You’ve optimized your keyword use. Your site is more responsive than ever. Every time Google puts out new guidelines for local search engine optimization, you implement them. Yet, you’re still lagging behind your competitors. If this sounds familiar, you may be missing one of the most important keys in local SEO:

Customer reviews.

Chances are, you’re also swayed by online reviews, even if you don’t realize it. Go ahead and test it: Search for “Chinese restaurants near me.” If you’re like most people, you were automatically drawn to the restaurant with a 5-star review over the one with just 3 stars. As such, you subconsciously realized more customers liked China Max more than Golden Dragon, so you probably will too.

Reviews can benefit your small business in two ways. One, they tell Google that your product or service is good, and other customers or clients would benefit from it. As such, the search engine may favor your website over your competitors’. In fact, reviews are one of the most important factors in terms of local SEO.

On a more practical, less technical level, reviews tell potential customers that they may want what you offer. Almost 70 percent of all consumers rely on online reviews before making a purchase. While shoppers in Generation X and older often rely on professional reviews, such as Consumer Reports, Millennials and younger tend to trust user reviews, such as on Yelp and Google.

While you may not be able to get your small business reviewed by the likes of Consumer Reports, you can garner user reviews to attract more customers and boost your local SEO efforts. Here are 3 ways how to do so.

  1. Be Ready for the Highs and Lows

It’s a tried and true statement that customers will most likely leave reviews when they are unhappy. However, with Yelp and Google reviews, you do have the opportunity to respond. Maintain a level head, get a good idea of what the issue really is and propose a solution to fix it. You can’t remove bad reviews from these sites, but your response will be seen as well — and that can help maintain customer confidence.

In the same way customers leave reviews when they have a bad experience, they will also often leave reviews after an excellent experience. If you are providing decent customer service and products, chances are you will struggle to get customers to take time to review you online. Make sure you maintain a level of excellence that customers are excited to share with others.

  1. Make It Easy to Leave Reviews

Whether your customer is tech-savvy or barely knows how to use a mouse, they may find it slightly difficult (or at least inconvenient) to navigate the web to leave you a review. The good news is, you can make it easier for them. There are a couple ways you can do this on your site. One, you can create an entire landing page with links to different review sites. If you have a more niche product or service, such as wedding photography, this could be a good way to have clients leave reviews on specialized sites, such as on The Knot.

If your industry doesn’t have well-known specialized review sites, you could create buttons linking to Google Reviews, Yelp and Angie’s List on your main site instead. These could go in the footer, as well as on your About page. While you don’t want to make these links the main focus of your site, you do want to make them easy to find.

  1. Simply Ask

There is no shame in asking customers to leave reviews. This can be done in a few ways. One, you can hand out cards and print it on receipts. You can also collect customers’ emails and send a follow-up message, asking for a review (just don’t send too many emails; it’s spammy and an easy way to lose their business). Signage posting review sites can also work, as can asking for reviews every now and again on your social media sites.

For a more direct approach, you can always ask customers and clients to leave a review as they’re paying their bill, either in-store or digitally if you have an online store. However you go about it, avoid offering incentives for reviews. You should also avoid setting up stations in-store for customers to leave reviews. Both are against Google’s rules (and most other review sites’ rules as well), and could really hurt your rankings.

Conclusion: Don’t Downplay the Power of Reviews

Even if customers leave reviews on Yelp instead of Google, it can still impact your search engine rankings, especially if you’ve taken control of your business’s listing on Yelp and linked your website. Google and other search engines take those reviews into consideration, and use them to measure the relevance of your business. Plus, potential customers who see positive reviews on both Yelp and Google will be that much more confident in buying your product or service.

While reviews are an integral part of local SEO, there is much more you could probably be doing. If you aren’t sure where to start when it comes to local SEO and marketing for your small business, give us a call. We offer a variety of software and services to help your company thrive. Call today for more information or for a free trial of our premium package.