Online reviews are gaining more attention than ever; due in-part to their influence in local search results and the proliferation of “fake” reviews. Here’s what every local business owner needs to know…
It’s estimated that 85% of Consumers read online reviews before making a buying decision. This usage, along with the growth of local-mobile search should be a wake-up call to local businesses; especially in the restaurant, hospitality and home services categories. Online reviews/reputation and social media in general is the new “word of mouth” advertising – but on steroids! This simply cannot be ignored.
They’re additional benefits to having a comprehensive, well-managed online reputation review ecosystem as well; more reviews potentially equal more visibility within the organic results, via Yelp, IYP’s and local listings. They can also influence your ranking within Google, via your business’s Google+ page.
Despite Google’s relaunch of their Zagat review data, they’re now trying to do more to build their local content, and are following Yelp’s lead in deploying local elite “squads” of community experts and reviewers, called “City Experts“. This was a key factor in Yelp’s success in San Francisco and other cities. The Yelp Elite Squad consists of people that Yelp considers “role models” in terms of content creation and conduct on the site. It’s clear that Google is putting more emphasis on this hyper-local content now more that ever before.
All this attention to local reviews has created a market for what I call “review creation”. Sometimes masked as “reputation management” (a very legitimate service) review creation is defined simply as fraud. It’s the complete fabrication of positive reviews via fake or stolen online profiles. I suspect it may also include the creation of negative reviews against competitors. Last week CBS reported “30% of online reviews may be fake”, and focused on sites like Yelp and Angie’s List. This week, the New York Times compared fake reviews to “false advertising“.
The good news is there’s a renewed crack-down on this review spam; specifically at Yelp, Bing and Google. New filters, advanced tracking techniques and stricter guidelines are making it harder for false reviews to show up, yet some firms continue to offer positive reviews for a fee. Avoid these pitches and don’t ever pay for reviews! Recently Edmunds.com filed a lawsuit against a company which used fake accounts to concoct fraudulent reviews of dealerships, and there’s been some questions about the legitimacy of hotel reviews on TripAdvisor.com. Last month, Yelp filed a law suit against a S.F. based law firm for allegedly faking reviews about themselves!
Despite this, and from a Consumer’s prospective, several recent surveys indicate that online reviews are both accurate and a trusted factor (behind traditional “word-of-mouth”) – so what can a local business do to drive positive, but unbiased/legitimate reviews?
- First, I’d recommend you start simply by asking! There’s no substitute for leveraging a good customer relationship – and often your customers have no problem in providing positive reviews and recommendations. Just ask them to post a review on their favorite review site.
- You need to make it easy; the review handout generator from Whitespark is perhaps one of the easiest ways to drive online reviews. The concept is simple: create and print your own branded handout and distribute to your customers. The best part is you customer’s don’t have to try and figure out how to provide a review for you online – this breaks it down into three easy steps.
- Promptly follow-up client purchases/visits by emailing them an online survey; just 3-5 questions, and include a link to your preferred review page (Google+, yellowbook.com, Yelp, etc). Alternatively, snail-mail a postcard thanking them for their business, and include the information outlined above with the review handout generator.
- Include links or badges from your email signature and website to your various review pages.
- DON’T attempt to create reviews on behave of your clients, no matter how legitimate – the review sites can detect this a mile away.
Got negative reviews? Here are some great tips on how to handle potential negative reviews of your business, and How to handle bad reviews, from Small Business Trends.