Local reviews are like an extension of word of mouth marketing. It’s a permanent, lasting record of a customer’s thoughts on your business — good or bad. Reviews are like link-building of the local world; they drive new business and are imperative to growth. However, you can’t force or incentivise your reviews, and if you do, they may not count.
“Reviews are only valuable when they are honest and unbiased. Don’t offer money or products to others in exchange to write reviews for your business or write negative reviews about a competitor. We also discourage specialized review stations or kiosks set up at your place of business for the sole purpose of soliciting reviews,” (Google+ Review Guildines).
So how, exactly, can we encourage customers to leave a review (by their own initiative)?
Don’t chase tactics
You can look for inspiration from other businesses, but modify ideas to fit your own business and be applicable to your own customers. Similar to link-building (which has been in an identical situation before), if your reviews show up in a pattern that is detectable by a computer algorithm, they will be discounted.
Anything pattern-based is detectable, including:
- 1. IP address of the reviewer: Do not ask for reviews from your own location
- 2. Timeline: If a number of reviews come in over the course of one day or one week, it looks suspicious. It’s likely that customers would have been prompted to leave their feedback.
- 3. Similar phrasing: If the wording of your reviews is too similar, it will seem orchestrated and be discounted by Google+, etc
Forcing reviews will produce detectable trends. It may be a slow build, but gathering your reviews honestly is a much better way to get them approved. Which brings us to the next point: influence.
Influence and integrate
Reviews are the best when they are placed without your interactions, but that doesn’t mean you have to ignore the matter completely. Businesses can influence (not entice or coerce) their customers to leave feedback.
Customer service: “ The best way to generate reviews is to give positively fantastic customer service. Keep a constant line of communication, treat your clients like kings and queens — give them no choice but to reward you with praise. While this is the best tactic for lasting results, it can be a long-term investment and businesses have immediate needs, so how can you get more reviews now?
Define your customer lifecycle
The main point of outlining the customer life-cycle is to see where you have opportunities to influence a review. For example, let’s say your business revolves around bookings or appointment setting. You cycle may look like this: Visit website –> Book appointment –> Email confirmation –> Appointment –> Thank you email/survey –> Reminder/promotion –> Visit website. From here you can determine which types of interactions are present at each stage of your business cycle and where you may be able to influence a review.
Integrate with all email marketing
1. Define email contact points
Once you have your customer life-cycle, establish where you normally contact your customers via email. Know when they are online and have you in mind; capitalise on opportunities like newsletters, offers, post-purchase confirmations, etc. It doesn’t matter whether you are pushing a good or a service, communication needs to be present at every stage of the customer life-cycle.
2. When will customers be in the right mind-frame to leave a review?
Consider when the customer is going to be able to write the best review. Immediately after the purchase? A week after? Whenever that time is for your customer, send a reminder/follow up email with a social media mention and prompt/encourage them into a subsequent appointment/purchase.
3. Communicate for reasons other than a review
Find reasons to communicate with your customers outside of leaving reviews. Find another reason to get in touch with them — a customer service survey or a check-in about their purchase. Don’t try to sell them anything in this communication; be genuinely interested in how they are feeling. If you do get a reply (an engaged customer), then be sure to mention (one-on-one) that you would appreciate a review.
This process will help establish which customers want to leave a review, are engaged with your brand and are conversing with you directly. It’s all about identifying people individually, and helping them help your business.
Mention social media in all communications
Make sure to mention your favourite social media outlets for your business to your customers, specifically, the ones that get you the best conversions. Use your social media for engagement; where there is engagement, reviews will follow. Once you know your top converting communities, mention them to your customers in all parts of the life-cycle and the reviews will roll in naturally.