By Heather MacKinnon
There’s no denying the growing importance of your dealership’s online reputation. According to Opinion Research Corp., 84% of Americans report online reviews influence their purchasing decisions. Additionally, Nielsen’s Global Trust in Advertising survey this year reveals that online consumer reviews have become the second most trusted form of advertising—right behind #1 which is personal recommendations. Yet many dealerships still struggle with the basics of building, managing and leveraging their online reputations.
Below are the five questions I am typically asked regarding online reviews as well as my recommendations:
1. Which review sites should I focus on?
DO: A simple search for the name of your dealership, plus the word “reviews.” As Google auto-fills the word “reviews”, it’s likely that consumers looking for information about your dealership are going to be directed to your reviews. When the search results appear, write down the names of the two to four review websites that appear on page one. Most consumers don’t look past page one results, so focus your efforts on these most influential web sites.
DON’T: Dilute your reputation. Spreading reviews across too many third-party review sites can negatively impact a dealer’s reputation and result in a diluted and inconsistent distribution. Building reviews on review sites that appear further down in the organic search results (Page 2 and beyond) also heighten the organic placement for those sites and raise the visibility for unhappy customers to vent in the future.
2. What’s the best way to ask customers for reviews?
DO: Ask customers while in the showroom for a verbal commitment to write a review. Then, send a follow up e-mail template one or two days after their visit to remind them. Include links to the review sites you’re focusing on. The goal is to make it as easy as possible for the customer to write a review without pressuring them.
3. What’s the best way to build an online reputation?
DO: Start by asking your happy customers. There’s nothing wrong with insulating yourself from negative reviews by approaching your best customers first. Once you have 30–40 positive reviews, make reviews an integral part of your sales and service processes.
DON’T: Try to game the system. Auto dealers struggle enough with their reputations, so when it comes to online reviews, don’t risk your credibility and integrity. Most review sites take fraudulent reviews very seriously. Fraud examples include: reviews written in the dealership, relying on a third-party marketing agency to post reviews, or a review posted by a car dealer employee or family member.
4. How can I leverage our online reputation?
DO: Leverage your reputation in three areas: online, in the showroom and over the phone. First, create employee buy-in with friendly competition between sales and service employees. Recognize top-rated employees each week in sales and/or service meetings. Also, add links to review sites in employees’ e-mail signatures. Do you have third-party individual staff profiles on your dealership website? If not, add them and then add links to a review site with the tagline “Read 3rd-party reviews about me!” Mention your online reviews to every phone prospect. Additionally, leverage them in traditional advertising, including print ads, radio and TV ads.
DON’T: View your online reputation as something to be handled defensively. Some dealers are overly concerned about negative reviews and don’t want people to see them, so they miss out on the benefits of leveraging their positive reviews. An offensive approach is best. Customers expect to see a few negative reviews and become suspicious if there are none. But they also expect to see responses to these negative reviews by dealership management. Post responses to all negative reviews, explaining the issue and your attempts to resolve it.
5. What’s the best way to monitor our online reputation?
DO: Consider investing in a software tool that consolidates information from all the review sites into a single dashboard. This makes the arduous task of monitoring dozens of sites manageable. Several companies offer these types of tools; just be sure to ask any vendor you are considering if they have API access to all the review sites that you have identified as a priority.
DON’T: Waste too much time going from site to site, or trying to manually monitor reviews on every site out there. Dealerships can be listed on dozens of sites, including directories, so a tool that consolidates all reviews and listings into one dashboard is highly recommended.
Implementing these recommendations has proven to be effective for thousands of DealerRater Certified Dealer partners, and dealerships with excellent online reputations are currently enjoying a significant competitive advantage. Shouldn’t your dealership be one of them?