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Online reviews are huge. You already know this. How many times have you used reviews on Amazon to decide whether or not to buy a product? Do you sneakily look up products at Best Buy or Target to see what reviewers say? Do you use Yelp reviews to decide whether to go to lunch at a new-to-you restaurant? If you do, then you know how powerful reviews—and what is called social proof—can be.

We use social proof to help determine correct actions by assuming that other people in the same situation know more than we do. When it comes to online reviews, we assume that others who have bought and tried a product or service are providing honest feedback on how it worked for them, and we then tend to follow their lead to buy or not to buy. Social proof helps you make a purchase decision.

According to research compiled by Vendasta, online reviews are increasingly important to purchasing decisions:

  • Over 88 percent of online shoppers incorporate reviews into their purchase decision;
  • 68 percent of consumers say positive reviews make them trust a local business more;
  • 40 percent of consumers form an opinion by reading just one to three reviews, while 73 percent of consumers form an opinion by reading up to six reviews;
  • 60 percent of consumers have searched a business at least six times per year;
  • 88 percent of consumers trust reviews as much as personal recommendations;
  • 68 percent of consumers trust reviews more when they see both good and bad scores ;
  • 95 percent of unhappy customers will return to a business if the business resolves the issue quickly and efficiently;
  • Reviews produce an average of 18 percent uplift in sales.

For purchasing decisions across industries and markets, Google reviews are formidable in leveling the playing field for your business by providing three powerful advantages: (1) trust and transparency, (2) online awareness and local SEO, and (3) insights and feedback.

1. Increased Trust and Transparency

Google reviews, just like other online reviews, are a form of social proof and will help your potential customers make an informed purchasing decision. A good balance of reviews will increase your company’s transparency by showing how you do business: how you treat customers (especially those who provide negative reviews), what exactly it is you do for them, and how responsive you are to their needs. Increased transparency, assuming you’re doing all the right things with customers, tends to increase trust in your brand, and people like to buy from and work with brands they trust.

If your budget doesn’t allow for expensive advertising campaigns across all the media that exists—but your competition’s budget does—Google reviews will help you in the fight. Social proof and transparency can trump marketing. Anyone can search Google for your business or what it offers and come upon businesses with reviews from actual customers—including your business and your actual customers—and make an informed decision on whether to do business with you. This is a powerful competitive advantage.

2. Increased Online Awareness and Local SEO

According to Moz, 7 percent of Google’s localized organic search ranking results and 13 percent of Google’s “Local Pack/Local Finder” results are driven by review signals—review quantity, review velocity, review diversity, etc. What do these different search results mean? Here is a brief overview.

Local Search and Organic Search

In Google and other search engines, there are two types of search: local search and organic search. Local search includes a geographical component. When a user searches for a type of business plus location, the search engine knows that the search has what is called local intent; some other searches will also assume local intent. Search engines want to give you exactly what you’re searching for, so when you search for “pizza delivery Lincoln Nebraska,” three pizza places will show up in the local results underneath the ads on the first page. This is called the Local Pack. The Local Finder is the complete list of local results that appears when the “More places” link at the bottom of a local pack is clicked. These results are considered localized organic results. (Had you just typed in “pizza delivery,” the search engine would probably have decided there was local intent and given you the same or equivalent results. Similarly, typing in “pizza delivery near me” would localize the results.)

Here, in the local finder/localized organic results and local pack, is where your Google reviews will make your business shine.

Organic search is what happens when search engines decide there’s no local intent in the search. You are looking for information rather than a specific location. Instead of ordering a pizza from a local restaurant, you decide to make one. You search for “pizza recipe.” The search engine will try to give you the most relevant, highest-quality recipes for pizza. You would likely get similar results for “how to make a pizza.” Last November when you searched for “how to cook a turkey” (like I did, again), you did an organic search and received organic results.

Search engines use hundreds of factors to rank and index websites. Google, in particular, uses over 200 factors in its algorithm, including keywords, domain information, outbound and inbound links, content length, and grammar. It also uses those review signals we talked about above, especially for local and localized results.

If your Google reviews meet the review signals criteria, they can help your business rank higher in local search results:

  • Quantity (total number of reviews, not just Google reviews),
  • Velocity (the speed at which you receive reviews; five reviews in five days is better than five reviews in a year), and
  • Diversity (the more sources your reviews come from, the better).

Adding Google reviews to your online marketing mix will allow your business to be found more easily and more quickly than relying solely on other SEO activities like keywords and blogging.

3. Better Customer Insights and Feedback

Every Google review you get is a mini customer survey, giving you feedback and customer intelligence. You will learn whether the customer had a positive experience and, sometimes, which of your employees delivered on that; when you did a great or not-so-great job; and which of your products or services the customer used. This kind of information is invaluable for your reputation management and as a general indicator of service or product usage and popularity.

You will, of course, see negative reviews. Every negative review is another chance to show both the customer who had the bad experience and other customers who are considering using your business how your company handles these situations. You should always leave a response to a negative review, and generally it should consist of two parts: an apology and a way to right the wrong. A sincere apology will go a long way to helping you mend the relationship and will show you care about the customer and take the review seriously. Offering a way to right the wrong that your customer believes your business is responsible for further strengthens the apology and shows the customer that you are actually doing something about the situation.

Now that you know more about what is working and what isn’t in your business from your Google reviews, you can use the information and feedback to see which areas need improvement and which areas (and people) need applause. You can test and optimize the areas and processes that need improvement, which will allow you to provide a better customer experience. This leads to a nice loop and a strong competitive advantage—the better experience you provide customers, the more positive reviews you’ll receive; the more positive reviews you receive, the higher in rank your business will show in local results on Google; the higher your rank, the greater your exposure and the more easily and quickly you are found by other potential customers.

Adding Google Reviews to Your Marketing

Google reviews can be easily incorporated into your marketing. You can hire a service to help you if you have the budget, which will give you tools to monitor and respond to reviews and, in many cases, tie the request for a review to a trigger, like a transaction on your website or a purchase in your store’s POS system. This is great if you need or want a more automated approach to gathering reviews.

For some businesses, it makes more sense to take a direct and personalized route by sending email requests to known customers with a Google review link. This gives you another opportunity to “touch” your customer and provide a personal message to him or her, building the relationship. If you’re in a high-touch business, this is the way to go. And it’s quick and easy to do.

Why You Should Focus on Google (versus Other Search Engines)

Google is the king of search engines. According to a January 2018 NetMarketShare report, 74.52 percent of searches were powered by Google and only 7.98 percent by Bing, the second-place player. Google also dominates the mobile and tablet search engine market at 93 percent. Google is certainly the only search engine whose name has become a verb. Taking advantage of these kinds of numbers is a no-brainer.

But even Google takes into account other review sources in their ranking, so don’t neglect reviews beyond Google. Encourage your customers to review you on sites that are more targeted to your industry or market, like Yelp, Amazon, Facebook, Goodreads, TripAdvisor, Kayak, HomeAdvisor, Angie’s List, or your company’s own website. Even Yellow Pages reviews can be useful.

Ready to get more Google reviews? Check out our cheat sheet.

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