Ever built a new home or contracted out some serious renovations to your current one? I just went through this process. It involved cleaning up a lot of dust and cleaning out some serious cash from the bank account.
As I went through the renovations, I noticed many of the small businesses I worked with did this one, similar, thing at the very end of our transactions. (Caveat: I work with small business owners every day. While this practice didn’t come as a surprise to me at all, it’s worth sharing for the sake of example. Hang in there with me.)
After the work was done and I’d paid for their services, they would each send me an email asking me to submit an online review for their business. In these emails, the businesses asked me to leave them reviews on any one of a few different websites. (Think Google, Yelp, Angie’s List, and others.)
But, when I clicked their links, I had an issue.
At each site I visited, I immediately encountered a login screen. I had to ask myself, “Do I have an account? What’s my login?” “What password could I have used?”
We all have so many logins these days, you can imagine I had no idea whether or not I even had an account, much less what my password was. Either way, I definitely didn’t intend to give up my email address to these sites, even if I had an incredible experience with these businesses (most of which, I did).
What are third-party reviews?
This type of review — one hosted on a website other than that of the small business — is called a third-party review. Why? Because these “third parties,” like the Googles and Yelps of the world, own and host these reviews on behalf of the consumer and the small business.
Here’s the kicker. Did you know approximately 50% of all Google Reviews, for example, aren’t initially hosted on Google My Business?
What are first-party reviews?
Google indexes 50% of their reviews from other sources on the web, sources like small business websites. This type of review — one hosted on a website the small business owns and manages directly — is called a first-party review.
More importantly, these first-party reviews factor into the overall Google rating for said small business.
How should small businesses use first-party reviews?
Many large franchises solicit reviews on their own websites strictly for the purpose or being indexed by larger third-party review sites like Google. That’s because it’s an easy way to create fresh, user-generated content, while at the same time driving volume to your online reputation.
But this practice doesn’t have to be just for large franchises. Small business owners can generate first-party reviews too.
Here are 3 steps to getting started with first-party reviews.
1. Turn up the volume.
The biggest weapon small businesses like yours have with your online reputation is volume. You want to generate as many possible ratings and reviews as you can from your customers.
Think about it this way.
If you only have 10 reviews, receiving a 1-star, negative review can dramatically affect your overall rating. Since 84% of consumers trust online reviews, that low rating can bring business to a screeching halt.
On the other hand, if you have hundreds of reviews, or even thousands, 1 bad review will impact your average rating far, far less. (Note: You’ll still want to follow up with every poor review to make it right, but they’ll sting a lot less in the grand scheme of things. Here’s how to follow up on not-so-pleasant reviews, if you need some help.)
Over time, the more reviews you have, the better off you (and your average rating) will be. Remember, an overall rating anywhere from 4.5 to 5 stars can attract new customers, build trust, and keep old customers coming back.
How can you increase the volume of reviews you receive? It’s all about automation.
Work review requests into every aspect of your final interactions with customers. After an appointment is done, ask for a review. When you get paid, ask for a review. On the receipt, ask for a review. In your follow-up emails, ask for a review.
Do you have a CRM? It’s the fastest way to integrate the steps we mentioned above into each customer interaction, without having to do the heavy lifting every single time. (Automation, automation, automation.) Thryv can handle all of this, and it even notifies you when your reviews make it onto third-party sites, so you can respond on the spot.
2. Dedicate places to collect first-party reviews.
How do small businesses get more first-party reviews?
The easiest way to improve your volume is to stop sending customers to places (like third-party review sites) that require them to do so much work.
Make it easy for them to give you a review directly, and they will.
Start by recognizing happy customers you think would be willing to share their experiences. Once you’ve built some rapport with these individuals, contact them directly to gather their reviews.
One of the best ways to do this is to email customers you’re confident will give you a fair review. Explain your intent of gathering a rating out of 5 (with 1 being the lowest and 5 being the highest possible score) and a detailed review. Wait until they reply, sending a reminder if necessary.
Pro tip: We don’t recommend placing a form directly on your website. This practice may seem efficient at first, but it could open you up to some serious internet trolling. Competitors, unhappy clients, even bored kids, would then be free to blast you on your own site. Not a good look.
Once you have a review from a client, it’s not as simple as copying and pasting it onto your website. Google requires very specific things from your markup language and schema (meaning how you format your code and tags) before it’s willing to pull your reviews.
Here’s a quick example. Google your local Denny’s. Notice which page Google serves up first. It’s not www.dennys.com; it’s locations.dennys.com. This isn’t by accident. Denny’s and Google both understand that users searching the breakfast chain’s name are probably looking for a location near them, not to learn more about the company. Denny’s formatted their site accordingly, and voila.
Basically, Google’s looking for websites with code that helps users understand what they can do with the information. Do this back-end work, avoid filtering your reviews (more on that in a sec), and Google will reward you handsomely.
3. Never, ever, filter first-party reviews.
It may be tempting to only share the positive reviews you receive. After all, if you’re vetting which ones to post to your site, why would you post reviews that don’t rave about your business?
There’s an important reason you should post every review you generate — the good, bad, and even the ugly.
Third-party review sites want authentic reviews consumers can trust. Their goal is to provide visitors with honest reviews, without the smoke and mirrors or marketing lingo. They know just like you do that the rarest instance of poor customer service can result in a bad review, even for the best-run businesses out there. When things look too good to be true, these sites lose trust in you.
Basically, filtering out negative reviews will likely prevent Google and others from indexing any of your first-party reviews for your business’s benefit.