Asking Customers for Google Reviews in the New Google Plus: What Are Your Options?

Google’s really done it this time. The “write us a Google review” steps that worked so well for so long soon will work no more.

In the new layout of Google+, if you send customers to your local page they will see no way to write you a review, because there is none.  (Sure, there’s a little button that lets users switch to “classic view,” but that won’t last long.)

Once the “new” Google+ has rolled out universally and there’s no option to use the “classic” layout, you’ll only have two ways to get customers to the place where they can write a review: (1) tell them to search for your business by name on if they’re on a desktop or (2) tell them to use the Google Maps app if they’re on mobile.

There have always been at least a few serious downsides to those two methods:

  • Customers use different browsers and devices.
  • The Google Maps app hasn’t always given you the option of writing a review.
  • Google wouldn’t always pull up the right Google page – the one you want reviews on – even if you don’t have problems with duplicate listings.

Soon you won’t have a choice.  (Why Google did this is a whole separate discussion, for another day.)

You can no longer even add a parameter to the end of your Google-page URL to have the “write a review” window pop up when your customer clicks the link (e.g.

I’ll probably have to update my battle-tested instructions for the 4th or 5th time since 2011, at which point you can order a slick one-page PDF that makes a frustrating process simple as possible for customers.

Until I get around to that, here’s a rough outline of the easiest steps you’re asking reviewers to do:

  1. Sign into Google Plus OR create a Plus page if you don’t have one already.
  1. Type in such-and-such to pull up our page; do this at if you’re on a desktop or in the Google Maps app if you’re on mobile.
  1. Find the “Write a review” button and write your review.

Also, the type of link Mike Blumenthal suggests may still work.  (Of course, that only works for email-based requests.  I usually suggest asking in-person and following up by email when necessary.)

The kicker is that Google still requires reviewers to have a Google Plus page in order to write a review, which has been a PITA since May of 2012.  I heard murmurs some months ago that Google will go back to requiring just a Google account (not a Plus account) to write a review, but I need to go back and try to find where I heard that.  In any case, I’m guessing Google will stop requiring a Plus page sooner or later.

Anyway, Google reviews will continue to be huge for your local visibility, even if Google’s made it a little harder for you to get them.  Roll with the punches.

Any thoughts, tips, or workarounds?

Have you tried asking for any reviews since the layout change?

Leave a comment!

Yelp Monetizes the Description?

Justin Mosebach of YDOP has noticed a new paid offering in some of his multi-location clients’ Yelp dashboards: the ability to add a description with “Specialties, History, Meet the Owner/Manager, Business Recommendations.”

Whoa, whoa…hold on: haven’t those kinds of business descriptions been showing up for years now on free Yelp listings?  Yes.  But the prompt to “contact Yelp sales” to add one appears to be new, which suggests that Yelp might be phasing out free rich descriptions for new listings.  Existing descriptions will probably be grandfathered in and stay put, at least for a while.

A few notes from Justin, based on a few questions I asked him:

1. He first noticed this on Friday.

2. It’s not showing up in all clients’ dashboards.

3. He didn’t use Yelp’s bulk-upload feature here.

4. He found a loophole / workaround to get a rich description for a new listing up for free.  (Justin asked that I not post it and prompt Yelp to close the loophole.)

Are you seeing this offer?  If so, when did you first notice it?

Have you noticed any other changes in Yelp?

Leave a comment!


New Spammy Emails from Yelp to Business Owners

I’ve seen Yelp’s advertising pitches and other pitches for years.  But this email I just got from Yelp HQ this afternoon is new:

The link just takes me to my business dashboard, where I see Yelp’s estimate of traffic to my Yelp page, clicks-through to my site, and their “revenue estimate” of how much money that traffic supposedly got me.

It seems like just another nudge to get you to pay for ads – and to pay for them now, before your link expires in 6 days (!).  Not too surprising, given Yelp’s recent struggles.

I like Yelp as a consumer, but hate it as an SEO and as a business owner.  This email isn’t going to endear Yelp to most people, although it may yield Yelp a little advertising lucre.

Have you received an email like this?  If so, when?

Do you think this is just another ad push?

Leave a comment!

Phone Numbers AND Addresses Return to Google Local 3-Pack Results

Over the past day, people in different parts of the US and the world have reported seeing phone numbers return to Google’s 3-pack of results.  Here in Red Sox land, I didn’t see any phone numbers until now, but now I’m seeing phone numbers and full addresses once more.

I wasn’t the first to notice this:

Dave Oremland also noticed the addresses earlier today, as did Linda at the Local Search Forum.

Also, Darren tells me that he’s seeing the same thing up in Canada:

And in Australia, according to Andrew Webber in his comment, below.

So far, it seems like a full rollout, rather than one that people only see in certain regions or industries.

This, plus the blended paid/free 6-pack of local results that Mike Blumenthal reported on yesterday, suggests that Google probably isn’t taking the local results in 100% pay-to-play direction.

Or maybe it’s simply another test, meant to amuse the engineers at Google.

Are you seeing full addresses and phone numbers, too?

Have you noticed any other changes?

Leave a comment!

Groupon Gets (More) Serious about Local Listings: How to Get Listed without Offering a Groupon or Being Pitched

Groupon, long infamous for its daily deals, has let non-deal-offering businesses get listed for about a year now.

But Groupon’s “Merchant Pages” sounded like a real hassle to claim, and you’d have to run a gauntlet of advertising pitches that only a GoDaddy customer could bear.

Apparently it’s less painful now because Groupon is getting its [BLEEP] together, according to some intel that Corey Barnett of Cleverly Engaged Marketing sent me the other day.

It sounds like Groupon has finally got used to honoring requests for free listings, and realizes that many times it’s SEOs and other marketers calling on behalf of their clients to add a listing.  As a result, apparently now it takes less than 45 minutes, they don’t require owner-verification, and don’t pitch you on ads or to start offering a Groupon deal.

You just have to spend a few minutes on the phone talking with a live rep, who notes down your info and presumably later makes sure it’s not bogus.

Corey described the process:

I found out when I was working on a local campaign for a client of mine and noticed all of a sudden they had a Groupon merchant page for all their locations, without even doing a Groupon. Then I compared it to my other clients and same thing, I knew these clients had never done a Groupon and yet they had Groupon merchant pages.

Also, I’ve been watching this for some time and have emailed Groupon’s team if they would roll this out to all businesses. They told me they would, but never gave me a date.

Once you click on “claim a page,” you should get a phone call from a rep and can email them updates and changes. If your client isn’t listed yet, you can also email their support team and they will create a page for you.

When I claimed my client’s page, a rep contacted me and told me I needed to email him changes, a description that can be added, the website link can be updated, photos and more can be added…. He told me they literally just rolled this out late last week.

Here’s his contact info if you have questions:

Rohan Sinha
Product Specialist
600 W. Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60654
Desk: 312-459-5160

Here is what a page looks like that I have claimed and filled out; notice the description and photos:

Corey was told that this newer, easier process is part of a larger effort on Groupon’s part to list more businesses:

[Rohan] confirmed that the data on Groupon’s site is being rolled out in batches being pulled from public sources and data aggregators (wouldn’t disclose which) and has been doing this for only the last 2 months. Groupon has not yet announced the change publicly, because it is still in beta mode. They haven’t added all businesses in the U.S. but that is their goal to offer a free merchant page for every business.

That squares with what I’ve found.  I’ve seen a couple of clients listed on there who I know for a fact haven’t offered a Groupon.  Must’ve gotten picked up from some other online source.

Some things you can add to your Groupon page now for free (through your support rep:

  • Any edits to your business details.
  • Images (under 1 MB) you’d like added to your page.
  • A short, accurate description of your business.
  • Any current specials you’re offering, such as happy hour or half-price items.

The only downside is that it seems you don’t get a “follow” link anymore just for showing up – as Dan Leibson described in his post from last year (which I mentioned earlier).  I guess it was the Groupon equivalent of apology flowers.

Have you tried getting listed on Groupon?  What do you think of the process?

Have you seen your listing on there, even if you haven’t added it or offered a deal?

Leave a comment!

Businesses’ Peak Hours Now Showing in Google’s Desktop Search Results

Search by name for a restaurant, another food-related business, or a car dealership (see Dan’s comment, below) and you’ll see what I just saw:

That “Popular Times” section appears to be brand-new – at least in the desktop results.  Google has been showing peak times in mobile-browser results for over two months now.

It’s also showing in the “local finder” results.

It’s useful data, if it’s accurate.

My gut feeling is that Google looks at data on a combination of factors: clicks-through to the site or “local finder,” clicks-to-call, requests for driving directions, and maybe brand-name searches.

Just speculation on my part.

But it would partly explain why Google only seems to have this for bricks-and-mortar businesses – specifically in the food industry.  Those tend to get more mobile traffic and the kind of actions Google can monitor (e.g. clicks-to-call and requests for directions).

As we’ve seen before, Google takes a mobile-first approach, and tends to use Yelp-friendly food and nightlife industries as a testing ground for features that it later shows in other industries’ search results.

Are you seeing “Popular Hours” for any non-dining related search terms?

Where do you think Google is headed with this?  What do you think their money-making scheme is?

Leave a comment!

Yelp Now Wants Reviewers to THINK Before Posting? Only If the Business Has 1-4 Reviews

I was mucking around in Yelp yesterday and noticed a new message when I was logged in and viewing a business’s page.

Here’s what Yelp users see if they’re viewing a business with 5 or more unfiltered reviews:

“Start your review.”  Understandable enough.  Yelp wants more “recommended” reviews on the site, and is giving you a little prod.

But here’s what it says when logged-in users look at a page with 1-4 unfiltered reviews:

“Your opinion could be huge.”  That’s ambiguous.  Yelp is implying two things – the first of which is pretty obvious.

Of course, if you’re reviewing a business you like, you want your opinion to help the business – if only so that it stays in business.

I wish I could have reviewed this candy store in Back Bay Boston that closed when I was a kid.  It was a “candy forest.”  You’d walk on a bridge over a pond of wrapped blue mints, past the giant mushroom with caramels hidden under the top, over to the fake hollow tree full of chocolates.  Too bad I can’t remember the name.  Loved that place.

But it’s probably good that the candy forest predated Yelp by many years.  Some whiner would have gone in there, let his screaming kid eat the candy as he walked through the forest, refuse to pay for it, and then with a red face and unhinged emotions write a 1-star review of the magical candy forest.

That’s the second point Yelp’s new quasi-warning is supposed to impart to reviewers: A 1-star review stings if a business only has a couple of other reviews.

The cutoff appears to be 5 reviews.  Yelp sorta-kinda encourages you to think about what you’ll write about a business with 4 reviews or fewer.

Given Yelp’s recent woes, I would guess that this is Yelp’s attempt to encourage more coolheaded reviews.  That would mean better press for Yelp, and fewer business owners who hire lawyers to cross swords with Yelp’s very busy lawyers over bloodied online reputations.

The only problem with my theory is the message you see when you view a business with no reviews:

Nothing resembling a warning there.

Sure, I think most people are smart enough to realize that one review about a business doesn’t mean much, and maybe the people at Yelp are smart enough to realize that.  But you’d think the same “Your opinion could be huge” message would be appropriate here.

Maybe Yelp is just trying to prevent a lemming effect, where a business gets a couple dud reviews from the first two reviewers, and then the subsequent reviewers pile on.

Why do you think Yelp is showing these new prompts?

Do you think it’s a small step in the right direction, or in the wrong direction?

Leave a comment!

Takeaway from Google’s New Local 3-Pack: Go Niche, Young Man!

Google’s dreadful new 3-pack of local results is a push toward AdWords, without a doubt.  They may also pass it off as a usability improvement, but it’s mostly classic Mountain View skullduggery.

But I think it also at least hints at what kinds of local-business results Google wants to show when money isn’t involved: a handful of results for local specialists.

The same shop that ranks for “auto repair” will be less likely to rank for “transmission repair.”

The dentist who ranks for “dentist” probably won’t also rank for “emergency dentist” or “pediatric dentist.”

The landscaper who ranks #1 for “landscaping” probably won’t also be #1 for “patios.”

And so on.

Google can show relevant results for the more-specific terms (its claim to fame as a search engine), and rake in the AdWords bucks for the broad “ego” terms that tend to create absurd bidding wars (e.g. “criminal lawyer”).

I’m not saying that’s how it is right now.  I think more-specialized, granular results are what Google is shooting for.  As Brian Barwig has pointed out, the results still suck in many cases.

The bottom line is that I’d say the best way to get anywhere in your local SEO – by which I mean ranking well and getting customers – is to position yourself online as a specialist.

That means you don’t try to rank for every term.

It may mean your homepage plays up some service(s) more than others, and you don’t cram every last stinking keyword into your title tag.  It means you don’t pick all the Google Places categories you could pick.  It means you may pursue fewer links, but only ones relevant to your niche.  Maybe you even rename your business.

You may already see things that way, in which case I’m preaching to the choir.

But if you’re not sure whether it’s worth specializing, consider these points:

  1. The quality of traffic and leads is usually better for niche terms. Sure, fewer people type them in.  But those people are more likely to know what they’re looking for, and are less likely to be tire-kickers.
  1. It’s even harder to rank in the top-3 than it is / was to rank in the top-7.

  1. It’s usually easier to rank for terms where you’ve got fewer competitors.
  1. It’s easier to rank for fewer search terms than for many.
  1. It’s easier to optimize a given page of your site to one specialty (or a couple) than to several.
  1. If you’re considering a rebrand, it’s easier to gear your name toward one specialty.
  1. If you go as far as changing your business name, you’ll probably get more clicks. That’s for obvious reasons and, as Darren Shaw has shown, it can influence your rankings.
  1. Why do you think Google lets businesses with “keywords” in their business name rank well (often unfairly)? Why hasn’t Google followed through on removing descriptors from business names – as they said they’d do over 8 months ago?  Because the name probably helps Google categorize the business.  “ABC Transmission Repair” may not rank for “auto repair,” but Google will probably show it for transmission-related terms.  That business picked its battles.
  1. You may rank in more cities, or even for statewide search terms (e.g. “Florida kitchen remodeling”). As the number of local competitors gets fewer, Google has to grab relevant results from farther away in order to fill up even a 3-pack of Google Places results.

  1. It may be quicker to rank. You don’t want your local SEO maybe to pay off only once you’ve put in the ridiculous amount of effort it can take (and then wait) to rank for “dentist” or “lawyer” or “roofer,” or whatever your goal is.
  1. You may find it easier to create better, more-focused “city pages.”
  1. It may make your SEO’s job easier to accomplish :)
  1. You can always branch out or broaden your targeting later.
  1. If you don’t rank well in the local 3-pack for some keywords you really want to rank for, you can always go after organic rankings and AdWords to fill in the gaps.
  1. The way things have been going, if you don’t rank well in the local pack for important keywords, you could probably just buy your way in.

Specializing may or may not make sense for your business.  But I hope you’ll at least consider it.  It may make life easier, it may make your local SEO easier, and it may get you more and better phone calls for your effort.

Do you agree?

Any reasons I missed for why you should position yourself as a specialist?

How does Google’s new 3-pack change your local SEO strategy?

Leave a comment!

Facebook Reviews Now Get You Rich-Snippet “Review Stars” in the Local Search Results

Facebook has been a sleeping giant in the local-reviews game for a couple of years now – just as it’s been a sleeping giant in local search in general for longer.  It’s an excellent place to get reviews, because it’s got the user-base, because it’s quick and easy to post a review, and because Facebook reviews don’t get filtered.

My only gripe has been that your Facebook page doesn’t show “review stars” when it shows up in the search results.

Until now:

I tell every client to get at least a few reviews on Facebook (usually with a review handout like this), among many other sites.  Unlike Yelp, it’s one site that every business can and should get a toehold in.  In that respect, it’s second only to Google in local-search ecosystem.

Now you have an additional motivation to scare up some reviews on Facebook and to work it into your long-term reviews strategy: your average ratings there may show up for brand-name searches near the very top of the page.

In some cases your Facebook stars will show up for broad search terms (as in the first screenshot I showed).

To me, this is good news.  The extra visibility means that probably more business owners and customers will pay attention to review sites other than Yelp and Google+.  I think quality-control will be an issue for Facebook, but that’s the case everywhere.

What do you think?

Where does Facebook fit into your review strategy – and will that change?

Leave a comment!

Updated for 2015: How to Write a Google Review of a Local Business

Google has changed the steps for writing a Google Plus review…again.

Unlike 3 years ago, this time Google made the steps a little simpler for customers, clients, and patients.  The new “Collections” feature in Google+ seems to have been the impetus for change here.

The review steps haven’t changed much.  Google removed the “Local” tab in Google+, along with the two-field search bar that you’d use to find the business you want to review.  Now all you do is sign into Google+ and look up the business in the search bar.

Here are the simplest steps for posting a Google Plus review (and they work whether or not the customer already has a Google+ account):

New Google Plus review instructions

You may have to include the city + state in the search bar, in order to pull up the right listing.

By the way, I can custom-make instructions like those for you ($20 per PDF).

Thoughts on Google’s latest tweak?

Do you think it makes the review process easier?

Leave a comment!