Google’s local business search results greatly model the real world business environment. The overall goal of Google local search is to reward establishments that are the most popular and respected within their own market areas — companies that are highly regarded by their customers, considered to be among the best in their field and that people patronize often, speak highly about and recommend to others. These types of companies are the ones that Google wants to show first in it’s local search results.
Not surprisingly, these are the types of listings that users want to see in their search results also. After all, no one wants to receive even so-so service if they can select a business that has a proven history of making its customers very happy instead. Whatever people think about your business and the services you provide in the digital age, there is no way to hide from your reputation anymore. Prospective customers can easily access the collective history of your business’s ability to keep customers happy 24 hours a day via online reviews.
WHY ARE REVIEWS SO IMPORTANT?
A small number of people actually trust online reviews as much as they would trust recommendations made by people they personally know. However, the rest of us may not wholeheartedly trust online reviews, we do read them. Depending on which survey you read, somewhere between 75-90% of consumers will read online reviews at some point while they consider a purchase. While this all sounds a little crazy, consumer trust in the modern era is largely developed through our ability to gather multiple and diverse opinions from varying websites. While considering the public’s overall opinion of a business, we also take into consideration the factors that are most important to us when choosing a particular company.
Take hotel reviews for instance. A light sleeper will likely be more concerned about a review claiming the hotel is noisy, rather than the reviews that talk about hot breakfasts or a clean pool. A business traveler with an early morning flight will be looking at reviews of the hotel’s airport shuttle service more than any other amenity.
MOVING BEYOND REPUTATION MANAGEMENT
The term reputation management has been around forever. It generally refers to a company’s efforts to impact what customers see about them in the public sphere. Here’s Wikipedia’s definition of that term:
“Reputation management is the influencing and/or control of an individual’s or business’s reputation. Originally a public relations term, the advancement of internet and social media use, along with reputation management companies have made it primarily an issue of search results.”
Past practices of managing one’s online reputation has largely consisted of getting and posting more good reviews in order to dilute the poor ones, owning the first page of the SERPs for brand name searches, and using responses to negative reviews as the main method of damage control.
However, in 2015 and beyond, we need to think less and less about reacting to negative comments and trying to reduce the visibility of bad online reviews. We need to concentrate on reputation development, instead.
REVIEWS AS A RANKING FACTOR
In the first years of Google local search, reviews didn’t impact ranking factors much. That all changed in 2009 when Yelp rejected acquisition by Google. The search giant then began making reviews a significant factor in the local ranking algorithms in order to incentivize smaller businesses to encourage more online reviews at Google, as a means of competing with review-giant Yelp.>/font color = black>
In 2015, reviews still have an impact on ranking in Google Maps and the local pack results, but the crowd-sourced opinion of local search practitioners puts it at less than 9%. You still get rating stars showing in some of the SERPs once you have 5–6 Google reviews; and it’s generally believed that 10 reviews left on Google does provide a bit of a boost in the rankings. Rumor is that Google may be trying to incorporate a review’s actual human sentiment into its ranking equation. If this becomes reality, Google will have come quite close to its goal of mimicking the real world.
BEYOND REVIEWS AS A RANKING FACTOR
While it is important to understand how reviews affect your business and its ranks in search engines, it is the goal of this post to give you an understanding as to how to actually develop a good reputation. Don’t just manage the reputation you have, build a good one from the ground up.
The new-ish Google Local Finder results give searchers the opportunity to sort the results that appear by ratings. We anticipate that more and more industries will utilize this feature in the near future, allowing the consumer to choose exactly how great a local business must be in the public opinion before they’ll consider patronizing it. Eventually, a high ranking won’t do as much for your company unless those rankings are accompanied by ratings that are average (3 stars) at the VERY least.
More often, people are searching to see the “best of something,” rather than just “something.” No one wants to go to an average or below-average medical provider for example. If I need a bit of skin removed, or an ACL repair, I want the absolute best person that I can find in my area to operate on me. And if I cannot find a great one in my ‘hood, I’d likely be willing to travel elsewhere to be seen by someone that nearly everyone raves about.
FIXING PROBLEMS TAKES MORE THAN TALK
We’re all too familiar with those scathing business reviews (that sometimes go viral) that commentate a business’ refusal to correct deficiencies when they’re brought to the staff’s attention. When a problem arises, it is obviously much better (and easier) to simply listen and immediately correct them than it is to write apology after apology for bad service. You may end up coming off as phony, lazy, or weak as the manager/owner/whatever of your business.
An unwavering commitment to continuous improvement based on your customer’s feedback is really what it takes to be one of the best businesses of its type in your area. This strategy will bring in more and more new customers over time and encourage past customers (even those you might have wronged) to return.
Google’s local algorithms have improved exponentially since 2004. Google wants to reward you online for being actually prominent and popular in the offline ‘real’ world, so you must ensure your company shines brightly. Businesses unwilling to do so are doomed.
BEST PRACTICES FOR DEVELOPING YOUR REPUTATION
Get everyone on board.
Everyone within your organization must be totally committed to asking customers for feedback AND sincerely listening. Like any company culture foundation, this needs to start at the top and percolate down. Keep in mind that you are choosing to ask for ways to improve your business and even the happiest customers are very likely to offer their opinions. Take the sudden influx of critique as a positive, not a negative.
Identified problems must be mitigated ASAP
Ideally, that would be before the person exits the business, or before the customer leaves the location where the service occurred. This is your best (and really, your only) opportunity to truly learn from your customers and to surprise them.
Create an efficient and easy place for customers to complain on your company’s website
Even at the best and most conscientious businesses, less-than-ideal experiences can and will occur, and sometimes people just need to vent. So, give them a place to communicate directly to you away from the public eye. Keep a watchful eye on your on-site complaints and respond immediately.
Contact a customer soon after their visit with you
While a phone call is sometimes necessary (such as with a surgeon checking up on a recent patient), often, an email works just fine. Send it a few days after the interaction and ask them about the experience and always ask for suggestions or feedback. Someone with no complaints may offer a good idea that you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.
Respond graciously to any comments
Address all praises and/or concerns and genuinely thank them for helping to improve your business.
Ask happy customers if their comments, name and/or photo can be used on your website
Also, politely suggest that their positive reviews can help you and others by posting them at other popular online review sites. Provide the links to your listing on several popular review sites to make it easy for them to keep shouting their praises about you.
Honestly address all of the concerns you receive
Offer what you can to make it right and let them know what you plan to do to prevent it from happening again.
Take suggestions to heart
Always do what you can to continuously improve your business. This will ultimately satisfy the needs and wants of your clientele. By doing this, you will be improving both your online and offline reputation while growing your business. always