Search engines want to return the most relevant results for their users and there are many different factors that figure into why one site ranks over another. One of those factors is online reviews on external websites. The reasons why reviews are important and how to get them will be the topic of this post.
First, I’ll cover the factors that you need to consider. Then we’ll talk a little bit about how to effectively integrate a review strategy into your internet marketing plan.
First Rule: Don’t fear reviews
“A perfect business isn’t one with perfect reviews, it’s one that deals with their reviews and feedback perfectly.” – Mike Ramsey
I should mention that encouraging reviews should not be a scary thing. There will always be difficult customers and you can deal with them directly. But if you run a reputable business, your overall reviews should give an accurate picture of your business. If you’re afraid of reviews then maybe you have deeper business issues to deal with.
What happens if you receive a bad review? Could this actually be a good thing?
First, the occasional mediocre or bad review looks natural. A business with 10 five star reviews looks manipulated. A business with 100 reviews with an overall 4 star rating looks legit and trustworthy.
Second, bad reviews are an opportunity to improve your business and you can respond directly to the person making the review. It’s your chance to show that you’re actively engaged, concerned and it will give you an opportunity to explain why the customer was disappointed and why it’s not a normal part of your business.
Offsite Reviews Are Key
I always tell people that one of the most effective things you can do on your website is to include real testimonials from real customers. Nothing helps to sell your business better than the words of a happy customer. BUT, people know that onsite testimonials have been cherry-picked and in some cases could be completely fake.
The key to an effective review strategy is to encourage reviews on external websites. If a business has a substantial amount of good, offsite reviews on external websites it will instill confidence that real people have given their honest opinions about a business. But more importantly, reviews are an important signal that Google uses to determine search results.
As mentioned previously, there are three elements of effective local search which are location, relevance and prominence. Reviews figure prominently in the prominence category and can influence why a business ranks above the competition.
In addition to having reviews on external websites, the amount of reviews on different websites is important. (Sorry for the bad news. Google doesn’t like to make things easy!)
What’s important to remember is that people don’t ALWAYS find information using Google. There are many other secondary websites and having a plan to get reviews on those sites is important too.
The big issue is that having a lot of reviews on one site looks manipulated. Even if all your reviews are on Google+, the reviews might look questionable and could be subject to removal by Google’s algorithm. (Yes, an automated bot could actually remove reviews. More on this later.)
If you were Google, what would you think if suddenly there were 20 reviews about a business and then nothing. That would look suspicious and manipulated, right? So make sure that your review strategy is consistent. Asking for reviews is a great practice but don’t do it in waves.
Make sure that your reviews look natural and appear consistently over time. It’s always better to get one review a month for a year instead of 12 in one week.
Users also like to see recent reviews. If the last review that you have on Google is from 2006 it may look like you’re out of business or the customer may ignore the rating completely because it’s outdated and irrelevant.
The bottom line is that Google and users like to see consistent reviews that appear over time. This will ideally show that you’re still in business and hopefully suggest that the reviews are legit and not manipulated.
As mentioned previously, your review strategy needs to be legit. You can’t fake, manipulate or pay for reviews. Customers will see through this and ultimately you will get dinged by Google — either by removal of the reviews, or worse, demotion of your listing in the search results.
In short — encourage real, honest and useful reviews that look natural. It’s as simple as that. These are the reviews that will look reliable to customers and to Google.
Where should I ask for local business reviews?
Here are some of the best places to start:
How do I go about asking people to review my site?
The quick answer here is “it’s tough”. Ultimately getting someone to review your business online is out of your control. It’s just one more thing that people have to do and they’re not going to do it if you don’t make it easy.
Below are a few ideas that you should implement in your business review strategy.
Put links to multiple review sites on your website.
This one is obvious but overlooked. Find ways to prompt users to stop and review your website. Give them multiple options too so they can quickly identify their favorites. Call out sites like CitySearch and InsiderPages.com that allow you to login using Facebook!
Put a sign on the counter or somewhere at your location:
This is important. The counter space is worth it! This one is easy and if you do it correctly it can be very effective — especially if people are standing in line.
Give them a prominent QR code to scan that will go to a mobile site with links to review sites. You can even give them a little card to take with them. You can get cheap business cards printed for under $10 so what are you waiting for?
Add a notice to your sales receipt:
When the customer gets home or when they have free time they can reference their receipt and go directly to your review page for options.
Use door signage:
When customers enter or leave your store, prompt them to review you online. If you have a store where people go in and out all the time, eventually they’ll remember to do it if they have something to say. Make the URL easy to remember too. That way they can do it the next time they have a few minutes.
Include review links in your newsletter/emails:
Anytime you have a chance to be in front of your client, give them the option to review you. It doesn’t have to be prominent — I know there are always things to promote. But include the option somewhere in your emails.
Add the link to your company email signature:
Do you have hundreds of employees? Imagine how many emails are sent on a daily basis. Each one could have a prompt to review your business along with a direct link.
What not to do when asking for reviews:
There are many more ways to get the job done but there are also a few things that you definitely should NOT do. Here are few to consider:
Don’t ask in waves.
Many people will get jazzed up about doing this and then forget about it. Use the methods that I’ve mentioned to slowly and consistently grow your customer reviews over time. This will look more natural and will return the other benefits mentioned previously.
Don’t duplicate reviews.
Do not post reviews on your site that are on external websites. Google can detect duplicate content and it’s not a far stretch to see how they could match up content on your site and their own reviews. This could cause your review to be removed from your listing on Google.
Don’t try to fake or manipulate the system.
Google has ways of knowing if reviews are not genuine or if they’ve been gained in an unorthodox way. Don’t try and trick Google. EVER. Keep it ethical and you’ll have nothing to worry about.
Don’t use review stations.
This is a popular but abused practice. It’s possible that Google can track where reviews are posted from using IP addresses. So setting up a computer at your store and directly encouraging customers to review your business is not a good practice. Google knows that there is a possibility that the reviewer is being manipulated, only happy people are encouraged to review or maybe even directly bribed. It’s far better to have people reviewing your site from all over town. I don’t know if this is a fact but if this was not a safeguard, how could you possibly know if the business owner wasn’t spending time every month submitting reviews for their own business? Google will not confirm or deny this practice but my money is betting that they know where reviews are submitted from on their site.
In my opinion, implementing an effective online reviews strategy is easy. You just need to stop what you’re doing and get it done. Here’s your action plan:
- Setup a simple page on your website that encourages people to submit reviews. Provide direct links to your business listing on multiple external websites.
- Create a simple sign on your counter at your business. Consider printing up some simple cards with the link to your reviews page or including a QR code.
- Add the link to your receipts.
- Add signs to your doors.
- Add the link to your business cards, email signature and anything else that leaves your place of business.
- Ask people, clients, friends and your sister to review your business online. Every review counts.