customers, dilute your review profile and spread yourself too thin.
For each industry there will likely be a leading review site. In the travel space this would be TripAdvisor, for example. Bars, restaurants and food businesses may turn to Yelp, and builders, plumbers and electricians might look to a site like RatedPeople.
Identify the highest profile site within your industry and add that to your list. Keep in mind, though, that are lots of highly relevant, niche review sites for very specific industries and professions (dentists, doctors, lawyers, for example).
These niche sites are likely to be frequented by those at the end of their research phase so they’re sites you’ll definitely want to maintain a review profile on. BrightLocal has a list of 300+ Niche Review Sites, separated by industry, that you can use to help you decide which sites to focus on.
With your industry platform identified, you’ll want to add the no-brainers to your list: Google and Facebook. Google reviews are an important part of securing local search visibility and Facebook is the second fastest growing review site in the world so they’re a shoe-in for inclusion on your list.
You’ll now want to confirm you have successfully identified the most pertinent review sites for your industry. This can give you confidence in your reviews strategy and ensures you’ll reap the most business benefits from your efforts.
Doing this is easy: simply conduct a Google search for keywords related to your business, tag the word ‘reviews’ on the end and check which review sites appear highest in search. These are the sites Google thinks are particularly relevant to the work you do, and so they’ll be getting a good amount of traffic.
Step 3: Outline your process for regularly generating new reviews
Now that you know which review sites you want to prioritize, you can move on to how you’re going to reach out to customers to generate those reviews. Reviews don’t just happen on their own, yet our most recent Local Consumer Review survey found that fewer businesses are now asking their customers to leave a review compared with the year before. In 2017, 74% of local consumers had been asked to leave a review but this fell to 66% in 2018.
It’s important to note here that 7 in 10 people who are asked to leave a review go on to do so. Therefore, having a review request protocol in place can seriously move your review profile activity forward.
We have shared lots of ways to ask for a Google review in our post here, with suggestions ranging from making the review request a consolidated part of your sales process, using a range of review gathering methods and providing instructions for all customers which lead them through the simple process of leaving a review.
Be timely when asking for a review – you want to capture honest, accurate feedback, and strike when customer satisfaction is at its highest point. This could be a day or two after an item is shipped or immediately at checkout in a bricks-and-mortar store. BrightLocal’s powerful Reputation Management tool can help you manage this part of the process.
It’s important to recognize here that there are some do’s and don’ts you’ll need to abide by when requesting reviews. Each review platform will have its own rules which you’ll need to abide by in order to stay on the platform. You can find our comprehensive overview of guidelines for the top review sites, including Google, Facebook, and Yelp, here. Study these to ensure you stay on the right side of the law.
Step 4: Get your team on the same page
Making your review pipeline strategy sustainable and effective means you’ll need to bring your wider team on board. Whether that means your sales team, front of house staff, customer service or all of the above, ensuring they understand the importance of reviews, the role reviews play, and their contribution to business success is essential.
Done properly, you can achieve sell-in for the review strategy by underlining how great customer reviews can lead to individual staff recognition, performance improvements, bonuses or perhaps even promotion.
Here at BrightLocal, we share our great reviews with everyone in the business via a Slack channel, and it reminds them how appreciated their work is. It brings everyone together and even helps with employee retention – this is an easy thing to set up, no matter the size of your business, and can be done using a system you already have in place.
For individual staff members, you can make generating reviews worth their while, in a monetary sense. While you can’t incentivize reviews from customers, there’s nothing stopping you incentivizing your workforce to generate them.
Step 5: Select an appropriate reputation management tool
Review-building is a timely and ongoing task – but it isn’t one that you need to perform entirely manually. As part of your strategy, consider whether you can invest in a reputation management tool to automate part of the process and elevate your reviews profile to even greater heights.
Weigh up the cost of the tool against the time saved. A good tool can also remove complexity and ensure consistency via automation, meaning no customer will slip through the net and no opportunities to acquire a new review will be lost.
When assessing a reputation management tool, look for features that will make your life easier, such as:
- Ability to monitor all reviews from all sites in a single report
- Review response function for the most important review sites
- Customer feedback system
- Process to get more reviews through automated email and SMS
- Ability to get more reviews on a branded web page
- Functionality to monitor niche industry sites
- Review showcasing functionality for your website and social media
- For agencies, report white-labeling and client access
Step 6: Identify opportunities to make your reviews work even harder for you
We’ve already seen that online reviews help with search engine visibility, act as social proof, and contribute to customer decision making. You might feel like that’s enough but the truth is, you can eke even more from your online review profile.
Your review generation plan should also include a section on how you can showcase your reviews, make them prominent across your own channels and make them work even harder for your business. The more visible you can make them, the more you can reap their benefits.
- Landing Pages: Display a feed of reviews, create a dedicated reviews page or link out to profiles on third-party sites.
- Contact Pages: Add reviews and testimonials to key customer contact points.
- Schema Markup: Mark up ‘native’ reviews (rather than third-party reviews) with schema to bring your star rating into SERPs. [Update: In September 2019, LocalBusiness Schema‘s functionality was limited, meaning stars now only appear in the local pack, not the organic SERPs. Businesses with products continue to be able to add stars in SERPs through the use of Product Schema.]
- Twitter and Facebook: Pin and promote tweets containing your best reviews.
- Google Posts: Balance your more promotional posts with social proof like reviews and testimonials.
- Email Marketing: Include review site logos and star ratings to get better traction and a higher response rate with your emails.
- Display and Re-targeting Ads: Featuring review stars can build up trust before the consumer has even clicked the ad.
- Leaflets, Flyers, and Business Cards: Your reputation doesn’t just have to live online. Bring it into the real world by including the fruits of your reputation management on your printed promotional materials.
For any business, of any size, stature and niche, reviews are an important part of the marketing function. A strong review profile bestows a wealth of benefits for local businesses, including better search engine visibility, social proof, and consumer trust.
Generating reviews is a time-consuming prospect but one that needs to be done consistently in order to harness the power of these digital recommendations – and you can be sure if you aren’t doing it, your competitors are.
Consumer behavior means there is a constant need to have a steady stream of fresh reviews appearing online, making a review-generating strategy non-negotiable for the modern business. Creating a strategy doesn’t need to be hugely taxing, simply follow our step-by-step outline above to put your first strategy together.
Want to learn more about reputation management for local businesses?
Check out all of our available resources, research, and webinars on online reviews here.