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local business marketing

Why Reviews Are More Important Than Ever for Local Search

Most local business owners are aware that positive online reviews are good for business, but over the years, I’ve realized many aren’t aware of just how much they can impact it. Today’s consumers are increasingly relying on reviews to make decisions about the products and services they purchase, in fact:

  • 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations
  • 92% of buyers regularly or occasionally rely on reviews when making a local buying decision

Building up reviews of your business is a great way to offer third-party proof that your company does what it says it does and that your customers are happy and willing to talk about it. In fact, reviews have become even more important now that local search directories like Google and Yelp! have made them a foundational element for ranking well in local search.

And, it’s only going to more important – according to MOZ annual survey of local ranking factors for search, links and reviews are now receiving increased emphasis. Bonus points for reviews with keywords.

Getting reviews on a regular basis takes a proactive and committed approach if you are going to generate them authentically and consistently.

Why reviews are important

With all the scams out there these days, people want to be reassured when they’re searching for products and services online that they’re getting the value they’re looking for. They’re looking for a reason to choose you over the competition, so you need to give them one.

Traditional SEO tactics can get you to the top of search engine results pages, but online reviews will help you seal the deal.

In essence, online reviews are modern day referrals, so having a plethora of them readily available for your audience to see is a great way to stand out from your competitors. No matter what you do for marketing, people will always trust what is said about you more than what is said by you.

How to get reviews

Reviews are harder to get than they should be, even if you have raving fans. The key to getting reviews for your business is to be proactive and to make it easy to build a review funnel. Below is a pretty simple process that I follow and recommend for clients who are trying to get reviews.

  • Create a template email to ask for reviews.
    • Review websites sometimes filter reviews submitted by customers on the spot (based on IP address), so you need to diversify your review solicitation strategy. A great way to follow up and reach out to customers is via email.
  • Use a tool like Grade.us or GetFiveStars
    • Grade.us or GetFiveStars.com allow you to set up a review page for your customers to visit. You can also manage the review earning process from the platforms.
  • Add links to your Google My Business and Yelp profiles on the sidebar of your website to make it easy for people to find you on those sites and leave a review.
  • Put a link leading to a review site in your email signature, business cards, and invoices (again, making it as easy as possible for them to leave a review for you).

Lastly, as a good rule of thumb, consider writing reviews to get reviews. What I mean is that you can actually build your brand online by giving reviews to companies within your partner and referral networks because what helps them will, in turn, help you. I’d recommend starting with Google and Linkedin, as I’ve found those are great places for getting reciprocal reviews.

Where to build your online review presence

While you need positive reviews for social proof, you also need them for your local SEO efforts. Google factors review activity as one of the elements that help determine what businesses show up in the 3-pack, which is something you shouldn’t ignore.

To really make an impact I recommend getting reviews on Google My Business, Facebook, and Yelp. In fact, for Google My Business, you must have at least 5 reviews for Google to display the review stars as a highlighting feature of local results. In addition, if there are any local review sites for your industry, be sure to build them up there as well. For example, if you’re a remodeling contractor in the Kansas City area, you’d want to get good reviews on HomeAdvisor. If you’re a lawyer, Avvo would probably be a good bet.

Additionally, anytime someone writes a “top 10” post or something similar for your type of business in your area, you want to be on it.

Managing your reputation

It’s not enough to simply set up your review funnel and let it work for you in the background. You must be mindful of what people are saying about you and you must be present. Below are a few good rules of thumb to follow:

1. Never write, buy, or encourage fake reviews! Unfortunately, there are businesses out there that do this, but it is important that you aren’t one of them.

2. Always engage with the people who review you, whether their comments are positive or negative. For positive comments, be sure to thank them as it may encourage them to leave additional reviews in the future. For negative comments, address the issue in a professional manner and recommend the person gives you a call to work everything out. This shows your audience that you care and are respectful even with negative reviews, but you can take the rest of the conversation offline.

3. Don’t panic over negative reviews. They happen. Just remember to take the high road.

4. Detailed reviews containing keywords that are relevant to your business are more valuable than one-liners. See if you can get your customers to leave detailed reviews as to why their experience was so great.

Hidden benefits of reviews

You don’t hear about these a lot but I’ve found these two benefits to be extremely important for businesses.

Messaging

Reviews are a great way to come up with your company’s messaging. Within reviews, people often include what they really appreciate about your business, which can be a great way to find themes. Once themes are identified, be sure to include them in your messaging. 

One of my clients consistently saw “showed up on time and cleaned up job site” in their reviews, so we made it one of their core messages.

Problem solving

In addition to messaging, reviews can be great for problems solving. If you’re stuck in a rut or aren’t hitting the goals you’d like to be hitting, see if you can identify the reason in user reviews. If they are unhappy with something, perhaps fixing the complaint will help solve your problem.

Bottom line, if you want your business to be successful in today’s world, you can’t ignore the numerous benefits of receiving online reviews. If this isn’t something you’ve started giving a lot of attention to, it’s time you start.

Need more local marketing tips? Check out our entire Guide to Local Marketing

 

2 How to Outrank Your Bad Reviews

reviews

You know the old saying – “the best defense is a good offense” – well, turns out that’s true when it comes to your online reputation as well.

Hopefully, this has never happened to you, but all it takes is one unfortunate situation with a customer or one disgruntled employee to wreak havoc on your business. See, today when someone wants to check you out, they ask their friends and then turn to Google – even when their friend says you’re the best.

So what happens when they type your name into a search engine and sure enough listing number one is your website, but somewhere down around listing four or five there’s a nasty review or a blog post dedicated to your suckiness.

Pretty much anyone, for any reason, can publish indexable information about your business and, while I’m not suggesting you hide your flaws, I am suggesting you not let them define your good work.

I’ve been suggesting this very tactic since about 2006 and it’s still just as valid. When someone goes and searches for your company why not work to make the first ten or twenty listings they find real estate that you control?

And the good news is that it’s not really that hard. Sure, you have to put in a little work, but the rewards and potential risk you avert are well worth it.

Here’s the deal – Google loves social networks. They love some over others, but claiming, linking to and promoting your company social media profiles is a great start to your reputation offense.

I have a number of websites that I use for my business and also have other branded assets such as a podcast and books, but still a search on Google for the term Duct Tape Marketing turns up my company Facebook page, Twitter page, LinkedIn page, Wikipedia page, Instagram page, YouTube channel, Google+ page and even a CrunchBase profile – all on the first two pages.

Even a search on my name turns up half a dozen properties that I control, including personal profiles on many of the networks mentioned above.

When someone asks me if they really need to be on all of these networks, or if they need to guest blog and create Tumblr pages and submit their podcast to Stitchter I say, maybe you don’t need to be in all of these places to survive, but your reputation may need you to build brand assets in all of these places in order to thrive.

Again, the point is not to mask shoddy work, it’s to make sure that one bad experience or unreasonable customer doesn’t control what the world gets to see.

5 5 Relatively Simple Steps to Dominate Local Search

local search

If you do business mostly in your town, your marketing efforts must be hyper focused. You’re only targeting a very select group of people so, when those people go out there looking for a business in their community, you want to show up, right? But, not just show up – dominate – be seen as the obvious choice in the sea of wanna-be competitors!

The world of buying continues to evolve and that is certainly as true for local purchases as it is for global purchases. Would be buyers turn to search engines on laptops and mobile devices before they look anywhere else. They not only expect to find businesses that can meet their needs, they also expect to find educational content, reviews and other signals that help them make quick decisions about what to buy and who to buy it from.

No category of business is immune – B2B, B2C, large ticket services and low dollar commodities are sourced this way today.

If you want to stand out and dominate for your category of business there are a handful of fundamentally local practices that you must embrace and invest time and energy in mastering.

Create local content

You knew I was going to tell you to create more content didn’t you. Sorry, I know this is hard, but this is how the game is played today.

Creating content, however, does not mean writing more about your products and services. If you want to use content as a tool to drive local traffic then you have to make your content both useful and local.

Yes you need to add local maps, local directions, address data using Schema format, but none of that will matter in terms of engagement if you’re not writing about things that local people want to know about. For example, if you’re a plumber you need to write about fixing leaky faucets, not about your awesome 12-point inspection system.

In addition, you’ve got to think about ways to embrace the community beyond what you sell – Talk about neighborhood block parties, cover local charities and get behind the local sports teams.  Some might argue how useful this kind of content seems, but remember relevance is, well, relevant.

Getting involved in the community where your customers live and work has always made sense from a business standpoint and it makes sense from a content and local search standpoint as well.

Get serious about reviews

I did a quick search for a florist in my town. Take a look at the image below and tell me which florist stands out.

Local Search

Now, the fact that this florist ranks first might be one reason they stand out, but it’s hard to deny all those reviews paint a pretty compelling picture for choosing them. So, you’ve got to ask did they get reviews because they rank so highly or did they rank so highly because they have so many reviews?

There is little denying that reviews play a role in local search ranking, but I think it goes beyond that. They also send a pretty heavy trust signal. I mean, would you eat a pizza joint with a bunch of whopping two star reviews?

A number of the review sites, like Yelp, have also become pretty significant traffic generators because Yelp pages rank very highly in search. I did a search for Blue Bouquet, the florist in the number one position in the local search above, and their Yelp profile is in the number two position, right after their own website. (Followed closely by social profiles and industry related directories.)

Getting reviews for your business is no easy feat. Even raving fans don’t seem to make the time to login and write reviews and most of the review engines don’t want you to do anything to stimulate reviews. (Unless of course you buy advertising from them, but that’s another post.)

The key is to make getting reviews a primary objective at the outset. Use reviews in the sales process and point out how thrilled customers were with the results they received. Put reviews online and in the store. Put a big fat “review us” button on your website and consider using a tool like GetFiveStars or Grade.us to manage the review process and make it easier for customers to post to places like Google+. (In fact, make a special effort to get Google+ reviews.)

Finally, take reviews seriously as they might be one of your most important local assets. Respond to them good or bad – particularly bad. Thank your customers for providing them – send them a thank you card offline! Build them into everything you do and you just might find the mindset forces you to provide an even more review worthy experience.

Work the directories

You’re certainly familiar with the local search directories produced by Google, Yahoo and Bing. And, we’ve already mentioned some review directories like Yelp. But, you may not be aware of the fact that there are hundreds of generic, industry-specific and local directories out there providing data points for the big search engines.

Local directories

Here’s a list of some of the top directories and local citation sources for the United States.

Getting your business listed, accurately, in these directories is a great way to add data points for local search. Using a handful of these directories to expand your search real estate can really pay off. When, for example, you enhance your Yelp listing and combine that with working more reviews this can become a lot like another website working for you.

Additionally, if you don’t claim you listing in many of these directories you do risk the chance that someone else might. Start with GoogleMyBusiness and then move to a tool like MOZLocal to see where you stand today in terms of the major directories.

Take a NAP

Really, I love a power nap right after lunch and recommend you consider putting one in your workday, but in this case NAP stands for Name, Address, Phone. All of these directory sites I talked about above build profiles on companies by gathering data from lots of places.

The problem is that if you’ve been in business for while, maybe you’ve moved once or twice, maybe you changed your phone number, there’s a good chance some of that data is wrong and that’s a problem. Search engines get nervous providing local search results that might not be accurate. Imagine how bad Google would feel if they sent you to a business location that was no longer valid. Well, I’m actually not too sure they would feel that bad for you, but they do know that bad search results mean less ad revenue, so it’s a big deal to them.

The key is consistency. Whatever you have as your address on your Google+ page, replicate that across all of your directory listings as mentioned above.

schema code

Don’t forget the format you use to list your NAP info on your own site too. The industry is heading towards a standard for listing certain types of data called Schema. Don’t worry too much about the technical aspects of this, just head over this Schema creator tool to produce the HTML to properly format your NAP data for your site. (If you’re nervous about code things you can validate the code using Google’s Testing Tool)

Network for links

Finally, social media, online and offline networking play a big role in making all of this come together.

The more you can acquire local links the better. Spend some time making sure you’ve claimed listing in places like your local chamber, non-profit boards and alumni directories. These are often pretty high profile links that certainly send the search engines a local message.

One strategy I’ve preached for years is that of building a team of local strategic partners that you can refer your customers to when they are in need of something you don’t provide. Well, one of the ways to supplement this activity is to make sure that you and your local team are linking to and sharing each other’s local content.

Don’t forget the power of local social groups. Participating in locally focused groups on networks such as LinkedIn can be another great way to find other people’s content and make mutually beneficial local connections that might start with links and sharing and blossom into something much bigger.

The bottom line in all of this is that ranking highly for local search takes consistent work, but it’s not that hard or technical for the majority of small local business out there.

3 Earning Referrals Takes More Than Luck

With the madness of the annual NCAA tournament upon us and St. Patrick’s Day behind us, there’s a lot of talk about luck. The luck of the Irish or that team was lucky to pull off the upset. Some of you may be thinking you could use some of that luck in your business for turning your current customer base into a steady stream of referrals.

The bad news is that whether or not you believe in it, luck it is hard to create. You also can’t just go to a store and buy a bottle of luck or a program to make yourself and your business lucky.

The good news is that you don’t need luck to get more referrals, what you need is just a bit of hard work and focus on your customers.

Referrals are the culmination of your customer’s experience with your business. They are the reward for completing the customer journey, and doing it in a way that surprises and impresses them to the point that they recommend that experience to their family and friends.

But here’s what is most important about referrals: people want to refer you. They want to be wowed by your company, and they can’t wait to tell everyone about it. It is your job to take advantage of this by meeting and exceeding their expectations.

Here are some ways you can increase referrals for your business:

1) Take Time to Educate Potential Customers

In order to meet and exceed your customers’ expectations, you must first make sure they are reasonable. Take the time to educate your customers about your product or service, and don’t rush them into buying it. If your customer knows exactly what they are buying, their expectations of what you will deliver are realistic.

2) Surprise Your Customers and Show Gratitude

Now that your customers have a clear expectation of your product or service, you can now take an opportunity to surprise them. Give them something extra, whether it be a promotion or a gift, which they aren’t expecting. It can be something as simple as a short personal letter to your customers or, as Sara describes here, you can send them a loaded new customer kit.

It is also important to make sure your customers know you appreciate their patronage. Go out of your way to thank your customers, and try to add as much of a personal touch as possible. The “Thank you!” at the end of an invoice is expected, but a Holiday card from you or your whole team still carries a lot of weight.

3) Resolve Issues and Welcome Feedback

In college, I spent a fair amount of time waiting tables, as I’m sure many of us have. One of the main lessons I will take away from that time is that people are willing to recognize that things don’t always go as planned. Whenever there was an issue with food or the environment or the wait times, I worked hard to resolve those issues as quickly as possible. Customers in those situations often tipped better than most, because they recognized and rewarded those efforts.

To bring that same principle to business, work with your customers to resolve any issues that may arise during the customer journey, and ask for feedback on how to improve. If you take their feedback seriously, they are more likely to refer your business. Just because something goes wrong doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve lost their referral.

4) Ask for a Referral

Too few businesses ask for referrals at the end of their customer journey. I don’t know if businesses feel like they are asking too much, or if asking somehow cheapens the referral. But because we know people want to refer your business, you should give them an opportunity to do so. Digital media has made this so much easier because your customers no longer need to be in the same room as their friends and family to refer you.

You’ll want to make this as easy as possible, or even give them an added benefit. Offer a gift or discount for a positive Yelp review or Facebook post, or use a tool like Get Five Stars to increase your reviews.

Just remember: you have to be constantly working to earn referrals. Luck has nothing to do with it.

Alex-Boyer-Photo-150x150-e1420769709443Alex Boyer is a Community Manager and Content Ninja for Duct Tape Marketing. You can connect with him on Twitter @AlexBoyerKC

22 5 Things Your Business Should Never Pay For

This post originally appeared on American Express OPENForum.

There is a never-ending list of things businesses must purchase in order to grow. It’s just a fact, and that fact is exploited by plenty of folks that want to sell you things that may or may not actually propel you towards growth.

In the building of your brand, both online and off, there will come a time when a company approaches you with an offer for a service that seems to address a need, but in fact, is so detrimental it may actually do more harm than good.

These offers often address our inherent desire to shortcut the real work required to produce sustainable business and marketing results—but, of course, that’s the appeal.

Below are five things you must do the right way—and that usually means you should never pay for them.

Advertising you can’t account for

I’m not against paying for advertising, in fact, quite the opposite; I think advertising is an essential part of small business lead generation. What I am opposed to is buying any advertising that you can’t or don’t track.

Advertising only works if it’s the right message, presented at the exact right time, to the exact right audience. There are so many variables at play here that the only way to get your bang for the buck is to measure real results, in almost real time. Advertising without accountability is like playing roulette with your money.

Referrals

Lots of companies offer incentives for referrals, and in some instances a little cash for the act of a referral can motivate, but is it the right motivation?

Referral generation is an important aspect of marketing, but when you pay for referrals you change the relationship from social to financial and that changes the dynamic in ways that won’t last long-term.

The proper motivation for a referral is the lending of trust in an effort to help either the company receiving the referral or the individual being referred. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t use creative incentives to keep referrals top of mind, it’s just that if you provide something of value, you shouldn’t have to bribe people to share.

Reviews of your business

Online reviews carry increasing weight in the information gathering routine of prospects, as well as in the ranking factors that contribute to high search engine results. Because of that, smart marketers are paying more attention to reviews and even getting more proactive about stimulating written reviews from happy customers.

So, it should come as no surprise that enterprising snake oil types are offering reviews for fee services that can get your business favorably reviewed by professional Yelp and Google Places review accounts located right there in your town.

On top of being dishonest, my guess is that paying for these reviews may actually get some businesses banned from review participation. Put the work in and make reviews an authentic arm of your message.

Links to your site

This one has faded from the mainstream for the most part, mainly because the search engines police it so heavily, but there are still lots of SEO types willing to sell you links from high quality sites leading back to your site.

Back links to your site are extremely important, but its become extremely easy for search engines to recognize abnormal linking behavior, and even easier to penalize sites that participate in it.

Write good content, point to good content and participate in social networks—that’s how you create organic links to your site.

Opt-in e-mail lists

Every list company, including the largest, most respected names, will sell you a list of targeted opt-in e-mails. The thing is, no matter how many hoops they jump through to make sure these e-mails are CAN-SPAM compliant, they aren’t opt-in, because they did not opt-in to get your e-mails.

Some companies get around this by not actually selling you the list, but instead renting you the ability to send an e-mail from their servers to a list. No matter how tempting this may sound, it’s still spam and not something you should even consider.

It can be difficult to navigate the various offers of help that show up at your door, but some things just simply can’t be bought.