Online reviews are a major component of local SEO, but their influence extends far beyond simply helping your website rank high on SERPs. In fact, 68% of online shoppers consider trustworthy reviews as a crucial decision factor when choosing a brand or buying a product, and 93% read online reviews at least occasionally to determine whether a local business is good or bad. In addition to that, 84% consider reviews just as important as personal recommendations.
These numbers tell a clear story: local businesses that focus on acquiring online reviews will obtain a considerable advantage over competitors, in terms of both local SEO and customer acquisition. This article will discuss these two implications: how online reviews help your business improve its local SEO rankings, and how they can be used to optimize your general business strategy. Finally, a practical guide for acquiring great reviews will be presented.
The impact of online reviews on local SEO
The 2017 Google Local Search Ranking Factors Report, published by MOZ, explores the most important signals considered by Google’s algorithm when deciding how to rank local businesses. Online reviews are relevant for both organic search results and Local 3 Pack positioning, accounting respectively for 7% and 13% of the factors that influence the rankings.
Google’s Local Pack dedicates three spots at the top of the organic results to present local businesses that closely match the user query. Consider the example below. The results were obtained by querying Google for “new york city restaurants”. As you can see, the main results present restaurants with an average of least 4.6 stars in ratings.
It is also important to note that very popular restaurants are presented here due to the broad scope of the search. When narrowing it down to a specific region or street, the results of the query are usually more specific and present a higher variability in the range of average ratings and quantity of reviews. The image below, a result of searching for “new york city upper west side restaurants”, illustrates the situation.
Note, however, that Google is only one among the many websites that users visit when looking for local services. Other major players in the field include TripAdvisor, Booking.com, Yelp and other services that can be used for local business searches. They normally put a much stronger focus on the online reputation of your business. Consider, for example, the lodging industry. When accessing Booking, Hotels, Hostelworld, or any other lodging-specific search engine, the visitors normally have access to filtering functionalities that allow them to place local businesses with higher ratings at the top.
Beyond local SEO: How online reviews impact your business strategy
Building a business optimized for local SEO is just one of the many benefits of acquiring great online reviews. A deeper, even more important, consequence is related to your business strategy, brand image, and online reputation. Restaurants are an industry of local businesses strongly affected by online ratings: 2 out of 3 consumers won’t dine in places with average scores below 4 stars.
According to Statista, the three main reasons why customers leave online reviews are:
To inform others about their customer experience (35%)
To help others make decisions (26%)
To let the business know about their experience (24%)
As it can be seen, a great online review starts with a great customer experience. Online reviews are an active channel of communication, and customers use it to voice both the strengths and the weaknesses of your local business. In turn, you can use reviews to gain valuable insights into the strengths and areas of improvement or your business:
Crawl reviews for product and service ideas. Customers do not limit themselves to reviewing their actual service experience. Many clients will provide recommendations and comparisons with other similar local businesses. Analyze their online reviews to be always aware of your customer preferences and expectations.
Shape your marketing campaigns to meet customer preferences. Customer preferences are constantly mentioned in online reviews. Your business can work towards identifying the most important aspects of your local business from the perspective of your customers and use this knowledge to define your marketing strategy.
3 practical steps to earn great customer reviews
Since there are clear benefits for a strong online reputation (as it can be seen in this research in the lodging industry by Cornell University School of Hotel Administration), there are several immediate steps that your local business can take to increase the number and the quality of your online reviews.
1. Be active on all your social networks
Businesses active in social media are perceived as more trustworthy by customers than those which do not interact with users. This builds up over time to develop brand authenticity, one of the most important aspects of service marketing and customer experience. Take a restaurant as an example: constantly sharing offers, dishes, and events develops the brand and communicates the value proposition of the business. It helps to set and to meet customer expectations, and it shows how the brand shapes itself over time based on customer feedback.
Finally, customers who perceive your business as closely interested in their satisfaction are more likely to expose their opinions regarding your services. Not only that, but their reviews tend to be more comprehensive and offer better insight into your business activities.
2. Focus on the right industry websites
Listing your business on all the major review websites is essential for reaching a broader audience and ensuring a consistent online reputation. Whether you will decide to automate the task by subscribing to an automated listing service or internalize the process, there are three main online hubs you should focus on:
Industry-specific websites: these websites are usually found by running a search with the keywords “[your industry] + reviews” or “[your industry] + review websites”. The results will contain websites that focus on collecting reviews specifically related to your industry. While less popular and more specific than search engines and general review websites, they are still relevant for your niche, and you should not ignore their influence in acquiring new customers.
Social networks: Google+ Local, Facebook, and LinkedIn are examples of social networks that have implemented the possibility of leaving reviews for businesses.
3. Ask your customers for reviews
Actively asking for reviews shows your openness to customer feedback. When done correctly, customer empowerment positively impacts business performance, and online feedback is an important communication channel to empower your customers and provide them with opportunities for expressing their opinion.
Focus, therefore, on making reviews easy to obtain. Use both your brick-and-mortar establishment and your online profiles to share easily accessible links to online review websites:
On your physical establishment, implement QR codes with links for review platforms, as well as a few devices ready to receive customer reviews.
On your online profiles, ask actively for customer reviews on your posts and send links to customers that interact directly through online channels.
If you have the email or social contact of your customer, consider asking for a review once the service is completed or the product is sold.
As shown in this article, online reviews are one of the major drivers for increasing both customer acquisition and customer loyalty. They are the end of entire processes that involve crafting a strong business strategy, delivering a great customer service, and making sure your customer manifests his or her opinion online. Start by following the practical guidelines presented in this article, and you will soon start enjoying the benefits that a stronger online reputation will bring to your local business!