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

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

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

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

Asking in-person for a review later

Pros

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

Cons

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

Asking in-person for a mobile review on the spot

Pros

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

Cons

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

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

Pros

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

Cons

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

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

Emailing one customer at a time

Pros

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

Cons

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

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

Pros

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

Cons

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

Email blast (via MailChimp, Aweber, etc.)

Pros

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

Cons

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

Providing review handouts / instructions in-person

Pros

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

Cons

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

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

Pros

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

Cons

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

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

“Review us” page

Pros

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

Cons

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

Phone call

Pros

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

Cons

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

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

Pros

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

Cons

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

Video walk-though

Pros

Cons

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

Text message (SMS)

Pros

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

Cons

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

Snail-mail requests

Pros

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

Cons

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

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

Links, buttons, or widgets on your site

Pros

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

Cons

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

Yelp check-in offer

Pros

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

Cons

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

Little cards with printed instructions

Pros

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

Cons

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

QR codes

Pro and con

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

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

Passive strategies: letting reviews “happen”

Pros

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

Cons

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

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

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

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

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

Any pros or cons I missed?

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

Leave a comment!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Any new strategies you’re considering?

Leave a comment!

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!

Local Reviews Strategy: Mobile vs. Desktop

One of my clients – we’ll call him Greg – asked me a great question the other day:

He wanted to know whether to gear his review-encouragement efforts toward smartphone users or toward desktop / laptop users.

I knew the ins and outs of his situation, and gave him a quick answer.  The essence of it was:

Focus on desktop reviewers if you have to “focus” on one, but encourage smartphone reviews to the extent customers find that easier.

That would be my general advice to you, even if I knew nothing about your situation.

But “mobile or desktop?” is a pregnant question.  Answering it gets complicated fast.

For one thing, the device you ask customers to use can affect your review efforts in big ways:

  1. It affects when you ask for reviews.  (Do you ask in-person, or by email, or both, or some other way?)
  1. It affects when customers can / will write the reviews (if they write them at all).
  1. It affects what you ask customers to do – it affects the kind of instructions you offer.

Why do those questions even matter?  Can’t you just say to everyone, “Hey, we’d sure appreciate a review” and still get reviews from customers?  Yes, and that can work OK.

But reviews are a numbers game.  You’ll get more of them if you can ask customers to do something that’s easy for them, and at a time that’s the most convenient for them.  Put a little thought into your approach and you might get 25 reviews for every 100 customers, rather than 3 for every 100.

Besides trial and error, the only way you’ll figure out which device(s) works better in your reviews campaign is to understand the pros and cons of each.

(By the way, I haven’t seen that one type of review inherently carries more “SEO benefit” than another.)

Pros of mobile reviews

  • If customers say “Yes, I’ll review you” on the spot, it’s easy to ask them to follow through on the spot.  They may even feel an obligation to do so.
  • Some younger customers might find it more appealing to write a review on their phones.
  • If you think some of your customers don’t own a full-sized computer at home, they’re probably used to doing everything on their phones – in which case writing a review for you is probably a cinch.
  • Pretty much everyone has the Google Maps app already.  (Which means all they need to write a review is a Google+ account.)

  • Google may be less likely to filter a review written on a smartphone.  (Thanks to Joy Hawkins for mentioning this  point in her comment, below.)
  • Pure speculation on my part: it’s possible that a review written through the Yelp app is less likely to be filtered.  (Did I mention I’m just speculating?)
  • Customers can check in at the same time.  That may make the review less likely to die in the filter.  And in Yelp that might give your rankings a slight bump.

Cons of mobile reviews

  • You pretty much need an app – one specific to the site.  Asking a customer on the spot to download and figure out how to use it may be a deal-killer.
  • You have to direct customers to one specific site (see above point).
  • Some sites where you might want reviews don’t have an app that makes it easy to write a review on a phone.  Avvo (for lawyers) is an example.  This can be a problem if your customers / clients / patients are concerned about privacy and you’re encouraging reviews on more-private sites.
  • It’s trickier for you to provide helpful instructions for customers who might need them.  (Although Darren’s mobile instructions for Google+ are kinda great.)
  • Customers probably won’t write much in the review.  Nobody’s going to consider a helpful review if it can fit in a fortune cookie.

  • Writing a review on a phone usually isn’t convenient at the moment you ask – and by the time your customers get home they’ll probably forget.
  • Some older customers may not have itchy phone fingers.

Pros of desktop / laptop reviews

  • Customers don’t have to download and use an app.  Assuming you know which specific site(s) you’ll be steering a given customer toward, your instructions can be one-size-fits-all.
  • Simple PDF instructions (like mine) work like a charm.
  • Customers are more likely to act on your email requests if they’re not on their phones.  It’s still easier to read emails on a full screen and to type with a keyboard.
  • Desktop / laptop may be easier for some older customers.

Cons of desktop / laptop reviews

  • Customers have to do it at home (or at work).  That may be several hours after you ask for a review.
  • It’s easier to get distracted.  Your request and their environment are at war for their attention.

  • A review can seem a little more like a chore.  Some people just find everything more enjoyable on their phones.

You should still get your sea legs with both devices.  Learn what kinds of requests work well and not so well.  Learn which sites bear the most fruit.

Wse the above points to try to create the easiest conditions for your customers from the start, and to troubleshoot and improve your process as you go.

Any pros / cons you’d add?  What’s worked well (and not so well) for you?

Leave a comment!