You know how important local SEO is, so you’ve done your research, your website is looking good, and you’ve got business accounts set up on Google and Bing. Unfortunately, if you don’t have any reviews online, you’re not making the most of your local SEO strategy, even if you’re doing everything else right.
There’s no good reason to ignore a lack of reviews. Your reviews online don’t just impact your reputation – they also affect your search engine rankings. If you want to stay competitive, then reviews aren’t optional. Below explains what you can do to start improving your local SEO with customer reviews.
Why You Can’t Afford to Ignore Reviews
What makes reviews so important? If you’ve ever researched a business on Google or searched for a restaurant on Yelp, you already know the answer. Reviews have an enormous impact on how other people see your business. Glowing reviews can make someone eager to visit your business. Bad reviews, on the other hand, can turn people away before they even walk in your door. Since most consumers research businesses on Google at least some of the time, your reputation largely depends on what people say about you online.
More than half of consumers search for local businesses at least once a month. Source
91% of consumers are influenced by online reviews of businesses. Source
Your reviews don’t just matter for your reputation, either. Google uses them as a ranking factor. Recent research from Moz on local search ranking factors found that, when it comes to organic search, reviews account for about 7% of rank. When it comes to Google’s top three “local pack” results, reviews are even more important, accounting for about 13% of rank.
An example of Google’s “local pack” results.
Reviews account for up to 13% of your local search rankings in Google. Source
Strategies for Getting More Reviews
First, the bad news: you’ll need to be proactive to get more reviews. Most customers don’t go out of their way to write reviews unless they’re prompted to. Ironically, sometimes dissatisfied customers are the most motivated to write reviews. So if you want people to say good things about you online, you’ll probably have to ask.
The good news is that this isn’t as daunting as it might seem. Even if you feel uncomfortable asking at first, it will quickly become second nature, and it’ll be worth it when the reviews start rolling in. Here are some strategies that can help you get started.
Ask right away. Request a review while a customer’s experience with you is still fresh in their mind. If you ask days or weeks after someone makes a purchase, they will probably have forgotten details of the interaction, and they’ll be much less likely to do it.
Write it down. Customers will be more likely to review you if they’ve got a physical reminder to do so. Try printing something like, “Review us on Facebook!” on your business cards or receipts.
Send an email follow-up after a customer makes a purchase. In your email, let the customer know that you appreciate reviews. Add links to your review sites of choice to make it easy for them to oblige. You can also track email opens to test what offers the best results.
Add prompts to your site. Put a note somewhere visible on your site encouraging people to leave you feedback. Include links to Google, Facebook, and other review sites. If you can add a feature that lets people write reviews directly on your site, do so.
Ask for reviews verbally while your customers are in your store. As customers make their purchases, mention that you appreciate online reviews. If you have employees who interact with customers, train them to do the same.
Provide super-clear instructions. Not everyone is an internet whiz. Some people might want to leave you a review, but give up trying because it’s difficult or confusing for them. Create a set of detailed instructions, including screenshots, and give it to your customers either in email form or as a physical hand-out.
Use a review service. You can automate your requests for customer reviews with services like BirdEye and Yext. BirdEye, for example, sends review requests right to your customers’ phones, ensuring that you never forget or wait too long after their purchase to send the email.
In the case of Yext, Yext doesn’t just help you generate customer reviews – it also helps you manage and respond to them.
Here at AgencyAnalytics, we recently launched review reporting. When you use a service like Yext or Birdeye, you can also monitor reviews in your AgencyAnalytics dashboard and add the data to your automated marketing reports. On top of this, you can also track reviews and insights from your client's Google My Business Page in our dashboards and reports.
What Not to Do When It Comes to Reviews
There are a couple of things you shouldn’t do in your quest to generate more reviews. One is to ask your customers to submit reviews at your store. It might seem like a good idea to have your employees hand customers a tablet with a review form as they’re checking out, for instance. However, if all your reviews are coming from the same IP address, review sites will think you’re writing all of them yourself, and your account could get suspended or deleted.
You should also avoid directly asking customers to review you on Yelp. Yelp doesn’t like it when business owners request customer reviews, and if they find out you’re doing it, they will penalize you. You can tell customers you’re on Yelp, but that’s it. It’s okay to ask for Google or Facebook reviews, though, as long as you don’t pressure people to leave positive reviews.
Getting the Most Value from Your Reviews
Follow the steps above, and you’ll start gathering a nice collection of reviews online. Here’s how you can make the most of that hard-earned feedback.
Train Employees. Maximize your chances of getting positive reviews by training your employees well. Your business’ reputation depends on the people you hire, so emphasize the importance of great customer service. Be clear about your expectations to prevent misunderstandings later.
Be proactive. You can also cut down on your chances of getting a bad review by building in plenty of opportunities to fix issues before they escalate. Make sure customers know they can bring their problems to you. One way to do this is to put up signs that say something along the lines of, “Something not right? Let us know and we’ll fix it.” Another thing you can do is get into the habit of asking customers if they need anything. Train your employees to do the same. And, of course, if someone isn’t happy with some aspect of your service, do your best to fix it on the spot.
Once your reviews start rolling in, monitor them. If you don’t have time to do this yourself, assign someone else to do it for you. Write personal responses to good reviews as well as bad ones – this makes your business look engaged and appreciative.
Take feedback seriously, especially if it’s negative. Yes, it might sting to read people’s not-so-great opinions about your business, but try not to take it personally. Keep track of your feedback over time to see if it improves or if new issues develop.
Somebody Left Your Business a One-Star Review. Now What?
First of all, don’t panic. Bad reviews happen to even the most competent and professional businesses. As long as negative feedback doesn’t become a pattern, your business will be okay. Taking quick action will also help you do damage control. Here’s how to proceed.
First, make sure your mind is in the right place before you respond to the review. Humility, patience, and a lack of defensiveness can go a long way towards placating an unhappy customer. Whatever you do, don’t say anything rude or blame the customer for their bad experience. If you’re feeling annoyed or hurt, step away from the computer and regain your composure before you respond.
Then, start your reply with an apology. Empathize with the customer’s bad experience. Even if you think the customer is being difficult, take responsibility for their dissatisfaction. Not every customer you deal with will be reasonable, and part of being a good business owner is making them feel heard and cared for anyways.
Next, explain why the customer’s bad experience happened. Be careful about how you do this, though. You don’t want to sound like you’re making excuses or blaming anyone else. Just lay your ego aside and own up to whatever part you played in the mistake. If you’ve taken steps to prevent this kind of thing from happening again, mention that as well.
Finally, offer to make things right however you can. This might involve giving the customer a free replacement of their item, a meal on the house, or a refund. Be generous – it’s good for your image, and it could help you keep this customer instead of losing them permanently.
Keep your reply short and sweet. A paragraph or two should be enough space to smooth the customer’s ruffled feathers and patch up your image. For more information about how to manage reviews for a company with multiple locations, read here.
Local reviews can do a lot for your business, from building your reputation in your community to helping more people find you in Google searches. Getting reviews does take some effort on your part, but if you provide great service and politely let your customers know how much their feedback helps you, some of them will probably be happy to give you your first reviews. And since those first few reviews are often the hardest to get, earning more reviews will only get easier from there.