Love them or hate them, You need to get reviews
This week I am returning to the theme of online reviews which are exercising a stranglehold over page ranking and search. In a previous post, I discussed the failure of the Search Engines to equate popularity with quality and how review sites impacted on your own business website and I wanted to return to that. Just how do businesses set about counteracting the tyranny of the review? And is such a bad thing, since it is said that 90% of people say they will be influenced by a positive review?
But before I do, I just wanted to remind us all why I think that the whole review process has got out of hand.
Now that "reviews" are the big thing, it seems that the route to success is to get yourself on to Trip Advisor, or get yourself a Facebook Review. The more 5 star reviews you get, the more likely your business will score under "The best of...." search that you make online. If you need to see this for yourself, try the "best restaurants" theme I was talking about. If I type in the search enquiry "best restaurants in Swansea" (a change from the "restaurants in Swansea" I was searching for last time"), I get a starred list of restaurants as my first port of call. It is only the third page of the results, that I actually get to see a restaurant's own website and find out what it offers its customers, which surely is the point of the search to begin with.
Are businesses even categorised correctly?
The fact that some of the offerings made to me were not even restaurants bugged me, but if you have ever tried to set up a local business on Google or Facebook, you soon find out that they never cover the range of businesses you would expect. Neither business takes any time to verify that the business actually does what it claims or offers much guidance to set you on the right track. So, I don't blame the cafe, they just chose what seems the most likely choice from a limited selection. This is the first limitation of the whole Google process and one where the guides are pretty murky. They remind you a little of the siren inviting you in, only for you to find your are torn between two equally unappetising choices, neither of which describes exactly what you want to be.
The problem of the fake review
The second issue is a much bigger one. How do you know if any review is valid. There are so many ways these can be fiddled:
- The business simply asks all their friends and relations to post a great review on Tripadvisor, Yelp or Google (although equally, it has to be said that rivals can set about posting bad reviews for any business)
- Reviews are often posted by employees
- You can hire a freelancer to write reviews for you - if you don't believe me, just search for it.
- As a reader, you have no idea if any review is fake or genuine.
- Plenty of businesses have been known to selectively hide bad reviews - for example by swamping them with good ones.
- There can be so many reviews that you cannot tell the wood from the trees. If there are 100 reviews on a site, who bothersto read to the bottom?
There is nothing in practice stopping a company from ordering fake reviews. The only research I could find is from 2013 where it was reckoned that 20% of YELP reviews were fake. The trouble is that, a bit like drug taking in the Olympics or any sport. If you can't trust that the swimmer or runners in the field are not doping, why should you trust any of them? Although it is an improving story, only 68% of us trust online reviews against 92% who would trust the opinion of a friend or neighbour.
So why are reviews still critical?
Well if you take Amazon or Ebay, the leaders in the review revolution, the whole businesses are premised on reviews. We are all of us less likely to order a product if the reviews are unsatisfactory. Just watch how quickly customer service at Amazon responds if you comment badly on one of their products if you don't believe me. According to Brightlocal, 92% of consumers now read online reviews, though typically they will only glance at 3 or so reivews before making a decision.
So, despite the dichotomy, it looks as if a business does not really have a choice If reviews are the only way you are going to get noticed, what else can you do?
10 Ways to deal with reviews
We are great believers in being true to your business. Setting out your long-term goals, creating a marketing plan that supports it, analyzing your potential customers and then targeting them directly is the right way to go. This is not going to change whether or not reviews exist. Your business will generate leads through referrals, and a satisfied customer is more likely to recommend you to someone else.
- Satisfy Your customer first. Isn't this the purpose of your business?
- Be prepared to ask. If you never ask for a testimonial or a review, you will probably never receive one.
- Ask them to refer you directly to other clients if they are so happy - networking is king
- Ask them for a testimonial if they do not feel they can do this
- If they are prepared to provide a testimonial, now ask them for a review or reviews in several places if they are generous.
- Know where you want the review posted for best effect - You have a choice of Your own website, Google my business, Google Maps and third party reviewers (like Tripadvisor, Yelp and Google's own) so you can suggest the place they can add a review
- Monitor your reviews so you can answer any bad ones
- Always thank someone for a positive review if you get the chance.
- Do not rely on reviews - think how your business can keep ahead, re-draft its proposals and create great content
- Never stop selling - all the marketing in the world is of no use if you never sit down in front of a customer, ask their opinion, bargain, negotiate.
The review is the reward for customer service not the other way round. It seems a shame that businesses have to chase reviews, and that, in a substantial minority of cases this is being abused. It is an ironic mix that scepticism about the quality of what is being put in front of people does not stop them using them. The question for the SEO experts is - when will Google realise all this and act to reduce their overweening importance in search results - an importance that has got way out of hand.