Many construction business owners have typically relied heavily on word of mouth from previous clients to bring in new work. But in the age of smartphones and online searches, “word of mouse” can be even more important than word of mouth.
According to Sashi Bellamkonda of Surefire Local, 70% of consumers consult reviews or ratings before making a purchase. A review or rating from someone the consumer knows (a neighbor or colleague) is the most trusted, but the majority of consumers also trust the “wisdom of strangers”. A recent article in Fine Homebuilding suggests that the chances of landing a customer from online research is equal to the chances of them finding you via word of mouth.
Can they find you?
How does this affect your company’s marketing strategy? First, you need to make sure people can find you on the web. Google your own business and check to make sure the top 20 listings that come up are accurate and up to date (this is especially important if your address or phone number has changed in the past few years). Often you’ll see automatically generated listings from sites like Google Business, Yelp or Houzz. If you haven’t already, you need to “claim” these listings so that you can update them, and add additional details like photos, hours of operation, or links to your website.
Has your website been updated in the past 3 years? In the past year? Is it mobile friendly (i.e. can you easily navigate the site from a smartphone)? If the answer is no to any of these questions, it’s time for an update. Using Google Analytics you can see what percentage of visitors to your website are coming via mobile devices. This number continues to grow year over year.
There are hundreds of sites out there where customers can write reviews of a product or a service, but we’re going to focus on 4 that are most popular at the moment, and are relevant to businesses in the construction industry: Google Business Pages, Yelp, Facebook Business Pages and Houzz. There is also a relatively new network in the mix that is worth checking out: Nextdoor (a super localized neighborhood by neighborhood social network).
How can you engage with your past (and current) clients and encourage them to write a review for you? And with all these options of places to post a review, what is most strategic? The first step is to personally ask your client for a review. Hopefully by the time you’ve finished their project, you’ve developed a strong relationship and they are your biggest fans. Instead of sending a bulk email, the most effective way to request a review is in person or by phone. Explain to them how important it is for your business that future clients can read about their experience working with your company. Ask them what social media they use most frequently, and then ask them to review you on that platform. For example, if someone is a frequent Yelp user and reviewer, a review from them will be ranked higher in an algorithm than someone who creates a Yelp profile once just to review your business.
Offering incentives for reviews is considered poor form, but once someone does review you, it is important to acknowledge and thank them. Best practice is to try to respond to each review as it is posted with a simple “thanks for your kind words!” or a comment responding to a specific topic they referenced in their review. Or, you can send them an old fashioned snail mail thank you note or a small gift if they’ve really gone out of their way to give you a positive review.
What if someone leaves a review that is negative, or mixed with pros and cons about your company? First, responding with a comment is critical to show that you’ve heard their concerns. Don’t get defensive and push back with lots of details or explaining your side of the story. Pick up the phone and give the client a call to take the conversation offline, and see if you can address their concerns that way. Often, they are using an online review site to vent their frustration in the heat of the moment, but upon further reflection, or after a conversation, they will sometimes go back and revise a review or add additional comments that can soften the critique.
One negative review will not make a big difference if you have a large number of positive reviews to balance it out. But if you only have 3 reviews on a particular site, and one is only one star, it can throw off the total rating significantly. So the more reviews you can get on each platform, the better.
If your company has multiple owners or managers, do you have a clear policy in place for who is responsible for maintaining a social media presence and responding to reviews? For many of these sites, once you’ve claimed your business profile you can sign up to get notifications when someone posts a review of your business. It is also useful to sign up for Google Alerts for the name of your business, and you’ll get an automatic email every time Google finds a story or webpage mentioning your company.
Just one more thing to worry about
The good news is that if you are doing quality work, and your clients are happy, it won’t be too hard to ensure your online reputation is top-notch. Managing your brand online may feel like one more task on top of an already full plate, but these days even if you’ve gotten good word-of-mouth recommendations, the first thing a potential client is going to do is search your business name online. You need to make sure you make a good first impression, or it’s likely they will never pick up the phone to call you. Don’t be afraid to take a hard look at your current marketing strategy and re-direct your time and effort into digital marketing.