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No one likes to have their work criticised and as a business or professionals, we want to maintain positive reputations. I’ve always been a particularly sensitive person by nature. However, the rise of online reviews has made it more complex to control our reputations. Dealing with a negative review has become an important component of any public relations or marketing strategy.

Recently, I met with a highly experienced medical specialist. She is renowned in her field, intelligent with a very kind, nurturing mannerism which no doubt serves her well as a doctor. She had received positive reviews online but there was one which was particularly negative.

“I can almost pinpoint the patient and why it happened,” she told me. “They wanted a treatment which I just didn’t think was indicated and upsetting for them to hear.”

The patient wrote a review criticising this doctor for being rude and not listening to their needs. The review was unsettling for the doctor, even though she had tried to put it in perspective. I have given keynotes to doctors on medical marketing and social media. Dealing with negative reviews dominates discussion afterward.

A friend of mine, who owns a successful food eatery was asking my advice too recently on a long walk. In their many years of operation, they hadn’t received a negative review so a harsh one about coffee being cold and their food menu hit hard. My friend was upset and said it had given her an uneasy feeling in the pit of her stomach.

She had her suspicions the anonymous review came from someone connected to another eatery, which had opened nearby. Whatever the reason, a mistake, miscommunication, even unfair attacks by a competitor, at some stage you’ll get a negative review. However, how you handle that review will be a sign of your character as a brand or professional and further affect your reputation.

‘The Economy of Trust’ & power of online reviews

We’re living in an age and marketplace fuelled by reputation and trust. Rachel Botsman, an academic and writer focusing on how technology is changing the way we work and consume, uses the term “Economy of Trust”.

In a now famous TED Talk, Rachel speaks about the shift of trust from corporations or governments to people. This new era of trust, which Rachel terms reputation capital is transforming how we do business. At the centre of this Economy of Trust is online reviews.

BrightLocal, a reporting platform for SEO professionals needing local SEO data, shows just how powerful online reviews are in their recent study on the subject.

Key findings include:
• 85 per cent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
• Positive reviews make 73 per cent of consumers trust a local business more.
• 49 per cent of consumers need at least a four-star rating before they choose to use a business.
• Responding to reviews is more important than ever, with 30 per cent naming this as key when judging local businesses.
• 79 per cent of consumers have read a fake review in the last year, but 84 per cent can’t always spot them.
• Yelp and Facebook are the most trusted review sites, followed by Google & BBB.org
• Consumers read an average of seven reviews before trusting a business – up from six last year.

The Power of online reviews study reveals a one-star rise on review site Yelp leads a to a 5-9 per cent increase in business revenue but one negative review can cost you up to 30 customers.

No wonder many business owners and professional service providers are particularly nervous about online reviews with such statistics. In this fast-paced digital world, the speed at which information and content can spread including reviews is phenomenal, meaning it’s important to implement a strategy to monitor and respond to reviews.

My policy is to ensure clients have a crisis management plan (see earlier post) in place because at some stage they’ll be involved in a situation that could potentially impact their reputation, operations and financial stability. Managing reviews is part of this plan because people have many avenues to express their grievances and with more intensity than ever before, severely damaging targeted organisations.

However, the impact of negative reviews on reputations can be minimal if handled with professionalism. Indeed, a negative review handled well can even have a positive impact overall on a reputation of a business or professional service provider.

One of the first points I try to make to clients is to try not to panic about negative online reviews, as they are just a part of a digital economy and often all positive reviews about a business are not good anyway.

Typically, users want to see a mix of good and neutral reviews when researching a business or service because all five-star reviews on a site look a little ‘contrived’.

I’ve even seen a business owner respond well to a bad review from a disgruntled client and turn them into the greatest evangelist for their business.

Nine steps to deal with a negative review

1. Stay calm and don’t respond hastily.

You work hard in your business or profession and a negative review will, of course, stir up all sorts of emotions, including anger, frustration and disappointment. However, you should remain calm and avoid these emotions showing up in your response.

Look upon a negative review as an opportunity to further build your reputation. If someone is critical, don’t react with haste or be rude in response. A negative review will hurt but are an inevitable part of doing business. As the old saying goes: ‘You can’t please everyone all the time’. By having a review strategy in place, this will guide you towards a calmer, consistent approach.

A strategy doesn’t mean using the same response to every review as each should respond on its independent merits. However, you will have guidelines and a system in place to follow.

2. Have one senior person investigate & respond.

Online reviews and reputation have become an important component of ‘The Economy of Trust’. It’s therefore, crucial to treat these reviews and responses seriously. To maintain consistency in messaging only the business founder or authorised person should respond to the reviews. I’ve seen the mistake where juniors or marketing people are often in charge of monitoring and managing social media or reviews because the business owner thinks they have more understanding of the technology.

Often, the business owner isn’t even aware of negative reviews or responses issued. While a junior person or marketing people may alert you to a negative review and have good suggestions for a response, it should not be their responsibility to respond without your input.

3. Respond promptly but thoroughly investigate first

If you take too long responding to a negative review, it may look like you’re trying to ignore your unsatisfied client or customer or hoping it will go away. However, while responding promptly demonstrates your responsible and attentive, you should investigate the circumstance of the complaint and not respond with haste.

Work to obtain as many details as possible about what happened leading up to the negative review. When you have gathered as much information as possible about the situation, then write out key points you don’t want to forget to start formulating your response.

Work towards taking an impartial approach to your investigation. People who write a review will honestly feel their complaint has a basis, while your employees will, of course, be defensive. Try to maintain a balanced middle ground in analysing circumstances surround the negative review. It may highlight a problem with your business or service, which you should work on overcoming in the future.

4. Prepare for further attacks.

When you’ve gathered as much information about the negative review as possible, you may feel you have a comprehensive understanding of what happened. However, until you’re able to discuss the complaint with the reviewer, you don’t have the complete story. You must plan for both your online and offline response to the negative review along with any further attacks by them upon your reputation. There are some important points to remember including:

5. Use an empathetic and personable tone.

When writing a response validate the negative reviewer’s feelings and feedback in a way which shows you are genuinely respectful of their experience. Don’t lose control of the conversation. No matter what your opinion is on the situation acknowledge and validate their concerns and don’t get into an argument.

6. Offer to discuss the complaint privately

Avoid arguing on the review site. Have a response on the public platform which includes an offer to discuss the feedback privately, for example, please contact us to organise a time to discuss your concerns.

While in the public domain, responding to a negative online review isn’t all that different from handling other conflicts you may experience in your business or profession. Be prepared and remain authentic to your professional or brand voice.

7. Try to drown out the negative review with positive ones
Encourage clients and customers pleased with your service to provide a review, which can push the negative review further down the feed. NOTE: This doesn’t mean getting your family and friends to write reviews or having fake reviews. Australia, like many countries, has legislation to protect consumers from misleading or fake reviews, see ACCC online review guidelines.

8. Request a site remove a review

Most review sites have a Terms of Service, where they list all things allowed or not allowed on their site. If you believe a review is in violation of a site’s Terms of Service, then you may have grounds for it to be taken down.

9. Seek Legal Advice

If you feel the situation surrounding the negative review is complex and could have further repercussions, then seek further advice. This can be important legally, especially for professions such as health and medicine. If you feel a review is defamatory then consult a lawyer, legal action may also be able to be taken. Unfortunately, I think the international nature of digital media and rapid changes in technology means the law is still lagging to catch up. However, there have been cases of successful legal actions taken in regards to negative reviews which have damaged reputations.

Conclusion

For most people, it can be hard to deal with criticism. It’s important not to blame yourself but at the same time be accountable. Investigate what happened to see if you can prevent such an incident happening in the future. Sometimes, what happened may not have been preventable and perhaps you did everything by the book but still got a negative review. As mentioned you can’t always please everyone and you may not even know who wrote the negative review. If you have mainly positive reviews, then this will read well overall. Develop a mindset where you every negative review becomes an opportunity to improve your processes and practice public relations skills.

However, if there are quite a few negative reviews and especially if there is a common problem then perhaps it’s time to look at your processes. Take control, recognise and accept the problem then work towards improvement. There have been some great success stories of businesses turning around dramatically by learning from negative feedback. Negative reviewers may even remove their reviews and replace them with a positive one.

34539155 – man reading the definition of feedback

Online business reviews serve to highlight, whether positively or negatively, various aspects of your business, including products, services and interactions.

Reviews can take the form of star ratings or comments and can appear on directory listings, review sites, social media or your business blog.

Review signals account for around 13 per cent of the total ranking factors of Google, which means managing your online reputation and reviews is an important component of SEO.

Hubdo co-founder Helen Nicholls, who leads a team to assist Hubspot consultants and partner agencies deliver SEO for their clients, says online business reviews can boost your SEO in numerous ways, including:

  • Creating fresh user-generated content.
  • Generating social conversation around your business or brand.
  • Boosting your keyword strategy – these are the words of your customers.
  • Google Star ratings.
  • Reviews keep content fresh.
  • The search-engines like content on sites which is updated and fresh, which is where business reviews are useful.

“Reviews provide relevant and local content while also keeping the conversation about your business flowing and active, which is important for SEO,” Helen says.

“User generated-content is also looked upon highly by Google.”

“Online business reviews generate social conversation about your brand and help keep this conversation active. When one person puts up a review about your brand, it can prompt others to write one. Reviews will keep discussions online flowing about your brand or business,” Helen says.

“By incorporating reviews into your social media strategy your further generating and prompting discussion about your brand.”

Business reviews boost keyword strategy

The language reviewers use, that is the actual voice of your clients, will be similar if not the same as your target audience.

“If you’re clever you can look carefully at your reviews, adapt and target your keyword strategy,” says Helen.

“A consistent flow of reviews will even help you target more traffic through various long-tail keywords created incidentally by your customers.”

Google star ratings

Have you ever noticed some sites have star ratings next to their listings, while most don’t? If a site shows up as 4 or 5-star, it’s likely to get more visitors than sites with no stars at all. Many SEO experts believe having good star ratings, and reviews can help you move up the search results, even if just through the higher click-through rates over time.

With Google’s recent update on star ratings, reviews with star ratings need to be visible on your website (via a plugin or similar) to allow a blog etc. to appear with a star rating. Google no longer takes these from review sites such as Yelp, Trustpilot or Google My Business. To ensure Google search bots see and recognise these reviews a piece of short coding called ‘Schema Markup’ must be added to your website. This code, when added to your website, helps the search engines to quickly identify important information for the search result pages (SERPs). Here’s an example of how a ‘star rating’ will appear:

SERPs showcase of blog or product with reviews.png

Schema.org Markup language is also known as ‘structured data’ or ‘microdata’ so ensure you ask your developer or SEO specialist.

6 step review strategy

As we’ve seen reviews are important. Your organisation should have a review strategy to encourage and handle reviews including:

1. Encourage more reviews

Whether through your site, email campaigns or social media make it clear reviews are welcome.

2. Aim for better reviews

Consistently communicate with your clients or customers, looking for ways to improve and attract quality reviews.

3. Pick your moment to ask for reviews

You’ve heard the saying “time and place”. Make sure you target the right audience at the right time of their journey with your organisation for a review.

4. Reply to reviews and embrace negative ones

No one likes criticism but as the old saying goes ‘you can’t please all of the people all of the time’. Negative reviews at some stage are inevitable. Answer them politely and promptly.

5. Sign up with quality third-party review sites.

Google relies on third-party review sites to determine a site’s star rating so ensure you’re familiar with how they work and monitor them regularly.

6. Remember social media ratings

Your review strategy should not ignore reviews on social media, where many users will go to learn more about a brand.

Health professionals & reviews

While online business reviews can be great for SEO, unfortunately, care needs to be taken for health professions in Australia who must follow strict advertising guidelines. Under various regulations, including the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law, known as the National Law, health professions as listed by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) can’t have testimonials on sites they control.

APHRA Guidelines define testimonials or reviews as statements, stories and anecdotes about clinical care from past patients or clients about a health service or its quality. The guidelines list several reasons why testimonials aren’t allowed in medical marketing, mainly around being considered misleading, including:

  • They’re personal opinions from former clients and have no scientific or objective basis as a recommendation of a health practitioner’s services.
  • Outcomes experienced by one patient do not necessarily reflect the likely outcomes.
  • They’re not usually a balanced source of information, as they typically include a narrow selection of positive comments from patients, and therefore don’t tell the whole story about a practitioner’s services (i.e. they can be misleading).
  • Patients may place too much weight on testimonials because they do not have the expert knowledge to accurately assess their validity.

Marketing collateral, including websites or social media used to promote a business, such as a business Facebook page, is considered advertising and must therefore not include testimonials. However, a patient social media page, such as a bulletin board or Facebook group, where patients discuss their personal experiences, or other sites such as Rate MDs is not considered advertising.

A breach of advertising requirements for healthcare professionals is not to be taken lightly with consequences including hefty fines and even deregistration. Ensure you are familiar with all the rules around advertising for health professionals. For further clarification, contact us, your national professional body, APHRA or even professional indemnity provider.

Conclusion

Online business reviews are an important part of your local SEO strategy but also your overall marketing and public relations strategies. They provide your potential clients with a real account of what it is like to deal with your brand. Increasingly, in what has been termed ‘The Economy of Trust’ reviews are becoming as important as personal recommendations. All your reviews don’t have to be glowing, in fact, that can look more contrived. However, ensure you have a review strategy in place.

Local SEO Strategy.jpgA local SEO strategy is vital because your potential clients frequently search for businesses in their area. In a Search Engine Results Page (or SERP for short) businesses showing they are local and relevant to the searcher’s query will rank more highly.

The rise of mobile devices has substantially increased the number of local searches in the past couple of years. According to Google more than 76 per cent of people who perform a local search on their mobile phone will visit a storefront within 24 hours of that search.

Helen Nicholls, who leads a team to assist Hubspot consultants and partner agencies deliver SEO for their clients, says its vital for a brand, retail outlet or service business to focus heavily on their local SEO strategy.

“Search results are now personalised based on a user’s browser history record. Location data, such as GPS in mobile or IP addresses also allow Google to understand more about your location,” Helen says.

“These factors enable Google to provide users with exceptional local information it’s now serving up what is called the three ‘local pack’ results above organic search results,” she says.

“For business owners, this means that for each ‘locally focussed’ search query for a service or product you provide; you’ll want to show up.

“If you don’t have a good local presence online then you could certainly be missing out on business.”

The “Local Pack” results highlight your Google My Business page and Map location above the organic search results. If you want to get local traffic to your site, it is essential to optimise for these results. How you can get into these results is through local optimisation, which is another subject entirely, however, once you’re in these results, how can you make the most of your prominent position?

How to show up on local search results.

Helen says there are numerous local SEO strategies to ensure you show up in the search results pages in your local area and drive more targeted visitors to your website.

However, to make it easier Helen has broken local SEO down into four components including:

1. Google My Business

2. Local online business directories.

3. Reviews

4. Optimising your website for location.

1. What is Google My Business?

google_places.jpegGoogle My Business is a free service from Google aimed at helping businesses manage their online presence, including search queries and maps.

“Google My Business is easy to set up and a great tool for boosting your local SEO – It’s a ‘must have’ for all bricks and mortar businesses,” Helen says.

Helen says when setting up your Google My Business account there are a few important points to remember:

1. Search on Google Maps for your own business first, to make sure Google hasn’t created a listing for your business already. If one exists, you can claim this listing as the business owner and optimise it with your details. If not, go ahead and create your listing.

2. It’s important to use the correct Name, Address and Phone (NAP) on your GMB page and all your Citation listings – the NAP should be uniform throughout.

3. Complete as much of the setup as possible such as images, logo, description etc. before requesting the Verification postcard. Google will post this to you in the mail. Yes, good old fashioned ‘snail mail’.

4. Be clear about your services, products and mostly your location and service area. Businesses which show their address (rather than a service area) have more opportunity in ranking in the SERP’s.

5. Keep your GMB page up-to-date and ensure that all the information is accurate and the Map PIN is in the correct position – otherwise, your customers won’t find you.

“Having a strong positioning statement about what your business will help. Optimise the description with your primary keyword, i.e. the one keyword which is most relevant to your business. A vague summary will make it difficult for customers and the search engines to determine that important relevancy,” she says.

“The distance and proximity of the user searching on the web is a well-known factor for ranking local businesses. Google will always try to show users the closest geo location options first, while the local prominence or importance of a business is also a factor.

“Prominence is all about the online activity connected to your website and listings, such as the number of other quality sites linking to your website, your online reviews, social interaction, events, local content.

“It’s important to remember your Google My Business profile works alongside your site and is not a setup and forget option. Get active – manage your reviews; update photos correct your addresses or phone numbers as they change and have relevant local content on your website.”

2. Directory Listings to boost your local profile
One of the major lifts to your local SEO can come from local business directories otherwise known in the SEO world as ‘Citations’. Depending on your location, there could be numerous places to list your business services. However, Helen warns not all business directories are rated the same.

“Some directories require reciprocal backlinks or push you for payment to enable a full advertising page and ‘front row’ positioning on their sites,” she says.

“Check out all your options with local directories; in most cases, a free listing is all that a small business needs.”

The business directories you should consider listing your business in will vary depending on your business services, your location etc. Here’s Helen’s list of the ‘must haves’ within Australia:

Google My Business

Facebook

LinkedIn

Foursquare

Yellow Pages

White Pages

Truelocal

Your local chamber of commerce

Brownbook

Aussie Web

Hot Frog

Directories for your professional body

Yelp

Local Business Guide

What to put in a business directory

 

While each business listing may have slightly different requirements, they are very similar in the information they need about your business. Helen recommends gathering the following information into one document to copy and paste into the listing site easily:

  • Your correct Business Name, Address & Phone.
  • Your submission email address – you may want to use a secondary email to setup the listing so your main business address doesn’t get bombarded with spam.
  • Your business contact email address.
  • Your social media links.
  • Your logo and a few images – inside and out, the team etc.
  • Your business ABN.
  • Your Primary Keyword and a short list of other keywords.
  • Your office hours and Categories of business.
  • A short and a long business description – this will slightly vary for each submission. However, most sites ask for a short overview of no more than 200 words and a longer description of 500 words+.

“Keep the formatting the same across all listings and complete your submissions as much as possible,” Helen says.

“It’s likely you will get a few phone calls from directories wanting to upsell their premium listings. Many sites will send you a verification email to confirm the details too.”

3. The power of online Reviews

Recent statistics show 97 per cent of people read online reviews and 85 per cent trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

Furthermore, 73 per cent of people say positive reviews make them trust a local business more but 86 per cent of consumers will decide against buying from you if they read negative reviews about you online.

“Online Reviews are a real necessity in today’s consumer world. The percentage of users who research and read your reviews before choosing to do business with you is large,” says Helen.

Many business owners, professional service providers are particularly nervous about online reviews. According to the Power of online reviews study, a one-star rise on review site Yelp leads a to a 5-9 per cent increase in business revenue while one negative review can cost you 30 customers.

No-one likes a negative review and inevitably most businesses or professionals will at some stage receive a negative review. It’s important to know and have a strategy for how to handle a negative review.  A strategy can help counteract their damage and in some cases, a negative review handled correctly can even be a positive.

“Typically, users want to see a mix of excellent and average reviews when researching a business or service. A site with all five-star reviews looks a little ‘contrived’,” she says.

“Ideally, the business owner should respond to every review – the excellent, the average and the bad ones. But as a business owner try not to expose your business to negative ‘bad’ Reviews –  the recovery path is a very long one.”

According to Helen, online reviews can help your local SEO efforts by creating fresh user-generated content, social conversation and even your targeted keywords.

4. Optimising your website for local SEO

Helen’s final essential tactic for an effective local SEO strategy is optimising your website to effectively communicate your specific location for the search engine crawlers and visitors. Her tips to do this include:

1. Display your business name and phone number prominently on your website. Add your business address to your Footer section for every page.

2. Include your business location in the Title Tag of your Home page.

3. Provide quality local information about your service location on your website to provide real value to your prospective customer e.g. driving, parking or public transport directions, local facilities etc.

4. If your business has multiple locations then work to provide a separate page for each which is locally optimised.

“Remember, some businesses want customers to visit their stores, so make it easy for them to find you. Mobile users can locate the map listing of your Google My Business page and ‘click to call’ or ‘click for directions’ – it’s that simple.” Helen says.

Developing a local SEO strategy can take work but is well worth the effort to be seen by your target audience in locations you service.

If you want to learn more about local SEO, then check out the BrightLocal blog. It’s a great research-based resource focused on what influences local SEO.