Reviews & Your Business: Developing Your Review Strategy

Right now is a good time to pause and think about your review strategy and where you are asking for reviews. Should you focus on Google reviews? Are there alternatives to Google? If so what is their role?

The past few months have been event filled but I think most astute observers have come to think that reviews exist within an ecosystem and like any natural ecosystem it is more resilient when there is diversity.

reputation farm planning

In forestry & farming having a monoculture, a single crop, over vast acreage can be “productive” for a time. But ultimately disease, drought or soil depletion hits and the system fails on a massive scale. Having diverse trees and crops allows for different and varied outcomes, better soil stewardship as well as more resilience if one of the crops is hit by disease. 

Considerations In Developing Your Review Strategy

My farming example lays a foundational metaphor to get you thinking about reviews in much the same way. Having a diversity of reviews and review tactics can better insulate your business against the inevitable shocks that occur in any system. Diversity of both review sites and review purpose provides the most long term value, offers resiliency in times of stress, and maintains your business’ ability to pivot easily when that shock does occur. 

Each review site and its reviews offer up a different value that helps build out a healthy mix of reviews that can maximize the benefit to your business.

Facebook Is The Conversation

Facebook, while never a stalwart in the local review space, is where many conversations are happening these days and there are a lot of them! In times like these users and consumers have flocked to the site and other social media channels. 

The interesting value provided by Facebook recommendations is that they are one of the few third-party review sites that allow you to have an extended conversation with your customer. With Google the consumer speaks, you answer and that is the end of the conversation. 

With Facebook you can use the review to start an extensive back and forth conversation. You can really take the opportunity to learn more about your customers and cement your relationship with them. And equally important they and others can learn more about your business and your approach. It is a place where you can engage and share that engagement with the world. 

Facebook reviews recommendations

1st-Party Reviews – You Should Own, Not Rent

Renting cropland rarely ends well and renting from the likes of Google, as we have seen many times, can be a perilous path indeed. Google controls their own website and in that controls a lot about what they decide to show and do with your business. 

In the marketing world, we often say that It is better to own than to rent your digital assets; own in the sense that you have maximum control over an asset like your reviews. 

Control is just one reason that gathering your own, first-party reviews makes sense. Users, by as much as a factor of 10X, are significantly more willing to give you direct feedback than to give it to a public review site like Google. This leads directly to an increase of customer engagement and review volume.

Like Facebook you are able to have an extended conversation with your customer but unlike Facebook you get to choose whether that conversation is private or public. It becomes not just a great way to engage your customers but also a great way to resolve the problems that occasionally crop up without airing your dirty laundry in public. 

The reviews at Google, Yelp, and others often tend to skew towards mostly 5-star and 1-star reviews. Direct feedback and first-party reviews tend to be more honest and a better reflection of the actual reality of your service and satisfaction level.  They offer the ability to compare yourself objectively to others in your industry. 

They also provide a more balanced view of both your strengths and weaknesses than the reviews you see elsewhere online. Because of the increased volume of reviews and the lower bias they become more useful in providing guidance on what areas of your business needs improvement.

Why should the review sites have all of the fun of extracting business intelligence from your customers? First-party reviews give you enough data that you can extract that intelligence about what is working and what isn’t yourself. 

Equally important in having direct control over a large volume of user generated content, is you can use that content to populate your service, product and people pages with highly relevant, social engaging content.  Generating fresh, dynamic web content is one of the most difficult tasks confronting most local businesses and continually fresh review content from your customers can solve that problem. 

Specialty Review Sites

Lower volume niche sites can be a great place to ask for reviews, at least a few. Generally, they attract more highly motivated customers AND a review there will likely show highly for your brand searches on Google. These highly trusted, narrowly focused sites help tell a broader brand story of overall and consistent quality at Google. 

In some verticals, these specialty sites can contribute a large percentage of your conversions. For example Houzz can often provide 25% of digital conversions in the construction space.

We know that Google looks at these industry-specific sites, ranks them more highly when they have reviews, and uses them to better understand your business. Including these sites in your review mix from time to time can “feed the Google beast” and strengthen your brand

My recommendation? If the site is visible on Google but doesn’t provide much in the way of customers, get a few reviews there every year. If the site delivers real customers to your doors, then your review effort should be on par with to your conversions. This obviously assumes that you are tracking digital conversions but if you 25% of your sales from Houzz then spend at least that amount of your review effort on Houzz.

Employment Review Sites

Review sites like Indeed and Glassdoor highlight how current and past employees feel about working for your company. These reviews can impact both your reputation with consumers and your ability to hire. It is important since they are likely to show highly in Google to utilize them to help refine and sustain your reputation.

Regional And Local Review Sites 

Last but not least reviews for different industries vary by the specific locale and vertical you are in. For example the Better Business Bureau is strong in the home services vertical in the South.  In some very rural markets, YP.com is still highly visible and trusted. 

These sites are unlikely to provide you with many customers but even one or two reviews at these sites can get them to show in the main search result at Google and more importantly they can fill out the “Reviews from the web” of the Google business profile. Having a few good reviews at these sites can increase the searcher’s trust particularly if they are consistent with your overall rating and your reputation brand story.

Google And The Review Ecosystem

Obviously Google and Google reviews are at the forefront of most folk’s thoughts. They are the dominant player but even they think of reviews as existing within an ecosystem and make little distinction between their reviews and reviews found elsewhere on the web. They clearly rely on reviews wherever they are found to better understand and rank your business. They need alternative review data for their success as much as you do. 

Once you have as many or more reviews than your nearest competitor on Google it’s past time to expand your thinking to a more robust review strategy for your business.. 

What Should I Do Today?

Start With An Assessment 

Is your website content fresh and providing current information to Google and providing visitors with adequate social proof?

Do a brand search at Google. Are your Google reviews current? Does the search result for your brand offer a compelling story about your reputation beyond just Google by having entries for Reviews from around the web and with rich snippet stars in the organic result? Which alternative reviews sites show up for your brand search that could have review stars?

Check your competitor’s reviews, do they have more reviews at Google? Do they have more reviews from Around the Web?

How are you interacting with your customers post sale? Are you responding to your feedback and reviews? Are you engaging customers?

What sort of conversations do you want to have with your customers post sale? 

Create A Plan

Google certainly deserves a place in any review plan. But if they are not accepting reviews or if you have significantly more reviews there than your competitors it is definitely time to add some of the alternatives.

The next obvious choice, particularly during these times, is Facebook. There is an adage in marketing to “be where your customers are” and right now they are on Facebook. So in the absence of Google it makes all kinds of sense to use Facebook. This is particularly true if you are already active on Facebook, much less so if you are not active there. 

Regardless of whether Google is accepting reviews or whether you are having conversations at Facebook, adding your own reviews to the mix is the right choice for many businesses. This is especially true if you are not very active on Facebook. 

Finally picking one or two vertical or local sites that you can occasionally sprinkle into the mix to help build your brand story is also a solid tactic. I would ask at these sites more than a few times year unless you have a reputation isse there, but they provide a lot of brand recognition in the Google search results with only a few reviews.

Moving Toward The Future

There is a future. It will come sooner or later and we will move beyond the pain and difficulties of this point in history. Reviews and reputation are a long term project that needs to be viewed over the lifetime of your business. That offers lots of time to massage and manage your reputation plan. 

Reviews will have a role in that future and by diversifying your strategy now, you will have a more robust place in that ecosystem. As stewards of your business it is time to reassess your relationship to the review world and build out a sustainable long term strategy that can weather this and any future storms. 

About The Author

Mike Blumenthal is a co-founder of GatherUp and helps oversee our research, industry insight and agency offering. Mike has long been regarded as the foremost expert on local search and Google Maps, earning the nickname “Professor Maps”. Mike also co-founded Local University, which provides small business and agency training in sustainable local search marketing. His motto: All Local All the Time.  He writes at his blog and does a twice a week LocalU podcast about Local marketing. 

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