”Those little yellow stars result in clicks gained or lost, social engagements won or lost, physical visits that might never happen and, bottom line, lost revenue.”
Learning by doing can’t be beaten, and we do a LOT of doing. The thousands of hours we spend helping automotive clients (and other markets) perfect their social media marketing and take control of their online reputation result in new best practices. Just released , our Seventh Annual Automotive Social Media and Online Trends Study covers many of our learnings and captures insights from over 4,000 consumers. The report contains both promise and potential peril, sometimes hidden in plain sight.
On the upside, we learned social media is more important to prospective auto buyers and service customers than ever. On the search front, performing local Google searches and reading corresponding ratings and reviews are sometimes the only research customers undertake. Customers say reviews are the most helpful tools when conducting online research, and they say they trust these metrics.
Given our business, none of this shocked us. What gave us pause, however, were seemingly innocuous facts like:
“73% of car buyers and service customers use Google Maps”
Most respondents use Google Maps. Most Americans use Google Maps—so what? The problem we uncovered is the double-edged sword of Google reviews: Since Google Maps lists star ratings alongside local business results, your poor star rating might be throwing up a last-minute red flag reading “Customer Beware.” Even for potential clients who are on their way to your business.
Are Google Maps Reviews Steering Your Customers Away?
If your star rating is poor or non-existent, almost certainly. Especially if you’re listed next to business with solid reviews. Customers tell us online star ratings and reviews are paramount, and statistics show they behave accordingly. Those little yellow stars result in clicks gained or lost, social engagements won or lost, physical visits that might never happen and, bottom line, lost revenue.
Homing in on Google’s Rank Recipe
We can’t know Google’s algorithms unless we work at Google, and probably not even then. Any source who claims they have an inside track is likely peddling snake oil. Still, we can use Google’s published best practices and real-world testing to determine closely the factors at play.
First, when we conduct a local search (e.g., “car dealerships Scottsdale Arizona”), Google returns three featured businesses (you definitely want to be one of them) and an option to view additional place results. Following the featured businesses are the top organic search results. While star ratings used to accompany the organic listings, they appear now only for maps results—making these listings critical.
So, what determines local search rank? Geo-location likely plays a minor role, favoring businesses nearer to the searcher. Organic rank seems to play a major role, as businesses in the top 10 are more likely to feature in the Local Pack top three. Google reviews (star ratings) factor in, and businesses may notice their rank fluctuating along with their review quality and quantity. On average, businesses with reviews fare better than those without; businesses with good reviews perform better than those without, but that isn’t the whole story.
Star Map: A Route to Better Rankings and Reviews
- Seek Google Reviews
Google shows star ratings only for businesses with at least one review. So, make it your mission to collect them. Remember: New reviews take about a week to display.
- But Don’t Cheat
Google’s algorithms are keen enough to detect review patterns. If your business only gets a few reviews each year and suddenly receives dozens in a day, your account could get flagged for manual review. You definitely don’t want that. Request legitimate reviews from legitimate customers.
- Give Customers a Direct Review Link
Customers must now log into their Google account to leave reviews, and they can leave them only through Maps. Therefore, you must either give them directions for how to leave a review or provide them a direct link to your Google Maps listing.
- Local SEO For the Win
Since organic rank plays such a big role in making your way into the top three, fall back on good local SEO. Feature excellent, relevant branded content. Seek quality local links and mentions. Acquire multiple link sources and continue to collect links steadily over time. Local social media shares help, too.
- Play the Long Game
The more positive reviews you have, the harder it is for an occasional negative review to impact your local Google Maps results. On the flipside, businesses with more reviews need even more positive reviews to move the needle. Play the long game and take proactive control over your search ratings, social reputation and SEO. If this level of digital marketing management is beyond your in-house expertise, hire a consultant.
Tips for the Road
Google Maps means more to its users than navigation, and it should mean more to you. Whether you’re a car dealership, a dental office or a retail shop, your business is affected by this part of the digital world. Learn how to collect and maintain strong reviews across Google and other key industry sites and respond to both positive and negative posts right away. Maintain a healthy social presence, optimize your website, consider mobile users and think locally. That’s what it takes to build and maintain a strong online reputation and give Maps users another great reason to visit you.