Mobile technology has given people the tools to reach into their pocket and get all the pertinent info they need to make a smart purchase whether a product is on the shelf in front of them, or they are planning a trip and looking to book a room.   The rise of mobile has yielded smarter consumers who do research before they buy and who read online reviews from other consumers.  In fact, an overwhelming 90% of customers claim that reading positive online reviews influenced their purchasing decisions, according to a survey conducted by Dimensional Research.

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From an SEO perspective:

Recently, Google’s ‘Pigeon’ update has begun to put a higher emphasis on locality to rank websites. In other words, the Google algorithm has been updated to improve the way local businesses are listed after a search, so the more positive reviews you have, the higher you will rank in a google search with respect to the location of the user/potential customer. Review sites like YELP and City Search are providing Google with more signals and Google is combining that with the user’s location to create an extremely powerful SEO tool to increase your rankings in Google.

What does your reputation mean for your visibility?

Google is using the signals provided by review sites to help calculate your website’s rank, however, it is not necessarily so that the sheer number of reviews will yield a higher rank.  Google’s algorithms do take negative reviews into account when assigning where sites rank in the search results.  If you are not taking the time to manage your reviews and address complaints, then you risk having a lower rank in Google and essentially becoming invisible.

Google is almost making peoples mind up for them about your business.  Ask yourself, if your competitor’s websites are being displayed above your site with better customer reviews, why would anyone choose your business over theirs?  And if your reviews are good, you better come up with a plan to make sure it stays that way.

Come up with a strategy to manage your reviews

  • Set up an alert in Google, so that you can see reviews as soon as they pop up
  • Review them immediately
  • Come up with a strategy on who to respond to
  • Figure out what you are able to do for people that have legitimate complaints
  • Respond quickly!

When a customer feels that a company is listening to them and does their due diligence to fix a problem, then that customer will sometimes write a new review – singing your company’s praises.  On a lot of review sites this will show up as an updated review, and can be even more powerful because it demonstrates superior customer service.

Responding to reviews is very important, but you have to be picky.  Not every review deserves a response.  If a review seems biased or sounds like a rant without legitimate concerns, then responding to it will only draw more attention and end up giving it more credibility.  A lot of times these reviews are people without legitimate concerns blowing things out of proportion, but a savvy consumer will be able to tell if that is the case.  People are more interested in reading reviews with low to medium amounts of stars and sometimes read them more carefully.

Remember, bad reviews can also come from:

  • a person who has never been a customer at all
  • a disgruntled employee who is looking to damage your reputation for whatever reason
  • one of your competitors

The anonymity of the internet greatly contributes to user’s willingness to post illegitimate negative reviews.   Anonymous reviews however, will not affect your Google rankings from an SEO perspective.

What to do about illegitimate reviews:

If you think some reviews are fishy or even fake, then you can try to appeal to the review site to take them down.

  • Reputable review sites tend to have a user agreement, and you should read it.
  • If a review seems defamatory, biased or appears to violate the user agreement of the site itself, then you should ask the site to take the review down.
  • Look for either a ‘report spam’ button or ‘contact us’ section on the review site where this is the case.

Reputation management experts report a high success rate of getting the reviews removed when they are actually in violation of the user agreement.   Unfortunately, some sites have a policy of never removing a post, even if the original poster requests to have it removed.

bad review

an obviously fake review from yelp

Also: When a review is good, sometimes it’s nice to simply thank the customer, but don’t over-do it with offers or deals.  A simple thank-you should suffice to remind the customer that you appreciate their business and their time in writing you a good review.

What not to do:

It may have occurred to you that since people can post fake reviews that are negative, perhaps it would be a good idea to post fake reviews that are positive… DON’T.

If a review site finds that you were paying for reviews, soliciting reviews from family, friends or even writing them yourself, the review site could penalize you, destroying your Google rank. It also makes you look really shady. For example, this is what YELP puts up on the screen when someone does a site search for a business that has done this:

consumer-alert

Another tip, don’t ever discourage people from writing negative reviews, or reviews at all for that matter,  one New York state hotel found out the hard way that this can back-fire with a vengeance.

Case and point:

Last week, there was a story about a historic inn in Hudson New York that first insulted, and then basically invited prospective guests to write a bad review. How did they do this? First, their website addressed prospective brides and grooms that might have been thinking of hosting their wedding party at the hotel by explaining that the “historic” hotel’s decor and ambience may not be something everyone in their wedding party “understands” but is in fact very posh and very high brow. Second, in the hotel’s policy, it stated that if you book a room at the hotel to attend a wedding or event, and proceed to write a negative review online, then you also agree to pay a $500 fine.

Since news of the policy broke, internet users, who have most likely never even visited the Inn, have flocked to the online review site YELP.com to leave one star reviews and scathing comments.

New York Hotel Review

Food for thought:

Managing your online reviews is part of developing a strong customer service scenario to improve areas of concern and make certain that clients/guests are happy with your attempt to “make things right” if their experience wasn’t a good one. Effectively managing reviews will improve your overall business, drive your sales higher and ultimately yield more positive reviews.