When we bring up online reviews, small business owners almost always have a visceral reaction. Online reviews are a polarizing topic. Negative reviews can crush a business, while positive reviews can accelerate bringing in new customers.
Developing a review management strategy is akin to a spider in the rain forest. Always crafting the perfect web to ensnare their dinner. Every day another challenge tears a hole in their web – a tropical thunderstorm, an errant toucan, an overzealous tree frog. But the spider keeps spinning that web. It’s a never ending process of setting up the dinner table, just like our review marketing strategy.
To see the fruits of our review management strategy, we need to build our digital spider web with well thought out planning and execution.
Goals of an Online Review Management Strategy
As we onboard new clients for our review management services, we need to have specific goals in mind for the client’s company.
We need goals for:
Each of these goals impact how our businesses rank on search engines, as well as how consumers psychologically consume our social proof that impact their purchasing decisions.
Aggregate Star Rating Goals
Consumer behavior with regards to online reviews is fascinating. According to Bright Local’s 2015 Survey, “having a 3 star rating is a real ‘watershed’ level for a local business.”
So if our client’s aggregate star rating sits below 3 stars when they come to us, there’s an opportunity to impact their sales.
Review Recency Goals
From the same survey, 84% of people believe a review must be written within 3-6 months to be relevant. Now this is not saying that we need an avalanche of reviews to maintain relevance (in fact, acquiring too many reviews at the same time can lead to penalties). But we don’t want our client’s online reviews across sites to be a barren wasteland.
Reviews within the past month are even more relevant (obviously), and show that part of a successful online review management strategy is an ongoing process and requires a steady stream of authentic new reviews.
Review Diversity Goals
While most businesses focus on their Google and Yelp reviews, having their company listed on other niche sites can provide as much value. Industry specific online review sites can make our client’s businesses more visible to their target audience.
When consumers visit niche review sites, they are specifically looking for the products or services that our clients offer. It’s not enough just to have a listing on these sites. We also need to make sure they’re not lacking in reviews.
Beyond Google, Yelp, and Facebook, we want to try and acquire reviews on at least one popular industry focused online review site.
Small Business Online Review Audit
As we audit our client’s review portfolios, we can begin to see opportunities for a long term strategy, as well as quick wins.
The first step in understanding what our clients need is to have a sense of where they are. In order to perform a useful Online Review Audit of their current listings, we need to know:
Sometimes our clients do not know where they’ve claimed their listings. You could always perform a manual search. Look up the client on Google, Yelp, and any vertical specific review site. Manual audits can be labor intensive, especially if our client isn’t aware of where they’re already receiving reviews. In the interest of efficiency, the best way to identify our clients listing status is via a Reputation Report Tool.
Once we’ve scanned our client’s business, we can begin to strategize next steps. Clients also appreciate seeing these reports if they’re oblivious to the online reviews being written about their business.
Strategizing Online Review Marketing
Not all online review sites are created equal. As mentioned above, it’s essential to diversify our efforts across multiple online review sites. At first, we need to prioritize the sites that will offer the greatest return on investment.
We’d prefer our happy customers to write a positive review on multiple sites, but that requires some effort beyond what customers are usually prepared to exert. Unless they’re a super evangelist of the client’s business, most happy customers are only willing to write one review and stop there.
Let’s take a look at the value of reviews on some of the major sites:
Notorious for their complex filtering algorithms, Yelp can be a massive challenge for small businesses. Yelp’s goal is to provide authentic reviews for consumers to make an educated decision. Unfortunately, if Yelp reviewers do not have a completed profile or if they rarely write reviews on the site, their authentic reviews have a strong chance of being filtered and thus not recommended.
Even authentic reviews from an active Yelp can one day be filtered if the Yelper takes a break from writing reviews!
Small business owners can be rightly skeptical about Yelp. They understand how important it is to maintain incoming Yelp reviews, but become frustrated when they invest in earning Yelp reviews, and authentic reviews from happy customers get filtered.
As unfair as it may feel, it shows how important it is for our clients to continue to try to acquire Yelp reviews even when they’re frequently filtered.
Even though Facebook doesn’t come to mind as a traditional online review site, the social network provides some significant benefits in accruing positive reviews.
In the video below, you’ll see how easy it is to add a review tab to your Facebook business page
Not only do Facebook reviews provide social proof, but now, every time someone checks into our client’s business on Facebook, their friends with see the check-in update with reviews ratings included in the update.
Beyond the Majors – Popular Industry Focused Review Sites
Over the past 5 years, we’ve seen a massive increase in industry specific review sites. Industries, like medical, legal, and home services, that we never thought would become the target of consumer reviews are having to compete in the same ways that restaurants or hotels have been for years.
And these sites are earning large amounts of traffic!
Just take a look at the monthly visits for the top niche sites across industries:
If our clients are not listed on, at least, the top niche online review site, they’re missing out on a ton of eyeballs and potential new customers.
In order to execute the review management strategy, we need to first decide our service offering.
Are we claiming and optimizing the various online review site listings on behalf of our client?
Are we only providing setup, acting as a reseller of a review marketing platform, and then expecting the client to self manage their review marketing?
Are we managing the response to the reviews, or are we leaving that to the client’s customer support?
An online review management strategy is only as effective as the small business’ ability to provide a positive experience with their customers.
Helping our clients understand the importance of committing to the review management strategy will ultimately impact our goals. If the client is not ready to commit to providing quality customer service, the program will fail. When educating our clients, we need to make sure they understand the following requirements for a successful campaign:
When the client invests their time and resources into acquiring positive reviews, the chance of achieving our review management strategy goals are more easily attainable.
As you can see, successful review management and marketing is a long-term proposition. Maintaining an aggregate rating of 3+ stars with recent reviews across multiple major and industry-specific review sites–these are ongoing goals.
We need to help our clients continue to provide positive experiences for their customers, ask their customers for reviews, and respond to online reviews in a timely manner. Done right, this work is never finished. But the good news is: this effort generates ongoing value for the business in the form of visibility, leads and sales.
Moreover, a dedicated automation platform for review acquisition and monitoring can take a lot of the pain out of implementing and maintaining a long-term review management strategy.
Of course, I’d be biased in recommending it. Some marketers and agencies prefer to help their clients manually, and that’s fine. Some people are masochists 😉