Monday, 1 February 2016

Search - and your website in its context

Recent developments at Google moved reviews - and review management - from 'great' to 'must have' (at least, for all those of you who wish to appear in search). We make no apology for banging this drum yet again - for businesses ignore it at their peril.

Assuming that everyone who has read this far thinks their position in search is vital to the success of their marketing plan - indeed, hopefully, pivotal - we thought we ought to put review management into context with all your online marketing efforts. 

We start with your website:


  Is there anyone who seriously doubts that Winkworth have dedicated this important position on their branch home pages for anything but the best commercial reasons?

You invest, some of you heavily, in web design. You recognise that very few people are going to use your business without at least checking out your website. You understand that your prospective clients (those who pay your fees - vendors and landlords) don't need:
  • to know that you sell/let property for a living 
So if you are an estate agent you won't need to include images of houses except to differentiate yourselves in the marketplace (country/town, coastal/new build etc.). What you will need to include are reasons why the potential client should take the next - vital - step: making contact. And that's where great reviews come in - prominently displayed and independently verified client opinions drive enquiries through your website.

Google PPC

Some estate agents feel they must pay significant sums (we have heard of branches - single branches - paying upwards of £500 a month) - for PPC. If you are paying hundreds of pounds a month per branch to promote your agency, this paragraph may help you save significant amounts!

Up until recently there were two ways you could make yourselves more visible to someone searching for an estate agent: appear in the 'Magic 7' (the list of seven agents Google supplied for each local search) or pay Google for an advertisement (PayPerClick - PPC). 

In the last six months there have been far reaching changes to the way Google displays its local search results: the Magic 7 has been reduced to the 3-pack. So now, assuming an average of fifteen estate agents are competing for any given search, your chances of appearing above-the-fold without paying Google are reduced from one-in-two to one-in-five, from 50% (reasonable odds) to 20% (awful odds).

A cynic might assume that Google has made these changes simply to drive PPC revenue, but, whatever Google's motive, businesses must react. And, in an ideal world, that reaction will not be to simply pay more PPC, it will be to examine cleverer (and more certain) ways to appear in the 3-pack.

SEO

Search engine optimisation has, for a long time now, been about a lot more than simply repeating 'estate agent in [location]' all over your site. Google's algorithms are far more complex than that these days, and that's where your web designers come in - it is their job to do their very best on your behalf to ensure your website stands the very best chance of appearing in the 3-pack.

And professional review management can help: Google loves reviews and attributes a value to them in search. Even more than that, consumers love reviews too.

Aggregation Sites

This heading covers any website that purports to deliver informed consumer choice, and most incorporate some kind of review mechanism, so sector specific sites like TripAdvisor and Booking.com (hotels) and AllAgents and RaterAgent (estate agents), as well as general sites like TrustPilot and Feefo, come under this umbrella. 

  

This is a screenshot of a typical search; you will notice that only one natural listing shows 'above the fold' (i.e. before the consumer is forced to scroll). This places a massive premium on appearing in the 3-pack - otherwise you are looking at considerable outlay for your Ad to appear consistently. Greene & Co are, of course, HelpHound clients - note that they are not paying for the search term 'estate agent Maida Vale'!

 
Before Google took all the real-estate above-the-fold (the only part of the screen - and page one of search - that your prospective customer sees unless they bother to scroll down) for their own results (and reviews), these sites were seen by lots of potential customers (they generally appeared just under the business's own listing). Now these sites only appear when attached to paid-for ads or further down in the depths of natural search. Consumers are increasingly conditioned to look for Google reviews (and trust them, thanks to their link to a specific G+ identity).

More and more: reviews need to be on your own site and on Google.

But all of this is set to change - again! ...and become much simpler

  That innocuous little word to the bottom right of the search bar is going to have far reaching effects for businesses without a dedicated review management programme

Google introduced their filter at the turn of the year - currently in mobile (that's 65% of search these days) and only for hotels and restaurants to begin with. Why only hotels and restaurants - so far? Google are not telling (any more than they warned that they were introducing the filter in the first place), but the logic for rolling it out to other businesses is unarguable.

When we search the web we don't just want a list of [plumbers], we want the best [plumbers]. Google is giving us just that with its filter. Right now you can conduct a mobile local search and filter out any restaurant (or hotel) that scores less than 4.0 out of 5, based on their Google reviews. 

Why would Google not extend that facility from mobile to desk-top and from hotels and restaurants to plumbers, financial advisers and estate agents? We are sure they will. When? In all probability when they feel they have enough reviews in each business sector. And it's up to you, the businesses, to ensure that the reviews Google end up serving through their filter are great.

In Summary 

It is important to see review management as integral to your marketing efforts (not a luxury add-on). Professional review management should repay every penny invested many times over - and it should also save you money you would otherwise spend on 'essentials' like SEO and PPC.



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