Local reviews are an important part of SEO success. Here’s the right and wrong way to handle them.
Customer reviews are nothing new. When early man opened the first bronto-burger restaurant, his fellow cave-dwellers probably wrote their culinary opinions on nearby caves walls. But while businesses have always had to deal with reviews, the web has made reviews more important than ever before.
Good reviews don’t just create positive word-of-mouth. They also increase your search engine ranking. On the other hand, bad reviews can have the exact opposite effect. As the SEO pro, part of your job is to monitor the reviews of your client’s business and help promote as many good reviews as possible.
A Brief Review Overview
Reviews can be pretty frustrating. The internet certainly doesn’t always create rational, civil discourse. You might be defending your business from reviews which are, well, pretty “out there” and possibly even entirely fictional.
Review sites themselves can be frustrating to deal with, too. For instance, Yelp guidelines make it very clear that “you shouldn’t ask your customers to post reviews on Yelp.” Google+ guidelines warn you to never “offer money or product to others to write reviews for your business.”
Bribing your customers to write good reviews is a short-sighted (and ethically dubious) strategy. But there are still plenty of effective ways to encourage your customers to leave good reviews. There are also some strategies you want to avoid. Here’s our complete guide:
Do You Know Link Building? Then You Know Reviews
Guest blogging is a popular, effective strategy in SEO these days. But this wasn’t always the case. Guest blogging used to be considered spammy and low effort, and search engines treated it so. By changing how they handled guest blogging, search engines forced SEO pros to change how they used guest blogs – for the better.
Reviews are currently undergoing a similar shift. So we can apply some of the strategies used in guest blogging to how we handle reviews.
Search engines look for patterns in both link building and reviews. If the pattern is detected, your review will be discounted. Here are some common patterns to avoid:
- IP address of the reviewer. Sites will often ban multiple reviews which come from the same source.
- Suspicious timing. Sites will also ban reviews which are posted in a suspicious period of time, such as all in one day or one week.
- Reoccurring phrases. Sites will flag multiple reviews if they contain similar phrases, sentence structure or topics.
Slow and Steady
Along these same lines, you also want to avoid scaling reviews. Instead, reviews should be posted slowly over time. This shows that your reviews are likely posted by real customers.
How to Get Great Reviews
Like link building, the best reviews are ones which are created naturally. The name of the game here is influence. You don’t want to ask for or incentivize reviews. But you can create an environment where your customers will be more likely to leave a positive review. Here’s how:
Offer Great Customer Service
As the SEO pro, this is a bit out of your control. But the number one way your client can get great reviews is to provide fantastic customer service. If your client is plagued by legitimate complaints from customers, you might need to politely remind them that improved customer service will lead to improved search result rankings.
Looking for inspiration? These companies are known around the world for great customer service:
Engage with the Customer
If your clients are already providing fantastic customer service, that’s great! You’re already set up for success. The next step is to engage with these satisfied customers.
You can always have more than one interaction with a customer. One of the easiest and most effective methods here is email. There are a variety of reasons you can send one to a customer such as:
- Appointment confirmations
- Thank you note
- Customer service survey
The exact type and number of emails depends somewhat on the product or service you provide. But there are always a few options. The best part is these are all legitimate reasons to contact the customer, and you don’t have to directly ask for a review.
After a positive interaction, however, you can increase the chances of the customer leaving a great review. To do this, you’ll want to send the right message at the right time.
Is the client in an email exchange with a customer because the customer wants a refund or has a problem? That’s obviously not the right time to remind them about leaving a review. Instead, you’ll want to target your customers whenever they:
- fill out a customer survey (in a positive or neutral way)
- post positively on your social media channels
- use a coupon or promotion
- sign up for your newsletter
- engage with you in any positive manner
How to Ask for a Review (without Asking for a Review)
Once you have an engaged customer, you can send them a final email. You’ll want to thank them for their business, ask if they have any further needs and then ask if they’d mind leaving a positive review describing their experience.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with asking for a review in a one-on-one exchange. The major review sites won’t penalize you. This is because the reviews you get this way will appear on the sites in a natural time frame with unique language. There’s simply nothing about the review which will raise flags on the review site.
Another effective tip is to always mention social media. This can be as simple as ending every email with a link to your Facebook and Twitter account. Reviews will happen naturally when you’re engaged with your customers on social media.
Negative reviews are far more common than positive reviews. This is because most people are more motivated to post when they’ve had a bad experience. You can counteract this tendency very effectively by using the techniques described above.
When a business depends on local search traffic, positive reviews can boost both your brand and your search positioning.