Positive third-party reviews will generally have two primary benefits for your business; they can be the deciding factor that either persuades potential customers to buy your products/services or makes them want to visit one of your storefront locations. With Google accounting for about two-thirds of all searches, accumulating reviews on Google+ Local profiles is a great way to enhance visibility on the search engine’s results pages while also putting positive third party reviews in front of potential customers at the earliest stages of their search process. Building this type of online presence, however, does not occur overnight, which can add to the temptation to take shortcuts that may ultimately backfire.

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What Not to Do

First, let’s talk about how not to go about getting positive reviews for your business on Google+, Yelp or any other review site. Never Astroturf or pay for reviews. Regardless of the temptation, creating fake reviews (also known as “Astroturfing”) and paying a service for reviews can both backfire in big ways if a review site determines that the glowing reviews on your business are being posted to manipulate readers.

In these situations, Google+ basically states that fake reviews will be taken down, but doesn’t say much about what happens when businesses blatantly abuse the system. The legal system, however, doesn’t look kindly at all on fake reviews. In 2013, the State of New York ran a sting operation that found 19 companies had either written fake reviews for other companies or posted their own fake reviews. The fines totaled $350,000.

How to Build a Cache of Positive Reviews on Google+

If you’re familiar with the way Google operates, you know that the search engine prioritizes natural processes when it comes to ranking various listings on its search engine results pages. The same goes for positive reviews on Google+, which can drastically improve your company’s rankings for local search inquiries. Generally speaking, the search engine will be looking for a natural flow of reviews that come in at regular intervals and originate from unique IP addresses. This means that having all of your customers enter great reviews over a single weekend on the same in-store tablet, for example, will likely raise suspicions that you are trying to “game the system.”

Instead, you can get great reviews and stay within Google’s guidelines by sending happy clients an email that asks for a review with a link to your business’ Google+ Local profile. For the best results, remember that timing is everything and requests for reviews should be sent out immediately after a great business/customer experience so that the positive vibe is still fresh. For some reason, Google doesn’t make finding local profiles an easy process but, in most situations, doing a search that combines the name of your company with “Google+ Local” will return the URL where positive reviews can be posted. Once a positive review is posted, be sure to respond with a “Thank you” in the commentary thread to show your appreciation for the customer’s extra effort.

What if You Get a Negative Review?

Customer interactions are basically a numbers game and the more of them your business has, the higher the odds that your company will eventually be on the receiving end of a negative review (or two). The way in which these reviews are handled can make the difference between an issue that goes away quickly and one that gains traction, attracts a growing audience and then threatens to become a public relations nightmare. Here are 4 early steps that can put you ahead of the curve and minimize the impact of negative reviews.

1. Set up social media tracking
You can choose from paid services or use the free “Google Alerts” platform to track mentions of your business, products and/or services on social media sites. The advantage of these notifications is that you will receive alerts on the posting of content that relates to your business, either in real time or shortly after publication.

2. Put someone in charge.
Appoint someone in your company who can respond to negative reviews without starting a war. Passion and business are often intertwined, which is a good thing in most cases. One exception may be in situations where your first impulse is to defend your company and attack the author of a negative review or post. The problem with these types of battles is that they sometimes go viral, usually to the detriment of the business. If seeing a negative review is going to have you seeing red, you may be better off delegating response duties to someone in your company who can take a more objective approach while navigating a path toward a mutually satisfactory solution.

3. Respond quickly.
A quick response is the first step in mitigating the potential impact of negative reviews. If you haven’t had time to fully assess the nature of the complaint, your first response can convey that you will look into the situation and follow up quickly. A quick response to a negative review, even if you can’t offer a resolution at that time, will show that you are attentive to the concerns of your customers and have their best interests at heart.

4. Go offline.
Ask to move the conversation offline. Getting the conversation, and perhaps the original complaint, offline will allow you to work toward a resolution without the “wild card” of having an ongoing thread that potentially draws an audience that is sympathetic to the frustrations of the person who posted the review. Taking the conversation offline also conveys a personal touch in the handling of the issue.

Positive reviews on your Google+ profile can provide third party endorsements as well as higher local search rankings. The key to success in this area is working within Google’s guidelines, being opportunistic when seeking positive reviews and having policies in place to deal with negative reviews if and when they surface.