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Online reviews can be a major asset for businesses, and this is especially true for local search. Recent studies have shown that for a majority of consumers, positive consumer reviews make them more likely to use a local business, and that they trust these reviews as much as personal recommendations. If you're not getting reviews online you're missing out on a huge opportunity. Reviews not only help you build an online reputation, they can also bring more customers to your front door. A review is a short write-up or a rating provided by a customer based on their experience with a particular business.
Reviews can be found on search engines, local review websites and services, or even blogs. There are basically three ways a user can provide a review of your business: offline, email, or website. Many businesses communicate with their customers everyday through phone calls, physical mail, or in-store interactions. Every one of these offline touch points is an opportunity to ask customers what they thought of their experience. And you can use negative feedback to help you improve your business, and turn the positive feedback into testimonials that can be used on your website or in promotional materials.
If you're still not collecting email addresses on your website for visitors that want to subscribe to your newsletter or find out more about you, you're missing out on a huge marketing opportunity. Creating, maintaining, and growing a list of your customers, and those who are actively interested in becoming your customers, gives you an extremely useful and valuable asset. You can use this list not only to inform and market to a very qualified audience, you can also send out invitations to customer satisfaction surveys, or automate a post-purchase email that asks for, or even provides an incentive to, leave a review for the product or service that the customer has just purchased.
The third way you can get reviews is on websites. And while that might be your own, it's more and more likely everyday that users are going to be using other websites to review you, your products, and your services. Your own website is of course where you have the most control over your content, and you should consider creating a section dedicated to testimonials and sharing the experiences of past customers. This is an opportunity to host user-generated content on your sites that search engines will love. And for your users, reading about the real-life experiences of past customers can be a powerful influence to the purchasing decision that a prospective customer is thinking about.
And don't forget to provide an area where users can submit reviews directly on your pages. Whether you build this into your site directly, or you embed one of the many third-party review solutions, you'll never get any reviews if you don't ask. Aside from your own pages, there's an ever-growing list of sites out there that cater to collecting user reviews for all kinds of products, services, and businesses. Entice your happy customers to write reviews on major business listing websites like Google+ Local, Yahoo Local, Yelp, Citysearch, and more.
And remember that there are a host of industry-specific review sites, like TripAdvisor for the travel sector, that you'll want to focus on as well. You'll also want to note that different review sites offer different frameworks. While many use the familiar five-star format, others will break up ratings into different categories. Google+ Local, for example, uses the Zagat system that differentiates restaurant ratings by food, decor, and service on a 30-point scale. Regardless of how you get them and share them around the web, reviews are great opportunities to build content and references to your pages that will help people find you with the search engines, and then help them along the path to conversion when they get there.
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