Before they shop, eat, travel or do almost anything, consumers are increasingly seeking (and sharing) information online — making review and rating websites essential marketing tools for small businesses.
Yelp, one of the most influential rating sites, attracts more than 30 million unique visitors monthly. And search engines are aggregating information from these review sites in their search results, exposing reviews to even more potential customers.
If you’re not already using review and rating sites to promote your business, it’s time to start. Here’s how:
Know where to go. First, make sure your business is listed on the major review sites and search sites that incorporate reviews. The big names: Bing Local, Citysearch, Google Maps, Insider Pages, Local.com, MerchantCircle, Yahoo! Local, Yelp.
Also look for niche review sites within your industry, region or city. For instance, a microbrewery should be on beer review sites such as BeerAdvocate; a boutique in a tourist town should be on travel sites such as TripAdvisor.
Claim your listing. Surprise! It’s likely your company is already listed on the big-name review sites, which typically put up bare-bones information or host consumer profiles about local businesses. “Claim” your listing and optimize it with added features (typically free) such as photos, a detailed business description, maps and directions, and coupons and special offers.
Spend some time on each site to see what it offers. For example, MerchantCircle combines social networking with reviews and lets you create your own blog and e-newsletter. RatePoint, a new site whose model works differently than most, collects reviews and “pushes” them out to your site, your social media accounts and major search engines.
To pay or not to pay? Sites often charge extra for premium listings, moving your business to the top of search results. Is this worth it? Sometimes, says John Jantsch, a marketing and digital technology expert and founder of Duct Tape Marketing. “For instance, if a premium listing for a high-traffic category, such as a spa or salon, allows you to get to the top, it's worth it.”
If you’re in a less competitive category, such as plumbing, Jantsch recommends focusing on getting good reviews rather than paying for premium placement.
Monitor your accounts. To track reviews, Lisa Barone, co-founder and chief branding officer at Internet marketing company Outspoken Media, suggests using services like Trackur Premium or Trackur Ultimate to add the review site’s RSS feed to your dashboard. You should also set up search engine alerts, though this won’t catch everything. Barone believes monitoring reviews is so important that entrepreneurs should regularly “check the major review sites to be sure nothing negative has popped up.”
Address negative reviews immediately. Jantsch and Barone agree that a common mistake business owners make is failing to engage with reviewers. “Be vigilant about responding to negative reviews,” Barone says. “You can tell a lot about a company by the way they handle customers who have had a bad experience.” (Yelp offers advice on how to respond to reviews.)
Convert viewers to buyers. To help convert readers to customers, use reviews to build trust. Barone says: “Aggregate them, moderate any negative reviews, and then place a call to action on [the same] page. To further entice, place a discount or other incentive on the same page.”
Use what you learn. Take advantage of review site analytics to assess what offers work best, where review readers come from and which readers convert to customers. Also, learn from the reviews themselves — negative ones alert you to issues that need fixing.
Create a “culture of reviews.” As reviews become increasingly important, Barone advises building review acquisition into your business model. How? By offering incentives to get reviews, making it easy for customers to leave feedback and responses.
“As reviews evolve,” Barone adds, “it’s going to be about not only having lots of reviews, but having lots of positive ones.”
Want the scoop on more trends that can grow your business? Sign up for Rieva Lesonsky’s free TrendCast reports at www.smallbizdaily.com. Rieva is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a content and consulting company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Follow her at twitter.com/rieva.