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Online reviews from satisfied customers boost a company’s credibility and reach into the marketplace. Not only that, but for sales prospects in the final stages of making a buying decision, customer reviews often carry much more weight than a company’s sales and marketing content.

The persuasive value of customer reviews (and other forms of brand advocacy) explains why so many businesses are intent on cultivating brand advocates online and offline. But there is another way customer reviews deliver enormous value — SEO. Companies with a brand advocacy program in action or in development can improve their organic search visibility through online reviews if the reviews are handled correctly.

Not Just Anywhere

From an SEO point of view, where online reviews are published makes a great deal of difference. Ideally, websites with high authority, high traffic and high relevance to the company’s business make the best publishing locations. Yelp, for instance, is a powerful review site mainly focused on consumer businesses; reviews of an industrial lubricant manufacturer wouldn’t carry as much SEO weight on Yelp as they would if posted on the BBB, where the reviewing site is more relevant.

If you are looking for possible review sites to focus on, here is a good list with which to start. Smaller but highly relevant and credible review sites exist in almost every B2B niche, and all companies large and small can also focus on local online news publication and chamber of commerce sites.

It’s important to note here that as with all things SEO, what is good for Google is good for real people. Google crawlers look at content from a human user’s perspective. If a user is researching a restaurant, Yelp is a go-to website, making reviews of that restaurant posted there extremely important. When Google crawlers see lots of reviews there, Google is duly impressed and gives that restaurant high visibility.

From a brand advocacy point of view, the same criteria apply. The more authoritative, popular and relevant the reviewing site is, the more relevant online users will see the reviews, put stock in them and act on them.

Promoting Online Reviews

Organizations must be careful and coordinated in how they encourage customer reviews. Many review sites (including Yelp) have strict rules against soliciting reviews — and well they should, since any gaming of the system would reduce user confidence in the value of those reviews.

Generally, though, it is acceptable to tell customers if they are satisfied and so inclined, to please post a review on such-and-such website(s). You can also provide instructions for how to post reviews, as some sites (Google My Business, in particular) can be a bit daunting to new users.

Reviews on Your Website

On your own website, customer reviews also add substantial SEO value. If customer reviews are added to a given page(s) regularly, Google notices the steady addition of fresh content and considers it a positive ranking factor. The fact this fresh content is user generated further enhances the SEO impact. Thus, by adding reviews to important product/services pages of the company website, those pages should improve in organic visibility — not to mention probable improvement in conversions on those pages thanks to the persuasive power of those reviews.

Negative Reviews

Negative reviews are more of a challenge for brand advocacy than SEO. Google does not penalize companies if it spots an occasional bad review. In fact, if Google noticed a complete absence of negative reviews, it might appear more suspicious.

In any case, negative reviews, if the review site allows it, should be responded to promptly, frankly and professionally. Sometimes a negative customer experience can be turned into a positive one, and a strong company response certainly influences the thinking of prospects and potential brand advocates who see it.

Author Bio:

Brad Shorr is Director of Content Strategy at Straight North, one of the leading Internet marketing firms in Chicago that specializes in SEO, PPC and web design services. With more than 25 years of sales and marketing experience, Brad has been featured in leading online publications including Moz, Entrepreneur and Forbes.