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The Review Revolution

local-seo-reviews

Let’s suppose you have a restaurant, or you’re a local plumber, dentist, CPA, or divorce attorney or any of the thousands of local businesses that service customers in their day-to-day life. Before the advent of social media sites like Yelp, Google+, YP.com, TripAdvisor and their kind, consumers might have gone to the physical yellow pages or perhaps visited your website after a Google search. You were in charge of your marketing message: customers couldn’t really “talk back.”

The “Review Revolution” led by Yelp and since followed by Google+, YP.com, TripAdvisor, Angie’s List, Amazon, and other sites has dramatically changed the local landscape. Yelp made it possible for customers to “talk back,” sharing their positive and negative reviews about local businesses across social media.

Reviews, in short, allow consumers to talk back: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

A happy customer can leave a positive review about your business, and a not-so-happy customer can leave a scathing negative review. Moreover, it’s a fact that many (if not most) potential customers go online and check reviews before engaging with a local business. If they see five star or four-star reviews on Google or Yelp, they may reach out to your business with a phone call or email inquiry, or visit your rest

Online reviews, in short, can make, or break, your business.

EXPLORE HOW REVIEW SITES WORK

local seo reviews 3

The first big thing to grasp as a local business is the Review Revolution brought to us by Yelp in 2004. Imagine it’s 1994, ten years prior to Yelp’s founding, and you have a local Italian restaurant in Los Angeles, California. One day you are lucky enough to be visited by the review critic for the Los Angeles Times. You recognize her from her picture in the LA Times, and you realize that she can make or break — your new Italian eatery. You do your best to not let her know you recognize who she is, and you do your utmost to ensure that she has a positive experience at your restaurant. One week later your hopes and prayers are answered: a positive restaurant review in the local newspaper. Business booms.

Alternatively, if she had written a critical review of your restaurant, the business would not have boomed. It would have busted. The review critic, in short, had an immense amount of power over local restaurants. However, if a) you were a small restaurant you had minimal chance of ever getting reviewed, and b) if you were a divorce attorney, plumber, massage therapist, CPA or many other types of local businesses, there were essentially no reviewers available. Your main marketing channel was not reviews but customer word of mouth.

Enter the Review Revolution. In October 2004, Yelp (http:www.yelp.com) was founded. Consumers of all types could now review not just local restaurants but local plumbers, dentists, massage therapists and thousands of other types of local businesses. The Review Revolution was like any other mass revolution: the masses burst open the doors of the castle, executed the ruling class, and turned over the table and chairs. It was a bit bloody. It was a bit noisy. And it was a bit unpleasant. If, for example, you were the Los Angeles Times restaurant critic, your absolute power over restaurants was broken. Professional critics, from restaurant reviewers to product reviewers to book reviewers, look on the review revolution with disgust.

The Review Revolution brought democracy to local reviews. Now anyone could review anything. No control: democracy arrived to reviews.

But here’s the rub. Like the French Revolution, the Review Revolution brought the masses into the ecosystem. It has not been very organized or coherent; online reviews run the gamut from informative to ridiculous. Whereas the big reviewers of the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and New York Times were educated and civilized (though they could be brutal in their reviews), the new review class can be rough and tumble. Anyone — and I do mean anyone — can write a review: good, bad, or ugly. To be frank, we are still living in this unsettled Review Revolution, and like the French Revolution, there is no going back: the old system is dead.

UNDERSTAND THE REVIEW REVOLUTION

If you’re reading this chapter, you’ve probably already grasped that online reviews can make or break your local reviews. Many, if not all, potential customers consult online review sites like TripAdvisor, Yelp, or Google+ before engaging with local businesses. If they see positive reviews, they are primed for a positive experience. If they see negative reviews, they are so negatively primed that they may avoid any contact whatsoever with your business. Reviews now impact all types of local businesses; nearly every local business is being reviewed online 24/7 365.

Let’s step back for a moment and understand the review ecosystem. With Yelp as the most important local review site, we will use Yelp as our model, and recognize that what’s true for Yelp is generally true for all review sites because they all follow the same social media rules of engagement.

Here’s how review sites work:

  • Local businesses have profiles. Business profiles are created without the permission or participation of the business owner and exist whether or not the business owner has claimed, optimized, and participated in the review ecosystem. You as the business owner do not have the right to “delete” your listing on Yelp! It’s like a business Page on Facebook, to the extent that your business has an online “Page” on Yelp. But unlike on Facebook, you are not in control!

  • Customers write reviews. Registered Yelp users are able to write reviews about any local business they choose. If your business is not listed, Yelp users can even create a listing for your business and then review it. These reviews may be good or bad, extremely positive or so negatively scathing as to infuriate you as the business owner. The Yelpers are basically in control.

  • Customer reviewers also establish a reputation. The more reviews a customer writes, the older his or her profile as a reviewer on Yelp, the more friends on Yelp, the more thumbs up or thumbs down to their reviews, the stronger their profile gets. Yelp has filters to filter out “fake” or “weak” reviews from showing entirely. The stronger the customer profile, the higher their reviews rise on the pages of those businesses that they have reviewed. Your business and the Yelpers are both simultaneously establishing a reputation, and that reputation impacts whether your information (your listing, their review) shows prominently on Yelp. (Remember: the same is true for Google+, TripAdvisor, Airbnb, and even Amazon).

  • Business establish a reputation. As your business is reviewed on Yelp, the more positive reviews it has, the more customers come to visit it (especially first-time customers). But the more negative reviews you have, the fewer customers you get. This is called a “virtuous circle” and a “vicious circle.”

  • Businesses claim their local listings. Businesses have the right to claim and optimize their listings. By claiming their listing on a site like Yelp, the business can “optimize” it by improving the business description with accurate keywords,
    uploading photos, responding to reviews, and in some cases like Google+ post updates. While businesses cannot delete their listings nor their negative reviews, they can participate in the new social media ecosystem of reviews.

  • Prospective customers read reviews. Potential customers visit sites like Yelp, CitySearch, TripAdvisor, Google+, and search for businesses via keywords. They find businesses of interest and read the reviews. Generally speaking, if they find positive reviews, they are primed to engage with that business. If they find negative reviews, they may not so much as even call or visit the business.

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