By Shannon Montoya
Google no longer permits users to post anonymous reviews on the Google My Business platform. The move also applies to previously posted anonymous reviews. Although the rule of “Let the buyer beware” always applies online, scraping reviews from “A Google User” across Google My Business is good for customers who want to know what to expect from a business—and, ultimately, it’s good for small business marketing, too.
Unless your Google My Business listing primarily consisted of anonymous reviews, you should have seen minimal change in the number of reviews and your average star rating. In a client survey conducted by BrightLocal, only 3% of Google reviews were anonymous. In the same study, BrightLocal “compared the average star rating of reviews with a named author and anonymous reviews and found a difference of 0.2 stars.”
The removal of anonymity signals the need for businesses to generate authentic reviews from real customers. Positive reviews don’t happen by themselves on a consistent basis; it’s up to every team member to earn customers’ appreciation, then ask for them to express it online.
Here are five strategies you can use to earn positive reviews on an ongoing basis:
1. Optimize your review presence
As a Google product, claiming, verifying, and optimizing your Google My Business listing is essential not only for generating reviews but also for your SEO and search marketing efforts. This is especially true with the rise of local search, where the geographic location of a user’s computer or mobile device significantly influences the results in the Google Local Pack.
With Google My Business, you can specify the information you want Google to display for key details like the following:
- Your business name
- Your address
- Your phone number
- Your website
- Your hours of operation
- Your logo
- Photos of your business
- Your service areas, including all relevant categories
Google My Business is free, and it provides all of this information to prospective customers all in one place.
When customers leave reviews, the average star rating is displayed in the local pack results. Thus, getting positive reviews from existing customers can also bring you new customers. To get the most value from the reviews feature on Google My Business, not to mention your listing as a whole, make sure your profile is complete and provides robust information to prospective customers.
A claimed, verified, and optimized listing gets you noticed. Positive reviews seal the deal.
2. Interact with reviewers
Whether you have reviews on Google My Business, Yelp, or social media platforms like Facebook, interaction with customers online is more than common courtesy—it’s now mandatory. Customers considering your service want to know that you are engaged; they want to see that you are appreciative of customers who send positive feedback, and they want to see that you take the concerns of dissatisfied customers seriously.
Google’s prohibition on anonymous reviews is more than a mandate for consumer transparency. It also places the onus on business owners to be authentic. And, when you engage with customer reviews authentically on Google My Business, third-party review websites, and social media, other customers will feel inclined to share their experience.
3. Promote reviews everywhere
Your 5-star reviews aren’t confined to the original platform. With a little creativity, you can improve the prominence of your positive reviews across your marketing channels.
Many third-party review websites offer a widget or embed code that you can add to your website. When new reviews are published, your website will automatically populate the latest ratings and reviews. You can also excerpt the very best text in reviews and integrate them into custom graphics. These visual assets are the perfect complement to content on your website.
Many customers post reviews on social media platforms. Although the native functionality on these sites gives you the option to engage with reviews, you can also spotlight positive reviews from other websites with brief teaser text or a screenshot, plus a note of thanks to the customer who left the review. This is an opportunity for engagement with your fan base on social media, as well as a way to draw attention to what customers have to say about your business.
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4. Train your staff
Consistency is key in any business. Unless you are the sole owner and operator of your company, you likely invest a significant amount of time and money to train employees on your procedures, educate them about your products and services, teach them how to serve your customers, and instill in them a pride and enthusiasm for what your business does.
Although every customer is different, you’ve likely heard the same reasons for why they don’t leave reviews: “I don’t have time;” “I don’t know how;” “I don’t know what to say.”
Like any employee protocol, it’s important to have a system in place for asking customers to leave reviews. This could be as simple as a business card with a call-to-action and a few simple steps for leaving a review on Google My Business or another important platform. It could also take the form of a sophisticated email marketing campaign that provides well-timed reminders and gentle follow-up that encourages customers to write about their experience.
As you develop your plan, areas to consider may include:
- What is the most visible, impactful website or platform for potential customers to see reviews?
- What are keywords and phrases you want customers to integrate in their reviews, augmenting your business’s SEO?
- Are there certain aspects of the customer experience you want to highlight?
No matter which method you choose for driving reviews, the key is consistency. Once you have a plan for how to ask for reviews, train your staff. In addition to employee training, you can encourage your team to generate reviews for your business by awarding a gift card or other prize to the individual who gets the most customers to write reviews each month. However, remember that you DON’T want to incentivize customer reviews. Not only is this strategy unethical, it can lead to hefty fines.
5. Use a reviews and ratings management platform
One of the main reasons “A Google User” had popped up in so many online reviews is that unscrupulous business owners were using the option of anonymity to obscure the fact they were commissioning, if not outright paying for, reviews. The anonymous user could be anybody—including a friend, family member, an employee of the business, or even a hired gun from halfway around the world.
Now that anonymous postings, which made this dubious practice possible, are now gone, business owners need to lay the groundwork for generating positive reviews from real customers, and for receiving reviews consistently. There are reputation management platforms that do just that. These programs provide business owners the ability to access and control all aspects of their reviews and ratings marketing, including:
- Destination websites and how to leave a review
- Embeddable widgets to connect the reviews platform with the business website
- Automated requests and follow-up messaging
- Suggestions for what to include in a review, including specific customer experience details, keywords, and more
- Alerts when new reviews get posted online
- Promotion across social media channels
Many reviews and ratings platforms also include a service recovery feature that can help defuse the publication of a negative review. Users who assign a negative star rating receive a message asking them to tell you and your team directly why their experience was unsatisfactory. Having advance knowledge of a customer’s poor experience will allow you to respond to the customer outside of a public forum. If all goes well, not only will the customer decide not to publish the review, but he or she may give your business another chance.
While the loss of anonymous reviews might have temporarily affected your star rating and the total number of reviews you had on Google My Business, the long-term benefits of this change outweighs any short-term losses. Authentic customer reviews are essential for any business, and when you consistently execute a plan to generate positive reviews and promote them, your business will stand out in search results, on third-party websites, and social media, thus earning you more customers.
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