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Ratings & Reviews: 5 Strategies for Local Businesses

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One of the most cost-effective strategies for instilling consumer confidence in your local business is encouraging online reviews and ratings.

For example, 55 percent of U.S. consumers trust a local business more after reading positive online reviews and 67 percent of respondents say they trust online reviews as much as word-of-mouth recommendations, according to a recent survey by BrightLocal.com.

When it comes to online promotion, many business owners start by creating a website that describes their location, products, services, and provides contact information. They then distribute this content to search engines and directories.

Once these basics are taken care of, they tend to shift their focus to utilizing social media such as Facebook and Twitter to communicate with customers.

While these are all key strategies, adding online ratings and reviews is becoming more important.

Ratings and reviews enable consumers to see what others truly think about a product or service before deciding to spend their money. This is why consumers love online ratings and reviews.

Ratings and reviews also benefit local businesses because they differentiate products and services, improve search engine rankings, and drive free web traffic.

An Example of How Online Reviews Improve Search Rankings

One of my clients, who owns a business in the competitive cleaning and home services category, needed help generating online reviews for his New Jersey-based business. We created a special URL page on his site that linked directly to his business profile on Yelp, Citysearch, Google, and Yahoo. He printed the unique URL on the back of his business cards and encouraged consumers to visit his page where they could easily find sites to post reviews.

Within three months, he received an additional 30 online reviews -- 10 times the amount he had when he started actively asking clients to review his business.

Because search engines factor reviews in their rankings, the client's business started to appear at or near the top of local search results for targeted keywords that had previously been unobtainable.

In addition, his business began appearing in local searches for secondary offerings that broadened awareness of the many services he provides. All this drove additional consumer phone calls and online leads that turned into sales.

Here are some best practices that will help your local business successfully navigate the world of online ratings and reviews:

1. Ask Your Customers to Provide Reviews and Ratings

Make it easy for them to do so online. The more reviews, the better, even if they aren't all as favorable as you'd like.

2. Monitor Your Reviews Regularly and Flag Hot-Button Keywords

For instance, a hotel would want to flag "bedbugs" or "bad service." In addition to checking Yelp, Citysearch, Google, and Yahoo, look at industry-specific sites: urbanspoon.com, Zagat.com, and dine.com for restaurants; Angie's List for home services, and so forth. Consider working with a monitoring service if your staff doesn't have time.

3. Respond Quickly to Complaints and Kudos

The faster you respond to dissatisfied customers, the better. Address concerns in published and rejected reviews right away, and fix what's broken in terms of products, services, or processes. Always thank customers for their feedback.

4. See Negative Feedback in a Positive Light

Bad reviews are a goldmine of information about how you can do better, and a window into how customers view your brand. Learn from criticism to improve every aspect of your business.

5. Report Inappropriate Reviews

If you're concerned about feedback that is fake, off-topic, or appears to have been left by a competitor, you can ask to have the review removed. On Google Maps, click the "Flag as inappropriate" link found under the review to submit a report. On other websites, express your concerns to the webmaster of the site where the review was posted.

For some business owners, the thought of having customers post reviews online is like opening Pandora's Box -- it's a bit scary and feels out of their control. But if they follow these tips, they'll be glad they took the leap.

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