Posted by MiriamEllis
“Show your site’s credibility by using original research, citations, links, reviews and testimonials. An author biography or testimonials from real customers can help boost your site’s trustworthiness and reputation.” – Google Search Console Course
2017 may well be the year of testimonials and reviews in local SEO. As our industry continues to grow, we have studied surveys indicating that some 92% of consumers now read online reviews and that 68% of these cite positive reviews as a significant trust factor. We’ve gone through a meaningful overhaul of Google’s schema review/testimonial guidelines while finding that major players like Yelp will publicly shame guideline-breakers. We’ve seen a major publication post a controversial piece suggesting that website testimonials pages are useless, drawing thoughtful industry rebuttals illustrating why well-crafted testimonials pages are, in fact, vitally useful in a variety of ways.
Reviews can impact your local pack rankings, testimonials can win you in-SERP stars, and if that isn’t convincing enough, the above quote states unequivocally that both reviews and testimonials on your website can boost Google’s perception of a local business’ trustworthiness and reputation. That sounds awfully good! Yet, seldom a day goes by that I don’t encounter websites that are neither encouraging reviews nor showcasing testimonials.
If you are marketing local enterprises that play to win, chances are you’ve been studying third-party review management for some years now. Not much has been written about on-site consumer feedback, though. What belongs on a company’s own testimonials/reviews page? How should you structure one? What are the benefits you might expect from the effort? Today, we’re going to get serious about the central role of consumer sentiment and learn to maximize its potential to influence and convert customers.
Up next to help you in the work ahead: technical specifics, expert tips, and a consumer feedback page mockup.
Definitions and differentiations
Traditional reviews: Direct from customers on third-party sites
In the local SEO industry, when you hear someone talking about “reviews,” they typically mean sentiment left directly by customers on third-party platforms, like this review on TripAdvisor:
Traditional testimonials: Moderated by owners on company site
By contrast, testimonials have traditionally meant user sentiment gathered by a business and posted on the company website on behalf of customers, like this snippet from a bed-and-breakfast site:
Review content has historically been outside of owners’ control, while testimonial content has been subject to the editorial control of the business owner. Reviews have historically featured ratings, user profiles, images, owner responses, and other features while testimonials might just be a snippet of text with little verifiable information identifying the author. Reviews have typically been cited as more trustworthy because they are supposedly unmoderated, while testimonials have sometimes been criticized as creating a positive-only picture of the business managing them.
Hybrid sentiment: Review+testimonial functionality on company site
Things are changing! More sophisticated local businesses are now employing technologies that blur the lines between reviews and testimonials. Website-based applications can enable users to leave reviews directly on-site, they can contain star ratings, avatars, and even owner responses, like this:
In other words, you have many options when it comes to managing user sentiment, but to make sure the effort you put in yields maximum benefits, you’ve got to:
- Know the guidelines and technology
- Have a clear goal and a clear plan for achieving it
- Commit to making a sustained effort
There is a ton of great content out there about managing your reviews on third-party platforms like Yelp, Google, Facebook, etc., but today we’re focusing specifically on your on-site reviews/testimonials page. What belongs on that page? How should you populate and organize its content? What benefits might you expect from the investment? To answer those questions, let’s create a goal-drive plan, with help from some world-class Local SEOs.
Guidelines & technology
There are two types of guidelines you need to know in the consumer sentiment space:
1) Platform policies
Because your website’s consumer feedback page may feature a combination of unique reviews and testimonials you directly source, widgets featuring third-party review streams, and links or badges either showcasing third-party reviews or asking for them, you need to know the policies of each platform you plan to feature.
Why does this matter? Since different platforms have policies that range from lax to strict, you want to be sure you’re making the most of each one’s permissions without raising any red flags. Google, for example, has historically been fine with companies asking consumers for reviews, while Yelp’s policy is more stringent and complex.
Here are some quick links to the policies of a few of the major review platforms, to which you’ll want to add your own research for sites that are specific to your industry and/or geography:
2) Google’s review schema guidelines
Google has been a dominant player in local for so long that their policies often tend to set general industry standards. In addition to the Google review policy I’ve linked to above, Google has a completely separate set of review schema guidelines, which recently underwent a significant update. The update included clarifications about critic reviews and review snippets, but most germane to today’s topic, Google offered the following guidelines surrounding testimonial/review content you may wish to publish and mark up with schema on your website:
Google may display information from aggregate ratings markup in the Google Knowledge Cards. The following guidelines apply to review snippets in knowledge cards for local businesses:
– Ratings must be sourced directly from users.
– Don’t rely on human editors to create, curate or compile ratings information for local businesses. These types of reviews are critic reviews.
– Sites must collect ratings information directly from users and not from other sites.
In sum, if you want to mark up consumer feedback with schema on your website, it should be unique to your website — not drawn from any other source. But to enjoy the rewards of winning eye-catching in-SERP star ratings or of becoming a “reviews from the web” source in Google’s knowledge panels, you’ve got to know how to implement schema correctly. Let’s do this right and call on a schema expert to steer our course.
Get friendly with review schema technology.
The local SEO industry has come to know David Deering and his company TouchPoint Digital Marketing as go-to resources for the implementation of complex schema and JSON-LD markup. I’m very grateful to him for his willingness to share some of the basics with us.
Here on the Moz blog, I always strive to highlight high quality, free resources, but in this case, free may not get the job done. I asked David if he could recommend any really good free review schema plugins, and learned a lot from his answer:
“Boy, that’s a tough one because I don’t use any plugins or tools to do the markup work. I find that none of them do a good job at adding markup to a page. Some come close, but the plugin files still need to be edited in order for everything to be correct and properly nested. So I tend to hard-code the templates that would control the insertion of reviews onto a page. But I can tell you that GetFiveStars does a pretty good job at marking up reviews and ratings and adding them to a site. There might be others, too, but I just don’t have any personal experience using them, unfortunately.”
It sounds like, at present, best bets are going to be to go with a paid service or roll up your sleeves to dig into schema hard coding. *If anyone in our community has discovered a plugin or widget that meets the standards David has cited, please definitely share it in the comments, but in the meantime, let’s take a look at the example David kindly provided of perfect markup. He notes,
“The following example is rather simple and straightforward but it contains everything that a review markup should. (The example also assumes that the review markup is nested within the markup of the business that’s being reviewed):”
"name": "Reviewer's Name",
"sameAs": "<a href="http://link-to-persons-profile-page.com">http://link-to-persons-profile-page.com</a>"
"reviewBody": "Reviewer's comments here...",
This is a good day to check to see if your schema is as clean and thorough as David’s, and also to consider the benefits of JSON-LD markup, which he describes this way:
“JSON-LD is simply another syntax or method that can be used to insert structured data markup onto a page. Once the markup is created, you can simply insert it into the head section of the page. So it’s easy to use in that sense. And Google has stated their preference for JSON-LD, so it’s a good idea to make the switch from microdata if a person hasn’t already.”
There are some do’s and don’ts when it comes to schema + reviews
I asked David if he could share some expert review-oriented tips and he replied,
“Well, in typical fashion, Google has been fickle with their rich snippet guidelines. They didn’t allow the marking up of third-party reviews, then they did, now they don’t again. So, I think it would be a good idea for businesses to begin collecting reviews directly from their customers through their site or through email. Of course, I would not suggest neglecting the other online review sources because those are important, too. But when it comes to Google and rich snippets, don’t put all of your eggs (and hopes) in one basket.
*As a rule, the reviews should be directly about the main entity on the page. So keep reviews about the business, products, services, etc. separate — don’t combine them because that goes against Google’s rich snippet guidelines.”
And any warnings about things we should never do with schema? David says,
“Never mark up anything that is not visible on the page, including reviews, ratings and aggregate ratings. Only use review markup for the entities that Google allows it to be used for. For example, the review and rating markup should not be used for articles or on-page content. That goes against Google’s guidelines. And as of this writing, it’s also against their guidelines to mark up third-party reviews and ratings such as those found on Google+ or Yelp.“
Ready to dig deeper into the engrossing world of schema markup with David Deering? I highly recommend this recent LocalU video. If the work involved makes you dizzy, hiring an expert or purchasing a paid service are likely to be worthwhile investments. Now that we’ve considered our technical options, let’s consider what we’d like to achieve.
Define your consumer feedback page goals.
If I could pick just one consultant to get advice from concerning the potential benefits of local consumer feedback, it would be GetFiveStars’ co-founder and renowned local SEO, Mike Blumenthal.
Before we dive in with Mike, I want to offer one important clarification:
If you’re marketing a single-location business, you’ll typically be creating just one consumer feedback page on your website to represent it, but if yours is a multi-location business, you’ll want to take the advice in this article and apply it to each city landing page on your website, including unique user sentiment for each location. For more on this concept, see Joy Hawkins’ article How to Solve Duplicate Content Local SEO Issues for Multi-Location Businesses.
Now let’s set some goals for what a consumer feedback page can achieve. Mike breaks this down into two sections:
- Create an effective page that ranks highly for your brand so that it becomes a doorway page from Google.
- Make sure that the page is easily accessible from your selling pages with appropriately embedded reviews and links so that it can help sell sitewide.
- Get the page ranking well on brand and brand+review searches
- Ideally, get designated with review stars
- Optimally, have it show in the knowledge panel as a source for reviews from the web
This screenshot illustrates these last three points perfectly:
Time on page may make you a believer!
Getting excited about consumer feedback pages, yet? There’s more! Check out this screenshot from one of Mike’s showcase clients, the lovely Barbara Oliver Jewelry in Williamsville, NY, and pay special attention to the average time spent on http://barbaraoliverandco.com/reviews-testimonials/:
When customers are spending 3+ minutes on any page of a local business website, you can feel quite confident that they are really engaging with the business. Mike says,
“For Barbara, this is an incredibly important page. It reflects almost 9% of her overall page visits and represents almost 5% of the landing pages from the search engines. Time on the page for new visitors is 4 minutes with an average of over 3 minutes. This page had review snippets until she recently updated her site — hopefully they will return. It’s an incredibly important page for her.”
Transparency helps much more than it hurts.
The jewelry store utilizes GetFiveStars technology, and represents a perfect chance to ask Mike about a few of the finer details of what belongs on consumer feedback pages. I had noticed that GetFiveStars gives editorial control to owners over which reviews go live, and wanted to get Mike’s personal take on transparency and authenticity. He says,
“I strongly encourage business owners to show all feedback. I think transparency in reviews is critical for customer trust and we find that showing all legitimate feedback results in less than a half-point decline in star ratings on average.
That being said, I also recommend that 1) the negative feedback be held back for 7 to 10 days to allow for complaint resolution before publishing and 2) that the content meet basic terms of service and appropriateness that should be defined by each business. Obviously you don’t want your own review site to become a mosh pit, so some standards are appropriate.
I am more concerned about users than bots. I think that a clear statement of your terms of service and your standards for handling these comments should be visible to all visitors. Trust is the critical factor. Barbara Oliver doesn’t yet have that but only because she has recently updated her site. It’s something that will be added shortly.”
Respond to on-page reviews just as you would on third-party platforms.
I’d also noticed something that struck me as uncommon on Barbara Oliver Jewelry’s consumer feedback page: she responds to her on-page reviews, just as she would on third-party review platforms. Mike explains:
“In the ‘old’ days of reviews, I always thought that owner responses to positive reviews were a sort of glad handing … I mean how many times can you say ‘thank you’? But as I researched the issue it became clear that a very large minority of users (40%) noted that if they took the time to leave feedback or a review, then the owner should acknowledge it. That research convinced me to push for the feature in GetFiveStars. With GetFiveStars, the owner is actually prompted to provide either a private or public response. The reviewer receives an email with the response as well. This works great for both happy and unhappy outcomes and serves double-duty as a basis for complaint management on the unhappy side.
You can see the evolution of my thinking in these two articles —
What I used to think: Should A Business Respond to Every Positive Review?
What I think after asking consumers their thoughts: Should A Business Respond to Every Positive Review? Here’s The Consumer View.“
Reviews on your mind, all the time
So, basically, consumers have taught Mike (and now all of us!) that reasonable goals for reviews/testimonials pages include earning stars, becoming a knowledge panel review source, and winning a great average time on page, in addition to the fact that transparency and responsiveness are rewarded. Before he zooms off to his next local SEO rescue, I wanted to ask Mike if anything new is exciting him in this area of marketing. Waving goodbye, he shouts:
“Sheesh … I spend all day, every day thinking about these sorts of things. I mean my motto used to be ‘All Local, All the Time’… now it’s just ‘All Reviews, All the Time.’
I think that this content that is generated by the business owner, from known clients, has incredible import in all aspects of their marketing. It is great for social proof, great user-generated content, customer relations, and much more. We are currently ‘plotting’ new and valuable ways for businesses to use this content effectively and easily.
I’m experimenting right now with another client, Kaplan Insurance, to see exactly what it takes to get rich snippets these days.”
I know I’ll be on the lookout for a new case study from Mike on that topic!
Plan out the components of your consumer feedback page
Phil Rozek of Local Visibility System is one of the most sophisticated, generous bloggers I know in the local SEO industry. You’ll become an instant fan of his, too, once you’ve saved yourself oodles of time using his Ultimate List of Review Widgets and Badges for Your Local Business Website. And speaking of ‘ultimate,’ here is the list Phil and I brainstormed together, each adding our recommended components, for the elements we’d want to see on a consumer feedback page:
- Full integration into the site (navigation, internal linking, etc.); not an island page.
- Welcoming text intro with a link to review content policy/TOS
- Unique sentiment with schema markup (not drawn from third parties)
- Specification of the reviewers’ names and cities
- Owner responses
- Paginate the reviews if page length starts getting out of hand
- Provide an at-a-glance average star rating for easy scanning
- Badges/widgets that take users to the best place to leave a traditional third-party review. Make sure these links open in a new browser tab!
- Video reviews
- Scanned hand-written testimonial images
- Links to critic-type reviews (professional reviews at Zagat, Michelin, etc.)
- A link to a SERP showing more of the users’ reviews, signalling authenticity rather than editorial control
- Tasteful final call-to-action
And what might such a page look like in real life (or at least, on the Internet)? Here is my mockup for a fictitious restaurant in Denver, Colorado, followed by a key:
Click to open a bigger version in a new tab!
Key to the mockup:
- Page is an integral part of the top level navigation
- Welcoming text with nod to honesty and appreciation
- Link to review content policy
- Paginated on-page reviews
- Call-to-action button to leave a review
- Easy-to-read average star rating
- Schema marked-up on-page reviews
- Sample owner response
- Links and badges to third party reviews
- Link to SERP URL featuring all available review sources
- Links to professional reviews
- Handwritten and video testimonials
- Tasteful final call-to-action to leave a review
Your live consumer feedback page will be more beautifully and thoughtfully planned than my example, but hopefully the mockup has given you some ideas for a refresh or overhaul of what you’re currently publishing.
Scanning the wild for a little sentiment management inspiration
I asked Phil if he’d recently seen local businesses recently making a good effort at promoting consumer feedback. He pointed to these, with the proviso that none of them are 100% perfect but that they should offer some good inspiration. Don’t you just totally love real-world examples?
Lightning round advice for adept feedback acquisition
Before we let Phil get back to his work as “the last local SEO guy you’ll ever need,” I wanted to take a minute to ask him for some tips on encouraging meaningful customer feedback.
“Don’t ask just once. In-person plus an email follow-up (or two) is usually best. Give customers choices and always provide instructions. Ask in a personal, conversational way. Rotate the sites you ask for reviews on. Try snail-mail or the phone. Have different people in your organization ask so that you can find ‘The Champ’,” says Phil. “Encourage detail, on-site and off-site. Saying things like ‘It will only take you 60 seconds’ may be great for getting big numbers of on-site testimonials, but the testimonials will be unhelpfully short or, worse, appear forced or fake. Dashed-off feedback helps no one. By the way, this can help you even if a given customer had a bad experience; if you’re encouraging specifics, at least he/she is a little more likely to leave the kind of in-depth feedback that can help you improve.”
Sustain your effort & facilitate your story
Every time Google sharpens focus on a particular element of search, as they are clearly doing right now with consumer and professional sentiment, it’s like a gift. It’s a clanging bell, an intercom announcement, a handwritten letter letting all of us know that we should consider shifting new effort toward a particular facet of marketing and see where it gets us with Google.
In this specific case, we can draw extra inspiration for sustaining ourselves in the work ahead from the fact that Google’s interest in reviews and testimonials intersects with the desires of consumers who make transactional decisions based, in part, on what Internet sentiment indicates about a local business. In other words, the effort you put into acquiring and amplifying this form of UGC makes Google, consumers, and your company happy, all in one fell swoop.
If you took all of the sentiment customers express about a vibrant, given business and put it into a book, it would end up reading something like War and Peace. The good news about this is that you don’t have to write it — you have thousands of potential volunteer Tolstoys out there to do the job for you, because reviewing businesses has become a phenomenal modern hobby.
Your job is simply to provide a service experience (hopefully a good one) that moves customers to start typing, back that up with a variety of ongoing feedback requests, and facilitate the publication of sentiment in the clearest, most user-friendly way.
Some more good news? You don’t have to do all of this tomorrow. I recently saw a Google review profile on which a business had “earned” over 100 reviews in a week — a glaring authenticity fail, for sure. A better approach is simply to keep the sentiment conversation going at a human pace, engaging with your customers in a human way, and ensuring that your consumer feedback page is as good as you can possibly make it. This is manageable — you can do this!
Are you experimenting with any page elements or techniques that have resulted in improved user feedback? Please inspire our community by sharing your tips!
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