Can Google Index the Content of Embedded Yelp Reviews?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/pfala/3813096211/

Can Google?  Yes.  Will Google always index the content in Yelp reviews?  Jury’s out.

Google can access the content in Yelp reviews you embed on your site (via Yelp’s embed feature), despite the fact that those Yelp reviews are in iframes.

Here’s an example:

On those two pages the only content with that phrase is in an embedded Yelp review.  (And that’s always been the case on those pages.)

Because Google has gotten better at rendering  iframe conent and Javascript in recent years, maybe it’s inevitable Google indexes more of that content than it used to (or was able to).

On the other hand, on the pages I cited a minute ago, much of the content is in Yelp reviews.  Proportionally, their content is pretty Yelp-heavy.  The pages I looked at where Google doesn’t seem to have indexed the Yelp content also have proportionally more non-Yelp-review content.  That suggests there’s some truth to John Mueller’s characteristically brief and clear answer that, in effect, Google is more likely to index iframe content (like embedded Yelp reviews) when that content makes up a large chunk of the page.

Why does any of that matter to your local SEO?

For one thing, copying and pasting your customers’ Yelp reviews onto your site long has been the best way to ensure that Google can access that relevant content (that you didn’t have to write!).  But copying and pasting is a hassle if you want the reviews to look good on your site, because you’ll have to style them a little.  Now, I’d say it’s not as much of a trade-off: you can use the embed feature to have your Yelp reviews look OK on your site, and still be confident that Google at least knows what’s in the reviews.

Another upshot is that you might lessen the problem of your Yelp page outranking your site for certain brand-name search terms.  Often Google seems split as to which one should rank higher: your site because presumably it’s the “home base” of your business, or your Yelp page because it’s got the juicy reviews on your business?  More often than not Google puts your site above your Yelp page, but not always.  If your Yelp page seems to be cannibalizing your site’s visibility, consider cannibalizing your Yelp reviews on your site by embedding them.  Might make your site a little stickier, too.

Anything I should test or look into?

What’s been your experience with embedding Yelp reviews?

Any benefits or drawbacks I didn’t mention?

Leave a comment!

4 Ways to Read Google’s No-Cherry-Picking Policy on Google Reviews

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Google recently added the following to their seldom-enforced list of preferences policies on Google Maps reviews:

“Don’t discourage or prohibit negative reviews or selectively solicit positive reviews from customers.”

The basic meaning seems clear enough: Google doesn’t want you to cherry-pick reviews.  Fine.  Got it.

But what’s Google’s definition of “discouraging or prohibiting” a negative review or “selectively soliciting” a positive review?  Have you done either of those things without realizing it?  Is Google only trying to scare the serious offenders and put everyone else (like you) on alert?

Joy Hawkins did a helpful post about Google’s “review-gating” policy.  Here is her take on what Google now tells us not to do:

“Review-gating is the process of filtering candidates before asking them to leave you a review.  Normally this is done by sending all customers an email template and first asking them if they had a positive or negative experience.  If they had a positive experience, they are asked to leave a review on Google but if they had a negative experience, they are prompted to leave private feedback and are never sent the option to leave a review publicly.”

Google doesn’t call it “review-gating,” or specifically mention customer-outreach tools, but I’d say Joy’s conclusion is solid, and good advice to heed.

The only trouble is other review-encouragement practices may or may not be in the crosshairs of Google’s new policy.  You can interpret “don’t discourage or prohibit negative reviews or selectively solicit positive reviews from customers” in a few other ways.  You could hamstring your effort on reviews unnecessarily, or you could do something Google doesn’t want you to.

Here’s probably the loosest way to read Google’s new “rule”:

Interpretation 1: “We don’t care if you only approach happy-ish customers for Google reviews, and we don’t even care exactly how you ask, just as long as you constantly make it clear that customers can leave you a negative review if they feel the need.”

A more-specific reading:

Interpretation 2: “We don’t care whom you ask for Google reviews, but you’d better not fixate on their star ratings or what they say in the reviews.  So that means don’t be like the hotel that fined guests for leaving bad reviews, don’t tell customers things like, ‘If we haven’t earned your 5-star review yet, please contact us first’, and don’t use review funnels.”

Here’s the harshest interpretation of it:

Interpretation 3: “Ask all customers for reviews, or ask none at all. Don’t let your knowledge of a customer’s happiness influence whether you ask him or her for a review.  If you do ask for a review, pretend there’s no such thing as a ‘negative’ review, a ‘positive’ review, or star ratings.”

Here’s what I think Google means:

Interpretation 4: “We’re obligated to tell you that you shouldn’t ‘selectively solicit’ or ‘discourage or prohibit’ reviews.  We’re smart enough to define those terms more clearly for you, but we’d rather leave it open to interpretation.  That’ll deter some people, and it’ll spook software makers into enforcing our policies for us, and it lets us change our definitions however we want.”

Google long has left its review guidelines and other guidelines mushy (or obscure), apparently by design.  Google’s policies, enforcement SOPs, and internal politics change all the time.  Why wouldn’t they keep their options open?

For many years I’ve urged clients and others not to put words in customers’ mouths, not to fixate on 5 stars, and always to seek honest feedback.  It’s possible to try too hard to avoid bad reviews.  In doing so you miss out on many of the benefits of reviews in general.

But if you learn customers have gripes, it’s only reasonable to try to work out any problems first.  That’s what they hope and expect you’ll do.  They know full well that they can leave you a bad review at any time.  I suspect the Google Maps powers-that-be would agree, but on the off-chance they don’t, let’s see them try to do something about it.  As David Baxter said over at the Local Search Forum, “It’s about deterrence.”

How do you interpret Google’s latest mushy “policy” language?

Does it change your strategy in any way?

Any possible readings I missed?

Leave a comment!

How Should You Ask for Online Reviews? The Pros and Cons of Each Approach

https://www.flickr.com/photos/29707865@N05/2780508266/

There are no “solutions” – only trade-offs.  Your task is to pick the trade-off – or the combination of them – that works best for you.  That applies to most areas of local SEO and marketing (and life), and it applies to your effort to get more good reviews from customers / clients / patients on Google Maps and on other “local” review sites.

You probably aren’t dialed-in on reviews yet.  You know there are many ways to encourage people to review your business online, but aren’t sure what the best way is.  All you can do is pick the best (or least-bad) trade-off for you.

Here are the pros and cons of each method of asking customers for reviews:

Asking in-person for a review later

Pros

  • You plant the seed of the idea. You don’t expect the customer to review you then and there, nor do you even need to provide instructions in-person.  Once determining he or she is happy, you just ask, “We’d love if you could write a review of us.  Is it OK if we email you some quick steps?”  You get the benefits of asking in a more-personal way, but without putting the customer in an awkward situation.
  • The email doesn’t come out of the blue, because the customer expects it.
  • You force yourself to listen to your customers and to think about whether you’ve earned a 5-star review.

Cons

  • None (that I’ve seen or can think of). Especially you’re shy about asking for reviews, it can be more of a “testing the waters” interaction.  If the customer doesn’t seem happy or seem the type who might review you, maybe you just don’t ask that person for a review.

Asking in-person for a mobile review on the spot

Pros

  • It’s hard for customers to ignore your request.
  • You can walk them through the process and answer any questions.
  • You can sniff out how happy the customer is, which can tell you whether you should follow up later (maybe in an email).

Cons

  • Some people will feel put on the spot, which may come back to bite you.
  • The reviews may be terse and seem dashed-off, forced, or fake. People have places to go and things to do.  They won’t go into detail – the kind of crunchy bits you want in reviews whenever possible.

Review station (a dedicated iPad or laptop in your office or store)

Pros

  • Same benefits as in the strategy of “Asking in-person for a mobile review on the spot” (above).

Cons

  • Same drawbacks as in the “Asking in-person for a mobile review on the spot” strategy.
  • The jury’s out on whether Google reviews are more likely to get filtered by Google, if they all come from the same IP.
  • Some customers may feel watched.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/traveloriented/34811387095/

Emailing one customer at a time

Pros

  • You can tailor each request to each person, based on what you know about him or her.
  • It’s a great opportunity to sniff out who’s happy and who’s not.

Cons

  • It takes time. You can’t be sloppy.  Get the customer’s name right.  Remove any boilerplate.  Maybe allude to the specific service he/she got.

Using an email service (MailChimp, Aweber, etc.) to send requests automatically

Pros

  • It’s quick. You write one email, and your email service sends it out without your personal involvement.
  • It can be a good way to ask customers slowly and steadily – rather than ask too many people at once, or fall off the wagon and not ask anyone
  • You can study the analytics: how many people opened the email, how many people clicked the links, etc.

Cons

  • It takes finesse not to email people who aren’t in a position to review you (like leads who haven’t become customers).
  • You can’t tailor the email to one specific customer.

Email blast (via MailChimp, Aweber, etc.)

Pros

  • If everything goes well you can get many reviews in short order.
  • It’s quicker than emailing one customer at a time.

Cons

  • If it doesn’t work you’ve burned through many customers and worn out your welcome to ask again.
  • If you didn’t vet the list of customers first you may end up with a bunch of bad reviews. Then what?
  • Even if it works well, your reviews are more likely to get filtered, to the extent people choose Google or Yelp.

Providing review handouts / instructions in-person

Pros

  • Good instructions make the review-writing process simpler and less daunting
  • The printout serves as a visual prop. That might make it easier for you to ask customers, and may make your request clearer to them.
  • It’s a physical reminder (“Oh yeah, I said I’d write a review”).

Cons

  • Some customers may feel put on the spot, so you might want to test the waters (“So, how did we do?”) before you hand them a printout.

Providing review handouts / instructions in an email (or attached)

Pros

  • Again, good instructions make the process simpler for customers.
  • You can provide the instructions but not rely on them; you’ve also got the email itself to make a friendly request that’s hard to say no to.
  • Customers are more likely to get your request at a time they can act on it.
  • Unless customers just delete your email, it’ll stick around in their inboxes, and in that way will serve as a little reminder for couple of days.

Cons

  • An email isn’t as personal as an in-person request or a phone call.
  • It’s easy to tune out an email.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/waffleboy/9695952341/

“Review us” page

Pros

  • It’s probably the easiest way to give customers a choice of review sites (maybe 2-5), so as to diversify where you’ve got reviews.
  • You can incorporate a review-encouragement tool like GetFiveStars or Grade.us, making it easy to set up the page.
  • You can easily send customers to the page in an in-person request or in an email (or both).

Cons

  • You add another step to the process, because you’ve got to direct customers to a page that in turn directs them to a review site of their choosing.
  • Probably some customers’ reviews won’t end up on the sites where you want reviews most. Maybe you have plenty of Facebook reviews, but want more Google reviews, and people keep picking Facebook.  You’ll have to tweak with the lineup of sites, and which ones you prioritize.

Phone call

Pros

  • Great time to gauge the customer’s happiness, and to sort out any issues that might stand in the way of a good review.
  • It’s tough for the customer to blow off.
  • It’s more personal.
  • It’s easy for you to walk the customer through the review-writing process.
  • Asking hat-in-hand looks good, as it does any time you ask a favor of someone.

Cons

  • Some customers will take a lot of hand-holding (though it’s time well-spent on your part).
  • It’s possible you won’t call at a good time.

ORM or “feedback funnel” software (e.g. GetFiveStars or Grade.us)

Pros

  • Having review-request emails sent out automatically can save you a ton of time
  • Most review-encouragement software makes it easy to offer customers several choices of review sites, helping you rack up reviews on a variety of sites.

Cons

  • You may be tempted to rely too much on the software to do all the work, without much or any oversight or fine-tuning on your part, in which case your software may become a meat grinder. Business owners (or their employees) never lack the time to ask customers for reviews.  They simply don’t know what to ask, how to ask, or when to ask.  You should ask in-person for a review, and have the email serve as a follow-up or reminder.
  • You’ll have to play around with the settings and probably send out some ignored requests before you find what works best.

Video walk-though

Pros

Cons

  • It takes a little effort to make a good, clear, brief video, and you’ll need to change it if the steps change at Google Maps or on another site.
  • You may not always have the video handy when you want to walk customers through the reviewing process. They need to be in front of a screen.

Text message (SMS)

Pros

  • It’s quick for you to set up, given that you’ll probably use a third-party tool to send the texts.
  • For some customers it’s very convenient.

Cons

  • For other customers the text shows up at the wrong time: they’re driving or walking, or otherwise indisposed.
  • Often it’s annoying to receive texts from people other than friends or family. It can come across as pushy.
  • You can’t include much in the way of instructions in a text.
  • Any reviews you get probably won’t be too detailed, may be riddled with typos, and may appear dashed-off. The chances are good they’ll be unhelpful or even look fake.
  • It may seem impersonal.

Snail-mail requests

Pros

  • It’s unusual, memorable, and a little harder to ignore. Most business owners – even the smart and proactive ones – do what’s easiest, quickest, and cheapest.
  • If you send the request with printed info your customer welcomes (your newsletter, a thank-you note, photos of the project, aftercare instructions, etc.) you’re catching him or her in a good mood.
  • You can get creative in how you ask.

Cons

  • Printing and postage costs. (But if you get a review, that’s a tiny price to pay.)
  • It’s not fashionable.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/d_schaefer/25862149923/

Links, buttons, or widgets on your site

Pros

  • You don’t have to stick your neck out to ask for reviews.

Cons

  • It’s easy for people to ignore your link / button / widget.
  • Most people who see the link / button / widget probably aren’t customers – just leads – and aren’t in a position to review you.

Yelp check-in offer

Pros

  • Yelp will ask customers on your behalf. As you know, Yelp doesn’t want you to ask for reviews in any way.  Inconsistent and absurd?

Cons

  • It’s for Yelp.
  • The reviewers are Yelpers.

Little cards with printed instructions

Pros

  • It’s easier to keep around and hand out cards than full-page review printouts.
  • You don’t have to think as much about what goes on the cards, because there’s not room for much. Just basic instructions, or “Please visit com/reviewus to write us a review.”

Cons

  • Customers who may need more guidance are out of luck.
  • The cards are easy to ignore, lose, or throw in the trash.

QR codes

Pro and con

  • You’ll try QR codes once and never try them again.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/cabreraluengocom/7022353187/

Passive strategies: letting reviews “happen”

Pros

  • In certain fields – like psychotherapy or financial-consulting – you’re so hamstrung that you can’t encourage reviews proactively. In that case a Daoist approach probably is all you can do.
  • It’s good to know what your “baseline” is: what kinds of reviews and how many reviews you get just by doing a good job for customers. You’ll probably end up concluding that’s not enough, but on the off-chance it is, more power to you.

Cons

  • Angry customers are more likely to write reviews spontaneously than happy customers are. Maybe you can’t encourage the happy people to speak up, but in that case you’d better have a way to identify the less-happy people and to smooth things over with them.
  • Slow progress is better than no progress. No matter how tough it is to get the happy people to review you, more of them will review if you take some steps to make that happen.
  • In putting together a review strategy, you learn a lot about your customers along the way. You may miss out on that if you just take it easy.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/milkyfactory/16795551505/

In my experience, here’s what works best most often (your mileage may vary):

  • Ask in-person for a review. Test the waters.  Provide instructions if possible.
  • Follow up with a personal email, sent to one customer at a time. Provide instructions again (with a review handout, a “review us” page, a video – anything).
  • Follow up with a reminder in a week or two, if necessary. Probably a second, differently phrased, shorter email, but a phone call (or piece of snail-mail) would also work.

Can you think of a common review-encouragement method I missed?

Any pros or cons I missed?

What’s worked well (or badly) for you, and why?

Leave a comment!

Using a Shortened URL to Ask for Google Reviews? Goo.gl May Cut You Down

https://www.flickr.com/photos/cuatrok77/16044942927/

A good way to make it easier for customers / clients / patients to review you on Google Maps is to send them a link straight to the “Write a review” popup.

You probably send a shortened URL (like https://goo.gl/qQgbjT), because it’s tidier than the full URL.

That is most likely to be a problem under two conditions: (1) if your address is “hidden” on your Google My Business page, and (2) you use the Goo.gl URL shortener to create the short link you send to would-be reviewers.

The problem is Google disables your short URL and takes people to a scary page like the one shown here.

Is it always a problem?  Doesn’t appear so.  In some cases I’ve been able to get the shortened links to work for service-area businesses.  On the other hand, Chris Barnard of Social Dental Network tells me that Google nixed his shortened URL for a bricks-and-mortar business.  (Chris’s post at the Local Search Google+ Community is what alerted me to this issue in the first place.)  Your mileage may vary.

The kicker is you won’t even know Google doesn’t like your short URL unless you or your customers click on it.  Goo.gl won’t show you an error message after shortening your URL.  Looks just peachy.

You may even run into that problem if you send a shortened link to a page of search results, rather than to the “write a review” pop-up.  I’m still testing that one.

Count on Google to harsh the mellow.

By the way, you shouldn’t have problems if your Google My Business page shows your full address publicly.  So if you’ve got a bricks-and-mortar location, or if you just don’t want to “hide” your address (these days you don’t need to), you probably could use Goo.gl to shorten your “review us” links without incident, if you wanted to.  But I wouldn’t necessarily suggest that.  Google eventually may take issue with all shortened “review us” links, at which point you’ll probably be the last to know.

Googles policies on shortened links don’t shed any light on why “review us” links are a problem, or on why they seem to be a problem only or mostly for businesses with hidden addresses on Google My Business.  Chalk it up to Google reviews being a mess in general.

What can you do?  Some options:

1. Use other URL shorteners, like bit.ly or TinyURL. I imagine the only reasons you’d use Goo.gl in the first place are that you can access your links later, and that you can see usage data (like how many people click on the links). If you don’t care too much about Google’s data, I can’t think of a good reason to use Goo.gl.

2. Send longer, not-shortened links. They’re only messy if you send a link to the “write a review” popup. They’re not too bad if you send a link to a page of brand-name search results, with a simple URL like google.com/search?q=Local+Visibility+System

3. Consider un-hiding your address on your Google My Business page. Whether you should have it hidden in the first place is mostly a matter of preference. On the slim chance Google doesn’t like it, they’ll simply hide your address for you.

4. Test your URLs before sending them to any would-be reviewers. One way to do that is to use Whitespark’s Google Review Link Generator. If you search there for your business and it doesn’t come up, Google probably won’t want you to use a shortened URL.

5. Contact reviewers to whom you sent a Goo.gl URL and send them a link that works.  Maybe apologize for the hassle. (Also, that’s a good excuse to send them a reminder.)

6. Redirect a page on your site to the full “Write a review” URL. Thanks to Jay Holtslander for reminding me of that option.

7. Don’t rely only on “review us” links. You shouldn’t do that anyway. Especially given the unreliability of Google-shortened URLs, you’ll want to go belt-n’-suspenders.  If possible, ask for Google reviews in-person first, and provide clear instructions in a follow-up email (if not also in your initial request).  The links should be part of a broader strategy you work on continually.

Do you send shortened “review us on Google” links?  If so, when have you run into problems, and when have you not?

Can you find any Google policy that clearly states Google’s problem with using shortened links to encourage Google reviews?

Leave a comment!

The Perfect Stack of Online Reviews: How Does Your Local Business Measure up?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/alvaroreguly/37317928410/

“I picked you because of your reviews” is nice to hear, especially it’s often.  But how do you achieve that?

Having “good reviews” isn’t always enough.  Plenty of businesses have good reviews, but don’t attract enough business, or rank well, or beget the kinds of reviews that beget more customers who beget more reviews.  That’s one reason local SEO and review strategy are so connected (if you’re doing it right).

What’s in a “perfect” pile of reviews?   More than you think.  Possibly more than you can get, even if you do everything right.  As someone who’s helped business owners on that for many years, I’ve got a long list of boxes you should try to check.  More on that in a minute.

To keep the checklist to a reasonable length, I’ve got to assume two things about you:

  • You want reviews from real people, and not from friends or Fiverr merchants.
  • You know your customers well enough to know how important it is for your business to have reviewers from “different walks of life,” and that you don’t need my advice on that.

For my list to be of much use, you probably need to keep at least a little influx of reviews from customers / clients / patients.  See this post.

Now, what should that stack of reviews look like?  No one review will meet more than a few of these criteria, but your stack of online reviews as a whole should contain as many of the following as possible:

  1. Reviews on a wide range of sites.
  1. Plenty of 5-star reviews.
  1. A stinker or two. For one thing, they’re a reality-check. We don’t live in a 5-star world.
  1. Recent reviews. Make it clear you’re still in business.
  1. Old reviews. In time you’ll want a few Mick Jaggers in there.
  1. Excruciatingly detailed reviews. Happy, yappy customers who don’t seem to have an “off” button can make great reviewers.
  1. Funny reviews. Maybe you can skip this one if you’re a bankruptcy lawyer, urologist, or funeral-home director.
  1. Sloppy reviews. Some people just don’t think in terms of paragraphs or complete sentences. Doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from a belch of approval.
  1. Photos included with the reviews.
  1. Mentions of your business by name.
  1. Mentions of specific people in your organization (you, partners, employees, etc.).
  1. Reviews on less-trafficked or niche review sites. Don’t necessarily fixate on Google and Yelp.
  1. Reviews by one-time skeptics. There’s no zeal like the zeal of the convert.
  1. Reviews by former customers of your competitors.
  1. Reviews by longtime / repeat customers of yours. “I had a great experience” is only weak when compared to “I’ve brought my wallet here for years.”
  1. Reviews by farther-away customers – people who maybe had to drive a little, or who are on the outer edge of your service area. Great tie-in with “city pages,” by the way.
  1. Reviews by almost-customers. When a near-miss speaks up, it shows you’re willing to turn down business if it’s not the right fit.
  1. Mentions of relevant cities / places. May help your rankings. Of interest to would-be customers  either way.
  1. Mentions of specific services. People like crunchy little bits of detail. Google sure seems to.
  1. Reviews that explain how the reviewer found you.
  1. Reviews that explain how the reviewer picked you.
  1. Reviews from people who reviewed you on another site, too.
  1. Reviews from shy customers / clients / patients. Maybe they use a pen name or initials. Maybe they don’t go into as much detail as they could, and it’s obvious there’s more to the story.  Reluctant reviews can pack a strange wallop.
  1. Comments on other reviewers’ reviews. It can be powerful for customer B to rebut or confirm what customer A said.
  1. Favorable comparisons to a competitor.

I didn’t include screenshots of examples because I wanted to keep it as much like a checklist as possible.  But I’m all about real-life examples, so here are a few examples of great local-business review profiles for you to leaf through:

google.com/search?q=Premo+Electric

google.com/search?q=Alliance+Mortgage+Funding%2C+Inc.

google.com/search?q=HomeMove+Removals+%26+Storage

google.com/search?q=Kaehne%2C+Cottle%2C+Pasquale+%26+Associates%2C+S.C.+Appleton

Can you think of any other parts of a perfect pile of reviews?  (I know I’ve forgotten something.)

Any real-life examples you’d like to share?

Leave a comment!

25 Hard Truths of Google Reviews

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ikewinski/7172214803/Google reviews can help your business for obvious reasons: They’re mighty visible in the Google Maps search results, and searchers pay attention to the reviews (and sometimes believe them).  The big problem is just as obvious: Google does an awful job of policing reviews, causing all sorts of mischief and mayhem.

You’d like more and better reviews than your competitors have.  But you’ll have a harder time accomplishing that if you know as little about Google reviews as they know.  It helps to know some “inside baseball.”

Here are some hard truths of Google reviews.  Some will be old news to you.  Others will be news.  Those will help you approach Google reviews with fewer blind spots.

1. Google exercises little oversight.  The sheriff is out of town.

 

2. Google doesn’t care whether a reviewer is a real customer, or about what happens to your business as a result of bogus reviews.  You, customers, and Google all care about Google reviews for different reasons.  For Google, reviews are a way to crowdsource info about local businesses and to keep searchers’ attention on Google’s local search results as they get larded with ads.

3. Reporting a bogus review just once doesn’t work.  Sometimes flagging it down multiple times over a period of weeks or months will work.  More often, you’ll need to go to greater lengths (and Google still may not remove the review).

4. Ratings-only reviews stick more than they should.  Ratings left by Google users who’ve only rated one business are especially stubborn, because Google can’t detect fishy patterns of behavior (like that a “customer” hired 10 moving companies in 6 different states in the span of a month).

5. Google filters policy-violating reviews rarely, and they’re tough to get removed manually (if you can get them removed at all).

6. You do not own and cannot control the Google Maps reviews of your business.  Google owns them, and Google controls them – for better or for worse.

7. Google fixates on quantity.  “Local Guides” are minted and promoted on the basis of how many reviews they’ve written.  Even if those reviews are bogus, unfair, unhelpful, or paid-for (or some combination thereof).

8. There’s a black market of people who want to buy Google reviews.  One way I know that is because probably twice a week some idiot emails me to ask how many reviews I can write for him.  (Yes, it’s almost always a he.)

9. You can’t control what’s in the review snippets – the ones you see in the right-hand sidebar (the knowledge panel), or the ones in the Google Maps 3-pack.  The best you can do is encourage happy customers to speak up, often and in large numbers.

10. Photos accompanying Google reviews are just as badly policed as the reviews are.  Photos never seem to get filtered automatically.  Often they’re not removed even once you report them.

11. Reviews don’t seem to drive rankings in the way you might think.  A pile of great Google reviews doesn’t  mean you’ll rank well.  You may get a little bump from getting a few reviews on the board, but after that it seems to be a question of how your reviews encourage more searchers to click on your listing and show other signs that suggest you’re a more-relevant search result than the next business is.  The rankings benefits of Google reviews seem to be indirect.

12. Pseudonyms and initials are OK, apparently.  Google suggests reviewers use their real names, but does nothing to enforce that.

13. Reviews can get filtered, unfiltered, and re-filtered multiple times.  A good review is never “safe.”  A review doesn’t go away if you close down your Google My Business page.

14. Unethical reviewers can keep coming back with new reviews, possibly under different names or in different Google accounts.  The worst Google will do – all they can do – is remove the reviews, and even that rarely happens without your prodding.

15. There’s no simple way to embed Google reviews on your site.  But I suspect Google will eventually offer a way, similar to Yelp’s.

16. Reviewers must use their own Google accounts.  Even it’s a hassle for them and for you.  They can’t log into an account you own and use a “pen name,” nor can you post reviews on their behalf.

17. Your “star rating” may not make sense.  If you have nine 5-star reviews and one 4-star review, your average rating may not be 4.9 stars.

18. Local Guides are not held to higher standards than are less-active Google reviewers.  Their reviews don’t have to be any truer or more helpful.

19. There’s no guarantee you can keep your reviews if your address changes much.  Google’s pretty good about letting you keep your reviews if you rebrand, or if you move to a new address that’s within the same town or within a few miles of the old address.  But Google reserves the right to nuke your reviews after a farther-away move.

20. There’s no penalty on businesses that buy reviews or engage in similar crookedness.  Yelp does it all wrong, and I don’t claim that for Google to do it fairly would be an easy matter.  The trouble is Google’s lack of oversight adds to a “why not?” outlook in some business owners.  Though that usually comes back to bite those business owners when enough customers discover the good reviews were fake, first too many customers find out the hard way that those businesses are no good.

21. The rules change, and the strictness of Google’s filter changes.  Google plays with the dials often.

22. Google reviews are near-impossible to avoid, and only become more visible over time.  That’s great if you’re dialed-in on Google reviews, but not if you’ve taken a drubbing.

23. Google reviews live in the search results.  No longer can people see your reviews on your Google My Business page, which itself is a Sea-Monkey floating in the fragile little tank we call Google Maps.

24. You can’t find much information about reviewers.  You (and would-be customers) can’t get any or many facts to determine which reviews are more credible.  You can’t even see where the reviewers are from.

25. Businesses in the 3-pack are not ranked strictly by their average ratings.  A 2-star business may outrank a 5-star.  Generally the higher-rated businesses outrank the lower-rated ones, but exceptions abound.  It’s complicated.

Can you think of any other “hard truths” of Google reviews?

Any good war stories?

Any silver linings?

Leave a comment!

Want to Smear a Multi-Location Business on Yelp? Just Regurgitate Your Review

https://www.flickr.com/photos/senor_codo/211565650/

Let’s say you had a bad experience at a local business with half a dozen locations, and you feel the need to review the business.  How many bad reviews do they deserve from you?

a. One bad review on one site. You’re one customer.  You had one poor experience.  You can’t remark on their other 5 locations, but don’t plan to visit them.  You’ll pick a site where people will probably see your review, you’ll say your piece, and that will be that.

b. A few bad reviews: one on each major review site. Normally you stick to one site, but your experience was so awful you feel you’d be a Bad Samaritan by not spreading the word.  Your 3-4 bad reviews should do the trick.  You know they’ve got 5 other locations you didn’t deal with, but you can’t comment on those, and 15-20 bad reviews from one customer seems crazy (and sounds like a lot of work for you).

c.Unlimited bad reviews: you’ll write a scathing review on as many sites as you feel like, and for every location they’ve got. Who cares that you didn’t deal with their 5 other locations?  The owners should have thought of that before mistreating you so.  No such thing as a bad review they didn’t earn!  If they had 100 locations you’d be justified in writing 100-200 bad reviews.

As a reasonable person, you’d probably pick A or B.  Choice C seems excessive.  It’s also less credible: Your criticism is more believable if it’s clear you’ve stuck to the locations you’ve dealt with.  Won’t seem as much like a personal crusade to destroy the business.

Yelp doesn’t care.  Apparently, any given customer can review as many locations of your business as he or she would like, as long as each review is at least a little different.  Just regurgitate n’ reuse.

To Yelp, if you’ve got 3 locations and 1 angry customer, that customer is entitled to 3 nasty reviews.

Recently, I reported a redundant Yelp review of one of my clients, a doctor with 2 practice locations.  He’s got solid reviews: mostly good reviews, with a few bad ones.  One patient wrote a review of his main office location, and that review seemed legitimate, but then she reviewed his other location.  Admittedly she didn’t even go there.  She said, in effect, “Check out all the bad reviews of the doctor’s main location.  As I said in my review of that one, he’s terrible because…blah blah blah.”

I’ve had some success in reporting unfair and non-compliant Yelp reviews, and getting them removed.  In the past, I’ve been able to get them to remove reviews that are exact copies: a customer writes a 1-star review of one location, and does a simple copy-and-paste for the other location(s).  Yelp has always removed carbon-copies.

Why should redundant, near-duplicate reviews be any different?  Why should customers be able to “spin” the same review and reuse it against you?

They shouldn’t be able to.  I don’t know how to explain why Yelp HQ thinks that (other than by pointing out the obvious: they’re idiots).

Yelp’s review-writing guidelines (like Google’s) appear deliberately broad, so as to allow for a “know it when we see it” judgment when one party flags a review for removal.  I suspect one reason Yelp doesn’t remove redundant, near-duplicate reviews is that Yelp doesn’t know which one is the “correct” review, and doesn’t care to make a call.  For a company with a motto of “Real People, Real Reviews,” Yelp never has paid much attention to basic facts of the reviewer-business relationship, like whether the reviewer has had experience with 12 locations or 1 location or 0 locations of a business.

The other reason, I suspect, is that if Yelp lets fly more bad reviews than they should, business owners are more likely to feel the pinch and try Yelp’s advertising out of desperation.  Just a guess.

Anyway, besides reporting redundant reviews from the same customer, what should you do?  Fill out this somewhat-buried form.  Explain that you don’t dispute the reviewer’s right to review one of your locations – just not all of your locations.  Highlight any language that makes it clear the customer didn’t deal with those other locations.  Your request may still be ignored, but it’s a stone to turn over.

Also, get dialed-in on your review strategy before this kind of thing happens.

Any experience in getting redundant Yelp reviews removed?

How about getting other types of Yelp reviews removed?

No need to tell me how much you hate Yelp in general, but please do leave a comment on your experience with reporting reviews.

Is There Anything You Can DO to Get Yelp Reviews These Days – without a Public Shaming?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/maha-online/324444128/

For years Yelp has told business owners not to ask for reviews on Yelp.  Not that you shouldn’t ask only for positive reviews or tell customers what to say.  Not that you shouldn’t ply them with discounts or gift cards or other wampum.  You’re not supposed to ask for Yelp reviews, period.

In practice, Yelp’s as bad at enforcing that dumb demand as it is at consistently enforcing other, more-commonsense standards – like that the reviewer is a real customer (or client or patient).

That hasn’t stopped Yelp from piling on even more no-nos.  Recently they demanded that makers of review-encouragement software not present Yelp as an option to customers (which I know also because some of those software-makers have told me so).  Yelp also has threatened to issue “Consumer Alerts” or Yelp-rankings penalties to any business caught asking for Yelp reviews (no matter how ethically).

Worst of all, Yelp has left it vague as to whether you’re not supposed to encourage reviews on any site.  Let’s just assume they haven’t gone quite that far yet.  Let’s also assume that, like me, you’ll only bend so far to comply with absurd demands.

Anyway, the result is that these days you need to tiptoe around more – whether you ask for reviews by using any kind of outreach product, or a “Review Us” page, or an email, or any other nonverbal approach.  Whether you interpret “tiptoe” to mean either (1) “Sounds like I need to cover my tracks even more” or (2) “I’ll follow Yelp’s rulebook to the letter” is up to you.

Yelp’s hope is that your customers review you spontaneously there.  Sometimes it works out that way, often in cities where Yelp is popular.  Where that becomes a pipe dream is in places where few people give a hoot about Yelp or write reviews there, but where it’s hard to miss Yelp search results in Google’s local search results.  In that case you’ve got a glaring hole in your online reputation, but no way to fill it.

Even though Yelp often isn’t fair, and most of their policies are moronic, you might want at least to try to play by Yelp’s rules.  But you also want to get some reviews there (and elsewhere).  Can you do both?

Your options now are more limited than they’ve ever been, but there are a few ways you can try to rustle up reviews and not (1) violate Yelp’s silly rules outright, or (2) risk becoming the first business owner Yelp makes a public example of because you tried a sly workaround.

Here are the 4 most Yelp-policy-friendly approaches (that might actually work for you) to encourage customers to speak up:

1. The “Find Friends” strategy, with a twist (more on that in a second). “Find Friends” is a feature in Yelp that allows you to see who’s an active reviewer on Yelp.  You can enter a name or email address one a time, or bulk-check a list of email addresses.  (You can also do a “Find Friends” search by syncing with your Facebook page, but that’s not as reliable.)

Once you’ve determined which customers have written more than a few reviews (let’s say 5), just ask them for a review/feedback in whatever way has worked for you.  Because Yelp is probably their preferred review site, they’ll probably review you there without your needing to ask for a Yelp review specifically, or drop a link to your page, or do anything else that Yelp discourages.

2. Make your “please write a review” link a query string in Google that shows your Yelp page near the top of Google’s search results. The link should look something like this:

https://www.google.com/search?q=Local+Visibility+System

Again, customers can pick Yelp if that’s their preferred review site.  You’re not asking them to pick Yelp, explicitly or implicitly.

3. Splatter your best Yelp reviews all over your site. (Or your one good Yelp review, if you only have one at the moment.)

Try to pick reviews that are relevant to the content of the pages you stick the reviews on.  For instance, if you’re a dentist, maybe don’t put a review from a tooth-whitening patient on your “Full-Mouth Reconstruction” page.

If you do it right, you may condition new customers to think “Yelp reviews” when they think of your reviews in general.  When it comes time to ask them for a review anywhere, there’s a good chance they’ll think of Yelp again.

It’s also a nice passive way to encourage reviews in general, if for whatever reason you just aren’t comfortable with asking anyone for reviews (even if you don’t specify the site).  You probably won’t get a gusher of reviews as a result of this approach, but you’ll probably get a little trickle.

Yelp’s embed feature is convenient.  Here’s a great example of that in practice.

4.  Do a Yelp “check-in offer.” They’re only available to bricks-and-mortar businesses, and not to service-area businesses, so there’s a good chance this one just isn’t relevant to you.  But if you do see customers at your business address, then it may be an arrow in your quiver.

What’s worked for you – or hasn’t worked for you – on Yelp?

How “by-the-book” do you figure it is?

Any new strategies you’re considering?

Leave a comment!

Q&A on BBB Customer Reviews: Not Just Another Unkempt Local Review Site

https://www.flickr.com/photos/stephoto27/6391444495/Love or hate the Better Business Bureau, it’s one of the bigger sites to have dipped a couple toes in the greenish-brown pond of local business reviews.  In my experience it’s a great place to get reviews, as I’ve written.

But the current local-reviews landscape is the Wild West.  The sheriff in TripAdvisorville seems to shoot straight, but the one at Yelp Rock ain’t no Will Kane.  Meanwhile, the sheriff of Mountain View is never in town, and his one deputy managed to lock himself in the cell with the town drunk.

And those are the big sites that actually attempt quality-control of reviews.  Facebook and YellowPages?  Ha.

Like Angie’s List, BBB actually seems to try.  Not to say that no bogus reviews wind up there (bogus reviews are everywhere), but at least there’s an effort.

A higher-up at a regional BBB chapter read my post on how it’s an “underrated” review site, and sent me some info, which prompted me to ask him a few questions.  He prefers not to be named in this post, but here’s the inside scoop he gave me on BBB reviews:

 

Q: Is there an automatic filter on BBB reviews?  (Like Yelp’s or Google’s filter.)

A: No, there is no automatic filter on BBB reviews. We have BBB staff that read them, as well as ask the business if this person is a customer.

 

Q: Under what circumstances do you remove a customer’s review manually?

A: Since October 2015 (at my chapter of the BBB) 17% of our online reviews submitted to the BBB were not published. Reasons could have been that 1) BBB was not able to verify that the person writing the review was a customer, or that 2) the review contained abusive language.

 

Q: Under what special circumstances will BBB reveal the identity of an anonymous reviewer to the business owner?

A: The BBB does not post any anonymous reviews. Once the BBB receives a review it goes into a 3-day “holding tank” before we publish that gives the BBB time to email the business to verify that the review is in fact from a customer and gives the business an opportunity to respond. The BBB does protect the identity of the reviewer by not posting identifiable information. Same regarding formal complaints. We would not publish a complaint that was sent anonymously.

 

Q: Do formal complaints factor into the “star” rating of a business, and not just against its “letter” grade?

A: No, formal complaints do not factor into the star rating. Currently we have 2 separate grading systems. The A+ – F grading system is based on standards the business meets and has earned. The star rating system is based on consumers’ opinions of the business.

Q: To get reviews on BBB, first you need to get listed.  You can pay to get accredited, of course, but then there’s the free submission option (which has been relocated at least once, and never has been easy to find).  Why is that form so buried and, seemingly, so ineffective?

A: We have had a massive problem with citation building services who white-label their product to agencies submitting inaccurate data – either by accident or maliciously to attempt to damage a competitor’s listing. This has created a massive amount of work for our staff. Often they submit data we already have listed. If we get a listing that we think is submitted inaccurately, we try to reach out to the business by phone and later by letter and send them a questionnaire asking them to update their file in our system (free of charge). We don’t always get return phone calls or get our questionnaires returned. If we think the data is submitted inaccurately, we don’t publish it.

We are also getting a lot of submissions that have virtual office addresses that we can’t verify have employees in the United States. The business can’t be verified in public records of the state or county.

What I really think makes our database so great is that we have humans who act as “Curators” or caretakers to verify that the information that we report to the public is correct. We take this very seriously at our chapter of the BBB. It is what we dedicate the most financial and human resources to, especially regarding our Accredited Business Directory. Those businesses and their owners have been background-checked, and we’ve checked their licenses, business start dates, verified addresses, etc. That is why you won’t find an un-licensed mover in our Accredited Business Directory, or an unlicensed handyman lumped into the licensed plumbing categories.

Another thing that I think really sets us apart from other directory sites is that we ask for sizing information from the company.  For example, we know AT&T would be considered a “colossal large” business because of the number of customers they have.  It would be acceptable for them to get 500 complaints a year and, as long as they respond and make a good-faith effort to resolve those complaints, they could still maintain an A+ record.  Contrast that with a pool builder who builds 20 pools a year and gets 10 complaints. To us, that’s less expected and more of a concern.

Anyway, we are in the process of making some major improvements to our website and iPhone app. We are moving in the right direction digitally, just moving slower than I would wish! 🙂

How does that square with your experience with Better Business Bureau reviews?

Any questions I can pass on to someone at the BBB?

Leave a comment!

10 Underrated Local Review Sites You Overlooked

https://www.flickr.com/photos/hardlyneutral/16119317027/

You know about the big local-business review sites.  You know about the review sites that matter most in your industry.  You probably know about the pipsqueaks, too.

But what about the review sites that matter more than you know?  Isn’t it possible there are some gaps in your online reputation?

If there aren’t, I’ll eat my hat.  There are always gaps – even for businesses with tons of reviews on many sites.  You probably know the benefits of diversifying where your customers review you.  Those benefits also extend to sites you might have dismissed as irrelevant or insignificant, or that you didn’t even think of.

I’m not saying all of these review sites are relevant to your situation, but at least some will be.

Here’s a rundown of what I consider the 10 most-overlooked local review sites:

Care.com
Why it’s overlooked: it’s not a super-established “brand.”  Partly because the name itself is mushy, and partly because it’s not a search engine or a social network or a startup run by drama queens.  It’s just a solid reviews site.  It’s also visible one.  Care.com is all over Google’s search results in the in-home care and education spaces, for example, and most “service” businesses are eligible for a listing there.

WeddingWire
Why it’s overlooked: because there’s a good chance you don’t run a bridal shop or a tux shop, or are a florist or photographer.  WeddingWire also lists businesses in all kinds of related industries: limos, venues, jewelry, and so on.  You can also get listed and reviewed there even if you own a car rental or a cryotherapy place, or if you’re a dentist, a dermatologist, or a plastic surgeon.  Maybe they’ll even allow divorce lawyers.

Zillow
Why it’s overlooked: because most people think it’s just for real-estate listings and agents.   It’s not.  Pretty much any contractor or other home-improvement professional can have a listing there – and reviews there.  Though Zillow isn’t the 800-pound gorilla in the contracting space that it is in real estate, it may just be a matter of time.  In the meantime, anyone who sees your Zillow reviews there is probably pretty close to calling you.

Thumbtack
Why it’s overlooked: because it’s got a home-improvement bent, it’s up against more-established sites like HomeAdvisor, Angie’s List, and Houzz.  Also, Thumbtack doesn’t seem to go out of its way to encourage reviews – for customers to write them, or for businesses to ask for them.  Still, the site is pretty visible in some niches, and can serve as a nice barnacle site – especially for “near me” search terms.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Thumbtack is acquired by an even-bigger player one day.  I’d scare up at least a few reviews there.

Groupon
Why it’s overlooked: Groupon deals can be business-destroyers.  They often attract crybaby customers.  It doesn’t help that new businesses and businesses in dry spells are the ones most likely to offer deals.  Often those businesses also are the ones least-equipped to pull off the deals without incident – or to handle an online reputation disaster well.  But if you’re a pretty established business and aren’t dying for customers (but still want to attract more of them), look under the Groupon rock.  Yes, Groupon takes a big cut of the deal, but you can get reviews that stay up long after the deal ends.  Those reviews are highly visible, because Groupon is.  Even if you don’t want to offer a deal, you can get customers to “recommend” you and write “tips.”

GlassDoor
Why it’s overlooked: customers don’t talk about it, because customers can’t write reviews there.  GlassDoor is a place for employees (past and current) to review your company anonymously.  Just the same, because customers can see what’s on GlassDoor easily enough, because it’s on Google’s local results like stink on a monkey.  If you stop short of encouraging everyone on your team to review you (anonymously), at least encourage the happy people to say their piece.  The angry ones will.  Time is of the essence.

https://youtu.be/DoQwKe0lggw

InHerSight
Why it’s overlooked: because it’s relatively new (started in 2015 or 2014, from what I can tell).  It’s similar to GlassDoor, except it’s specifically for women.  InHerSight is not exclusively a review site, but on it women can review (anonymously) places they’ve worked.  As of this writing it’s not a super-visible review site, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes off.

WebMD (doctor.webmd.com)
Why it’s overlooked: if you’re anything like me, you associate WebMD only with feeling a mysterious new pain, Googling it, reading the WebMD result, and concluding you’ve got 3 days to live.  But it’s also a giant healthcare directory.  If you’re a doctor, do what you can to rustle up reviews there.

Amazon Home Services
Why it’s overlooked: Amazon hasn’t done much in local search yet, and most business owners don’t want to wet Amazon’s beak or possibly deal with frustrating leads (a la Groupon).  Still, if you can get listed, it’s probably worth having a few reviews there, which can benefit you both before and after the sleeping giant wakes up.

Better Business Bureau
Why it’s overlooked: most business owners associate the BBB with “complaints” from customers and with questionable accreditation ratings of certain businesses.  But it’s also a local-business reviews site, in the mold of Yelp and Google and so on.

BBB results often are extremely visible in the local organic search results – maybe more so than they should be – both for brand-name terms and often for the terms you really want to rank for.  Because people can (but don’t have to) write anonymous reviews there, and because an angry customer is likely to be there anyway to lodge a complaint, bad reviews are especially likely to appear on BBB – and to stick out.  The good news is good reviews stick out there, too.  Of all the “underrated” review sites I’ve mentioned, I consider BBB the most overlooked one of all.

What’s been your experience with those review sites?

Can you think of other review sites you consider overlooked?

Leave a comment!

Update 10/9/17: For a short list of overlooked review sites in the UK, see the comment from Caroline of Alba SEO.