Local Search Ranking Factors
This is an area that is often overlooked by small business owners, but its importance can't be understated. One of the main ranking factors for local listings is reviews, and in order to achieve high rankings you not only have to be on these sites, you have to monitor your reputation there.
Bad reviews sink sites. The difference between a "3" star review on Yelp and a "3.5" star review is a 63-percent increase in business. That's just half of a point! Want to increase your business by 60-percent or more with no additional work? Get and maintain high rankings on review sites.
The most popular of the review sites are Yelp, Google Places, Angie's List and Urban Spoon, although there are many others.
Negative reviews are a part of business. The sad truth is that most of your customers won't take the time to leave a review if they had a positive experience, but they'll go out of their way to do it if they had a negative one. The key here is reminding people to leave positive reviews. Offer a coupon, add a table topper reminding people to leave a review, put it on the receipt, or mention it at the point of sale. There is plenty of room for creativity here.
Citations are essentially mentions by other businesses, people or websites. These are links, without actually linking to the site you are mentioning. This is a popular PR term that has found its way on to the web in recent years. Citations are another key ranking factor in local search and properly optimized campaigns get their business name mentioned as often as possible, from as many different sources as they can find.
Remember, a citation is just a mention of your business. Anywhere you can leave your business information (directories, forums, blog posts, etc.) would contribute to the number of citations for your business.
Review & Discovery Sites
Did you know "checking in" when you're at a place of business does more than just tell your friends what you're doing? This simple act allows Google the opportunity to verify listing information by seeing that people have actually been to the business, thus proving its authenticity.
This isn't a ranking factor by itself, but it helps to build trust that this business is genuine and not a spam listing, which goes a long way toward earning top rankings. It's all about trust with Google, and the more you can do to prove that you're an actual business, the better your search position becomes.
The most popular of the review and discovery sites are:
Facebook should be included in this list as well. With graph search, they've essentially become a recommendation engine, and they've allowed users the option to "check in" for quite some time. You've already built a business page (or claimed one) on Facebook, so you're already set up to allow people the option to check in when they do business with you.
There are hundreds of these types of sites online, but these are the most popular, so these are the ones that should get the lion's share of your focus.
Review and discovery sites present two opportunities, or challenges for local businesses. In essence, you want people to:
But how do you get them to do that?
Foursquare offers you the option to give a user a coupon for checking in at your place of business. If they have their phones out, this might be an opportunity to leave a review. Once you put the thought in a customer's head to grab their phone and complete an activity (checking in, in this case) you'd be well served to ask them to leave a review. If you've provided a great product, service or experience, people will often be more than happy to help you out with a review if you ask.
Additional steps: There are companies out there, like Sqwid, that offer you the opportunity to reward positive reviews, offer "second chance" opportunities to bad ones, and reward customer loyalty all from a single dashboard. This certainly isn't a bad option to improve your reviews, incentivize new reviews and monitor your online reputation from one place.
Additional steps (part two): Google Places and Yelp offer events for certain types of businesses. You pay a fee, and they organize events for prolific reviewers to try your service or offering. This obviously doesn't work for every business, but if you are in the bar/restaurant/entertainment industry, this could be a huge opportunity.
Chris Warden is a seasoned entrepreneur and CEO. Starting his entrepreneurial career at age 19, he has performed in numerous capacities owning and managing both offline and online companies. Chris now serves as CEO of Spread Effect, a leading content marketing and publishing company. He is a member of the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) and often writes on topics of content marketing, SEO, and business development. He’s passionate about building and mentoring world-class teams and loves to chat with like-minded individuals. You can connect with Chris via Linkedin, Twitter - @ChrisWarden_SE, or Google+.
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