Digital marketing experts know reviews. Not that they’re skeptical, but their knowledge of the reputation management industry makes them extra careful about the ones they read and how it informs their own research as customers.
Learning to read reviews the way they do can make you both a smarter consumer and a savvier business owner. We talked to 5 SEO and marketing professionals about their approach to reading and evaluating reviews. Here’s what they had to say.
Make an effort to get reviews on industry-specific platforms
“I use review sites all the time. Google Maps reviews are usually my first stop, but then I check the other usual suspects (mainly Yelp and Facebook). Next I check often-overlooked sites like the BBB, and industry-specific sites like HealthGrades or Houzz.
This is to confirm or call BS on what I saw in the Google reviews. Often at least one industry review really impresses me or scares me off, but I try to make my decision based on the whole stack.”
Phil Rozek | Local Visibility System
It’s time to give yourself a review audit. See what’s coming up on review sites other than Google. If your type of business has an industry-specific platform, find out if you’re generating any reviews there. It’s also a good idea to check and see whether you’re seeing consistent opinions.
If you don’t find much, you need to find a way to start diverting at least some of your customers to some of those sites some of the time. You can control this by changing up the links in emails and SMSes. If you print business cards print them with review links that go to several sites, shuffle them like a poker deck, and hand them out randomly. Or just rotate which sites you mention when you ask.
If you’d like a few more tips, Phil wrote a whole article about developing a stack that’s practically perfect.
Provide a consistent experience
“I rarely go out of my way to look for review sites, but reviews tend to be everywhere. When I search for a restaurant on Google or TripAdvisor I would certainly look at the reviews that come up there before making a choice. What I look for differs, but generally, I am trying to pick up on sentiment—whether it’s consistent, and whether it’s good or bad.”
Marcus Miller | Bowler Hat
While you can’t control consistency at the review level, you can control it at the service level. You can’t afford to have one superstar that gives excellent service and six sourpusses who hate your customers. You can’t have a chef that’s brilliant at night and a mediocre cook during the day.
Watch your reviews for sentiment, and for recurring issues, and correct them. If you notice trends in when customers are happy and when they are not, you can match them to when certain employees are on duty, and can either counsel those employees or let them go in favor of employees who will treat your customers better.
Either way, you need to be absolutely certain your company is delivering a top-notch experience from opening to closing.
You can win with specific details
“I’m looking for a minimum of 4 stars or I don’t go. Because I am a digital nomad, I also look for different attributes: free Wifi, comfy chairs, friendly staff. When choosing a service business, I again look for four stars, and emotional and human words like kind, and helpful.”
Jason Barnard | Host of the SEO is AEO podcast
You can’t write people’s reviews for them, but you can influence what they say.
When you’re face-to-face with the customer, you do this by paying attention to what customers are saying they like. See Greg Gifford’s “fish taco” analogy. If the customer is sitting in your establishment telling you these are the best fish tacos they’ve ever eaten, then you say, “Would you mind sharing your opinions of our fish tacos in an online review?”
In written communications like email requests and SMS requests, you can draw people’s attention to certain features. I.e., “Was the WiFi fast enough? Were our staff members helpful? We’d love your feedback!”
Doing this might work to your favor when customers assign a star rating too. Getting them to focus on things you know you do really well might turn a 3 star review into a 4 star review, because it brings the positive to top of mind, rather than the negative.
Get people to love you on Yelp
“I look at Google mainly for an aggregation of warnings that could signal a business that might treat me poorly or even defraud me (always bearing in mind that a low rating could also simply equal unregulated spam on Google).
The text of Google reviews, however, is typically inadequate to form a complete idea of the benefits of a business. For that, I turn to Yelp, where people tend to write at length about their experience.”
Miriam Ellis | Moz
In the past, I’ve been known to say that Yelp has become irrelevant in the greater review ecosystem. I’ve pointed out how much consumer trust they’ve lost with review manipulation. Sure, they often pop up in the top 3 spots in organic search results, but I would have told you people are skipping past them to see what else is showing up on the page.
I stand corrected; Yelp keeps coming up with digital marketing experts. Combine that with the fact that it’s the source for Duck Duck Go reviews and you get a picture of a company that’s staying in the game.
Don’t buy their advertising, but don’t be afraid to order and display your Yelp sticker.
A little genuine negative criticism is actually helpful
“It’s essential to look through review sites before you choose to use any product or work with a particular business. I try to look for genuine reviews that fairly outline both the pros and the cons of a particular product or business. Reviews, where the cons appear to be made up to showcase the pros, are the ones I try to avoid.”
Shane Barker | Expert Marketing Consultant
Don’t fall into the trap of believing the only worthwhile review is a perfect review. Three and four star reviews that honestly critique your business signal an honest review profile. They show you’re not afraid to hear feedback and you’re not afraid to improve.
There will always be room for improvement, and there are pros and cons to everything. In many cases, a business with 4.8 stars will do better than a business with 5 stars, because the customer both trusts the rating more, and because they get a better overall picture of what the business looks like.
It's time to refine your review strategy
If you’re looking over this list and seeing holes in your review strategy, don’t worry. You can address deficiencies with a little thought, and a little time. Soon, you’ll have a review profile even a digital marketer could love.