According to Google, 20 percent of all searches are localized. As a result, the search engine recently started placing a much higher importance on local search results. There are a number of specific optimization tactics you can do to help your website start ranking better for these local searches.
However, I’d like to call attention to one in particular — online reviews. These are customer testimonials posted on sites like Yelp, Google, Yahoo! Local and online directories. Google aggregates these reviews and provides links to them on your company’s Places page (see below).
So how can you get customers to start writing reviews about you on these sites?
The first, and most important, thing to understand about online reviews is people have to want to do it. Begging and pleading are not viable options. Desperate guys are more likely to get a beer in the face than the girl (trust me).
To motivate someone to offer a positive review, you need to wow them with quality products and great service. Then, and only then, should you consider the following steps.
Step 1 — Take Their Temperature
Prior to launching any type of initiative to generate reviews, take your customers’ temperature. Monitor online chatter, talk to them one-on-one, or send an online survey that they can complete anonymously. Use the feedback you gather as an opportunity to make sure you are doing everything possible from a product and service quality standpoint to earn their positive reviews.
If you’re happy with the feedback, proceed to Step 2. If the feedback isn’t positive, use it to improve.
Step 2 — Identify Review Sites
Andrew Shotland from Local SEO Guide recently provided a list of the top 10 review sites for Google Places. This is the perfect place to start creating your list.
You should also look at your competitors' Google Places pages to find review sites that may be specific to your industry, or conduct a Google search for a keyword that describes your business + the term “reviews,” “rankings” or “testimonials” (e.g. PR Firm Reviews).
Identify 3-5 target review sites, create an account, claim your listing (many of these may already have your company profiled) and make sure your information is accurate and consistent with your website. Double check that your company name, physical address, phone number, website address and email address are all completely filled in and exactly match the information on your website and Google Places page. Also review the categories you are listed under and try to sync those as well.
Step 3 — Make It Simple
Put together a quick how-to flier or landing page that provides easy instructions for posting a review online. List step-by-step instructions and keep them basic. Don’t get bogged down in the details. Brevity is key. Also make sure to show your gratitude.
Step 4 — Ask, but Don’t Ask
Now it's time to start generating reviews. The art to this is to make it seem like you are not asking. To do so, take advantage of some of the following opportunities:
- After a lead becomes a customer - Individuals are most likely pretty high on you at the moment they become customers, so include information in a terms of agreement, on a receipt, or in contract paperwork that lets them know you’d value their feedback, and how they can provide it.
- After a customer walks in your store (physical or digital) - For those businesses with walk-in guests, hang fliers near doors and cash registers. For those with online guests, post badges from review sites (see right) throughout your site.
- After you've gotten to know them personally - Contact customers who you have built a good relationship with and ask if they would be willing to write a review of you.
- After they've read your bio - What better time to ask someone to write a review than when they are already on one of your target review sites. Include a call to action in your bio that says something like, "Have you ever been a [Company Name] customer? Please let us know about your experience by posting a quick review."
- By offering reviews - To receive reviews, consider offering reviews to those companies, partners and professionals you work with. Reach out to them and let them know you’d like to post an online review regarding your dealings with them. Ask where they would like this posted. Hopefully, they appreciate that you are taking the time to help them, and they chose to reciprocate.
- In a customer survey or email newsletter - Many companies periodically send out customer surveys or email newsletters. Why not include a call to action at the end of the survey, or somewhere in your newsletter, that asks people to offer an online review? Provide them the link to your “How-To” landing page (see Step 3).
Step 5 — Sweetening the Deal
Ethically, it is wrong to pay or bribe someone for writing a review of your business. Oh, and it’s against the rules on many review sites. There are, however, ways you can indirectly reward customers for their reviews.
- Online review site coupons - Offer incentives for people to visit one of your review sites. For example, many of these sites, like Yelp, give you the option to offer a coupon.
- Share reviews online - People like to be publicly recognized. Acknowledge those who took the time to post a review by adding reviews to your website, and featuring them in your email newsletter.
- Give them a link - Create a page of testimonials on your site and feature online reviews. Include the person or business' name and link to their social media profile or company website.
Step 6 — Responding to Negative Reviews
Obviously, one thing you have to be ready for is negative reviews. Treat them as opportunities to show the particular reviewer, and anyone else that reads it, that you are paying attention and willing to work to improve your performance. Check out this blog post from Outspoken Media on 5 Reasons NOT to Delete Negative Reviews.
- Don't get defensive - Take the high road. Comment back and show all who read the review that you are willing to work with anyone to ensure their satisfaction.
- Try to reach them directly - If possible, try to resolve the negative commenter's issue in a one-on-one environment, and take it offline. Ask if the commenter will send you a personal email to try to resolve the issue.
- Understand that you can't smooth over everything - No matter what you do, there will be some people who cannot be won back. Whether their experience was just that bad, or they are happy being unhappy, nothing you try will make them change their opinion. Move on.
Remember, a few negative, or neutral, reviews may not be a bad thing. If there is an endless list of great reviews, people and review sites may become skeptical about their validity.
Psychology Bonus - The Rule of Reciprocation
If you haven't read it already, I highly recommend, "Influence: Science and Practice," by Robert B. Cialdini. In it, he discuss the Rule of Reciprocation, a characteristic most of us possess that says, "we should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided us." In other words, we feel guilty about getting something without giving something in return, so we will try to repay the giver in some fashion.
You can use this to your advantage. Give customers great personalized service, a great product, and a great experience, and then make sure they know you value online reviews. Get creative, and experiment with different ways to direct customers to these review site.
- Google: Now Likely Using Online Merchant Reviews as Ranking Signal
- Six Ways to Get Customer Reviews that Boost Your Local Search Rankings
- Top 10 Review Sites in Google Place Search
- New Place Search Shows Google's Commitment to Local
- Yelp Commonly Asked Questions
- You’ve Been Yelped
- How to Get Your Community to Build Links for You
I would love to get your feedback and ideas you’ve tried, both good and bad, to generate reviews.
Keith Moehring is business development manager and a consultant at PR 20/20, a Cleveland-based inbound marketing agency and PR firm. Follow Keith on Twitter @keithmoehring.