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If your small business operates primarily within a geographic area, you know how important it is to rank higher than your competitors for local searches. We’ll walk you through how to get there.

Increasing search visibility

The first and most rudimentary step to increasing your local search visibility is to create a Google My Business listing and completely fill it out. Doing so can propel your business to relevancy for local search parameters in mere days.

However, simply having a profile isn’t enough: You also have to earn reviews. Local search engine optimization (SEO) efforts will only get you so far in getting ahead of your major competitors. So even if you’ve gained numerous online citations, have proximity to city centers and completely filled out your Google My Business profile with the right categories and keywords, you need positive reviews. When compared to personal recommendations, 88 percent of consumers trust online reviews just as much.

Why online reviews are important to local SEO

Google’s flagship product, its search engine, strives to help people find exactly what they’re looking for in the most efficient way possible: Over 91 percent of online traffic goes to the sites listed on the first Google search results page. People search local for business, and the better the search engine performs that task, the more users will trust the search engine and the more advertisers it can attract.

When many people say a company is great at what it does, Google wants to match that company to any local consumers seeking the products and services it sells. Such a match benefits consumers, and it also benefits Google because those same consumers will want to come back — fueling the attraction to advertise on the search engine.

Tips for generating positive online reviews

Unfortunately, when customers are upset or unsatisfied, they tend to be more motivated to identify a wrong and warn others from having the same bad experience. Satisfied customers, however, are less incentivized to offer reviews. (A bummer, since 97 percent of consumers say reviews influence their buying decisions.) Customers expect outstanding customer service to be the norm, not the exception, regardless of the reality — if you treat your customers well, they got what they came for.

That said, generating positive online reviews is possible. Here are some tips:

1. Ask for them

It never hurts to ask — just wait until the sale is complete and customers have had time to try your products and services before you do. If you tell customers that you take reviews very seriously and actively monitor them to help gauge customer satisfaction and continually improve, you’ll find many customers are willing to write an online review. You can ask for reviews in person, over the phone, via email, social marketing and direct mail. Be sure to tell customers where to review you (e.g., Google Plus page, Facebook, etc.). And don’t forget your website: Displaying reviews there can increase customer conversion by 270 percent.

Online Review

2. Quickly attend to bad reviews

If you’re hesitant to open yourself up to reviews for fear of bad reviews, don’t be. Customers can actually have more respect for a business if they see it handled a bad review well. Think of it as an opportunity to show your high level of customer service, professionalism and humanity. If you receive a bad review, address it with a response immediately and do everything in your power to make things right. Resist the urge to fire back at the reviewer, even if you feel the situation is their fault. If needed, take a moment to cool off before responding. You may also want to have a canned response ready to use in moments like this.

3. Make it easy for customers to review your business

Prominently feature a button on your website that takes customers to your Google page to submit reviews. Do the same in your emails, and add a URL on your print marketing materials. You don’t want customers to have to search for your profile or otherwise jump through hoops to give your company a positive review.

4. Don’t fake reviews

Resist the urge to call your friends and family members to solicit positive reviews. With more media attention around the rise of fake business reviews online, consumers are getting more critical of reviews and getting better at spotting them. The idea behind reviews is to build your credibility. Taking the time to add genuine reviews from real customers gives your company that element of trustworthiness they’re looking for.

5. Set up profiles on other websites

Yelp, Bing, Facebook and a host of other popular websites allow you to set up business profiles and earn reviews. Google might be the big dog, especially for general searches, but it’s not the only one. The more third-party citations and positive reviews you collect, the better you’ll rank on Google.

6. Monitor your online reputation

Keep track of how many business reviews online you receive — positive, negative and otherwise — to gauge how effective you are at generating positive reviews and address negative reviews across the entire web. You can find services that allow you to monitor your online reputation. You might have to pay a monthly fee, but if it will help you earn better reviews and increase your search engine ranking your return will almost definitely be worth it.

7. Do a good job

Last, but not least, always provide the best customer experience you can, no matter what you’re selling. Under-promise and over-deliver. Truly “wow” your customers, and they’ll be motivated to tell the world how great you treated them. Delivering a great product or service at a great price and backing it with excellent customer service are the best ways to generate positive online reviews that help boost your local SEO rankings.

People search local for business — mobile searches for “open” + “now” + “near me” have grown by 200 percent  so take control of your listings by following the above advice. As you collect reviews for your business, you’ll see your SEO efforts pay off.

Get traffic moving your way

Establish a stronger online presence with an expert strategy that increases your organic search rankings.