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

https://www.flickr.com/photos/digislides/6066906966/

You may know about Yelp’s “Find Friends” feature, which allows you to see whether specific customers (or other people) have joined Yelp.  This is a great way to encourage customers to write you a review, in a non-pushy way.

You may even know there’s a way to look up customers en masse.  You can connect Yelp to Facebook…

…or you can connect Yelp to your email account…

…and it will show you all your contacts who have Yelp accounts.

But you might run into problems, especially if you go the Facebook route:

Problem 1: You’ll have a bunch of non-customers among your email contacts or Facebook “friends.”  You don’t want reviews from them, and you don’t want to burn up a bunch of time on vetting your list.

Problem 2: Yelp will only give you a way to contact them in Yelp – in a message you can send customers if you add them as a friend – when you may prefer to send them an email.

Problem 3: You might want to be organized about how you contact Yelper-customers: you may want their full names next to their email addresses, next to some notes on their jobs, next to date you sent your first email or added them as a friend, etc.

It may sound like a pain, but working off a list of your customers’ email addresses is the only way (that I know of) to look up a long list of customers.

I recently vetted a list of 2500+ customers for one of my clients.  What could have taken me or someone else 10 hours ended up taking only a little over an hour, with some fancy footwork.

I suggest using my bulk-lookup approach if you’ve got more than about 100 customers on your list.  With fewer than that, it’s quicker just to customers’ email addresses one at a time

A couple other people have written about this – there’s a mediocre Wikihow post here and a decent post here – but they leave out some crucial details that may mean the difference between wasting time and saving time.

Eduard de Boer of Whitespark (and a key part of the LocalSpark service I offer jointly with Whitespark) also has an effective, somewhat different method that involves Yahoo mail instead of Gmail.

But Yelp doesn’t want you to ask for reviews, you say.  You don’t want to run afoul of their rules, you say.  Well, to that I reply:

  • Yelp’s “don’t ask” rule is stupid.
  • Yelp doesn’t filter reviews you asked for; it filters reviews based primarily on how many reviews someone’s written. Yelp doesn’t trust reviewers who’ve written no or just a couple reviews.
  • What you choose to do with the info you gather is up to you. Maybe none of your customers is an active Yelper, or maybe they’re all grumps who never give a business more than 3 stars.  But if you’ve identified some solid Yelpers, you can ask them point-blank for a Yelp review, or give them a nudge, or just say you’d love a review somewhere, or not ask at all.  Your call.

Anyway, here’s a quick summary of the steps to do a clean and efficient bulk “Find Friends” lookup:

Step 1: Create a spreadsheet of all your customers’ email addresses and first and last names, and save it as a CSV file.

Step 2: Create a new Gmail address to use strictly for Yelper-hunting.

Step 3: Import your CSV file of contacts into Gmail.

Step 4: Log into your personal Yelp account OR create a new personal Yelp account.

Step 5: Go to “Find Friends” and sync with Gmail.

Step 6: Scour the list of Yelper-customers and note down anyone who’s written more than 5 reviews.

Step 7: Decide whom to contact, and contact them.

Still not 100% clear on the steps?  Here’s much more detail:

Step 1:

Create a spreadsheet of all your customers’ email addresses and first and last names, and save it as a CSV file.

The first names should be in column A, the last names in column B, and the emails in column C.

Again, make sure to save it as a .csv.

On the off-chance you’ve got more than 4200 contacts you should break up your list into two CSV files.  Yelp can process up to about 4200 contacts, but chokes if you try more than that at once.

Don’t have your customers’ email addresses?  Unless you’re Starbucks and don’t even know their names, not having those emails is madness.  Come back when you’re serious about marketing.

Step 2:

Create a new Gmail address to use strictly for Yelper-hunting.

It needs to be a dedicated Gmail address so that you don’t run non-customers through Yelp’s “Find Friends” lookup.  I’m sure your college roommate and Aunt Ruth would be glad to put in a good word for you on Yelp, but that’s not what we’re trying to accomplish here.

Step 3:

Import your CSV file of contacts into Gmail.

First click the “Gmail” tab in the upper-left, then “Contacts,” then “Import.”  Then select “CSV or vCard file.”

If asked, choose to import from “old” Google Contacts.

Click “Import Contacts” (on the left).  Upload the CSV file you created in step 1, so Gmail imports that list of customers.

Once the import is done, stay logged into this Gmail account.

Step 4:

Log into your personal Yelp account OR create a new personal Yelp account.

It needs to be a personal Yelp account, not a business account (the kind you create at biz.yelp.com), because there is no “Find Friends” feature in a business account.

If you’re doing this on behalf of someone else (e.g. a client or employer) it’s fine to use your personal account, because you don’t need to contact any customers through Yelp, or even actually add them as friends.  All you need to do is identify who the active Yelpers are, so you can match them to names and emails on your spreadsheet.

But if you do want to “friend” them – as your initial way to contact them or as a friendly follow-up – you’ll probably want to set up a separate personal Yelp account and use that here.


Step 5:

Go to “Find Friends” and sync with Gmail.

Make sure you’re still logged into the Gmail account you created in step 2.

Once you click the option for Gmail, just wait a minute.  As I mentioned, Yelp will be able to process a list of roughly 4200.  If you’ve got more than 4200 contacts, make sure you’ve split it up into two or more CSV lists, as I described in step 1.  Compete steps 6-7 for the first list, and hold off on processing the other(s) until later.


Step 6:

Scour the list of Yelper-customers and note down anyone who’s written more than 5 reviews.

Why only pay attention to people who’ve written more than 5 reviews?  Because Yelp usually filters reviews written by people who’ve written no reviews or just a couple.  I’ve found that Yelp starts “trusting” reviewers more after about 5-10 reviews.

Anyway, what I’d do is add another column to your spreadsheet – one with the number of reviews each customer has written.  Put “13” next to Nick, and “675” next to Jim and Suzanne, and so forth.  Again, I wouldn’t bother with any people who’d written fewer than 5 reviews.

So no your spreadsheet should look like this:


Step 7:

Decide whom to contact, and contact them.

Only now can you can decide exactly what to do with those contacts.  What I’d do is prune the list a little.  That means you:

  • Cross off anyone you think had a mediocre-to-poor experience with you. (If you haven’t done so already, you should probably contact them to see what you can do to make things better.)
  • Read at least some of your customers’ reviews of other businesses. Cross off any clearly grumpy reviewers.  Don’t contact people who seem stingy with stars or who gripe too much about minutiae.
  • Contact people who already reviewed you on Yelp, but whose reviews got filtered. Thank them, and ask them to consider posting a review (maybe the same one) somewhere else.

(By the way, if you had more than 4200 contacts and had to break up the list into more than one CSV file, now you’ll want to process the remaining contacts. First log into the Gmail account you created specifically for friend-finding, and delete all the contacts you just processed in Yelp.  Then import into Gmail another batch of them (up to 4200) and repeat steps 4-7.)

Your list is probably pretty short by now – which is good, because it’s payday.  Here’s where I’d send each active Yelper on your list a quick email, in which you ask for a review.

If you’re going to be a goody two-shoes about it, you don’t need to ask specifically for a Yelp review; if you just ask these customers for a review somewhere, it’s likely they’ll pick Yelp by default.

Keep the email short, but as personalized as possible.  Try to allude to the specific job you did: “I hope you’re enjoying your new ___” or “It was a pleasure helping you to ___ your ___” or whatever seems appropriate

If you want, include a link to your “Review Us” page.

Congrats.  You’ve smelted tons of ore into gold, and you’ll probably get some nice Yelp reviews out of the deal (especially if you apply my basic strategy and troubleshooting tips).

Any first-hand experience with finding and contacting “friends” on Yelp?  What were your results in terms of reviews?

Any questions?

Leave a comment!

How to Know If Your Local Reviews Strategy Works

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jurvetson/275890177/

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!

Hauling in More Local Customers…Even When Your Wheels Are Spinning

That’s the name of the talk I gave at MN Search yesterday.  I covered 25 quick wins for attracting more local customers when you don’t know what to do next.  Some of my suggestions are for local rankings, some for PPC, some for review strategy, and more.

Here’s my slide deck:

Thanks to Scott Dodge, Susan Staupe, Aaron Weiche, and everyone at MN Search for an incredible event.  And thanks to Spyder Trap for hosting it.

Especially if you’re in the area, GO to their next event.  You’ll learn plenty, and get to know some great people.

Who Can Write You an Online Review – Besides Customers?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/josemanuelerre/14723419461

Tricky question.

Let’s start with the obvious gold standard: your customers write openly about their experiences with you in online reviews, and you did such a good job for them that those reviews glow.  Anyone who types in your name can easily see your tip-top reviews on Google+ and Yelp and Facebook and on other sites.  That’s the goal.

But what about reviews from people other than your customers, clients, or patients?  How legitimate are those reviews?  Do they have their place in the world when the odds are slim that your customers will ever speak up?  How about when review sites don’t even have policies against non-customer reviews?  Should you still ask?

Those questions matter for a few reasons:

  • In some industries it’s tougher to get reviews than in other industries. If you’re a dentist or innkeeper and you don’t have reviews (preferably positive ones) then you’ve got problems.  But if you’re a psychotherapist or divorce lawyer who’s short on reviews you’re not alone.
  • Different sites have different rules on reviews. Yelp doesn’t want you to ask anyone for reviews, even if you welcome honest and possibly harsh appraisals.  Google’s policies seem to change with the zodiac signs.  Facebook is laissez-faire.
  • You want to feel comfortable when you ask for a review. That’s tough if you feel you’re crossing a line.
  • Being ethical is the most important thing. Companies that disappoint customers down but still squeeze out positive reviews eventually get what’s coming.

Who should and shouldn’t write you an online review?  A recent conversation with Darren got me to thinking about that slippery question.  I can’t think of a simple answer, so I’m just going to burp on my thoughts on it.

I want to emphasize that these are my opinions.  Feel free to disagree with me in the comments.  I don’t know that anyone’s delved into this topic yet, so even if these are the first words on it, they’re surely not the last.

Legitimate non-customer reviewers:

  • Recipients of pro bono work. You might be a lawyer who took on a case pro bono, or a doctor who patched up somebody and didn’t send a bill, or a tow-truck driver who hauled someone back to civilization for free.  In my opinion, it is fine to say, “By the way, I’d really appreciate a review.”
  • Relevant spouses or family members of the customer (the person who paid you). As I once wrote, there’s nothing wrong with requesting a review from a guy who bought an engagement ring, and requesting one from his fiancée if possible.  Or if two members of a family bring their cat to the vet I would say it’s fine to encourage both of them to speak up online.  They’re likely to follow each other’s leads.

 

  • Almost-customers, like people for whom you did a free consultation. Of course, you don’t want too many reviewers like them.  But if they say they really appreciate you time – even though they’re going in another direction – it’s fine to say, “It’d mean a lot to me if you could jot that down in a quick online review.”
  • Event attendees. Let’s say you hosted a charity event or a free tour.  Assuming it’s clear to the reader that those people aren’t customers, I’d say they’re fair game.

Possibly-legitimate reviewers

  • Peers.  For instance, if you’re a lawyer, Avvo lets you review other lawyers.  The nice thing is that they’re unlikely to pretend to be your clients, so the review will probably be transparent to a fault.  The drawback is that it’s tempting to go for a quid pro quo, which can make both parties look un-objective.

  • Other business owners. Google lets you do this.  But that doesn’t mean you should, unless the relationship is clear and not a “scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” deal.
  • Friends who are also customers. Would they have written you a positive review if they weren’t friends with you – just happy customers?  Is it clear in the reviews that there’s a personal relationship?  Were they customers who became friends?  This one’s tricky.

Reviewers in very gray areas

  • Of course mom will say you’re great.  And your kids had better give you 5 stars, or no allowance.  But what if you actually accepted money from Uncle Louie to re-upholster his Pacer?  Yes, he’s a customer, but he’s also biased. I would not suggest asking family.

 

  • Friends who aren’t customers. Even if the relationship is crystal-clear to readers, this just isn’t why we came up with the idea of reviews.
  • Reviews from disgruntled employees have their place in the world, but to ask an employee for a review is sketchy.  I think the only question here is: do you ask employees to remove reviews that they wrote because they thought they were doing you a favor?  (I probably would.)
  • Not a good idea if the internship is current, or might lead to employment.  Otherwise, maybe.

Don’t ask just anyone for reviews.  Even if your principles differ from mine, at least have them and follow them.  That’s the best way to keep your reputation out of Boot Hill.

What do you think of reviews from non-customers?  Have you ever requested any?

Where do you draw the ethical line(s)?

Leave a comment!

Who Should Ask for Reviews: Business Owner or Employee?

“Phil, how do I get more reviews?”

I’m asked that all the time.

What I’m almost never asked is who should ask customers, clients, or patients for reviews.  That’s a shame, because a good strategy + the wrong person = the wrong strategy.

Business owners or others who work at the company should be the ones asking for reviews.  Not marketers or SEOs. Not reputation-management people. Not programs.  They don’t know the customers, and customers feel zero obligation toward them.

If someone in-house needs to ask for reviews, the question becomes: who?

My advice usually is: the higher up the chain of command, the better.

But there are pros and cons to having the business owner ask customers for reviews, versus having someone else in the company do it.  Here are all the arguments I can think of for each approach:

Why employees should ask for reviews:

Reason 1:  Customers might have interacted only with one specific employee. He or she is the “contact” person for those customers.  A request from anyone else might seem out-of-place.

 

Reason 2:  Certain customers may feel a bond with a specific employee – the one who worked with them personally.

Reason 3:  Employees may have a better sense of which customers are happy versus unhappy.

Reason 4:  The business owner may simply be short on time. (Still, he or she still should ask customers at least occasionally, if for no other reason than to see how well the process works and how customers feel.)

Why the business owner should ask for reviews:

Reason 1:  The customer may feel more important and listened-to. He or she will take offense if the brass seems unlikely ever to read the review, or if the business owner seems “too busy” and sends a messenger.

 

Reason 2:  The business owner is probably the one with the most interest in racking up reviews – the most skin in the game – and is most likely to apply the needed finesse.

Reason 3:  The business owner can see first-hand how well the review strategy works.

Reason 4:  The business owner is in the best position to field complaints and to make big-picture changes if need be. As Mike Blumenthal has said, “the issue is happy customers.”

Reason 5:  The business owner should know what’s involved in asking personally for a review, before asking his / her employees to do it. Lead by example.

 

Reason 6:  The business owner is more likely to know the SEO strategy, and to know where the holes are. “We need reviews on Facebook,” or “We can’t ask customers to go to Yelp, or else they’ll run into the filter.”

Reason 7:  The business owner will feel at more liberty not to ask for a review. An employee may ask a ticked-off customer for a review because the boss wasn’t clear about which customers should be asked.

Reason 8:  The business owner can mention that employees get bonuses for exceptional service. I suppose an employee could say, “FYI, I’ll receive a little bonus if you’re thrilled with the work I did for you.”  But that could be awkward.

Reason 9: The customer may feel freer to call out a specific employee who didn’t cut the mustard. Yes, the criticism will sting, but it’s better to have an honest bad review than a vague bad review.  At least one shows you where there’s room for improvement.

Reason 10: The boss will be in an even better position to mine the reviews.

Even though I can think of many more reasons for the business owner to ask for reviews than for anyone else to do it, it’s worth having different people try their hands.  Who knows who will get the most and best reviews.

Who on your crew asks for reviews?

What’s the thinking behind your strategy?

Leave a comment!

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

A good review means it’s Miller Time and a bad review is just a black eye – right?

No.  You’ve got a little more work to do.  The better you understand your reviews, the better you understand your customers and your business.  That’s how you’ll attract more of the types of customers you want.

Sounds like a mushy goal.  But you can do it by crunching on your reviews until you chew into the bits of gold.

I’m talking about all the online reviews you have anywhere – from Google+ to Yelp to YellowPages to industry-specific review sites.

Don’t have many reviews yet?  Great.  It won’t take you long to mine them for insights.

Don’t have any reviews?  No problem.  Mine your competitors’ reviews.

Read all the reviews and try to answer these 25 questions:

Quick dig

1.  Do customers bring up the aspects of your business (especially services) that you want them to?

If not, you might need to tell them, “Hey, the more detail you can go into, the better.”  (As a bonus, this is a good and ethical way to get more keywords in your reviews.)

2.  Which service(s) of yours do your customers review most? That might tell you which customers are most likely to write a review if you ask them to.

3.  Do reviewers rave about a service that doesn’t even have its own page on your site? Create a page for it.  There’s a good chance it’ll rank – especially if it’s a niche service.

4.  Did they mention that you provided them an emergency service, a free estimate, or a discount? You might want to create a separate page on your site where you talk up that angle.

5.  What do customers love about you? Tweak your USP if it doesn’t reflect what makes your happiest reviewers so happy.  If possible, update the pages on your site and your Google Places description (and descriptions on other sites) to showcase the crisper USP.

6.  Do they mention how they found you in the first place, or whether your online reviews were a selling point? Give that piñata an extra whack.

7.  Do reviewers mention a specific person in your company? If so, what do they say?

Bonus points: do you have a whole page on your site about that person, where you play up his/her strengths?

8.  Do customers use their full names? If not, you may want to tell them you also appreciate reviews on review sites that don’t require full names.

9.  What’s the balance of men vs. women who reviewed you? Is there a balance?

How well does that reflect your pool of customers?  If not, can you say that you’re much more likely to get reviews from women or from men?

10.  Which people have profile photos (on Google+ or Yelp)? This can tell you who might be more willing to take a few minutes to write you another review on another site.  Consider asking those people for a review somewhere else – especially if they’re still customers / clients / patients.

 

Deep dig

11.  Who’s reviewed you on multiple sites? Those people are your brand-advocates – your cheerleaders.  Send them a thank-you note and a smoked pheasant.

12.  Leaf through your reviewers’ profiles: Are they habitual reviewers, or did they write a review just for you? This might tell you where they found you in the first place.

You never know what you might find.

13.  Have your absolute-best customers reviewed you? If not, ask them (or ask again).

14.  How many of your reviewers are repeat customers vs. first-timers? This will give you an idea of when customers might be most likely to act on your request.

This can tell you (among other morsels) roughly which stage of the relationship is the best time to ask for reviews.

15.  Did any of your customers also do business with or review your competitors? What do those customers like about you and dislike about your competitors, or vice versa?

16.  Which of your reviewers have written several reviews on Yelp – but haven’t written Yelp reviews of your business? Might be time to raise some awareness.

17.  Check out the spontaneous reviews. Which sites did people review you on without your having to ask?  That can tell you which sites customers find easy to use, and maybe about where they found you in the first place.

18.  Who wrote more reviews that you didn’t ask for: happy customers or unhappy customers?

19.  Are there any reviews that might be useful as testimonials on your site?

20.  Is there a specific time of year that many customers reviewed you? That might be a good time to ask them in the future.

21.  How old are most of your reviewers? Do younger customers seem more likely to review you, or are the older ones more likely to?  Whose reviews are longer or more thoughtful?

22.  What cities are your reviewers from? How visible are you in those places?

23.  Are specific customers giving you the star ratings you expect from them? If you expected 5 stars from Jane and she gave you 5 stars, and you expected 3 from John and he gave you 3 stars, keep asking the Janes for reviews and figure out how you can make the Johns a little happier.

24.  Whose Yelp reviews got filtered? Consider asking those people to review you somewhere else.

25.  When did customers post reviews relative to when you asked them to review you? Do they tend to review you same-day, or is there an incubation period?  This can tell you when’s a good time to send a follow-up request.

You could spend a few minutes or a few hours mining your reviews – depending on their number and on your interest.  It doesn’t need to be a teeth-grinding ordeal.

 

You don’t even have to do it personally.  An employee or assistant or someone in the family could do it.  The ultimate is to mine your reviews, then ask someone else to, and then compare notes.

What have you learned from your reviews?  Have you mined them but don’t think you’ve got any nuggets?  Leave a comment!

The Dark Side of Local SEO

Visibility in the local rankings is a good thing.  If I didn’t think so, I’d do something else for a living.  And if you didn’t think so, you wouldn’t be reading this 🙂

But even high rankings in Google Places and beyond can create side-effects you didn’t expect.

Most business owners won’t experience that mostly-good problem.  Even the with-it ones who actually try will do a faceplant along the way.  Google is fickle, the rest of local search won’t stay still, and the world is a competitive place.

I’m trying to answer a different question:

“Do only good things happen when your local SEO works?”

Not always.

The point of this post is to help you get more out of your local visibility – however much you get and whenever you get it – and to help you stay visible.

Here are 10 unintended results of successful local SEO that you need to avoid:

Possibility 1:  You think you’re done.  Your let your citations get messy, or your site won’t grow from one year to the next, or you get lazy about encouraging reviews.  Or you may think Google and other local-search players are known quantities and don’t change.  Next thing you know, you’re face-down in the mud with arrows in your back.

Possibility 2:  The opposite of #1: greed, or death by tinkering.  You get some nice rankings, but don’t know what to do next.  So you mess with your title tags, or page names, or maybe you try to get a more-keyword-rich domain name.  Then…whoops.

Possibility 3:  You think you’ve figured it all out.  I wrangle with all things local search all day, every day.  I have as many questions as anyone.  Sure, the basic steps can be straightforward.  But the devil is in the details – and in the execution.

Possibility 4:  You have plenty of visibility but not enough calls.  Probably a result of not enough or good enough reviews, a Google page that isn’t sticky, and a site that isn’t sticky.

Possibility 5:  You think you’ve maxed out your traffic just because your local rankings are tip-top.  That’s what happens when you don’t see local SEO as an effort that can buy you time and resources that you can reinvest into other traffic sources – like AdWords, blogging, and good ol’ RCS.

Possibility 6:  You become so dependent on Google Places visibility that you panic when (not if) it takes dips.  How deep and long those dips are depends on whether you start blindly tinkering, or you instead figure out what you’re already doing well so you can find the areas where you can improve.

Possibility 7:  You give credit to the wrong actions or people.  Let’s say your rankings are rock-solid, then your local SEO helpers correct 5 of your citations, then the next day your rankings drop.  That sure looks bad – but those citations are not what hurt your rankings, so don’t start saying, “Well, citations are just a bad idea.”  Or maybe you replace your longtime local-search person for one you think will do a better job – and a week later your rankings go up.  Don’t just assume it’s because of the 2nd person.

Possibility 8:  You think that local SEO is a verb – one specific thing to do.  It’s not.  It’s a bunch of little steps – and a lot of moving parts.  Some of them – many of the most-important steps – must involve you personally.  If you don’t realize all that goes into a successful local SEO effort, any success you have is probably a result of luck, and may not last long.

Possibility 9:  You grow too reliant on new customers.  Which of these is easier: to find a total stranger who needs your help, or to reconnect with someone who’s already paid you to help?

Did I just convince you not to work on your local rankings?  I hope not.  They’re worth working on.


 
It’s simply that to stay visible and to get customers from that visibility you’ll also need to:

  • Learn at least a little – and keep learning.  Even if you’re not the “read the manual” type, at least understand the basic principles of what you’re paying people to help you with.  If those people suck, you don’t want to be taken for a ride.  If they’re good, you should be able to chime in with suggestions that might help them help you.
  • Don’t do anything only “for SEO.”  If something wouldn’t be a good idea to do for other reasons, it probably won’t help your rankings – and almost certainly won’t get you more phone calls.
  • Always think of stickiness.  Think of what customers want and expect to see – from when they Google your company by name, to when they’re on your site and trying to think of reasons not to hit the “back” button.
  • Develop sources of visibility other than local search.

What are some side-effects of successful local SEO that you’ve noticed?

How about ways to make sure that it plays nice and gentle-like with the rest of your marketing?

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!

Top Excuses for Not Asking Customers for Reviews

Many people don’t want to do things that, deep down, they know are good for them.

Asking customers / clients / patients for reviews can be one of those things.

You probably know that reviews are important not only to your local rankings, but also to compelling would-be customers to say, “Hey, I think I’ll give this place a call.”

But you might have some reservations about asking for reviews (to say nothing of some of the obstacles you can’t do anything about).  You’re not sure how best to approach customers, and you’re not sure if it’s worth the trouble.

Many of my clients know that when it comes to reviews I’m like the drill sergeant on Full Metal Jacket.  I’m hard-nosed about reviews, because I’ve seen what a smart, sustained effort to get them can do for a business’s local visibility.

I’m not talking about reviews on one specific site.  True, reviews on Google+ and Yelp are important, but so are reviews on InsiderPages, Yahoo, industry-specific sites (e.g. Avvo, DealerRater, WeddingWire, etc.) – you name it.  I’m talking about why you need to bother with reviews in general.

But some people are still gun-shy.  I’ve heard every excuse there is.  And I’ve got a rebuttal to every one of them.

If you’re ambivalent about asking for reviews – or if you know someone who is and who needs a nudge – then this post is for you.

 

Most of my customers aren’t computer-savvy.

Make it so they don’t need to be.  Make it easy.  Offer guidance.  Give them simple instructions (examples here and here).  You still won’t get reviews from every customer, but that’s always the case, and it’s not the point here.  If you break the process down into simple steps, you’ll get reviews.

 

 

My customers don’t want to set up Google+ accounts.

Again, make it as easy as possible for them – like by telling them that they don’t need to spend an hour filling out their profile, for starters.  Also, if there is a subset of people who are dead-set against touching Google+, just ask those people to review you elsewhere.  You shouldn’t be steering everyone toward Google+ in the first place.

 

They forget.

Then remind them.  Sure, don’t be a pest.  But a polite, casual follow-up to your initial request is appropriate – and it’s a great pretext for getting in touch to say “howdy” and see how they’re doing.  It’s also an important experiment to run: you’ll want to know whether many of your customers really do “just forget,” or whether there might be other barriers to their writing reviews.  Also, mix it up.  If you initially asked someone in-person for a review, send him/her an email as a follow-up.  Or vice versa.

 

I’ve tried asking, and very few people end up leaving me reviews, so I feel like it’s not worth the effort.

You probably won’t have a high batting average – and that’s fine.  As long as you occasionally get a couple reviews, things are heading in the right direction.  On the other hand, if nobody leaves you reviews, that actually tells you quite a bit.  That bit of intel may tell you that you need to tweak your approach to asking for reviews, or that you need to spend a little more time getting to know your customers in the first place.

 

My reviews will only get filtered, so what’s the point?

You’re making the dangerous assumption that reviews are useless for as long as they’re visible on your listings (e.g. Google+, Yelp, InsiderPages, etc.).  What if one of your customers – just one little old customer – told you that the deciding factor in hiring you was your impressive reviews?

(Some of my clients have told me the deciding factor for them was my testimonials, and some have told me that their customers went with them as a result of their reviews.  One of my clients, a top-notch window cleaner in Oregon, said he won a customer just as a result of his Google+ reviews – and he’s only got two of ‘em to date.)

 

There’s never a good time to ask.

Even if it seems that way (emphasis on “seems”), ask anyway.  Experiment with different media, and with asking customers at different times after the transaction (e.g. a day after, a week after, etc.).  Also, what might not feel like a convenient time for you to ask for a review might be a very convenient time for them.

 

I don’t have their email addresses.

Then ask them in-person for reviews.  And try to get their email addresses from now on.  You should be doing so anyway – if only for the reason that if they need your services again, you’ll want to be top-of-mind and as easily reachable as possible.

 

My industry has regulations against it.

If that’s true, congratulations!   You may have the only potentially legitimate excuse reason I know of for not asking customers/clients/patients for reviews.

But, even so, I’m pretty sure there’s no regulation that says your customers/clients/patients are actually forbidden from writing reviews if they so choose.  If that’s the case, then your mission is simply to build “awareness” (I hate that word, but couldn’t think of a better one).  Have links on your website to your Google+, Yelp, and other listings, include those links in your email signatures, and otherwise just generally let it be known that you dig anyone who writes you a review.

Also, you need to look to your competitors on this one.  If they have reviews, either they’re doing something illegal / unethical, in which case you should report them to whatever powers-that-be, or you’re just granting them the upper hand with a shrug.

 

My customers are too concerned about privacy.

Surely not all of them are so concerned that they won’t put in a good word for someone who did a good job for them (you).  But for the ones who are extra-shy, you can ask them to review you on sites that don’t require their full names to be shown in the review.

 

I’m in an industry where people might feel embarrassed to leave me a review.

Some people, sure.  But not everyone.  Let them know that they don’t have to go into detail.

I can’t think of an industry where clients are simply mortified.  When I type in “DUI lawyer,” I see lawyers with reviews.  Likewise if I type in “marriage counseling.”  I once made a Google+ review handout for the owner of a sex toy shop.  Now that place had some glowing reviews.

 

I don’t feel as though it’s professional to ask.

Why?  You shouldn’t be groveling.  That would be unprofessional.  Just make the review come across as a personal favor to you.  Odd as it may sound, people like doing small favors for people who’ve helped them out (even when there was money involved).  It makes us feel more like there’s more of a give-and-take.  But if you still don’t see it that way, have someone else in your organization do it – someone who doesn’t have those reservations.

 

I don’t have the time.

Asking someone for a review takes 90 seconds to maybe 3-5 minutes, depending on whether you ask verbally or by email or through some other medium.  You’ll get even faster once you’ve done it enough that you don’t have to think about what to say every time.  But if you’re that harried – which I doubt – then delegate it to one of your more-senior employees.

 

I already have testimonials on my site, so I don’t need reviews.

They’re not the same thing.  It’s nice to have testimonials on your site.  But they won’t help your rankings, and they won’t help attract people from other sites and get them onto your site in the first place.  Only online reviews can do that.  You should have both reviews and testimonials.  You need social proof everywhere – in every part of your “conversion funnel.”

 

I want to focus on my rankings first.

Can you chew gum and walk at the same time?  How about pat your head and hop on one leg?  Yes, you can multitask.  Also, it’s less likely you’ll get rankings in the first place if people never click through to your Google listing or website after seeing them in the local search results.  Google knows how much (or little) searchers engage with your rankings/listings and – in my experience – those engagement stats influence rankings.  Reviews are signs of life.

Even more significant, rankings without reviews can be a waste.  People need a reason to click.

 

Yelp doesn’t allow business owners to “ask” for reviews.

Yelp is just one site of several that you’d be wise to get reviews on.  Still, you bring up a good point: It’s absolutely true that Yelp is absurdly opposed to your asking for reviews (even in a no-pressure way).  That doesn’t mean you can’t find ways simply to let everyone know that you’re on Yelp.

 

I don’t want to invite bad reviews.

You won’t.  Truly angry customers will write them anyway.  You’re not giving them any ammo, or capability that they didn’t have already.  If they slam you, they were going to slam you anyway.  On the other hand, if some customers give you a 3-star review, there’s probably some constructive criticism in there that you could learn from. Your #1 goal needs to be to deserve good reviews.  How are you going to do that if you just assume that you’re doing everything perfectly already?

Having some bad reviews is inevitable.  You can either crawl under the blankets and pretend that impossible-to-please customers don’t exist and can’t figure out how to post an online review, or you can do what you can to get the happy ones to speak up.

 

It’s all so confusing.

Then read the following pieces and apply the advice in them:

Principles for a Review Plan: Considerations in encouraging customer reviews

The Complete Guide to Google+ Local Reviews – and Especially How to Get Them

My SMX West 2013 Presentation on Customer Reviews

 

I’m afraid they’ll say no.

Right: some people will say no.  What about the ones who will say “sure”?

 

What are your reasons for being gung-ho about reviews – or your excuses reasons for not wanting to ask for them?  Let’s agree or argue – leave a comment!