55% of Local Search Experts Believe a Review Strategy is Critical to Local Optimization
Survey: Reviews & Reputation Management 2014
Most of us accept that online reviews are an important signal which potential customers use when deciding which local business to contact. From last year’s Local Consumer Review Survey we know that:
- 73% of consumers say positive customer reviews make them trust a business more
- 65% of consumers more likely to use a business which has positive online reviews
- 79% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations
Furthermore, review signals are said to account for 10.3% of all local search ranking signals according to Moz local search ranking factors study.
So if reviews are important to customers and important ranking factors – does this facilitate the need for a review strategy? Are reviews more important now than they have been at any other point? And how important are online reviews compared to links and citations?
To help us answer these questions (and more) we enlisted the help of 20 highly respected & knowledgeable local search experts. We asked them 12 questions all relating to Reviews & Reputation Management and the following charts show the findings of this expert survey.
We’d like to thank all 20 SEOs for taking part and generously sharing their time & knowhow with us – we greatly appreciate your input!
|Mike Belasco - goinflow.com||Laura Betterly - laurabetterly.com|
|Mike Blumenthal - blumenthals.com||Phil Britton - dacgroup.com|
|Don Campbell - expand2web.com||Joy Hawkins - imprezziomarketing.com|
|Scott Hendison - searchcommander.com||Matthew Hunt - poweredbysearch.com|
|Jon Keel - improvedresults.com||Casey Meraz - ethicalseoconsulting.com|
|Chris Ormiston - localoxygen.com||Darryl Quinlan - glacial.com|
|Mike Ramsey - niftymarketing.com||Phil Rozek - localvisibilitysystem.com|
|Darren Shaw - whitespark.ca||Andrew Shotland - localseoguide.com|
|Chris Silver Smith - argentmedia.com||David Sprague - realstrategic.com|
|Aaron Weiche - spydertrap.com||Nyagoslav Zhekov - whitespark.ca|
You can jump to each question using the hyperlinks below.
- Do you offer reviews & reputation management as a service?
- Do you offer reviews & reputation management as a standalone service, or is it bundled in with wider set of marketing services?
- How important is Reviews & Reputation Management in your services?
- How much reviews & reputation management work do you do now compared to 2 years ago?
- What importance do you give these 3 optimization tactics?
- Do you have a tried & tested strategy for generating reviews that you implement for each client?
- For effective local optimization, how important is it to have a tried & tested review strategy?
- What target of new reviews per month do you set for a typical client?
- What importance do you give the following review sites?
- Of the time you spend on reputation management, what percentage of that time do you spend on the following tasks?
- For local ranking purposes, please rate the relative values of these social & reputation signals?
- If you have a client who can’t or won’t get reviews (for whatever reason), do you refocus your efforts on other aspects of reputation management or increase efforts on other tactics?
Do you offer reviews & reputation management as a service?
- 90% of respondents offer Review Management
This question is really a ‘scene setter’ to establish that the local experts surveyed are qualified to answer the following, more searching questions.
With 90% providing review & reputation management services you can see that it’s an area which local experts deem important, even essential, to provide in order to satisfy customer demand and to do their job as a local SEO effectively.
However, you can also see from the chart that a couple of the respondents don’t offer reputation services. But they do offer local search training &/or run well respected blogs and have their fingers firmly on the pulse of local search (e.g. Andrew Shotland from Local SEO Guide). So their opinions are very valid to include.
Do you offer reviews & reputation management as a standalone service, or is it bundled in with wider set of marketing services?
- 44% bundle reputation management with other services
- 33% offer as a standalone service
- 22% offer both options
There appears to be no right or wrong way to provide reputation management services. Depending on the structure & approach of the consultancy/agency they can be offered as a bundled set of services or as a standalone piece in a modular set of services.
There are pros & cons of both approaches:
Bundled Services – you can charge a higher fee per customer by bundling multiple services together and raising the price. However you force customers to take a full range of services that they may not want (or need) and could lose out to more flexible agencies.
Standalone Services – you offer a more flexible service that can be tailored to each client’s needs. You allow them to pick the services they want and they only pay for what they choose. But the revenue per customer will be lower than if they take a full suite of services.
So as a new local consultant/agency starting out you can take your pick and choose which set-up you think will work best for you. You can always change the approach once you’ve established what you’re customers want and what you’re comfortable providing.
How important is Reviews & Reputation Management in your services?
- 35% say that reviews & reputation management is the MOST important service
- 65% say that is either MOST or VERY important in their services
- Just 5% say that it is not important
There’s no denying that reviews & reputation is management are core to effective local search optimization.
Having lots of positive online reviews helps to improve both ranking within local search results and also conversion of searchers into leads.
In our Local Consumer Review Survey (2013) we found that 85% of local consumers read online reviews for local businesses. The survey also found that 73% of consumers said that positive customer reviews make them more likely to use a local business.
73% of consumers said that positive customer reviews make them more likely to use a local business.
For many years now, online reviews have formed part of Google’s local search algorithm. But they have been gaining in influence & importance as Google sees them as a genuine measure of the quality of a business. They represent votes for a business by consumers and are harder (not impossible) to spam compared to other factors such as links.
“Good (aka ‘5 Star’) reviews are what a close friend of mine calls the new currency online, particularly for local businesses. Finding ways to continually gather reviews from customers, clients, and patients is critical.” – Jon Keel, Improved Results
“A review management offering must have the appropriate mix of software/technology, strategy and authenticity.” – Phil Britten, DAC Group
How much reviews & reputation management work do you do now compared to 2 years ago?
- 45% of local experts provide a lot more rep management compared to 2 years ago
- 80% say that offer more reputation management than 2 years ago
Reviews & Reputation services are certainly gaining in importance and in popularity in the local space.
As a consultant/agency if you DON’T offer these services you may be missing out on a key service that customers want and which can earn you extra income. You’ll certainly be disadvantaged when pitching against an agency who does offer these services, unless you focus in on a specific area of local optimization and carve out a specialism which others can’t match.
“I don’t think reviews have ever been more important than they are today, and the value will only increase. Consumers love them, and as a result they’re being given increasing visibility. As more people use more review services, and search engines gather more information about us all, I don’t think it’s a stretch of the imagination to think that some day, for searches of certain business types, reviews and sentiment could be not just a critical ranking factor, but the ONLY factor!” – Scott Hendison, SearchCommander.com
Of the time you spend on reputation management, what percentage of that time do you spend on the following tasks?
- Over 50% of time is spent on actively seeking more reviews
- Only 11% of time is spent responding to bad reviews
Consultants spend almost 5 times as much time generating new reviews as opposed to combating bad reviews. Many local businesses don’t have a ton of reviews which means there aren’t that many bad ones to deal with and lots of headroom to get new reviews – so this time split isn’t that surprising.
Often overturning a bad review can be very time consuming & difficult to achieve. Given that most consumers read less than 6 reviews before forming an opinion about a business, then generating new & positive reviews can push older, bad reviews into obscurity.
Recency of reviews is also important. A business is likely to be judged on recent performance and as long the latest reviews are good then customers will put more stock in these.
Additionally, a negative review shouldn’t necessarily be something a small business should be afraid of. As customers we all have different standards and expectations and what may be a negative point for one person may not matter as much for the next. Customers ultimately want to see positive reviews, but importantly they also want to see recent reviews. It’s important to have a constant flow of reviews coming in, if only to show potential customers that a business is actively trading.
What importance do you give these 3 optimization tactics?
In this question we asked our local experts to compare Citations to Links to Reviews. We asked them to score the importance of each factor within ALL the optimization work they do, and the priority they place on these tactics.
Each expert assigned an importance weighting from 1 to 10 for each factor (1 – Low Importance, 10 = Critically Important)
- Local experts assign a very similar weight of importance to all 3 tactics
- Citations are considered more important than Reviews
- Links are considered the least important
Spending time on any of these 3 tactics is time well spent for an SEO. However Citations & Reviews out-weight Links as a local search factor. If we look to the future we can see that the influence of links as an organic search factor (not just local search) is diminishing; over optimization and link-spam is rife and Google is systematically targeting sites that abuse links.
Link building for link building sake is a tactic of the past, not the future.
But Citations & Reviews are growing in influence and when we run this same survey in 12 months time I expect that we’ll see the gulf widen between these 2 forward thinking tactics and links.
So why are citations & reviews a better bet?
Citations – incorrect business data is the biggest issue facing the local search industry. This data is hugely important because it forms the backbone of so many online & mobile services, yet the accuracy & completeness of this data is poor. So the action of cleaning up a business’s data and keeping it up to date when branches close or relocate is very important. An incorrect address means a customer goes to the wrong place and Google is unsure about where you’re really located. Not good on either front.
Reviews – as stated earlier in the analysis, Reviews represent votes from real consumers and are a way for Google to more accurately grade the quality of a business and determine if they should show it as an result to searchers. Searchers then use reviews to select the business they want to contact. We know that Google is giving more influence to social signals and reviews are essentially social signals.
Yes reviews can be spammed by businesses & search marketers. And this is why volume of reviews & star rating alone won’t influence ranking. In time the ‘Reviewer’ will become the key factor; their trust rating, their network & their other reviews will all be taken into account when judging how a review from a particular person is weighted. In just the same way that spammy links now hinder rather than help a site, spammy reviews will do the same. So business owners beware, focus on getting genuine reviews from genuine customers and you’ll win out in the long run.
“Citations and links are great from a ranking perspective but reviews go so much further in helping to gets new clients or sales. Reviews influence click through, trust, branding, and every other aspect of the presentation of a business.” – Mike Ramsey, Nifty Marketing
“Reputation Marketing is the most powerful strategy in online marketing today. Businesses don’t get ROI and make money managing their reputation; they make money marketing their reputation. Reputation marketing is building a 5 Star reputation and marketing that reputation to get more customers.” – David Sprague, Real Strategic
Do you have a tried & tested strategy for generating reviews that you implement for each client?
- 83% use a similar strategy each time
- 17% devise a new strategy
All of our local experts who provide reviews & reputation management have a review strategy.
4/5 use the same or similar strategy for each client, while 1/5 develop a unique strategy for each client.
From an operational efficiency point of view, having a reusable strategy means that a consultant/agency can quickly & effectively (& cheaply) start generating new reviews with each customer. I say ‘with each customer’ rather than ‘for each customer’ because the customer is always involved in the review generation process.
Review strategies typically consist of –
- Targets – how many reviews need to be generated each month
- Preferred sites – which sites are most important for each client
- Education – training client/employees on why reviews are important & how to get reviews
- Communication – how & when to ask for reviews for maximum impact
- Incentives – make reviews important to employee
No two clients are the same but there are always similarities in their businesses. So when applying a review strategy to a new client you just need to modify the elements of the strategy –
- Targets – set targets based on review volume of local competitors
- Preferred sites – pick relevant & powerful sites for client’s business category (plus usual suspects such as Yelp & Google)
- Education – tweak training to suit business – service area businesses operate in different way to fixed location businesses
- Communication – strike while the iron is hottest with each customer – which is usually right after the service has been provided and they’re happy
- Incentives – this will vary on nature of business & appetite of managers to offer incentives
It’s interesting that nearly 20% create a bespoke strategy for each client. This is ideal for the client but more time consuming & expensive for the consultant. Having asked this question I wonder about the interpretation of the words ‘similar strategy’ by our local experts. It’s subjective. What 1 person sees as an adaption to a process, another may see as a radical change and a new process all together.
“The very best approaches are highly naturalistic in the way in which reviews may be encouraged and influenced – it’s an area where sophistication and subtlety are called-for. Going about this in a clumsy manner can cause a business far more damage than the often marginal benefits that may be associated with reviews.” – Chris Silver Smith, Argent Media
“Reviews are one of the easiest things that a business can accomplish. It’s a slight mindset shift, but once a client realizes the importance of reviews and how they can positively (or adversely) affect their business, the work opens up and becomes far easier.” – Darryl Quinlan, Glacial Media
For effective local optimization, how important is it to have a tried & tested review strategy?
- 55% say that a review strategy is critical to effective Local optimization
- 70% say it’s critical or VERY important
The overwhelming belief among local experts is that reviews are extremely important to local search optimization and that having an effective review strategy is key to successfully generating reviews for clients.
None of our local search experts said that reviews were not important.
“It is really important to not make the review strategy too aggressive or it ends up getting reviews filtered.” – Joy Hawkins, Imprezzio Marketing
What target of new reviews per month do you set for a typical client?
- 40% target 2-3 new reviews per month
- 60% target 2-5 new reviews per month
- Just 10% target more than 5 reviews per month
It interesting to see that most SEOs set such conservative targets for review generation. Of course, this level will vary based on industry sector but 85% of experts still set a target of 1 to 5 reviews a month.
I think this highlights 3 interesting facts about review generation:
1. Quality beats quantity – the quality & star rating of reviews is more important than sheer volume. Once you get above a certain number of reviews the benefit of that extra review drops off dramatically. You need enough reviews to appear popular and stand shoulder to shoulder with your competitors. But consumers don’t read every review. In fact consumers make decisions more quickly now, reading on average 6 reviews before they form an opinion about a business.
2. Build reviews naturally – it’s important to build reviews in a natural way that is consistent month on month. Building 20 reviews in month 1 and then just 1 review in month 2 smacks of spammy review behavior. This can be sniffed out by review sites, Google & potential customers. It’s much better to build a few reviews each month so there are always fresh reviews for potential customers to read.
3. Don’t overwhelm clients – there is often resistance by clients/employees when setting up a review process and you don’t want to overwhelm by setting targets too high. Setting achievable goals can breakdown this resistance and mean that client can focus on getting quality reviews from regular or friendly customers.
“This answer to this question varies per client. Some industries like restaurants or hotels can expect a much higher volume of reviews, while in other industries, two reviews per year could be the norm.” – Darren Shaw, Whitespark
What importance do you give the following review sites?
In this question we asked our local experts to give a weighting from 1 – 10 for each review site. (1 = low importance, 10 highest importance)
- Google+ Local is most important site – 9.95/10
- Yelp is 2nd most important – 8.95/10
- Yahoo Local is 3rd – 8.15/10
It’s not surprising that Google comes out on top given the direct influence that native Google reviews have on Google Places ranking. Added to this is the volume of traffic Google gets; with so many users searching for local businesses, having more Google reviews can have a big impact on the number of leads generated for a local business whatever their industry/business type.
Yelp is a deserved 2nd. Yelp has highest audience figures of all review sites (excluding Google) with 83 million visits per month on yelp.com (see our latest comparison of Local Directory/IYP traffic). Yelp also syndicates it’s reviews to Yahoo local & Apple Maps so the reach of a Yelp review is significantly greater than Yelp’s direct audience.
Yahoo is also well regarded because of its traffic volume. They don’t have a very active user community or a ton of their own reviews – hence their recent deal to pull in Yelp reviews. But they do have much greater audience compared to the all other review sites so the impact of a good star rating is more leads for a business.
TripAdvisor is the powerhouse review site in the travel & restaurant sectors. They have a very loyal community of users and their reviews are highly trusted because of the data they have on their reviewers.
After these top sites comes a swath of other review sites with a similar importance weighting – yellowpages, citysearch, insiderpages, Angie’s List etc…
I had expected CitySearch to achieve higher importance given that they syndicate reviews to so many other sites. Below is the recently compiled Local Review Ecosystem which shows the interrelationships between the top tier review sites. This was created by Phil Rozek from LocalVisibilitySystem.com – thank’s Phil – great work.
And in case you’re wondering where Bing sits in all this. Well Bing doesn’t have a review facility on Bing Places. Yup, that’s right. Maybe Bing realizes that they’re so far behind Google & Yelp that they can’t catch up, and don’t believe their users want reviews that much. Or maybe they’ll go on the acquisition trail and buy market share rather than grow organically. My feeling is that with 85% of consumers reading local reviews Bing Places will never become well used when it doesn’t offer decent review content.
“The key thing is to offer customers / clients / patients several options for where to leave a review. 3-4 is best. At least one site should allow for anonymous reviews. At least one should allow the review to login using Facebook. Ideally, one site is industry-specific. Oh, and you usually need 2 points of contact. Don’t ask a customer verbally and never ask again if he/she hasn’t written a review. People forget. Follow up by email. Don’t be a pest; just don’t assume that customers won’t review you just because they haven’t yet.” – Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System
“Being proactive on getting reviews is essential. We use a feedback/review funnel for all our local clients. See visaplace.com/share-feedback as an example feedback funnel we use on client’s sites.” – Matthew Hunt, Small Business Online Coach
For local ranking purposes, please rate the relative values of these social & reputation signals?
In this question we asked our local experts to give a weighting from 1 – 10 for each signal. (1 = low value, 10 highest value)
- Reviews on Google+ are most powerful signal (8.8/10)
- Reviews on 3rd party sites are second most powerful (7.15/10)
- Pinterest & LinkedIn considered least valuable (3.7 & 3.35/10)
It’s not surprising to see that native reviews on Google+ Local are considered the most valuable social signal. However it is surprising to see that reviews on other 3rd party sites are not that far behind Google+. We had anticipated that Google+ would be the winner by a greater margin.
Of course the pool of possible 3rd party review sites is very large and different sites carry different weightings (as per evidence in Chart 9 above). You would certainly group the likes of Yelp, TripAdvisor, Yahoo & CitySearch in a separate league to smaller players such as Kudzu.
But it’s very probable that now, or sometime soon, Google will start to put more faith in reviews from specialist sites that have high trust factors and stricter review policies. A great example of such a site is Customer Lobby which requires the reviewer to prove that they have used a business before they publish their review for it. This reduces chances of review spam and malicious reviews by competitors.
Reviews certainly outperform general social signals as a local ranking factor. So for businesses & consultants wondering where to focus their efforts, reviews are certainly the priority. Within the social arena, +1s & Foursquare are the top two signals, with Facebook & Twitter behind them.
We know that Google favors +1s above other social signals, which is why SEOs & search-savvy businesses are currently the dominant users of it. Foursquare is laser targeted to local businesses & places which is why check-ins are seen as more powerful signals for local search. Foursquare isn’t a relevant service for all businesses though. SABs who service customers at home & professional services like accountants are going to struggle to generate check-ins. Same goes for specialist doctors & other medical niches – who wants to be the Mayor of their local Fertility Clinic or Sperm Bank?!
Foursquare probably doesn’t have the same impact on organic results, whereas Facebook likes & tweets do. For SEOs purely focused on local rankings then you should give more weighting to Foursquare (if it’s relevant to a client) but those chasing organic & local rankings should focus more efforts on Facebook & Twitter.
Pinterest is still an unknown force in the social arena and we’ve seen no concrete evidence or research into its local impact. Again it’s not relevant to all businesses and while it can’t hurt rankings, it shouldn’t be prioritized above others.
If you have a client who can’t or won’t get reviews (for whatever reason), do you refocus your efforts on other aspects of reputation management or increase efforts on other tactics?
This is a common question that we hear from consultants & agencies starting out with Reputation Management.
We didn’t provide a stock set of answers for our experts to choose from, but we let them express in their own words how they handle the situation where reviews for a client don’t come easily or at all.
“Yes. We shift focus to responding to and highlighting any existing reviews, making it as easy as possible for customers to write spontaneous reviews, getting a little more active on various social platforms, and asking for testimonials to use on-site.” Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System
“We will not work with a client who won’t take responsibility for working with us in our proven review process.” Jon Keel, Improved Results
“We just keep pestering them to ask their clients/customers for reviews. Reviews can’t be ignored.” Darren Shaw, Whitespark
“Focus on other tactics.” Nyagoslav Zhekov, Whitespark
“We focus on business listings and linking to their website at that point.” Chris Ormiston, Local Oxygen
“Increase efforts on other tactics” Joy Hawkins, Imprezzio Marketing
“I find that if a client is not willing to participate in the process of generating reviews, then they are not typically receptive to any reputation management techniques. The two are intertwined so deeply that one easily bleeds to the other.” Darryl Quinlan, Glacial Multimedia
“We’ve been very fortunate, and have not had any clients be resistant to obtaining reviews, so I’ve got nothing to offer here. On the other hand, some businesses are not necessarily conducive to legitimate review collection, and in cases like that, I hope to learn something from the other participants here…” Scott Hendison, Search Commander
“Increase on and off-site content creation” Andrew Shotland, Local SEO Guide
“For clients that are very challenged for obtaining reviews, we may focus upon highlighting awards they have won, testimonials, accreditations, and trust seals.” Chris Silver Smith, Argent Media
“Yes, in this case I focus them on getting private customer feedback and testimonials if possible. If it is the type of business that customers will leave a testimonial for, then we try to get testimonials from partner businesses.” Don Campbell, Expand2Web
“We would push for testimonials for their website compared to 3rd party reviews.” Mike Ramsey, Nifty Marketing
“Yes, we then look to put more efforts into NAP, citations, links if they can’t get any traction with reviews.” Aaron Weiche, Spyder Trap
“Yes–I work on content on web 2.0 properties” Laura Betterly, Yada Yada Marketing
“Reputation Management is only a small part of working with reputation with a customer. We refocus on helping businesses brand their company as the market leader and market their reputation.” David Sprague, Real Strategic
“We work with several clients in niches where it’s a bit more difficult to get reviews from clients. For these clients we take extra effort to ensure that the presence they do have online is very positive. At the same time we still try to increase other tactics to build their brand exposure and increase customer sentiment through different trust signals.” Casey Meraz, Ethical SEO Consulting