Providing a superior customer experience is more important now than ever. In the past, disgruntled clients might express their displeasure in person at your place of business. In extreme cases, a complaint could be filed with the Better Business Bureau.
Now, consumers have the ability to easily stream live video over social networks, leave scathing real-time feedback on a growing number of review sites and share misleading or doctored photos which can go viral. The more outlandish the video or the person delivering the rant, the more likely it is that the content will be shared and that your business will experience the fallout.
Most business owners understand that customers will readily document any mistake and share their experience on a dizzying number of platforms. What you might not realize is how reviews impact how potential customers find you and how easily your review scores can then influence someone to choose your competition over your business. Perhaps most importantly, with this knowledge in hand, you’ll then want to learn how to take control of your online reputation so that you can put your best digital foot forward.
The Importance Of Online Reviews For SEO Success
For most of us, online reviews have become a very powerful decision-making tool. If we are in a social setting, we will likely ask our friends, co-workers or family for advice. If we want to get a number of different opinions, we might “crowdsource” by asking friends on social media for recommendations. If a person is not active on social media or wants a faster answer, online reviews have become our best proxy for word of mouth. Does the average person trust a review? Absolutely! In fact,
88% of consumers find online reviews to be as trustworthy as recommendations from friends and family.
– BrightLocal’s 2016 Local Consumer Review Survey
Reviews are not only important when potential customers are at the beginning of their buyer’s journey. Positive reviews can also impact how much a person is willing to spend. Research shows that customers would consider spending 31% more at a business with “excellent” reviews.
As digital marketers, we work behind the scenes to help potential customers more easily find our clients, whether that is through a local search, social media, pay-per-click or social advertising, email marketing or other tactics. What we can’t do, however, is to ensure that every person who uses your product or takes advantage of your services is a happy customer.
To succeed as a small business, you must prioritize the importance of online reviews.
Ultimately, your goal as a business owner should be that every customer has such a positive experience that he or she is motivated to take the time to leave you a five-star review. In order to better understand how a customer’s experience IRL (in real life) influences your SEO success, we’ll first need to review recent changes in local search.
How Local Search is Changing
Changes over the past few years have impacted how search engine results are displayed. For this post, when we are talking about changes to search engines, we are usually talking about what changes Google has made, since the company owns 68% of the market. In 2015, Google search results changed. When you searched for “Austin plumber”, you used to see seven local results of Austin-based plumbing companies (sometimes referred to as the “7-pack”). Now, as you can see below, your results begin with a series of sponsored results, followed by a large map with just three local results (the “3-Pack”). Local organic search results have been pushed further down on the page, meaning we are less likely to see these non-paid listings, especially on a mobile device.
When you searched for “Austin plumber”, you used to see seven local results of Austin-based plumbing companies (sometimes referred to as the “7-pack”). Now, as you can see below, your results begin with a series of sponsored results, followed by a large map with just three local results (the “3-Pack”). Local organic search results have been pushed further down on the page, meaning we are less likely to see these non-paid listings, especially on a mobile device.
Search engines rely on complicated and fluid algorithms to help provide us with what they think is the best information to help us make decisions. When we are gathering information online to help us make purchasing decisions, instead of simply giving us a long list of company websites in the organic results, search engines prioritize aggregator sites, which supply us with not only lists of businesses within a particular niche but also online reviews. That’s part of the reason why third-party review sites like Yelp have started showing up higher and higher in search engine results. If a person clicks on the Yelp link above to learn more about the 10 best plumbers in Austin and your business isn’t on the list, you can lose business.
Search Engine Ranking Factors
Out of the seven engine ranking factors which influence where a business appears in local search results, one is online reviews. The ranking factors which influence your business showing up in these organic results include how many reviews your business has, how fast these reviews are generated, what your number rating is (anywhere from one to five stars) and an assessment of the credibility of the person who writes the review. In addition to these “review signals”, “social signals” also play a role in rankings. These factors include how relevant your business description is, the proximity of your location to the person who is searching and the “prominence” of your business.
Now that we know that reviews matter behind the scenes and can lead potential customers to review aggregator sites, let’s revisit the “3-pack” above. Since we tend to respond to visuals, and Google knows this, our eyes naturally gravitate toward the map portion of the search results. One of the first things we quickly notice are the stars below the name of each business, particularly since they are yellow. These stars represent a company’s Google My Business rating. It’s easy to understand why a potential customer could select the highest-ranked business from this short list.
How and Why Reviews Influence Customer Behavior
We all know the importance of repeat customers. Some marketers claim that it costs up to 30 times as much to find new customers as to keep your current clientele. If you provide a valuable customer experience, the folks who patronize your business can recommend you to friends, and now through online reviews, even to total strangers.
By now, consumers know that we all need to do our due diligence while shopping online. That means that it’s easy to shy away from businesses with a less-than-stellar website, with no social media presence or with no fresh online content – or even a company with no online reviews. Online reviews are now so important in purchasing decisions that 72% of consumers will only take action after reading a positive review.
Although as a business owner, you want to try to get a steady stream of as many reviews as you can, keep in mind that the number of reviews you will receive will depend on the type of business you have. Businesses we frequent more often, such as restaurants and clothing stores, receive more reviews simply because these companies have a larger pool of customers who visit these locations more often. Attorneys, builders and taxi services get fewer reviews because we tend to use those services less often.
How many stars matter to those who are deciding which business to patronize? Needless to say, this answer will vary, according to your business, your competition and your location, but 92% of respondents in a recent survey said that they will patronize a business if it has at least a 4-star rating. Since the number of stars is such a quick and visual way to evaluate a business, it’s no surprise that 58% of consumers say the overall star rating is the most important factor. This number matters more than the substance of online reviews as well as how recently the reviews were posted.
Positive reviews serve as social proof for your business. You may have the best website or the most compelling advertising campaigns, but if you ship your orders late, if your employees are rude or if you don’t live up to a customer’s expectation, you may hear about it in an online review. On the flip side, it can be more unusual to take the time to actually compliment a business for a job well done, which is why businesss often take matters into their own hands and encourage customers who have had a good experience to leave a positive review.
In a recent study, 72% of participants said that positive reviews help inspire trust in a local business. That said, consumers are savvy, and realize that every business slips up now and then. That probably explains why only 8% of consumers say they won’t consider a business unless it has a five-star rating.
Some potential customers merely look at your star rating to determine whether to consider choosing your business. As a next step, many of these individuals read the reviews themselves. For those individuals, a majority read four to six reviews before saying they trust a business. That’s another benefit of having more than just a handful of reviews.
Now, let’s look at the flip side: negative reviews. The good news is that most consumers are savvy enough to recognize that over-the-top negative reviews are probably overly harsh, and that companies are made up of humans who aren’t perfect all the time. Similar to the way the Olympics are judged, online shoppers tend to throw out both the high and low reviews, since they are skeptical that the overly saccharine testimonials are planted by friends and family of management and they understand that some people have unreasonable expectations which can lead to negative reviews.
Whether a reviewer is being fair or not, negative online reviews cause 86% of people to pause before making a purchase. In a busy world, a moment’s hesitation can mean losing business. On Yelp, just one negative review can lead to a loss of 30 customers, while a one-star increase can cause a five to 9% increase in revenue. Only 14% of consumers would consider patronizing a business with a one or two-star rating.
How Do I Start Managing My Online Reputation?
By now, you probably have a better understanding of why you need to pay attention to your company’s reviews online. If you haven’t ever monitored your reviews, what’s the best way to start? How should you respond to negative reviews? Do you need to respond to positive reviews? Learn more in our blog post on How to Manage Customer Feedback, which includes a free checklist on how to set up a reputation management program!
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