We might think of reviews as one of the final potential perks in the marketing cycle – come up with our product/service, hone in on our target market, use marketing to reel them in, engage with them, sell, engage some more, and then hope for favourable feedback to grow our brand influence. Over the last few years, however, I’ve found myself pushing clients more and more to focus on reviews as a starting point rather than an ending one, and that’s not simply because I like to eat pudding before my main course.
These days it seems so much of marketing has become highly technical, often confusing, and requiring specialist help just to ensure steady footfall and sales. Reviews remain one area which (although digitised) seem to have remained crystal clear in their purpose: to spread awareness through authentic word of mouth.
According to the latest Nielson study, over 90% of consumers trust recommendations from friends and family: “word-of-mouth is quickly becoming the million dollar commercial” says Nika Stewart, SEO of GhostTweeting.
So just what do reviews bring to your online marketing and SEO strategy? The answer is – “much more than you might think!”
1. You take up more space in search engine listings
The simplicity of reviews means that whilst other areas of marketing have succumbed to digital black hat tricks, taking words from the horse’s mouth is perhaps the most authentic material consumers can see when making purchase decisions – and Google is no stranger to this fact.
Numerous features have cropped up in search engines in recent years to facilitate the presence of authentic feedback online, most notably Open Graph which allows reviews and testimonials to appear in search results (SERPs), social media and other places. Reviews have been a longstanding feature in Google My Business too, translating into reviews appearing in Google Maps.
Star ratings in SERPs require at least 5 reviews. This may sound like a small number but it can be tough to achieve for smaller businesses with an online presence, relative to their size. Spending the time and/or money on a strategy to drive reviews can make an enormous difference nonetheless – just look below at how much more your business’ listing stands out, with a star rating compared to your less eye-catching competitors.
Tip: Once you’ve started the ball rolling, you’ll tend to see that new customers are more likely to leave a review. No one likes to be the first in line, and the digital world is no different, so start by asking your closest clients, who will be happy to get things off on the right foot.
2. You’ll be higher up on page 1
In short, reviews make a huge visual difference to your visibility in search engines, but it doesn’t stop there. They also impact your ranking, as well as visual appeal! According to Moz’s Local Search Ranking Factors Survey, online reviews are thought to constitute around 10% of search engine algorithms’ ranking decisions, amongst other factors such as physical location, backlinks to the website and social media activity.
This means that if you’re a small to medium sized business, relying heavily on regional custom, those reviews are a crucial element of whether you’re at the top of page 1 in SERPs, or slipping towards page 2 and beyond. Being small in size also tends to mean a more personal connection with your customers, so you may feel it is easier to encourage them to leave reviews.
Tip: This can be done in so many simple ways, from adding a review request and link in your email footers to loyalty incentives or just upfront asking!
3. Happy customers are your best salespeople
Lastly, we’re forgetting their most basic purpose – to encourage other customers to buy. Although talking yourself about how great your products or services are can work, but no one can sell them as well as a happy customer. They are also a great source of genuine feedback for you to feed into your business’ development.
Make sure you engage with customers here as online reviews are another touch point where you can make a personal connection with them, especially those that may not have been so complimentary.
Tip: Always respond promptly and professionally to negative reviews, and invite the reviewer to contact you to chat about it. Use Google’s red flags too when necessary – these flag highly inappropriate content such as reviews with heavy swearing, racism or other unacceptable comments.
So, what could make more sense than using the efforts you’re already making in product development, customer service and marketing to your advantage? There are so many review websites, from the giants like TripAdvisor, Yelp and online retailers such as Amazon, to smaller industry specific review websites such as DentistFinder.net (as an example!).
Reviews can be one of the simplest ways to boost your marketing and SEO strategies, with little to no knowledge necessary. Set yourself the goal of achieving a realistic number of online reviews each month, and you could see your search engine listings, rankings and sales all improving in the coming months.