Earlier this week, we covered a new report from Whitespark revealing some of the top local search ranking factors for 2021. The report, which is published annually, identifies the factors that “appear to have the most significant impact on rankings, based on the observations of…local search experts.”
For example, as we wrote about in our previous post, the survey showed that online reviews have become more significant to local pack rankings over the last few years — a “steady increase in…perceived importance” that’s been visualized in this graph. The survey also analyzed “what’s hot, what’s not, and what definitely doesn’t work in local SEO,” including a list of 20 SEO myths.
The #9 myth on the list is “keywords in owner responses to reviews,” suggesting this strategy may have limited value. However, in the report’s commentary section, expert Krystal Taing described a somewhat different experience, stating, “For a number of multi-location clients, we’ve been testing including limited but relevant keywords in owner responses to reviews, services, and posts to help capture more unbranded traffic and seeing some positive signals when applied consistently.”
This raises an interesting question for business owners: is it worth including keywords in your responses to online reviews? And what other elements should an owner response contain for maximum efficacy? Follow along as we explore review response strategies that your business can use to help achieve more growth in 2021 and beyond.
Should You Include Keywords in Owner Responses to Business Reviews?
A total of 17 participants weighed in on this question in Whitespark’s analysis of SEO myths, ranking it at #9 out of 20 with a composite score of 174. As the report explains, composite scores are “calculated by the position that each participant placed the factor into their top 20.” (The #20 myth had a composite score of 78, while #1 on the list — “geo-tagged photos uploaded to Google My Business” — had a score of 552.)
Based on this data, keywords in owner responses seem to offer minimal value — at least from a page rank perspective. However, keywords and descriptive phrases in owner responses may offer another advantage: they make the customer journey easier by providing review readers with additional information about your product or service.
Keep in mind that most U.S. consumers — 93% in 2020, according to research from BrightLocal — use internet searches to find local businesses. For a consumer who is browsing reviews to compare (or rule out) brands, responses that include descriptive phrases like “24-hour,” “pet-friendly,” or “luxury” can help your business stand out. If you only provide generic “Thank you!” responses, you’re missing easy opportunities to inform readers about your product or service. Here’s an example of how you can incorporate information into your response in a natural-sounding way:
Thanks for your rating and review of [ Company Name ], [ Reviewer Name ]! It was our pleasure to help you and your family find the perfect [ product- or service-related keyword ] during your visit. We hope we’ll have the opportunity to serve you again soon! If there’s anything else we can assist you with, please don’t hesitate to contact our team at [ email address ] or [ phone number ]. Thanks again for supporting our business and taking the time to share your feedback!
As you can see, our example only includes one keyword, which is used to help personalize the response — a topic we’ll cover in more detail shortly. While keywords can strengthen your responses when used sparingly and naturally, it’s essential to keep it in moderation and avoid spam or keyword stuffing. Not only does keyword stuffing erode trust and make consumers suspicious, Google has also confirmed it “can harm your site’s ranking,” at least with regard to the content you post on your website. For instance, you should not repeat the same keywords in your response, such as naming your product or location repeatedly.
Need help identifying or prioritizing keywords for your business to target? There are numerous online tools to assist you, such as SEM Rush and Keyword Planner.
What Other Features or Elements Should a Review Reply Contain?
Writing a quality owner response involves much more than just using keywords or buzzwords. Here are three essential elements of an effective owner response:
- Personalized details.
As we previously wrote about, customization is key to crafting effective, successful responses. Data shows that “90% of U.S. consumers find personalized marketing content somewhat to very appealing,” whereas “42% of consumers will ‘get annoyed’ that content isn’t personalized.”
Taking the time to personalize your responses shows that your business listens to its customers and provides caring, friendly, attentive service. In a business climate where consumers increasingly expect tailored content and personalized shopping experiences, custom owner replies are more effective — and less likely to “annoy” posters — than generic or pre-written templates. Personalization is especially critical when you need to deal with sensitive or serious customer complaints, a topic we wrote about here.
- Apologies for bad experiences.
Speaking of personalization, here’s another telling statistic: “45% of consumers say the ‘coolest’ personalized tactic they’ve seen is when a brand apologizes for poor shopping experiences,” contradicting the idea that apologies reflect poorly on your brand. On the contrary, a well-executed apology can help turn negative feelings around — assuming, of course, that you pair the apology with solutions to the customer’s issue. That brings us to another key element in successful owner responses…
- Invitations to come back or follow up.
Did the reviewer have a good or great experience with your business? Invite them to come back again soon, tell them it’s always your pleasure to serve them, or let them know how grateful you are to have them as a customer/member/resident. In short, make it clear that your team is happy to continue doing business with them. You may even wish to call out new promotions, programs, or features your company is launching or offering.
Did the reviewer have a mediocre or bad experience with your business? Assure them that you understand their concerns and, most importantly, are there to help get the problem resolved. Make it easy and convenient by providing a phone number and/or email address where they can reach you.
Want even more tips on responding to reviews? Read about strategies for handling negative reviews, advice for replying to positive reviews, or common mistakes to avoid when writing owner responses.
Don’t have time to write your own responses? We have you covered there, too. Learn more about our review reply service, or contact us online to get started.
Work with Our Experienced Team of 24/7 Response Scribes
Customers are already reviewing your clients’ businesses. Are you putting that content to the best and most profitable use? If the answer is no, let our team support yours.
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Emily Homrok is a freelance copywriter with more than seven years of writing experience. She joined the Shout About Us team as a content strategist in 2020.