There are tons of ways you can build your rank in Google. So many, in fact, that many entrepreneurs are overwhelmed by the strategic burden of narrowing down the field. Should you dedicate the majority of your budget to content marketing or be sure to save some for link building? Should you reserve your publication efforts for a handful of major names or spread them out over a larger quantity of lesser-known players?
The standard fundamentals for SEO are onsite optimization, content, offsite authority building, and social media marketing, and there are hundreds of different strategies you can apply to each of those areas in different combinations. But there’s one relatively new strategy that could be your secret SEO weapon—the cultivation of local reviews.
Local reviews as an SEO strategy are a relatively new phenomenon. When Google Pigeon rolled out in 2014, it completely changed the scope of local SEO—local directories and reviews apps like Yelp and TripAdvisor suddenly began to matter more. Businesses with large volumes of positive reviews started ranking higher than those with few or negative reviews, and individual company profiles on those sites started ranking higher as well.
Now, cultivating more positive reviews on these local directories has a number of measurable positive benefits for any online visibility campaign:
The first benefit is especially useful for search marketers—the more positive reviews you have, the higher you’re going to rank. In a post-Pigeon world, there really is no substitute for this relationship. Having a presence on third party review apps and a portion of positive reviews is almost a prerequisite for search engine visibility, especially on a local level.
Search engines aren’t the only source of traffic you’ll find increasing. Millions of people consult Yelp and similar apps every day to make their purchasing and visiting decisions. If your business has the most positive reviews of any company, or simply more than the local competition, you’ll gain more visibility within the app and will receive more traffic and more customers as a result.
Online review cultivation is as much a reputation building strategy as it is an SEO strategy. When people read great reviews about your brand, they’ll be more likely to start with a great impression of your business, and more likely to spread the word to their friends and family.
Your business isn’t perfect. In both positive and negative reviews of your operation, you’ll find critical pieces of feedback that you can learn from and use to make your business even better.
The benefits of local reviews are all well and good, but individually, they can be feasibly achieved through other SEO tactics—so what makes local reviews so special as a strategy unto itself?
Minimal Expense and Effort
First, you don’t have to do any work yourself. Your customers will be the ones writing the reviews—all you have to do is give them the opportunity. Rather than paying for ongoing services or spending dozens of hours on other optimization strategies (which you should pursue independently), all you’ll have to do is let customers know you’re on these platforms, encourage them to post reviews when they have a chance, and continue offering great service.
The strategy pays off greater over time. When you’re first starting out, the benefits will be evident, but relatively minimal. But after three or four years of a steady positive review stream, you could potentially hold a position that no new local player could threaten.
Unless you’re using black hat practices like soliciting reviews directly, there is absolutely no risk in this strategy. Unlike link building, which can earn you a penalty if you make a wrong move, there are no major potential downsides.
Google gets a lot of traffic, but it’s only one channel. Opening up your local review strategy will introduce you to dozens of new third party apps, which serve as additional traffic channels that don’t require constant ongoing management.
While pursuing a local review cultivation strategy, there are a handful of best practices you’ll need to keep in mind:
If you try to bribe your way to becoming a positively-reviewed establishment, you’re going to get caught, and you’re going to get penalized. Instead, subtly suggest that your customers review you on these apps by posting signs and reminders throughout your establishment. Let the rest happen on its own.
It looks good for businesses to get involved on their own pages. Thank the customers who left good reviews, and apologize or explain the circumstances to customers who left poor ones—you never know when you can turn the situation around.
Even if the negative review is unfounded or poorly worded, never attack a negative reviewer. Doing so will harm your reputation. Instead, you can actively improve your reputation by responding to negative reviews with tact, patience, and a willingness to improve the situation—even if it was never your fault to begin with.
Cultivating and paying attention to your reviews is the perfect opportunity to make your business even better. Listen to your customers and learn from their good and bad experiences.
Once you start building authority using local reviews, you’ll kick yourself for not starting the process sooner. Not only will you rank higher in both local and national results, you’ll also generate more word-of-mouth recognition and more traffic from local directory sites. It’s a perfect opportunity to get ahead of the competition.