Itís In The Stars

Get More Clients with Online Reviews

By Esther Pearson
[Feature]

Carl McMillan, owner of Becoming Whole Wellness in Durham, North Carolina, knows the value of sharing client reviews online where potential customers can read them. How does he get these reviews? While many are left by happy customers eager to share their exceptional experience, most are gathered using a highly complex, top-secret strategy—he asks for them.

 

When McMillan’s online-scheduling software sends out an automated thank-you message after a client schedules an appointment, the last sentence reads, “If you had a remarkable experience, feel free to review your experience on Google or Citysearch.” Sometimes, a gentle nudge in the right direction is all it takes.

Why Online Reviews Matter

Word of mouth is powerful. Word of mouth through the Internet is even more so. While referrals in the physical world are limited to clients’ friends, family, and acquaintances, there are no limits to the reach of referrals in the virtual world. A review left by a client on sites like Google Places, Yelp, or Citysearch can give you an advantage that keeps on growing long after it is posted.

Nancy Reagan, owner of Bella Reina Spa in Delray Beach, Florida, knows the power of online referrals. Her spa serves 8,000 guests per year on average, and many of those guests are drawn to Bella Reina as a result of reading the online reviews for her business.

While clients now write the majority of the spa’s reviews on their own initiative, Reagan initially encouraged reviews by offering incentives, such as a gift card or a free spa service like Bella Reina’s collagen eye mask. This initial push got the ball rolling. Now, the momentum continues on its own. Even without the extra incentive, Reagan says, “It has become so popular to leave reviews that we often get reviews without even asking.”

Getting Started

According to Google’s 2012 report “Our Mobile Planet,” 94 percent of smartphone users search for local products and services online. Ninety percent of those searches result in taking an action, such as making a phone call or visiting the business. Plus, that number doesn’t even include the millions of local searches that happen on computers, tablets, and other Internet devices.

Think of local search directories and the online reviews they host as a source of free advertising. The only investment required is the time and effort it takes to submit your business information, verify your location, and encourage clients to leave reviews. With a little initiative, you and your practice will be well on the way to a larger client base. 

Before you get started, decide on a consistent business title and use it everywhere. If you call yourself “Soft Hands Massage” in one local directory and “Soft Hands Massage Therapy Center” in another, the search engines might see that as two separate businesses. Choose one business title (your actual business name) and stick with it across your entire marketing presence—online and offline.

Next, make your website as visible as possible. Search engines rate your business for local searches using two primary factors: links to your website from other sites and mentions of your business on other websites. While you don’t always need a website to add your business to local search directories, it certainly helps—both from a rankings perspective and from a user perspective. The more clients know about your business, the more likely they will be to call and set up an appointment.

If you don’t already have a website, Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals’ (ABMP) Website Builder is the place to start. ABMP membership includes a free website, plus resources that guide you through the process of building your own website, including ready-made templates, an unlimited number of pages, and free hosting for members.

Even if your practice is built mainly around word of mouth, new clients may still want to check your website for more information before making the decision to schedule their first appointment. To boost your credibility, add reviews to your website and link out to search directories where clients have reviewed your business.

Choosing the Best Online Listings

The number of local online listing sites is overwhelming, but some are more popular than others. Jasmine Teer, public relations manager for the online-marketing company Yodle, suggests starting with the most well-known directory sites hosted on search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo.

“Search engines can have special pages (e.g., Google+ Local) or map listings (e.g., Google Maps) that help small businesses get found online through organic search,” Teer explains. “However, remember that you don’t have to pick just one place to list your business—in fact, you shouldn’t. There are a host of other sites, like Citysearch, Yelp, the Internet Yellow Pages, AOL Local Search, Local.com, and more, that can also be extremely valuable to your online marketing. Millions of people use these sites.”

The popularity of local online directories also varies depending
on your location and your specific business type. Massage-specific directories, such as the referral
service on ABMP’s consumer site www.massagetherapy.com, are some of the best places to market yourself. These sites cater to a narrow group of local search users who are looking specifically for massage therapists and bodyworkers in their area.

To massage therapists who are just getting started with online reviews, McMillan recommends “registering your business consistently with all review sites you are aware of and asking customers to review you.” 

Another way to find out which online directories you should list your business on is to ask clients where they typically leave reviews. You may even discover, as McMillan did, that clients have left reviews for you in unexpected places, such as company bulletin boards. “You may learn of some new place you’re getting reviews you weren’t aware of,” he says. “I’ve been reviewed at local businesses and colleges without knowing it because they have an internal system.”

Building Links

A link from a high-quality website (such as a chamber of commerce or a city government website) will do more for your practice than multiple low-quality links from websites that don’t get much traffic.

Search engines also look for relevance, which means the websites that link to yours should be related to your industry or location. If you are a member of ABMP, make sure your business and website are listed in its online directory. If your city has a website for locals or visitors, ask to have your business and website listed there as well.

Building Citations

Citations (sometimes called web references) are mentions of your practice’s name and address on another website. If an online directory lists your business name and address, with or without a link to your website, that counts as a citation. The goal is to get your business name, contact information, and website listed on as many reputable websites in your area as possible.

Choosing Categories

It’s not enough to simply list your business in local directories; you also want to do everything you can to make sure your business gets found in the directory’s search results. That means placing your listing under the categories that consumers will most likely use to search for your business.

Most local search directories allow you to list your practice in 2–5 different categories. Choose the categories that best describe your practice—if you don’t choose any, or are wrongly categorized, it will get buried in the search results.

Use Visual Elements to Personalize Your Practice

Photos and videos probably don’t affect your practice in terms of ranking for local searches, but they can increase the number of clicks your listing gets. Take the opportunity to show off your practice and the smiling faces behind it. Photos and videos have the potential to transform your business from “just another massage place” into a warm, approachable environment or a healing oasis. Use these visual elements to solidify your brand and attract the type of clients you want.

For most clients, booking an appointment with a therapist they found online is a significant step, so posting a personal portrait reduces buyer anxiety. Use pictures of yourself, other therapists who work for you, the outside (particularly nearby landmarks) and inside of your practice (including treatment rooms and the waiting room), and product photos of specialty items you sell. Make sure the photos are professional quality—a poor quality photo can turn a customer away with a bad first impression.

Even though you might not enjoy looking at pictures of yourself, potential clients want to see what you look like. Pictures add a personal dimension to your directory listing that makes clients feel like they have a chance to get to know you before meeting you in person. Pictures of you and your practice satisfy a sense of curiosity and remove doubt from the client’s mind.

Reap the Rewards

As a massage therapist and business owner, you have plenty of responsibilities vying for your attention. Registering with local directories can feel overwhelming unless you have a specific plan to reach your goal. Reagan suggests starting small. “Start out with 10 directories and make sure you are listed on each one,” she says. “Ask 10 clients to review your practice online. Most will be honored and happy to do so. Wait two weeks, then ask another 10. Keep doing this until you have built up a good collection of reviews.”

With more searches taking place online and on mobile phones, getting your business listed on local search directories is more important than ever. Although the process can occasionally feel tedious and time-consuming, as Reagan testifies, “In the end, it is so beneficial to your business.” 

Esther Pearson is the lead copywriter for OneTouch Massage, an online retailer of portable massage tables and equipment, and the web content strategist for www.snapagency.com, an online-marketing company that specializes in local search for small businesses. You can reach her at estpearson@gmail.com or learn more at www.1massagestore.com.

 

Responding to Negative Reviews

 

No matter how exceptional your service is, there’s always the chance that a client might leave disgruntled and vent his frustrations online instead of telling you in private. So, what should you do if someone leaves a bad review on one of your local business pages? See it as an opportunity. Take the initiative to contact the client and find out why he had a bad experience. Then, ask if there is anything you can do to make it right. Rather than resist negative feedback, allow yourself to grow from it.

“Never delete a negative review or reply to it with anything negative,” says spa owner Nancy Reagan, “even if it is unfair or untrue.”

How should you respond if someone leaves a negative review online? “First, address the real problem,” Reagan says. “Repeat back what the client has told you and ask any questions to make sure you understand the entire circumstances. Thank the client for bringing the problem to your attention. Apologize for the problem, and remember not to take the situation personally. Lastly, offer the client the opportunity to let you remedy the problem.”

The most effective approach to reduce your risk for negative reviews is to continually work at providing the best service possible to each and every client who walks through your door. Carl McMillan, owner of Becoming Whole Wellness in North Carolina, hasn’t yet had to respond to negative feedback online, but he knows what he would do if he did. “If it comes up, I would contact the client, offer him another session at a reduced rate, and find out what we needed to do better,” he says. 

McMillan’s key to avoiding negative reviews is ensuring client satisfaction up front. “How we work with our clients may be why we don’t have as much negative feedback,” he says. “We do an intake and outtake with our clients to ensure their satisfaction. We ask what their goals are, how we can support an intention for them in a session, and offer suggestions on what we see. We pay attention to our clients and offer a mindfulness most are not used to receiving.”

 

Where to Rave

Follow up with clients after their sessions and encourage them to share their positive thoughts about your work. Begin with the old adage: “If you’re not happy with my service, please tell me. If you are happy, please tell your friends and family.”

Here are a few of the top sites you can refer them to (including your website). The resulting raves will fuel your practice and help promote the benefits of massage.

• www.angieslist.com

• www.bing.com

• www.citysearch.com

• www.foursquare.com

• www.google.com/places

• www.local.com

• www.mapquest.com

• www.superpages.com

• www.tripadvisor.com

• www.yahoo.com

• www.yellowpages.com

• www.yelp.com

 To read this article in our digital issue, click here.