Local SEO is an important element of any small business’ online marketing strategy. Take a look at the 2013 local search ranking factors and you will see that online reviews are a major local SEO ranking factor.

Why reviews are important?

The quantity, velocity and diversity of reviews that your business receives will have a direct impact on its local search ranking, click through rate in the SERPs, and conversion rates. Take a look at the seven pack of local search results for the search phrase “Boise plumbers” and you will notice that the second result stands out with more reviews, and a higher average rating – rich snippets are known to increase CTRs in the search engines by up to 30%. Higher CTRs is a behavioral signal that Google is starting to weigh more heavily as it tells the search engine that the site is “relevant” to the user’s search query. Increased rankings and higher CTRs equate to greater organic web traffic, more leads, and new customers.

 

How online reviews help local SEO

 

The real value of online reviews extends far beyond improved rankings and higher CTRs. Today is the era of the digital consumer. With access to social media channels, forums, online reviews and recommendations, consumer purchasing decisions are heavily influenced by peer interactions. In fact, 70% of consumers consult online reviews when deciding on which local business to choose, while 79% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. This proves that online reviews are critical for boosting trust and online conversions.

Strategy for attaining reviews?

So, we know that online reviews are important for improving local search rankings, CTRs, and influencing the buyer purchase decisions. But how do we get online reviews for our business, and where should we be getting them?

Glad you asked.

In order to get the review ratings showing below your search result (above) your business will need to have at least 5 online reviews, and 10 reviews if you want to have an average rating displayed. Business owners should aim to get 3-4 new online reviews every month, on the following sites.

  1. Google Plus Local business page (50%)
  2. Yelp
  3. Yahoo Local
  4. Bing Local
  5. CitySearch
  6. Social networks

Most third party sites are fine to target online reviews. However, at least 50% of your online reviews should be coming from Google Plus.

Tactics

  1. Whether it’s over the phone, in the office or via email, ask your customers to leave you a review immediately after converting. Consumers are most likely to leave an online review within 3 days of a conversion.
  2. Engage customers on social profiles such as facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram. Customers on these platforms are accustomed to posting their experiences online, and will likely review your product or service without prompting.
  3. Leave a review link in a prominent place on your website and in your email signature
  4. Create an online review page with a service such as grade.us. Put up a sign in the office displaying the URL of the review page. Make sure you give customers options for review sites as not all people have a Google Plus account or regularly review businesses on Yelp. The more options you provide, the less friction there will be, and the more reviews you will get.
  5. Include a request with your invoice
  6. Do a follow-up request 2-3 days after the initial request.
  7. Make it as easy as possible for customers to leave reviews. For example, include instructions showing people how to leave a review on each site. Even provide an iPad so people can quickly leave a review before they checkout.
  8. The first review often influences the tone of subsequent reviews. Before you start asking new customers for reviews get people you know to leave a 100+ word positive review on the sites.
  9. Google Plus reviews marked as “helpful” will feature more prominently on the review sites. Ask people you know to mark positive reviews as helpful so that they receive greater visibility.
  10. Treat your customers well. Great customer service is the number one factor influencing a consumer’s decision to leave an online review.

There are many ways to collect online reviews for your business. No matter which tactic you use, make sure you make the review process as seamless as possible, be consistent, target review sites relevant to your industry (eg. Yelp for restaurants, Angie’s List for home repair/contracting companies), and always deliver great customer service.

Google Filters and Reviewer Rank – Things to Note

Google Plus is by far the most important online review site when it comes to Google search rankings. Big surprise, I know. When attempting to get reviews on this site there are a few things to be aware of.

  1. Consumers must have a Google Plus profile to leave a review on Google Plus Local business pages.
  2. Google (and most other review sites) do not want businesses offering consumers incentives for reviews. This violates Google’s review guidelines.
  3. Try to accumulate reviews consistently over time. If a business’ online reviews all come at once, Google may view this sudden activity as indicative of a manipulative tactic to acquire reviews and could disregard them, and even hurt your ranking.
  4. Do not give customers a direct link to your business’ Google Plus review page. Direct linking indicates that the user left a review unnaturally, causing it to be disregarded.
  5. Make sure you have only one business listing on Google Plus. Having duplicate pages could dilute the weighting of reviews.
  6. Reviewer rank. Google places more weighting on reviews that come from users that review regularly. When possible, target these top reviewers.
  7. iPhone/iOS users need the Google Maps app to write a review, and must navigate to business listings through the app.  Users won’t see the “Write a review” button on a Google+ Local listing if they navigate to it through their mobile browsers or by scanning a QR code.
  8. Google will filter reviews based on IP address.
  9. A customer’s review has been filtered if he/she is signed into Google and can see the review on the Google+ Local page, but no one else can.
  10. Businesses are allowed to review other businesses on Google Plus.

Conclusion:

The quantity, quality, and diversity of a business’ online reviews will directly impact search ranking, CTR in the SERPs, and online conversions. Businesses of all sizes need to integrate online reviews into their local SEO strategy if they want to remain relevant and competitive. Consumers rely heavily on peer recommendations and reviews during the research stage of the buying cycle, with 70% stating that positive reviews made them more likely to trust a business. Failing to focus on online reviews is risky business!

By Robbie Richards.