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Local SEO: Are Reviews The New Link Alternative?

By Jessy SmulskiJan 11 /2018

local-seo-2.jpgLocal SEO is a battlefield that’s just as brutal as the war waging in the global marketplace. Take lawn care, for example. With a quick Google search, SERPs cranked out dozens of local providers, all fighting for my attention.

Like most consumers, I’m not leaving the first page. In fact, I’m not leaving Google’s Local Pack. What I will do is investigate beyond the first three featured businesses. Why? Because I’m not going to invite someone to my home or give them my business without a proper vetting. Four to five stars—check. Plenty of reviews—check. This might sound like arbitrary search behavior. But for businesses that depend on local audiences, it’s important enough to change your local SEO priorities.

According to a recent study by Local SEO Guide, the No.1 ranking factor for local search going into 2018 is customer reviews.

That’s right, folks. Local search engines don’t seem to give a hoot about the quality of your link profile, or even the existence of a website (what?!). In fact, most of the top ranking local businesses had low quality and authority links. And an alarming number of local businesses had terrible websites.

You can check out all the juicy details here.

That being said, this study is not a permission slip to let down your defenses. Businesses with low quality websites and poor link profiles might stand a chance in the battle of the reviews, but they’ll never win the war for overall top placement. You still need a well optimized website with strong links to attract organic and mobile searchers.

And considering that 40 percent of local searches take place on a mobile device, not focusing on your website is potentially lethal for your online strategy.

Quantity & Quality Matters

Back to reviews...I wish it were as simple as getting reviews and earning rank but, like all things in marketing—it’s not. Which 5-star provider are you going to trust more—the one with three reviews, or the one with 50? It’s a no-brainer. The more reviews a provider has, the safer the bet. Just as important as the quantity of reviews is the quality. Customer-generated content follows the same rules as brand-generated content. Google is searching for relevance, which means reviews that also include keywords are your most powerful local SEO weapons.

Great, but how are you going to get more customers to weigh in and publish thoughtful feedback? Here’s some advice:

DO NOT:

  • Reward customers for writing reviews. If, all of a sudden, Google notices an influx of reviews for your company, it will suspect you of foul play and suspend you.
  • Pay for fake reviews. This is a sure-fire way to destroy your online reputation.
  • Write your own reviews. The idea might seem tempting. You may even think about tapping into your inner secret agent and creating a fake profile. This is what we call fraud — and it doesn’t end well.

DO:

  • Provide a customer experience worth reviewing. Period.
  • Exist on review sites. It’s pretty hard to write a review if there’s no place to write it. Get on Google My Business, Yelp, Foursquare, Bing Places, Angie’s List, or whichever sites make the most sense for your industry.
  • Encourage customers to write a review. There’s no harm in asking. And happy customers are usually willing to pay it forward, especially if your company went out of its way to provide great customer service.
  • Make it easy for customers. Provide profile links to review sites in key places, like confirmation emails or landing pages that target existing/repeat customers.
  • Run a campaign that reminds customers to review. Happy customers have the best of intentions but don’t always follow through. An extra hint might be all they need to take action. 

Running a Review Campaign

The key to getting review follow through is timing and simplicity. You need to catch your customer while the experience is still fresh in their mind and make it easy for them to provide insight. One way you can do this is by setting up an email campaign. The moment a customer makes a purchase, send an automated email asking them to rate their experience between 1 and 10. If a customer rates you between 8 and 10, automatically send them to a review site. If the customer rates you 7 or below, have your platform trigger a follow-up question to find out how you can improve their experience.

Side note: this is a great way to manage displeased customers before they take to the internet and criticize the quality of your services.

Those who follow through with the rating and review can also be flagged as evangelists, and given VIP treatment, like early access to content or sales. However, tread lightly. Google is always watching and if they catch a whiff of bribery, they’ll shut your review strategy down. 

Handling The Haters

Bad reviews are inevitable. But they aren’t impossible to fix. First, avoid being caught off guard by investing in review management software, like BirdEye or ReviewTrackers. Review management software will monitor review sites and notify you the moment a questionable customer review is published. Second, table your emotions. We’ve all had bad customer experiences, so we should all be capable of empathizing on the subject. More often than not, a thoughtful reply can completely turn the conversation around. Lastly, ask for a second chance to show them just how much your business cares about customer experience.

With your 2018 local SEO strategy in check, it’s time to update your plan of action for the sales team. Especially when it comes to local businesses that revolve around the home, customers expect exceptional customer service and brand representation they can trust.

Boost Your Traffic in 2018

Jessy Smulski
The Author

Jessy Smulski

Jessy is a professional creative writer with over 8 years of experience working with businesses, marketing agencies, news papers, and magazines. Intrinsically empathetic, her talent is transforming the experiences of others into meaningful recounts that connect brands with customers, readers with stories and words with purpose. She also specializes in brand development and content marketing. When she’s not creating content, you can find her snowboarding out west, backpacking or capturing life through the lens of her camera. She takes her coffee black, her wine red and her books non-digital. Catch Jess on LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter @Jsmuls.
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