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How genuine customer engagement helps businesses win customers – the new “old fashioned way”

By Daniel Mathew, vice president UK at Uberall

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Consumers read online reviews for recommendations and reassurance in their buying decisions. Statista reports that 84% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, so they may be more influential than you ever imagined.

Embracing and encouraging customer reviews can seem risky, due to the potential to attract negative reviews along with the positive, but businesses shouldn’t fear negative feedback. ReportLinker research shows that more consumers take the time to write positive reviews than negative ones, and when managed correctly, negative reviews can have a positive impact on sales. Online reviews can offer businesses many benefits beyond simple endorsement.

 

Rising and shining in search engine rankings

Think of the last Google search you performed. Did you click on any paid-for results? Or did you skip those entirely in favour of the first few natural search results? According to Chitika, 95% of consumers only click on the first page of search results, and studies show that 67% of those first page clicks are limited to the first five search results.

Many factors affect search engine rankings – in broad terms, which key words people are searching for, how long they are looking at each result, and whether the results are deemed trustworthy.

Online reviews and customer engagement by businesses are crucial factors in achieving high search engine rankings because both are strong indicators of trustworthiness. Search engines analyse websites to “understand” their content, so the more material there is, the more accurate the analysis.

1.    Online reviews

Online reviews provide a constant source of new data and allow search engines to better find the most relevant keywords that connect users to the information they are looking for. Reviews may even provide information otherwise missing from a business’ website, but sought after by customers, e.g. is there free parking near the shop? Customer feedback is organic, free-of-charge content that improves search engine rankings.

Further, businesses without a rating on Google, and without reviews, are less likely to be displayed because Google deems these to be less relevant results due to a lack of data available for it to analyse. Even negative reviews contribute to a business’ relevance in Google search results when responded to properly. Customer reviews also increase a business' click-through-rate, which is the percentage of individuals viewing a web page who click on that business’ specific link. Consumers are more likely to click on a business that has a star rating on Google.

2.    Engaging with customers

Likewise, it’s vital for businesses to respond quickly and regularly to reviews, without replicating replies, to rise to the top of search results. Template responses don’t win any points with consumers, nor will they improve search engine optimisation (SEO) - in fact, template responses can damage SEO efforts. Beyond showing appreciation for positive comments, businesses can also promote their brands further, by mentioning a new offering or highlighting an aspect of the business that it’s proud of – such as locally sourced materials or how it contributes to the community. Genuine, original content will impress customers and improve organic SEO.

While no one wants to draw attention to a negative review, consumers will already be reading them, so an effective response can actually turn a negative into a positive. Potential customers will see that customer feedback is taken seriously and proactively addressed. Left unanswered, a negative review can turn away potential customers. Genuine customer engagement, even with regard to complaints, builds customer loyalty and brand trustworthiness, both online and offline.

 

Managing the right online reviews in the right way

There are countless review sites on the web, and even if businesses only prioritise the leading ones, they still need to manage reviews across multiple platforms like Google, Tripadvisor, Facebook, and Yelp.

The first step for businesses is to focus on the review sites that are most meaningful for their industry and sector, then claim their business listings on these sites. Oftentimes, official business listings on sites like Facebook and Yelp go unclaimed. Recent research by Uberall showed that 46.5% of the UK’s leading department stores are either missing from or have unclaimed Yelp listings.

When business listings go unclaimed, many platforms, like Yelp, Google and Facebook, allow unauthenticated user-generated content to be posted that is often incorrect or inaccurate. Although Yelp is less popular in the UK market, Google and other search engines cross-reference their own results with Yelp to verify their accuracy. Improving the accuracy of business listings is another way to boost search engine rankings.

Once a business has prioritised its review sites, the next step is to ensure that it is managing them uniformly and effectively, and that everyone who plays a role in the business’ online reputation follows the same processes, delivering a consistent message and brand voice. For enterprises with multiple locations – numbering from the tens to hundreds or even thousands – this may seem nearly impossible. However, larger businesses can employ cloud-based customer engagement solutions that allow them to manage reviews, and even social media, from a single platform. Such solutions can help enterprises achieve the same type of personalised responsiveness as that of the family-owned restaurant down the block.

 

Online review management brings benefits online and offline

Successful review management does take time and effort, and big brands and indeed smaller firms with multiple locations face additional challenges due to their size and scope. However, tackling these challenges is well worth the effort to market your brand to the widest possible audience, keep your customers happy and bring new ones to your door. After all, once you’ve made it to the top of the search results, the number of stars underneath your name is often what will drive consumers to pick you over your competitors.