For businesses attempting to reach consumers, feedback from online reviews of your products and service spreads the word in a way advertising can’t. And, as an added bonus, the reviews can dramatically raise a website’s visibility in search engines.
Reviews and star ratings are often cited in search results. A Google search for “Los Angeles chiropractor,” for instance, includes not only links to websites and descriptions, but also a list of 10 local chiropractors with their addresses, reviews, star ratings and a local map at the top of the page.
The findings of the 2012 Local Consumer Review Survey show a positive shift in consumer trust and appreciation of online reviews. Approximately 72% of consumers surveyed said they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, while 52% said that positive online reviews make them more likely to use a local business (vs. 28% in 2010).
Other interesting survey notes:
Online reviews give users quick access to information, which helps them make decisions faster and easier than ever before. So with all of that said…
Which listings should you watch?
While there are hundreds of online review sites out there, it makes sense to focus on the three or four with the most clout. Local listing sites are showing dramatic growth. For example, traffic at Google Maps is up 25% year to year. Relative newcomer Yelp is up 129%. Google and Yelp are two of the top five websites you need to monitor regularly.
1. Google Places for Business
Formerly known as Google Local, Google Places lets business owners register with Google, at which point their company information be listed on Google Maps as well as show up in Google search results. Once you’ve verified or added your funeral home on Google Places, describe your business IN DETAIL by adding location information, a listing of services, hours of operation, photos and a link to your business website.
Once listed, users will be able to leave reviews for your business directly on your Google Places page. And you will be able to access Google reviews from other Google applications, including AdWords where you can use them in your on-screen ads.
2. Yahoo Local
Yahoo! Local Listings are similar in format to Google Places. And while Yahoo! currently gets about 13.5% of the search engine share, that’s still plenty of potential visitors to your website. Complete with a map and individual landing pages for each business location, Yahoo! Local listings rank above organic search results and below the top three pay-per-click (PPC or paid) listings.
Fill out your business profile in detail for the biggest benefits, including phone, email, hours of operation and brands of merchandise carried through the cool and metric-filled Dashboard.
Yelp is all about members talking about everything from hotels, restaurants and local shops to neighborhood favorites including best city parks and cool street corners. Yelp is a community-driven review site that enables users to create locations, give details about the businesses, review them and even post multimedia content.
Founded in 2004, Yelp! boasts 71 million unique monthly visitors. Because of it’s popularity, Yelp! reviews rank well with search engines, and are generally seen as reputable and trustworthy. Don’t get distracted with the restaurant reviews but DO check out the competition.
Citysearch was founded in 1995 and originally posted only staff reviews of local venues. Today, however, Citysearch is similar to Yelp!, showing user-posted reviews. They also boast a “Best of Citysearch” competition, allowing local users to vote for their favorite businesses in various categories to a quest to win their favorite places the crown. Most importantly, Citysearch listings tend to show up well in search engine rankings.
5. Merchant Circle
Since 2005, MerchantCircle has been capturing search listings and growing ever since as a social networking site specifically for local businesses. Their focus is connecting local businesses to help build real relationships. Originally designed as a user-review site, MerchantCircle now sets itself apart from the rest of the review sites by offering the option of deals and coupons available directly from merchants.
The continued growth of mobile Internet usage (cell phones & tablets) means that more and more consumers will be searching for and finding local businesses online, so the presence of (positive) online reviews will become even more important to consumers and extremely valuable to local business owners.