Getting customer reviews of your local business on the Internet is a sure-fire way to help your rankings in the search engines’ local business listings. However, many small businesses avoid the subject like the plague preferring to bury their head in the sands and hope it will just go away.
Well it won’t.
But instead of avoiding reviews, embrace them, and beat out your competitors – here’s how.
In this post I’m going to provide some tips for you to make the process easy to get your customers to give you reviews and then monitor what people are saying about your business on the Internet.
But first here’s some background information on reviews before the tips.
When people perform a search on Google, Yahoo or Bing for many search terms with an obvious local intent – like “pizza restaurant” in Boston, Massachusetts – the search engine will display local business listings as a group on the results page. With Google it’s currently 7, Yahoo is 5 and Bing is showing only 3 as I write this post. Here’s what Google results look like for Boston:
While search engine professionals can only speculate if reviews influence your ranking in the Local Business Results (LBR) it’s difficult to imagine how reviews would not help you. Customer reviews legitimize a business and provide a level of trust the search engines crave as they attempt to figure out how best to determine rankings for a business. And if you look at the local results for the term “pizza” for Google and Yahoo you’ll notice every one of them has at least 1 review and most of the top listings have many more! Now isn’t that a coincidence.
Now on with my top six tips around the whole topic of reviews for your local business.
Tip #1 – Don’t Try and Game the System by Posting Fake Reviews:
Now before you rush off and get all your family and friends to give you “best thing since sliced bread” reviews, don’t do it – don’t try and game or manipulate the system. The search engine companies have outstanding minds working all day to figure out how to catch you doing this sort of thing and then penalizing you or worse, banning you completely.
If you provide first-class service and treat customers well you’ll always have people thank you and be willing to give you a review. There’s no need for you to create fake accounts and submit fake reviews. Legitimate businesses get unsolicited testimonials all the time from grateful clients but there’s nothing wrong in asking clients, who’ve gone out of their way to provide you feedback, for an online review.
Tip #2 – Make it Easy for Your Customers to Submit a Review:
Obtaining ongoing testimonials and online reviews should be a process ingrained in the marketing activities of any local business. Don’t wait and hope they’ll happen – because your typical customer won’t do them, they’re too busy to think to do it. But ask them and you’ll be surprised. I’ve rarely had somebody refuse to give me a testimonial.
In the online world follow-up by email after you’ve provided the service to ask how they’re doing and how they feel about your service. Include a paragraph encouraging them to visit your local business listing and provide a review about your service. But they’re going to need help with submitting the review.
Navigating to the right page at Goggle, Yahoo or Bing to leave a review about your business can be frustrating for a reviewer – it’s not intuitive. Even including the direct URL for them to click present’s challenges because it will long and ugly and people don’t trust those types of links. In addition if they don’t have an account at one of these places they’ll need to create one.
Overcoming the navigation issue is straightforward. Use a free service such as www.bit.ly to take a long URL and shorten it to just a few characters and include this in your email. I also suggest you take a look at the client’s email address and determine which link to send them. If their address is a gmail.com account then send them the short link for your Google local business listing. If they’re using a yahoo.com or hotmail.com(Bing) email account then send them the link for your respective local listing at one of those places. Sending them the right link based on their email service provider saves them the step of creating an account.
Make it easy for a customer to review you and most will accommodate your request.
Tip #3 – Ask for Honest Reviews and Provide an Incentive:
When you ask for a review from a client reiterate you’re looking for an honest evaluation of their experience with your local business. While we all prefer to have 5-star ratings with glowing feedback the reality is we all have “bad days”. Just be prepared for reviews that mention warts as well as strengths.
If you’re a local business dealing in large numbers of customers and reviews then at some point you’re going to get negative feedback. It some respects it adds a level of legitimacy to the review process. Obviously, look at your ratio to ensure there isn’t something systemic wrong that needs fixing urgently.
Personally, I have no issues with offering incentives to customers to provide you a review. An incentive can be a discount coupon, a free product or whatever you deem as a valuable gift in your market. Just be sure to mention the incentive is a thank you to them for giving you a review and it’s not meant to influence the tone of the review.
Be aware there are some review sites that discourage local businesses from soliciting reviews or offering incentives without the reviewer identifying they received a gift. To a degree I can understand their perspective, but I’ve also come to the conclusion these sites don’t really understand how small businesses operate and these review sites tend to attract and encourage “professional” reviewers rather than a typical client.
Tip #4 – Use Goggle Alerts to Monitor What People are Saying About You:
As a local business owner in the Internet age it’s important you know who is saying what about you and your company online and respond if appropriate. If somebody says something nice about you at Twitter, a blog comment or in a forum then get online and thank them for it. Likewise if the comment is none too positive then you have a chance to respond to see if you can help resolve the issue.
Even if you have no intention of responding you should still monitor what is being said and my preferred way of tracking is using Google Alerts. If you have a Google account for Adwords or Gmail or Analytics then you can log into Google Alerts using the same account information.
Setting up an Alert is simple and involves creating a new alert and putting in a search term in quotes or a web site URL. I always add my name, company name, and any web sites I want to monitor. For example:
“new england local marketing”
I leave the default settings to get notified once a day via email. Now you’re ready to rock and roll and remain on top of your online reputation.
Tip #5 – What to Do if You Get a Negative Review:
Sooner or later you’re going to get a poor or bad review. It’s impossible for everybody to love you all of the time. Employees make mistakes, customers get mishandled, and of course some clients are just jerks. Unfortunately, it’s the jerks that can make trouble for you and you may have to address it.
If a client leaves a bad review about you or your company determine if they have a legitimate issue. If they do then attempt to contact them to see if you can address the complaint to their satisfaction – be fair and considerate and try to make them whole. Many people will go back and update or delete their review.
If a review includes inaccuracies or inflammatory remarks and you’ve tried to contact the individual to resolve with no success, then contact the review site to see if they will take it down or you can post a response. Many review sites provide an opportunity for the business owner to respond to a review.
Of course the most effective tactic is to “bury the review.” This means ensuring you’re getting enough natural positive reviews to effectively push the bad review off the first page. Again, stay away from family and friends and fake reviews to achieve this goal. Having a few negative reviews is natural. But on the other hand if you suspect “foul play’ by a competitor address it aggressively with the review site.
Tip #6 – Be Where Your Customers are and Leaving Reviews:
Having a business presence at Google, Yahoo and Bing through your Local Business Listing is a start but not enough. You should also have a presence at online yellow pages, Superpages, City Search, Yelp, Merchant Circle, Angies List, and other sites where you see reviews about you appearing.
Most review sites allow local business owners to register for free and provide information about their business and communicate with people who leave reviews. Becoming a part of these communities is a smart thing for you to do.
Talking about communities, you really should be on Facebook and Twitter. If you believe all the self-hype about these places and the fact many people are finding local businesses using these communities then you can’t afford not to have a presence at these social media sites. Setting up a Facebook page for your site is straightforward as is linking it to a Twitter account.
I’ll be covering these two social media sites in subsequent posts, and explaining how to win friends and customers by tapping into what people are saying about you at these places.
Don’t Put Your Head Back in the Sand!
If all this talk of monitoring reviews and creating your local business listings at all these sites, and responding to good and bad reviews, has you running to the nearest desert to bury your head… then we know what you mean – you have a business to run and this sounds like a lot of work.
You have three options as I see it: go ahead and put that ole head back in the sand and ignore the world as it goes by along with your future, have somebody on staff perform it for you under your direction, or hire a Local Internet Marketing agency to perform the work for you.
This is one of the reasons why New England Local Marketing offers a Social Media service to our clients so we can take care of this for your company so you can focus, along with your staff, on growing your business. Find out more about our Social Media for Local Business Internet Marketing here.
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