User reviews can happen anywhere, but there are three websites that consumers overwhelmingly flock to and trust for recommendations.
These networks also cater to business needs with tools to add, update and enhance listings, as well as engage in online conversations in meaningful and productive ways. Here are some proactive ways for how merchants can tackle the "Big 3" user-review sites and protect their brands and grow their businesses in the process.
Yelp is an online review site with user-generated reviews. It is one of the most widely used and respected online review sites among consumers. In March, Yelp released the results of a study it commissioned by Boston Consulting Group. This study found that: “Small businesses with a free business owner’s account saw an average of $8,000 in annual revenue from Yelp.”
“Unless your business is brand new, chances are your business is already listed on Yelp and you may already have customer reviews,” said Kate Dinkel, Social Outreach Director at Cybermark International. “By opening your free business owner’s account and claiming your business’s listing, you will be able to create a conversation with your customers.
“Fill out your business’s profile completely. You can add your hours of operation, a link to your website, photos of your location and products and a description of your company. You can also respond to reviews from your customers, either in private messages or publicly in the comments section. Creating a dialog with customers is key to building a solid reputation. This tool can be used to invite customers back to your business, which increases chances of repeat customers. It also gives you a chance to help customers who had a bad experience, and turn their negative reviews into a positive experience.”
Along with your business listing and customer communication tools, Yelp offers business trend information. These trends give merchants stats to see how well their businesses are doing on Yelp and allows them to track user views on their pages. Yelp also enables merchants to add calls-to-action on their pages, which can take customers directly to order forms, coupon images or other custom landing pages. More specifically, retailers can run offers for mobile customers.
To get started, a merchant needs to “unlock” their business page and set up a free business owner account. Retailers will want to familiarize themselves with best practices for responding to reviews. Yelp advises merchants to respond to good reviews with only a thank you, as inviting reviewers to sign up for email lists or events or providing an incentive, can appear like a bribe or payment for the review.
Conversely, Yelp recommends that when responding to negative reviews, never be rude, condescending, disingenuous or offer incentives to change reviews, as that will fuel the fire. When merchants thank customers for their feedback and share any changes that they have made as a result of the feedback, future customers may take this into account and business owners may even earn a second chance with the original reviewer. The hard rule is that when it doubt, don’t comment back. The business owner is typically the one who looks bad.
Google Places (err…Google+ Local)
There is confusion about Google Places and Google+ Local in terms of the differences, similarities and functions of the two. Google really hasn’t helped clear up the confusion. Business owners can update contact info, hours and respond to reviews from Google Places, but can’t they also do that from Google+ Local?
Dinkel describes Google+ Local as an integration with all of the Google+ services, making it more streamlined and giving businesses more tools to interact with their customers.
The end goal is for Google to merge the search functionality of Google Places with the social aspects of Google+ Local, but most social media managers and SEOs will recommend that if you have both a Google Places and Google+ Local page, then manage the two separately until Google makes a move to merge the two. Retailers should continue to update information (hours, phone number, location, website, etc.) and respond to reviews in the same manner they would on Yelp.
For retailers without presences on either, it’s recommended to focus on creating and maintaining a Google+ Local page. Here’s further instruction on how to verify a Page.
Facebook has made major strives to become a contender in the user review space with Graph Search (get your Graph Search questions answered). Currently, search results can only be filtered by type, location, names, visited and liked by, etc., but we expect ratings to be a filter added sooner than later. This means merchants will want to get in the practice of leveraging Facebook as a customer service channel. Retailers should, of course, also ensure their information is up-to-date on the popular network and also respond to feedback left directly on their Pages.
“Business owners need to engage in the online conversation about their business,” said Andrew Allison, Main Street Hub co-founder and co-CEO. “Engaging allows owners to thank customers for their feedback and set the record straight when inaccurate information is being posted about their business; ultimately spreading more positive word of mouth through their feedback than monitoring alone provides.”
Whether it be Facebook, Google+ Local or Yelp, consistency is key, according to Chris Marentis, CEO of Surefire Social.
“As consumers search online or via mobile devices more for local businesses, it is crucial for businesses to have strong visibility across local search and social platforms so customers can get the information they need and contact them or visit their locations,” said Marentis. “Ranking high on the first search result page for keywords a business’ target customers are searching for involves pages on your website, but even more importantly, reviews on directories, mentions on social networks and profiles in social platforms.
“To rank well in search platforms, social sites and directories, businesses should ensure that their data, especially their name, address, phone number (NAP), is consistent across search platforms and directories. Moreover, they should make sure their categories, keywords used in their business description and photos/videos are complete and consistent with their website. Consistency of the data builds “trust” by the search engines crawling their sites, resulting in better visibility.”
Ultimately, user-review sites combine social, local and even mobile, making list management an important part of today's e-commerce and search landscape. For further reading, check out "5 SoLoMo-Minded SEO Strategies."