How to Build Your Local Search Reputation with Reviews

Online reviews help customers decide which businesses to buy from, but they’re also a key factor for local SEO. Find out how to get more and how to respond to them.

If you’re considering buying a product, you’re probably going to read the reviews to see what other folks have to say. Similarly, If when you’re looking for a local business, there’s a good chance that you’re going to read online reviews before making your final decision.

Most consumers trust online reviews as much as recommendations from friends and family, and nearly everyone reads reviews before deciding to buy something. Clearly, reviews are important to people, but they’re also a key part of Google’s local algorithm.

According to Moz’s 2018 Local Search Ranking Factors study, reviews are the 3rd most important ranking signal for showing up in the local map pack, or the map with 3 listings that appear underneath when Google returns search results. Google looks at factors such as review score, review quantity, review velocity, and the actual text in reviews as prominent factors in local search rankings.

In other words, if you’ve got a better review score and more reviews than your competitors (and all other factors are equal), you’re likely to rank higher in local searches. Reviews are social proof—real human data that’s associated with the entity of your business online.

Concentrate on sites that are important to your business

Google reviews are the most visible since they’re displayed in search results and the Google My Business panel that appears when you search for a business name. These native reviews carry the most weight, but the algorithm also looks at reviews on other sites, too, so it’s important to understand which sites matter for your business.

Facebook is a major review platform, even though it works with “recommendations” instead of reviews. Many businesses choose to hide their reviews page on Facebook, but that can actually be detrimental. Your audience is already using Facebook to have conversations about your business, so it’s a good idea to keep the reviews section enabled to gather recommendations and social proof that folks have had positive experiences with you.

It’s also important to get reviews on any applicable industry-related sites that your audience may frequent. Every vertical has specific review sites dedicated to its own niche—sites that aren’t relevant for other industries.

For example, if you’re a hotel, you’d want to get reviews on travel sites like TripAdvisor. If you’re a plumber, reviews on sites like Angie’s List are important. If you’re an attorney, you’d likely want reviews on FindLaw or Avvo. Figure out which sites matter for your vertical and encourage your customers to post reviews of your business there.

Finally, you need to pay attention to the site that populates the review stars on Apple Maps. In the United States, it’s always Yelp. Outside of the US, it could be various sites, including Foursquare, TripAdvisor, or booking.com. Any customer who uses an iPhone (and Apple Maps) to get directions to your business will see the stars from whichever site feeds your vertical.

To get more reviews, you have to ask

If you want people to leave positive reviews of your business or products, sometimes you just have to ask them. Unhappy customers often make a point to leave bad reviews when the situation calls for it, but it’s not always human nature to leave a positive review after a good experience.

Don’t be afraid to ask your satisfied customers to share their story online too; if you’re providing great products or services, a lot of folks will be happy to leave a review.

Make it easy for customers to leave a review

Unfortunately, leaving a review on Google can be a complicated process. You shouldn’t expect most customers to get home, log into Google, and then figure out where to type out their review. Instead, consider creating a dedicated reviews page on your website. Many businesses already use website builders like Wordpress or Squarespace, so it’s easy to add new pages—but if you run into any trouble, you can always ask your web designer for a little help, too.

Set up the page at a simple URL—like www.yourdomain.com/reviews—that your staff and customers will be able to remember. Include a short message to thank customers for doing business with you and provide links to several third-party sites (like Google, Facebook, Angie’s List, etc.) where they can leave reviews. With each review site option, include a link directly to your company’s profile on that site. That way customers don’t have to figure out where to go or what to click on in order to leave their feedback.

Follow up on your request

If you’re only asking for reviews in face-to-face interactions with your customers, there’s a chance folks might get distracted (or simply forget). Here are a few other ways you can encourage customers to leave a review.

  • Consider adding the URL of your reviews page to the receipts customers receive after making a purchase.

  • If you’re a brick-and-mortar retailer, print small note cards with a simple thank you message—and a reminder for customers to leave a review—and slip them into customers’ shopping bags.

  • If you send out automated emails to customers after they order an item from your e-commerce shop, be sure to include a link to your reviews page somewhere in those emails.

  • Share links to your reviews page with your followers on social media. It can help you remind recent shoppers to leave their feedback—and encourage new folks to do business with you, too.

You don’t have to be perfect

Don’t let a few bad reviews get you down. They’re bound to happen to every once in a while, and they might actually help you in the long run. Most customers (and potential customers) don’t expect you to be perfect. In fact, studies have shown that product purchases are most influenced by reviews with an average score between 4.2 and 4.5 out of 5.

Think about what you do when you’re reading reviews of a local business. Do you focus on the glowing 5-star reviews? Or do you look for the negative reviews to see what the unhappy customers said and how the business responded?

If you don’t have any bad reviews, consumers might question the legitimacy of your positive reviews. A bad review can help prove that you’re real, and it gives you an opportunity to show potential customers how you handle tough situations.

Monitor your reviews

Asking for reviews is important, but it’s only part of the solution. You also need to monitor the review sites to stay on top of your reputation. Depending on your budget and the amount of free time you have available, there are a couple of options you can choose from.

  • Monitor review sites by yourself. Manually checking the review sites is free, but it can be time consuming. If you choose this option, it’s a good idea to create a list of your important review sites so you can quickly click through the list quickly each day, checking each site for new reviews and replying accordingly.

  • Hire a review monitoring service. If you’re pressed for time or have multiple locations, you might instead choose to pay for a review monitoring service or software. These services automatically check for new reviews each day and send you automated alerts when it finds a new one.

Don’t forget to check social media for mentions of your business, too. Unhappy customers won’t always leave a review on one of your review sites; they might go straight to social media to complain. Any time an issue arises, you can jump into the conversation and reply directly; it’s an easy way to keep your customers happy—and show others that you’re paying attention.

Respond to every review

You should respond to every review you receive—not just the bad ones. If a happy customer takes the time to leave a positive review, you should take the time to thank them. Google thinks responses are important too; when a business owner responds to a review, Google sends an alert to the reviewer to let them know. Your happy customers will be even happier to know you’ve read what they wrote and appreciate their kind words.

How to respond to negative reviews

The way you respond to negative reviews can make or break your business. Potential customers seek out your bad reviews to see how you’ve handled each situation, and a great response can sometimes bring you more business than a glowing review.

One of the biggest mistakes a business can make when responding to negative reviews is leaving everyone a generic response, because it looks like you don’t care. Instead, be honest and let people know what happened. If you or your staff dropped the ball, admit it and go out of your way to make things right. If the reviewer makes a false claim, ask for more details because the story doesn’t match what happened. If you have no record of that customer or the situation, don’t be afraid to mention that in your reply. Being honest can go a long way.

Start growing your audience with reviews

Don’t get lost in the search engine optimization (SEO) and digital marketing side of customer reviews. Sure, they’re an important element for Google searches, but they’re also a massive touchpoint for potential and returning customers. Reviews provide real-time social proof that your business is a place people love, so building your review profile is key to growing your business; the SEO benefits are simply icing on the cake.

Written by Greg Gifford for Mailchimp. Greg is an expert in local SEO.