Whether or not you like online reviews as they apply to you personally, they’re an important part of your marketing plan. Consumers love online reviews, and use them to evaluate everything from baby formula to cars to … YOU.
Sure, you’re not a Bluetooth headset, but consumers begin their search process for agents in much the same way.
Online reviews are 12 times more trusted than what you say about yourself online (eMarketer, February 2010).
Here’s the kicker: People who interact with reviews and other people looking at reviews (think Yelp!) are 105 percent more likely to buy (Bazaarvoice, Conversation Index, Q2 2011).
Although these stats are impressive, there’s another, equally important piece of online reviews.
Reviews provide fresh, unique content for search engines. They increase your chances of being found by Google. Reviews increase click-through. People who leave reviews frequently use language other people use when searching, increasing your chances of being found using long tail keywords.
80% of consumers say that online feedback and research helped to influence their decision to purchase.
~ Google, 2012
What’s a long-tail keyword? It’s a long string of 3-5 words, like “Victorians in Noe Valley for Sale” that people use when they’re looking for very specific things. Long tail keyword strings are often associated with purchase, meaning that people are farther down their decision process when they use them.
You can imagine that if someone is search for something as specific as something you sell (say “Victorians in Noe Valley for Sale”) it would be more than advisable for you to have a great review pop up at that moment. What’s more, reviews are popping up in places that consumers use every day, like Google Maps and Siri. Reviews are everywhere, and you need to get in the game.
Is it a Review, or a Testimonial?
It’s simple, actually. Your clients create reviews on third party sites, and you create testimonials on web properties you own. You earn reviews. You own testimonials.
Think of it this way. Let’s say a client gives you a review on Yelp! Whether you’re pleased, surprised or disappointed, it’s out of your direct control. You can respond, but you can’t direct. These kinds of reviews have the most credibility to prospective clients.
Now let’s say you arrange for that same client to give you a fantastic testimonial.
You hire a crew, arrange a location, coach the client on what to say and produce a lovely two-minute video extolling your virtues. You publish the video on your own web site and post it on Facebook. You even use it in your listing presentations.
It’s good for you if you have lots of testimonials. But whether you have one or 15, testimonials offer a way for prospects to see how you treat clients on your own terms. That’s why no web site worth its salt should be without them.
Make sure your testimonials include the real names of the people providing them. Don’t shorten or otherwise obscure your client’s name. Partially anonymous testimonials are the Ginzu knives of real estate — they’re bogus and lack credibility.
Now let’s talk about reviews, and what makes them powerful, and unique from testimonials.
Outside of your site, prospects will find and vet you — whether it’s on Yelp!, Google, Zillow or other sites. When they’re looking at your reviews on third-party sites, they’re deciding if you’re worthy of further exploration.
Research shows that consumers value authentic, natural language reviews that represent diverse points of view from real people (and not from “a happy customer, in Reading, PA”). Prospects want to see through the words of others if you are a real, credible and active professional.
Think of it this way: If you were shopping for a real estate agent, would you choose the one with a single anonymous review from 2010, or one with 15 reviews within the last couple of years on several different sites from real, verified people?
Once prospects have decided to click through to your site, however, they have a different set of expectations.
They want you to provide valuable information about you, your listings and your services. Testimonials play a key part in demonstrating your value — on YOUR site.
Original content means just that
If you have single, identical review popping up all over the web, it’s not only bad form, but it will reduce your credibility and you will pay for it.
Third-party sites like Google and Yelp! Look for suspect, duplicate reviews and will penalize you if they find them. How do they know?
It’s easy. They look for identical or even similar phrasing. The also look at the dates the content was posted, where it came from, who authored it, and where it appears.
If you have what is substantially the same review popping up on Yelp!, City Search, YP.com and Google Plus Local, search engines will see it as duplicate content. These reviews appear flawed and suspicious, and will ultimately be flagged, deleted or hidden.
Yelp! Will go so far as to label your profile as suspect, which is obviously bad for business.
The point is to have a mix of original reviews across the major portals and search engines, so that when a prospect finds you — wherever they find you — there is original, authentic content.
Don’t be Afraid of Bad Reviews
Even bad or neutral reviews are valuable. In the retail world, bad reviews actually increase conversions by 87 percent. That’s because a bad review makes all the positive reviews real.
Research shows that nearly seven in 10 consumers trust reviews more when they see both good and bad scores. But 30 percent think the reviews are fake or censored if they don’t see any negative reviews on the page.
Obviously, too many bad reviews aren’t good for business, but one review that gives you three stars out of 10 makes all of the rest of your four- and five-star reviews more credible.
If you should get a bad review, the first thing to do is to remain calm. Let it be for a while, until your blood pressure comes down and you can approach it with care.
Here’s what to do:
- Remember that no matter the circumstances, the person who wrote the review is a human, and is therefore unpredictable. This person is also a paying client who is very opinionated (who otherwise wouldn’t bother to write a review!).
- Even though the review probably feels like a personal attack on you, don’t respond that way. Stay on the high road.
- Keep your response simple. Thank them for doing business with you and their feedback. If you can address whatever the problem was succinctly, and ask for further feedback privately, do so. Don’t be inflammatory. Remember that the other people reading your exchange are potential clients.
- If the review is just plain ridiculous and obviously false or incendiary, it may be better not to respond at all. If your average review earns 4.5 stars, and this review gave you a one, consumers will recognize it and use it to validate the credibility of your other reviews. In other words, it may actually help you.
Don’t go crazy over good reviews, either. If there’s an especially positive review, send a thank you note privately to the client. But don’t gush about it online.
And by all means, don’t advertise your services in any response to a review.
What to do Today
If you haven’t claimed your business on Google Plus Local, Yelp! or CitySearch, do it today.
It’s easy to do: Just run a search on the site to see if you’re listed. If so, claim your listing when you see the button “is this your business?”
If there isn’t a listing for you, create one. Typically, it can take 2-4 weeks to claim and verify your listings. Google Plus Local, for example, uses a snail mail postcard to verify that you are who you say you are.
Here’s a quick list of sites where you should claim your listing:
- Google (Plus and Places)
- CitySearch (note that signing up here puts your listing on a variety of sites, including InsiderPages.com and MapQuest, via CityGrid)
- Angie’s List
If you’re short on time, pick the services that seem to make the most sense in your market. But by all means, make sure you take the time for Google, since the recent changes to maps and G+ will have a profound effect on your search results. You might want to take a look at my how-to article about Google Plus Local for step-by-step instructions.
Finally, you should of course make sure your LinkedIn, Zillow, Trulia and Realtor profiles are populated with reviews. I’ll be covering how to maximize those profiles in a future post.
How to Get Clients to Review You
All of this sounds great until the rubber hits the road, and you have actually ask your clients to review you.
How can you do it without sounding like a pain in the butt, or schmaltzy?
The first thing to keep in mind is that clients are more likely to recommend you immediately after the close of the transaction. By immediately, I mean the moment the deal closes, not even a week later. You need to strike while the iron is HOT.
It’s also important to note that you don’t want all of your past and current clients to review you in the same time period — Google and Yelp! find this unnatural and will call the reviews into question.
That said, here’s what to do:
- Include a request for the review in your thank you note to your client. If you’re particularly interested in getting a review on one service over the other, be specific. For example, you could say, “Online reviews are an important part of my business. I would really appreciate it if you could review me on (name service).”
- Ask in person. Plain and simple, the most direct and fruitful way to get more reviews.
- Reach out to previous reviewers. If your client has reviewed you on Yelp!, but not on G+, ask them to do so.
- Put together a printed cheat sheet that you give to clients as part of their closing package. Provide links to your various profiles, and include the link to the idea in the next bullet….
- Create a page on your website with links to your profiles. This page can stand alone, like a landing page. With a single click, your clients can then easily leave you reviews. Make the URL simple to remember, like http://yoursite.com/reviews
Most of all, remember that getting online reviews is a long-term objective. It’s not a sprint to get as many as you can in two weeks. If you make getting them a part of your normal business process, you’ll automatically improve your business and be found by more clients.