How Local SEO Is Impacted By Online Reviews

As a small business owner operating in the current digital age, how do you feel about the fact that 90% of customers state that online reviews influence their purchasing decisions?

I would think that you would either scratch your head and consider that maybe you should get a better handle on this or you are patting yourself on the back because your business has a strategy in place already for managing your online reputation and obtaining reviews.

No matter where you might fall on this spectrum, there are a number of different reasons why online reviews are very important and can have serious implications due to them being able to affect the following:

  • Your rankings within the local search engines
  • What search results get clicked on
  • Consumer buying decisions

This makes online reviews as crucial to your local SEO strategy as on-site optimization and building citations.

In this article, I will be discussing how online reviews are affected by today's consumer decision-making processes, in addition to how they fit in with your local SEO campaigns as well as how to approach obtaining them and managing your online reputation proactively.

How Online Reviews Are Used By Consumers

Before we start examining the data regarding how consumers use online reviews and how they impact their decisions, it is essential to consider where reviews fit in with consumers buying cycles for their desired services and products.

Usually, by the time that individuals have started to look at reviews, they have figured out already what they want or need, how a business might fulfill their want or need and are currently in the process of choosing a business.

The important thing to note here is that there is a very small mental gap between when a person reads a review and makes their decision to buy from a business. It usually results in an immediate yes or no decision.  What that means for you as a small business owner is that your bottom line can be directly influenced by your online reputation.

But just how many consumers read online reviews.  BrightLocal conducted a survey that shows that approximately 84% of consumers report that they read and trust online reviews.

So how many reviews do consumers need to read before they are able to make up their minds?  Fortunately, the survey had an answer for this question as well.  Around 90% of consumers read 10 or fewer reviews before they form their opinion on a specific business.

Dimensional Research conducted another survey that found that 90% of their survey respondents stated that their buying decisions were influenced by positive online reviews, while 86% stated that their decisions were impacted by negative reviews.

Hopefully that will help you better understate just how critical online reviews are from a consumer perspective in helping to influence their buying decisions either for the better or the worse.  We will next take a look at how reviews are factored into the signals for local SEO.

Why Online Reviews Are So Critical For Local SEO

There is one main reason why online reviews are loved by local search engines.  It is because consumers really love online reviews.  They provide individuals who are either at home or on-the-go with reliable information to assist them with making decisions on what to purchase.  The faster consumers are able to do that, the more they will turn to reviews.

Also, according to the Local Search Ranking Factors Survey from MOZ, it is thought that online reviews make up around 10% of how search engines such as Google determine the rankings for their search results.

Local SEO MOZ Study

We will next look at how your review acquisition strategy can be created, and then how you can manage your online reputation in a proactive manner.

How To Create Your Review Acquisition Strategy

Prior to embarking on getting a review acquisition strategy created that will work the best for your small business, you should first consider which review platforms will work the best for your company.

In order to determine that, just start at Google and do this search "[Industry] + reviews" to see which websites are displayed on the first page of the results.  One thing you should note is that there are some online review platforms that keep their reviews on their website exclusively, while others syndicate their reviews to the search engines.

Online Local Business Review Platforms

Another thing to consider before we delve into how to obtain more reviews is to understand the various review policies that each of the platforms have that you will need to comply with.  For instance, small businesses are strictly forbidden by Yelp from soliciting online reviews.  If they detect that this may be occurring, they act quickly.  In the meantime, there are other platforms that really don't have any problem with businesses asking for reviews.

The following are review guidelines for some of the major review platforms:

After you have had a chance to look through these, the following are some to help you get off to a good start:

Use the excellent "Review Handout Generator" from Phil Rozek and Whitespark that will allow you to create handouts for your customers that give them clear instructions on how to leave a review for you on Google.

On your website provide links to your review profiles.

Have print materials created that list all of the various websites where customers can leave reviews for your business.

Train both yourself and your staff to "make the ask" once a transaction is completed.  Constant Contact has a short guide that covers how to ask for referrals.

If you have not received Yelp's "People Love Us On Yelp" sticker, ask for a "Find Us on Yelp."

Managing Your Online Reputation

You might be wondering how your should respond if you receive a negative review.  Before we cover that I recommend that you get set up on Google Alerts or another service that notifies you each time your business gets mentioned online.  That way you can be proactive when it comes to managing your online reputation.

You don't want to have your blood pressure skyrocket and get all upset whenever you see that you have received a negative review.  Your first instinct may be to get in touch with the review platform and ask them to take the review down.  However, before you do that, you should consider what Google Places spokesperson Deanna Yick had to say about this.

She pointed out that reviews are a way for users to share both negative and positive opinions.  She also pointed out that Google Places doesn't arbitrate disputes and tends to leave the reviews up.

So rather than being reactive, you should try to take a deep breath, and just deal with any negative online reviews you might receive in the same way you would other types of criticism.

Just treat the review like it was a conversation, where you need to go in to diffuse the situation, attempt to make up whatever they are dissatisfied with, and end by highlighting the positive whenever possible and point out the more positive ratings and reviews.   There are of course other ways that you can manage customer complaints.

You should also consider that negative reviews can be used as catalysts to help you improve your business.  It involves pinpointing what some of the pitfalls are withing your current business operations.

How that you have a better understanding on what online reviews are and the ways that influence the decisions made by consumer, you will hopefully begin to take a more serious approach to your online reputation as well as the ways that online reviews get factors into the local SEO strategy for your business.

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