Word of mouth is the oldest type of marketing and still one of the most effective, but the growth of online reviews and social media, along with the influence of Google, means it now operates in a different way.
In the good old days a satisfied customer would tell a handful of friends about their experience, but now their views can reach thousands of people via reviews on TripAdvisor, Foursquare, Yelp, Facebook etc - and Google is likely to take notice as well.
Online reviews help search rankings
Having a host of great online reviews won’t by itself push your website onto the first page of Google rankings, but the search engine does take them into consideration.
No one knows how much of an influence reviews have on search results, but the SEO experts who contributed to the Moz 2014 Local Search Rankings Factors report agreed that recent positive reviews were helpful. There’s also some firm evidence from within Google that good reviews are useful for search.
John Mueller, a webmaster trends analyst for Google, has confirmed that positive reviews on an independent source are considered by the search engine to be evidence that a website is high quality (Google’s Panda algorithm is designed in such a way that sites it regards as high quality rank better).
A leak of the Google Quality Rater’s Guidelines (the instructions used by the search engine’s manual reviewers) earlier this year also showed that a company’s online reputation is considered to be an indication of quality. For big businesses, Google’s raters will look at things like awards and news coverage, but for smaller local businesses, independent online reviews can be a key indicator.
Good reviews are just one of many factors in search rankings, but obtaining them will never be wasted effort, as they have another major benefit.
Positive reviews impress prospective customers
Despite the many stories about faked TripAdvisor posts, people do trust online reviews and do use them as part of the buying process.
A study published by BrightLocal in July 2014 found that 39% of people regularly read online customer reviews to “determine whether a local business is a good business” and that a further 49% occasionally read them for the same reason. Some 72% of those questioned said that positive customer reviews made them trust a business more.
The research also discovered that after reading positive online reviews about a business, 57% of consumers visit its website and a further 15% call them, which strongly suggests that good reviews can play an important role in driving conversions.
How to secure good reviews
Your business only needs five reviews on its Google+ listing for a star rating to show in search results, so given the potential benefits, it makes sense to make sure you get them.
Stars under your website’s listing on Google or on a major review site should help to increase relevant traffic and conversions, but you’ll have to put in some work to get them - and not only by delivering a high-quality service.
While many consumers are quick to take to Facebook or TripAdvisor to voice complaints about poor service or disappointing products, they are far more reluctant to comment publicly on a good experience. You’ll need to encourage them, and the most effective way is to ask customers to post reviews and to make it as straightforward as possible to do it.
Including a ‘Please Review Us’ section - featuring links to the pages where they can post their feedback on Google+, relevant industry websites / forums and social media - on post-sales emails to clients and in email newsletters, is a quick and simple way to ask customers to help. You may prefer to take a more personal approach with long-established clients and contact them directly to ask them to spend a couple of minutes reviewing your business.
One other thing to prepare for is the possibility of negative reviews. Whether a customer has a genuine reason to be unhappy, there has been a misunderstanding or the reviewer is a troublemaker, a poor review can paint your business in a bad light. Make sure you respond to bad reviews quickly, calmly and politely, showing a willingness to engage with the poster and deal with any genuine issues. This will demonstrate that your business cares about customer service.
And don’t forget the golden rule of online reviews - do not under any circumstances start posting fake glowing reviews of your own business. They are easy to spot and can have the opposite effect to what you were aiming for.
For advice about setting up an online reviews platform, maximising your Google+ presence or any other aspect of local search engine optimisation, give us a call.