Local reviews are one of the most important elements of a local business’s SEO strategy—or any business, for that matter. Google draws on information provided from local directories and review sites (think of major players like Yelp and TripAdvisor), and aggregates that to illustrate a picture for each indexed brand—get more reviews and better reviews, and you’ll rank higher naturally in local searches. Plus, your directory profile pages will rank higher, you’ll get more direct traffic from those third party sites, and to top it off—your reputation will increase?
It’s not easy to build up a cache of extremely positive reviews—especially since most review sites explicitly forbid companies from directly asking for reviews from their customers. However, there are a number of strategies you can use to win more favor among your reviewing audience:
Most people don’t go out of their way to hunt down businesses to review. If you want people to review you, you have to take measures to prompt them to do so. Most third party directory sites offer free promotional materials to help you guide your in-house customers in the right direction. For example, Yelp offers free stickers and other pieces of collateral that show your users where they can review your business. As a side note, the more places your business is listed, the better—so try to claim your profile in as many local directories as you can find.
With every customer, try to open a dialogue about the quality of their experience. You’ll probably learn some valuable insights you can use to make adjustments and improvements to the business. If you don’t learn anything new, you’ve at least encouraged the customer to think carefully about his/her experience, which will make him/her more likely to take the action of posting a review. Think of it as an informal pre-survey that can help you catch problems proactively and encourage more people to leave formal pieces of feedback.
When someone leaves a positive review, don’t consider your job done quite yet—follow up with a personal greeting, or a simple thank-you message for taking the time to type out the response. This will accomplish several things for your brand; first, it will make that customer more likely to come back in. Second, it will show that your brand is attentive and caring enough to read each review individually. Finally, it will encourage more customers to leave positive feedback to elicit a similar positive response. Just don’t attempt to bribe your customers—that’s a violation of most directories’ terms of service.
No matter how hard you work, the occasional negative review is inevitable. When you get one, immediately apologize for the unfortunate circumstances, and do your best to explain yourself. For example, if service was slow you can explain that your business was particularly busy that night. Show that you regret the situation, and invite the user back to give you another shot—this looks great to other users, and might even earn you a review revision if you make the customer happy.
This is perfect for a negative review about a defective or unsatisfactory product. If your customer is completely dissatisfied, offer something tangible to make it up to him/her. For example, if a restaurant patron complains about a cold meal, you can offer a new meal on the house to make up for the mistake. Discounts and free offers are often welcome here, as are changes to policies and procedures.
Most people write up reviews when they’re online, so if you can get your brand top-of-mind when they’re already online, you’ll have a higher chance at earning those reviews. You can use your social media profiles to link to your review pages, but remember—you can’t actively ask people to review you. Instead, work on building the image and reputation of your brand, and attract new followers by posting great content. You can also drive better customer experiences by offering social media exclusive deals and specials. Since the most active social media users tend to be the most active online reviews, you can’t lose.
Instead of looking at reviews as an end point—the result of an experience that’s already done and over with—look at them as a starting point. Each review offers you some kind of opportunity to improve your business. If there’s a positive review about the friendliness of your customer service, do more to emphasize that value with your other customers. If there’s a negative review about your product availability, work harder to ensure it’s not a problem for your future customers. You don’t have to jump through hoops to make everyone happy, but do actively listen to your customers’ comments and concerns.
There’s no magic formula to getting more and better reviews, but if you remain consistent with these best practices, eventually you’ll find the general attitude shifting in your favor. The biggest overall key to success is remembering that your customers are the ones writing these reviews. Treat them well, listen to them, and work hard to improve your business any way that you can.