Commentary

5 Offline Local Business Factors That Surface In Online Reputation, Part II

Part I of this column calls out three of five elements that repeatedly surface when consumers contribute -- accurately or not -- to the Web-based reputation of local businesses, and a description of how this ties into local SEO. Here are the remaining two.
 

4. Accuracy

This may be the easiest transitional concept for Local SEOs to inuit between the on-and-offline worlds. A family on a vacation sees a billboard advertising a local diner that’s open until midnight. After a long day at the beach, they locate the business, only to find it already closed at 10:30 PM. Instant disappointment, instant hassle. It should go without saying that changes in branding, address, phone numbers and hours of operation should be publicized in all relevant offline venues (in-store, local newspaper, etc.) before they take place, to minimize consumer inconvenience.

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This is home ground for the local SEO agency, where the management of this type of data is a foundation and ongoing task on clients’ websites, local business listings and social profiles.

For incoming clients, any review mentions of inaccurate basic business information is a warning sign that some part of the off-or-online presence is being neglected. These mentions are extremely common and highlight the need for a holistic approach to location data management: taking control of all possible references to the name, address, phone number, website address, hours of operation and other details to ensure their accuracy.

5. Honesty/ Fairness

“It looked nice in the pictures, but…” -- countless reviews on TripAdvisor and Yelp begin this way, signaling that a business may have over-promised and under-delivered. A feeling of being deceived is one that sticks with consumers and one they feel they must warn other consumers against in online reviews. Taking into account that many major brands have been sued by the public for false advertising, consumers still clearly believe that honesty is the best policy. How does this play out in the offline, local world?

  • Offline materials should accurately depict business quality (e.g., don’t present an economy motel as 5-star destination in a brochure)
  • Offline materials should accurately depict price (no bait-and-switch, price gouging or hidden fees)
  • Pricing should be commensurate with the going rate for the quality of the offering
  • Consumer expectations should be accurately set (either verbally or in writing) for timeframes, accessibility, convenience, etc.
  • Consumer guarantees on all products and services should be clearly communicated and rigorously upheld
  • When mistakes happen, the business should be transparent and accountable, making a best effort attempt to resolve problems

Sifting through online sentiment, the local SEO will soon realize whether a business is earning a reputation for honesty or dishonesty. It’s interesting to note how critical proper identification of the target market is in this step.

One example of this would be a budget hotel built in the 1960s with few upgrades. The establishment has seen better days, but if meticulous cleanliness has been maintained, the staff is delightful and the price is a good value, the right customer may even rave about the vintage appeal of this no-frills but spotlessly clean and pleasant destination. If the Local SEO agency has done its job marketing online to this customer, a great reputation is within reach. But, if the website leads the wrong customer to believe they are about to stay at a world-class haven of luxury, disappointment is being built-into the scenario, engendering a reputation for dishonesty.

Fairness can be described as a business delivering what it has promised to, and if this means being transparent about mid-century aqua tiling in hotel bathrooms, better to market directly and honestly to the customer who sees this as acceptable than to try to fool one who definitely doesn’t.

Choosing Clients Wisely For Your Agency’s Own Reputation

If your digital marketing agency is established enough to be able to pick and choose the clients it wants to serve, online sentiment can also inform your first impression of whether a particular company is one with which you’d want to do business. Does the business appear to have the real-world potential for success? A portfolio of successful clients is a valuable and persuasive asset - one that every marketing agency wants to accrue.

What are some signals to look for when reviewing a potential client’s online reputation?

Negative

  • Any reviews mentioning erratic business owner behavior (screaming at customers, chasing them outside to demand tips, etc.) are warning signs that personal problems may undermine even the best marketing efforts.
  • Similarly, owner responses in which the business hotly disputes unhappy customers’ complaints, belittles the reviewer, tries to shift blame onto customers or employees, or refuses to be accountable may indicate a personality problem that will inhibit success.

Positive

  • Reviews indicating only a slight dissatisfaction (service was a little slow, a dish was too salty, a waiting room was disorganized) may represent easy fixes that can be made, improving chances for success.
  • The presence of owner responses, even if not perfect, can indicate a business owner who is making every effort he/she can think of to engage with consumers. Engaged owners frequently make the best clients.

How involved each marketing agency wants to become with clients’ real-world strategies and scenarios is an individual and important choice. Considering the extent to which in-store realities surface in online reputation, Local SEOs in 2017 should be, at minimum, seeking the necessary education to fit offline factors into a broader view of the total marketing picture. 

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