The importance for customer reviews in local search is nothing new. When it became well-known that reviews were making an impact in the search engines, business owners, along with their friends and families, started leaving reviews on their own listings, online reputation companies started syndicating reviews across the web, and agencies even began offering the service of writing false reviews for their clients. But with the continued rise in popularity of review sites around the world, businesses large and small began placing an even greater influence on not only the number of positive reviews, but the authenticity of those reviews as well.
For some businesses, acquiring genuine online reviews is easy. Restaurants, retail stores, bars & clubs, and hotels are all industries where customers are typically more inclined to leave thoughtful accounts of their experiences. However, some industries, like medical services, auto shops, public government services, financial institutions, and educational organizations are a bit more challenging to generate reviews from their customers. So if you find yourself in one of these industries where it’s very difficult to solicit your customers’ feedback, what can you do to stay competitive?
First, you can use the services of companies like ReviewBoost or DemandForce that automate the review solicitation process and syndicate these reviews to various review sites around the web. This method can be an easy way to generate more reviews, and some even integrate with your existing CRM software for a seamless transition. The only drawback that I can see to using these services, is that the reviews are shown as posted from a company account, not an actual personal account, even if the review was legitimately written by the customer. This can sometimes make a review appear less authentic, decreasing their impact on someone making a decision on trying your business.
Another tactic to propagate awareness of your business’ listing on review sites is to encourage and remind customers to sign up and leave their feedback. This strategy can be as simple as including a sentence or two with a link on receipts, fliers, or business cards handed to customers as they leave your location. You can also request free window decals from sites like Yelp to place around your business as well. Another good idea is to add a badge to your website that links to your business listing on the review site. Social media is also an excellent channel to highlight positive reviews and promote activity on your business’ listing on popular review sites.
There’s another approach that we’re seeing more and more of lately to generate more reviews, and that is incentivizing customers to leave their feedback. This method can be tricky because Yelp, for example, explicitly outlines that this practice is against their terms of service in order to keep reviews on their site as authentic and unbiased as possible. However, we still see many businesses offering freebies, running contests and giveaways, or even paying customers in exchange for their feedback on these review sites. In no way do I condone this type of action, but it is becoming increasingly common, and it can be difficult for review sites to automatically filter an incentivezed review from a non-incentivized one.
In my opinion, the most effective and inexpensive way to incite more reviews for your business is by simply asking for them. Use your website’s contact form “Thank You” page, order confirmation page, invoices, newsletters, and follow-up emails to provide customers with links to your listings on a couple of review sites. Most importantly, be transparent. Let customers know how valuable their feedback is to you and how crucial word of mouth is in your industry. Make your presence on review sites known, make leaving feedback easy, provide good, quality service, and the reviews will come.