The Importance of Online Reviews

Product service review
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September 26, 2018
19 min read
Article Contents

So how do you go about getting these reviews? Here are 4 simple ways:

  1. Ask them – just ask your customers if they’d be happy to leave a review
  2. Make it easy – provide them with a link, even give them instructions about how to do it
  3. Provide an incentive – entry into a prize draw, a free gift, make it reciprocal (if it’s business to business you can review their business if they’ll review yours)
  4. Follow up – ask people more than once, perhaps at the point of sale, and then also in a follow-up email.

Here are 4 reasons that reflect the importance of online reviews and reasons to start being proactive about getting those reviews from your happy customers:

  1. Credibility - Your customers will believe what others say about you more than they will believe what YOU will say about you
  2. Rankings – Local searches ‘e.g. Web design in Derby’ bring up ‘Google Places’ results, which are partly determined by the number of reviews you have
  3. More visitors – Potential customers are more likely to click on your website from a Google search if they see several people have reviewed your business
  4. Prevents/limits damage from bad reviews – no business can delight every customer, every time, and no business can eliminate the possibility of competitors leaving bad reviews. If someone looks you up and you have 3 terrible reviews they are very unlikely to do business with you. If there are 3 terrible ones and 30 fantastic ones, then they will.

We got a lot of questions about our last post that listed ranking factors for Google Places listings, and a lot of those questions were about customer reviews. Reviews DO have an effect on where your Places page ranks. Google treats local searches just like it treats organic searches – it’s going to display the most relevant dealerships to the search phrase. For local searches, though, Google favors local businesses that its algorithm determines to be prominent and we'll liked in the local area.

Look at it this way – if Google were to recommend local businesses that offered poor products and service, customers would stop using Google for local searches. Google has a very personal interest in returning businesses that customers will like, so it gives a lot of weight to businesses with positive reviews and ratings.

Four Main Signals that Carry Weight in Local Search Ranking

1) Volume of Reviews/Ratings

The number of reviews needed to improve rankings depends on the type of business and the number of reviews that local competitors have in your niche. Look at the Places pages for other local dealerships and check out their reviews – use that number as your benchmark.

2) Velocity of Reviews/Ratings

Sure, it’s great to get a ton of good reviews – but if you get them all at once or too quickly, you’ll be setting off a huge red flag. Your reviews should build up over time in a natural manner.

3) Sentiment of Reviews/Ratings

Every dealer wants to get all 5-star reviews, but that’s not realistic. A natural distribution of mostly positive reviews with a few negative reviews is best.

4) Keywords in Reviews

What your customers write is also important to how your Places page ranks. Keywords in your reviews will help your listing rank higher, but it’s extremely important that the review doesn’t look spammy. Keyword stuffing in reviews can get your Place page suspended or removed! But, multiple reviews with the right keywords (used sparingly) will have a positive impact on your rankings for those keywords.

Google’s Review Policy Summed Up

No fake reviews, no keyword-stuffed reviews, and absolutely no incentives for reviews. Also, according to several industry experts, representatives of Google have stated that on-site review stations are allowed, and even encouraged.

If you’re just starting out with your Google Places strategy, try to get to 5 reviews as quickly as possible. Once you get five or more reviews, the average star rating with the total number of reviews appears on the search engine results page along with your listing.

Fake/Spammy Reviews Can Hurt You

Google uses several different methods to monitor and prevent fake reviews. for example, it will check to see if the email address used for the review is at all associated with your dealership or any employees listed on your site, or it will track the IP address that was used. If Google becomes suspicious or if it sees too many reviews happening over a short period of time, the listing could be suspended – or even blacklisted if the tactics are blatant.

Dealers are always surprised when we quickly point out fake reviews on their places page. If a review has a specific keyword phrase repeated several times, or if it mentions 3 or 4 employees by first and last name, that’s usually a good sign that it’s a fake review.

Yes, we all want to have great reviews and we want to rank higher – but there’s a right and a wrong way to achieve higher Google Places page rankings. Commit the time and effort into building customer reviews the right way and it will pay off in the long run.

Don’t offer anything for the review – just encourage happy customers to leave a review at the point of sale. Add a link to your website that points directly to your Places page so that it’s easy for customers to get there and leave you a review. Make it easy for happy customers to share their experience.

Incorporating customer reviews is a free, yet powerful factor in enhancing SEO. Benefiting visibility in SERPS, consumer reviews can increase the content and authority of a site, so they must be encouraged and given as much priority as authoritative link placement and prime keyword optimization.

  • Content created by ‘real world’ consumers, such as reviews on social media and third-party review sites like Google+ Local and Yelp, are increasing in SEO value.
  • Incorporating user generated content (UGC) on-site, and encouraging off-site reviews (third party) will contribute to SEO as Google values widely cited, and varied references to determine authority.
  • Fresh, unique UGC sends strong signals to Google. If rich snippets are correctly used in reviews, this can improve conversion and rank for desired keywords. This benefits SEO, site authority and reputation, which in turn, boosts sales though increased visibility and consumer trust in reviews.
  • Encouraging reviews on Google+ Local has additional benefits: increased visibility to Google, which enhances local search. (Google Places merged into Google+ Local in May 2012).

Benefits of On-Site Reviews: Using Your User Generated Content

Embedding quality user reviews on-site will have a correlating impact on site search relevancy. On-site reviews establish authority, drive engagement and can increase click through, conversion, and sales. To provide a more informed customer experience, consumers should be incentivized to leave reviews whenever possible.

  • Content (opposed to third-party links) is key to improving SERP rankings. UGC provides a regularly updated, unique stream of content, so integrating it across a site is hugely beneficial.
  • Having user generated reviews builds trust, which promotes sales. Consumers are more likely to purchase if they discover positive reviews. It also encourages further engagement which supports and adds to the authority of a site, helping it rank highly.
  • If reviews use rich snippets, they can be better indexed, increasing search visibility, click through rates, sales and conversions.
  • Consider successful sites such as Amazon. User reviews reinforce site authority and reputation, build associations between certain key words and products, and encourage consumer trust through positive experience. As a result, Amazon’s products appear well in SERPS; enhancing clickthrough and conversion, and encouraging further reviews.

Off-site Reviews – the Wider Support of Third-Party Review Sites

Off-site, third-party reviews balance the content advantages of on-site reviews, and are integral for sourcing citations and building authoritative links.

  • Important third party review sites for local SEO include: Yelp, Google+ Local, Citysearch, Yahoo local.
  • Wide co-citation across review sites (the repeated reference to a company and terms related to them) will boost relevancy in searches as Google associates certain terms with particular brands or products.
  • Reviews placed on Google+ Local have increased relevancy for Google listings, and will improve visibility in local searches. Reviews must be added directly to Google+ Local for this to be effective however – and reviews appearing elsewhere on the web are not incorporated into Google+ Local’s consideration.
  • Connecting customer reviews to social media (as Google+ does) will further increase visibility across a wide number of sources. Don’t underestimate the value of the shared experience!

To Maximize User Reviews for SEO Benefit:

Spread content widely – On-site UGC should appear on as large a variety of pages as possible.

Don’t duplicate on-site reviews – Ensure separate user reviews (on-site) have their own pages.
Make sure content indexes correctly - Content should appear in text form in HTML for it to be correctly located and indexed. Try to avoid things that may limit review visibility such as cookies, Javascript or Flash.
Target long-tail terms - Longtail targets are keyword phrases of 3 or more words. If user-created reviews contain these, ranking can increase; searchers are likely to input those same phrases in locating relevant reviews.
Use third-party review sites – Investigate, use and actively encourage consumer posting on widely used review sites (Yelp, Google+ Local, Foursquare, etc). Promote this via social media and emails, and incentivize.
Consider third-party reviews from a consumer ‘ease-of-use’ perspective – If customers must register before posting reviews, will this have a detrimental effect? For example, you must have a Google account to post on Google+ Local, but as it is so beneficial to SEO, incentivizing sign up may be an advantage. Sites such as Yelp, Tripadvisor, and Citysearch do not require a signup.

Google is on the move again with possible (at the time of this posting) changes hot off the heels of a move to Google Instant.  In my opinion, these changes should have a much more obvious impact on local businesses than what we’ve seen from Instant thus far.

Google is becoming much more integrated by combining Places (formerly known as Google Local) with Reviews and placing it inside the organic listings.

This move calls for an immediate need to concentrate on your online reviews that push stars to Google.  Right now that would be Google reviews themselves or DealerRater.

Dealers could get away with having bad reviews in the past because the maps and reviews were separate from the organic listings, but now it is really hard to miss those bad reviews.

So, what are the changes in this new integration?

  • Prioritization or organic rankings also being seen on maps
  • Reviews showing on Organic Listings
  • Address and Telephone number showing on organic listing (could change your website conversion numbers)
  • Ads from Google Places showing on Map and bottom of your organic listing
  • Removal of common links under the first organic listing
  • Link to Place page on organic listing
  • Links to Review sites on organic listings
  • Map moved to the right

I can’t stress enough how important it is to work on your customer reviews.  If anything that should be the most obvious thing these changes bring.  He with the best and most reviews will be chosen when up against someone who has few and/or bad reviews.

As far as how to ask for a patient review, which can be the hardest part, Zig Ziglar says, just do it. If you don’t ask, you’ll never know what the answer may have been. When I have a client that says “great job,” I often respond with, “Would you mind putting that in writing (lol)?”

I go on to explain that we have a button on our website that makes leaving a review easy, and their review would be a personal favor to me. I explain that good reviews help with marketing, and they aren’t for sale, at least not to ethical business people. In most cases, pleased clients (or patients, in your case) will be happy to help.

When you make a local search (e.g. “Albuquerque criminal defense lawyer”), Google gives you local results. These results come from information that law firms provide in Google Places, and which business is displayed first comes from lawyer SEO (search engine optimization), which you can affect with Google + Local.

If you’re an Albuquerque-based criminal defense lawyer (sorry for the Breaking Bad reference), for example, and you create a Google Places profile complete with a business address, website, and phone number, your law firm has a better chance of showing up on the first page of Google results and also can appear on Google Maps. It only takes a few minutes and pays dividends.

Now, chances are your law firm is not on Google Places for Business or Google + Local. Most aren’t. Most firms don’t even know what they are. However, Google now places an increasingly large weight in its algorithm to businesses and law firms that have Google Places and Google + Local profiles. Law firms that are creating extensive Google+ profiles are seeing better results than those that don’t.

3 Ways Online Reviews Help Your Business SEO Presentation Transcript

1. Increased exposure means more traffic to your business website. The more traffic your website has, the more attention it gets from search engine crawlers (those programs that find, examine, and evaluate pages on websites), and the higher it will rank on search engine results lists.

2. Search engine crawlers identify link backs and figure them into your site’s overall relevance when determining your ranking in search engine results. The more link backs you have to your site, the more relevant your site will appear to be, and the higher it will sit on the results page. Many online review sites allow you to include links to your business site, so the more review sites you are registered with - and the more reviews your business gets – the stronger your link back value will be.

3. Be sure to register your business on sites like Google Places, Yelp, Foursquare, Bing, Angie’s List, a more, in order to get people talking about your business and linking to your website. In this way SEO is about popularity: the more exposure you have on the web, the better your SEO.

Ask Your Loyal Customers

One of the easiest places to start is asking your most loyal and happy customers. Perhaps you have a few customers that go way back. These customers are willing to do almost anything to help promote your business and see it grow. Simply ask if they would be willing to write a review on your Google+ Local. Help make it as easy as possible for them to do so!

Link Your Emails to Google+ Local

The footer in all your outgoing emails is valuable real estate. Along with your contact information try adding a link to your Google+ Local listing with a call to action to write a review.

Follow Up Emails

If your business normally sends follow-up emails after a sale try adding a section that solicits a public review of the product or service. Sometimes a public place to voice their opinion is what your customers are looking for as it creates a greater sense of being heard.

Integrate with Your Site

If it isn’t already, make sure that your site is linked to your Google+ Local page. One idea is adding a “Review Us” section into your website with a link out to your Google+ page or adding the Google+ logo to your linked Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin logos.

Link Up With Your Suppliers & Partners

Does your business have key relationships with others in the industry? Why not do them a favor and write an honest review on their Google+ Local listing to see if they will do the same for you. There’s no harm in promoting your accountant, marketing consultant, office supplies vendor, building maintenance crew or anyone else you can write a thoughtful review for and honestly endorse. What goes around comes around!

QR Codes

QR codes are a great way to digitally engage your customers. All that your tech saavy customers will have to do is use their mobile phone’s QR app to snap a picture. Link your QR code to your + page and they will instantly be able to write their review. QR codes make writing reviews a one step process. You can place QR codes on your business card, brochures, receipts, invoices, tables and anything else that goes into your customers’ hands.

Ask Your Family & Friends

This may seem like the most obvious way to collect reviews but remember you have friends and family who have seen your business in action. It’s a great place to start if your reviews are far and few between. Just be careful if your business is named after your family and your four sons by the same name all write a review! It may look a little unusual.

Pro Tip: How to Deal with Bad Google Places Reviews

Can I Remove Negative Google Reviews?

The short answer is no. In reality, all businesses collect some negative reviews no matter how great they are. In order for reviews to remain unbiased, you do not have direct control over what a customer says in a review and if that review is visible.

The best thing to do is respond to negative reviews in a positive and professional way. Offer to make it right. If the reviewer still doesn’t change their mind at least you have gained some lost credibility back from others who have read the review. In fact, studies suggest that customers are more likely to trust your reviews when they see both good and bad.

You should also try to get as many positive reviews to counteract the negative reviews! If a visitor comes to your Google+ Local and see 98 positive reviews and only 2 negative reviews they will likely have a good impression. Push those negative reviews down by getting a constant stream of fresh reviews.

With more and more people searching the Internet for local information it has become crucially important for small businesses to maintain a Google Places profile. If you want to be on the first place of Google Places though, you need to follow the rules.

Breaking any of Google’s rules could result in your listing being demoted in the rankings or worse yet, de-listed from Google Places completely. Making sure to avoid these 5 deadly Google Places mistakes will give you a better chance of a page one listing.

Keyword Stuffing

Keyword stuffing is when someone puts extraneous keywords into fields that aren’t supposed to have keywords. For example, let's say your business name is officially "Smith Piping", but rather than putting "Vance Piping" as your business name, you put "Smith Piping Houston Plumbers Fixing Leaky Faucets and Broken Hot Water Heaters Since 1952" as your name on your Google Places profile. All those other words beyond “Piping” would be considered keyword stuffing.

Unfortunately, many businesses end up unintentionally keyword spamming their profile. Whether you intend to keyword stuff or not, the result is the same. You will eventually get your profile deleted. Google is particularly persnickety about keyword stuffing in your name and your category. When filling out the category field always describe what your business is rather than what it does. Returning to the Smith Piping example, the category should be “plumber”, not “fixes hot water heaters”, etc.

Inconsistent Information

Google needs to rely on other directory websites and public information sources in order to verify your business is actually relevant to searchers. If Google didn’t compare information it would be easy for unscrupulous business owners to game the system into believing a business had locations in communities it didn’t serve. The problem with Google checking their information against other data sources is that the information is often presented differently across different sources.

For example, in one source your address may be listed as 321 Main St Suite 2 Houston USA while in another source you list it as 321 #2 Main St Houston USA. This can lead to Google deciding to eliminate your information altogether for fear of it being fraudulent. Be sure to pick out a common name, address, and phone number format and use that across all directory services.

Using a 1-800 Number for Your Contact Number

Google looks for clues in order to verify that your business is really located in the location you claim. One of the biggest clues Google looks for is your company’s area code. If you list your phone number as a 1-800 number Google won’t be able to verify your area code. In their Quality Guidelines, Google also states that you should not use a referral or tracking phone number. As previously discussed, the number you do use should be consistent with the number available on public information sources.

Not Including Photos & Videos in Your Profile

Google Places gives highest-ranking priority to businesses with fully filled out owner-claimed profiles. For the best chance of ranking in the top spot in Google Places, you should make it a priority to fill out your profile 100%. Unfortunately, you can not have a 100% complete profile unless you submit 10 photos and at least one video to Google. Don’t be intimidated by this step.

Although it can be nice to have, you do not need studio quality photos and videos. A couple of snapshots taken with a point-and-click digital camera and a slideshow video of those photos should be sufficient for getting your profile 100% complete. Depending on the type of business you own, you may want to consider including photos of your staff, your interior, and your exterior.

Even shots of your menu or service listing are acceptable. Don’t be afraid to be a little creative here, but keep in mind that these photos are highly visible on your Google Places page and should make a good first impression to prospective customers.

Leaving Fake Reviews for Your Business

One of the easiest ways to get banned from Google Places is by pumping up your listing with fake reviews. Google has a sophisticated system in place for detecting fake reviews and chances are you will get caught if you try to game the system in any way. There are so many ways to get legitimate good reviews from real customers, do not fall prey to fake review generation companies who promise the sky, but in reality, get your listing permanently banned from Google.

If you’re having trouble generating reviews naturally, you should actively encourage your best customers to leave reviews. You may want to consider training your staff to ask for reviews or you may want to create some signs or business cards that instruct people to leave reviews. Whatever your strategy though, always make sure that your reviews are legitimate and left by real customers.

As you savvy marketers, gaining as many good quality reviews on your Google Places page is not only a good idea for converting prospective clients, but also helps with increasing your rank locally. Most customers won’t know to leave Google Places reviews, so it is your job as a business owner or marketer to actively promote and encourage customers to give honest reviews. In this blog, we will look at creative ways to get the word out.

  • Loyal Customers: The first reviews are always the hardest to get, so why not start with the customers who frequent your business. Go out of your way to contact your top 10-15 customers and encourage them to leave a Google Places review. Many times just letting them know that you would appreciate their review is enough to get them to pop on and write something up.
  • Call-To-Actions (CTA): Give people a little kick in the butt to get on and leave a review. Start incorporating simple calls-to-actions into your digital marketing strategy to encourage your customers to voice their review.
    • Email Newsletters: Having a call to action inside a newsletter is a great way to connect with customers and let them know you’d value their review. Additionally, these are already qualified reviewers because they already like you enough to opt-in to your mailing list and they liked your email enough to open it.
    • Website: Place a call to action on your website to let visitors know you’d love their reviews. When first starting off, I would recommend placing the CTA in a more prominent spot such as a right column ad space. Once you’ve collected a handful of reviews, you could then move it to the contact us page or use text in the footer.
  • Table Cards: If you’re a business with a physical location, make a point to communicate to customers while they are in your business. Design fun, creative tabletop cards or tents encouraging customers to leave a review on their smartphone (via QR code or link). You would be surprised how many customers will pop on to review while at your business.
  • QR Codes: For all of you who think QR codes are pointless, think again. QR codes work perfectly to link customers directly to your Google Places page to leave reviews. Take some time to review your business and find creative places to place the QR codes and CTA’s. This could be in your menu, on your receipts, printed on your packaging, on the exit door or even in crazier places like inside of bathroom stalls. (most people are on their phone in bathrooms anyways, let’s be honest)
  • Email Signature: If you’re like me, you send out hundreds of emails each day. Placing a CTA in your email signature can really get the word out that you value reviews. Additionally, if you can get the rest of your staff on-board, you could easily gain some reviews in a matter of a few days. Just keep in mind, everyone you’re communicating with could be a potential reviewer, so keep things professional and positive.
  • Social Media: You’ve worked so hard to build up a loyal and engaged social media audience, so why not leverage those people to help build reviews. Send out some posts with CTA’s asking people who have used your products or services to voice their opinion on what they received. Take it a step further and integrate a CTA into the branding of your social media page from the background, profile picture and/or cover photo.
  • Automated Email / Mail Follow-Ups: Anytime you’re able to collect information from a customer, you should always have some good way to follow up and continue engaging that person. Many businesses have some sort of automated emailing or postal mailing that is sent to people once they convert into a subscriber. This again is a good place to include a CTA to leave a review because they are engaged enough to sign up with your business, they probably are engaged enough to leave a review.
  • Add on to Loyalty Cards: Many businesses are smart enough to give out punch or loyalty cards to their customers. Typically the customers who use these cards are patrons and visit the business a lot. Perfect! These are the types of customers we’d like to have reviewing our Google Places page. Put a CTA on your loyalty cards about leaving a review and make it a point to have your staff mention that you’d love them to leave a review.
  • Incorporate Into All Your Marketing Efforts: Chances are you’re doing all kinds of different marketing efforts in your marketing strategy from print ads to maybe bus wraps. No matter what or where you’re advertising, find creative ways to ask people to visit your Google Places page and either leave a review or read the reviews you have posting. Again, is huge in building your credibility with potential customers.

At a seminar on the topic someone asked, “Can I place a computer at my business and encourage users to leave reviews on the spot”. Well this is a great idea because they are honest customer reviews and would probably have a good conversion rate for customers to leave reviews, but the problem is all the reviews would be coming from the same IP address which is a red flag from Google.

So, unfortunately, that technique would not work. If someone posts a negative review, keep your head on and simply reply to them as the business owner in a professional and polite way. I always encourage offering something to unhappy customers to help ease any hard feelings. Even if you can’t win the angry customer back, others reading the review will see the response and it will help win back your credibility.

It’s important for you to keep your “white hat” marketing hat on and never buy or create fake reviews. Chances are Google will find out and remove the reviews and penalize your listing. Take your time while collecting reviews and focus on getting honest, real reviews. It’s not going to be an overnight endeavor and in many cases can take 6-12 months to collect a decent number of reviews.

Also, although Google Places is probably the biggest and most important, make sure you take some time to collect reviews on some of the other major directories (yahoo, bing, yelp, CitySearch, etc). These oftentimes are pulled into your Google Places page anyways.

Questions? Contact Us!

Please feel free to contact us with any questions about the importance of reviews and how to best utilize them to further your business!

Written by Captivation

Founded in 2004, Captivation Agency is an award-winning creative storytelling collective located in Sarasota, Florida.

We work with brands, non-profits & agencies to elevate and deploy meaningful, engaging, client works in the form of video productions and pixel-perfect, user experience design.

We believe in hard work, exceptional customer service, and long-term relationships.

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