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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

google.com/search?q=Premo+Electric

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

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

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

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

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

Leave a comment!

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leave a comment!

Real Names Not Needed for Google+ Reviews: Smart or Stupid Move?

Google no longer requires reviewers to use their real names when reviewing businesses on Google+.

This is a complete turnaround of the policy Google has had for the last few years.  It’s the latest step in Google’s long push to get more Plus users, mostly for data-mining purposes.

As you can tell from the comments on Google’s announcement, people are torn on whether this is good or bad.  There’s also a good discussion at Linda’s forum.

Is it good or bad to be able to leave an anonymous Google+ review?  Overall, I think it’s bad.  But I’d like to lay my thinking out piece by piece.

Here are what I see as the pros and cons:

Pros

1.  It makes it simpler to write reviews of people / businesses who offer sensitive services: divorce lawyers, bankruptcy lawyers, psychotherapists, exterminators, bakers of adult-themed cakes, etc.

Many other sites have allowed anonymous or semi-anonymous reviews; now Google’s one of them.  This is the main “pro” by far, in my opinion.

2.  Full-name reviews will gain value: They’ll be seen as more credible because, in general, they are.  Score one for the business owners who’ve already worked out a strategy for earning those reviews.

Cons

1.  Google is making life easier for spammers, scammers, and miscreants of all stripes.

2.  People will trust Google reviews less, for better or worse.

3.  Fake reviews will be harder to spot.

4.  It encourages one-time reviews.  Writing a review as “John Doe” makes sense when you’re reviewing (say) a divorce attorney.  Not so much if you’re reviewing a hotel.  With this change, Google is encouraging more reviews, but not more reviewers.

5.  Many people still don’t like Google+, and still won’t want to use it.  To the extent those people are your customers, Google’s new policy probably won’t change their minds.

6.  Business owners’ responses to anonymous reviews won’t be as helpful or specific, if they don’t know whom they’re even addressing.

7.  Does this mean reviewers’ profile pictures don’t have to be of them, either?

8.  The sentiment snippets showing in the knowledge graph will become even more of a problem.

Other considerations

Now Yelp looks like the only site that gives a hoot about quality-control.  Not that Yelp is particularly good about QC;  it’s just always been two steps ahead of Google.

I wouldn’t rule out another filter crackdown, once even Google determines there’s too much junk coming through.

Your thoughts?  Any pros or cons you’d add? Leave a comment!

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!