Customer experience is the new marketing. Social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Foursquare have dramatically changed the way businesses communicate compared to traditional media. A reputation today is more about what customers say about a business and less about what a business says about itself.

Review sites are a two-way conversation favouring the consumer—businesses can no longer broadcast the message they want people to see. There is a democratic nature to reviews, with brands, consumers and trolls having an equal voice in a shared space. Customers can rave about a business or let everyone know they had a terrible experience. Earned media—like mentions, reviews and shares—has empowered consumers to advocate for brands they care about. Today, consumers can converse with brands and vice versa. This has created a world of opportunities.

While review sites and social media are essential parts of managing a successful online reputation, monitoring a business’s digital profile is about much more than responding to reviews and social media. It’s about being proactive and creating an authentic online image with the help of customers. Consumers are complicit in marketing now.

From traditional to digital

No longer are the stories spread on televisions, in commercials or slapped on gritty newspaper print pages the truth. Businesses can tell a story—and they must!—but consumers are now part of the fabric of that story. They are complicit; they are the other half. In a lot of ways, consumers dictate the story. The story a business tells must be consistent with what a consumer experiences. Inconsistencies cause negative reviews. The marketing needs to match the experience, because consumers see through pretty quickly.

What Makes a Good Online Reputation?

Being present and having a good reputation go hand in hand. Not being listed on a reference site customers use is just as bad as having bad reviews somewhere else. When many of a business’s  online profiles have user generated content like reviews, their reputation drives tangible results. You need to maximize visibility and reputation simultaneously, building off the genuine customer experience.

Building a consistent online presence and a positive reputation is important for both consumers and search engines. Some of the most important aspects of the online footprint include:

  • Number of listings
  • Consistency of listing information (name, address, phone)
  • Overall sentiment in reviews
  • Frequency or current velocity of new reviews
  • Overall volume of reviews
  • Social activity and engagement (especially with reviewers)

People trust traditional advertising far less than social recommendations and review sites. Customers view this user generated content as more genuine and authentic, expecting them to mirror the actual customer experience. This means that maintaining a reputation is getting increasingly more important.

How reviews affect SEO

Gone are the days when all a business had to do was throw their [keyword] all over their website to score high in local search rank.

There are tons of factors that affect search engine ranking (SERP factors) and many of them include reviews. Some of those are:

  • Diversity of third-party sites on which reviews are present
  • Authority of third-party sites on which reviews are present
  • Quantity of Reviews by Authority Reviewers
  • Positive Sentiment in Reviews
  • Overall Velocity of Reviews (Native + Third-Party)
  • Quantity of Third-Party Traditional Reviews
  • Product/Service Keywords in Reviews

Aside from SEO on Google and other search engines, Yelpers can filter their search options to include “highest rated” and “most reviewed.” If local businesses lack reviews, they won’t show up as a local fave here. Consumers are declaring their purchase intent—71% of searches on Yelp came from mobile devices, meaning that while customers are on the move and ready to buy, they’re checking reviews.

How to get more reviews

Make sure their listings are accurate. When customers search a business, it should be easy to find. Don’t give customers any obstacles to leaving a review—search, find, write.

Set up profiles on multiple review sites. If customers can’t find a business, they definitely won’t be leaving reviews, so make sure your local business clients are listed on a variety of review sites. The ideal list varies by industry, but Yelp, Facebook and Google are some of the basics for every industry.

Ask. Local businesses who ask for reviews are much more likely to get them.

Make customers aware. Putting up visible suggestions in the physical business is a good reminder for customers. A sticker in the window that says “Review us on Yelp,” a card you can hand to people paying at the till or tent cards on the table. A gentle reminder is always better than a nagging pest.

Use automated software. Send reminders to customers via email and take the legwork out of the business’s court. Doing this regularly will help maintain a trickle of reviews, which makes a business more trustworthy than surges every few months.

Conclusion

Online reviews have moved from “nice to have” to essential. Feedback, updating profiles, responding to reviews and engaging customers became increasingly more important. Maintaining positive word of mouth online and engaging consumers online is essential for the success of local businesses.