For small businesses, online success largely boils down to three words — Search Engine Optimization or SEO. And while many of the small-business owners I talk to are proud of their SEO efforts, far too many bemoan the fact that they aren’t doing enough.
Beyond the backlinks and citations that make for effective search rankings, however, one thing is clear: Prospective customers still buy from businesses they like, know and trust. And more than ever, they research and build relationships with those businesses online. In fact, 97% of consumers do online research before making a purchase.
That makes it imperative for every small business to put more focus on online reviews. If you don’t, they’ll become the silent killer of your SEO strategy.
Let me take a step back. It’s important to understand that SEO does one thing really well for your small business — it makes you more visible. What it can’t do is convince a customer to buy.
All that traffic SEO drives to your business means nothing if customers don’t trust you. And I continually see incredible (and expensive) SEO strategies spoiled because of bad reviews or a lack of reviews.
See, humans are predictable: We don’t want to be the guinea pigs. We want other people to be the test subjects! When we consider buying from a business, we want to see that others have had a good experience with that business.
That’s why reviews are becoming such a vital part of buying decisions. BrightLocal reported this year that 91% of consumers read online reviews to determine the quality of a local business.
BrightLocal’s survey also showed that 84% of people trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Even if your business gets a lot of word-of-mouth referrals, what’s the first thing someone does when they get a recommendation? They head straight to Google to look up your business — and your reputation.
If you don’t have good reviews when someone looks up your business, you might lose a very hot referral. And reviews on one site aren’t enough — 59% of consumers look at two or three review sites before they make a decision, so it’s important to have a presence on more than just one site.
One client of mine has his reputation showing up on seven different sites when you search for his business – seven! That’s the kind of coverage you need.
An even stronger indicator of the power of online reviews is that 85% of people who visit Yelp make a purchase within a week. In sales, the last person to reach the client often is the one who makes the sale.
Imagine that you start working with a great SEO company, and they get you to the top of the search results. Now any prospective buyer who is looking for your service will find you. They are impressed with your website, your great videos, all the services you offer. They want to buy.
But before they proceed, they decide to do one last check of your business. They head to Yelp, Angie’s List and Google to read reviews and confirm their decision. What happens when they don’t find many reviews? Or if they see bad reviews?
“Hmmm,” they think. “I’m glad I did my research. Who is the top-rated business here?” Poof. You spent a lot of money to get in front of this prospective customer, and they’re gone.
Now, imagine your SEO isn’t great, but your reviews are. Your company could be the one that prospective customer turns to when their first choice — the one they found through Google —turns out to have a not-so-great reputation.
Think of it this way: The thousands of dollars your competitors are spending to be found online every month can actually bring you new business. If you have the best reputation in your industry, it’s hard for a prospective customer to resist giving you a call over your competition.
The even better news is that you can have the best of both worlds: While reviews have a significant impact on buying decisions, they also can give your SEO a big boost. According to MOZ’s Local Search Ranking Factors Survey, reviews account for 8.4% of your ranking factors.
Reviews often are what prevent a small business from making that jump to the coveted first page of Google. Are you struggling to get to there? Take a look at your reviews. A good SEO company can effectively manage most aspects of your SEO, but it won’t be able to help you boost your reputation online.
We’ve seen that reviews are crucial for any business that wants to build trust, attract customers and improve their search rankings. And I’m going to let you in on a little secret: It’s not as hard to get those reviews as you might think.
A great place to start is this Duct Tape Marketing post: “A Simple Strategy to Deliver an Amazing Customer Experience.” Then, stay tuned — because we’re just getting started on our journey.
Chris Lollini is the founder and CEO of Reputation Igniter, a simple software solution that turns customer feedback into 4- and 5-star reviews online. A 10-year veteran of the marketing industry, he’s committed to igniting the businesses of local entrepreneurs, educating fellow small-business owners and continuing to learn from every experience.