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

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, 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 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. 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 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 or TinyURL. I imagine the only reasons you’d use 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

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

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 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?

“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:

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 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

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?

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:

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 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

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:
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. 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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 (
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.

Why Your Review-Encouragement Software Is a Meat Grinder

It’s tempting to sign up for a “reputation-management” or “review-generation” product and let it pester all your customers for a review – so you don’t have to take the time (or forget) to do it personally.

Resist the temptation. At least until you’ve worked out more manually a review-encouragement strategy that works OK.  Otherwise all you’ll do is automate failure.

My advice might be different if review-encouragement software was a surefire way to get you 80% of the great reviews you could get with a more-hands-on method, but with only 20% of the time and effort.  But in my experience it doesn’t do that, at least right out of the box.  (If you’ve worked out a method that works well without the software, maybe you can get to that 80/20 payoff zone.)

A mediocre-to-OK review strategy is simple to execute: just “do a good job” and ask customers to review you if they’re happy, and contact you first if they’re not. Where it gets trickier is if you want more than just a trickle of reviews, and on sites that really matter.

Most automated review-encouragement programs clear only the lower bar.  They require only you to upload people’s email addresses, customize the email that goes out automatically, maybe tweak some settings, and keep a credit card on-file.  A great review strategy – one that gets the greatest number of happy customers to write the best reviews they can – takes a little more than that.

I don’t want to name specific products, if I can avoid it.  But maybe it’s better that way, because there are a million tools that claim to be your one-stop reviews solution.  It’s likely you’ve used or considered at least one such tool, or you probably wouldn’t be reading this.

Some are near-useless, in that most of the “reviews” are in fact testimonials that just molder on the software company’s site (e.g., rather than reviews on Google Maps or Yelp or Facebook or Angie’s List or other sites people notice and maybe care about.  I’m not even talking about that kind of service here.  Rather, I want to give cautionary advice about programs that actually try to encourage reviews on third-party review sites.  Seldom are they as effective as you and I would like.

“But Phil, the Big Ugly Corporation I just bought a new refrigerator from just sent me an auto-email to ask for a review, and they have hundreds of reviews from customers.  It seems to work fine for them!”

Maybe, but Big Ugly Corporation also has tens of thousands of customers more than you have – and many more opportunities to waste in asking for reviews ineffectively.  200 reviews?  That’s still an awful batting average.  If you want to do a little better than 1 for 20, you can’t simply rely on a program.

Why?  Here are the biggest problems with review-encouragement software:

  1. If your email or overall strategy isn’t battle-tested, you may burn through all your customers and have little to show for it. What if your review-management software sounds out all the emails – just as it should – and you don’t get any reviews? Maybe everyone ignores the email, or it goes out at a bad hour, or the links are broken, or there are customer-service issues to sort out first.  You can ask everyone another time, but after that you become a nuisance.  Don’t entrust software with the goodwill you’ve taken years to earn.  Put it through a few bird-strike tests first.

  1. You can’t personalize an automated request to a reviewer’s unique situation. Long-time customer? Super happy customer?  Did he have privacy concerns?  Is she an “Elite” Yelper?  A one-size-fits-all email won’t acknowledge specifics, and probably won’t accomplish all it could.
  1. The auto-email will seem cold if it’s the first or only time you ask for a review. The recipient will wonder, “Gee, I was just in your office – why didn’t you ask me then?” Ask in-person first, if possible.  At least plant the seed of the idea, get a sense of who’s happy (and who’s not), and maybe get a tacit “yes.”  That way, even an auto-email won’t seem to come out of the blue, and any follow-up is more likely to work.
  1. It’s harder to sniff out who’s unhappy. The auto-email will go to everyone, or to large groups of people at a time.
  1. Weak writing may undo you. Think of how you’d ask a customer, client, or patient face-to-face for a review. Is that how you’d write your automated email?  Probably not.  In-person you’d care about the timing, and be polite, but also get to the point.  In an email you’re more likely sound stuffy or generic, or to beat around the bush.  Most people are better writers when they speak than when they write.  Too many business owners use automated outreach tools precisely because they don’t want to ask for reviews in-person.  Often I find that’s because they haven’t figured out exactly what or how to ask.  First figure out how you’d articulate an in-person request, write the email like that, see how it performs, and then automate it if you must.  Not the other way around.

  1. Your auto-email won’t acknowledge people who already reviewed you. That will irk them, and you’ll miss the opportunity to ask, “We’re so crazy about the great review you left us on Review Site A that I’ve just got to ask: could you also review us on Review Site B?”
  1. Timing may be trickier. You have a sense of what are good times and bad times to ask customers/clients/patients for a review. Outreach software only gives you so much control over when the requests go out.
  1. Follow-up may be trickier. What if you want to send a follow-up email to some customers after a week, and to other customers after three weeks? Or if they contact you with customer-service issues to sort out, will your program still email them a second time – before you’ve worked out the issue?  Maybe you end up choosing not to use the program’s follow-up feature, but if you do use it, it’ll probably complicate your job.
  1. It’s harder to approach touchy situations. People with privacy concerns you might want to direct to anonymous review sites. Others may be willing to write you a great review, but would want to keep it vague.  Some people may not make ideal reviewers after all.  And so on.  You’re nimbler than the program is.
  1. You’ll probably treat it as a one-stop solution. The makers of the software market it as such. They’ll tell you that all you need to do is flick it on and watch the reviews whoosh in.  You hope that’s how it works out, so you give it a try and don’t bother to do the other things you need to do (e.g. ask customers in-person first).
  1. You’ll probably treat it as a “set it and forget it” solution. You chose the outreach tool because it’s easy. How likely are you to go in often and update the infernal thing?
  1. It’s a missed opportunity to learn more about your would-be reviewers. You have to think about, customize, write, and send 100 emails in a month? Yeah, that’s work.  But what a great way to interact with and get to know your customers.  What a missed opportunity if you don’t bother.
  1. You miss out on the satisfaction of asking for reviews and getting great ones – or of dodging bullets to your reputation

So review-encouragement software isn’t a surefire way to rack up 5-star reviews.  What do I suggest you do instead?

Do MANUAL email outreach, at least for a while.  One email at a time.  One person at a time.

Try a simple process that works for you, even if takes more time or effort than you’d like.  Tweak it as needed until it works pretty well.  Then try to make it easier if you want.

At that point, automated review-encouragement software might actually help.  You might try Whitespark’s Reputation Builder, or GetFiveStars, or, for example.  Whatever you use, hold it to high standards.  Make sure it brings in almost as many good reviews as you can do with your finest hands-on outreach effort.  Continue to ask in-person first (if possible), and send some requests personally every now and then, and always try new things that you might work into the program you use.

What’s worked for you?  What hasn’t worked?  Leave a comment!

Dumb Shortcuts to Getting Online Reviews

Image credit Vinny DaSilva / / happy customers/clients/patients to speak up and write online reviews is usually tough.  Even if you do everything you should, it’s still tough going.  Not all the happy people will speak up, and there’s always a chance the unhappy few will.

If you’re wise, you’ll realize you can’t get to perfect, but that you can always get closer and that the payoff is worth the effort.  So you’ll continuously work on your strategy.

On the other hand, you might have considered at least one shortcut to get more reviews and better reviews.  I bet I know what you’re considering.   I hope you don’t do it, but if you do it anyway, I’d at least like you to know the arguments against it.

Here are 10 all-too-common “review shortcuts” some business owners try to take, and why you might not want to be one of them:

Watching over reviewers’ shoulders.

Maybe you set up an iPad in your office, and walk reviewers through exactly what to do, while you’re in the same room.  That’s noble, and you probably just do it because you want to make the process hassle-free.  But there are downsides.
Why it’s a mistake:

  • Many reviews won’t look like honest opinions because they won’t be honest opinions. How can reviewers say what they really think if you’re standing there?
  • The unhappy people will decline to use your review station, or they’ll get even more steamed if they felt “pressured.” Either way, they’re just as likely to write you a bad review anyway.  “Quality control” it is not.
  • The happy people may not feel at liberty to take their time and go into detail about why you’re great. You want them to.
  • It’s against Google’s rules.

Holding a contest.

You ask people to review you because you’ll donate to charity, or because you’ll pick a “review of the month,” or something like that.
Why it’s a mistake:

  • It’s illegal or legally questionable.
  • It’s against most review sites’ policies.
  • You’ll get short, unhelpful, artificial-looking reviews from people who just want the freebie.

“Getting the ball rolling” with reviews from family, friends, colleagues, etc.

You plan to get real reviews at some point, but don’t want your first reviewers to feel uncomfortable, and you don’t want your business to look unpopular in the meantime.
Why it’s a mistake:

  • It’s against Google’s rules and Yelp’s rules.
  • It’s illegal or legally questionable.
  • It’s unnecessary if you’ve got reviews from real customers.
  • For would-be customers it just calls into question the authenticity of your real
  • It looks sad and desperate if you’ve got no reviews from real customers.

Reviewing yourself.

Why it’s a mistake:

Posting on behalf of customers.

They sent you perfumed letters to say they feel, but they didn’t post online reviews, which are what you really want.  You don’t want to bother them with that process, so you figure you’ll publish their reviews for them.  They’re the same words, so what’s the problem?
Why it’s a mistake:

  • Either you have to impersonate your customers/clients/patients, or you have to say in your review that you’re posting on their behalf. “Bad optics,” as they say in Washington.  You raise more questions than you answer.
  • The reviews you post are more likely to get filtered.
  • What if those people see “their” reviews and say you never had permission to post their review?

Offering incentives.

You offer a gift card, or free service next time, or a discount, or enter customers into a raffle.  People are so busy, and they won’t bother to review you unless you grease the skids, right?
Why it’s a mistake:

  • Even if it works, you’ll get unimpressive, bare-minimum reviews from customers who just want free stuff.
  • It’s illegal or legally questionable.
  • You may have hell to pay if you’re a doctor or a lawyer.
  • It’s against most review sites’ policies.
  • It will offend some people, who would have been perfectly willing to write you a good review if you didn’t imply that you can just buy their praise.
  • The person you’re trying to get a review from may not believe your reviews anymore.
  • Armed with that knowledge, there will be murder in your competitors’ eyes.

Having marketers or so-called SEOs review you.

Hey, you pay them good money, and their job is to help you make rain, and reviews can help with that, so what’s the harm?  You’ll even do some work for them so they’re technically your “customer.”
Why it’s a mistake:

  • They’re usually poor writers. (Especially the SEOs.)
  • Either they disclose the relationship or they write a Jell-O review with no specifics.
  • There’s a good chance your competitors know the name and face, because the marketer may have tried to pitch them on working together. It’ll be an SEO soap opera full of “Before there was us” and “But I thought you knew” and “How could you!”  Probably won’t end well.
  • It’s illegal or legally questionable.
  • It’s against most review sites’ policies.

Swapping reviews.

You refer people to Fred.  Fred refers people to you.  You won’t pretend to be each other’s clients, but Fred can tell the world what you’re made of, and you’ll do the same for him.
Why it’s a mistake:

  • Either your reviews are mutually useless, or both of you have to lie through your teeth.
  • It looks shady.
  • You hitch a little piece of your reputation to someone else, whom you can’t control.

Including a gag clause to prevent negative reviews.

Maybe you’ve had crazy people take a hatchet to you in online reviews in the past, and you don’t need more of that right now.  If they have a problem, they can take it up with you and you can probably, but they can’t malign you publicly or you’ll sue them into the Stone Age.
Why it’s a mistake:

  • You know how they say “love will find a way”? Well, rage will also find a way.  Angry customers will find a way to get the word out – about the original issue, and about your effort to silence them.  (See “Streisand effect.”)
  • Your reviews will look too good to be true. Some people will question their authenticity.
  • Your competitors will cause you all sorts of misery if they find out.
  • You miss out on the benefit of letting would-be customers see how you handle problems. As Matt McGee says, we don’t live in a 5-star world.  If you get a bad (or even illegitimate) review and respond to it in a classy way, you look good.  Perhaps even better than if you had no reputation warts.  People love a comeback.

Buying reviews.

Happy customers don’t want to speak up.  The crooked competitors do it, and they’re making off like bandits.  Google and Yelp don’t filter their reviews, but seem to filter all your good ones.  It’s not fair.  You wish you could think of another way, and you want to get more real reviews eventually, but you’re losing money, so what else can you do?
Why it’s a mistake:

  • The reviews will range from mush to gibberish to lies.
  • It’s against Google’s and Yelp’s and other sites’ rules.

  • Real customers may call you out.
  • Competitors will call you out.
  • It’s lazy.
  • It’s illegal.
  • It looks shady.
  • It is shady.
  • It’s a missed opportunity to get to know your customers better.


Gee, thanks, Mr. Killjoy.  Sounds like I can’t do much of anything.  How SHOULD I get reviews?

Read these posts and apply the suggestions:

How to Execute the Perfect Local Reviews Strategy

Principles For A Review Plan: Considerations in Encouraging Customer Reviews

60+ Questions to Troubleshoot and Fix Your Local Reviews Strategy

How to Remove Fake Google Reviews

The Ridiculous Hidden Power of Local Reviews: Umpteen Ways to Use Them to Get More Business

Is there a “reviews hack” you’re considering?

Can you think of any other counterproductive shortcuts?

Have you tried an approach that didn’t help you get reviews the way you thought it would?

Leave a comment!

Yelp Provides Embed Code for Showcasing Yelp Reviews on Your Site

Last summer, Yelp quietly started providing embed code that you can use to stick any customer’s Yelp review on your site.

As closely as I monitor Yelp, I didn’t know about that feature until now.  A few people wrote about it in passing, but I didn’t know about it until Mike of HikingMike told me in his comment on my 2015 post on copying and pasting Yelp reviews.  (By the way, I really appreciate getting intel like that.)

The embed code might be easier and cleaner-looking than a copy-and-paste or a screenshot.  Here’s what an embedded review would look like:

Read Chris B.‘s review of Local Visibility System on Yelp

How do you get the embed code?  Just go to your Yelp page (or your client’s), hover over the review, and click “Embed review.”

Why embed your Yelp reviews on your site?  Just because it’s usually showing off your reviews in general – both on Yelp and on any other review sites.  You can’t assume everyone saw them before getting to your site.  Your site should showcase what customers say about you, rather than just what you say about yourself.

Maybe hold off if only unhappy customers or unfair idiots have reviewed you.

Consider giving the embed feature a try while (1) it’s still around, (2) it’s straightforward, and (3) little-known.  As Mike wrote wisely in his comment:

“This info will be coming from Yelp so it would rely on their side continuing the embed service. If there were some issue, a location move, or something out of the ordinary, I could see the reviews not showing suddenly. They could change their embed method or code as well.

“But I’m also curious about what happens if the Yelp filter removes a review you have embedded. Will the embed still work or will it disappear? I know a lot of times reviews will show initially and then be filtered within a day or so (usually people that have just 1 review), so I wonder how it will work with those.”

Did you know about Yelp’s embed code before I did?

Have you used it?

Will you use it?

Leave a comment!