Every business –restaurants, doctors, law firms, dry cleaners and other brick (click) and mortar businesses – wins and loses new customers every day before the potential customer even sets foot out the door. Their decision to do you business with your company is often made without ever engaging with your company directly.
Some customers may even form opinions about your business without ever stepping a foot in your store. This is because online review sites make it easy for potential customers to look up businesses and compare ratings, all without ever leaving their home. And with so many businesses to choose from, being number one on Google is almost never the only deciding credibility or trust factor.
When marketing your business these days, you’re dealing with an educated consumer who does their research on review sites and does not really care what you have to say about your business. They care what others have to say. When friends and family aren’t readily available to ask for recommendations, where else can people turn but the local online community? Welcome to the new word-of-mouth (mouse) marketing.
Looking To Online Reviews
When faced with too many choices, others will rely on the “social proof” of what others think, and online reviews are a perfect example. Where are potential customers finding these reviews? All over the Internet. There are 1000s of local business review sites and directories online, but there are some that matter more than the rest combined.
Since a potential customer’s initial search still often starts with keywords typed into a search engine, while using a service-oriented keyword followed or preceded by the city in which they’re searching (ex: best Mexican restaurant in Dallas), you should first pay attention to the truly important keywords already showing up on Google, Yahoo!, and Bing for your keywords.
Once you have selected your keywords, here are ten major review and business listing sites that carry weight and have a huge online presence that your business should be taking advantage of:
1. Google Places and Google+ Local for Business
What used to be Google Local has now been combined with the new Google Places, each bringing their own unique features to the mix. Google Places and Google+ Local are two of the most important places to list your business online. They are free and easy, plus there are more than 343 million active Google+ users as of January 2013.
Google Places allows businesses to register themselves with Google, at which point they will be listed on Google Maps, as well as show up in Google’s search results with extended information and data available at a glance (such as reviews and photos). Once listed, users will be able to leave reviews for your business directly on your Google Places page. In May 2012, Google incorporated Google+ Local listings into Google Places. Google+ Local uses Zagat summaries of user reviews to assign a business a Zagat score.
After signing up for this free service, simply describe your business with location information, a listing of services, hours of operation and a link to your business website. The next step is to verify your account so that Google knows you are indeed authorized to create and manage this listing. Verification can be done by postcard or phone call. Anytime you change your address or business name, you will have to go through the verification process.
If you let Google find your business first, you’ll be rewarded with better placement on the map. Much like Google would rather find your website on its own through links rather than search engine submission, Google Maps will trust and more than likely post reviews from other review sites before submitting or modifying your listing. Often, the Google Places bot will scour the Internet for other review sites for businesses already showing your company’s offerings and experiences, so start building profiles on other business review sites first to begin compiling a healthy portfolio of reviews.
Reviews are an absolutely essential factor in achieving top placement in the alphanumeric listing of the Google Places/Google Map Listings, so be sure that your reviews are genuine – fake reviews are quickly recognized, and can not only hurt your listing position, but your reputation. A business name containing keywords and a complete Google Places profile also helps. Get started with Google Places for Business.
Since it was founded in 2004 to connect residents of San Francisco to local businesses, Yelp! has taken off and become a household name across the world. With 108 million monthly unique visitors in Q2 2013 alone, the Yelp! community has exploded into a full-fledged social community, complete with the ability to add friends, earn community reputations, a robust commenting system, and picture profiles. Plus, because of its marked popularity – with over 42 million reviews posted as of October 2013 – Yelp! reviews rank well with search engines, and are generally seen as reputable and trustworthy thanks to an algorithm implemented in 2006 that, while not necessarily perfect, helps to curb fake reviews.
To gain control of your profile, first check to see if your business is already listed; if so, then you must “claim” the listing with phone call verification.
Yelp also allows paid ads for businesses to be featured to the community and, therefore, increase visibility. Paying businesses cannot change their reviews, therefore they will still be genuine. Yelp also offers a full list of mobile apps that allow users to access it on the go. Consider the growing mobility market and claim your place on Yelp! See what others are saying about your business and talk back on Yelp.com
3. Yahoo! Local Listings
Yahoo! Local Listings are similar in format to Google Places. Complete with a map and full landing page, Yahoo! Local listings rank above organic search results and below the top three pay-per-click listings.
Promote your Yahoo! Local Listing by treating it like it’s one of the family – get reviews, flesh out the profile, add business information. Yahoo local also verifies every business that lists itself and ensures it is “local”. Therefore, E-commerce businesses without a storefront will likely get denied a listing in this directory.
Although Yahoo! currently only gets about 13.5% of the search engine share, that’s still represents a significant number of potential visitors to present your business’ listings to. Get your free Yahoo! Map Listing started.
While not as popular as it once was, this business review site has been around for many years. Citysearch was founded back in 1995 and was primarily fueled by staff reviews of local venues. Today, however, they have adopted a format very similar to that of 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. Unfortunately, listing here isn’t as easy as it used to be. If your listing is already on Citysearch and you simply want to claim and update it, you can go here https://signup.citygrid.com/cyb/find_business. However, if you want add your business, you have the option to manually email them with your business listing at email@example.com. You simply need to include your business name, address, and phone number, web address and category, then they will add it for you. It takes about 3 weeks total and you can check out your listing on CitySearch.com. The other option here is to sign up for a paid service with Yext.com
Facebook is one of the top business review sites online. Facebook boasts over 1 billion active users worldwide and can be found on 3 out of 4 smartphones. Facebook pages for business is easy to use, lets you engage your customers, and allows for ratingss, reviews, updates, pictures, stories, maps, user uploads of pictures, tagging and much more, including hyper targeted ads to boost your pages exposure to a target audience. Create or claim your facebook for business page and connect to your customers today.
MerchantCircle, founded in 2005, has been infiltrating search listings and growing ever since. Originally designed solely as a user review site, MerchantCircle now sets itself apart from the rest of the review sites by touting the availability of deals and coupons available from merchants.
In February 2012, MerchantCircle announced over 15 million monthly visits and 1.2 million active registered merchant users. MerchantCircle also lets you verify your account and assigns you a score from 0-100, 100 being the best based on reviews and a variety of other factors that can set you apart from others. Join the circle.
7. Insider Pages
Insider Pages is another online “local search” service operated by IAC/InterActiveCorp, owners of CitySearch. Before its acquisition by IAC the company was based in Redwood Shores, California, and had over 600,000 reviews of local merchants around the country. Today, they claim “millions” of monthly users. Better yet, Google Maps definitely picks it up. Be an insider.
8. Angie’s List
Angie’s List was founded in 1995 in the form of a hard-copy publication that solicited user recommendations for local businesses in Columbus, Ohio. The database moved to the Internet in 1999, and has since become a dominant force in local user review websites.
Unlike other business review sites, however, Angie’s List charges a membership fee for users to read and post reviews, though listings are free for companies. Even with a fee, Angie’s List claims over 2 million members as of April 2013, with over 40,000 reviews posted each month. List your business on Angie’s List.
While Foursquare may remind you of a social network, it is one of the top review sites for businesses. Launched in 2009 at South by Southwest Interactive in Austin, Texas, the community has reached over 40 million members, boasts over 4.5 billion check ins and has over 1.5 million businesses listed. You can connect with your customers or potential customers with a fully updated listing.
The app also suggests places like “best nearby” or “specials” to people nearby, so this could be your businesses moment to shine. To claim, update or list your business check in here at Foursquare.
While Local Corporation was founded in 1999, it wasn’t until 2005 that the domain name local.com was obtained and a local directory was created. Growing fast, it can now claim over 1 billion ad impressions a month in combination with over 1600 partner sites.
With over one million searches for products and businesses a day, it is definitely not a site to be missed. Claim or create your listing, add pictures, descriptions and add your website to be found locally. You can also feature your listing to appear in the top of the search results. Be Local.
Three Important Local Business Review Marketing Tips
If your company plans on using local business review sites to help bring in new customers to your business, be sure that you keep the following tips in mind in order to best utilize these services:
1). Never write fake reviews or testimonials. It is simply not worth the risk of being banned, and could severely damage your reputation in the eyes of users if you’re caught. Don’t forget legal problems that could arise through misuse and abuse of review sites.
2). Don’t be afraid to ask happy customers to review after they visit or make a purchase. Many customers would be happy to, if reminded.
3). Engage with reviewers and let them know that you value and appreciate their honest opinion. Answer as many reviews as possible, and it will go a long way with your customers.
4). Don’t panic if there are some reviews which are less than 100% positive. No business is perfect, and nobody expects them to be. Instead, use any criticism as a learning tool for improving your business. If possible, follow up and see how you can fix the problem. Consumer studies and surveys have proven customers are more satisfied with a company in which there was a small issue and the issue was resolved, compared to if there was never one in the first place.
Managing your online reviews and listings can be overwhelming, and we understand that. At the Marketing Zen Group we are dedicated to helping you get your business noticed in the most positive way possible. From reputation management to review campaigns, we can assist you in reaching your customers and building a positive digital reputation.