Philip Westfall, August 24, 2017
Suppose you're hungry, but you don’t know what to eat.
What would you do?
You’d probably head over to Google and type in “restaurants”.
Instantly, you see a map displaying restaurants in your area, as well as a list of 3 restaurants recommended to you by Google.
This Search Engine Results Page (SERP) feature is called the Local 3 Pack. It includes a brief description of the businesses, as well the star rating associated with their Google reviews.
(Left: Local 3 Pack on desktop. Right:Local 3 Pack on mobile.)
Now suppose you wanted to get more specific, like “mexican restaurants” or started to look for something else like “gyms”, “dentists”, “lawyers” or “construction companies”. Once again, you’re presented with a map and a list of 3 local businesses.
If you're asking yourself:
"How do I get my business on Google Maps and into the local three pack" - you've come to the right place.
Although Google’s algorithm has never been publically shared, SEO experts agree that review signals are thought to make up roughly 10% of how Google and other search engines decide to rank local results.
Trying to rank the Local 3-Pack for a given keyword? This number jumps up to about 13%!
(Source: Moz, Local Search Ranking Factors)
The simple truth is that search engines love online reviews when it comes to local businesses.
Why? Because consumers love online reviews!
Since 92% of consumers read online reviews for local businesses, you can trust that Google will take it into consideration when displaying search results.
If you want more tips on how to improve your website's SEO, check out our Ultimate Guide on SEO.
Reviews help your click-through-rate (CTR) and drive more visitors to your site
Which ad would you click on?
Common sense says that if all other things were equal, you’d click on the business with the most reviews and the best score. So how does this affect Google AdWords and pay-per-click (PPC)?
If you have a lot of good reviews, you’ll improve your CTR, which in turn drives more visitors to your site and reduces your cost-per-click (CPC). Talk about a good use of your time!
And what about organic searches?Well, it’s simple, your CTR is directly correlated to your ranking position. So, if you’re improving that, you're also improving your positions!
A potential customer just heard about your business, and is trying to figure out if they should try out the product or service that you’re offering.
This is where reviews really come into play!
If you’ve got tons of great reviews online, you’ve got nothing to worry about. If you don’t, you are probably losing customers before they even walk in your door.
Simply put, consumers are trying to figure out if your business is legit and what other people think of it.
In this day and age, for a local business to appear legitimate online, it needs a website. For real social proof, businesses also need to appear on Google Maps, and have some reviews or customer testimonials available online.
To confirm your business location on Google maps (and start collecting reviews), you need to verify your business with Google. You can accomplish this in a few simple steps:
Once your business is verified on Google, you can start collecting reviews.
If you’re thinking, “Reviews are generated organically, so I don’t have to do anything beyond verifying my business on Google…”
I’m sorry to break it to you, but this is not an approach that will grow your business.
Yes, reviews need to come from legitimate customers, and yes, they take time - but they need to be incentivized, nurtured and continuously monitored. If not, maybe only your very unhappy customers will take the time to tell everyone what they think about your business. Trust me, this isn't good for business!
Writing a review only takes a couple minutes.
Simply head over to Google and search for a local business or type in a business name and a location-based keyword (like a city). This ensures that the right location will come up in the search results.
If done correctly, you should see a Knowledge Graph card show up for that business.
Here is what they look like on desktop and mobile:
(Left: Knowledge graph on desktop. Right: Knowledge graph on mobile.)
Getting a review is as simple as clicking on the “Write a review” button while verified by Google, like signing into your Gmail account.
Once you get a hang of this, you can start asking your customers to review you!
Any medium can be used to ask for reviews.
You can ask for them by email, on social media, on your website website, in-person or even by the phone.
The key is figuring out how, where, when, and why.
Pro tip: Clicking on ‘Write Review’ might sound simple, but sometimes those few seconds are just enough to stop someone from taking the time to give you a review.
The goal here is to create a process that will bring in a steady stream of reviews, without it being simply a one-off campaign.
There are many ways to start getting lots of quality reviews, but keep in mind that whatever the marketing tactic, you need to have actual customers reviewing you.
The keys are:
Let’s assume you automate the process of sending customers their receipt by email, with a small note asking them for a review on Google.
Although it’s great that you’ve automated the process of asking for reviews, how do you filter out the really unhappy customers?
Depending on the tools you're using, you might want to add some sort of manual checkbox while entering the customer data that triggers the survey request.
This can be accomplished by an employee asking: “Were you satisfied with your service today?”
If the customer says no, ask why and don’t send the request.
If yes, tell them you're happy to hear they appreciated your services, and let them know you will be sending them a link for a review on Google.
This filtering of happy vs. unhappy customers will drastically improve your chances of getting quality reviews on Google.
When asking for something, timing is everything.
As a child, would you ask your parents for a favor during a fight? Probably not, you’d ask right after handing in a world class report card, aka a “magic moment”.
When it comes to reviews, the same approach needs to be taken.
Magic moments will drastically vary from business to business, but common sense will help you to know when to act.
Here are a few examples. Can you spot the “magic moment”?
Here are a few examples. Can you spot the “magic moment”?
After getting braces put on vs. after taking them off?
After initial consultation vs. after winning your case?
During construction vs. after the project is complete?
After the wedding vs. after sending photos?
There is no perfect formula, but asking people for reviews at the right time can go a long way to improving the number and quality of your reviews.
Humans are emotional beings. If you can create a connection with your customers, they will be much more likely to help you out with a positive review.
Picture it: You own a small jewelry store.
You can connect with your customers by explaining why a review would mean a lot to your business.
This can be done by any medium, but is most effective when done in-person, by email or over the phone.
Here is an example email that could be sent out a week after a purchase from your hypothetical jewelry store.
This type of email does a lot of things right.
You might not be able to go this far with your review requests, but simple things like adding a customer's name, reminding them of something positive, or sharing your story can go a long way to connecting with your customers on an emotional level, and ultimately get more positive reviews!
4. Get creative and run tests
People love contests and free stuff. They are even willing to do things in order to save a few dollars. This includes giving you a review. Great, right?
Sure. However, you should NEVER pay for a review. This is against every review websites policy, including Google’s. Also, you can’t make the incentive contingent on a positive review, as this is illegal.
Here are some innovative ways to incentivize reviews.
You can send emails to your happy customers, and run a draw amongst all reviews received within a given month. You can pick the prize based on your business. Try to make it relevant.
Asking customers for a review with a monthly contest can potentially double the number of reviews you would get. So, it’s definitely worth the test.
A few years ago, I went to an Escape Room that was run by a bunch of students. When you exited the room (magic moment) they offered you a FREE pop or bottle of water, in exchange for a review online. Or you could pay 2$.
This was a no-brainer, almost everyone reviewed them and within weeks they were the talk of the town!
The truth is, incentivizing reviews has always been somewhat in the “grey zone”, so we’d recommend using them only when you’ve tried the other tactics suggest in this article.
If you’re worried about a potential legal backlash, the safest road would be to stay away and trust that happy customers will need no incentive to offer their reviews.
Google is smart. Like, really smart.
That means cheating your way to getting reviews is not the best approach, because you’ll most likely get caught.
Google’s Web Spam team has been cracking down on abnormal review patterns for several years now. The things you need to look out for are:
Inconsistent quantityLocation clusters (IP address)Personal information
If you're thinking, “Well, let’s just get all the employees to review our business so we have a bunch to start!” think again. You would be firing red flags on all the criteria mentioned above.
Having 0 reviews over a period of several months and then having 20 reviews in the span of a day will get you into manual verification by Google’s Web Spam team. That means a real person is going to be deciding if your reviews are legitimate.
If they spot something fishy after reviewing the legitimacy of your reviews, they can take them away - or even worse, they can bury your page in search so that no-one can find it!
“Here’s an idea, let’s space out the reviews over a period of several days.”Wrong. Even spacing them out over several days doesn’t help if everything is generated from the same location (IP address). If you have 20 reviews, and 18 have been posted from the same wi-fi, you’ve got to expect that Google will take a look into it.
“Everybody should review the company from their home or from a mobile device.”
Unfortunately, wrong again.
Remember what we said in the beginning? Google is smart, so figuring out that you work at a certain business is not rocket science for them.
Furthermore, if you’re thinking of creating fake Gmail accounts to get reviews, you might have missed the point here.
We’re not saying that reviewing a business you work for is a bad thing, it’s actually a good thing.
If you’ve used the product or service that they are selling, you have every reason in the world to review them.
Just make sure that it’s legitimate, and that there is a proper balance between employee and non-employee reviews.
Every industry has several review websites. Restaurants have Yelp, Hotels have Trip Advisor, online stores have Google Merchant, and so on.
The key is getting in the mix next to your competitors. All the tactics and strategies in this article apply to most review sites, and should be part of your marketing strategy. This will ensure that you are sending your happy customers to the most visited review sites.
Don’t suffer from F.O.M.O - an easy way to find a list of the most relevant review sites for your business would be to run a search of your own. Try “competitor names + reviews” or “your brand name + reviews”. By doing this, you’ll find the most important sites to focus on first.
By now, you’ve caught on to the fact that online reviews are really important for your business.
Test out what works best for you, and keep at it. In no time, you’ll be seeing the fruits of your labor as new customers start walking through your doors.
Remember to be honest and to keep things simple. It’s all about showcasing your quality work to your potential customers and to Google!
Join our monthly newsletter for helpful tips on SEO, Web design, and more!