While citations are important for local search, reviews shouldn’t be neglected. David Mihm has his theory of citations being the new links, and I’d like to add a corollary – reviews are the new link profile of the sites linking to you (it’s a bit of a mouthful, but it works). In other words, just like a site that has a hundred sites linking to it still won’t rank well if none of those sites have links to them, a citation in Google Places isn’t as valuable as a citation that comes with reviews, showing that the citation represents an active online presence for that business.
It’s not a perfect rule, especially considering that some citation sources don’t have the possibility of reviews at all, and also the fact that a citation without reviews is still a much more powerful ranking factor compared to a link from a linkless site. But it’s a pretty good rule of thumb. Basically – you want reviews.
Show Google a healthy Review Profile:
Step 1: Look at the other businesses in your sector that are ranking well in Google Maps. Check out the reviews they have on other sites, and pay attention to what’s being pulled in by Google Places. For example, if you’ve got a restaurant, it’s important to have good reviews on Yelp, UrbanSpoon, and Zagat. Add TripAdvisor to that list if you service the tourists. These are the review sites that you need to pump your reviews into.
Step 2: Create a review hub page on your site. It should be located at yoursite.com/reviews. The hub page should be a series of links to other sites that you have profiles on - the list you created back in Step 1. Order some business cards with the express intent of giving them to customers AFTER you’ve done the work for them. If you’re a restaurant, you can put it with the check. The business card should have a short message about your business, some contact information if they ever need you again, and most importantly, ask the customer to leave a comment or a review on yoursite.com/reviews.
If you have your clients’ email addresses, drop them a line soon after you do business with a link directly to that page. The point is, you want to be driving traffic to that specific page of your website. As time goes by, change the order of the links, or add or remove different sites as your review profile needs curating. If you have 100 reviews on UrbanSpoon but none on Zagat, move it down the list.
Step 3 (optional): For the programming ninjas out there, set up a redirect on yoursite.com/reviews to your citations that you want to generate reviews for. You can stagger the redirects so that not everybody is redirected to the same site. For restaurants, try something like 40% Yelp, 30% UrbanSpoon, 15% Zagat, and another 15% to something local. Pay attention to how your review profile develops, and adjust the redirects accordingly.
If you do this right, you’ll soon be seeing a nice healthy review profile growing across a diverse field of sites. Good luck!