A foundational element of local marketing strategy could be changing. Rumors began circulating last week that Apple would be giving users the ability to add ratings and photos to local business listings on Apple Maps when iOS 14 releases this fall. That could mean big changes are in store for brand marketers who’ve grown accustomed to monitoring reviews and ratings on a core group of third-party platforms.
Apple’s move into the ratings and review space isn’t totally unexpected, but it’s still causing the local marketing community to question how the update will impact local search and discovery.
Google has taken several important measures to assist businesses during the pandemic, but none so far can prevent customers angry about coronavirus-related restrictions from lashing out at businesses attempting to follow public health best practices or the letter of the local law. “The review space has never been harder than right now,” wrote GatherUp co-founder and reputation management expert Mike Blumenthal.
But there are also possible strategies for survival.
Businesses that understand these changes and find ways to harness review attributes stand to see major gains in search. Google’s new feature could be a big improvement for small and mid-size businesses, in particular, since it provides marketers with both comparative structured feedback and sentiment. But whether businesses benefit from Google’s decision to expand review attributes into new categories depends largely on how they capitalize on the changes.
Not long before the COVID-19 outbreak was officially deemed a pandemic — it seems like years ago, but it was only March 11 — we planned to commemorate Street Fight’s March theme, Word of Mouth, by surveying a select number of experts in local marketing about the state of reputation management and what to look forward to in 2020.
Current events got in the way of our plans, and therefore we’re releasing this report in April rather than March. But we were pleased that the experts we asked came through and offered a great deal of valuable insight on the priorities and challenges of reputation management for local businesses. So let’s dig in to the insights provided by local marketing leaders at ThriveHive, Reputation.com, Chatmeter, Brandify, GatherUp, Uberall, and BrightLocal.
During the Covid-19 outbreak, we’re seeing tech companies step up to the plate in a mixture of altruistic and opportunistic moves. That’s everything from Comcast removing data caps to Amazon removing its paywall for streaming kids shows. But what about local specifically? Again, that’s where businesses are getting hit most.
We’ve seen moves in the local space over the past week from Facebook, Yelp, and Foursquare. Though there are several others, we’ll drill down on this representative sample. We’ll also give a shoutout to Google for its work to free up human and compute resources for local listings updates, covered Monday by Damian Rollison.
Important announcements were posted Friday by Google and Yelp as part of the effort to contend with coronavirus and its impact on businesses.
Google has published a new help page titled “Limited Google My Business functionality due to COVID-19.” Before diving into the details in the announcement, I’ll mention the most important headline. Due to a rapid reorganization of priorities, Google has determined that at this time, they will disable the ability to leave new reviews, reply to reviews, and post new Question and Answer content.
One of the oldest and still most influential drivers of local commerce is word of mouth. Though that’s sustained at a high level, the delivery vessel for local chatter has evolved. Social channels like Facebook and Yelp now shape the reputations of brick-and-mortar businesses, not to mention the kingmaker authority of Google.
This month, we will delve into the latest trends and insights driving reputation management, taking Word of Mouth as our theme.
With the regulations and changes that limit marketers’ ability to reliably track users, location marketing must evolve. Push marketing is likely to become less effective as brands continue to lose access to consumer data.
A tried and true alternative is pull marketing. Pull marketing is an approach that attracts in-market customers to your brand or product. Rather than pushing a brand on the audience, pull marketing draws in customers by using less intrusive methods that don’t rely on personal data. One of the most common forms of pull marketing is search advertising (paid and organic).
Retailers scored best on average on listings, suggesting that management is succeeding at getting multi-location stores to optimize the fundamentals of their online presence. The poorest average category score, rankings, indicates brands are failing to pop up when consumers search for unbranded items. At a time when consumers are increasingly searching for items “near me” instead of brand-name stores where they could find those items, businesses stand to gain if they invest in non-brand-specific keywords.
If it had not already been clear that building up a significant inventory of positive online reviews is key to attracting new customers to a business, let doubt linger no further.
A whopping 52 percent of consumers ages 18-54 “always” read reviews when searching for local businesses, and only 53 percent will consider a businesses with fewer than four stars, according to survey of 1,005 US-based consumers by marketing platform BrightLocal. Eighty-two percent of consumers overall read online reviews.
Mike Blumenthal says the acquisition by ASG gives GatherUp greater access to organizational value, helping the company build better products and processes faster and more robustly. He expects there to be virtually no change in GatherUp’s day-to-day activities. All of the company’s teams—including sales, customer success, engineering, and management—will remain intact following the acquisition. Aaron Weiche will stay on as CEO. Although GatherUp was founded in San Jose, the company employs a distributed team that is now focused in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Loyalty to local businesses may never cease to be an important factor in brick-and-mortar commerce, but the boom of “near me” searches and the emphasis on convenience in the age of mobile search make a prime online presence for the quick-querying passerby more important than it has ever been. This latest Uberall data indicate that responding to reviews can provide the slight 5-star rating bump that guides an unfamiliar customer into a store she may otherwise pass up for a higher-ranked competitor.
While customer feedback is coming in from every direction, the automotive industry has done a better job of funneling reviews into vertical-specific platforms than some other industries. Large auto retailers like AutoNation are making major data stack investments, while others are working to improve their online ratings and reviews by engaging more frequently on sites like Facebook and Yelp as well as on automotive-specific platforms like Cars.com and Edmunds.
When customers are looking for a quick fix and do not intimately know the shops around them, star-rating averages are crucial. A new report by location-based marketing firm Uberall indicates they are so influential in consumer decision-making processes that a mere 0.1-point jump in a store’s average rating can increase its conversion rate by 25%.
For franchise businesses, specifically, Facebook is critical. The platform has rolled out a significant number of enhancements to help companies manage all facets of their digital reputation. And in the last year, nothing has been quite so impactful to franchise businesses as the rollout of Locations – the company’s local pages feature, which enables a multi-location business to link, and manage, individual franchise pages to the corporate brand page.
In order to leverage the network as a true reputation management tool, franchise brands must get accustomed to the three features outlined in this piece, which can be used to enhance the online reputation of every location and control public perception of your overall brand.
Local businesses are struggling to adapt to a world where online reputation drives offline sales, and fake reviews are making the transition harder. What’s more, the fake review problem is getting worse. A Harvard study found that fake reviews on Yelp grew from 5% to 20% over several years.
There are lots of reasons for this trend, but this is an area where big data can be used to the benefit of consumers and businesses to increase trust. This means it’s on the tech community—not small businesses—to fix fake reviews. Just as media platforms have a moral obligation to avoid the spread of fake news, review sites have a responsibility to their users and businesses to ensure their content is as accurate as possible.
Operators of small- and medium-sized businesses can get by ignoring many of the tech innovations that large companies adopt. Managing online reviews is not one of them.
Like it or not, the widespread usage of review sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and even Google and Facebook have changed the landscape of how local businesses attract and retain customers. Left ignored or handled the wrong way, a business’s negative online reviews can be a deterrent to potential new customers. Managed the right way, however, those same review sites can be a valuable marketing and customer service tool that leads to improved revenue.
Despite digital change, recommendations from friends remain one of the most credible forms of marketing. Now, a new startup called Fresh Chalk is aiming to capitalize on that, giving consumers a way to find local professionals with help from their friends.
Like Yelp, Facebook, Google, and other local business directories, Fresh Chalk is aiming to help people source recommendations from reliable, qualified businesses in their own communities. But unlike most other competitors in the market, Fresh Chalk is keeping a tight focus on personal connections.
Headlines about retail closures suggest it’s Amazon’s world and we’re all just living in it, but there’s more to the story. For local businesses, in particular, there’s ample reason to be optimistic that the retail apocalypse doesn’t have to spell end times. In fact, exactly the opposite could be true. Let’s walk through a few of the reasons for optimism.