Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Importance of Reviews for Local Businesses

The Organic SEO Blog has just returned from several weeks of vacation. Upon returning home, one of my first duties was to get an oil change for my old, dinky Saturn XL. We've owned the Saturn now for fifteen years, and like a spouse, I've come to understand the Saturn's needs, even when these needs are presented passive-aggressively, say with an odd clicking sound that otherwise seems to announce, "I am dying."

"You're not dying," I say, patting the dashboard. "You just need an oil change." 

Unfortunately, my local car repair guy, Craig of Doc Watson's, was not easily available. I needed an immediate solution: a local express oil change place, like Jiffy Lube or Midas. 

In the past, say even six or seven years ago, I would've simply looked for the closest place. Now, however, I did what I always do whenever I'm about to make any purchase, small or large: I checked the online ratings. 

The importance of online reviews, especially for local businesses, cannot be overstated. 

In my case, I Googled first, "Pep Boys," and discovered the closest location had a two-star Yelp rating. I disqualified the place out-of-hand. I didn't even read one review. 

Next, I Googled "Midas," which proved to be a bit better: the closest location had a three-star rating. Again, without reading a single review, I simply took the three-stars at face value: I cached the place, just in case I couldn't find a better option. 

Finally, I Googled "Jiffy Lube," which had a three-and-a-half-star rating. Without looking further, or reading one actual review, I chose this Jiffy Lube, purely based on the Yelp rating.

Car repair shops have always survived by the word-of-mouth of locals; today, the word-of-mouth is online, and accessible to the world.
My experience here is not unique, at least according to a recent survey by BrightLocal, a local search marketing firm.

BrightLocal recently published its annual "Local Consumer Review Survey." Here, in BrightLocal's words, are the key findings from the survey:
  • 92% of consumers now read online reviews (vs. 88% in 2014) 
  • 40% of consumers form an opinion by reading just 1-3 reviews (vs. 29% in 2014) 
  • Star rating is #1 factor used by consumers to judge a business 
  • 44% say a review must be written within 1 month to be relevant 
  • Only 13% of consumers consider using a business that has a 1 or 2 star rating 
  • 68% say positive reviews make them trust a local business more (vs. 72% in 2014)
  • Consumers are becoming more concerned about fake reviews
To us, the key takeaway here, obviously, is that online reviews can make or brake (pun intended) a businesses online marketing efforts.

You can perform all the website optimization you like, but if you're local reviews do not reflect a good customer experience--well, then, your optimization efforts will be for naught.

This is a key lesson that many of our local clients fail to grasp--at first.

SEO can only take a business so far. Yes, you heard that right. Of course, optimization can increase traffic to your website--and to your actual brick-and-mortar business. But it is up to you, the business owner, to ensure a quality customer service experience.

This is why a good SEO specialist will ask several key questions when speaking to potential clients--especially local clients. If you sell a high-quality product at the right price, you deserve customers. If you perform excellent customer service, you deserve repeat customers. However, you, the business owner, must honestly asses your business before choosing to optimize your website. Ask yourself these two key questions:
  1. Do you really sell a high quality product at the right price?
  2. Do you excel in customer service?
If not, now might not be the best time to perform website optimization.

It is a simple equation: SEO drives traffic, and potential customers, to your site. Why drive more potential customers to your site, if you're bound to disappoint the customers?

Do you love your customers? If so, treat them like you do! [Photo Source]
If you do sell a high quality product at the right price, and you do have a few bad online reviews, do not despair.

As the survey above notes, "44% say a review must be written within 1 month to be relevant." Most bad reviews are customer service-related. 

If you currently have a one- or two-star review, you can improve your online reputation by improving your customer service.

The first, obvious step: treat people kindly; treat each customer as if he/she were your most valuable customer. After all, you never know who might write your next review. 

A Unique Internet Marketing Company: Stepman's PC 

The information offered in this post (and elsewhere on this blog) is not typical of most Internet marketing companies. What separates Stepman's PC from its competitors is a focus on human beings. Alex Stepman, the owner of Stepman's PC, and the sponsor of The Organic SEO Blog, understands that website optimization is not simply about websites and codes and content--it is about understanding the motivations of real, actual people. If you want to speak to an SEO company with intelligence and empathy, call Stepman's PC now: 215-900-9398.

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