FAQ about Local-Business Reviews (on Google+Local and Third-Party Sites)

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I’ve been asked many great questions about customer reviews.

And rightly so.  Reviews are a major factor in your local rankings in Google+Local and elsewhere, and they’re one of the very biggest factors in getting customers to choose you over the competition.

This is true both of reviews that customers write on your Google+Local page and of reviews written on third-party sites (Yelp, CitySearch, etc.).

The trouble is, aside from some fantastic in-depth posts others have done on the topic, there’s not a ton of clear info for the business owner who just wants to know the main do’s and don’ts.

So, it’s about time I put some of my answers on paper.

Here are the questions I’ve been asked most frequently – and my answers – in no particular order:

 

Q:  I know Google often filters out reviews that seem to come in at an “unnatural” rate.  How frequently should I ask customers for reviews?

A:  Nobody knows for sure what rate Google considers natural vs. unnatural.  It’s one factor of many that Google looks at.  Plus, it varies by industry (a coffee shop has many more customers and therefore potential reviewers than a general contractor does).

The rough rule of thumb I use for my clients is: ask 1-5 customers per week.  Whatever you do, be consistent from week to week.

 

Q:  If I get “fan mail” or other positive feedback from customers, can I post it as a review of my own business?

A:  No.  That’s against the rules of Google and every other site I can think of that deals with reviews.  The review filters will catch you probably 95 times out of 100 – certainly on Google and probably on other sites.  More importantly, it’s a bit dishonest.  However, you can post pretty much any kind of customer feedback on your site (provided it’s FTC-compliant).

 

Q:  If a customer posts a great review of me on Google or somewhere else, can I showcase that review on my site?

A:  Not if it’s a Google+Local review: Google will filter reviews that appear elsewhere on the web.  Most third-party sites don’t seem to have policies against this (plus, so many of them feed reviews to each other).  However, it’s not a bad idea to save your Google reviews (either via copy+paste or screenshot) so that in case Google ever “loses” your reviews and they don’t seem to be coming back, you can add those reviews to your site.

 

Q:  Can I ask some of my really happy customers to post reviews on multiple sites?

A:  This one calls for a multi-part answer:

If a customer reviews you on Google+Local and you want that person to post that same review on other sites, then no.  Google will filter the review if it appears anywhere else on the web.

If a customer writes you a Google+Local review and then writes completely different reviews on other sites, then yes.  It’s fine with Google if the same person reviews you on several sites – as long as the review posted on your Google+Local page is unique.

For third-party, non-Google review sites, yes.  With the possible of exception of Yelp, these sites generally don’t feel strongly about review polygamy.

 

Q:  How many different sites should I try to get reviews on?

A:  The more, the better.  Diversity of review sources has always seemed to be a strong ranking factor.  But my rule of thumb is 3.  That is, at any given time you should be asking each customer to go to 1 of 3 sites you’d like reviews on.  I’ve found that number to be large enough that you’re not putting all your eggs in one basket, but not unmanageable – the way it would be if you were to ask different customers to go 10 different review sites.

Anyway, I’d say one of those 3 sites should be Google+Local.  One or both of the others should be a major site like Yelp, CitySearch, or InsiderPages.  If there’s a highly prominent industry-relevant review site – like DealerRater, AVVO, or TripAdvisor – then it’s probably worth having that be one of the 3.  Of course, once you rack up at least a few reviews on one of the sites, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to change it up and ask customers to review you on a different site.

 

Q:  How do I know which third-party sites I should ask my customers to review me on?

A:  See answer to above question.  Again, the short answer is that the “core” of your body of reviews should consist of Google+Local reviews and of reviews on least a couple of other major sites, like Yelp or CitySearch.

To the extent possible, you should also try to get reviews on sites that are geared toward your industry.  One starting point for determining those sites is to see which sites your local competitors (particularly the top-ranked ones) have reviews on.  Another is to check out the list of industry-specific sites on my Definitive Citations List.

 

Q:  How many customers should I ask for Google reviews versus for reviews on other sites?

A:  I usually suggest that my clients shoot for 50% Google+Local reviews.  Reviews on other sites should make up roughly the other 50%.  The idea is not to put all your eggs in one basket.

 

Q: Where do Bing and Yahoo reviews fit in?  Do they help my visibility in Google at all?

A:  They don’t help your Google rankings.  Bing and Yahoo are Google’s direct competitors.  They go together like peanut butter and mayonnaise.  However, it’s still good to get reviews on Bing and Yahoo simply to attract the people who use those two, smaller search engines.

By the way, as of this writing, there’s no longer a way to write reviews directly on Bing.  But in many cases Yelp’s reviews get fed to Bing, so your reviews on the former will help your visibility in the latter.

 

Q:  Can I suggest certain things I’d like my customers to write in their reviews?

A:  Another gray area.  Google says you can’t.  Other sites don’t seem to take a stance (as far as I’ve been able to tell).

From a strictly ethical standpoint, you certainly shouldn’t put words in your customers’ keyboards.

Plus, if you tell customers what specific keywords to use, your reviews will probably get filtered because they seem contrived.  Even the ones that do stick will look about as natural as Donald Trump’s “hair.”

However, if your customers genuinely have no idea what to write (not likely), it’s fine to give them a rough idea of “talking points.”

 

Q:  Should I wait until I’ve claimed my Google+Local to start asking customers for reviews?

A:  Yes, generally.  If you have duplicate or incorrect Google listings floating around that you’re trying to remove, I’d suggest waiting until the dust settles and you’ve only got one listing (per location).  Also, building up a corpus of reviews is a long-term project, so in one sense there’s no great rush.

However, if you don’t have a bunch of inconsistent information about your business floating around the web, and (again) if you don’t have a problem with duplicate listings, you can probably ask for customers to review you and not be afraid that the reviews will go “poof.”

 

Q:  How do I avoid looking “amateurish” when I ask for a review?

A:  Depends on how you ask.  As with anything else, there are cheesy ways and professional ways to go about it:

“Please oh please write me a review, pretty please with sugar on top” = cheesy

“Dear Valued Customer, your feedback would be appreciated” = cheesy

“Here’s a Starbucks card, now I expect my 5 stars, damnit” = cheesy

“If you could take a minute to write down your honest opinion about your experience with me, I’d really appreciate it” = professional

“I know other potential customers would want to hear what you think of our service  – warts and all – so it would be great if you could jot down a review of us” = professional

In general, I’ve found that more you use a no-pressure, “this is a personal favor I’d appreciate” approach, the easier it is to ask people for reviews, the less awkward it is for everybody, and the more willing people are to oblige.

 

Q:  My customers always seem to forget to write me reviews.  What should I do?

A:  Nag.  But try to do it in a classy, relatively low-pressure way. (“Gee, Phil, you mean that’s all I have to do?”)  I guess it depends on how close you are with your customers.  If there’s a “relationship,” you can ask repeatedly without becoming a burr in the saddle.  Some people will just never get around to it.  Others you may need to ask a total of 2-3 times.  You never know who falls into which category.

 

Q:  My customers said they posted reviews of me, but why aren’t they showing up on my page?

A:  They may have been filtered out if they were Google+Local or Yelp reviews.  I suggest reading this post from Mike Blumenthal (if you haven’t already).  Of course, this assumes that your customers know how to post reviews for you, and that you’ve provided clear instructions to customers who may not be so review-savvy.

 

Q:  What if Google loses my reviews?

A:  Keep getting as many Google reviews as possible, but also try to get reviews on other sites.  I know it can be tough.  I know how much hard work for a given job each review represents, and how badly Google sucks at keeping those legitimate, hard-earned reviews where they belong.  Still, the basic choice is (1) do nothing and have nothing to lose but also less potential to attract customers or (2) try to rack up a few more reviews and have that extra factor working in your favor.

 

Q:  What’s the easiest way to get reviews?

A:  Depends.  In a nutshell, any way in which you can both ask and provide clear instructions at the same time is a good approach.  I’m kind of partial to the review handouts I make and use with my clients (duh…that’s why I created them), but I can think of about 20 other ways to get reviews.

Any nagging questions you have – or have heard – about reviews?  Better yet, any answers to those questions?  Go for it – leave a comment!

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Comments

  1. Thanks for the very comprehensive post Phil. You’ve pretty much left no stone unturned here.

    Although, there is one thing I’m thinking of at the moment. I have a client who is still struggling to generate Google+Local reviews, so we’ve talked tactics. The thing is though, how would you tell if client/customer A (for example) has attempted to write the review? After all, they may have tried and it got caught in the filter. I suppose you can “check in” with them if it doesen’t appear later in the week. (Ask on Monday, “check in” on Thursday).

    • Hey Nick,

      Thanks for stopping by!

      As far as I know, the only way to tell if someone has tried to write you a Google review is to ask that person to log in and go to your Google page. If he/she sees the review on your page when logged in – but you or anyone else can’t see it – then it’s been filtered.

      But, as you said, sometimes it’s also a matter of time.

  2. Hi Phil,
    Thanks for another though provoking column. You always touch all the bases.
    I have a new client who has a unweildly mess of citations. She has moved 3 times in the last 3 years.
    She has citations all over the map. NONE are fully correct.
    My question is it better to correct al of these first or try for citysearch, yelp superpages and then make the corrections.
    Does google cosider this example as two seperate citations
    city name is La Plata or LaPlata
    what about surnames like joe Rahall III or SR or JR etc. Most directories do not have a field for this .
    I had to change my Facebook to SR and my son to !!! so there would be no confusion. Do I have to follow thru on this to other sites. How do I do that if they dont have a space for it ?

    Thanks for a great resource.

    Joe

    • Hi Joe,

      That’s a tough situation, all right (though I’m sure just temporary).

      I generally start with the biggest, most-important sites: ExpressUpdateUSA.com, LocalEze, Yelp, CitySearch, SuperPages, and YellowPages. Not only is it good to get the big ones out of the way ASAP, but those few also feed tons of other sites.

      I’d make sure always to enter the city name the same way. Some sites may alter whatever you put in (La Plata or LaPlata); that’s something you can’t really control. But being consistent in the input is the best thing you can do – and actually the only thing you can do.

      Not sure I understand the last question. If you could unpack it a little, I could maybe offer an insight.

      • Thanks Phil for the advice.

        I am asking how you should address issue of Joe Rahall III or Joe Rahall SR or Joe Rahall Jr.

        There usually is no place on the directory form for this information. For Facebook I just appended it to my last name column rahall SR

        Thanks
        Joe

        • Hi Joe,

          I’m still a bit unclear on the situation, mainly because I’m not sure if you have two listings for your business on a bunch of different sites (including FB) – one for you and one for your son. What I can say is this: on pretty much all third-party sites (Yelp, etc.), there’s a “contact person” or “admin name” that the account is tied to, and then there’s the name for your business. The former generally isn’t seen publicly or by search engines, whereas the latter is. The former doesn’t matter for purposes of rankings, but the latter does.

          If you’re not sure where to insert a suffix (Sr., Jr., III) into the “contact person” fields, then I’d say it doesn’t matter. In terms of local rankings and such, any old way is fine. Of course, if you want a suffix to be part of your business name, just insert it into the “business name” field of your listings. There’s no separate field for it, as you know.

          Hope that answers it. If not, feel free to put together a screenshot that illustrates exactly what you’re trying to do, and to send it to me or to post a link here.

  3. Phil, once again you’ve illustrated to me why I consider you one of the top 3 sources for “all things local.” (Mike and Linda not withstanding — especially Mike, it’s his catchphrase after all.) Linda — She’s got too many balls in the air! (Just kidding.)

    • Hey Andrew,

      You’re way too generous – but thanks just the same!

      Really glad you liked the post. I’d certainly be open to adding more Q and/or A to this, if there are any that come to mind for you.

  4. Hi Phil,
    This is an awesome post.
    Google likes (and continously strives) to break any dominant factors into number of fragmented factors.
    This applies to review as well.
    “Review” is a Macro factor & some of the fragmented Mirco factors will be:
    1) Source of reviews (Authority sites (vs) here & there?
    2) Quantity of reviews?
    3) Quality (Tone) of Reviews? –> I am sure Google has an algorithm to decide “tone” of review.
    4) Frequency of Reviews?
    5) Net effect of Positive versus negative reviews.
    The list may go on…
    Thanks for the post.

  5. Thanks Phil,
    Whatever name we call them they help :-) visibility…..
    Like any offline business they are important because they depict what consumers perceive about “product/ service delivery” of a local business :-)
    Thanks!

  6. Andrew said: “Linda — She’s got too many balls in the air! (Just kidding.)”
    LOL! You and Mike just love it when I talk like that don’t you?

    Actually I think Mike likely has lots of balls in the air too. I’m just not as good of a juggler! ;-)

  7. Oops meant to add, great post as always Phil!
    I’ll link to it over at the forum on Monday.
    (Unless I forget because I have so many balls in the air!) ;-)

  8. Thanks for another brilliant post Phil. While waiting (forever) for the dust to settle at Google+Local regarding review policy a few questions have come up about source.
    Since more hoop jumping makes customers less inclined to post a review,we’ve developed methods using qr codes and email pieces linking directly to the page. Do Google and perhaps Yelp consider the source to determine the validity of the review. I’d imagine that someone logged in and having a + account who uses a qr code to get to the page will pass the filterithms. Do you see a flaw in that? Do you think those 2 (Google and Yelp) or any other third party site consider the source and see the reviewer coming from a qr code or email link as someone not acting entirely of their own free will?
    Thanks Again Phil

    • Hey Chris,

      Linda pretty much stole the words right out of my keyboard :)

      But my hunch is that neither Google nor Yelp is more likely to filter a review whose writer came to the business listing via QR code. I say that because a QR code could appear anywhere – on printed materials or online – so I don’t think that even Google or Yelp could make the leap to say “Oh, well the only person who would have scanned that QR code is someone who just got shaken-down for a review.” I’m guessing the same would be true of email links.

  9. Hey Chris,

    Hope Phil doesn’t mind if I jump in to say some of us had a good convo about this over Mike’s blog. I DO very much think Google looks at the source of the review and believe that’s one of many things at the core of some of the blocking. I offered a tip over there that’s worth trying – linking from emails to the map page instead of the G+ page. (So then when the reviewer hits the G+ page Google will see they came from maps, instead of a direct email link.) But best if you go over there and read the whole convo because I explain in more detail and a couple are doing tests.

    The whole thread of course is good to read, but this specific part of the convo (review path or source) starts comment #54. http://blumenthals.com/blog/2012/09/24/asking-for-reviews-post-apocalypse/comment-page-1/#comment-582749

    I am also researching and getting ready to do a story next week about a new theory about why some reviews are getting blocked.

  10. Great post on simple level Q & A from SMB perspective.

    Even if SMBs sometimes lack the awareness to ask the right questions, we still need to communicate simple answers for the wrong ones too, in order to best serve their agenda.

    • Hey Chris,

      Nicely said. I used to hand out this tip sheet to everyone who ordered my handouts for Google reviews, but I’d like to update it with some of these FAQs; as you alluded to, pretty much nobody will have all of the questions at once, but everybody’s going to be wondering about at least some of them.

  11. Phil:
    Great post as always:) You are the master…period.

    Regarding your Q&A on posting Google+ reviews on your website and Google filtering them out…if it was was on Google+ first (and showing publicly), how would Google filter it if you just put a copy of it on your website after the fact? Are you saying Google would eventually remove the review from your Google+ Local page? If so, what if you truncated the review or placed the review on your website as an image?

    In my opinion, those reviews are the property of the business owner. And while they may be placed on Google+ Local, Google shouldn’t be able to dictate how you can use your own reviews! To that end, I’m a strong advocate of not caving to Google’s demands and finding creative ways to work around their “rules.” That’s why I’m asking the question and proposing possible work arounds.

    Travis Van Slooten

    • Hey Travis,

      Thanks for the overly-generous words.

      My understanding is that Google would try to filter a given review if the same review later appears on your website and then gets indexed. Obviously, Google hasn’t come out and said exactly under which circumstances a review would get filtered, but there’s a great post from Nyagoslav that deals with this question a little more.

      What I do know is that Google by no means has its act together regarding filters. I’m sure if you spun the review enough you could get away with posting it in all kinds of places and Google wouldn’t catch on soon (if ever) – but obviously that’s dishonest, pointless, and wouldn’t sit too well with the FTC.

      I don’t see how the review could possibly get filtered if you feature it as an image on your site. Nor do I think that sort of thing is somehow an effort to evade Google: I get the sense that what Google really wants to deter is one review getting pimped out to a bunch of sites, so as to help one’s rankings a little more (because reviews are a ranking factor, of course). You wouldn’t be doing that if you featured a given review as an image on your site.

      So I think it’s generally fine to do that; in fact, I wrote a post on a similar idea a year ago. It’s also not a bad idea to stow away reviews in some form, in case Google “misplaces” them. The only caveat I’d add is it’s probably worth simply taking a screenshot of the reviews or in some other way making it clear that the review/testimonial you’re posting on your site was originally a review on Google+Local (or CitySearch, or wherever).

      • Phil:

        Thanks for the added explanation. I’m glad to hear you support my general idea. And I agree, you definitely want to give credit to Google+ Local or whatever site as the original source of the review. In fact, what I advocate is that you highlight some of your best reviews on your website – with each review clearly marked as “from our Google+ Local page.” Then have a hyperlink somewhere on the page that says, “See all of our reviews on our Google+ Local page” and then send the visitor to the page.

        Travis Van Slooten

        • I think that’s both ethical and not likely to get you on Google’s bad side – provided, of course, that the review text isn’t crawlable.

  12. Great stuff as always, Phil…

    A few other tidbits to add. Citysearch is feeding Bing and Yahoo. More so recently than Yelp which strikes me as odd as I recall Bing and Yelp entered into a formalized agreement on this topic several months back. Perhaps it got killed in “Legal”.

    I have had several clients tell me by “Yelpers” soliciting ad programs that their unflattering reviews could be “disappeared” if they stepped up for a large PPC campaign of $700+ / month.

    Anyone else hear of this happening?

    • Thanks for the tidbits, Jim.

      I’ve known about CitySearch feeding Bing for a while, and Yahoo has gotten its search results from Bing for a couple years. Bing still does get its reviews from Yelp, but Yahoo doesn’t. However, you may have fresh intel I don’t, regarding recent developments.

      I’ve heard peeps about the Yelp issue you mentioned, but that’s pretty much it. To me, it’s plausible that a few misguided Yelp employees may have offered to remove some reviews, but I doubt that there’s any company-wide funny business going on. Again, no first-hand experience here: that’s just my gut feeling.

      • For sure. “Newbies” in the sales world will say anything to open or close a deal. Hopefully good sales mgmt. will set them straight. Because there is damage done in the message, to the prospect, to the core of the business (Yelps).

        As for Bing’s relationship with Yelp, has that changed? I’m curious due to preponderance of CitySearch reviews now on Bing.

        • Not aware of any changes recently. CitySearch reviews have actually fed reviews to Bing for some time (as shown in my reviews ecosystem post. But Yelp reviews are more prominent in Bing (not to mention in Apple Maps); as far as I know, those two partnerships are the most-recent developments (though even those are a few months old now). Probably just a matter of time before more data or review -feeding relationships pop up.

  13. I guess Google is now requiring that people who leave reviews give their first and last name. This is a problem for criminal defense lawyers and other businesses where people want to remain anonymous. Any ethical way around this?

    • Not that I know of. I think the lack of anonymity is good in some respects, but you’re right: it’s a real problem for some types of professionals. This is one more reason why it’s worth getting reviews on as many non-Google sites as possible: many of them don’t have the same draconian rules.

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