Friday, April 14, 2017

Local SEO: Why Online Reviews Matter

Moz recently released the 2017 Local Search Rankings Factors Survey, a review of the opinions of 40 local SEO experts. Since its inception, in 1998, the survey has been a go-to resource for local SEO campaigns--and now, after a year off, the survey offers fresh opinions on the state of local search and local SEO.

That said, the #1 local ranking factor, according to this year's survey, has seemingly little to do with SEO efforts: Proximity of Address to the Point of Search.

In one sense, the prominence of this factor makes perfect sense. Imagine you're driving through an unfamiliar town, and you need a gas station. Your search for "gas station" will reveal the closest station in proximity to your current location. That's helpful.

In another sense, the prominence of this factor seems misguided, especially considering Google's perennial emphasis on quality and relevance. Proximity "leads to poor results in most categories," the survey's author, Darren Shaw notes. "I’m looking for the best lawyer in town, not the closest one."

In reality, most people don't care about the best gas station in town. When you need gas, you need gas. But for most other local businesses, like lawyers, car repair shops, and hair salons, people do want the best in town. Proximity is negligible when the difference between a sub-par shop and an excellent shop is a few miles.

So Shaw argues for a concerted local SEO effort, and for good reason:

"While Proximity of Address to the Point of Search is playing a stronger role than ever in the rankings, it’s certainly not the only factor impacting rankings. Businesses with higher relevancy and prominence will rank in a wider radius around their business and take a larger percentage of the local search pie. There’s still plenty to be gained from investing in local search strategies."

Among these strategies, the survey lists some clear SEO winners. As Search Engine Land notes in its review of the survey: "links and reviews are hot."

Of course, we know that links are one of Google's top three ranking factors, so your local SEO link-building efforts may not differ from the efforts of a national or international marketing campaign. The key for all websites is links from other, reputable websites: "Don't Build Links--Inspire Links."

As Joshua Steimle wrote in Forbes:

"The right way to build high quality links is to not build them at all, but instead, earn them naturally. Natural links are earned by creating great content that people want to link to."

Beyond links, however, customer reviews are more specific to local SEO, and can be influenced by a concerted marketing campaign.

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.
Good Online Reviews: Local SEO Gold

BrightLocal recently published its annual "Local Consumer Review Survey."

Here, in BrightLocal's words, are the key findings from the survey:
  • 84% of people trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation 
  • 7 out of 10 consumers will leave a review for a business if they're asked to 
  • 90% of consumers read less than 10 reviews before forming an opinion about a business 
  • 54% of people will visit the website after reading positive reviews 
  • 73% of consumers think that reviews older than 3 months are no longer relevant 
  • 74% of consumers say that positive reviews make them trust a local business more 
  • 58% of consumers say that the star rating of a business is most important
To us, the key takeaway here, obviously, is that for local businesses (like car repair shops) online reviews can make or brake (pun intended) local marketing efforts.You can boost your website with SEO, but if your local reviews do not reflect a good customer experience--well, your SEO efforts may be a waste of time.

This is a key lesson many local websites fail to grasp--at first.

SEO can only take a local business so far. Optimization can increase traffic to a website--and to a brick-and-mortar business. But it is up to the business to ensure a quality customer service experience.

If you sell a 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 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, "73% of consumers think that reviews older than 3 months are no longer 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.


Beyond reviews, for more information on how to improve your local SEO, read: "Local SEO: Tips for Online and Brick and Mortar Success."

A Unique Internet Marketing Company: Stepman's SEO
The information offered in this post is not typical of most Internet marketing companies. What separates Stepman's SEO from its competitors is a focus on human beings. Website optimization is not simply about codes and content--it is about understanding the motivations of actual people. If you want to speak to an SEO company with intelligence and empathy, call Stepman's SEO now: 215-900-9398.