Let us explain - and answer the obvious, and perhaps not-so-obvious - questions
The web evolves - and continues to evolve
The web - and how consumers use it - has come a long way since the early search engines provided lists driven by keywords. Not long ago it was viewed almost entirely on desktop - now most searches are made on mobile. Google has come to dominate everywhere except China. Search has become more and more local/map based and accurate and it is now moving into its intuitive phase - where the search engine knows more about what kind of business you are looking for than you do!
Why do some businesses still ignore mobile search?
Businesses have struggled to keep up. Witness the number that still don't have responsive websites - and, even more concerning, the number who have sites that have yet to be optimised for mobile search.
Consumer behaviour, on the other hand, soon adapts to changes in search. And consumers discriminate - often subconsciously - against businesses that don't keep up.
The parallel evolution of review management
By definition, review management responds to rather than predicts search behaviour. How quickly your business's review management responds becomes critical.
- Google reviews dominating in search: began in 2013, but many businesses continue to remain committed to independent review sites with secondary visibility at best. It's time to make the move to Google
At first sight you might assume that this business has not engaged with reviews - in fact it has over 4000 on an independent site - all but invisible in search
- Google credibility: everyone has heard of Google, most people know that you need a G+ identity to write a review, and perhaps most important of all, people know that only great businesses look great on Google
One reason Google reviews have credibility with consumers is that there is a range of scores from one business to another - unlike some independent sites where almost all - paying - businesses score as close to 5/5 or 10/10 as makes no difference
- Google reviews growth: there was so much Google denial from businesses until this year. The numbers of Google reviews per business continues to grow exponentially. Soon there will be no business worth the name without Google reviews
This business - with no review management - has seen huge growth in - mostly negative - reviews in the last 12 months. It's not a badly-managed business, it has simply not engaged with reviews
- Closed review sites - those that don't allow consumers to post a review unless invited - drive reviewers to 'open' platforms to comment
It is important that consumers can write a review - to the business's own site - whenever they want. If they cannot they will soon work out that your reviewers are hand-picked - cherry-picked - and that's not good for your credibility
- Google is the dominant open platform - a business should not be driving dissatisfied consumers to comment there by denying them the right to write a review to their own website whenever they want
- Filtering - however well-meant - is unacceptable. Any review management mechanism that gives priority to businesses by allowing them to block negative comment will damage the business's image and brand. Here is what happened to John Lewis recently
Consumers must be able to be heard - whatever they want to say, whenever they want to say it
- The Google filter - first introduced for some verticals in some areas in January of this year - enables consumers to narrow their searches down to businesses with Google scores of 4.0 plus and more than four Google reviews
The first step is to ensure you pass the Google filter - by having more than four reviews with a score of four or more. Unfiltered - left; filtered for 4+ - right
- Google Top Rated: introduced for some business searches in August 2016. Logic dictates that this should eventually apply to every search (who doesn't want to be shown the top business for any given search?)
'Top Rated' is the logical end product of Google reviews and scores. At the moment businesses appear in the 3-pack - or high up on map/mobile as a result of a combination of SEO and luck - at some date in the future Google are bound to turn on Top Rated for all searches
- The end of testimonials - consumers now know there is a more credible alternative: verified reviews. And great businesses now host these on their own sites
'Don't take [the business's] word for it' - exactly! Increasingly consumers look for verified reviews - from the business on their own website and on Google
- The end of cherry-picking: consumers - and your competitors - are wise to this now. If you only invite 'happy' customers to post reviews - to your own site or to Google - your review management will be called into question. You must have a mechanism that allows anyone to write a review whenever they want
In this context cherry-picking means selecting happy customers to write reviews - usually to Google. It may fool some consumers, but It hands a business's competitors a very big stick to beat them with: "Ah, but they are selective about who they invite to write reviews, that's why they look so good."
- Allow consumers to see your worst reviews at a click - Google do, so should you
Consumers always want to read the worst news first - so you might as well make it easy for them
- Understand which review sites besides Google are important: Facebook is, Yelp is not (they've left the UK anyway). TripAdvisor, Booking.com and some of the aggregators still are if you are in hospitality. None of the small sites are worth committing effort or investment to in 2016
Every business's priority will be to look great in search - so Google first. But very few consumers are not on Facebook - multiple times a day - so looking great there should be a high priority as well
So - some questions. Does your business...
- Score more than 4.5 out of 5 on Google - for each and every location?
- Have more than 50 reviews - per location - on Google?
- Allow your customers to write a review to your website at a click - at any time?
- Have a mechanism for showing independently verified reviews on your own site?
- Publish a customer's review - even if you disagree with it?
- Have a mechanism for managing inaccurate or misleading reviews pre-publication?
- Have a 'Reviews' tab on Facebook?
- Feed reviews to Twitter and Facebook?
- Know how to appeal an unfair/incorrect or misleading Google review?
- Respond to reviews - on Google, on Facebook and wherever else they appear?
If the answer to all ten of these is 'Yes' you are almost certainly a HelpHound client. If you have answered 'No' to even one, we suggest a quick call to Fiona Christie or Karen Hutchings here at HelpHound.