Lesson 3: Intermediate Online Review Management Techniques

Welcome to lesson 3 of our Google Business Profile (formerly Google My Business - GMB) 201 learning series. So far, we’ve covered:

Now, we’re moving on to some intermediary online review management strategies. In GBP 101: Lesson 4, we provided some basic guidance on getting started with Google customer reviews. If you skipped that lesson, give it a quick skim before digging into this lesson.

Before we get into strategy, why should local businesses care about reviews in the first place?

Search rank: Reviews are the #2 search ranking factor in local search results behind GBP information. Meaning once you have completed the GBP optimizations in our GBP 101 course, the best remaining tactic you have to improve search rank is getting a lot of positive reviews, frequently, and responding to all of them. Reviews even beat out proximity, meaning with great reviews you can rank higher than your competitors even if you are physically further away from the customer.

Persuasion: In today's market buyers trust their peers to help them at critical decision-making moments. Social proof has the ability to be extremely influential. Leveraging review content will convince more prospective buyers your business is the best choice for their needs.

It’s not just about getting positive reviews, although that is an important piece of the puzzle. Review volume, frequency, and response are other elements of online review management that you’ll need to monitor.

Getting More Reviews

As we briefly intro above, reviews play a major role in influencing your customers’ buying decisions. That’s why you need to make sure a steady stream of reviews is coming through your door on a frequent basis.

Here are seven proven methods for review generation:

  1. Get all of your review sites set up with company profiles (GBP first and foremost, but also the industry-specific review sites that are relevant to your business)
  2. Provide directions & minimize barriers for customers to leave a review
  3. Create a direct link, further simplifying the review process for customers
  4. Put a review request in a leave-behind, such as on a receipt, business card, or order confirmation email
  5. Add a review request link to your email signature
  6. Prioritize your big spenders when asking for reviews (they’re more likely to respond)
  7. Ask every customer to maximize review opportunities

Not only will asking every customer likely lead to more reviews coming in, but you’ll also avoid being penalized by Google.

Asking only happy customers for a review is explicitly prohibited by Google, a process know as review gating. In years past businesses have had thousands of reviews deleted as a penalty for gating practices.

Responding to Reviews

Believe it or not, review response is just as important as review generation. Responding to reviews has a few benefits:

Ranking: Engaging with review content is a ranking factor Google considers when placing your business.

Prospects: Although it is common knowledge the customer leaving the review will appreciate a response, less talked about is the impact on the prospective customer. Responses need to make a positive impact on both the customer and the prospect.

More reviews: According to HBR, responding to reviews generates 12% more review activity. The hypothesis is that if the customer knows the review will be read and responded to by the business that individual will be more likely to leave feedback. We equate it to an empty room, why talk if you are alone?

We’ve come up with eight types of review response approaches your business can take. You’ll quickly see that some of these approaches are less advisable than others.

1. No response

The worst approach you can take. It leads to reviews piling up without a peep from your business and communicates to customers that you couldn’t care less about their concerns.

2. Negative-negative response

Another not-so-ideal approach in which you respond to positive reviews but ignore the negative ones, or worse, respond to them in anger.

3. Barely-there response

Just a touch better than completely ignoring reviews, but not by much. You provide robot-like answers to your customers, responding to every review with a simple “thank you” or “sorry.” It’s at least a response, but it doesn’t do much to convince customers that you care about them.

4. Spellcheck response

Missing simple gramar and speling mistakes dont paint a very prety picture of your buziness (see what we did there?). If your review response team doesn’t bother to proofread their work before hitting ‘submit’, customers might assume your services are equally sloppy.

5. Robo response

If you’re copying and pasting responses from a template, you’re doing it wrong. Customers will sniff out robo-responses from a mile away and will be turned off if they see you’re not thoughtfully responding to reviews.

6. Eager-beaver response

Perhaps a better approach than a robo-response, but still not ideal. If your responses run paragraphs long, use ALL CAPS, and include a ton of exclamation points, you might want to tone down the enthusiasm just a touch. Customers want to be treated with respect, not pandered to.

7. Keyword-less response

This approach checks all the boxes except for one very important one; the inclusion of SEO keywords. Review responses are a great opportunity to include keyword terms that will lead to Google moving you up the search rankings. While this approach may be good from a customer services standpoint, it’s not doing anything in terms of SEO.

8. Widewail recommended response

Widewail recommends responses that are easy to read, professional with a personal touch, and use a tasteful amount of keywords. When possible, respond in less than 24 hours. Prospective customers will be impressed with your level of commitment and professionalism, and your company’s site ranking will improve over time.

Handling Negative Reviews

If you receive a negative review, but no one on your end responds to it, did it actually happen? Contrary to what your preferred answer would be, the answer is yes.

Negative Google customer reviews aren’t something your business should ignore in part because they are public and permanent.

Here are some best practices to keep in mind when responding to negative reviews:

  • Stay professional
  • Don’t speculate
  • Minimize emotion
  • Present the facts
  • Apologize for the customer’s frustration, feelings, emotion
  • Do not publicly admit guilt for the material issue without further investigation
  • Avoid public accusations of review fraud
  • Don't litigate the issue online
  • Provide a productive next step (phone call, email)

The goal of a successful negative review response is to look professional, helpful, and responsive to prospective customers while eliciting further offline communication with the unhappy customer.

Leave the manager's direct phone number and attempt to solve the problem separate from Google. When done properly we commonly see unhappy customers amend their review, updating the score and adding additional positive commentary.

Increasing Your Star Rating

Another stat for you; 57% of consumers will only consider a business if it is rated 4 stars or higher. They may not like that low rating, or they may simply never see your business listing in the first place. Google automatically filters out all businesses below a 4.0 for "best of" searches.

The techniques you can use to increase your star rating are largely the same as the techniques used to get more reviews.

These include:

  • Asking all customers for feedback
  • Simplifying the review process
  • Personalizing your responses
  • Respond to all reviews, good and bad

Implementing these strategies can improve your rating by ~0.3-0.5 stars in a few months. That sort of performance increase can get you from the middle of the pack (4.4) to the front (4.7).

These techniques are a huge win because they can systematically improve star ratings with no needed change to the in-store experience. But, improving the core in-store experience is always the best course of action. We recommend leadership teams review customer feedback weekly for ideas.

Widewail Tip: You should target a rating of 4.6-4.8 for optimal search rank without losing trust and authenticity. Research indicates that slightly less than 5 stars is actually better for business.

Next Up: Getting Started with Insights

That does it for lesson 3 on online review management techniques. In lesson 4, we discuss the GBP insights tool, which gives you an inside look at how people find your business listing on the web.