Apple Maps Local Business Category List

Apple has finally given business owners (and SEOs) a self-serve way to add or edit listings on Apple Maps.  You can do it at MapsConnect.Apple.com.

For over two years there have only been workarounds that don’t always work.  So the recent news was good news.

But you’ll still have to make sure your listing has the right categories – whether you’re adding a new listing or claiming and fixing an existing one.  There’s not too much more Apple Maps SEO you can do, so you’d better nail your categories.

There are 671 Apple Maps categories to choose from.

You can pick up to 3.

Have no fear.  I’ve put together a list of all 671 Apple Maps categories.  Here it is, on Google Drive:

http://goo.gl/lsqfEU

As you can see, it’s broken up into 3 columns.  That’s because – as it is when you’re picking out your categories on Yelp and on other sites – you have to pick a category in the left column, then a subcategory in the next column, and then a sub-subcategory if applicable.

Flip through the categories list and see if you can find your perfect 3.

Any gripes about Apple’s category selections?  Do they have a category for you?

What’s been your experience with Apple Maps Connect so far?

Leave a comment!

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Local Search Wisdom from SearchLove Boston 2014

Darren’s talk yesterday on How to Prioritize Your Local Search Work was the most practical I’ve seen.  It was a peak among peaks at Distilled’s SearchLove conference.

Local SEO is filled with hocus pocus.  Even when people do work on important stuff, they often neglect some of the basics.  That’s because their priorities aren’t clear.

Problem solved:

Darren’s not one to read off the slide deck.  It’s packed with nuggets, but his talk itself covered even more.  Here are a few things that wouldn’t come through on the slides:

 1.  All the good advice that didn’t make the cut because it wasn’t must-do stuff.  Darren wanted to talk even more about reviews – which he cited as the highest-payoff part of local SEO (and I agree with that).

2.  How highly he recommends GetFiveStars and Moz Local.

3.  Darren gave a nice shout-out to Yext – in the context of it being handy for enterprise-level SEO.

4.  The handy cheat-sheet – which is easy to miss (on slide 90 of 99).

5.  How many questions Darren got during the Q&A and during breaks.  Local search is a pain-point for so many business owners, marketers, and SEOs.

What did you take away from the slides?

What are your local SEO “priorities”?

Questions?

Leave a comment!

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17 Sites That Allow Private or Anonymous Reviews of Local Businesses

Some of your customers, clients, or patients might only review you if they don’t have to reveal their names in the review.  Why?

  • They might be embarrassed about the problem that caused them to come to you.
  • They might need privacy to give you honest and complete feedback.
  • Maybe they just wear tin-foil hats.

You need to know about the more-private review sites for at least three reasons:

(1) So you know where to point would-be reviewers who are concerned about privacy.  You still want reviews from those people.

(2) So you can encourage reviews without running afoul of any regulations in your industry – especially if you’re a doctor or lawyer.

(3) So you know where to look for negative reviews that people may have posted anonymously.

Besides finicky Google+ and Yelp, most review sites offer some anonymity.  Possible reviewers need to know you don’t want “Google or Yelp or nothing.”  You want reviews on other sites anyway – especially if they’re influential in your industry.

Here’s a breakdown of 17 prominent sites that allow private or anonymous reviews – and exactly how private each site is:

17 private/anonymous review sites (click to enlarge)(click to enlarge – it’s a big PDF file, so give it a second to crunch)

A few notes

My goal for this was to mention least one private / anonymous site that you can encourage reviews on, no matter what your industry is.

That’s why I have some sites that may seem “niche” – like WeddingWire and Zillow.  WeddingWire isn’t just for dressmakers and cake-bakers; you can also be listed and get reviews there if you’re a photographer, jeweler, florist, or DJ.  Likewise, Zillow isn’t just for real-estate agents; you can get reviews there if you’re a roofer or landscaper (for example).

I didn’t want to dwell on one industry.  That’s why you won’t see more than a couple examples of private / anonymous sites for a given industry.

Even if there’s not a review site that’s specific to your field, you’ve still got Angie’s List, CitySearch, InsiderPages, Yahoo, and YP.  It’s good to get a smattering of reviews at those places anyway.

When I say a “real name” is required, I’m referring only to the rules / preferences of a given site.  It may have no way to tell a reviewer’s real name from an alias.  I doubt Sarah B. would get in any hot water if she created an account as or wrote a review as Penny O.  Make sure your customers know that.

This list is US-specific.  I’m guessing the equivalent of YellowPages in other countries – YellowPages.ca, PagesJaunes.fr, PaginasAmarillas.com, etc. – allow private reviews.  I’d be curious to learn about other sites.

Last but not least, huge thanks to design whiz David Deering for putting together the “Top Secret” report.  I suggest you check out his offerings.

What’s a private / anonymous review site you think you’ll be working into your review strategy from now on?

Any current favorites?

Not sure which ones are worth pursuing?

Leave a comment!

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GetFiveStars Review-Encouragement Tool Goes from Good to Great

I’m impressed by how far GetFiveStars.com has come in the last 6 months.  It’s gone from a promising way to encourage reviews to a tool that’s been sharpened by the real-world needs of business owners (and review geeks like me).

In case you haven’t seen it – or read my fairly recent interview with Don Campbell – GetFiveStars is an email-based system for asking your customers / clients / patients for reviews.

But it doesn’t take a spray-n’-pray approach to asking for reviews: it first asks customers how happy they are with their experiences with you.  If they’re basically happy, it encourages them to leave a review on a site of their choice, and provides them with the links and some basic instructions.  If they’re not so happy, it encourages them to contact you so you can fix things.

The best thing about the tool is it’s always improving.  Don Campbell and Mike Blumenthal – the smart guys who developed the tool – have seen to that.

For example, one issue that Darren Shaw and I noticed recently was that customers sometimes weren’t sure exactly where to write feedback.  The screen that asks customers how happy they are also asked them to write a tiny blurb on their experiences.  But some customers thought that was the only feedback they were being asked to write – and didn’t realize the business owner also wanted a review on Google+, or Yahoo, or wherever.  Don and Mike streamlined the process by not asking for that little blurb up-front.

It also didn’t used to include instructions on the page that contains the buttons / links to the review sites.

But now there are quick pointers, right next to the buttons.  GetFiveStars is doing an increasingly good job of applying what I call the “zigzag” technique of asking for reviews – that is, not pushing people toward any one review site, but directing them based on what’s easiest for them (and you).

Anyway, I think you’ll like the results if you use GetFiveStars for your business or for a client’s.  And if you have ideas for how to improve it, I’m sure Don and Mike would love your feedback.

If you have any interest whatsoever in getting more reviews – and getting to know your customers a little better – I suggest checking out the free trial of GetFiveStars.

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2nd Edition of Free 7-Step Guide to Local Search Visibility

About time, huh?

For roughly the past 18 months I’ve wanted to write a 2nd edition of my free guide.  Like everything else on this site, the guide is meant to be a resource for business owners with a DIY streak who want to get more visible to customers in the local search results.

I’m proud of the old one, and it helped many business owners.  Reading over it recently, I was surprised at how many of the basic principles still hold water.

It’s just that 2 1/2 years is a while.  Especially because any info about Google and the rest of “local” doesn’t exactly have the shelf life of a Slim Jim.

Anyway, after way too long – and enough typing to make my local chapter of the Typing Fingers Union go on a violent strike – the 2nd edition is done.

You can get the guide right now:

(I only ask for you to double-opt-in by email because I want to make sure you’re a real person, and because if you like the guide you’ll also like the free info I’ll send you in an occasional email.)

I’d love your feedback on it.

Enjoy!

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Business Categories Lists for Major Local Search Sites

Categories are the forgotten child of local SEO.

Though they don’t get much attention, categories do get respect: “Proper Category Associations” is the #1 “Foundational Ranking Factor” listed on 2013’s Local Search Ranking Factors study.  (I was one of the people who ranked them up there, and I’m glad other local-searchers agree.)

Picking as many relevant categories as you can is probably the easiest way to make progress on your Google+ Local, Bing Places, Apple Maps, Yelp, and other rankings.

Choosing the right ones is sometimes easier said than done.  Google no longer allows “custom” categories.  That’s nice in a couple of ways: You can choose up to 10 categories, and it’s nice that it’s much harder now to get penalized by accidentally specifying a custom category that Google doesn’t consider kosher.

Still, the categories you want to pick are either on Google’s list or they aren’t.  Which may leave you feeling hamstrung if your business is specialized or “niche.”

Fortunately for us, the categories you can pick on other sites seem to help Google determine what type of business yours is – and what terms you should rank for.

They’re also a huge factor in your rankings on pretty much every other site worth being listed on.

The name of the game is to know your options for categories, on as many sites as possible.  Most of them don’t make it easy to browse all your options.  That’s why I’ve rounded up a bunch of category lists, so you can find the relevant ones easily.

Check out these lists and see if you’ve listed your business under the best categories possible:

Search engines

Google – Browse Mike Blumenthal’s Google Places Category Tool

Bing Places – See my list of Bing business categories (new)

Apple Maps – Dig through this monstrous list put together by Andrew Shotland

Data-aggregators

ExpressUpdate – Pick from OSHA’s Standard Industrial Categories

LocalEze – See my post on LocalEze categories

Factual – Refer to this list when submitting your Factual listing

IYPs

Yelp – Dig through Yelp’s somewhat-buried list, or see my post on Yelp categories

InsiderPages – See this

AngiesList – Here you go

Those are just the category lists I’ve found so far or put together myself.  I’m sure you or I could easily find full lists of categories for rinky-dink sites that nobody’s ever heard of.  But there are a few category lists I’d still like to have.

The sites on my wish-list at the moment are CitySearch, YellowPages, Local.Yahoo.com, and Acxiom (MyBusinessListingManager.com).  Please let me know if you find or make a list of all the categories allowed on those sites!

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Don Campbell on the GetFiveStars Tool for Getting Customer Reviews and Feedback

Don Campbell is a smart guy – and busy.  For at least as long as I’ve been in “local,” his company – Expand2Web – has been hooking up small-to-medium business owners with affordable, solidly built, professional WordPress sites.  He knows his local SEO, and has contributed to the Local Search Ranking Factors study five times.

Don is also as much of a customer-reviews nut as as I am (well, almost :)).  He’s built an excellent tool called GetFiveStars, which can help you get reviews from your customers – and save you a lot of blood, sweat, and tears in the process.

We had a great pow-wow about reviews a couple of months ago, and will both be speaking on BrightLocal’s upcoming webinar on – you guessed it – customer reviews.  This interview is part of that ongoing conversation.

If you have any interest in getting more in-touch with your customers, getting more and better customer reviews, developing a product, or just building your business, read on.

Phil:  What would be your “elevator pitch” for GetFiveStars, to someone who might be pretty new to reviews in general?

Don:  Here’s our short version of what GetFiveStars does:

GetFiveStars.com is designed to let a small business or an agency working on their behalf easily implement a customer feedback/review management process based on tried and true best practices.

The product automatically solicits and tracks feedback, prevents bad reviews, pushes testimonials out to the business website and encourages happy customers to leave reviews across the Internet.

 

Phil:  And how would you describe it to a “reviews geek” like me, an SEO / marketer, or someone else who digs all the technical details?

Don:  In the industry we all know how important online reviews are in terms of both ranking and conversions. The trouble sometimes, is getting busy small business owners to be proactive about them. Most of the time it’s because they don’t understand how reviews work and don’t have a process in place to follow up with their customers.

What we’ve tried to do with GFS is to automate this as much as possible, making it easy for the business owner to collect feedback and engage with their customers. The result is more positive online reviews, less negative reviews, and happier customers who are referring you to their family and friends.

We also built the system so that it can be white-labeled by agencies that manage many businesses and want to provide their clients with a feedback and review management system.

Some SMBs are fearful of engaging in the review process. Our system frees them from worry and provides a process that allows them to interact with every customer without worrying about whether they will leave a good review or not.

We use an intelligent process that adapts to the customer’s feedback. For example, customers that are less-than happy will be directed to a page that thanks them for their feedback, and sends an alert for the business owner to follow up and resolve the situation.

Customers that leave very positive feedback are taken to a page that thanks them, and encourages them to leave a review on one of the popular online review sites. The business owner gets to define which sites show up here and in what order they are displayed.

We are using a sophisticated email delivery system on the back end to ensure no spamming goes on, and we get the highest delivery rates.

The software is built, maintained and updated by experienced Silicon Valley software veterans, and employs the latest web frameworks – such as Twitter Bootstrap – to ensure we have an elegant, responsive interface that works on all devices, including iPhones, iPads, Android devices, etc.

This means that a business owner could add a new customer and send the feedback request right from their iPhone. Or they could approve a testimonial to go live instantly on their website right from their tablet.

The Testimonials Widget allows businesses to automatically feature testimonials from their customers right on their website. It employs a “graceful degradation” approach so that it can work on any website, whether you are using WordPress, PHP, or just plain old HTML. These testimonials are marked up using the Schema.org review format that Google crawls and understands (more info from Google here), which results in SEO benefits for the business’ website.

We also have some pretty cool internal apps for monitoring the system and allowing us to tweak the product in real-time as necessary. Our product development process allows us to turn things around very very quickly.

Finally, we take customer support very seriously. We use HelpScout to track all support requests coming in to support@GetFiveStars.com. This ensures we follow up with every customer request quickly without stepping on each other’s toes :)

We are a very customer-centric company. Our role models are companies that place customer service at the top of their priority list – like Amazon.com and Zappos.

Phil:  There are at least a couple of other good tools for getting reviews.  Grade.us and ReviewBiz come to mind.  What would you say to a business owner who has trouble deciding which tool(s) to try – besides “test several and see what works best”?

Don:  Yes, there are a lot of different reputation management tools out there. Many of them are very good.

My advice is to look for a tool that focuses on helping you deliver great customer service by proactively engaging customers and building word of mouth referrals vs just building review counts.

Our approach has been to create something specific to the small business owner who wants to truly listen to their customers and build their word-of-mouth referrals.

We’ve created a unique method of helping the business connect with their customers and ask them for feedback. We don’t just help them monitor or get online reviews. We are helping businesses build better relationships with their customers.

By the way, I’m not comparing us to the other solutions you mentioned, just trying to share our approach and philosophy on this.

Phil:  What types of businesses is it best-suited for – or not so good for?

Don:  GetFiveStars works best for any type of service oriented business – one where you have customer visits and want to build a relationship with them to encourage repeat business and word-of-mouth referrals.

It is not as good for product review sites, or websites with many products to review (like Amazon.com, for example) since the feedback requests are more geared for customer experiences or visits than products.

Phil:  How does GetFiveStars fit in with what you’re doing over at Expand2Web?

Don:  Expand2Web provides tools and training to help businesses succeed online. We help businesses make the transition to an effective web presence that delivers new customers.

GetFiveStars fits very well within that vision, and automates a process that we’ve implemented manually with many clients to help them follow up with their customers and build word of mouth referrals.

My background is as a software product manager. Working at companies like Interwoven and Microsoft, I’ve had the opportunity to work on some very exciting products. So this is a very special project for me because I can really see that value and results for the businesses we are working with. We’re having a blast working with customers, seeing how they use the software, and continuously improving it.

Phil: What kind of demand, or requests, or questions did you get from Expand2Web customers or clients that made you conclude, “This is how we should build GetFiveStars”?

Don:  We received a lot of really good feedback from our early customers that helped us shape the usability of the tool, and new ideas on reporting too.

One example of something that came from a customer request was the ability to automatically send out feedback request emails to customers rather than doing it manually.

This customer had an existing email list of customers and uploaded it to GetFiveStars. He was looking for guidance on things like “how many requests should I send? How often should I send them? What should they say?”

We automated all of these steps so that the business owner doesn’t need to worry about them. The business owner just get email alerts once feedback has been left for them so they can review it and respond if necessary. Of course they can still do it manually, but this is a feature that almost all of our customers take advantage of now.

Phil:  I know Professor Maps is another big brain that’s been involved in GetFiveStars.  When he and I talked recently, he said it really fits in with his vision for how business owners should go about getting reviews.  Where has Mike’s influence really come into play so far?

Don:  Mike became involved very early on. Much of the product is based on his vision. He’s a thought leader in local search and online reviews, and puts a lot of research into how these processes work best to help businesses succeed online.

With GFS we’ve tried to implement best practices that really work with our customers, and Mike’s philosophy and vision on what the best practices are. He is very involved in the product direction and partnerships that we make as well.  I feel very fortunate to have Mike involved in this project – he brings a ton of credibility and intelligence to the tool.

We both share a similar philosophy on how to help customers – it’s not just about getting as many reviews as you can or taking shortcuts.  We’re out to help businesses build long-term relationships with their customers and build thriving businesses with happy customers and word of mouth referrals.

Phil:  What’s been (or was) the hardest part of developing the tool?

Don:  Getting the design and user experience right. We’ve set a very high bar for the user experience in the product. And it’s hard to get right. Small Business owners are typically very busy and responsible for many jobs at once. So this tool needs to be very easy to use and efficient – it needs to create a lot of value or else the business owner will not use it.

We were fortunate enough to work with an amazing designer with a background in UX to help us. And we are constantly refining the user experience with the goal of making it super easy for the end business user, or agency, to use.

I’d say that has been the hardest part. That and coming up with the pricing ;)

Phil:  What was the biggest course-correction you made while developing GetFiveStars?  Any ideas you ended up scrapping – maybe even ones you’d like to revisit later?

Don:  Early on Mike urged us to develop an agency dashboard that would allow agencies, or anyone managing multiple business locations to see how all of their businesses are doing at a glance.

That required us to go back and rework how we thought about things. It was pretty challenging to do it right. It also complicated our messaging – we’ve had a really hard time figuring out how to describe the product and what it does to both SMBs and agencies at the same time.

I’m so glad we did that though, and think we have a much stronger product now because of it. Many of our customers are multi-location businesses and agencies that manage multiple businesses.

Phil:  What is the best piece of criticism you’ve received on GetFiveStars – one that really made you stop and scratch your head?

Don:  When some of our first customers got ahold of GetFiveStars, the first thing they wanted to do was import all of their Google and Yelp reviews into the tool.

They were really mad when we told them they couldn’t do this! But the problem is, if Google sees duplicate review content on your website, it may remove the review from the business’s Google+ page, which is not good of course.

It really highlighted for us the value of education in this domain. As you know, it’s very confusing for business owners how online reviews work, what the best approaches are, etc.

Phil:  People who create stuff tend to be their own harshest critics.  How would you critique GetFiveStars?

Don:  I feel like we have a great product. I can honestly say I’m happy with the functionality and the user experience.

But the marketing and website are not what I would like it to be. I don’t think it reflects the enthusiasm we have – and our early customers have – about the product.

We are a small company with limited resources and have been so focused on the software that we haven’t done a good enough job describing what it does.

[Note from Phil: they have some helpful videos on the site.]

Now it’s time for us to focus on telling our story, and helping business owners and agencies understand what we can do to make their lives better.

We also have to do a better job about getting educational content up on our website. I like companies who do a good job of providing free, valuable tips and info to customers. Everybody wins – people get valuable information to help them, and it builds trust and credibility in your brand. That worked very well for us with the SmallBiz theme, and now we need to do a better job of that with GetFiveStars in the form of tutorials and videos about customer feedback and reviews best practices, commonly asked questions, etc.

Phil:  What’s a “pro tip” about how best to use GetFiveStars?

Don:  I love the “pro tips” idea. I am always looking for “pro tips” whenever I take on something new, like learning photography, or using a new iPhone app or even playing a new game or sport.

Ok, here are a few “pro tips” for getting the most out of GetFiveStars:

  • Use the “automatic” mode for sending out feedback requests. We added a feature based on customer feedback that automatically sends out feedback requests to your customers on a daily basis. This makes their life easier, and ensures that they get a nice and steady flow of customer feedback and online reviews over time.

  • Customize your feedback request emails. We provide some nice templates, but there is no substitute for personalizing the emails that go out to your customers. You know your customers best. Making the emails personalized and friendly will result in more responses and ultimately better engagement and reviews.

  • Immediately follow up on less-than-positive feedback. One of our early customers told me she didn’t want to upload her email list and send out feedback requests to everyone. When I asked her why, she said “what if I get some bad feedback?” I told her, “that’s exactly why you want to send them out!” If you have a customer issue, don’t you want to know about it? If you know about it you can respond, and resolve the situation. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen an unhappy customer turn into one of the business’ biggest champions because they took the time to listen to them and address their concerns.

Phil:  What are some features you’d really like to add?

Don:  I’d like to add more and better reporting. I want to keep raising the bar on usability, and I want to do a great job of balancing new feature requests with maintaining simplicity in the product.

For example, I used to work at Microsoft, and one of their popular products was Microsoft Project. The product was updated an evolved over years and many features were added. At some point the product became too complex, it had hundreds of features that nobody used and the product became very hard to use.

Then along came a company called 37 Signals, who developed a lightweight, online project management tool called BaseCamp. They had a very interesting approach – they built a very simple, elegant and truly useful tool by tightly managing the feature set of the product. It was a pleasure to use, and they were very successful with this approach.

I like that philosophy – great products are simple to use and implement the key features that provide the most value really well. That’s the approach we’ve tried to take with GetFiveStars.

Here’s an example of a new feature I want to add soon – I admire the way tools like Trello and HelpScout have notifications inside the tool that introduce you to new features as they become available. It helps users discover new product features as they are using the tool and also demonstrates that the software developer is committed to improving the software regularly. I’d like to do something like that inside of GetFiveStars.

Phil:  GetFiveStars relies a lot on being able to contact your customers by email to ask for feedback / reviews.  What are some best-practices for emailing that you’d really want a GetFiveStars user to know and apply?

Don:  Personalize your email subject lines and the body of the email as well. Personalized, relevant emails get opened and acted on. We provide some nice defaults within the tool, so it doesn’t take long to tweak and customize them for your specific industry or types of customers.

Another tip I have is this – don’t be afraid to ask your customers for feedback. Many businesses I talk to are afraid to ask at first. But you will be surprised – customers want to be listened to. And even if they are not happy – especially if they are not happy – you want to hear from them. You can really turn an upset customer into a super happy customer by listening to them and addressing their concerns!

The big idea here is to engage with your customers and build lifelong relationships, so they will be happy and tell their family and friends about you. This becomes your best marketing, instead of running expensive ad campaigns.

Phil:  Some business owners only try to get reviews in fits and starts, and don’t really take the slow-and-steady approach.  They might be reluctant to pay even a small amount monthly, even for a tool that helps quite a bit.  What advice would you have for those people?

Don:  I know it is tempting to try to get a lot of reviews all at once, but the reality is that Google uses very sophisticated algorithms to determine ranking, placement, and review authenticity.

They are looking for a natural review profile that is built up over time from diverse sources. If they detect a surge in reviews or a lot of reviews from one source they may suspect that someone is trying to “game the system”. This results in filtering of some reviews, and poor results in the search rankings.

It’s similar to the panda and penguin updates where some people were stuffing their sites with thin content or buying backlinks. Sometimes they got a temporary boost but then got hammered when Google updated their algorithms to detect this behavior.

That’s why we recommend building a steady flow of feedback and reviews over time for the best, and most long-lasting results.

Phil:  There are a lot of mistakes a business owner can make when asking customers for reviews.  To what extent do you think business owners need to “educate” themselves about the dos and don’ts before (and while) using GetFiveStars?

Don:  It’s true – there are some “best practices” that businesses should consider when asking their clients for reviews.

In fact, we recommend asking for feedback first, and then depending on that feedback, take action to resolve any unhappy customers, or asking for online reviews from your happy customers. This shows your customer you aren’t just out for the review. You are in it to make them happy and satisfied customers. Then the great reviews come naturally.

This basic sequence will work wonders. And you don’t need a tool for this – you can even do it manually:

1.  Ask your customers for feedback

2.  Ask your happy customers for online reviews

3.  Follow up with unhappy or neutral customers to understand and address their concerns

I also suggest that businesses monitor the major online review sites so they know what is being said about their business online. Major review sites like Google and Yelp even allow the business owner to leave comments on the customer reviews. You can leave comments on positive and negative reviews, and leaving these comments shows that you are engaged with your customers and care about them.

Phil:  Obviously, a business owner can use GetFiveStars right “out of the box” to start asking for reviews.  But – as with anything else that’s worth doing – getting reviews is something where it’ll take you a little time to go from good to great.  What’s the learning curve for business owners who use GetFiveStars?  What do they need to get better at or discover over time, in order to use the tool to the max?

Don:  Recently we added a 3-step setup process to help businesses get up to speed quickly. It involves adding links to your online review profiles, customizing the feedback request email, and importing your customer email list.

Once those steps are done, GetFiveStars will automatically start sending out feedback requests to your customers (this automation is optional, by the way.)

Here are a few things I think business owners should do regardless of GetFiveStars:

  • Tell your customers how important reviews are for you, and make it easy for them to leave you a review (i.e. provide them with a direct link to your review profile.)
  • Make your website more personal. Add a picture of yourself, or of your smiling receptionist or office manager. People buy from other people, not anonymous websites.
  • Be transparent about reviews – put testimonials and reviews on your website with links to your online profiles. This shows customers that you aren’t hiding anything.

I’ve seen these tips lead to much more effective websites for many different businesses.

Phil:  Some business owners say that because there are so many fake reviews floating around the web, and because some reviews can get lost or filtered, it’s not worth putting much effort into getting reviews.  How would you reply to that?

Don:  It’s true there is a lot of this going on. But it doesn’t make it any less important to be proactive about your online reviews.

Google, Yelp and other services are getting very good at detecting false online reviews, and they have whole teams working on this. Don’t waste your time trying to game the system.

In the end, what does it matter if you have 100 five star reviews that are faked? What you are after is happy customers that are telling their friends about you. Fake reviews do not help with that. Engaging with your customers does. I know many businesses who don’t even need marketing campaigns because their word of mouth referrals provide so many new customers. You don’t get there by buying fake reviews.

The reason that we support so many forward facing review sites is to give a business’s customer a choice that they are familiar with and that they are used to. If they have used that particular review site before, the review that they leave for the business is more likely to “stick”.

Phil:  Let’s say someone makes a knock-off version of GetFiveStars that has the same features (but that maybe isn’t put together as nicely).  Would GetFiveStars evolve in any way to stay ahead of the curve, or is there a unique benefit you already bring to the table that you’d want to remind your users of?

Don:  My philosophy is that everything is a commodity today. We live in a truly global economy, and someone can always do it cheaper. The way to differentiate is by the experience you deliver to your customers. So that is our focus. We will keep raising the bar on the usability and effectiveness of the tool. We will keep raising the bar on the support we provide, and the knowledge and best practices that go into the product and process.

This opportunity is large enough – 26M small businesses in the US alone, 10s of millions more internationally. If we do our job of building a tool that truly provides value, and treating our customers like kings and queens then we will have plenty of customers and traction in the market.

Phil:  What changes brewing at Google, Yelp, or in the reviews space in general do you think might change the way GetFiveStars works?

Don:  That’s a very good question. It was interesting to watch how Google tried to change from the 5 stars model to the 30 point Zagat inspired scale for all businesses. Now they are changing back.

I think the core premise of the product – engaging with your customers to get their feedback and act on it – will not change based on any variations that Google, Yelp, or any other services makes.

Phil:  Is there a “core” feature of GetFiveStars that you just don’t see yourself ever changing (significantly)?

Don:  The ability to get feedback from customers and act on it. There are a lot of exciting directions I can see this product going, but one thing that I don’t think will ever change is the focus on interacting with customers and making it easy to get feedback from them and see how that is affecting your business.

Phil:  Right now, GetFiveStars is a one-offering brand.  Do you see it turning into a brand with other offerings?

Don:  I do feel like there are a lot of directions we can go with GetFiveStars. I want to keep the tool focused and effective, instead of cramming it with a ton of features and complexity. It should always be a pleasure to use, and take the minimum time and effort on the part of the business owner.

As we work with our customers, we can add new capabilities that add value. Birthday reminders, loyalty programs, and other customer interactions are certainly things we can imagine in GetFiveStars in the future.

Phil:  What are your current “listening stations” for getting feedback about GetFiveStars?

Don:  As you might imagine, we are using GetFiveStars to collect feedback from our customers. We are engaged one-on-one with them as they use the product to get their feedback and ideas. We are actively trying to solve their most pressing problems.

We also connect in with the Local Search community (look at the contributors to the Local Search Ranking Factors report) to keep on top of best practices and changes in the industry.

We’re also using a tool called Mention.com (based on a customer recommendation) to monitor certain topics on the web.

Phil:  What’s the best way for a user of GetFiveStars to contact you with technical questions or to offer feedback?

Don:  We provide personalized email support at support@GetFiveStars.com. We also have a user guide with video tutorials, FAQs and full documentation. Our developers respond to every email too.

Phil:  Putting GetFiveStars aside, what advice do you have for business owners who need more reviews?  (Like advice you gave people before you built GetFiveStars.)

Don:  Here are a few things I always recommend that a business should do:

1.  Monitor your online reviews so you know where people are leaving reviews for you, and respond to them.

2.  Put a simple and effective process in place for your office staff to ask your best customers for online reviews. This can be as simple as a clipboard with a list of names and email addresses. Collect those emails throughout the week, and then send a nice email at the end of the week to the people who visited, with a direct link to your Google+ page so they can leave you a review.

3.  Cultivate your online profiles for Google+, Yelp, and any industry specific site, and your website.

Phil:  Unrelated question: What’s a handful of books that helped you grow Expand2Web – and that you think would help anyone trying to grow a business?

Don:  I love this question. I consider reading great books an essential part of my business and life. Here are a few of my favorites:

The Referral Engine – by John Jantsch

Made to Stick – by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Decisive – by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs – by Carmine Gallo

Delivering Happiness – by Tony Hsieh

Predictably Irrational – by Dan Ariely

Seth Godin – Tribes, Purple Cow, others…

How We Decide – Jonah Lehrer

Presentation Zen – by Garr Reynolds

Resonate – by Nancy Duarte

If you want to know about a book for something – just ask me. I’ve probably read it!

Huge thanks to Don for the great insights.

If you’re serious about customer reviews, I highly recommend giving GetFiveStars a try.

(I also suggest checking out Expand2Web and following Don on Twitter.)

Any questions for Don or for me?  Leave a comment!

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The Best Darn Local SEO Client Questionnaire

If you’re a business owner who needs more local visibility, you want to make sure the person helping you has all he/she needs to deliver the goods.

Or, if you’re a local-SEO pro, you want to make sure you have all you need to deliver the goods.

The questionnaire I send to potential clients helps do both of those things.  It tells me what I need to know in order to be able to help, and to be able to say up-front how I can help.  Oh, and it helps me avoid mistakes.

I’ve refined my questionnaire over several years.  My experiences – smooth and rough – have taught me what info I need before I can or should do any work.

In 2010 I didn’t have a questionnaire (tsk, tsk…bad idea, Phil).  In 2011, it was maybe 10 questions.  Last year it was 14-19.  This year…well, I’ll let you count ‘em if you want to.

Below are all the questions (I can think of) that the person working on your local SEO – even if that person is you – will need the answers to before any work is done:

(You can also download the questionnaire on Google Drive or as a PDF.)

 

1.  Best email address and phone number at which to reach you:

 

2.  Official / legal name of your business:

 

3.  Other DBAs you may have used in the past or are using now:

 

4.  Business name you currently use or plan to use for your Google+ Local page (AKA Google Places page):

 

5.  Full physical street address of your location.  Please include suite #, if applicable.  (Note: Using P.O. boxes, UPS boxes, or “virtual offices” for any of your locations is NOT allowed in Google.  Please let me know if your address is any one of these.)

 

6.  Is that the only location of your business?  If not, please list the addresses of your other locations – as well as any old addresses.  Please also indicate which locations, if any, are not physical addresses where you actually meet customers.

 

7.  Do you share this street address with any other businesses, or do you use this address for other Google pages?

 

In either case, please specify the suite # of the Google page you’d like me to work on.

 

8.  If I mailed a letter to this exact address, would you be able to receive it easily?

 

9.  Where do you do business with your customers: at your address or at theirs?

 

10.  Roughly how long has your business been located at that address?  (2 years, 2 months, 2 weeks?)

 

11.  Office phone number (should use a local area code):

 

12.  Is this number for a standard landline – or is it a cell number, or does it forward, or do you track calls on it?

 

13.  Do you use this phone number for any other locations or other businesses you own?

 

14.  Do you use call-tracking numbers in any of your online marketing efforts?  If so, please specify the number(s).

 

15.  Other phone numbers you may have used in the past for your business:

 

16.  Have you ever advertised with the online Yellow Pages, or with a similar service?

 

17.  Your website URL:

 

18.  Is this the only website you use for this business?

 

19.  Do you have any other website URLs that “forward” or “redirect” to the above website URL(s)?

 

20.  Do you currently have the ability to make changes to your website whenever you’d like?

 

21.  Who bought your website hosting and domain name?

 

22.  Has your website ever been penalized by Google?  (If you’ve had sudden, dramatic drops in traffic, you probably were penalized.)

 

23.  Are you currently considering revamping your site or building a new one in the foreseeable future?

 

24.  Has your Google page ever been “suspended” or otherwise penalized, to your knowledge?

 

25.  Do you currently have access to your Google+ Local page?  (In other words, could you make edits to your page right now?)

 

26.  What are 1-10 local search terms for which you’d most like to get visible in Google?  (These are only to give me an idea of your goals; I’ll let you know which terms I think you can get visible for.)

 

27.  If you had to pick ONE most-important service or local search term to get visible for, what would it be?

 

28.  What is the specific city / geographical area you’d like to be visible in, ideally?

 

29.  How do you currently attract most of your customers / clients / patients?  (E.g. word-of-mouth, AdWords ads, etc.)

 

30.  Does your site have any page-one “organic” rankings on Google, as far as you know?  If so, please specify a few of them.

 

31.  Have you ever listed your business on third-party directory sites (e.g. Yelp, Angie’s List, etc.)?  If so, who currently has the login info for those sites?

 

32.  If I said you that you should ask some of your customers / clients / patients to write reviews for you, how willing would you be to ask them?  (Let’s use a scale of 1-10: 1 meaning you refuse to ask, 10 meaning you’re totally motivated.)

 

33.  If I suggested that you write a few pages of information about your services, would you or someone in your company be willing to write those pages (with my guidance)?

 

34.  Have you ever had a link-building campaign for your website?

 

35.  Have you worked with any local-SEO companies in the past?  If so, what was your experience?

 

36.  What keeps you up at night?  What’s been your biggest marketing challenge?

 

37.  How urgently do you feel you need more local visibility?

(Let’s use a scale from 1-10: 1 being desperate, 10 being fairly comfortable.)

 

38.  What made you want to contact me today?

 

If the questions seem like a lot of work to answer – even though they’re not, and should take maybe 15 minutes to fill out – think of each one as hours, dollars, and heartache you’re saving.

Any questions on the questions?  Any you’d add to the list?  Leave a comment!

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Yelp Business Categories List


 
 
It’s not too hard to find categories on Yelp to list your business under.  But it’s much easier to miss some and lose out on easy visibility – both in and out of Yelp – simply because you didn’t find the best categories to describe your business.

Yes, it does take time to identify all the categories that might be relevant to your business.  There are 698 categories.  You can pick up to 3 for your listing.

Yelp doesn’t let you see all of them at a glance.  You have to pick a primary category (there are 22) and then a secondary one (of 498), and perhaps a tertiary one (of 178).

The categories are scattered all over the place, and there isn’t even a “search” function on the site.  You get sick of rifling around and having to assume that you’ve picked the most-relevant categories.

Yet, your categories are crucial to your Yelp rankings, . Yelp’s results also consistently rank well in Google for local search terms.

You must get your categories right.

I’ve put together a complete list of all the Yelp business categories.  Why?  So that you can see all of them at a glance (and how to navigate to them), and so you can search the list or edit/process it.  The list helps you make sure you’ve got the 3 best categories.

You can download it here:

Google Drive

Excel

PDF

Update, 5:54 pm, 7/19/13: Thanks to Luther Lowe, director of public policy at Yelp, who just sent me the the links to two category lists that are buried under the “Yelp for Developers” section:

The first is a long honkin’ page with all the categories you’ll find in my list.

The second is another long honkin’ page, but this one tells you the categories available in each country Yelp serves.  You only need this if your business is located outside the US.

What should you do now?

Go to biz.yelp.com and log into your business listing.

Click on “Business Information” and then click to edit your “Basic Business Information.”

See which categories you’re listed under.  If you’ve got fewer than 3 or think you’re missing the best ones, search through my category list and see if you can find better categories.  Even if you’re confident you’ve already got the most-relevant categories, spend 5 minutes flipping through the list anyway, just to make sure.

In general, Yelp is a pain to deal with – especially when it comes to reviews.  But getting your categories right is an easy win.

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4 Local SEO Tools from Uncle Sam

The US Government is dysfunctional.  Congress is corrupt.  It’s so bad that, even in these times of spiraling deficits, lawmakers are still earmarking precious funds so that Uncle Sam can help you with…your local SEO.

Well, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration.

I don’t know that The Man has appropriated precious resources specifically to help your business grow its local rankings.  But he does have some resources that you might be able to use to your advantage.

Of course, they’re free.  (Actually, you’re paying for them…but let’s not go there :) )

Here are 4 government-issued tools that can come in handy for your local-search-visibility campaign:

 

Tool 1: USPS ZIP Lookup Tool

Is your business in a small town, near a city line, or in a big city with a bunch of tightly-packed ZIP codes?  Better double-check what ZIP the Post Office thinks you’re in (or, for that matter, which city they think you’re in) – before you do any citation-building for your business.

If you don’t “measure twice, cut once,” you’ll probably be in for a nasty surprise if the Post Office lists you at an address other than the one you use for your listings.  Why?  Because ExpressUpdate.com (AKA InfoGroup) feeds off of Post Office address data, and in turn feeds business data to a ton of directory sites where your address needs to be listed consistently across the board.  There will be conflicting info on your business, hurting your Google rankings.  You’ll feel like going postal.

(By the way, I’d known about the USPS checkup for quite some time, but I must tip my hat to Mary Bowling for reminding me by way of her great SMX Advanced presentation / slide deck.)

 

Tool 2:  Census.gov

Want to know more about the people (AKA potential customers) in the city you’re targeting?  The Census is the great-granddaddy of big data.

If you rummage around the site for long enough you’ll probably find out whatever you want to know, but I’d say following two areas are the best starting points:

http://www.census.gov/econ/cbp/

http://www.census.gov/econ/susb/

 

3.  OSHA’s Standard Industrial Category (SIC) Tool

If you’re listing your business on ExpressUpdate.com for the first time, OSHA’s category-search tool can help you pick out the best category to list your business under.  (More detail on this in my recent post on the new ExpressUpdate.)

 

4.  Your city’s local-business directory.

If you suspect some of your competitors are using fake business info – like a keyword-stuffed Google+Local business name or a phony address – you might want to look up their official business info.  From there, you’ll probably be in a better position to draw a conclusion as to what to do about it – like possibly reporting them to Google through the “Report a problem” button on their Google listing, or reporting them to the MapMaker fuzz.

You should be able to find your local-business register by searching Google for the name of your city/town + “local business directory,” “business register,” or “chamber of commerce.”  (Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.)

Do you know of any government-issued resources that might be handy for local SEO?  Anything local-business-related that you wish our tax dollars would go toward?  Leave a comment!

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