Consumer reviews hold a powerful spot in today’s shopping process for many products, including senior living, marketers say, as they may be a prospect’s introduction to a senior housing community and can help determine that community’s online visibility.
“Before they see your website, before they get your sales pitch… they’re seeing reviews,” said Kevin Williams, president of SeniorMarketing.com, who along with SeniorAdvisor.com hosted a webinar on Wednesday addressing how to use online reviews and local search tools to increase leads and occupancy.
Nearly nine in 10 (88%) of consumers either sometimes or always consult reviews before making a purchase, according to 2012 Reevoo data cited during the webinar.
Reviews are powerful, Williams said, because they can act as mini-testimonials that prospects may see before visiting a community. They can also help build credibility—or destroy it: 49% of people are more likely to use a business with positive reviews, according to BrightLocal, a local search engine software researcher, while 57% of consumers avoid a business with negative reviews.
Having reviews can also improve visibility for local searches, as local searchers within five to ten miles of a community account for approximately 95% of traffic to that community’s website, Williams estimates.
“Unless you’re a destination continuing care retirement community, your market is going to be local,” he said. “The way people search in our industry is the service they need, and where they need it.” For example, someone needing senior living services in the Boca Raton area might search “assisted living Boca Raton.”
Major search engines, including Google and Yahoo, give away their top advertising spots to local businesses for free. If a community claims that spot, it can influence whether or not it gets a top listing.
If a consumer has reviewed a certain community on Google, it shows up beneath the community listing as “[X] Google review(s).” However, communities with five or more Google reviews get gold star ratings based on those reviews beneath the community name, which can help them visually stand out from competitors, said Williams.
“[Consumer reviews are] the strongest and best use of your time with internet marketing, if you’re doing it yourself,” he said. “Those reviews are not going away, and they’re becoming more apparent and valuable in people’s decision-making process.”
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Many providers fear reviews for the possibility that they’ll get a negative one, said Amelia Willson, social media marketing manager at SeniorAdvisor.com, during the webinar. But rather than fear bad reviews, communities can learn from mistakes, whether real or perceived.
Senior living marketers can find gold mines of information within reviews, not only for their own community but also for competitors, Williams noted. Seeing what people like or don’t like about communities can inspire changes or shape marketing messages.
Instead of trying to counteract a slew of bad reviews with a fake one, Willson said, it’s better to carefully examine negative feedback to find out of there are areas where a community could do better.
“When you write a fake review, it’s obvious to savvy consumers,” she said, adding that fake reviews are considered illegal by the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) as a form of false advertising.
How communities should respond, she said, is by apologizing in the event of a bad experience; thanking a reviewer for his or her feedback; and then explaining how the issue or issues at hand have been addressed, along with providing contact information for follow-up opportunities.
“Never ignore a bad review,” Willson said. “It’s an opportunity to respond in a way that puts your community in a positive light.”