Enterprises large and small alike are realizing the local SEO benefits of their local business reviews strategy, now that 1st and 3rd party reviews are given so much weight by Google and consumers it is imperative to create a method of action. In the Local Search Association’s most recent webinar, local search pros from U-Haul and here at Rio SEO got together to share best practices and how marketers can better monitor, engage and capitalize on local reviews.

LSA’s Director of Marketing and Communication Joe Morsello hosted the webinar and was joined by guests:

  • Elnora Cunningham, Head of Social Media Marketing and Listing Management at U-Haul, and;
  • Tyler Ludwig, Director of Enterprise Solutions at Rio SEO

U-Haul has been tracking their online reviews since 2009 and has millions to manage across their thousands of locations. Learning to incorporate their 3rd-party reviews as well has been “extremely powerful with our marketing, business decisions and local operations,” Elnora shared. You’ll find the full webinar video at the bottom of this post. But first, here are 10 great tips Tyler, Elnora and Joe shared. The goal? To help you craft the most successful local reviews strategy possible for your enterprise brand.

10. Get to Know the Local Review Landscape

We’re in the midst of a review boom, where consumers are not only reading reviews more than ever before, but creating them, as well. We’ve seen a massive upswing in the volume of Google business reviews as well as Facebook, Yelp, TripAdvisor and Foursquare since 2012. That’s when the concept of sharing your real-world experiences with the online public was just getting traction.

When it comes to the sites that consumers trust most, Facebook and Yelp lead the pack with 20% each. Google, and TripAdvisor are also popular choices. As Joe noted, the major players are important, but you should have vertical-specific sites on your radar, as well.

Review growth has been incredible over the last couple of years. This chart shows the growth in review volume for hundreds of thousands of individual business locations managed within the Rio SEO Open Local Platform.

Local Review Landscape

As you can see, retail businesses have seen massive growth in the volume of reviews being generated. But across the board, consumers are sharing more reviews, more often, about their experiences with businesses of all kinds.

“When you’re starting out on developing your reviews strategy, it’s really important that you’ve prioritized how you’re going to go about it,” Elnora said. “Often, people jump in and feel as though every review requires a response. You need to define what does (and what does not) merit your team going in after it.” This can make or break your program, she said, by making review monitoring and response an insurmountable task.

9. Define the Questions Your Reviews Can Answer for the Brand

Consumers have long relied on word-of-mouth to help influence their purchasing decisions. Today, that often means taking recommendations not only from friends and acquaintances, but from total strangers.

Star Reviews

Search engines like Google are taking consumer reviews into account as they’re indexing and ranking content. Reviews offer more opportunity than ever before to engage customers.

Site-specific reviews also provide a great deal of business intelligence for multi-location brands. What’s working well at your best-reviewed locations? What’s your average review across all sites, and how can you help underperformers improve? How can you replicate the successes and engagement of your most-reviewed locations? Taking this more intentional approach to your local reviews strategy will help you influence consumer behavior to benefit all of your locations.

8. Identify Your 1st vs 3rd Party Review Opportunities

Are you actively listening everywhere your customers are sharing information about your business? It’s important that you’re tuned in to 3rd-party review sites like Facebook, Google, Yelp, TripAdvisor and industry or vertical-specific sites. People contribute to these sources whether or not you’re aware and engaged.

You also need to be attuned to your 1st-party reviews to reap the most benefit from them. These might be in the form of customer surveys, or product reviews on your e-commerce site, for example. Tools like Bazaarvoice and PowerReviews can help you collect your 1st-party reviews and put them to use, either on- or off-page.

In a nutshell, 3rd-party reviews are those owned and controlled by external sources, while 1st-party reviews are those you gather, control and own within the brand.

7. Benchmark Your Review Volume by Location

Rio SEO took that same sample of several hundreds of thousands of business locations and analyzed the number of reviews per location, segmented by industry, over one year. Here’s what we found:

Review Volume by Location

Hotels and motels are taking the market share in review volume, with an average of 93 reviews per location. Now, imagine you aren’t tracking or engaging with these as part of a comprehensive local reviews strategy? That’s an awful lot of highly visible user-generated information about each of your locations out there helping consumers make decisions about your business, whether you’re aware of it or not.

Across all industries, from restaurants and retail to automotive, financial brands and industrial firms, consumer reviews are playing a role in your marketing and influencing your brand reputation. Is that effect positive or negative? Enterprise clients in particular need to stay on top of the conversations happening around the brand at the local level.

6. Identify User Actions to Showcase Value

Of course, volume doesn’t tell the whole story. How do these reviews impact your business? You need to understand which user actions demonstrate the value you’re looking to get out of your marketing efforts. Are your profiles on each 3rd-party review site optimized to push consumers back to the brand?

Identify User Actions to Showcase Value

U-Haul, for example, with its more than 20,000 locations, measures and monitors calls to the center or dealer and clicks for driving directions. Elnora said, “When they can tell us how many clicks we’re getting, whether for a call direct to the center or a dealer, or for driving directions, all of this is really rich information. Being able to have that shot back to us tells us number one, that customers are going there to find us, and two, that they’re being served up something that they need. It ultimately results in them coming directly to U-Haul, or going straight to a location.”

Understanding which actions drive the best value for your brand and its location informs your budgeting decisions on a go-forward basis.

5. Enhance Location Visibility Where Customers Leave Reviews

One of U-Haul’s local reviews priorities is ensuring that their listings on 3rd party sites, especially where customers go to leave reviews, are complete and accurate.  

“In our partnership with Rio, we’re using Rio’s platform to ensure that our listings are showing up in the Map Pack, and also that we’re showing up so that customers can leave a review. It starts there,” Elnora said. “You have to make sure your listings are there, that they’re accurate, and that you’re including all of those key content pieces in terms of your business information–from photos to driving instructions and more–so the crowdsourcing data isn’t taking precedent over the information you’re putting out about your business.”

Be aware, as well, that Google has changed the online reviews game entirely by encouraging the crowdsourcing of reviews. Google’s Local Guides program encourages over 60 million mobile users to share photos, videos, reviews and business information updates about the individual locations around them. In some cases, information provided by Local Guides is even overriding location information submitted by brands (you can learn more about combating that here).

4. Develop a Measurement Plan with Reporting, Insights & Sentiment

“In this new reality your website is just a data source, one amongst many, that feeds the Google results.” – Mike Blumenthal

Google has become your “mobile homepage” and today, 70% of pre-sale actions take place via the dominant search engine. Google is responsible for referring 92% of all website actions and in effect, is responsible for 93% of all local actions.

Your Local Reviews reporting structure should allow you a full view across 1st and 3rd-party review sources. You should be able to see volume, or number of ratings, as well as some measurement of sentiment. And of course for multi-location brands, you need to be collecting this data across all of your locations.

“When we look at the impact of reviews and being able to monitor them, in addition to customer behavior, this is really everything,” Elnora said. It enables her team to tell the C-level exactly what impact their initiatives are having. “The impact has been huge for us, in that I have a tool to communicate this, but now I have a tool to also monitor so I can see historic changes and shifting across 3rd-party sites as well as our own.”

Develop a Measurement Plan

3. Create a Reputation Team and Workflow

Your reputation team are needed to respond to and nurture reviews across the brand or by location. They’re also going to be instrumental in designing a process for managing a high influx of reviews.

Whether you have 200 locations or 20,000, who owns the reviews process? In some organizations, it’s the customer service team. It might be the operations team, or perhaps your dedicated social media team.

If you have multiple teams collecting or interacting with online reviews, how do they work together? How can you reduce any friction so people can leave more reviews? This may be accomplished via web links within email marketing or on the landing pages for each business directing consumers to the right place.

Reputation Team and Workflow

2. Activate Your Local Reviews with Local Landing Pages and Schema

No one goes wandering around a website to find a page called “Testimonials” anymore. So what can you do with all of the compelling, positive things people are saying about your business?

Your local reviews strategy should include the incorporation of reviews into your site’s content. For example, integrating reviews into your location-specific landing pages gives visitors that social validation in the very moment they’re making a decision about your brand. Take it a step further by marking each location’s page up with the proper schema, so that ratings display on organic search results, as well.

1. Measure and Communicate How Reviews Affect the Business

“The impact of local reviews for us at U-Haul is three-fold: you have the SEO impact, the operations impact and then the marketing impact,” Elnora said. “We’ve used reviews to speak to the progress of a specific location. We can compare against historic reviews when we’re making an operational shift. We can track and we should see that reviews reflect the changes that we’ve made. That’s the power of reviews… that and responding so that the customer becomes your fan.

Reviews also help marketers understand how to speak to their customers, she said. Whether the sentiment is positive or negative, the words customers use to describe your product or service can be enlightening. Use these insights to inform your marketing and advertising copy.

Ready to dig in for more detail? Grab a coffee, get comfortable and enjoy the full webinar video:

You can also view the slides here.

Want to learn more about growing and protecting your brand’s reputation across hundreds or even thousands of locations? See what Rio SEO’s Local Reviews can do for you.

Author Bio:

Karisa Macias has extensive expertise in local search, digital marketing, and technology.