Like it or not, online reviews are here to stay for roofing contractors.

Today, everybody carries a real-time, “online review machine” (a.k.a. smartphone) in their pocket.

With just a few clicks, each of us has the power to affect the way a roofing company is perceived by homeowners and other prospects.

Scary? You bet it is. The good news is that turning online reviews to your advantage can have a tremendously positive impact on your ability to drive website traffic, generate leads and close sales for your business. Here are a few recommendations on how to do it.

#1: Embrace It

Let’s start with the one observation I’ve had for years: roofing contractors and home improvement business owners are deathly afraid of online reviews.

But they shouldn’t be. Why? Because everyone gets bad reviews. Let’s face it, homeowners are almost impossible to please. No matter how good — or affordable — your work is, there can always be someone that’s dissatisfied.

Homeowners take that attitude online and instantly share their frustrations — real or imaginary — about your company via online reviews.

That can be tough to accept. As a business owner or manager, you are a troubleshooter by nature — and therefore eager to “fix” every complaint. But bad reviews aren’t what matter, it’s your overall mix of positive and negative reviews that do.

Ask yourself: “Are you getting enough good reviews to offset the bad ones?” Remember, homeowners rarely take the position that they’ll only hire companies that have ALL good reviews since almost no one has 100 percent positive feedback. They’re simply trying to mitigate the perceived risk that goes along with hiring a roofing contractor.

What homeowners look for is more good reviews than bad, not perfection.

#2: Go Get Good Reviews

If you’ve had a bad experience as a customer or employee, online reviews are a natural choice for venting and (at least psychologically) evening the score.

But it’s incredibly important that you don’t focus your energy on the negative reviews. You’ll see much better results — and ultimately feel better — by putting your resources into generating positive reviews.

You have happy customers, use them! But it’s easier said than done. Positive reviews for roofers happen much less frequently unless homeowners are actively prompted to give them. 

It’s common practice to follow up on every job by asking happy customers for referrals to friends or relatives who could benefit from your services. Your sales team needs to incorporate a review request into the post-sale process.

I know, it’s impossible to get salespeople to do anything that doesn’t directly reward them, but this is worth it. You can even encourage good reviews with incentives, such as a gift card to the homeowner, as a thank you for their feedback.

Make it easy for homeowners by suggesting wording, or by mentioning some of the things they could use in the review. Ask them to talk about the quality of work, the cleanliness of crews or your company’s attention to detail.

Remember, the goal is not so much getting long reviews, it’s about getting a plethora of positive reviews.

#3: Get Reviewed in the Right Places

When it comes to online reviews that matter, there’s Google and Yelp. Then there’s everybody else.

Google is first for obvious reasons. It’s a behemoth and reviews here count for a lot in terms of visibility. If you’re going to devote energy and resources to online reviews, Google should be your first priority.

As a first step, Google your own business and see what comes up. You’ll want to make sure that Google lists your business and all the information is correct. This is very, very important. As a number of people who worked at Google have told me, “Everything about your clients’ websites starts with their My Business Listing.”

Yelp is “category-based,” and also a popular starting point for home improvement and remodeling customers. Go there next and make sure your listing information is accurate. Here as well, if you’re not already listed, you can do so at the Yelp Business page.

Then there’s everybody else, including Yahoo, Bing and even the Yellow Pages. They have such a small share of the market that it’s not worth any investment of time or money.

What about Angie’s List … aren’t their users very engaged? 

Yes, and they’re also “high-intention” users, meaning they go there ready to make a decision. The problem is that only a small percentage of homeowners actually use this service. So while it’s good to have strong reviews, it will have little material impact on your business either way.

Send your happy customers to Google and Yelp — their reviews are worthy of your time and attention.

#4: Deal with Bad Reviews

Bad reviews sting, but don’t let wounded pride drive your actions. The goal is to deal with these as efficiently and as best you can. Begin by expecting to hear from the “crazies,” and even competitors who pose as unhappy customers just to take a swing at your business. 

You can’t demand proof; you can’t contact Google or Yelp and have the review removed; you can’t sue anybody. There’s no winning … only limiting the damage.

The key is to respond quickly and respectfully. Don’t argue facts or opinion. Simply post a response that says something like, “We sincerely hope we can rectify this. We have thousands of happy customers; please call us.”

What’s important is that you demonstrate to others who read the reviews that you are responsive and that you care about what’s being said online. It sends a strong, positive signal about your company and makes lemonade out of lemons.

#5: Closely Monitor Your Reputation

Search for your company name on Google and Yelp — not just by checking your business listing there; do an actual search from the search box.

Monitor social media, especially Facebook, where homeowners sometimes go to leave bad reviews. You should have control over that page, but you don’t want to let bad reviews remain there.

You don’t need to spend hours mediating, but you must be vigilant and you must do this regularly (at least monthly), so that you can see what’s being said and respond quickly.

I also recommend setting up a Google alert for your business. This is a free service that lets you create a standing search on any term(s). Put your business name in here and you’ll be notified whenever something new appears with your name in it.

No one cares about your roofing company as much as you do. It only takes a few key strokes and a few clicks to see how the world is reacting to you online.

Don’t be scared! The world of online reviews can be difficult and frightening. But you can learn to generate good reviews and respond to negative reviews in ways that will make you stand out among your competitors. Good luck!