Online Review Management: The Complete Guide

Online Review Management: The Complete Guide

This complete guide to online reviews covers several key areas: why they’re important, how to generate and respond to them, and how to make the most of online reviews once you’ve got them. Read on to learn how getting more reviews can help local businesses thrive, and how to implement a solid review strategy.

If you’re interested in improving your local SEO and online presence, you’ll first need to establish a formal online reviews strategy.

Managing customer feedback, reviews, and your online reputation can feel daunting, but with this complete guide at your fingertips, you’ll be more than equipped to develop a sparkling online review strategy and, in turn, achieve better rankings and drive more foot traffic to your business.

Read on to learn:

  • What online review management is 
  • Why it’s important
  • The review sites you need to know about
  • How to get more reviews
  • How to respond to reviews
  • And how to leverage reviews once you’ve got them

As we go through this guide, we’ll share some invaluable tips, tactics, and tools. Don’t forget to bookmark this page so you can refer back as you go.

So, without further ado, let’s dive into the world of reviews!

Chapter 1: The Foundations of Online Review Management

Over the last few years, online reviews have become a non-negotiable part of every local business owner and marketer’s arsenal. The volume of review sites has grown significantly, as has the rate at which consumers are writing and referencing reviews.

In this chapter, we’ll explore the foundations of online review management.

What is online review management?

Online review management is the process of monitoring, generating, and leveraging online customer feedback. 

From brick-and-mortar local businesses to online-only eCommerce stores, almost every business has to participate in online review management in some way.

But what do we mean by online reviews here? When we talk about online reviews, we’re typically referring to reviews left by customers on a business’s website, Google My Business listing, social media, or listing on a third-party directory like Yelp or Tripadvisor. We’ll get into the specific places where reviews can be left a little later on in this guide.

Who is online review management for?

Online review management is for any business that cares about improving its reputation, customer feedback, and local search presence.

Who is online review management for?

Review management doesn’t always fit cleanly into the responsibilities of a specific job role, so it can often fall by the wayside. People responsible for managing reviews might be store owners or managers, social media managers, marketing agencies, consultants, or freelancers. At small businesses, it might fall to the shop staff, for example, to manage incoming reviews, while larger brands might recruit an agency to help them out.

Online review management isn’t just for businesses with an existing bad reputation, but it can be a help if a business has dealt with very low star ratings in the past. For businesses that have suffered from bad reviews previously, review management can reinvigorate a profile and build back trust that may have previously been lost.

What does online review management involve?

Managing online business reviews involves three fundamental steps:

  1. Generating reviews
  2. Monitoring reviews
  3. Leveraging reviews

In order to execute review management successfully, every step of the review journey needs to be looked after.

Review management vs Reputation management

‘Review management’ and ‘reputation management’ might sound similar, but they are in fact two distinct activities, so it’s useful to understand where they differ and where they overlap, too. 

What’s the difference between review management and reputation management?

While review management is a core part of local SEO, reputation management is more likely to be handled by PR agencies.

Both are important strategies, but reputation management won’t directly boost your chances of ranking in Google local searches, which is one of the key aims of a good review strategy.

Let’s take a look at some of the key comparisons and differences between online reviews and reputation.

Review management
Reputation management
Focuses on reviews only
Focused on broad online presence including social media, brand mentions, and reviews
Builds trust with searchers
Builds a digital online presence
Helps with local SEO
Has little impact on local SEO
Takes place on review sites like GMB, Yelp, Angi, etc.
Takes place on social media, company website, on blogs, etc.

Monitoring reputation through social media

Although we’ll be talking about online review management throughout this guide, you might choose to keep an eye on what’s being said about you on social media, too.

Few social media platforms have formal review options (we’ll look at the unicorn, Facebook, soon). However, in the age of social media, you might find yourself getting informally reviewed on any site that your business has a presence.

This is especially pertinent when it comes to negative reviews. 

Social Media Reviews

It’s not uncommon to see consumers air their grievances on Twitter and Instagram, especially. 

While these negative “reviews” won’t impact your local SEO, you might want to keep an eye on them, because they could diminish consumer trust. 

Chapter 2: The Benefits and Importance of Online Review Management

There are plenty of reasons local businesses should care about online reviews.

In this chapter, we’ll explore the most important reasons to formalize a review strategy, and take a look at the biggest benefits you risk leaving on the table if you don’t.

Reviews are a local ranking factor

When we’re talking about local SEO, we care about the local ranking factors, i.e. the things that will make it more likely for your business to appear in search results on Google or Google Maps.

Online reviews are one of the biggest local ranking factors. In fact, according to local SEO experts, online reviews are the second-most important thing to pay attention to in local SEO.

Local Pack Ranking Factors

This means that if you want to stand a chance of ranking in Google’s search results, you’ll need to have a regular stream of online reviews coming in.

Reviews provide trust signals

Reviews are a powerful tool in local SEO because, as well as helping Google to rank your business, they provide vital trust signals to potential customers.

BrightLocal’s Local Consumer Review Survey showed that 79% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations from friends or family. 

How consumers trust online reviews

So having a complete online review profile can be a ‘make-or-break’ factor when it comes to gaining the trust of a searcher.

Reviews are a conversion factor

We know that having a strong online review profile can help you get found online, and foster trust between your business and searchers, but what role do reviews play in getting real customers?

As we’ll see below, online reviews help searchers to convert

After reading a positive online review, these are the top five actions taken by consumers, according to the Local Consumer Review Survey:

  1. Visit the business’s website
  2. Search for more reviews to further validate their choice
  3. Visit the business’s location
  4. Continue searching for other businesses
  5. Contact the business

Three of these five top actions directly results in contact with the business, proving that good reviews really can bring more custom. 

Reviews are everywhere

Another reason to prioritize online reviews? Everyone else is! And, yes, that means your competitors. So if you’re neglecting reviews, you could be missing a trick. 

Did You Know? In 2020, 93% of US consumers searched online for a local business. Of these, 34% searched every day, while 73% searched weekly (up from 70% in 2019).

If you want to stand out among the crowd, you’ll need to ensure your online review profile is leagues ahead of your competitors.

Just take a look at this review comparison I generated using BrightLocal’s Google My Business Audit:

Google My Business Audit

You can see that some of the competitors here are doing really well with reviews. So, one way this business could try to climb the ranks would be to get more reviews.

Consumers need high review ratings to commit to purchase

With so many businesses to choose from, it’s no surprise that consumers are pickier than they used to be.

Only half of consumers would consider using a business that has fewer than 4 stars, which means that if your business falls under this threshold you’re risking losing a lot of footfall.

If you’re thinking, “well, those people just have high standards,” you might want to note that just 20% of consumers would use a business with fewer than 3 stars.

Minimum star rating needed in reviews

Without a big pool of good reviews to rely on, a one- or two-star review could pull your average down to slip beneath that threshold. Once again, these numbers shine a light on just how important it is to have a high quality and quantity of reviews.

Consumers don’t trust outdated reviews

When did you receive your last review? Depending on your business type, if it was more than two weeks ago you could be in trouble.

Only 50% of consumers take into account reviews left more than two weeks ago. That means the other half need to see very recent reviews in order to trust them.

Importance of online review recency

80% of consumers view recency as one of the most important factors when looking at a business’s online review profile. So, even if you’ve already got hundreds of great reviews, you’ll always need more. This is what we mean by building a ‘steady stream’ of reviews.

If your business’s review profile isn’t regularly refreshed, you could be putting searchers off.

Chapter 3: Review Management Sites

Now, let’s move on to thinking about where to get more online reviews. The good news is that you’ve got a few options! Here, we’ll talk about where you absolutely need to get reviews, and some further options to consider, depending on your industry.

Google My Business

For those interested in local SEO, Google My Business (GMB) should be the main platform you pay attention to.

Why?

  • Business reviews on Google have additional importance above and beyond the standard consumer benefits of reviews that we discussed earlier.
  • When the industry talks about reviews as a local ranking factor, Google reviews are the reviews its referring to.
  • Google is the fastest-growing review site, beating out the likes of Facebook, Yelp, Tripadvisor, and Foursquare.
  • Unlike many maps apps, Google’s reviews are native, meaning that they’re not pulled in from a third-party site.

Where to find Google reviews

Reviews gained on Google can be found in a business’s GMB listing. These will then be visible when the business appears in local search results in Google or Google Maps.

Here’s an example of where data from Google reviews is surfaced in a business’s Knowledge Panel:

Google Reviews in Knowledge Panel

As you can see, this is one of the first elements a searcher is presented with when completing a branded search (i.e. searching for your business’s name).

Reviews are also visible in Google Maps, when a searcher is looking for directions to your business, for example.

Google Maps Reviews

Again, this placement, along with the prominence of the average star rating, emphasizes the importance of having good reviews. You might have got a customer interested in using your business, but if they see negative reviews when retrieving directions to your location, there’s nothing to say they won’t opt for one of your competitors instead.

In addition to these placements, Google presents users with what’s known as ‘review summaries’. These show up in Google Maps searches and include highlighted keywords and an average star rating.

Google reviews summaries

As you can see above, if you perform a search like ‘best pizza’, Google will select the most suitable reviews about that topic and make those keywords bold in the review summaries on the GMB profile.

These keywords will also be used to highlight relevant reviews that mention those words in the left-hand panel of a standard Google Maps search, in what’s known as a ‘justification’.

This shows just how beneficial it is to try to get customers to use phrases with which you want to be associated (ideally your SEO keywords) in their Google reviews.

Google Maps reviews snippets

Looking at just these few examples, it’s crystal-clear just how important reviews are on Google. If you’ve got a low star rating, that’s going to show up in a lot of places and influence searchers’ decisions.

Other Important Review Sites

Google may be the most important place to get reviews for local SEO, but its competitors are still worth paying attention to.

Apple

The third-most-popular maps app in the US (after Google Maps and Waze), Apple Maps is still worth paying attention to for reviews.

Unlike Google, it sources its reviews from third-party sites, primarily Yelp in the USA (though it uses a variety of sources, such as Tripadvisor and Foursquare in other territories).

Apple Maps Yelp Reviews

An average star rating is available immediately at the top of the listing. To read detailed reviews, however, users will need to leave the app to visit Yelp.

This means that, if you want to build reviews on Apple Maps, you’ll need a Yelp vendor account.

What about Apple Maps’ own ratings and recommendations system? In late April, 2021, Apple Maps’ ratings and recommendations system was launched in the US as part of the iOS 14.5 update (though it was available in some other countries before this).

Apple Maps Ratings

This functionality allows users to leave a ‘thumbs up’ or a ‘thumbs down’ for a business, as well as for its products and service. You can also upload photos of the business to Apple Maps. One notable difference to other reviews, though, is that users can’t upload text.

While we covered this in some detail when it was initially revealed in October 2020, it’s currently hard to say what impact these recommendations will have on business’ Apple Maps visibility, or if Apple will eventually phase out third-party reviews on its Maps app.

My recommendation? Don’t sleep on Apple Maps ratings, and add Apple to the places you look to generate reviews on. It’s one of the many ways you could get ahead of competitors by being on the cutting edge of reviews.

Microsoft Bing

Google may have the lion’s share of the market in the US, but Bing Places for Business still receives millions of users’ worth of search traffic. Plus, it’s worth remembering that Bing powers search results in Amazon’s voice assistant, Alexa.

Like Apple, Bing pulls its reviews from external sites, including Facebook, Foursquare, Yelp, and more.

Bing Reviews

 

On this particular listing, Bing has pulled in ‘reviews from the web’ in a section nestled at the bottom of the business’s profile, beneath the menu items. This means that reviews are much less visible on Bing than both Apple and Google.

To ensure your online reviews look good on Bing, you’ll need to focus on getting reviews across third-party sites like Facebook and Yelp. 

Yelp

As we’ve discussed, Yelp reviews are often pulled into other apps and directories, but many people will also directly visit the Yelp website or app to compare businesses.

Yelp Reviews

When browsing businesses on Yelp, you’ll see average star ratings. Then, when clicking on a listing, you can explore individual reviews.

Like Google Maps, Yelp offers review highlights:

One crucial difference to note with Yelp, is that, as we’ll see below, they explicitly do not want you to actively generate reviews there, and they lay this out in their guidelines.

Facebook

Facebook doesn’t go for the more traditional ‘text review and star rating’ approach, and instead provides the option for customers to leave ‘recommendations’

These take the form of a ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’ (rather than a star rating) and the option to leave a description, which have the same social sharing functionality (comments, likes, shares) as a standard Facebook comment.

Facebook reviews

Recommendations left will be found under the ‘reviews’ section of a business’s Facebook page.

Nextdoor

Like Facebook, Nextdoor uses recommendations rather than reviews. Businesses are able to share a unique URL to encourage local customers to recommend them. 

This provides you with the chance to get in front of hyperlocal consumers and show them that you’re a trustworthy business worth visiting. 

Industry-specific sites

In addition to these big hitters, you’ll also want to consider building reviews on more niche, industry-focused websites.

Here are some examples of industry-specific review sites:

  • Tripadvisor for hotels
  • Angi for cleaners
  • Justia for lawyers
  • GigSalad for caterers

To find the review sites that are right for you, you’ll want to do some research to learn where your customers are talking. We’ve got a great list of industry review sites to get you started, but you can also perform brand searches to see which review sites rank highest for you.

As a rule of thumb, any review site that appears on the first (or possibly even second) page of Google results for your business is a site you should be building reviews on.

Review site guidelines

Each review site will have its own unique set of guidelines, and it’s really important to make sure you familiarize yourself with these to avoid penalties (such as having your reviews or, worse, your listing removed). 

Some typical review no-nos include:

  • Incentivizing reviews – offering money, gift cards, or freebies in exchange for reviews
  • Review gating – only asking happy customers to leave reviews
  • Fake reviews, and reviews from friends and family

What is review gating? Review gating is the act of soliciting feedback from a customer, and then deciding whether or not to ask them for a review based on their response. This is strictly against the Google My Business (and most review sites’) guidelines and comes with heavy penalties.

Some sites will be more stringent than others, so whenever you’re branching out to a new review site, be sure to check its guidelines first.

It’s not just you as a business that needs to adhere to guidelines, review sites’ guidelines are there to protect you, too. If you’re familiar with the rules, you’ll know when reviews can be reported to protect your reputation.

To get you started, take a look at these popular review sites’ guidelines, which I’ve summarized below.

Google
  • No review gating
  • Don’t review your own business
  • Don’t review competitors
  • Don’t offer or accept money in exchange for reviews
  • Don’t solicit reviews from customers in bulk
Yelp
  • Don’t solicit reviews or offer to pay for them
  • No conflicts of interest
Facebook
  • No spam
  • No misrepresentation
  • No incentivized reviews
Tripadvisor
  • No paid reviews
  • No incentivized reviews
  • No biased reviews or blackmail
Better Business Bureau
  • No fake reviews
  • No anonymous reviews
  • No paid reviews
Yellow Pages
  • No ‘astroturfing’ (reporting negative reviews to only leave positive ones)
  • No paid reviews
  • No reviews from friends or family
Angi
  • Only approved review generation language allowed

Chapter 4: How to Get Reviews

Let’s get down to business! This section explains how to get reviews and develop a consistent review outreach strategy. 

What matters in online reviews?

Before you begin your review outreach, it’s important to understand what you should be looking for in online reviews. Knowing what matters to the modern-day consumer will help inform your review strategy and provide some context when it comes to asking for customer reviews.

In recent years, consumers have become increasingly demanding in terms of what they look for in a review. In this section, we’ll look at the four key factors of online reviews.

Star rating

As you’d expect, a business’s average star rating is important. In fact, average star rating is the most important factor, according to consumers.

Plus, on most review sites, star rating will be the first thing a searcher sees, so it’s easy to imagine consumers making decisions entirely based on this metric.

Legitimacy 

Fake reviews continue to grow, and so it’s more important than ever that businesses do what they can to ensure that consumers trust the reviews they are reading. 

For YMYL businesses like lawyers, showing reviews are legitimate is even more important.

What is a YMYL business? YMYL is an SEO term that stands for ‘Your Money Your Life’. YMYL businesses refer to high-stakes industries such as law, medical, and financial. Content from YMYL businesses can directly impact a consumer’s health, wellbeing, finances, or safety, so Google places more stringent guidelines on them. 

Reviews influence buying decisions and, as we’ve discussed, legitimacy is going to be even more important in some industries than others. We’ll share some tips on highlighting the legitimacy of reviews later on.

Recency 

According to consumers who have left reviews, the third most important factor is recency: when were your most recent reviews left?

Review recency

80% of consumers consider recency to be important, and review sites are taking notice.

For example, Google My Business shows ‘NEW’ labels next to reviews that have been left within the last four weeks, so it’s even more clear to searchers how active or inactive your business is, and how reliable the reviews are.

Google My Business New Label

Sentiment

As you’d expect, searchers pay attention to how positive or negative a review is. Although you’d expect the star rating to do most of the talking, tone and sentiment can be distinct from this.

In Google My Business review summaries, searchers are shown a star rating and sentence from the reviewer, with searched keywords in bold, to contextualize this.

Quantity

Last, but certainly not least, let’s touch on quantity. As you might expect, consumers view quantity of reviews as a key factor in the decision-making process, with 79% of consumers saying they view them as important.

Google Reviews Quantity

Along with having good quality reviews, it’s important to have lots of them. Once more, this emphasizes why it’s so vital to have an ongoing review strategy in place. Having a handful of five-star reviews just isn’t going to cut it, sadly!

And more

Other review factors worth paying attention to include:

  • Review responses
  • Diversity (having reviews on multiple sites)
  • Length and detail
  • Inclusion of photos

If you adopt the tactics put forward in this guide, you’ll learn to cover all these bases.

Once you’ve done so, prepare to woo and wow your customers with your 5-star review profile filled with glowing customer feedback! Plus, let’s not ignore how good it’ll feel to see that brilliant feedback in one place: it’s a great motivator for staff along with everything else.

Now that you know the importance of reviews and where to get them, we can move on to the how of it all. 

The golden rule when it comes to getting more reviews? Ask!

Did You Know? 72% of consumers that are asked to write a review go on to do so.

In this chapter, we’ll discuss the best ways to ask for reviews, including when to ask and what channels to target.

When to ask for reviews

When performing review outreach, you’ll want to make sure you choose the right time to strike. Remember, you’re really asking your customers to do you a favor, so it’s important to make the process as seamless for them as possible.

So, when is the best time to ask for a review? If at all possible, the best time to ask is when your customer has just received great service or a great experience. 

We’re not suggesting that you participate in review gating, but if you feel confident that you or a team member has just delivered exceptional service, whether online or in-store, then now is the time to strike.

For example, if you’ve assisted a customer with a query, you might ask them to consider sharing a review of their experience. 

Here’s an example of what you could say in this instance:

“We’re glad to have been able to help you with your purchase today. If you were happy with our service, please consider taking a few moments to leave us a review on Google.”

If you’re communicating with a customer online, you can include a link to the review site of choice.

Top tip: Use a tool like the Google review link generator to share short and simple URLs so customers can submit reviews easily.

We’ll talk about reputation management tools later, but some platforms (like BrightLocal’s Reputation Manager) will automate this process for you.

How to use email to ask for reviews 

One way local businesses can start getting more reviews is through email requests.

The benefits of using email to get reviews

Using email to send review requests is popular for a few reasons:

  1. It’s quick – sending an email can take mere moments, especially if you go down the plain-text route and have an email template at the ready
  2. It’s accessible – you don’t have to be a global brand to have access to the most basic form of email, which makes it an accessible option for businesses of any size
  3. It’s got great reachmore than 90% of US citizens use email, so chances are your customers have it, too
  4. It works!open rates for emails average at around 20%, and sometimes higher depending on the industry!

How to send review requests through email

First things first, you’ll need to make sure you’ve got access to your customer email addresses, so you can contact them. If you don’t already have access to these email addresses, think about how you can incorporate an address-gathering step into the process.

Top tip: Whenever you’re working with customer data like email addresses, you need to make sure you’re adhering to privacy laws – for example, GDPR in the UK – and have permission to contact your customers.

Once you know that you can contact your customers via email, you’ll need to create some email templates to work with. 

We suggest starting with a generic outreach email, like so:

Hi <First Name>,

This is <Your Name>, <Your Job Title> at <Your Business Name>.

You recently visited us at <Business Location>. Thanks for choosing us — I hope you got everything you wanted out of your experience.

Your feedback is valuable to us, so whether you had a fantastic or less-than-stellar experience, we’d really like to hear about it.

Please consider taking a moment to leave your feedback on <Your Chosen Review Site>.

Thanks,

<Your Name>

Of course, you can and should adjust this template to suit your brand’s tone and the customers’ experience. For example, if you’re reaching out to a customer that visited your store a while ago, you might want to address that.

How to use SMS to get reviews

Depending on your business type and industry, SMS might be a better fit for you, or something you choose to use alongside email.

The benefits of using SMS to get reviews

Sending review requests via SMS text can be a great option for those looking to reach their customers more directly. For example, service-area businesses like plumbers or contractors that often communicate by phone might find this a more natural approach.

Like email, SMS is a fairly low-maintenance approach, and it has great reach. The smartphone market in the US is one of the world’s largest – presently more than 80% of the population use a smartphone. That means it’s very likely that your customers will be reachable on this channel.

SMS has a higher open rate than email, too, so if used correctly, it can be even more effective

Did You Know? While open rates for emails average at around 20%, SMSes are opened at a rate of 98%.

How to send review requests through SMS

To reach out to customers for reviews via SMS, you’ll need to collect their phone numbers. Again, it’s really important to make sure you have a formal process for this, and that you’re getting your customers’ consent to send SMSes.

For many businesses that use SMS to communicate with customers, you’ll already have access to these numbers. Otherwise, a few methods to begin collecting customer phone numbers include:

  1. Signups: Do you collect customer feedback on your site? Newsletter signups, for example? If it’s natural to do so, add an optional field for visitors to share their phone numbers, too.
  2. Purchases: If you offer services or products online, this is a great place to ask customers to share their phone numbers. Equally, in person, you can request customers share their contact details when purchasing. Just remember, as always, to stick to any privacy guidelines like GDPR and obtain consent.
  3. Competitions: Running competitions through email or social marketing not only builds excitement, but it also provides the opportunity to capture customer info like phone numbers.
  4. In-store promotions: If you’re running in-store or in-person offers and promos, you can use this opportunity to collect your customers’ contact information. For example, you could ask visitors to sign up for SMS alerts to get 10% off in-store. Again, make sure your customers know how you’re going to use their data, first!

Once you’ve got your customer contacts, you can begin sending review requests by text, either using a tool or manually.

Much like email, what you’ll need here is a template to work with. Unlike email, though, you’ve got a lot less space to work with: SMSes must be no longer than 160 characters, including the review link URL.

Here’s a suggestion of copy to use in your text request:

Hi <First Name>,

Thanks for visiting <Business Name>. We’d love to know how we did: <Review Link>. 

Review text template

If you’re working with a tool like BrightLocal, you’ll be able to send review requests in bulk, and manage unsubscription requests automatically with commands like ‘STOP’.

In person

Finally, let’s look at the most traditional approach of them all. Many local businesses will opt to incorporate this method into their review strategy.

For both brick-and-mortar businesses and service-area businesses, asking for reviews in person can be a great, simple way to get started.

The benefits of asking for reviews in person

Speaking to your customers face-to-face is still one of the best ways to get more reviews. We don’t have any fancy stats about open or engagement rates to share here, but it’s a tried and true method that we know works.

Top tip: I’d recommend an omnichannel approach in order to best boost your chances of getting a regular stream of positive reviews. If possible, use a mix of email, SMS, in-store, and in-person tactics to suit different types of customers.

Asking for reviews in person can be one of the simplest ways to get started, as you don’t need to get customer consent for data, email templates, or short links.

If you frequently interact with customers and a friendly team is one of your assets, asking for reviews in-store or at the point of service is easy and effective.

How to ask for reviews in person

There are several ways to ask customers for reviews in person or in-store, including:

  1. Verbally at the point of sale or service
  2. Leaving a Bitly or short link on loyalty cards or business cards
  3. Including a QR code on receipts
  4. Putting up posters with QR codes or short links on
  5. Using an in-store tablet so customers can review you immediately

However you choose to ask, remember to do it after your customer has had a positive experience, and don’t be afraid to follow up using email or SMS afterwards.

More review tips

We’ve discussed the main three channels to ask for reviews, but there are some other tips that can help increase your chances. 

Leave a link in your email signature

If you’re someone who’s regularly getting in touch with customers, you might want to include links to your review sites in your email signature.

Review link in email signature

Source: Medium

This provides anyone you contact via email with the opportunity to leave a review on your business. It may not result in hundreds of new reviews, but it’s a good way to add a boost to your ongoing review generation strategy. 

Top tipUse UTM tagging or customized Bitly URLs to keep track of where reviews are coming in from!

Use Google’s free marketing kit

This is one of the best resources out there for local businesses with physical brick-and-mortar locations. 

All for free, Google offers stickers, posters, and social posts to help you promote existing reviews and encourage customers to leave new ones.

How to get good reviews

If you’re asking for reviews, you’re halfway towards building out a review profile to be proud of. There are some tips we can share to help you get better quality reviews, though.

To make sure you’re ticking those review factor boxes of sentiment, quality, and recency, these are some tactics we’d recommend:

Provide prompts and questions

One way to ensure the reviews you’re getting have the length, detail, and sense of legitimacy you need is to provide prompts and questions to customers.

You don’t want to put words in your customers’ mouths, but asking questions can help to jog their memory and create more helpful reviews for searchers.

For example, a restaurant might ask, “What was your favorite menu item?” If a customer can include this in their review it’s going to create a sense of authenticity and will be helpful to searchers when it comes to making their decision.

Here are some ideas of questions to include in your review requests:

  • Which store did you visit today?
  • What was your favorite service/product we offered?
  • Did any of our team members help you in-store?
  • Would you recommend us to a friend?
  • What can we do better?

Set expectations

When performing review outreach, it’s good to set expectations with your customers. By this, I mean you should let your customers know how much of their time you’re asking for.

If you’re getting reviews on Google, your customer likely needs to spend little more than a couple of minutes of their time. Some industry review sites, however, will require much more detail.

For example, look at what Tripadvisor asks for when leaving a review…

Tripadvisor review

Tripadvisor reviews

Tripadvisor review

Now let’s compare that lengthy process with Google’s…

Leaving a Google Review

To ensure you can set accurate expectations, go through the review process yourself to know what you’re asking. By doing this, you’re likely to increase your chances of getting a review and decrease the chances of customers giving up part-way through their review submission.

Chapter 5: How to Respond to Reviews

So, you’ve started getting new reviews. Now what? 

In this next chapter, we’ll look at the best ways to respond to all sorts of online reviews, be they good, bad, or ugly.

Monitoring for new reviews

In order to respond to reviews effectively, you need to make sure you’re aware when new ones are coming in.

If you’re managing your review strategy manually, there are a few tactics you can use to make sure you don’t miss a new review.

Sign up for email notifications on review sites

The easiest way to make sure you’re notified of new reviews is to make sure you’re signed up to alerts on any review site you’re on.

If you’re getting reviews on Google My Business, for example, you’ll be sent email notifications whenever a new review is left.

New Google Review

Make sure these emails are enabled on any other review sites you’re on and that you’re checking your emails regularly.

Create a Google Alert

Google Alerts are automatic notifications that will arrive in your inbox for whatever keywords you set up.

Google Alerts

I’d suggest setting up alerts for your brand name so you’re notified whenever your company name is mentioned online. 

Conduct brand searches

To make sure all bases are covered, you can conduct brand searches for your company name across Google and other review sites.

By searching your brand name on Google, you can see which review sites are coming out on top, and if in-SERP review stars are letting you down:

Reviews on Google

You might want to block out time in your calendar to do this on a weekly basis with any more low-stakes, but still notable, review sites (for example, less frequently-visited industry-specific sites).

Why you need to respond to reviews

Responding to reviews is important for lots of reasons, from building trust to pleasing the Google algorithm. 

Here’s why you need to respond to reviews (yes, even the good ones!)

Replying to reviews can lead to better rankings in Google search

Google hasn’t confirmed review responses to be a ranking factor, but it makes sense that seeing customer reviews being valued could have a knock-on effect on how it views businesses. Plus, they might not be a ranking factor right now, but that could change, as experts have predicted previously.

Google even explicitly recommends it:

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.

Google

Replying to reviews helps you stand out from competitors

In saturated industries, responding to reviews could be what makes you memorable to searchers. 

Did You Know? 35% of consumers are used to receiving responses to their reviews, and according to one study, hotels that responded to reviews received 12% more reviews and their ratings increased by 0.12 stars. 

Anything you can do to stand out in a positive way, you should. Providing friendly acknowledgment and showing you listen to your customers could be what pushes you above the competition.

Review responses can show personality

Any opportunity to show off your personality should be enthusiastically taken.

It can be hard to get your brand personality or the personable face of your customer service team across on a review site, and even on Google My Business, but a response provides a vehicle to do just that. 

You can use this space to bring some of your own tone of voice to your listing, helping to create a more authentic engagement with that customer and showing others the kind of people you are.

Searchers read review responses

Yes, people really do read review responses, and not just to their own reviews! Actually, a jaw-dropping 96% of consumers read review responses.

Review responses

That means that when a searcher is evaluating businesses, they’re taking into consideration how the merchant has treated its existing customers. Review responses provide a prime opportunity to show potential customers that you’re worth their custom. 

How to respond to positive reviews

As we’ve established, review responses are almost as important as getting reviews in the first place. But how do you respond to reviews?

In this section, we’ll explore some of the best tactics to respond to positive reviews online.

Be authentic

If you’re keeping on top of incoming reviews, responding shouldn’t be too much of an issue. And if the reviews are positive, your job is going to be a lot easier.

When a customer leaves a positive review, they’re not expecting much in return, so your job is simply to make them feel heard and valued, and show searchers that you care about your customers’ experiences.

Did You Know? There’s more than one type of reviewer! Take a look at our resource that covers the six different types and how to treat them.

What’s most important is that your response is authentic and appropriate. If your customer addresses a particular member of staff or service, for example, perhaps you can point to that in your response.

Specific review response

Try not to use canned responses

It might be tempting to use canned responses, especially when you’re under-resourced, but try to avoid the temptation unless you’re receiving hundreds of reviews per day.

Canned, or templated, responses come across as very impersonal and can create the impression that you’re simply providing lip service.

Canned review responses

If you’re really pressed for time and absolutely must use a template of some kind, why not create a few templated responses which you can tweak and edit to create a sense of variety? For example, you might have a rotation of these phrases:

  • Thanks for choosing to visit our store!
  • We appreciate your kind feedback.
  • Thanks, <First Name>!
  • Thank you for taking the time to leave us a review.
  • We love hearing your feedback. Thank you!

Even though you’ll be saving yourself time with these responses, you’ll still create a sense of caring about your customers and showing searchers that you’re taking the time to really read the reviews.

Sign your name

One way to make generic review responses feel more personal is to attach a name to them.

Reviews name sign off

This provides another opportunity to show personality and allow customers to connect with your team. Plus, it’s a simple, low-maintenance way to attach yet more personality to your brand’s review profile.

Be timely

Even though you might not be dealing with a crisis, positive reviews should still be responded to quickly. The majority of consumers expect their review to be responded to within two days

If you’re keeping on top of incoming reviews effectively, this shouldn’t be a worry.

Responding to reviews in a timely manner shows potential customers that you’re actively listening.

How to respond to negative reviews

Nobody wants to receive a negative review. But unfortunately it’s a fact of life, even for the strongest, most robust businesses.

Responding to negative reviews can go a long way to win customers back on side and provide damage control.

Here, we’ll share some tactics on how to respond to negative reviews. But first, what is the point in responding to negative reviews?

Responding to bad reviews provides a couple of key benefits:

  1. It provides damage control. When dealt with properly, you might convince a customer to return.
  2. It showcases your great customer service. Instead of putting customers off, a bad review dealt with well could convince searchers you’re worth their time (especially if your average star rating is generally good!)

Firstly, take a breath

This may sound silly, but getting negative reviews is never easy, and if your heart is particularly close to the business, it can be a really frustrating experience.

So, before you respond it’s important to take a breath and remember the review is not personal, and it’s not the end of the world.

When you’re feeling calmer, re-read the review, and get a second opinion if you need to. Once you feel you’re able to proceed fairly, you can begin crafting your response.

We know that most consumers read review responses, so use this as an opportunity to showcase your brilliant customer service!

Listen to the reviewer

Naturally, negative reviews require more attention than positive ones. Make sure you’ve really read and understood what the reviewer is saying.

If the reviewer addresses specific pain points, make a note, as you’ll want to mention that you’re taking these on board in your response.

Take the specifics offline

Depending on the review, there might be actions you need to take or information you need to obtain. 

It’s best to take these specifics elsewhere. For example, can you offer to hop on a call with the reviewer? Or let them know you’re going to get in touch with them directly?

Your role in publicly responding is to assure the reviewer, but arguably more importantly, to let potential customers know it’s being handled.

Tell them what you’re going to do

If a customer has addressed a particular pain point, how are you going to fix it?

Promising action, and showing how you’re planning to improve, could be what makes that customer try your service again.

If you know a business has taken your feedback on board, you’re more likely to return to see if you like it.

Offer to make it right

We all make mistakes. If you think you’ve messed up, why not offer a goodwill gesture to encourage the customer to give you a second chance? You don’t have to offer a freebie straight up, but consider reaching out to see what could make things right.

Make it right review

A simple step to take could be to offer free delivery on a customer’s next pizza order, or provide a free consultation if you’re an SAB. Offering something simple as a gesture of goodwill can go a long way to encouraging a consumer to return.

Use the customer’s name

This should really go without saying, but if you have an already annoyed customer, try not to annoy them further by referring to them as ‘customer’. If they’ve shared their name, be sure to use it!

Be polite

Even if you think a review has been left by mistake, it always pays to be polite.

Polite review response

We’ll look at handling fake reviews in a moment, but if you think you’ve been targeted by one, it’s still worth replying professionally. Remember, it matters what potential customers think when they read these responses, and they might not know you’ve been hit by a fake!

Don’t ask them to delete their review

We know that bad reviews hurt, but whatever you do, don’t ask the reviewer to delete their comment! This is a sure-fire way to deplete trust with your audience and alienate a customer that you might have been able to get back on side with a bit more effort.

Delete review

What to do if you’ve got lots of bad reviews

You might be wondering how these tactics work for businesses with an existing profile of bad reviews. Well, fortunately, a bad reputation isn’t the end of the world and there are ways to bounce back.

So, don’t let an existing low-rated profile deter you from performing review management. In fact, if a business does suffer from a bad reputation, review management should be even more valued.

Additionally, it’s important to understand that bad reviews are temporary. Like we discussed earlier, most consumers don’t care about old reviews, so what you need to do is get new, positive ones to push the negative ones further back.

Providing you’ve responded authentically to any negative reviews that have come in, you’ll have already done a lot of damage control on your reputation.

It may take time and work, but if you consistently perform review outreach, eventually your good reviews will outweigh the bad ones.

Aside from performing quality review outreach, you need to make sure that the previous problems which led to your bad reviews aren’t going to keep happening. To avoid repeating any past mistakes, go back and read the negative reviews. It may be painful but these reviews are going to give you all the information you need to improve and do better.

For example, if you received lots of one-star reviews that cite rude staff, can you offer front of house training to any customer-facing team members?

You can also go ahead and communicate these changes to customers, so they know to look out for the improvements you’ve made. 

Chapter 6: How to Manage and Use Reviews

In this next section, we’ll look at how to manage and use reviews outside of just replying, including handling fake reviews, optimizing your review profiles and showcasing reviews in different ways.

Dealing with fake reviews

Worryingly, 80% of consumers believe they read a fake review.

To maintain trust, it’s important to deal with fake reviews quickly. Unfortunately, that can often be easier said than done.

If you know a review is fake, you’ll want to get it removed, but first, you might have to reply to it. To do so, follow the tactics outlined in the ‘How to Respond to Negative Reviews’ section above. You can make it clear that you don’t have records of anyone under that name visiting the store, but make sure you remain polite and professional throughout your response.

Once you’ve handled the initial issue, it’s important to report it as a fake review.

Top tip: Check out Ben Fisher’s expert guide to reporting Google My Business reviews

Depending on the review site you’ve been targeted on, there will be different steps to take. Generally, you’ll want to reach out to the support team, let them know how the review has violated the site’s guidelines (this is what they’ll care most about), and share any evidence you have to support this.

Then, it’s largely a waiting game, and you’ll need to prepare yourself to get a result you’re not happy with. 

Why? Well, unfortunately, it’s not always simple to get sites to remove fake reviews of your business. This is yet another reason why it’s so vital to have a steady stream of legitimate, positive reviews coming in. If you know you’ve got good reviews coming in regularly, you don’t need to worry about a fake review destroying your hard work.

Removing irrelevant reviews

While processes for individual reviews sites can differ, Google is keenly aware of the problem of people leaving reviews for the wrong businesses, enough so that it has built its own Review Takedown Request tool, accessible via your Google My Business account.

How effective this process is is debated, but it’s just another way you can remind Google that they’re providing searchers with incorrect information so it’s worth using.

To learn how to use this tool, take a look at our review/case study, which explores a case of mistaken identity between charity and chip shop.

Manage your reviews request to report

Building out and optimizing profiles

Getting good reviews isn’t always enough to convince and convert customers. To be as appealing as possible, you’ll need to optimize your review profiles.

On Google My Business, and many other sites, this can include:

  1. Uploading photos of your products, services, and/or location
  2. Adding a business description or bio

As part of your review strategy, go through each review site you’re planning to get reviews on and make sure you’ve bulked out as much of your profile as possible.

For a full guide on how to optimize your Google My Business listing, visit our complete guide to GMB.

How to Use Reviews

You’ve started getting good reviews. Great! But the work doesn’t stop there. 

Getting good reviews can do more than help users find your business in search results. In this section, we’ll explore the extra benefits that reviews can offer, and how to make the most of them.

Let’s look at how you can use reviews of your business to your advantage.

To convert customers on your website

Showcasing positive reviews on your website can be a key conversion factor. At the end of the day, social proof works, and reviews are a great form of social proof.

What is social proof? Social proof is a form of social influence, which involves leveraging consumer opinions to boost confidence early on in the customer journey. Social proof can come from social media, word of mouth, or reviews.

Lots of brands use social proof to foster a sense of trust with their customers, and to attract customers that align with their existing audience.

Here’s a great example of reviews used as social proof to help customers convert:

Showcase Reviews

In this example, we’re using our own Showcase Reviews tool to embed real reviews directly from Google and Facebook. This element shows any website visitors that a) we can be trusted, as we have authentic customers who rate us highly, and b) we have features that might appeal to them, too.

The live/real-time element of embedded reviews also helps to fulfill that criteria of recency and authenticity that we spoke of earlier, because users can see the date and click through to see the review in situ. 

If it suits you better, you can include static reviews in the form of testimonials, like so:

Website Testimonial

This can provide the opportunity to show off more detailed or more personal feedback. For example, you’ll see that we’ve included a photo of the reviewer, and their job title.

Top tip: Tailor the reviews you’re showcasing to specific product pages! For example, if you’ve got a service page about window cleaning, include reviews that mention that specific service. Meanwhile, a page that shows off your window cleaning products will benefit from reviews specifically about them.

As content on social media

If you’re using social media to reach new audiences, why not bring some of your best reviews into the mix? You could even regularly schedule a tweet that shouts out your best review from that week.

Showcase review on Twitter

Internally, to improve your services/offerings

Both positive and negative reviews can be used internally to inform your business strategy. Our Customer Success team at BrightLocal regularly shares reviews with the wider company to make sure we’re reacting to customer pain points and needs.

Think about what actions can and should be taken from these reviews. For example, if a pizza place keeps getting negative reviews because of its delivery fee, it could consider running a free delivery Friday special. 

Remember that customer reviews are customer feedback, and so should be used accordingly. 

If you really listen to your customers and improving your quality of service, you’re boosting your chances of getting more positive reviews in the future. 

To understand your USPs

Positive reviews really are priceless. Mirroring your customers’ language and calling out their favorite things is a great way to attract relevant new customers and make existing ones feel heard.

Look at these reviews for a Brooklyn pizza place, for example:

Good reviews

These customers-turned-advocates have provided slogans that money couldn’t buy.

“The best halal pizza in town!”

“The only place to get a decent beef pepperoni pie!” 

What you, as a business, define as your USPs, and what your customers care about might be two totally different things. Looking at reviews can help you understand what’s resonating with your audience and, so, help to attract similar high-intent customers.

Beyond using customer feedback as a selling point on your website, this kind of customer content can help to inform both your marketing and wider business strategy. 

Tools to help you manage reviews

Review management is not a low-maintenance activity. Generate and respond to enough reviews and you could find yourself with a lot of work on your hands. However, we’ve also seen that the benefits can pay for themselves.

This is why many local businesses and agencies will use tools to handle or support their review management efforts. 

Review management platforms can help to monitor, generate, and showcase reviews, making your job all the more easier.

At BrightLocal, we offer a three-stage review management platform that covers all the bases we’ve discussed in this guide. We’ve also created a comparison resource, so you can find the right solution for you.

Conclusion

Review management isn’t easy, but with the help of this complete guide, you’re one step closer to getting that sparkly reputation needed to succeed in local search.

Managing your online reviews is an ongoing journey, which involves several steps, from performing review outreach to using reviews on your website.

Although it can take a while to start generating them, the rewards which reviews can reap are plentiful: you can expect to be more visible in search results, drive more footfall to your store, and get to know your audience better than ever (which, in turn, offers its own set of benefits).

We’d love to hear how this guide has informed your review strategy. Got a question? Want to share your own review advice? Leave us a comment below to keep the conversation going.

Good luck! 

Stephanie Newton
About the author
Stephanie Newton
Stephanie is responsible for managing BrightLocal’s community outreach and engagement, as well as producing and managing content to help inform and educate the local SEO community.
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