More and more people are now using online searches to find information on local businesses. In fact, a recent survey carried out by a leading research agency claimed that in the US alone, over 40% of all searches carried out on mobile devices are local in nature.

One of the ways that people often determine whether to use the services of a local company or business is by gauging online customer reviews. As awareness of social media is increasing customer reviews are becoming more and more important. Sites such as Trip Advisor are extremely popular and many people will now check online and study reviews before booking hotels, restaurants and other attractions. Google places, Facebook nearby, Yahoo Local Listings and Yelp are all places that people can visit to find online customer reviews on all manner of localised businesses.

As you can see there is a distinctive link between local SEO and online customer reviews. For example, if a business has amassed a plethora of positive online reviews spread over a number of sites like the ones above, and this is combined with highly targeted keywords for local optimisation, then the chances are that they are ahead of the game and indeed their competition.

Here are a few of the most popular locations to get your online customer reviews

Yelp! – Yelp is a free review site that allows users to comment on and rate businesses. Any business can list their business on the site, and users can create a profile to allow them to enter reviews. As a business you have the opportunity to reply to/comment on reviews.

Google Reviews/Local/Places/+ – It’s changed names a bit over time (Google Local, then Google Places and now Google + Local), but it is a tool for businesses to list their details with Google and for people with Google accounts to add reviews. You’ve probably noticed that when you do a Google search for a local business or service you get a map with the local listings – reviews on Google + Local have a big impact on this and is very often the first information that a user sees about your business. As you can see in the example below for “Restaurants in Cork” as well as displaying on the map a number of the restaurants like the Cornstore and Jacques have a “Score” and online customer reviews.

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Yahoo! Local Listings – similar to Google, Yahoo have a local listings capability. Yahoo impacts a much smaller percentage of the market than Google – but is it still relevant.

Facebook – There are a number of opportunities with Facebook. It is of course a very popular Social Media channel and there is a great opportunity to have users tell their “friends” how great your business is. Firstly you can post reviews from your clients on your own page – if people are checking you out they will see these. You can also get people to leave recommendations for your business. These will show on your page but will also be seen by the users friends. Facebook Nearby is also available which is a mobile application that allows Facebook users to “check in” to your business and leave comments. Other users can see this when they are looking for a service. This is going to be more important as Facebook concentrates more effort on the search and local services.

LinkedIn – Similar to Facebook, but more focused on business and professional services. Again they have provided a number of different areas that can be used. For the individual these include include Personal Recommendations and Endorsements. At the business level you get can Recommendations for specific products or services.

Trip Advisor – For anyone in the hospitality business this is an absolute must. Millions of people check out online customer reviews for accommodation, restaurants, attractions, etc. on Trip Advisor before booking. It is important to have a professional presence there, to encourage customers to post reviews and to check and respond to reviews as needed.

Once you have happy customers, you want to get their reviews and publish these as broadly as possible. As different people use different sites – you can’t assume that it is OK to post these once and once only. Positive online customer reviews on sites like the ones listed above also have a positive impact on Search Engine Optimisation or SEO – making your business easier to find.

The most important online customer reviews of all

Finally the most important online customer review site of all has to be your own website. It’s important that you allow reviews on your products and services as a study carried out in 2009 by Nielsen suggests that as many as 70% of all online prospects trust the opinions of customers posted on websites. Tools such as Loudervoice provide an easy customer review and rating system which can be embedded in any site in a few minutes.

At the end of the day, customers prefer to do business with companies that are transparent. Therefore businesses who actively promote online customer reviews are going to be one step ahead of their rivals every time.