We seem to finally be getting to a point where I estimate a significant majority of dealers track and care about their review scores. However, the motive for actively managing reviews focuses on a couple of different objectives. One is to comply with OEM standards or excellence programs. For example, both General Motors and FCA require that dealers enroll in a Reputation program as part of their dealer programs (SFE or CFAFE).
The other reason to have an active reputation program is an excellent reason . . .because they believe, correctly, that potential car buyers read reviews and look at dealer review scores to determine which dealership they will purchase a vehicle from. While that is enough justification for focusing on getting new reviews and keeping a high average rating, another benefit of a strong reputation management strategy I do not frequently hear is that review management is a part of your Google advertising or marketing plan. Truly this is a missed opportunity.
Investing significant dollars into an SEO program to increase your organic search results on Google can be a primary source of new visits to your website. What often gets missed is that reviews can significantly impact how Google displays your business in organic searches. If you are investing in SEO on Google, ignoring the impact of reviews on your results could cause you to waste your precious marketing dollars.
The Impact Reviews Have on Your Google Search Results
Google my business is some of the best quality traffic a dealer can get, giving you the bottom of the funnel purchasers that can be reached and converted. This result is true not only for new vehicle sales but even more so for service. An easy example would be to consider any search a consumer would enter on Google, such as “brakes service near me” or “oil change service in (my city).” These are not searches a typical consumer would make because they are curious. With new vehicle sales, we know that car shoppers might be searching 90 days out for their new vehicle, but have you ever heard of consumers shopping 90 days out for an oil change? Consumers are making these searches in the market…right…now!
So it is incredibly important that when the bottom of the funnel shoppers is searching on Google, your business displays, whether that is the search results, the knowledge panel on the right, or in map searches. However, just having a complete Google My Business (GMB) listing won’t get you there.
What Does Google Look At?
We have already established that a dealer needs to have both a complete Sales listing and Service listing on Google. That complete listing gets you “relevance” and means Google could start displaying your listing in relevant searches, but that is only half of the equation. You want more than to show up. You need to be near the top of search results if you expect to get clicks to your website or clicks to call or for directions. The other half, according to Google, is “prominence,” and this means reviews. Actually, this means more than just having reviews. Google looks at:
1) The number of reviews
2) Your average rating
3) Recency of reviews
4) Reviews with likes
5) Review responses
6) Review keywords
The Consumer Buying Process
Back to your SEO strategy. You create Google Sales and Service listings and then pay an agency to manage your SEO for your business to show up more frequently. However, without reviews, you have tied their hands and limited the results they can deliver. Reviews are a basic requirement if you want to optimize your investment in Google. What about your website? Isn’t the value of SEO to get more webpages to display? Yes, that is true. However, as Greg Gifford recently shared, you need to think of Google as your new homepage.
The consumer buying process begins with searching on Google. While many websites display in the search results, the Knowledge panel for a GMB page dominates the right side of the screen. On map-based searches, GMB powers those results. The journey for a consumer then is:
Without a steady influx of reviews (with responses), you will be limited in your efforts to get #2 of this process to display, and without that middle step, purchase intenders will find other GMB pages and end up on competitive websites.
In your next marketing meeting, when you address website visits, before committing a budget to spend a dime on Google, check the associated GMB page and make sure you have a recent influx of good reviews, with responses.