If you run a local service-based business, you might already be using Google Places as part of your online marketing strategy. However, if you're not, know that businesses that take advantage of Google Places listings consistently remain at the top of the Google search engine rankings for their most important local search terms.
The reviews that accompany a Google Places listing are imperative because they come from a mixture of big "localized" sites— such as Yelp, InsiderPages, and Citysearch plus niche sites like TripAdvisor, Zagat and others. Reviews matter—and it matters where your reviews are coming from. Your competition is likely already aware of that. Just click on their Google Places listings and you'll see for yourself the sources that are providing their user reviews.
Reviews Boost Page Rank
When a large website like Yelp or Citysearch publishes a user-written review, those reviews are believed to be considered relevant by Google’s search system (Google keeps the precise details to itself). The same goes for reviews from the smaller, niche sites such as Zagat.com. By taking advantage of reviews, local businesses are positioned to gain a higher ranking for their Places pages than for their company's actual website.
Promoting Your Reviews
First, claim your Places page. You can do this by simply including your business type (or category) in the Places listing. When doing so, pick the category your customers will use to search for your business or create a business title that contains your business type. Keep in mind that Google awards significance based on these business titles.
For example, a website or Places listing called "Pie in the Sky Bakery" is more likely to be found by customers searching Google than one named "Pie in the Sky" because the latter doesn't explain that the business is a bakery. You can understand how potential clients who aren't familiar with the business would more likely search for "bakery in Houston" than for actual business names.
Second, create a "review page" on your website that links to all of your listing pages that you see in the reviews section of your Places listing. Explain how you love providing great service and encourage customers to post reviews about your service.
Getting Those Reviews
So how do you get people to write the reviews you need to rank well in Google? Here are six ways.
1. Offer coupons in exchange for a review. Everyone likes a sweet incentive, so offer a discount coupon in exchange for a review site visit. Yelp, for example, allows business users to offer coupons this way—right through its system.
2. Hit up your visitors in person. Whether a customer visits your store location, include a business card or flyer with every purchase that asks for a review: "Enjoy our service? Reward us by posting a review.” Same goes for online guests, but for those, instead of flyers or business cards, post badges from review sites throughout your website so they can't help but see them.
3. Always follow-up with a thank you. This is for customers who leave positive traditional comment cards. Contact them to thank them for their feedback and ask them to leave a user review about their experience online.
4. Add a "tell us how you found us" field to the contact form on your website. List the biggest local review sites as options in your drop down listing. Follow up with happy customers who say they found you via Yelp to remind them to leave their own review on the site.
5. Follow-up with an e-mail. Follow up with customers and ask how they liked your service. If the feedback is positive, suggest they leave a review. Remember, the best time to hit up a customer for a review is right after they've done business with you. If customers are satisfied, the praise will be fresh in their minds.
6. Leverage your customer surveys. Many businesses periodically send out customer surveys via an e-mail newsletter or direct mail. This provides a great opportunity to leave a review call-to-action at the end of the survey requesting an online review.
How have you encouraged your clients and customers to review your products or services?
Rae Hoffman-Dolan, aka "Sugarrae," is a serial entrepreneur and the CEO of PushFire, an online marketing agency.