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.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/dasqfamily/440866619/

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!

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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!

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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!

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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!

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Lipstick on a Pig: Google Places “Report a Problem” Requests Now Rejected Even Faster

A couple days ago, Colan of Imprezzio Marketing reported that the next-to-useless “Report a problem” feature in Google Places had been revamped.  I was excited.

After all, Google made it easier to specify what problems a listing has, which in theory makes it easier for Google to clean up the local results.

My excitement was premature.  In the wee hours last night – when only muggers and cats are awake – I flagged down a Google Places page that belongs to a dentist who’s no longer practicing at that location.

80 minutes later my edit was rejected.  It used to take the stiffs at Google a whole day to make a bad decision.  I guess on one level I appreciate the speedy verdict.

So I tried another angle – which maybe I should have tried from the get-go.  I told them the name of the page isn’t compliant with Google’s new rules (which it isn’t):

Two-and-a-half hours later they rejected the edit.  Even though I cited Google’s own guidelines to explain why the name of the listing needed to change.

Sure, Google has made the “Report a Problem” interface nicer, but the real problem remains: Google’s crowdsourcing approach to quality-control has failed.  Legitimate edits and reports don’t get approved.

Between Google’s doubling-down on outsourcing “support” and its recent shortening of those call-center hours, there’s little reason to believe Google will get serious about data-quality any time soon.

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Google Helpouts Didn’t Have Time to Bleed

Google Helpouts and Jesse Ventura’s character in Predator have much in common: They both showed early promise, but got killed off way too soon.

Well, on second thought, I guess that’s all they have in common.  Unlike the just-retired Google Helpouts, Jesse actually put up a fight.

As you may know, Helpouts was a way to talk with an “expert” over video chat – specifically Google Hangouts.  It showed promise as a way for “local” business owners to win leads by talking with customers and helping them with questions or problems.  Give before you get.

Didn’t get far.

An early adopter of Helpouts, Michael Lindquist of Wilton Auto and Tire, emailed me today to tell me his experiences with it over the last year-and-a-half:

A while back, Google asked me to participate in this program, which I did sign up, set up etc. I never, ever, received a single  inquiry from anyone.

You had asked if you could monitor this with me as it progressed. It really went nowhere for me, and as this email states, for anyone else it appears.

He passed along the news straight from the horse’s mouth:

It’s a shame that Helpouts ended up exactly as I predicted it would back in September of 2013.  Maybe it’ll have a longer career as a governor of Minnesota.

What was your experience with Helpouts?

What offering do you think is next on Google’s chopping block?

Leave a comment!

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Have Google Places Descriptors Been Grandfathered in?

It’s been exactly one week since the latest revision of the Google Places My Business Quality Guidelines.

Of all the changes, arguably the biggest change was that Google put the kibosh on “descriptors” – words that you could add to the name of your Places page.

Some people abused the short-lived provision, but many used descriptors wisely.  Now Google’s saying nobody can use them.

To what extent has Google enforced its new rule against descriptors?  Only partially, it seems.

Of the six clients of mine who are using descriptors, only one might have taken a hit.  He only started using a descriptor within the past couple of weeks, right before Google threw the wet towel on them.

The other five clients – two of whom have multiple locations and multiple Places pages with descriptors – are ranking as well as ever, as of this writing.

Sure, Google is full of surprises, many of them bad.  But what I have not seen is a crackdown like the Great Service Area Inquisition of 2012.

Should you use a descriptor now if you weren’t using one before?  No.

Should you remove the descriptor from your Google Places name if it doesn’t seem to be helping you in any way?  Yeah, probably.

Should you remove the descriptor even if it’s seemed to help your rankings?  I wouldn’t – at least not now.

I have a two-part theory:

  1. Even Google is unlikely in this case to punish businesses that followed the old rules for descriptors. (I assume you were following the spirit of the rules.)
  1. Google is even less likely to punish those businesses if they seem to be quality results – if searchers tend to click on them. As Darren and I have preached recently, searchers’ behavior seems to be a huge influence on rankings.

That’s just my guess, but it explains what I’ve seen so far.  It’s all subject to change, of course.  Google might crack down on descriptors in one way or another, or only go after the abusers, or do nothing.  Who knows?

What’s been your experience with Google Places descriptors recently?  What do you think Google will do – and why do you think that?  Leave a comment!

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Latest Google Places Guideline Flip-Flop: Natural Extension of Pigeon Update?

 

As you may have read from Mike or Linda, Google just updated the “My Business” guidelines (again).

Among several rule-updates that will Google will probably enforce haphazardly or temporarily, here are the two updates that have stuck in my craw:

  1. The reversal of the “descriptors” rule. For years Google said you had to use your official business name as the name of your Google Places page.  Then in February they said you could add a keyword or city name or a similarly short “descriptor.”  Now they reversed that rule.
  1. You can only pick the most-specific category (or categories) for your page. For example, if you’re a divorce lawyer, you pick “Divorce Attorneys,” but not “Attorneys.”

I think this fits into the big-picture changes that Google’s “Pigeon” update represents.  Since July, Google has put even more emphasis on classic organic ranking factors – especially the quality of your links.

Google is now telling you to provide less information about your business on your Places page – in your name and in your categories.  Google would rather sift through your site’s pages and links and draw its own conclusions about what your business offers, and rank you accordingly.

At least in theory, if you’re not trying to use your Google Places name and categories to maximum advantage, you’re trying to rank based on your ability to earn good links (read this) and reviews.  That, plus searchers’ behavior, is what Google seems to care about above all.

Enforcement is where the rubber meets the road.  Who knows if Google will enforce the new rules uniformly, or how it will affect who ranks and who doesn’t?  I predict continued chaos.

What’s my advice?  I think Greg Gifford nailed it.

What are your thoughts on the update?  Leave a comment!

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Google Places Support Claims Descriptions Help Rankings?

 

Google has always kept their cards close to the vest regarding local ranking factors.  They never get into specifics.

Also, I’m not alone when I say that the “description” or “introduction” field of your Places page doesn’t seem to influence your rankings for the better (although extreme keyword-stuffing can get you penalized).

It’s for those two reasons I’m puzzled by a pair of emails that apparently came from the Google Places support staff.

Dan Hiestand of Chico Car Care kindly forwarded me these two emails yesterday.  I’m including them in their entirety, just so you have context.  (Italics added.)

From: <local-help@google.com>
Date: Tue, Jul 29, 2014 at 8:08 AM
Subject: RE: [7-7403000004210] Google Local Help
To: [email]

Hello,

This is Juan with Google at our Ann Arbor, Michigan location. I hope you are having a great day!

Thank you for letting us know about the issue with the category being incorrect.

I went ahead and made the changes to reflect: auto repair shop.

You may need to give it up to 24 hours to see the changes on your end. If for some reason the changes are not showing after 24 hours, then please respond back to this email and I will have our technical team look into this for you.

I took a look at your listing, and I wanted to suggest something that may potentially help your listings ranking, You can add more content to your introduction using valid content that is relevant to your business. Its very important to link parts of your website to the introduction, and if you have any kind of social media website such as Facebook or Twitter we recommend that you link those into your introduction as well.

I hope this information has been useful! Let me know if you have any other questions.

Have a great day!

Sincerely,

Juan V.

 

Just a fluke?  I don’t know.  Here’s email #2:

From: <local-help@google.com>
Date: Tue, Jul 29, 2014 at 9:16 AM
Subject: RE: [6-5472000004265] Google Local Help
To: [email]

Hello,

Thank you for contacting Google My Business! My name is Tiffanie, I am a part of the Ann Arbor, Michigan support team.

I received your email and I would be more than happy to assist you! Per your email I understand that you would like your categories updated.

I have removed air conditioning repair from your list of categories, and Auto Repair is already listed there. It is important to log into your account and make sure this category has been removed to ensure the information does not revert back.

Since you took out the time to contact us I would like to provide you with some tips for your Google Plus Page. By editing your introduction field to include more products or services that you offer can make your page more relevant to more types of searches and be a positive influence on your ranking.

For your page specifically I highly recommend you optimize your introduction section. I see that you have a few sentences about your description. This is a great start and it’s very informative to potential customers who visit your page.

The system actually uses this section when it’s looking for potential search terms to trigger your page. It’s always a good idea to add relevant phrases. Including search terms and even location terms gives you a much better chance to show for these specific phrases.

If you have any other questions or concerns regarding this issue please feel free to respond to this email.

Best Regards,

Tiffanie N.

Weird.  The emails seem to be from Google, all right.

What do you think?

Do you think those Google support-team members accidentally said to much?  Do you even believe them?

Have you gotten similar feedback from Google Places support?

Please leave a comment!

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Crackdown on Service-Area Businesses: the Untold Story of Google’s Local “Pigeon” Update?

 

Since the “Pigeon” algorithm update last week, we’ve seen a decline in Google Places 7-pack results, plus local rankings reshuffled at least a little bit in most markets.

Has all that commotion covered up a crackdown by Google on service-area businesses (businesses, like contractors, that travel to customers rather than the other way around)?

I’m beginning to think so.

One long-time client of mine suddenly got the red light on a residential (and properly “hidden”) address.

Then I post on Linda’s forum, and hear the same thing from other people.

Then Holly Pedit emails me to say Google has put the kibosh on all her service-area clients.

I know Google isn’t penalizing all – or necessarily even many – residential or service-area businesses.  The question is whether they’re whacking more of them than usual.

Does your business operate in a “service area,” and has your Google Places page been suspended in the last week?

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