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Ratings and Reviews - Your Largest Local Opportunity, Missed

  |  February 14, 2013   |  Comments

Consumer ratings and reviews are essential to both multinational brands and local storefronts, differentiating companies from their competition and improving search engine rankings.

Whether you're in the market for a new car, a lawyer, a good meal, or a new pair of shoes, you may ask a friend or, if you're like most people, you'll head online to do some research. Ninety-three percent of all buyers, online or in-store, use search engines these days, according to comScore.

But how do you know whether a business or product is worth your time and money? By reading the reviews of course!

You're not alone. Year-over-year, local business searchers find consumer ratings and reviews to be more important than ever. A majority of consumers (61 percent) consider ratings and reviews an important factor in selecting a business, according to the 2012 15miles/Neustar Localeze Local Search Study conducted by comScore.

Consumers, especially those who use social networking sites like Facebook, are looking for local businesses every day and reading reviews. Social network/local business users are heavily engaged in the social aspects of local business search through profound usage and contribution to consumer reviews sites. Fifty-five percent of all local business searchers submitted two or more reviews in the past 30 days, 76 percent of social network users did, and 27 percent submitted more than 10 reviews!

Despite the fact that consumers' expectations for reviews are climbing and the actual use of reviews is increasing, businesses have dropped the ball. My most recent local search study found that 35 percent of these searchers expect to find consumer reviews when they search for a local business. But sadly, only 21 percent actually do.

Even though I have written twice on what brands and local businesses need to do to leverage ratings and reviews, I see very few companies actually doing anything about it, even though the perils of neglecting reviews are severe.

What's up?

One of the biggest challenges facing national brands and local businesses alike is how to cut through all the noise and stand out from the competition. I'm here to tell you that ratings and reviews are a no-brainer.

It stands to reason that since ratings and reviews are important to consumers, businesses and brands with more reviews will be considered and selected by buyers more often. Consumers are looking for this information, yet when conducting their research, they're not finding the review content they need to aid their purchase decision.

Gathering reviews and ratings for your business is one of the most effective ways to differentiate your business from your competitors, build relationships with customers and clients, boost word of mouth, and increase sales. Legitimately earned consumer reviews are paramount for businesses of all types and sizes to gain visibility on search engines and social directories like Yelp. Reviews and ratings also offer another benefit - improving your rankings on the search engine results pages.

The techniques and strategies of ratings and reviews are relevant to all types of businesses from Fortune 500s to single market providers. Large national brands like United Van Lines may manage the brand from a central location but have agents - i.e., local sales outlets just like a small shop with one local storefront.

When the furnace shuts down on a cold winter night, most of us ask a neighbor if they know a good repair shop. Online reviews can replicate that referral via social media like Facebook and sites like Yelp. And if only one of the 10 heating companies you find online has reviews, it will get a majority of the broken furnace business and the remaining nine will lose out.

Ratings and reviews are so important that Google has adjusted its algorithm to ensure that businesses that provide bad customer service have lower search results rankings. According to a blog post Google wrote, "We can say with reasonable confidence that being bad to customers is bad for business on Google."

Here are some tips to help ensure your business gets the reviews consumers want and search engines need:

  1. Encourage your current customers to write about your business at the point of purchase. Once you have obtained their reviews, submit them to relevant websites/forums with other reviews (being careful not to submit positive reviews only). Feature these reviews in an easy-to-use and easy-to-find section on your site.
  2. Build a presence on sites like Citysearch and Yelp, whose cores are centered on consumer reviews (utilizing a distribution network can assist in this). This is essential, as the reviews from listings on these kinds of sites get pulled into Google Places pages.
  3. Pay attention to, and engage your social networkers. Social networkers not only use reviews the most, but they also find them to be extremely important. It only makes sense that they are the kinds of customers who are more likely to submit reviews elsewhere.
  4. Once you have obtained reviews, do not forget to respond to them; take advantage of what will surely become many opportunities for two-way interaction.

Pay Attention

Don't forget, it's just as important to monitor your reviews as it is to gather them. A carefully curated page on Yelp shows you're engaged with your customers and have nothing to hide. Thoughtful responses reveal your professionalism and can reframe a negative review without resorting to name-calling or hurt feelings.

Here's an example of what not to do. Sleep Train Mattress Centers in San Diego, CA has 33 reviews on Yelp - a number many businesses would be happy with. Unfortunately, one-third of them are negative, along the lines of, "When the bed arrived at my home the box springs was damaged, small holes on the top part of the box springs, on the bottom staples out and a tear in the lining [sic]. The delivery men said this happens a lot that there are problems with the mattress and we have to take them back!!!"

Another reviewer wrote, "We both as professional business people [sic] will make a point of referring our friends and clients to them and we will also make a point of telling them what a joke your place of business is. Remember for every one person you treat badly, at least ten people will hear about it. In our case many more."

Worse than the negative ratings is the fact that there are zero responses from management. It's a huge missed opportunity to make things right and endear these disappointed customers to the business.

sleeptrain

On the other end of the spectrum, the executive chef of Jean-Louis restaurant in Greenwich, CT has clearly mastered not only the art of French cooking, but of responding to reviews as well. With 15 reviews (13 positive, one neutral, one negative), he has written friendly, personal replies to eight of them.

See his response to a negative-turned-positive customer here:

jean-louis

More and more, consumer ratings and reviews are essential to both multinational brands and local storefronts, differentiating companies from their competition and improving search engine rankings. Is your company leveraging the power of ratings and reviews?

Your Rating image on home page via Shutterstock.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gregg Stewart

Gregg Stewart is president of 15miles Local Marketing, a full-service marketing agency specializing in digital local solutions, headquartered in Connecticut. 15miles is a local search agency supporting the offline, online, and mobile solutions for businesses of all sizes, including Fortune 500 companies. At the helm, Stewart applies his successful, tenured career in interactive advertising and local search to the ongoing development of digital solutions for his clients' online-marketing campaigns. Through his strategic counsel, national and local brands become better equipped to target and reach niche consumers for increased leads and sales. In addition to his Clickz columns, additional columns can be found in the Search Engine Watch archive.

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