Reviews and Search Engines: Essential Do’s and Don’ts
Your business’s reputation online matters. More than 90 percent of people say that online reviews impact their purchase decision. Not only are people making decisions about whether to lease from you, they are also more likely to find your website if you have strong reviews online. In fact, 84 percent of customers trust reviews when making a purchase just as much as a recommendation from friends or family. The quality of an online review — and how you respond to it — can make or break your ability to get new customers in the door.
How Online Reviews Affect SERP
Beyond what a review can do to customer sentiment, search engines, like Google, Bing, and Yelp use online customer reviews in their ranking algorithms. The frequency, diversity, and strength of the customer rating can affect 7 percent or more of your search ranking score. Even the most optimized website will likely see a decrease in site traffic if the business has low-star reviews because potential customers may be discouraged to visit websites that they think are not worth their time.
From an SEO perspective, reviews indicate the validity of your website and can provide depth to the type of information that potential customers find online about you. Your response strategy and messaging can have a strong influence on whether customers even find you on search — and whether or not they decide to take the next step in visiting your property. With that, search engines are most interested in reviews that are genuine and that customers leave on their own, without direct solicitation from businesses.
Recently, search engines caught on to some companies who were abusing the practice of soliciting for reviews and started to penalize them by removing their websites from the SERP. While it was once okay to email your customers asking them to leave a review, this practice could now impede your website’s performance in search.
How do you navigate this changing landscape? Here are some tips to help you navigate the waters of online review sites.
- Instill customer service in all that you do. The undisputed best method for getting 5-star customer reviews is to “wow” your customers with an impeccable experience with your property and staff. Focus on finding the small ways to delight your customers — whether it is sending them a birthday note or just following up on a service call. Inspire your customers to leave great reviews by showing them that you are going above and beyond for them.
- Get reviews across a variety of websites – especially your own! Include a review form on your website so that customers can leave their feedback directly on your website. Getting their feedback directly allows you to quickly manage issues and respond appropriately. As an added bonus, direct reviews displayed on your website help to strengthen your position in SEO.
- Reply to your reviews as soon as possible. Responding quickly to your customers allows you to build rapport and trust. Connecting with a customer immediately may help save a relationship or prevent a smaller issue from becoming a much bigger problem. Once you have resolved the issue and managed the relationship with the client, you can encourage the customer to update their reviews. Hopefully, your commitment to service has won them over and a negative review turns into a well-earned positive one.
- Do a weekly or monthly recap of customer reviews with your property staff. Use this review data to help your team manage the property effectively and to stay on top of recurring issues. Are several people leaving comments about trash? Is one leasing agent going above and beyond for her customers? Get your staff engaged in knowing what customers are saying by discussing some of the hot topics on a regular basis.
- Email large groups of customers soliciting for them to review you on Yelp, Google, or other review websites. Some search engines, like Yelp and Google, have tightened their policies for online reviews and have started penalizing businesses who incentivize customers to post reviews online. Search engines are more interested in organic reviews, so soliciting customer feedback en masse makes it look like you are gaming the system.
- Use reviews as a place to promote or advertise your property. Be careful to not include links to your website, prices, or email addresses in your review responses. Again, search engines prefer organic reviews and interactions, so they are likely to sniff out instances where it looks like you are systematically asking customers to promote your property.
- Pay for reviews. This goes along the same lines as using reviews to promote your property. Paying your customers to leave a review not only looks dishonest, it indicates that the reviews were not left organically.
- Review your own business online. This is a major conflict of interest. Not only will search engines penalize you, posting reviews of your own property can lead to distrust amongst your potential customers. If you have feedback to leave about your own property, take it directly to your management.
The Value of Reviews
Online customer reviews are crucial for your business. They provide valuable insights to you about what your tenants think about your property and point to potential issues that require your attention. Online reviews open the door for you to build relationships and trust with your customers, potentially influencing whether or not they renew their leases with you.
Beyond their operational value, online reviews have the ability to amplify your marketing impact, leading to higher ranking in search results and boosting your star-rating directly in your business listing. Reviews bring the perspective and voice of your existing customers directly to prospects, providing valuable testimonial about your property as new clients are making the decision about whether to take the next step with you.
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