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Getting Local Online Reviews on Google Just Got Harder

The world of local online search is constantly changing, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. For local business owners struggling to get more online reviews, one major recent event falls into the latter category. This event is the recent update of what Google is now calling Google Plus Local, or Google+ Local.

To call it an update severely underscores just how far reaching the change is for local business owners. More accurately, Google has demolished the previous version of Google Places in lieu of Google+ Local. In case you are wondering, this change was made automatically and unless your listing was affected by one of several bugs, the transformation of your Google Places listing should have gone forward seamlessly without any effort required on your part.

While there are dozens of blog posts outlining the different aspects of this change, I have found little in the way of addressing how this change affects local customer reviews. With our studies showing that approximately two thirds of all online shoppers check reviews before making a purchase, I consider this to be a pretty relevant feature of Google+ Local.

First of all, let me list some grievances I found with the new reviews system on Google+ Local.

1. Google+ membership required.

Perhaps the biggest drawback of this update is the fact that in order for your customers to interact and/or leave reviews on your new listing, they must log into their Google+ account. Oh what’s that, you don’t have a Google+ account? Well chances are most of your customers don’t either which is precisely why this is such a hindrance to collecting online reviews. No longer is “simply” having your customers log into or sign up for a Google account sufficient, but they must now also sign up for Google+, which is essentially Google’s version of Facebook.

2. New review rating system.

Just as my parent’s generation was finally figuring out that 5 stars online = good (no offense Mom), Google decided to throw out this well established rating system in favor of one adopted from the restaurant rating company they purchased, Zagat. While I have nothing against the Zagat system, per se, it is very different than the traditional 5 star rating system and requires individuals to rate different aspects of the service from 0-3, and then compiles these reviews into an overall score of 0-30. Just taking the time to type that makes me want the old 5-star approach back. The more complicated review rating system means less customers will want to figure out how to use it.

3. No more online anonymity.

Much like the chocolate-peanut butter-french fry concoction I once envisioned, this idea sounds much better on paper than in reality.  Mainly, there are 2 problems. First, reviewers will be less honest when they are held accountable for their immortalized words online. Secondly, fewer customers will feel comfortable having their names branded along with their feedback for all the internet to read.

4. Lengthy Review Process.

This statement goes back to item numbers 1 and 2 but merits reemphasizing. The biggest obstacle facing collecting online reviews is simply the time it takes customers to do it. Even the most grateful customers lose their fervor when the clock starts ticking. If Google+ was simply a new username and password, that would be one thing, but it goes far beyond the basics by requesting detailed personal information along with a brutal “type the above chicken scratch letters here” question whose sole existence seems to be aimed at making people cry. Additionally, the new Zagat review system required of customers hardly embodies brevity.

How to Get More Online Reviews on Google+

Now that the bad news is out of the way, I’d like to tackle some of the above obstacles and offer solutions that we have found to be effective with our clients.

1. Make Your Listing Easy to Find

Create a link to your Google+ Local listing and write instructions on how to leave a review. You may want to walk yourself through this process beforehand in order to figure out the steps involved. Post this link and the brief instructions everywhere possible (on your website, on your business cards, on printed materials in your place of business, in email signatures of your employees, etc). If you want to take this a step further, you can employ an email/printed materials campaign to actively solicit reviews from your customers. This can be extremely effective if an incentive is provided, which brings me to my next point.

2. Incentivize Review Participation

Simply put, if you hold a drawing or other incentive for those who leave online reviews, you will get more of them. I should note that every review site feels differently about how you solicit reviews and it would be wise to read through their individual policies beforehand. You can check out an article covering the technical aspects of Google’s policy here for details about Google.

3. Hire an Online Review Management Company

Simply asking your customers to leave online reviews will not suffice, more now than ever. If you want a professional’s touch to make sure your online review potential is maximized, there are several extremely cost effective tools out there (cough…ours included). You can read more about our tool, Survey Local, or just google “online review management” and see what other companies are offering.

4. Take a balanced approach.

Given the sometimes finicky nature of Google’s local listings, it would be wise to rotate out which review sites you point customers to. You could take this a step further by sending invites designed specifically for each customer. For example, you could send customers with a gmail address a link to your Google listing and those with Yahoo email addresses to your Yahoo listing.

There are 2 comments .

Benjy

Hey — some really great points here.

My only concern is with Incentivizing reviews. I like how you left it fairly neutral, but I’ve heard of credibility plummeting after people found out that businesses were offering incentives for reviews. Even if you’re not trying to influence the content of the reviews, it still might come off as a bribe.

    Chad

    Yes, it’s true you do have to be careful when offering any form of incentive as a review so that you don’t bias the results. However, if a company treats reviews like any valid form of market research, rewarding the act of providing feedback, whether positive or negative, I think it can be done very effectively.

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