Optimizing Your Word of Mouth Advertising

Optimizing Your Word of Mouth AdvertisingPost by Rob Swystun from @RhinoForceLLC.

Back in the dark ages (pre-internet 20th Century), businesses put a lot of effort into gaining and maintaining a stellar reputation.

They knew that no matter how much they advertised, the real advertising was done when customers and clients told other people about the business and gave it their unofficial endorsement.

Who would you rather trust for information about how good a business is: your best friend or a TV commercial paid for by the company?

This type of word-of-mouth advertising has lent itself nicely to the internet with sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor, where people leave reviews of businesses allowing people to check if the business has a good or bad reputation.

Once upon a time, directory listings like Yelp received pretty high rankings on SERPs. They fell out of favor with Google after some time.

But, with Google’s recent algorithm change, Hummingbird, directories are making a comeback in Google results.

Hummingbird seems to be returning more specific metro-level pages from these national directories for generic keywords, especially keywords that include geo-modifiers.

Word-of-Mouth-Optimization (WOMO)

This is where something I like to call Word-of-Mouth-Optimization (WOMO) comes into play. Think of it as a melding of the online and offline marketing worlds.

Google and other search engines are highly interested in what online reviewers have to say about a business, even more so than what the business has to say about itself.

WOMO is especially useful for small, brick-and-mortar businesses that don’t have a lot to spend on cultivating an online presence with a website.

Here’s how it works: You choose a few different review sites and focus your efforts on them so they show up near the top of the results for keywords in your area or for your specific business name.

Which review sites you choose to target will depend on your business, but Yelp is probably the best general one. Nearly any type of business can get on Yelp and it’s widely known.

You’ll also want to make sure you target any industry-specific directories, like TripAdvisor for tourism businesses or WeddingWire for wedding-related businesses, etc.

Once you’ve picked one or two review sites that you want to use, treat them like they are your website landing pages. Fill out as much content as you can on them.

With Yelp, you can connect a map, put in your business hours, phone number and address, a description of what the business does, add photos and offer discounts.

This is all stuff that you’d likely be doing with your website anyway, but sites like Yelp already have the infrastructure set up and, more importantly, they have the infrastructure set up for what really drives WOMO: reviews.

How To Get Customers to Leave Reviews

There’s no doubt that sites like Yelp were set up with consumers in mind. They get to check reviews of businesses and avoid the bad ones while finding good ones to patronize.

But businesses that take control of their directory pages can use them to their advantage by encouraging customers to leave reviews. It shouldn’t be difficult, either.

While the novelty of sites like Yelp have worn off since they first popped up, people still love voicing their opinions about things and it helps to give them a gentle nudge.

  • Print out some posters or stickers of whichever site you’re using and put them up in your business with a friendly request to leave a review.
  • Put the request on your receipts.
  • Mention the process to customers during the checkout process.
  • Give away a small gift to people when they check in on their mobile device at the store.

Use your imagination to do what you can to get people to leave reviews for your business.

Driving Positive Reviews

Now, obviously just getting people to leave reviews isn’t enough.

Negative reviews are going to hurt you. You need reviews to be positive in order for WOMO to be effective.

Of course, you shouldn’t blatantly ask people to give your business positive reviews, but you should focus on the fundamentals of good business: stellar customer service, cleanliness, attentiveness and everything else that goes into making a business one that people love frequenting.

Managing Negative Reviews

If you do happen to get a negative review, you must deal with it.

Advice varies on how to deal with negativity toward your business on social media.

However, there’s no question that the worst things you can do with a negative review/comment is to ignore it, especially if it’s a complaint about something specific that you’re able to rectify.

Publicly, a simple thanks to the person for bringing the issue to your attention and a promise to improve upon the situation will often suffice. This will show other people that if they have complaints, those complaints warrant your attention and will be addressed.

People like knowing they have influence and they have the power to change things if they feel they’ve been wronged.

Potential customers will see that even if something bad happens at your business, you acknowledge it rather than sweeping it under the rug.

It never hurts to then follow up with the complainant privately to make a small apology and offer something free or a discount on that person’s next visit. You don’t want to do this publicly, though, or you might invite a slew of unwarranted complaints from people looking for free stuff.

And, of course, never respond to negativity with negativity. That means no sarcasm, no wittiness, and it’s probably best to avoid humor altogether. Starting a flame war is never acceptable.

Getting Links to Your Review Pages

Treating these review pages as a landing page on your website also means using the fundamentals of content marketing to generate links to them, as we all know that search engines love those links.

Just like with a standalone website, the more high-quality, incoming links you have to your review page the higher it will rank.

By harnessing the power of people’s opinions and their love of sharing them, you can rocket your review pages to the top of the list for your industry keywords in your area.

Just don’t forget that you’ll still need to concentrate on those offline business basics to make it all worthwhile.

Make it easy for people to talk about you. — Andy Sernovitz

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About the Author: Rob Swystun (@RhinoForceLLC) is a blogger, editor and consultant at RhinoForce, where he blogs on a variety of subjects and helps run numerous internet marketing campaigns.

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