Google Gets Serious About Reviews

31stDec. × ’10

Local Search:  Reviews are More Important than Ever for Your Insurance Agency

Let me just start by beating that dead horse for a minute or two (children in the room, please cover your ears…).  Local search *has been*, *is*, and *continues to be* an important vehicle for most insurance agents who want to be found on the web.  Reviews *have been* an important factor in Google’s local search algorithm.  Reviews *are* an important ranking factor in the local search algorithm.  Reviews *will continue to be* an important factor in Google’s local search algorithm.  Agencies, even brand new enterprises, who acquire just a few legitimate reviews, tend to show up very quickly in top local (and now organic-ish) search results.

A few more insurance agents have claimed their local listings this last year, and thanks to some insurance company programs like Progressive’s ListAgent, local agencies are getting better visibility and new business through Google Place pages.  But most agents continue to lag behind in claiming their free local listings…and even those that do claim are not putting a process in place to routinely capture customer reviews.  And as noted in the preceding paragraph, those reviews continue to be important.  (OK, the children can uncover their ears, I’m done flogging the horse).  In fact, all evidence points to reviews taking on an even larger role in local search rankings.  And now that Google is blurring the lines between local and organic search, the influence of reviews on insurance agency web visibility now impacts organic search optimization as well.

Changes to the Google SERP

Back in early November Google started mixing local search results with organic results.  The local results don’t always display the same way and experts who watch local search closely haven’t yet fully digested the implications of recent changes.  But there is broad consensus that, to some degree, Google’s local search algorithm and their organic search algorithm have been consolidated in some areas.  This can be seen in the following SERP, where the top local listings (push pins) incorporate page titles and meta descriptions from websites (previously the domain of organic search and SERPs exclusively).

SERP for Google Search on insurance jacksonville

And sometimes, local search results show up in middle of organic results, as in the following example:

Local and Organic Search Together

Google’s boardroom and on screen changes make clear that they are focused on making local and mobile services even more effective (partly in response to Yelp, Foursquare, and Facebook’s Check-in feature).  As part of this effort, Google has launched a new user review service called Hotpot and has quietly launched a full frontal assault on review spam, starting with Google Places’ reviews.  The review clean up effort has been bumpy for some, resulting in the removal of legitimate reviews for some businesses.  Google is working through both a manual review process and an automated algorithm to identify and remove suspect reviews.  Google has hinted at the increased importance of reviews in determining local search rank so it makes sense that they would want to exert a little quality control over them.

Specific, unique, well written reviews are less likely to be removed by Google – those reviews look less like spam, no matter what algorithm Google evolves to. Interesting and well written reviews will also result in more click-throughs from potential customers.  So, the best thing for your insurance agency to do is the same thing that’s always been the best thing to do:  encourage your customers to post reviews to Google, Bing, Yelp, or any other place your insurance agency’s local listing shows up.

How to Get Reviews for Your Insurance Agency

How do you do that?  The answer to that question just happened to have dropped into my in box in the last day or two.  I recently stayed overnight in an Asheville NC hotel.  One day later, an email showed up that looked exactly like this:

Hotel Indigo Email

Notice the inclusion of Facebook and Twitter – the Hotel Indigo recognizes the importance of connecting with ‘friends’ wherever their friends might choose to congregate.  But also notice the Trip Advisor section:  the hotel is encouraging online reviews.  Insurance agencies should be sending similar emails each time:

a.  A new customer is brought on board

b.  Your agency quotes, but does not acquire a new customer

c.  At the end of most claim settlements

d.  After selected service transactions

The email should come from the agency owner or upper management.  Obviously, your agency isn’t going to encourage customers to leave reviews on TripAdvisor.   Rather, you should mix up Google Places (Hotpot), Bing Local, Yelp, or others.  Doing this will require a little discipline; you will need to set up a systematic process so that you review transactions and send a few emails each day.  It won’t take much time, and the rewards will snowball over time.

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