Once upon a time, before everyone figured out just how valuable local search can be to their business. Ranking well was much easier. And Google also made it easy because that box that displays local search results used to contain up to seven results. In your given area, you had to be one of the seven top-ranking businesses for a given keyphrase, which wasn’t that hard.

But today, things with local search look very different. More people are using local search to find the products and services they need. And more businesses are getting on the bandwagon to go after new customers. And those seven results Google used to display have dwindled down to just three. Local search is a highly competitive landscape that requires businesses to always be on the lookout for new ways to get a leg up on the competition.

The Pitfalls of Black Hat Local SEO

And a lot of businesses turn to ethically dubious local SEO practices in their race to stay ahead of their competitors. Hacking your way through the process of building a strong presence in local searches can be less labor-intensive and costly than doing things by the book. But it’s also riskier.

And the risks are really not worth it. Local SEO, just like SEO in general, revolves around the word “value,” as in the thing you need to provide to people in order to be noticed by search engines. When your website pops up in the top search results, it should be able to deliver what the person searched for. That’s the way trust is built, that’s the way to start good word-of-mouth. And that’s the way to grow an audience. In the long term, the black hat will only get your website penalized, and it won’t help it with getting good reviews. And in local search, good reviews are what will get you in the top three results.

How to Get Reviews

Before you go on the hunt for Google reviews, you need to have a completed Google My Business profile. That way, you’ll let Google know what’s your address, contact info, a picture of your business, and most importantly, its location on the map. Make sure that your profile is complete, because this increases your chances of getting reviews. And use any opportunity to include links to videos that show your business or provide some useful information to your prospective customers.

If you want to use reviews to rise to the top results of local searches, you have to get reviews, and to get reviews, pretty much all you need to do is — ask for them.

Believe it or not, people are likely to review your business if you ask them nicely. The best way of going about this is to get your customers at the point of sale, right after they’ve made a purchase. Train your staff to quickly explain why customer reviews matter, and where the customers can go to review your business. It’s as simple as that. Include a link to your My Business profile in every piece of electronic communication you have with your clients.

Being Proactive about Your Reputation

If you don’t motivate people to review your business, you might end up with a profile full of bad reviews. People who are not satisfied, are more likely to leave reviews than those who are. Being smart about customer reviews, you’ll teach your support staff to ask for reviews when they notice a satisfied customer. Skip the whole review proposition when the customer isn’t happy.

That being said, bad reviews can also be a chance for you to boost your reputation. Responding to bad reviews, especially listing the steps that were taken to overcome the issue. Show that you care about your customers and your business. And that you’re ready to take charge and improve your business. Debunking obviously fake reviews might do the same. But remember — good reviews are a blessing, and bad reviews are a blessing in disguise. Use both on your way up to the coveted local search results box.