If Nobody in Your Area Cares about Yelp, Should You Still Bother Getting Reviews There?

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“My customers don’t care about Yelp.  Nobody around here cares about Yelp.  Why should I even try to get reviews there?”

That’s a valid concern of business owners in most of the US – and in most of the world.  Yelp, the Billion Dollar Bully, makes itself hard to avoid and even harder to like.  The site is only powerful because of all the reviews.  They’re its lifeblood.  So why on earth would you want to ask your hard-earned customers to review you there – when they probably don’t value it any more than you do?

A few reasons to hold your nose and work to get at least a few good reviews on Yelp:

1. Even people who don’t give a rip about Yelp still see your average rating in the search results when they Google you by name. They can tell that it’s a review site, even though they may not care that the review site is Yelp.  If nothing else, it’s a voice in the chorus.

2.  Yelp feeds reviews to Apple Maps, Bing Places, and Yahoo Local. So if you have a 1-star or a 5-star average on Yelp, that’s what people who check out your listings on those 3 local search engines will see.

3.  It’s worth having a couple positive reviews on Yelp just in case someone does a hatchet job on you there. It’s a defensive move, at the very least.  The time to start trying to get good reviews is not when you’re in a hole.

4.  Even though most people in the great State of _____ have the good sense not to care much about Yelp, some small segment of the population may pay attention to it. Throw them a bone.

5.  Maybe Yelp will broaden its appeal one day.

6.  It’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. Yelp doesn’t need to become your main squeeze, or a major time-commitment.  The goal is to get at least a couple good reviews on the board.

7.  It’s great practice for you, in the name of getting dialed-in on your review strategy. You’ll get a little better at knowing whom to ask, when to ask, how to ask, etc.  If it proves too tough to get a given customer to review you on Yelp, ask him or her to review you somewhere else instead.

How to get at least a few reviews on Yelp?  These posts may help:

How to Bulk-Identify Prime Yelp Reviewers with Yelp’s “Find Friends” Feature in 7 Easy Steps – me

20+ Depressing Observations about Yelp Reviews – me

8 Reasons Why Your Business Should Use Yelp’s Check-In Offers – Joy Hawkins

3 Next-Level Yelp Tricks for Business Owners – Brian Patterson

Do people in your area give a hoot about Yelp?  How do you approach it?

Leave a comment!

P.S.  Thanks to Lisa Moon of Paper Moon Painting for asking me a thought-provoking question last year that made me want to write about this.

How to Know If Your Local Reviews Strategy Works

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Your review count and average ratings are just the tip of the iceberg.

Your business might have 200 reviews and a 5-star average and your review strategy could still be a flop.

That’s because lots of other factors – I can think of 51 – determine how much your customers’ reviews help your local visibility and your ability to get more customers.  It matters which sites you’ve got reviews on, who your reviewers are, what they say in their reviews, what they don’t say, and how much marketing mojo you wring from those reviews.

You can use this post as a checklist to “audit” your reviews strategy, and you’ll probably think of ways to improve your strategy right away.  But this is not a paint-by-numbers, “Do these 51 things” type of post.  How to improve your strategy and your reviews may not be simple or easy.  The first step is to know what success looks like.

Beyond review count and average rating, here are 51 ways to know whether your reviews strategy is working.

(By the way, you’ll want a “Yes” answer to each of these questions.)

Sites

1.  Do you have reviews on the sites that show up on the first page (or two) of Google when you search for your business by name?

2.  Do you have reviews on the sites that show up on the first page or two for your main search terms?

3.  Do you have plenty of reviews on sites that are geared toward to your industry?

4.  Do you have reviews on any sites that feed your reviews to partner sites?

5.  Have you removed as many duplicate listings as possible, and tried to consolidate reviews that were spread out among duplicate listings?  (See this for Google, and this for Yelp.)

6.  Do any of your colleagues who work at your location (other doctors, lawyers, agents, etc.) also have reviews – and on a diversity of sites?

7.  Do all of your locations have reviews?

8.  Do you have at least one Yelp review?  Crucial because Yelp reviews will also show up on Apple Maps, Bing Places, and Yahoo Local.

9.  Have Yelp reviewers uploaded photos of your business (or your handiwork)?

Reviewers

10.  Are your reviewers from the cities where you want more customers?

11.  Do some of your longtime customers mention in their reviews that they’re longtime customers?

12.  Have some of your customers left reviews spontaneously – without your asking?

13.  Have some of your reviewers uploaded profile photos?  (They can upload profile photos on Google+, Yelp, and Facebook.  Can’t think of other sites at the moment – but please tell me if you know of any.)

14.  Is there roughly the right balance of women and men among your reviewers?

(Props to you if you can tell me what movie this arm-wrestle is from.)

15.  Do your reviewers’ ethnicities more or less reflect those of your customer-base?

 

16.  Do you have any reviews from “Elite” Yelpers?

17.  Do you have any Google reviews from “Local Guides” or other high-volume power reviewers?

18.  If your customers (or clients or patients) are concerned about associating their full names with reviews, do some of them still write you “anonymous” reviews?

19.  Do you have any reviews from non-customers (e.g. leads or peers)?

Reviews and ratings

20.  Are at least some of your reviews long and detailed?

21.  Do reviewers mention specific services?

22.  Do you have recent reviews?

23.  Do you have old reviews?  (If you don’t, I guess you can’t help it.  Just start racking ‘em up today.)

24.  Do you have at least a few less-than-stellar reviews?  (You should.)

25.  Do reviewers mention your company by name?

26.  Do customers mention the selling points you hoped they’d mention?

27.  Do reviewers ever mention exactly where they’re from, or where you performed your services for them?

28.  Is at least one review funny?

29.  Do you have a reviewer who was skeptical at first but became a raving fan – and mentioned that fact in his / her review?

30.  Are your filtered reviews (on Yelp) mostly positive?

31.  Have you tried to get removed any negative reviews that violate the site’s content policies?

32.  Do your reviews indicate what types of people should not become your customers?

33.  Have any customers updated once-negative reviews to positive reviews?

34.  Do any customers compare you favorably to specific competitors?  Bonus points if customers make a comparison in your favor in their reviews of your competitors.

Leverage

35.  Do you post responses to (at least some of) your reviews?  (Read this for tips on responding to reviews.)

36.  On Yelp, do readers “vote” on your reviews?

37.  Do you have a separate “Reviews” page on your site?

(You can create one the old-fashioned way, or use a service like Grade.us.  Above is an example of its “Review Stream” plugin in action.)

38.  Does your email signature include links to where people can read your reviews?

39.  If your reviews are pretty positive on average, do you showcase them on your site in such a way that most visitors will see your reviews?  (Like with widgets and badges.)

40.  Are the review snippets that show up in the search results more or less positive?

41.  Is Google showing flattering review snippets in the knowledge graph?

42.  Do you re-share your Google Plus reviews in your “Posts” stream?

43.  Do you mention your name, role in the company (if appropriate), and contact info (if appropriate) in your responses?

Conversion power

44.  Are your Google Plus “review stars” showing up in the search results?

45.  Do you rank at or near the top of the search results within a given review site?

46.  Do reviewers mention specific people in your organization as standouts?

47.  Have you won any awards as a result of your reviews?  (E.g. Angie’s List Super Service Award.)

48.  Does one of your listings (or your “Reviews” page) rank for name of service + “reviews” search terms?  This is probably the best approach to barnacle SEO, by the way.

49.  Has a happy customer ever written a polite and unprompted defense of you in response to another customer’s negative review?

50.  Are you the obvious choice to click on in the Google Places results?

51.  Do customers ever say, “I chose you because of your reviews”?

 

Further reading

Did you conclude your review strategy isn’t working too well?  These posts might help:

How to Execute the Perfect Local Reviews Strategy – me

Principles for a Review Plan: Considerations in Encouraging Customer Reviews – Mike Blumenthal

Review Management: 7 Tips on Avoiding Bad Reviews – Mike Blumenthal

5 Ways Negative Reviews Are Good for Business – Matt McGee

Edit, Remove and Respond To Reviews – Tools For Conflict Resolution – Miriam Ellis

16 Reasons to Get Reviews on a Diversity of Sites – me

Industry-Specific Local Review Sites: the Definitive List – me

Mining Your Online Reviews: 25 Nuggets You Can Use to Get More Local Customers – me

Can you think of any other signs of a winning reviews strategy?

Besides review count and average rating, what do you think is most important for attracting customers?

Leave a comment!

20+ Depressing Observations about Yelp Reviews

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I’ve seen Yelp from many angles: as a local SEO-er, as a local-reviews madman, as a consumer, as a two-year “Elite” reviewer, as a concerned citizen, and as a business owner.

That means I’ve got a love like-hate relationship with Yelp reviews.

It’s a nice feeling every time a client of mine gets a hard-earned review there.  Also, I pay some attention to Yelp reviews when I’m debating where to take my open wallet.

On the other hand, Yelp is infuriating for most business owners.  From the misleading (at best) ad-sales tactics, to the aggressive review filter, to the absurd policy that says you can’t even ask for a review, Yelp’s about as likeable as Genghis Khan.

Those issues are just the beginning.  I can think of at least 20 difficulties with Yelp reviews you’ll have to navigate.  You might have learned about some of them the hard way already.  Now you can find out about the rest.

This isn’t just a mope-fest.  You’ll learn a thing or two about how Yelp handles your reviews, and once I’ve laid out all the problems (that come to mind) you’ll probably think of ways to improve your reviews strategy.

Well-known problems

1.  Yelp filters reviews – and often does a poor job of it.

2.  You aren’t supposed to ask for Yelp reviews.

3.  Reviews are the main factor for your rankings within Yelp, and Yelp’s category pages often dominate Google’s search results.

4.  There’s a good chance a negative review will be visible on the first page of your brand-name search results, especially if the reviewer mentions your company by name.

5.  Yelp doesn’t make its policies apparent enough. Its “don’t ask for reviews” policy should be impossible for business owners to miss.  That it filters most reviews by first-timers and other new reviewers should be obvious to would-be reviewers before they write anything.

6.  As soon as you get even one Yelp review you’ll start getting sales calls, pressuring you to pay for ads. (I wouldn’t suggest you bite.)

7.  Yelp is hard to avoid on the Coasts (especially on the West Coast). In certain cities – like San Francisco, Portland, and NYC – you’re probably behind a lot of local competitors if you don’t have at least a few reviews there.

Little-known problems

8.  Yelp feeds reviews to Apple Maps, Bing Places, and Yahoo Local. Your bad reviews can show up on those 3 major local search engines (and beyond).

9.  It usually takes 10-15 reviews before a Yelp reviewer is “trusted” and his/her reviews are no longer filtered often or at all. It’s not practical to ask your reviewers to make a habit of Yelping, so as to reach that number of reviews .  That’s why the name of the game is to identify any customers / clients/ patients who are already active on Yelp, and to let it be known that you’re on Yelp and like feedback (wink, wink).

10.  Yelp reviews can get filtered and unfiltered multiple times. It depends on whether the reviewer goes inactive for more than a couple of weeks.  But this problem seems to go away once a reviewer has written about 15-20 reviews over a period of around 3 months.

11.  Even some “approved” reviews can become collateral damage if later you get too many reviews that do get filtered.For example, let’s say you have 4 reviews.  2 of them were written by very active Yelpers (maybe “Elites”) and are safe.  The other 2 were written by people with a handful of reviews each, and those reviews live happily on your page for a few months.

Now you put on your Icarus wings and ask half a dozen people who’ve never written a review on Yelp to review you.  Their reviews show up on your page for a couple of days before going into the grinder – and 2 of your reviews written by sometime Yelpers get filtered, too.  The only reviews that remain are the ones written by hardcore Yelpers.

12.  Negative reviews appear somewhat more likely to stick.

13.  The first review of a business is somewhat more likely to stick.

14.  If your business’s first review on Yelp is negative it’s probably going to stick.

15.  Reviews written by people with many “friends” are somewhat more likely to stick. It’s very easy to rack up “friends” on Yelp, so if you have a ticked-off customer with many “friends” you may have a problem.

16.  Content has almost no bearing on whether a review gets filtered. It’s mostly about how active the reviewer is / has been.  Swearing (as long as it’s not name-calling) is usually allowed.  Also, the mischievous elves who man Yelp’s review filter seem entertained by the kinds of reviews that could have been ghostwritten by Jack Nicholson.

17.  Reviews that you “flag” are very hard to get removed unless the text of the review is ad hominem or un-PC. The truthfulness of the review or credibility of reviewer doesn’t matter much to Yelp.

18.  If your business moves to a new location Yelp probably won’t transfer your reviews.

19.  Yelp reviews won’t show up in your knowledge graph.

20.  You’re at a disadvantage if you can’t or don’t want to offer a Yelp check-in offer. Why?  Because if you do a check-in offer Yelp will ask your customers to write reviews.  Pretty hypocritical, as I’ve argued.

21.  Yelp has been pushing the “not recommended” reviews farther and farther out of sight. You click the link to see “reviews that are not currently recommended,” you’re shown two filtered reviews, and then you have to scroll down and click another gray link that says, “Continue reading other reviews that are not currently recommended.”  How many customers will do that?  Oy.

22.  Who becomes an “Elite” reviewer is arbitrary. It partly depends on whether your reviews get “voted” on, and whether you’ve written any “Reviews of the Day.”

But it seems to depend above all on whether your region’s “Community Manager” sees your reviews and likes them.

23.  Only the first couple of lines of business owners’ responses will show up, unless readers click the small “Read more” link. Bad reviews will show in their Tolstoyan entirety, but you’ve got to say something compelling in haiku space, or else the would-be customer never sees your side of the story.

Don’t you feel better now?  No?  Time for a cat picture – and not just of any cat:

Now that we’re both in a happier place, let’s take up a weighty question:

Given the massive PITA factor, why on earth should you still pay any attention to Yelp?

Because the reviews get lots of eyeballs, and because Yelp is splattered across Google’s local results

What can you do?

Ask most or all of your customers for reviews, and give them choices (including easier sites).  Some of those people will be Yelpers.

Link to your Yelp reviews – or just your page – on your website and in your email signature.

Identify already-active Yelpers and send them mind-waves.

Diversify where you get reviews.

Keep making customers happy.

Any observations on Yelp reviews?

Any strategy suggestions?

Leave a comment!

20 Local SEO Techniques You Overlooked (Almost)

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We local-SEO geeks talk about the same old basic principles a little too much: clean up your citations, don’t get penalized by Google, be mobile-friendly, earn “local” links, create “unique” content, deserve reviews, ask for reviews, etc.

It’s all good advice.  I’ve devoted many of my blog posts in the last 4 years to unpacking that advice so it’s easy to act on.

The trouble is we’re repetitive.  We’re almost as bad as the talking heads at CNN.  We rarely move on to what you should do once you’re pretty solid on the basics – and there is a lot you can and should do.

(In fact, many of the overlooked wins can also help you even if you just started working on your local SEO.)

Here are 20 stones I find unturned way too often:

1.  Nail the categories on your non-Google listings: Pick out the most-relevant ones, and as many of them as are applicable. Dig them up with Moz Local’s free “Category Research” area and with my category lists for Apple Maps and Yelp.

2.  Do a second round of work on your citations. Do it a couple of months after the initial blob of work.  You might be amazed at how many stragglers you find.  Might be enough to motivate you for a third go-round.

3.  Try to find and possibly hire a MapMaker editor to join the Forces of Good in your local anti-spam war. Of course, there’s no guarantee that even a MapMaker editor can stop your competitors’ spam offensive, but it’s worth a shot.

4.  Become or get to know an “Elite” Yelper (like this recruit). Got a review that’s viciously personal, un-PC, or is obviously from an imposter?  The Elite Yelper may know just how to phrase the takedown request for the best chances of a takedown.  Also, because most Elite Yelpers don’t really have lives, Yelp seems to expect them to report data-errors (like wrong addresses), and usually acts on them.

5.  Embedding on your website the Google map that’s featured on your Places page. Don’t embed a map of a generic address.  You want Google to know people are looking up directions to you.

6.  Get a Google Business View photo shoot. (10 reasons here.)

7.  Pick the right itemtype for the blob of name / address / phone info that you’ve marked up with Schema.org markup. Or take a few extra minutes to go bananas with your Schema.

8.  Join a couple of local and industry associations. I’m talking about your local Chamber of Commerce and the sorts of organizations you’d find if you Google the word that describes your business + “association” or “organization.”  They’re often worth joining for the offline benefits, and you’ll probably get a good link.

9.  Diversify the sites where you encourage customer reviews. The benefits are many.

10.  Create a “Reviews” page. Use it to showcase your reviews (possibly with widgets and badges) and to ask any customers who visit the page to put in a good word.  You can pretty easily create a page from scratch, or you can make a nice one with a service like Grade.us.  Link to it in the signature of your emails, as a gentle way to encourage any customers you email to pick up a quill.

11.  Write blog posts to answer super-specific questions that a customer might type into Google. Don’t try to rank for your main keywords (“How to Pick the Best Dentist in Cleveland: a Guide by Cleveland Dentists for Cleveland Dentist Patients”).  It won’t work and you’ll look stupid.  (Refer to this post and its follow-up.)

12.  Get some barnacle SEO happening. By now, Will Scott’s concept isn’t new, but most business owners still don’t even try to do it.  But just start with the basics: if you pick out all the right categories (see point #1) and encourage reviews on a variety of sites (see point #9) you’ll be in pretty good shape.

13.  Use wildcard searches for keyword-research. (This one was new to me until very recently.)

14.  Lengthen pages that aren’t ranking well – including and perhaps especially your homepage. Yes, this sounds old-school, and about as cool as a pocket protector.  But I’m not telling you to add gibberish.  Go into detail about what makes you different, describe your service / process, address concerns the reader might have, etc.  Google likes having meat to sink its teeth into.  One-paragraph Wonder Bread pages tend not to do as well.

15.  Ask for reviews twice. People forget, and it’s a nice excuse to keep in touch.  Follow up with customers you asked for a review – especially if they said they would.  It’s easy to avoid making yourself a pest: just say you’d still appreciate their feedback, ask them if they have any questions for you, and thank them in advance.

16.  Include links to sites where you have reviews. (Be sure to have those links open into a new browser tab, so nobody’s leaving your site.)  Use review widgets and badges when you can.

17.  Cannibalize underperforming microsites, bad blog posts, or other online carcasses. Grab (and edit as need be) any content that’s redeemable, and use it to make your site bigger and better.

18.  Get listed on Apple Maps. Yes, everyone knows about aMaps by now, but I’m amazed at how many times I start working for clients and see only their competitors on Apple.

19.  Try hard to reach non-English speakers, if applicable. Don’t just stick Se Habla Español (for example) in your footer as an afterthought.  Include a paragraph in that language on your homepage and on your “Contact” page.  Maybe create a whole page geared toward those customers.  Be sure to use the hreflang tag if you have more than one version of the same page.

20.  If you’re a local SEO-er, find steps your clients might be able to do better than you can. Don’t just look for more billable hours; look for the best person for the job, or the best combination of people.  Don’t spend hours trying to dig up all their old phone numbers and addresses; ask them first.  Whenever a writing task comes up, pump your clients for info.  When you need to find link opportunities, send them my link questionnaire.  They know the business better than you do.  If you don’t get much cooperation, fine.  At least you tried, and you’re giving them options.  But I’ve found that most clients recognize when they’ve got just the right wrench for the oddly-shaped bolt.

What’s an “overlooked” local SEO tip you like?

Any that you’re considering but not sure about?

Leave a comment!

Andrew Shotland Talks Apple Maps Marketing

Andrew Shotland talks Apple MapsHow should Apple Maps fit into your plan to get visible to more customers in local search?

Read on and you’ll get some answers from Andrew Shotland – the guy behind Local SEO Guide and the Apple Maps marketing expert.

I had a great talk with Andrew about aMaps earlier this month at SMX West, where he did a great presentation on our “Local” panel.

I’d had some aMaps-related questions floating in my head for some time.

So naturally, I informed him that 10 unicorns would die unless he answered all of my questions in a full-blown interview.

He said, “Let the unicorns go.  It’s my knowledge of Apple Maps you want.”

Phil:  Apple Maps has kind of sucked so far.  Why should anyone use it now – as opposed to using it only once it’s improved and matured?

Andrew:  I have heard a lot of horror stories, but lately I haven’t found it to be too bad.  I find myself switching between it and the Google Maps app all of the time.  They both have their pluses and minuses.  The case for using Apple Maps now is that if you are on iOS 6.0 or above, you are going to use them whether you think they suck or not.  Apple Maps is the default mapping application for pretty much any location-based iOS app.  I think there are a few hundred thousand of those.  And there are a few hundred million people who have access to them.

 

Phil:  Eventually Apple will get good and more-complete local maps data.  Then what happens?

Andrew:  Any maps service will never be complete, but you’re right.  Maps are too important to the mobile/digital world for Apple to not get them at least 75% right.  I think it’s inevitable that at some point Apple launches its own version of a dashboard where businesses can claim and manage their listings.  That said, Apple’s top priority seems to be consumers – remember, Apple’s primary business model is to sell things to you, not to sell you to advertisers – so I think they are going to spend most of their effort making Apple Maps as useful as possible and will likely skimp on the b2b features.  Sounds familiar right?  So as for what happens – expect plenty of bitching and moaning by guys like me about how Apple doesn’t care about small businesses.  And expect a lot of glitches like we are seeing with Google+ Local.  So expect a lot of opportunity for guys like me and you to help those poor souls who rely on these mapping systems to get found by potential customers.

 

Phil:  What promise or potential do you think Apple Maps holds that Google+Local doesn’t?

Andrew:  The big difference I am anticipating is that Google+ Local will be a more closed system in that it will be designed to promote use of Google+ Local.  When I think about what Apple Maps could become, the first thing that comes to mind is that it’s in Apple’s interest to promote using of iOS not Ping (remember that turkey?).  This means that Apple Maps could become “app aware,” meaning that the map app would know what other apps you use and when using the map, could pull in info from Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter, Instagram, etc.  That would be kind of cool.  And Apple Maps is a much better name than Google+ Local, don’t you think?

[Umm, yeah.  The name “Google+Local” is up there with the jump to conclusions mat.]

 

Phil:  Do you think Apple will force Google to get its “local” act together over time – out of competitive pressure?

Andrew:  Per my general skepticism of businesses being a high priority for Apple Maps, I don’t see Apple forcing Google to get its act together any time soon.  Apple will force Google to continually iterate on the consumer side of things which will be great, but again businesses will probably be pushed to the back of the bus.

 

Phil:  How do you think Apple will try to monetize Maps (other than indirectly, by maybe giving people fewer reasons to get Android phones)?

Andrew:  If we take the “What would Steve Do?” approach, ads suck.  The last thing the Apple Maps guys want is an ad on their beautiful creation.  And I think for now there’s enough profit in the iOS ecosystem to treat Apple Maps as a cost-center that supports everything else.  Offers/coupons seems like it could be a user-benefit thing that could pop-up in the Maps, but if I were an Apple engineer, I probably would make it a very obvious opt-in feature.  Though it would be cool if Siri could tell you when you’re driving by a Jack in The Box that she has a deal on a Big Mess.

 

Phil:  The business listings in Apple Maps are really sparse; not much on the page.  Do you think it will stay that way?

Andrew:  At some point businesses will get to control what goes into these listings and they will contain more data like offers, videos, etc, but I expect the design to remain very Jony Ivesian, whatever that means.

A "Jony Ivesian" Apple Maps local business listing

Phil:  Yelp reviews are a huge factor in Apple’s local rankings, as you know.  What strategy (if any) should business owners follow for scaring up Yelp reviews?

Andrew:  You are the master of that one Phil.  Just add a link to your how to get reviews infographic 🙂  The important thing to keep in mind is that your Apple Maps profile shows the most recent three Yelp reviews, so make sure the last three customers left with a smile.

 

Phil:  To what extent does Apple Maps dovetail with the enterprise SEO work you do?

Andrew:  Since I launched AppleMapsMarketing.com, I have received a lot of requests for help from all over the world to fix bad/missing data issues for multi-location businesses as well as single-locations.  A lot of agencies have contacted me because they are starting to see demand from their clients and they don’t know what to do. I recently got contacted by a big Dunkin Donuts chain in South America.  Unfortunately I couldn’t help them, because Apple Maps doesn’t show business listings in the countries they are in.  I am keeping a list of those countries at Countries Where Apple Maps is Closed For Business – it’s pretty sparse now, but I add to it as I have time to research.

 

Phil:  How has your opinion of Apple Maps changed since it was released?

Andrew:  It hasn’t really.  Ultimately it’s irrelevant how good the service is in the short term.  In the long term, I expect Apple Maps to be either the #1 or #2 most important service in local search.  That’s why I am spending time figuring it out now.

 

Phil:  What should the “little guy” be doing now, in terms of paying attention to Apple Maps?  How about bigger businesses?

Andrew:  These posts contain most of what you need to know at the moment.  I update them as I figure out new stuff, but if readers figure out anything new, I invite them to share it in the comments and we’ll throw you a nice fat juicy link as a thank-you:

How to Add Your Business Listing To Apple Maps

Apple Maps Business Listings Data Suppliers by Country

The Unofficial Apple Maps FAQ for Businesses

 

Phil:  Do you think Apple Maps has – or should have – any bearing on what a business owner’s overall local SEO strategy should be? In other words, is it a game-changer, or simply a big piece in the local-visibility puzzle?

Andrew:  The puzzle thing.  I wouldn’t spend much time thinking about Apple Maps SEO at the moment. The fact that the primary interface is a mobile map that presents listings based on your precise location means that traditional rankings are not as relevant.  You need to think about categorization and make sure your data is correct, but at the moment there’s not a lot you can do to get to #1 for whatever search besides have a lot of 5-star Yelp reviews.

 

 

Phil:  Aside from the fact that it’s Apple, why do you like writing about Apple Maps?  For that matter, what do you like about Apple Maps itself so far?

Andrew:  As you can tell from my other blog, Local SEO Guide, I got pretty bored writing about Google.  There are plenty of other smart people getting into the minutiae of Google+ Local – Mike Blumenthal, Linda Buquet, Mike Ramsey, Nyagoslav Zhekov, to name but a few.  The reason I started Local SEO Guide was because at the time, nobody was talking about local SEO and I thought I had some things of interest to talk about.  I started Apple Maps Marketing for the same reason.

As far as what I like about Apple Maps so far – it has helped me illustrate to clients how investing a little bit of effort into writing quality content and promoting it can get you ranked on page one of Google for what is likely one of the most competitive keywords on the planet.  I doubt many people are actively optimizing to rank for “Apple Maps”, but given how many news stories there are from major and minor media, I am still amazed that about half the time my blog with my stinking avatar shows up on page one.

 

Phil:  What are some tests you’re currently running?

Andrew:  Right now I am trying to determine the fastest way to get an update into Apple Maps.

 

Phil:  If Steve Jobs could descend from the misty ether and answer any 3 questions you had about Maps, what would you ask him?

Andrew:

– Did you really die or did you actually upload your consciousness into iCloud?
– Do you now agree that Walter Isaacson was the wrong guy?
– What did you think of the tap dancing kid at the Samsung Galaxy 4 extravaganza?

Did you really think I was going to use my precious time with afterlife Steve talking about mapping?

 

Phil:  Apple Maps in 2018.  What it’s like?

Andrew:  Chip…in…Head…Full on LTE to the brain with turn-by-turn navigation voices in your head.  Updates may cause headaches, eye strain and leakage of clear fluid from the nostrils.  If SIRI keeps telling you to “turn in 500 feet” for more than four hours straight, consult your technician.

Thanks, Andrew!

Any questions or thoughts?  Go ahead…leave a comment.

 

Yelp Ranking Factors

How would you go about ranking well on Yelp?For a while I’ve pondered a simple question: how does Yelp.com rank the businesses listed on it?

A few of my clients have wondered that, too.  They’ve asked, “Phil, my local rankings in Google are great, but why am I only on page 2 of Yelp for my big search terms?”

Until now, my answer has been “Well, I’m not sure, but I do know priority #1 is to get more customers to write you Yelp reviews.”

I was right – mostly.  Reviews in general are the biggest factor in your Yelp rankings.  (Duh…reviews are Yelp’s whole claim to fame).  That may not be news to you.

But there are specific aspects of those reviews – not just sheer numbers of them – that likely influence your rankings.  Plus, there seem to be entirely separate factors that matter.  (More on those in a second.)

 

Why should you care about your Yelp rankings?

a.  Yelp is already a giant in the local-search realm.  It’s a close second to Google+Local, and the site appears to be growing rapidly.

b.  Yelp has a hardcore user-base.  Yelpers love writing reviews, and they read others’ reviews.  They’re a good group of people to be visible to.

c.  Yelp reviews are fed to other big sites.  Bing Business Portal gets many of its reviews from Yelp – and should be getting more over time.  Plus there’s the soon-to-be partnership with Apple Maps.

d.  If ever we witness an epic “Google fail” (or, more likely, a series of smaller ones) and Google ceases to be the place people go to search for local businesses, my guess is Yelp will fill more of that role.

That, gentle reader, is why you need to pay attention to your Yelp presence (if you don’t already).

But Yelp, like Google, doesn’t exactly broadcast how it ranks businesses on its site.

 

First, a few notes

The little lawyer on my shoulder just reminded me that I should mention a few points before we get into the likely ranking factors.

  • This is based purely on my observations.  Yelp has not “told” me or anyone else what goes into their secret sauce.
  • Nor is this supposed to be some “scientific study” (as if there really is such a thing in the world of SEO).  Apart from a few years of dealing with Yelp for my clients, all I did recently was spend a couple hours studying the rankings in a variety of local markets.
  • All I’m trying to do is sketch out the basic moving parts that seem to make up Yelp’s machinery, so that you can make the most of the factors you can control and just be aware of the ones you can’t.  It would not be smart to try to game Yelp’s rankings (not that you’re the type to do that!).  Even if you could do so, the results probably wouldn’t last for long: Yelp has a lot of employees who “make the rounds” and keep the search results fairly clean.
  • One thing I want to show is the rankings are NOT just about how many reviews you have.
  • The rankings I’m referring to are the ones you see by default when you search on Yelp – the ones ranked by “Best Match”

The Factors

Major factors (I’m 99% sure Yelp takes these into account):

1.  Existence of reviews.  Almost all of the businesses that have reviews rank above the businesses that do not have any reviews.  Think of it as a poker game with an ante of one review.  If you don’t get that one review, you’re not even at the table.

2.  Keyword-relevance of reviews.  Spammers and scammers know about this, too, but Yelp’s filters do a pretty good job of weeding out the bad apples.

3.  Business categories specified.

4.  Name of business.  This is something you just can’t control on Yelp.  But if you have a relevantly-phrased business name, that will work in your favor.

5.  Number of reviews.

6.  Reviews by “Elite” members.  These people are the wizened, weathered village elders.  Their words seem to carry extra heft.

7.  Check-ins via smartphone.  These are going to be even more important once Apple Maps rolls into town.

8.  Quality of reviews.  Are they 1-star or 5-star?  This doesn’t seem to be as big a factor as you might think, but it does seem to be a factor.

Possible additional factors

9.  Number of reviews left for other businesses by reviewer.

10.  Completeness / thoroughness of business profile.

11.  Location-relevance of reviews.

12.  Recentness of reviews.

13.  Frequency of reviews.

14.  Age of listing.  I’d bet you a box of stogies that older listings are assigned a certain amount of “trust” by Yelp, and that they generally rank a little more highly as a result.

15.  Business info from third-party data-providers (particularly Acxiom, according to David Mihm’s Local Search Ecosystem).

16.  Editorial discretion of Yelp employees.

 

How might you improve your Yelp visibility?

  • Get duplicate listings removed.  You want any and all reviews your customers write to benefit one listing, rather than sorta-kinda benefit two listings.  You don’t want your reviews spread thinly.
  • Try to prevent future duplicates from popping up.  If this has been a problem, what I suggest you do is go to the upstream data-aggregators – Acxiom, InfoGroup, and LocalEze – and make sure you only have ONE listing per location on those sites, and that those sites list the same business info that your Yelp listing has.
  • Specify as many relevant business categories as you can.  Emphasis on ”relevant.”
  • Claim your Yelp profile so that you can write in-depth descriptions of your business and services.
  • When asking customers for reviews, your first question should be “Have you ever written Yelp reviews?”  If the answer is “yes,” simply ask those people to post a Yelp review for you.  They’ll know what to do.  Reviews left by first-time users are more likely to get filtered out.  Even if you ask someone who’s never heard of Yelp, that’s fine; just know that there’s a chance his/her review will never see the light of day.
  • If you’re face-to-face with a particularly enthusiastic, smartphone-fondling customer, ask him or her to give to go onto Yelp real quickly and give you a check-in.
  • Get in the habit of asking customers for feedback on Yelp.  Don’t have a Yelp-review binge weekend.  Ask customers as close to real-time as possible – not 2 months after you’ve provided your services.  I guarantee you won’t be able to drum up many reviews if you do it in bursts.  Just stick with it.

It would be very cool if someone else – maybe you! – continues to dig into the question of why some businesses rank more highly on Yelp than others do.

I’d love to hear any of your first-hand experience with Yelp rankings and visibility, or if you do some research and draw some new conclusions about Yelp’s likely ranking factors.