You’ve spent years building your business. You’ve invested time, sweat, and tears. You’ve missed dance recitals and soccer games as you’ve toiled to create it. You finally feel as though you can relax… until the day when the phone calls stop, the new customers vanish, and you can’t understand why.
You’re still providing excellent service and your existing customers love you, but your business is struggling. Finally, you learn from an existing customer that your company has some very negative reviews posted online. It dawns on you that your online reputation is presenting a twisted perception of reality that is really killing your business.
Sound like the plot of a B-movie drama? Unfortunately, it’s true for hundreds, if not thousands, of businesses across the country.
Local Business Reviews = Reputation
What people say about your company online has become the single most important reflection of your company’s quality, reliability, and skill. It doesn’t matter if you’re a dentist, a plastic surgeon, a carpet cleaner, or a painter. In Nielsen’s most recent Global Trust in Advertising study. 66% of global consumers indicated they trust online reviews from strangers when making purchasing decisions.
Improving Your Reputation is Your #1 Marketing Priority
Your number one marketing priority should be developing a 5-star online reputation. Why? All your other marketing efforts, whether they be online such as SEO, social media, PPC, or offline such as direct mail, magazines, radio, or TV, will ultimately lead the consumer to learn more about you online. There, your less than sterling or non-existent reputation drives them away.
Most business owners fail to realize is that what consumers want is information that will help them feel confident they’re making the best, most well-reasoned purchase. Today, quite a bit of that confidence comes in the form of online reviews reflecting others’ experiences.
The 3Rs and 2Qs of Local Reviews and Reputation
When it comes to taking an active role in developing, building, and protecting your online reputation, you need to keep five points in mind:
- Range – While it might seem as though getting a few positive reviews on Google+ or Yelp is all that’s needed, we advocate a wide-ranging approach to online review management. Just visit this Facebook page, We Hate Yelp. or read this thread on Google. and you’ll understand why. Your business is too important to you and your loved ones to let its success be dictated by one or two companies with no vested interest.
- Real – Make sure real client reviews are getting posted. It’s tempting to game the system and pen some glowing reviews, however, it’s not only unethical, you’ll undoubtedly get caught, and that can have some unintended consequences. Encourage your customers to be as specific as possible. A hallmark of fake reviews is vagueness.
- Recent – It appears that more recent reviews weigh more heavily by the search engines in terms of ranking. For this reason alone, creating a steady stream of new, positive reviews makes sense. Additionally, the fact that more recent reviews pack more powerful social proof with potential customers than older reviews, and you simply must put systems in place to continually gather reviews.
- Quantity – Ask yourself: If one dentist has 25 reviews with a 4-star average and the next best has one 5-star review, who are you going to call? Reliability is proven with consistency, particularly where reviews are concerned.
- Quality – This one is pretty obvious: The higher your reviews, the better your status will be – within reason. A business with nothing but 5-star ratings can look suspicious but, in general, the more favorable your reviews, the better.
Make Reviews Part of a Comprehensive Reputation Marketing Strategy
While review and reputation building arguably may be the single most important online marketing tactic for local businesses in 2013 and beyond, the most successful businesses won’t stop there. Since reviews are most prominently displayed in conjunction with the hyper-local maps of search engines, they don’t generate many leads outside this area.
For the vast majority of businesses serving multiple cities from a single location, reviews should be just one building block in a larger reputation marketing strategy. That strategy should employ SEO to ensure the company’s website ranks near the top in all the cities they serve for their most important buying phrases. The good news is there’s a positive, synergistic relationship between a strong review presence, well-optimized local pages, and an authoritative website .
With the dominance mobile devices display in local purchasing, companies should make sure their websites not only rank highly, but are also mobile-friendly with click-to-call, click-to-map, and other navigable engagement features. You want to remove as much friction as possible between your customer’s need and his ability to contact you.
One Hidden – but Powerful – Benefit of Positive Reviews
Clearly, your business needs to put a review-gathering, reputation marketing culture, and process in place. The investment you make will return outsized profits from the new customers you’ll attract. But there is one other “hidden” benefit that an outstanding online reputation will bring: pricing power .
For years, nearly every business has struggled to defend its price in a world of “me too” competitors. Imagine how easy it will be to respond to “Why should I pay more for your service?” when you can simply reply, “Have you taken a look online to see what our customers say?”
Companies need to leverage the power a 5-star reputation brings. You’ve worked hard to establish your business and sacrificed plenty along the way. Are you willing to let that hard work get flushed down the drain because of a single disgruntled customer or competitor?
Develop a system to ensure your biggest fans are louder than your biggest enemies; the payoff is worth it.
Scott Metcalfe is chief strategist ofFetch Local Customers . a Chicago-based online advertising firm that specializes in melding local search, social and mobile marketing, and local advertising technologies and strategies.