This article was first published in the August/September 2019 issue of Hardscape Magazine.
Not sure what to do or how to feel about online reviews? You’re not alone.
Online reviews have the potential to crush your business or allow you to crush the market. That’s why being proactive about reputation management needs to be a priority in your marketing strategy.
I’ll never forget the day I sat across the table from a well-respected landscape contractor in my area to discuss marketing strategies. To prepare for the meeting, I researched their online presence and reputation.
I found that the company only had one online review even though they had been in business a long time. The review read something like this: “Stupid, just stupid. Don’t even bother to call.”
When I showed him the review, I could tell that it felt like a virtual punch in his gut. Whether he physically said it out loud or not, I’m sure he was thinking, “They said what?”
Online reviews are here to stay. Most of us use them to make purchasing decisions. Whether we’re buying a physical product, making a rental car reservation, figuring out where to eat, where to get health care, or who to hire, online reviews matter more than ever. And yes, even for hardscape contractors.
According to BrightLocal research, 79% of consumers ages 35-54 trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation. It’s 91% for ages 18-34. Let me share a story to illustrate this point.
A couple of years ago I was talking to a good friend of mine about online reviews. He is a professional at the local hospital, is married to a doctor, and has 3 teenagers. Not a bad client demographic for your business, right?
He needed to get his mower fixed, so he asked his co-workers for recommendations. Most everyone referred the same local repair shop. So, he did a quick Google search for the repair shop by name. He didn’t like what he saw. The shop had just a few online reviews, and they were bad. He kept searching until he found a shop with great online reviews and took his business there.
When a prospect searches for your company by name, we call that a “brand search.”
What they find determines whether they will take the next step – to contact you – or to keep looking.
The first repair shop missed out on my friend’s business because of their negative online reviews, and they had no idea that my friend even existed. How many prospects are skipping right by your company?
Get your team on board
Does your team understand how much reviews can affect your business and, subsequently, their jobs? If not, I’d recommend having a team meeting right away to make sure they understand. Let me illustrate with another story.
One of our contractor customers recently got a scathing online review simply because one of their employees acted poorly while driving down the highway. That company invests a lot of time, money and training to be a ‘green’ company; the employee’s actions didn’t match this brand message at all and resulted in the negative review.
Fortunately, the owner was able to connect with the person who wrote the review and smooth things out. The owner also took action to ensure employees were trained on how their actions can affect the company’s reputation.
Reputation management & marketing
Do you have good reviews? If so, are you doing anything to market and promote them across your marketing channels such as social media, websites and traditional advertising? Managing and marketing your online reviews is the best approach to crushing it in your local market.
The fact is, in today’s marketplace, consumers control conversations. It can happen at work, play, around the dinner table, and it most definitely happens online. Your prospects are reading and sharing reviews on sites like Google, Facebook, Houzz, Yelp, Home Advisor, Angie’s List and more.
Consumers trust this peer-generated content far more than they trust ads and traditional media. Now, I’m not saying that ads and traditional media can’t be effective, but both traditional and digital ads work much better when you also have a strong online reputation.
In other words, your prospects are much more likely to believe what others say about you online vs. what you say about yourself. All of this definitely affects consumer behavior.
There are a number of key trends about online reviews that are important for your reputation management efforts:
- 27% of consumers look online daily for a local business (67% monthly).
- 86% of consumers read reviews for local businesses.
- 57% won’t use a business that has fewer than 4 stars.
- Consumers read an average of 10 reviews, and prefer there to be a total of 30-40 reviews before they trust the overall rating.
- 85% of consumers think that online reviews older than 3 months aren’t relevant.
- 89% read local businesses’ responses to reviews.
- 66% of consumers have been asked to leave a review.
Listings and reviews go hand in hand
In addition to doing brand searches for a specific company, people often look online using a keyword search. For example, they might search for “Landscape Contractor near me.”
In this case, your online listings and your online reviews go hand in hand. Listings are called citations (not the traffic ticket kind), and they can be a good thing for your brand and search results. However, it is very important to have both accurate and consistent listings.
Inaccurate listings not only hurt your online presence, but they also drive customers crazy.
Listings typically contain your business’s NAP&W (Name, Address, Phone and Website). Additional things like hours, service categories and descriptions can be included. There are literally hundreds of places online that your business might be listed.
Building a strong online presence and reputation drives more revenue to your business. But how do you get started? First, get buy-in from everyone in your organization; if you’re going to implement a reputation management and marketing strategy, this is critical. If this doesn’t happen, the strategy will likely fail. Then take the following steps:
- Train your team on the importance of reviews (staff meeting next week?).
- Ask for reviews from your customers – make it drop-dead simple to write reviews on multiple sites that matter most to you.
- Implement an ongoing strategy as part of your project workflow. Getting reviews is not a one-time thing.
- Follow Google guidelines and other best practices.
- Monitor your brand online to see what people are saying about you.
- Use online reviews as a management tool; giving kudos and correcting when necessary can be absolute gold for your business. All feedback is good feedback when you look at it this way.
- Respond to reviews both good and bad.
- Make sure your online listings (NAP&W) are consistent and accurate.
- Ask employees or family members to write reviews about you.
- Write negative or false reviews about your competitors.
- Make it complicated.
- Offer incentives or bribes for writing a review.
- Have a pizza party and ask people to write a review all at once.
Don’t let online reviews get you down or negatively affect your business. In our experience, contractors that build, promote and manage their online presence and reputation crush it consistently in their local market.
Take control of your online reputation today.
Tim Fahndrich is the President & CEO of Third River Marketing, a contractor marketing agency. He is also co-founder of WhirLocal.io, an easy-to-use neighborhood marketing platform designed to help contractors and local businesses build, promote, and manage their online presence and reputation. Visit ThirdRiverMarketing.com
Statistics by BrightLocal: “Local Consumer Review Survey; Online Reviews Statistics & Trends,” May 21, 2019, www.brightlocal.com/research/local-consumer-review-survey/