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March 5, 2014

Why Local Businesses Need Reviews and 12 SEO-Approved Ways to Get Them

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The local search algorithm is so complex that a good local SEO has to look at almost every aspect of the business’s marketing, from the website and ads that the business controls to external citations, links, social media, online directories, and more. Customer reviews and ratings are essential items in the SEO’s tool belt, especially for optimizing local businesses.

Last week, some of the most respected marketers in the local SEO field tackled the subject “Harnessing the Power of Local SEO for Your Business.” This ISOOSI Chat episode (a weekly Google+ Hangout on Air) touched on many topics, but one discussed in depth was why customer reviews are important today and how to do them right.

This article draws from points made by the panelists +Mike Blumenthal (Blumenthals.com), +Darren Shaw (Whitespark), +Ammon Johns (ISOOSI) , +Bill Slawski (Go Fish Digital) and +Carlos Fernandes (ISOOSI) regarding the importance of reviews and ratings for a local business and 12 tips for getting them in a way that’s search engine friendly and SEO approved.

ISOOSI Chat Hangout-on-Air

Why Reviews and Ratings Are More Important Than Ever

Ratings and reviews are a huge conversion factor, more influential for getting users to click through and make a purchase than business citations or most other elements of local SEO. If your search result has 4.5 stars and 18 reviews (compared to fewer for your competitors), that’s strong social proof that your product or service is trustworthy. But besides increasing users’ trust, recent search innovations have created new reasons that SEO-minded local businesses need reviews and ratings.

Reason #1: Google Map searches now feature reviews prominently.

Google just updated its map search layout to show ratings and reviews much more prominently, giving users immediate feedback to help them make a snap decision:

Google Map search example

Reason #2: Ratings and reviews can influence rankings.

This point needs a disclaimer: Google still (probably) ignores reviews in its organic search algorithm. Nevertheless, in the cutting-edge world of local search, ratings and reviews do impact rankings for at least three types of searches:

  • Map searches – The new Google Maps features tour even says outright that the “highest-rated” businesses near you will be returned when you search with local intent:

Google's Map tour image

  • Local Carousel – A study done by Digital Marketing Works (and quoted by Search Engine Land) found a “very strong correlation” between reviews/ratings and Carousel position. Many other factors contribute to ranking, of course, but it makes sense that Google would show the “best” businesses first to increase user satisfaction.

Local carousel uses reviews

  • Mobile searches – In Google Now search results for mobile devices, review counts and average ratings affect ranking and are prominently displayed:

Google Now mobile results

12 Tips for How to Get Reviews & Ratings (the Right Way)

These 12 recommendations start with doing a little research on your competition and then quickly move into practical tips and principles. Follow the experts’ advice to get local business reviews in a way that won’t incur the wrath of Google, Yelp or anyone else (except maybe your competitors).

1. Find out which review sites Google pulls from for your industry. A good first step is to do a Google search, scroll down to the local pack (the 7 or so listings with pins in the map), and open the pop-up next to each listing (see example below). The review sites Google links to repeatedly for your competitors would be good for you to get reviews in, too. (Credit: Mike Blumenthal)

Local results link to review sites

2. Have great customer service. Your business needs to have happy customers to get good ratings and reviews. If your service is terrible, stay away from local SEO. (Credit: Ammon)

3. Never pay for reviews. It may be tempting to offer incentives to customers for reviewing your business, but don’t do it. Google forbids giving incentives for reviews. Also, the FTC has legal rules for bloggers that make it dangerous to incentivize endorsements of any kind. Here are real-life examples of what NOT to do:

  • Don’t give away a free slice of pizza for bringing in a completed review.
  • Don’t set up a computer in your store where you have customers type in reviews.
  • Don’t create a Facebook giveaway requiring reviews. (Credit: Mike)

4. Don’t ask anyone to create a Yelp review. Yelp prohibits businesses from soliciting reviews and enforces it vigilantly. But also on a practical note, there’s no point asking for a review because only people with a Yelp account can do it. Better idea: stick a Yelp sign on your window or wall. True Yelp posters will take the subtle hint and possibly write you a review. (Credit: Darren)

5. Encourage customers to write reviews. Encourage your customers to leave reviews using a soft-sell approach. You could make suggestions in your newsletter, ask customers after a satisfactory experience, or put up review-site logos in your place of business.

6. Display printed-out reviews in your place of business. Another soft-sell idea is to display reviews where people can see them. This tells customers you value their reviews, provides social proof that your business deserves praise, and also shows which review sites you’re sourcing. Brilliant. (Credit: Ammon)

7. Don’t force users to a particular review site. Having reviews distributed among various review sites looks most natural to the search engines and to users. If all of your reviews are on one site, Google may suspect that you have automated or fabricated the process. So when suggesting review sites, give your customers a choice of several that are used in your industry (see #1). (Credit: Mike)

8. Use schema markup. If you have reviews and testimonials on your website, you can help search engines understand it with schema markup. Basically, you insert specific codes into the HTML of your web pages to identify what kind of content it is. Having structured data doesn’t impact your rankings, but it does improve indexing and can increase click-throughs to your site if rich snippets are displayed in your search results. (See Google’s support page for Reviews Rich Snippets for details.)

“Anything you can do that helps Google understand what you do better is a good thing … [Using schema markup] is critical in local sites.” – Mike Blumenthal

9. Connect with customers from the start. Set up a simple system for connecting with customers through regular social media or email contact. A local bakery, for instance, has a clipboard to get people’s names and email addresses for its newsletter. Get involved with social media, reach out to customers, and be responsive to their ideas. Being visible on the web can set your business apart. (Credit: Bill)

10. How many reviews do you need? You don’t need that many reviews, just enough to stand out in your industry. Getting a bunch all at once looks unnatural; so does having 200 reviews if your competitors have only 2. Try to get at least one review per quarter. If you ask all your customers, you’ll get a few, and that will be enough to stay ahead of the pack since they accumulate over time. (Credit: Mike)

11. Manage reviews and testimonials. There are many software products that can help you manage reviews and testimonials. One free monitoring tool is Google Alerts, which regularly notifies you by email of any mentions of a search phrase you set up (in this case, your brand or product name). You can also do Google exact match searches (inside quotation marks), social media site searches, and so forth. The point is to set up a system that lets you easily monitor your online reputation.

12. Keep listening to experts. Follow experts like Darren Shaw, Mike Blumenthal and David Mihm on social media. Their posts are among the most informed on the topic of local SEO. (Credit: Ammon)

Last, local businesses shouldn’t focus too much on reviews:

“The goal should be happy customers.” – Mike Blumenthal

 

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25 responses to “Why Local Businesses Need Reviews and 12 SEO-Approved Ways to Get Them”

  1. Frank Gainsford writes:

    Yo !!! Paula thanx for a great post that backs up the idea of #FUFISM based marketing. I found this post by reading through the comments on this G+ post https://plus.google.com/u/0/events/c6p2nlmujm1i7h3tmddadmvf2ko where you were quite an active commenter.

    thanx for your contribution there and this article which backs up your statements and point of view in the comments.

    FUFISM is a marketing philosophy where the social media forms the core communication element that binds your many micro campaigns into one super charged mass marketing effort.

  2. Ammon Johns writes:

    Another stellar write-up with huge added value. Superb.

  3. Susan Walsh writes:

    Paula,

    Great job pulling the information from the ISOOSI Hangout On Air. I’ve watched it twice, forwarded to my Partner and posted on our Google+ Page. It’s one of the best Hangouts in regards to local search with a well respected host and participants. I’ve been a big fan on Blumenthal’s blog for over 3 years now. Keeping up-to-date with Google, Google+ Local, the guidelines and constant changes is no easy task.

    Your post is easy to read and understand. We provide Local Search Strategy trainings and having a Local Search Training Workshop coming up in May (we are in MA). The training is hands-on, step-by-step, classroom for 16 participants. Reviews – Creating a Review Strategy is part of our agenda. We already have this part done, but I planned to go back and update our plan with the participants comments and input. You have done the work for me! Thank you! Susan

  4. Paula Allen writes:

    Susan: Thanks for adding yet another tip, this time for local marketers in Massachusetts! I appreciate your comments and am glad the article helped. The ISOOSI speakers certainly put out some excellent, actionable information for local businesses.

    Education is one of our company’s core values too (not only in our blog/newsletter but also through SEO training courses). With Google investing so much and innovating so quickly in the local space, it’s no wonder local SEO is constantly changing. Hope your workshop is well-attended by local SMBs who understand the need.

  5. Paula Allen writes:

    Thank you, Ammon! Your discussion provided so much valuable insight that I had difficulty selecting just one topic to focus on. :) I hope many readers will be curious enough to watch the entire HOA in YouTube and hear it all. (Here’s the link again: https://plus.google.com/events/c6p2nlmujm1i7h3tmddadmvf2ko)

  6. Aswathy writes:

    Hi paula,
    Great job! Customer reviews are important for Seo promotion.

  7. Steve Patterson writes:

    Thank you so much this is really very helpful for local business and very you really explained it point wise that is easy to follow to get a better local business conversion reviews should be strictly genuine so a customer can avail better and authentic services, i would also request to Google to be more careful and watchful for local business algorithms.

  8. Rory writes:

    I live in an area which is very ‘word of mouthy’ so getting good reviews is so important. But as you said, the reviews should look natural rather than forced or faked, so the best method I have found is to create a review section on your site so that if people wish to write a review they can.

  9. Jonny Ross writes:

    Amazing spot Bruce, brilliant that Google are saying the highest rated businesses will be shown to you. That’s a good enough reason for me!

  10. Paula Allen writes:

    Aswathy: Definitely. Thanks for letting us know it was helpful!

  11. Paula Allen writes:

    Steve: You make a very important point that “reviews should be strictly genuine.” It’s a good thing that review sites such as Yelp are stringent in enforcing that. Overall, everyone wins when customers can trust reviews and ratings. Thanks for reading & commenting!

  12. Henk de Vries writes:

    Thank you for posting this Paula! I didn’t realize how important the rating and review systems really were and that they could affect my rankings so much!

  13. Paula Allen writes:

    Jonny & Henk: Thanks for your comments! It makes sense that reviews & ratings would be indicators of quality results. Still, steeped in SEO as we are here at BCI, it seems a bit surprising to see Google print that in black and white. Reviews are important … obtained naturally, as a result of happy customers.

  14. Zeba Warsi writes:

    Heartfelt thanks for explaining this point wise. It is of great help to local businesses. This allows a customer to get better and authentic reviews. Reviews have to be strictly genuine for local businesses to achieve higher conversion.

  15. Paula Allen writes:

    Zeba: You’re welcome! There was so much good information shared in that discussion; I recommend you listen to the whole hangout on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KTX1agotSnY). Also, are you on Google+? Since local SEO changes all the time, you might stay up-to-date by circling the speakers I quoted in this article, particularly the local experts Mike Blumenthal and Darren Shaw. Thanks for reading!

  16. Allan Gaddi writes:

    I just followed all three guys and you. Now I feel like a stalker.

  17. Jaki writes:

    A very great post by Paula. There is a lot of good stuff in your post that I wasn’t aware of… Thanks

  18. Paula Allen writes:

    Allan: It’s not stalking, it’s called social media! Seriously though, social media’s amazing benefit is the collective “mindshare” of ideas, to use a word David Amerland is fond of. (He’s another one not to miss, by the way!) As we connect with the influencers and thought leaders, we not only learn but also can build on their ideas with our own. Glad to know you’ll be part of it! :)

  19. Agua Web - Calgary SEO writes:

    You have to also be wary of the negative reviews as they can work out against you with SEO and show up even above your site.

  20. Paula Allen writes:

    Agua Web: Agreed. Monitoring your online reputation means watching out for negative reviews. Google Alerts (mentioned in #11) can help, though the alerts don’t seem to catch everything. How do you monitor your reviews?

  21. Adam Ostopowich writes:

    I’m happy to see that this post shows why having reviews and ratings are important, but doesn’t advocate purchasing them.

  22. Paula Allen writes:

    Adam, agreed! Purchasing reviews, or even giving real incentives for posting them, would be unethical and also could come back to bite the business owner. “Do no harm to your client” is one of Bruce Clay’s mantras in his SEO training, and it certainly applies here. Thanks for your comments!

  23. garry writes:

    Thanks so much. I been doing this awhile and still learn new things.

  24. Paula Allen writes:

    Garry: We’re all still learning new things in Internet marketing. That’s the only way to succeed! Thanks for your comment.

  25. miketat writes:

    Worthy post…Got some new and different kind of stuff to read after a long time. I was not aware by the point of influence rankings. I only think always that reviews are only for spread brand awareness and promotion. Along with this first tip helps a lot me to find out reviews sites. Thanks for sharing such a informative post…..:-)



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