The online world allows us to connect and share in ways that were unimaginable just a few years ago. Now, before trying a new product or service, many people rely on unbiased customer reviews to make their decision. The experiences of friends, family, and strangers matter … a lot.

Not sure how to get started? We’re going to explore the basics of customer review sites — their impact on SEO; how they work; which ones are important; and managing open feedback.

SEO Impact

Customer reviews are like rocket fuel to a local small business and SEO, a strong showing and they can you move up the trajectory, FAST!! Search engines love businesses that are being talked about on the web and listed in multiple places. The more reviews (good or bad) that you have, the more important they think you are. It’s all just additional data points to a robot.

How do they work?

At a basic level, a review site provides a list of businesses and allows people to leave public feedback. This can be for a national brand but most often it’s for a local store. The software on the review site can pull your company data from outside sources such as search engine local pages, online yellow pages, industry listing services, or customers can add you on their own.

You might see ‘Claim this business’ or ‘Is this your business?’ on Yelp or another review site. This tells you the owner has not yet authenticated or taken control of that listing. Remember, people can leave a review on any business they like, even if the owner hasn’t claimed it yet.

Which review sites are most important?

There are many review sites out there but take time to complete a profile and promote reviews in the places your customers visit most.

Completing local pages and profiles on Google, Bing, and Yahoo is a good place to start. But you may want to focus on social sites such as Facebook, Twitter, or Yelp if that’s where your customers spend their time. If you’re a restaurant, you’d want to be in UrbanSpoon; a hotel should focus on TripAdvisor; a plumber probably wants reviews on Angie’sList. Be selective, it’s not one size fits all.

How to manage reviews?

The most important things is to know you can’t ‘manage’ or control what customers have to say — it’s a wide open world and reviews are going to happen with or without you. Being open and receptive to all comments, will help your business in the long run.

Set up ‘Alerts’ on the review site if possible. This will notify you when someone generates a review. If you have the ability to reply (this is often done via a moderator) to the reviewer, take advantage the feature. Being responsive and talking directly to a customer is always a great opportunity.

Social media monitoring tools like HootSuite, TweetDeck, or SocialSprout are a huge time-saver for social media review sites. It’s easy to see when someone has mentioned you or added comments to your page. ALWAYS respond quickly and work politely/respectfully to resolve issues or thank people for kind words.

Turning a Negative Into a Positive

Small business owners often worry that someone might say something bad about their business. Take the time to turn it into a positive. Reach out directly to the unsatisfied customer if you have access to their information. Don’t go on the offensive, listen and work to remedy the situation so that their next review is how happy they were with the outcome! If you can’t reach them, take time to consider their comments. Perhaps there’s a weak link in your business chain that can be improved.

Ready for those reviews to start pouring in? Our next post will address how to (not) solicit reviews and promote them appropriately to old and new customers alike. Be sure to sign up for our RSS feed and get the next review post via email!