By Heather Blessington
The Internet is often referred to as “The Wild, Wild West” because technology is changing so rapidly, it’s virtually impossible to police content, images and business practices. Well, the web just got a heck of a lot wilder in the local search space, so here is what you need to know to protect your shop’s reputation.
At this moment, there are more than 50 local search engines serving up your business information in their search results. I’m going to venture to guess that the vast majority of tire dealers are unaware of this fact, since these local business directory sites don’t need to be granted permission to display your company information.
Google Places and Yahoo Local are the two most trafficked local search sites, with many other followers such as Local.com, Superpages.com, CitySearch.com and a whole slew more. These sites are fed local business information from various companies; a few of the largest sources are InfoSource, USA.com and IBegin.com.
In the past year, local search has added social features such as customer ratings and reviews. As a result, there are a lot of opinions about your dealership flying around the web, and it’s essential for you to track your dealership reviews to protect your online reputation.
The good news is that when managed correctly, socialized local search presents a great opportunity for you to interact with your customers. So let’s dig in, starting with a bit of history of how we got here.
In the past decade, consumers have transitioned from printed Yellow Pages to online local searches. Statistics show that in 2010, consumers of all ages are most likely to head online first to find local business information.
This societal shift was very evident as I drove through my neighborhood on New Year’s Day and noticed nearly every homeowner hadn’t even bothered to pick up the Yellow Pages book that had been dropped at the foot of each mailbox in a bright orange plastic bag. My book sat covered in snow and ice until garbage pickup day, when I launched the useless book directly into the trash.
A few years ago, social media took the world by storm. Search engines saw the opportunity to integrate ratings and reviews into local business directories. A wise move, seeing that statistics show that 78% of social networkers rate online reviews as important when making buying decisions.
Which brings us to today’s environment, where we face an extremely fragmented local search industry that has been flourishing, seemingly behind our backs.
Online Reputation Management
The fact of the matter is you need to manage your online reputation. This means keeping local business information current on the most trafficked local search sites.
A good place to start is with Google Places and Yahoo Local. You will find the process is as simple as “claiming” your business by verifying ownership, and then entering your dealership information including products and services, and hours of operation.
Be sure to take the time to make your dealership local page as complete as possible since this data will help your local search engine rankings. Take advantage of the free, built-in features such as multiple photo upload, event listings and even coupon creation.
Monitor Ratings & Reviews
Since consumers can review or rate your dealership at any time, the easiest way to keep a handle on this user-generated content is by setting up real-time alerts. Try Google Alerts – it’s an easy tool that will e-mail you every time your company name is mentioned on the Internet.
Here are some statistics to reinforce the importance of monitoring customer ratings and reviews, according to OutspokenMedia.com:
• 80% of adults are more likely to buy a product based on recommendation
• 90% of consumers trust recommendations and reviews
Think about how many years it has taken you to build up your reputation in your community. Now think about how quickly that reputation could be tarnished by a few unhappy customers who are social media influencers and know how to get their word out, and get it out fast.
Online reputation management is one task that you need to commit to, otherwise don’t even bother getting started. If you don’t have the resources to manage this internally, hire a marketing company with experience in online reputation management to take care of this for you. Your dealership will be better for it – and you’ll be able to sleep at night.
Stay Scared But Optimistic
I figure this article scared a few of you, which is good in a sense because I don’t want ORM taken lightly. On the other side of the coin, remember that positive online reviews will no doubt drive traffic into your store.
Ask your valued customers to review your shop on Google Places and start building up your arsenal of great ratings to overshadow any negative ones that pop up. And if a negative comment appears, face it head on. Contact the poster of the review ASAP and talk to them about their experience. Try to make it up to them in whatever way you feel is appropriate. This approach can work magic; I’ve seen many negative reviewers actually return to follow up with a glowing positive review after hearing from the company directly.
Stay informed – knowledge is power.
Award-winning blogger and CEO of Duo Web Solutions, Heather Blessington is a web technology veteran and a certified PMP with the Project Management Institute (PMI). Her company provides monthly columns focused on best practices in web marketing.
This article ran in Motorcycle Product News, a sister publication of SHOP OWNER.