How Online Reviews Impact Local SEO and Why They Matter to Your Bottom Line
By Humayun Khan - Retail Tips and Trends
As an entrepreneur, you know your reputation in an invaluable asset. What people say about your retail business matters, and that's especially true about what customers are saying online.
Retailers should be listening to feedback — and that means monitoring online reviews from your customers. While online reviews may seem like a small piece of the bigger picture that makes up your online presence, more shoppers are relying on review websites when deciding what products to buy. In today's digital age, 93% of customers say that their buying decisions are influenced by online reviews.
Online reviews are important for a number of reasons, and have major implications through their ability to affect:
Your rankings in local search enginesWhich search results actually get surfaced (and clicked on)Consumer purchasing decisions
That makes online reviews as critical to your local SEO strategy as building citations and on-site optimization. In my previous posts, I covered the nuts-and-bolts of building citations, and provided a primer for local SEO to help you get started with your own local SEO strategy.
Not sure where to go from here? First, we'll tackle how online reviews affect shoppers' buying decisions and take a look at where SEO reviews fit into your local SEO campaign. From there, I'll guide you through some tactics to help you acquire online reviews while also proactively managing your online reputation.
How Consumers Use Online Reviews
Before we get into the data surrounding how online reviews impact consumers' purchases, it's important to consider where online business reviews fit into the purchasing cycle for desired products and services.
Typically, by the time someone has started looking at review websites (like reviews on your product pages or Facebook, Epinions, Angie's List, or elsewhere), they've already figured out what they need and how a business might ideally fulfill that need.
The critical thing to note is that the mental gap between reading a review and making a decision is ridiculously small — and customers typically decide yes or no almost immediately. So, as a small business, your online reputation can directly influence your bottom line.
But how many consumers actually read online reviews? According to one recent survey, 84% of shoppers said they trusted online business reviews as much as a personal recommendation from friends or family.
But exactly how many reviews do they read before making up their mind? Luckily, the survey also had an answer to that. About 68% of consumers will read four or more reviews before they can trust a business.
Consumers are also changing their habits when it comes to reading positive reviews. After reading a positive review, customers are now less likely to go on to visit a business’ website straight away. While that affects your ecommerce traffic, customers who read positive reviews are far more likely to get directly in touch over the phone over via email, or by visiting in person.
Now, you have a better understanding about how your customers are using online reviews. Up next, we'll look at how reviews factor into local SEO signals.
Why Online Reviews Matter For Local SEO
Local search engines love online reviews for one reason: Consumers love online reviews.
Review websites are in the business of providing users with the most accurate information to help them predict and make decisions about their future purchases. The faster they can do that, the more consumers will turn to them time and time again. Have a look at a screenshot of results from Yelp for the keywords "fashion boutique Toronto."
Additionally, according to MOZ's Local Search Ranking Factors Survey, online reviews are thought to make up 10% of how Google and other search engines decide to rank search results. Here's a pie chart they provide to visually break down the different variables:
Next up, we're going to take a look at how you can craft a review acquisition strategy and later, how you can proactively manage your online reputation.
Crafting a Review Acquisition Strategy (or How to Get More Online Reviews)
Use the Right Review Websites
Before you create a review acquisition strategy that works best for your small business, it's a good idea to give some thought to which review websites and platforms would work best for you.
To determine that, simply start by going to Google and doing the following search, "[Industry] + reviews" and see which sites pop-up on the first page. For example, have a look at what shows up for "shoe store reviews":
The other thing you can do is mouse over the leading search results and you'll see two arrows pop-up which enable you to open up what Google refers to as the "Knowledge Panel" for that business and look at the sites listed under "more reviews."
One thing to note is that some online review platforms keep their reviews exclusive to their site while other platforms syndicate their reviews to other search engines. Here's a graphic from Phil Rozek that shows how the local business review ecosystem works:
Understand Review Website Posting Policies
The other thing to keep in mind before we get into how you can obtain more reviews in understanding the different review policies each platform has that you should abide by. For example, Yelp strictly forbids small businesses from soliciting online reviews and will act swiftly if it detects something fishy. Meanwhile, the other platforms don't have any issues with businesses making the ask.
Here are some review website guidelines for some of the most critical review platforms:
More Tips to Get Customer Reviews
Once you've had a quick look through those, here are some tips to help you get started:
Use this awesome "Review Handout Generator" by Whitespark and Phil Rozek that lets you create handouts for customers to provide clear-cut instructions on how they could leave you a review on Google. Link to your review profiles on your ecommerce websiteCreate print materials that list all the different sites customers can review youTrain staff and yourself to "make the ask" when checking out customers. If you're new to this, read ConstantContact's short guide on asking for referrals.Request a "Find Us on Yelp," if you haven't gotten their "People Love Us On Yelp" sticker.
FURTHER READING: You can't have too much of a good thing (especially good reviews). Read our guide to encouraging customer reviews.
Online Reputation Management
Managing your reputation online is integral once you've gotten customers to offer their feedback via reviews. To make sure you don't miss anything, set up a service like Google Alerts to get notified every time your business is mentioned online. From there, you can take a more proactive approach to online reputation management.
What you don't want to do is get riled up and have your blood pressure go through the roof the first time you see a negative review. Your first instinct might be to contact the review platform and request that they take it down. But before doing that, it might be worthwhile to listen to what Deanna Yick, spokesperson for Google Places, has to say about that:
"Reviews are a form for users to share both positive and negative opinions. We do not arbitrate disputes and more than not, we leave the review up."
Instead of allowing your emotions to cause you to react, take a deep breath, and deal with negative online reviews like you would with any general criticism.
Treat the review as a conversation where you have to go in, diffuse the situation, offer to make up for whatever their dissatisfaction was, and of course, highlight the positive when possible and point to more positive reviews and ratings. Of course, there's plenty of other ways to deal with customer complaints, as outlined on the HelpScout blog.
The other thing to keep in mind is that negative reviews should be catalysts for internal conversation and actions for improvement. Each criticism is an opportunity to get to the bottom of potential pitfalls in your existing operations.
This could lead to staff and management meetings in which you could brainstorm how you can better improve your customer service, create stronger policies, empower your frontline workers, or improve your product offering. Listening to your customers' feedback can help you meet their needs better — and earn their long-term loyalty as a result.
Moving Forward With an Online Review Strategy
Now that you've got a better grasp on how online reviews influence consumer decisions, you can start building your own online reputation management strategy.
By Humayun Khan
About the Author
Humayun Khan is senior product designer based in Montreal. Previously, he was the Sr. Writer at emerging technology publication BetaKit where he covered early-stage startups from around the globe.