Online reviews of local businesses are becoming increasingly prevalent and important to the decision-making of potential customers. But just how important are they, really? Can they actually be a force for helping you bring in more traffic and leads to your website, or are they more of a fancy window-dressing that you don’t really need?
BrightLocal’s 2018 “Local Consumer Review Survey” provides important context. Among the most striking takeaways are:
- 86% of consumers, and 95% of those between the ages of 18 and 34, will read reviews of a local business.
- 57% of consumers will only use a business with 4 or more stars.
- 80% of 18-34-year-old consumers have written online reviews; 91% of this demographic trusts online reviews just as much as a personal recommendation.
Clearly, then, reviews are important, especially for businesses hoping to target millennials. But this begs an important question: what is the optimal way to go about collecting and displaying your positive reviews so that you can leverage those reviews into as much new traffic as possible?
What NOT To Do
Before I explain how this ought to be implemented, I want to tackle how this definitely should not be done. The fact of the matter is that collecting and displaying reviews is one element of SEO for which every business can easily adhere to best practices, no matter its in-house level of technical ability. This is something YOU CAN do without any outside help (besides the instructions laid out later in this post).
One common method guaranteed to make me wince is the use of a “Testimonials” page on which any number of positive reviews are simply copied and pasted, as plain text, in a simple list. This method is sub-optimal for two main reasons: 1) search engines can’t tell that these are reviews, which means you can’t possibly get any credit for them; 2) no one sees these until they have already reached your website. This defeats the primary purpose of collecting reviews, which is to increase your organic visibility and actually get people to your website (see chart below).
Best Practices For Reviews
Instead, you should be collecting reviews on your Google My Business listing (if you have not set one up yet, you should do so ASAP). Not only are GMB listings completely free; also, Local/Maps results are based more on the overall quality of your GMB than on the overall quality of your website.
Moreover, Google has actually begun to pay attention to the keywords used in user-generated reviews. If, for example, a client wrote in a review that I was the “best digital marketer in the Finger Lakes,” my site would become more optimized for that keyword. This is true even if that phrase appears nowhere on my website (it doesn’t). But when a real person takes the time to review a business, Google pays attention to what they say and how they say it.
Generating Your Unique Link
Now you might be wondering how feasible it is to expect people to navigate to your listing and write a review. But this doesn’t matter, because you’ll make it easy for them: you’ll generate a unique link that you can send out that, when clicked on, will take the customer directly to the screen where they can rate and review you. Trust me – Google does want this to be as easy as possible for both you and your customers. The more user-generated data they have at their disposal, the better their services work for searchers.
So what do you need to do? First, use the PlaceID Lookup Tool to find your unique PlaceID. Once you have that, replace the <place_id> in the link below with your actual PlaceId:
Requesting and Replying
With your link in hand, it’s now time to begin contacting your best customers and politely asking them for a review. Remember, as I mentioned before, Google takes the keywords reviewers use into account, so you want to phrase your ask in a way that suggests a specific review.
For example, below is a review request that I have received. Other than the fact that this request didn’t include a review link, it is a perfect example of how simple and easy requesting a review should be.
Would you be willing to write a Google review for the portraits I took for you? I am finding that having keywords in a review is very helpful in search.
Thanks so much!”
So now you’ve sent out review requests, and you’ve managed to get a few already. Now comes the most important step: replying to the review. If you do everything else, but not this, you won’t see the maximum benefits. This is because any and all credit you may get from a review is essentially in escrow until you have replied to the review.
Bear in mind that Google doesn’t actually care about or pay attention to the words you use in your reply, so don’t bother trying to shoehorn keywords in. They’re simply trying to encourage businesses to actively engage with their customers, which is something you ought to be doing anyway. A reply can be as simple as “Thanks! It was a pleasure working with you.”
Finally, you should reply to all your reviews, good and bad. If you’re reading this and you have 16 reviews from the last 5 years and haven’t replied to any, it’s quite possible that simply replying to all of them will boost you significantly. Of course, it’s easy to reply to happy customers, but what about dissatisfied customers?
Responding to bad reviews is just as important, if not more so. This is for a few reasons: 1) keywords used in bad reviews are still taken into account, so by replying to them, you still get some credit; and 2) it’s an opportunity to show potential customers that you care about them and that your business places an emphasis on customer service.
This can be as simple as writing, “We’re really sorry you felt this way about our service. This is not the outcome we desire for our clients. Please reach out to us and we will do our best to resolve it.” While you’re probably not going to change the mind of that individual who felt compelled to write a negative review, you’re going to reassure many potential customers about how you conduct yourself.
Summary & Conclusion
Now that you’ve made it this far, it’s time to go through our easy formula for implementing this to your benefit.
- Look up your unique Google PlaceID. You can do so here.
- Modify the review link to include your PlaceID in the place of the “<place_id>”. Do it exactly the way I did mine in the above section.
- Using the link, politely request reviews from your best customers in a way that suggests a specific answer.
- Reply to the reviews.
- Repeat steps 3-4 ad nauseam and enjoy the benefits!
I hope you found this guide valuable. Jeffrey Radin is the Founder of Sherman Square Marketing.