Asking Customers for Google Reviews in the New Google Plus: What Are Your Options?

Google’s really done it this time. The “write us a Google review” steps that worked so well for so long soon will work no more.

In the new layout of Google+, if you send customers to your local page they will see no way to write you a review, because there is none.  (Sure, there’s a little button that lets users switch to “classic view,” but that won’t last long.)

Once the “new” Google+ has rolled out universally and there’s no option to use the “classic” layout, you’ll only have two ways to get customers to the place where they can write a review: (1) tell them to search for your business by name on Google.com if they’re on a desktop or (2) tell them to use the Google Maps app if they’re on mobile.

There have always been at least a few serious downsides to those two methods:

  • Customers use different browsers and devices.
  • The Google Maps app hasn’t always given you the option of writing a review.
  • Google wouldn’t always pull up the right Google page – the one you want reviews on – even if you don’t have problems with duplicate listings.

Soon you won’t have a choice.  (Why Google did this is a whole separate discussion, for another day.)

You can no longer even add a parameter to the end of your Google-page URL to have the “write a review” window pop up when your customer clicks the link (e.g. https://plus.google.com/+localvisibilitysystem?review=1).

I’ll probably have to update my battle-tested instructions for the 4th or 5th time since 2011, at which point you can order a slick one-page PDF that makes a frustrating process simple as possible for customers.

Until I get around to that, here’s a rough outline of the easiest steps you’re asking reviewers to do:

  1. Sign into Google Plus OR create a Plus page if you don’t have one already.
  1. Type in such-and-such to pull up our page; do this at Google.com if you’re on a desktop or in the Google Maps app if you’re on mobile.
  1. Find the “Write a review” button and write your review.

Also, the type of link Mike Blumenthal suggests will work.  Of course, providing a link only works for email-based requests.  I usually suggest asking in-person and following up by email when necessary.

The kicker is that Google still requires reviewers to have a Google Plus page in order to write a review, which has been a PITA since May of 2012.  I heard murmurs some months ago that Google will go back to requiring just a Google account (not a Plus account) to write a review, but I need to go back and try to find where I heard that.  In any case, I’m guessing Google will stop requiring a Plus page sooner or later.

Anyway, Google reviews will continue to be huge for your local visibility, even if Google’s made it a little harder for you to get them.  Roll with the punches.

Any thoughts, tips, or workarounds?

Have you tried asking for any reviews since the layout change?

Leave a comment!

60+ Questions to Troubleshoot and Fix Your Local Reviews Strategy

https://www.flickr.com/photos/57855544@N00/340654164/

Most business owners know they need online reviews if they want to get more customers.  Some of them have actually tried to get happy customers to speak up.  Very few get anywhere.

Even if the business owner makes a reasonable request at an appropriate time, customers still have to follow through.  But they forget, or get distracted, or get confused, or aren’t asked to write a review on a site they find convenient, and so on.  The business owner gets frustrated and concludes reviews are impossible to get and not worth the effort.  He or she then loses would-be customers to someone else.

One thing I hang my hat on is being able to help business owners put together and execute on a review strategy that works: better reviews, more reviews, and more customers.  I’m talking about getting reviews on Google+, Yelp, Facebook, other sites you and I are familiar with, and on industry-specific sites.

I’ve taken part in gnarly failures and bust-out-the-Champagne successes.  I’ve worked with clients in more industries than you can shake a stick at (and have made review handouts for many more), and know all the things that can go wrong and what you really want to get right.

On the one hand, it’s a simple trinity: do right by your customers, provide instructions that they find easy to follow, and ask whenever possible.  As long as everything you do is with those principles in mind, you’ll do fine on reviews.

But on the other hand, the devil is in the details.  Also, you may be in a tricky situation (e.g. you’re a therapist or bankruptcy lawyer).  Or maybe you just want to go from good to world-class.

I’ve rounded up all the 64 questions I use to determine how my clients can get their review strategy on-track.

If you’re a business owner you’ll want to ask yourself these.  If you work for the business owner you’ll want to see how many of these you can sniff out on your own, and then have your boss or client fill in the gaps

I’ve also put together a Google Drive doc of all the questions – just the questions, without my explanations underneath them.

You probably won’t have to address all the questions.  I list 64 here simply to cover all the possible issues your review strategy might have run into.

FYI, it might be tough to use this as a checklist.  Some questions a “yes” answer is good, for others a “no” answer is good, and for other questions you might want a different type of answer.

Happy troubleshooting!

 

Basic questions

1.  Do you want to get more reviews?

Some business owners think reviews are too hard to get, or that in their unique situation getting reviews is impossible, or that customers don’t care about reviews.  Usually they end up agreeing with me that none of that is true, but some people are dead-set in their thinking.  If that’s you or your client, the rest of these questions probably won’t help you much.

 

2.  Are most of your customers happy?

If they’re not, you should still try to get the happy ones to speak up, but you may have a bigger challenge to work on in the meantime.

 

3.  What have you tried so far?

Broad question here, but that’s because there are so many possible answers.  The answer will give you an idea as to what other diagnostic questions (see below) to ask next.

 

4.  Do you provide easy-to-follow instructions for writing a review?

As opposed to simply making a request and assuming customers know what to do.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/sa_steve/2732053391/

5.  Do you offer reviews a choice as to the site?

Don’t focus too much on Yelp and Google+: they’re the only sites that really filter reviews (especially Yelp), and Google’s steps for posting a review are cumbersome and not clear to most people.  Steer at least some customers toward easier sites, and maybe use my “zigzag” strategy.  But you’ll want to diversify where you get reviews anyway, and that’s one way to do it.  I suggest you offer customers 3-6 choices.

 

6.  In what medium have you been asking for reviews?

Do you ask in-person, by email, by phone, on invoices, or what?  If you’ve only tried one method of asking for reviews, try another method – or ideally a combination.

 

7.  Do you know which customers are happy?

The worst thing to do is not to ask anyone because you’re so afraid someone might write a bad review.  It’ll happen eventually, if it hasn’t happened already.  But you want to get the happy customers to speak up, and asking them is the only good way to do it.  If you can’t tell who’s happy, just ask.  It can be as subtle, like, “So, is there anything else we can do for you today?”  Then ask for a review if it seems like a good idea.

 

8.  When you’ve asked customers for reviews, how did they react?

Did they say yes when you asked in-person, but never followed through?  Or did they ask whether they have to use their full name?  Did they snail-mail you a testimonial – rather than post an online review?  Their reactions will tell you what to change, or at least which diagnostic questions to ask yourself next.

 

9.  Do you know the laws or regulations on reviews in your industry?

The financial-consulting industry is the only one I know of where you just can’t ask for online reviews, according to the SEC.  My understanding has always been that doctors and psychotherapists can ask for reviews if they ask patients in an FTC-compliant way and if they tell patients that they don’t need to get into specifics (as per HIPAA).  Get the facts if you have any doubt as to the legality of your review strategy.  Don’t let uncertainty make you beat around the bush and not encourage happy customers to speak up.  Oh, and you don’t want to get in hot water.

10.  How likely is it that your customers / clients / patients would have privacy concerns if they used their full name to post an online review of you?

Make sure they know two things: (1) they don’t have to describe anything too specific or personal – they can focus on describing you and your service – and (2) they can review you on private / anonymous sites.

11.  How long have you been trying to get more reviews?

You don’t know how well your strategy works if you’ve only tried it for a month, or you’ve asked fewer than about 20 customers, or if you’re new to the whole idea of asking for reviews.  Try it for long enough that you can draw conclusions, and then tweak or change gears as needed.

 

12.  How long have you tried whatever strategy you’re currently using?

Give it a chance.  But be willing to change it or try something else if it doesn’t seem to work (see below questions).

 

13.  Do you have a problem with passive ways to encourage reviews (ways that don’t involve asking specific people directly)?

Add review badges or widgets to your site, consider copying and pasting reviews and featuring them throughout your site (see this and this), link to your reviews in your email signature, and include instructions on the “Reviews” page on your site.  You won’t get a ton of reviews, but these indirect methods may help you get a trickle.  Do this if you’re gun-shy about asking directly.

14.  How often do your customers’ reviews get filtered?

Having lots of filtered reviews (on Yelp and Google+) can be a good sign: it means people are following through.  Something’s working.

 

 

Setting the stage

15.  Do the names of your online listings closely match the name your customers / clients / patients know you as?

They may not even be finding the listings they want to post reviews on.  Work on your listings and make sure you can pull up the correct listings.

16.  Do you know for a fact that you don’t have any duplicate listings on the sites where you want reviews?

They may be posting reviews on the wrong listings.  Find the duplicates and fix or remove as many as you can.

 

17.  Do customers know that you will personally read and acknowledge their reviews?

Say so in your request.  Make it clear you’re looking for honest feedback, not just 5 stars.  Also, post responses to at least some of the reviews.  You don’t want reviewers to feel they’re shouting into the wind.

 

18.  Have you posted overheated responses to reviews?

Don’t scare people off.  Respond to negative reviews if you feel you need to, but don’t lose your cool.  Sleep on it before posting a response, and see if you can turn lemons into lemonade.

 

19.  If you’ve already got any reviews, do your customers know about them and know that they won’t be the first?

They’ll feel more comfortable if there are precedents.  It’s good if you can point to reviews that aren’t too long or personal, so that reviewers don’t feel daunted.  But then how do you get your first review?  Either by accident (from someone you didn’t expect to write one), or by asking enough people, or by reaching someone who wants to be the first because he/she is a really happy customer and wants you to stay in business.

lawyer-reviews

20.  Have you personally ever written an online review of a “local” business?

Do it.  Know what’s involved, and what you’re asking people to do.  Ideally you know what it’s like to write a review on the specific site(s) you’re asking customers to review you on.  (That’s half the reason I review businesses on Yelp.)

 

21.  How do most of your customers find you originally?

The ones who found you online are more likely to have checked out your reviews, to care about reviews, and to recognize their value to you and to other customers.  You’ll still have to work to get them to review you, but the point is they’re a little better-conditioned than are word-of-mouth referrals (for example).  To any customers who didn’t find you online you’ll probably need to explain why reviews matter to you, show how easy it is to post one, and provide step-by-step instructions.

 

Whom to ask

22.  Have you asked your very best, closest, most-loyal customers?

Give them a choice of at least two sites, give them simple instructions for each (more on that topic later), and follow up if they haven’t written you a review after your initial request.  Chances are they’ll review you.  If so, you probably have a workable strategy, and can start asking other customers.  (If they don’t review you, use the other questions to figure out why.)

 

23.  Take 5-10 customers you asked for a review – or plan to ask for a review – and look them up on Google+, Yelp, and Facebook: how many of them have ever written reviews of other businesses?

Customers who already write reviews understand why reviews matter to you, and probably don’t need much hand-holding.  You can also discover which site(s) they might prefer to review you on.

24.  Have you read the reviews you’ve already got and understood exactly what kind of people end up reviewing you?

If you can identify a type of person who’s likely to review you, you may have a better idea of whom to ask (and not to ask).

 

25.  How would you describe most of your customers’ economic situation?

Some groups of people are more likely to use their phones for most things they do online.  Make sure you give mobile-centric review instructions to customers who may not have much access to (or use for!) a desktop / laptop.

 

26.  How old is your typical customer? (Or if your customers fall into several age groups, what are the biggest 1-2 age groups?)

Sweeping generalization here: younger customers are a little more inclined to write you a review on mobile, whereas older ones might be warmer to a desktop / laptop.

 

Who asks

27.  In your company, who besides you might be able to ask customers for reviews?

Don’t want to ask customers yourself?  Don’t want to ask all of them yourself?  Want to run a “test” and figure out who’s the best?  Distribute the work, at least for a while.

 

28.  Who do you think would be the best person in your company to ask for reviews, and why?

Maybe you’re the boss and know your business best, but maybe Sara at the front desk has the relationship with customers, and might just be more charming than you.  Or maybe Louie is your best tech and would haul in the reviews, if only you could get him to start asking.

 

29.  Even if someone else usually asks customers for reviews, have you ever tried asking customers yourself?

Just so you can speak from experience, and tweak your strategy based on experience.

 

30.  Have you heard or seen exactly how people in your organization ask customers?

Do they emphasize that the review is a favor, and not an obligation?  Do they provide clear instructions?  Are they patient?  Are they polite to customers who don’t want to write a review?  Do they thank all customers?  Listen to some phone calls and read the emails.  Whether you do that openly or channel your inner Dick Cheney is up to you.  Just as long as it leads to a constructive talk.

 

When to ask

31.  When do you ask customers?

Your initial request should be right after the job is done, if possible, and then you should follow up within about a week.  You probably won’t have your best results if you let a month go by, or if you only ask immediately after the job is done.  (More on the topic of following up later.)

 

32.  Does at least one of your requests happen when the customer is in a position to write you a review immediately if he or she wants to?

Some people are more likely to follow through on the spot, rather than later.

 

33.  Have you tried asking at different times?

Ask on a different day, or at a different time of day, or both.  In particular, test if it seems to make a difference whether you ask during the week or on the weekend.

 

 

What to ask

34.  Do customers know you’re asking for an online review on a third-party site – not simply a testimonial that they let you stick on your site?

Too many business owners have told me, “Yeah, I have tons of reviews – I have a whole bag of ‘em in my office!”  No, those perfumed letters are testimonials, which presumably your customers gave you permission to put on your site.  I’m talking about online reviews, which people can post whether you ask them to or not, and which you can’t edit or cherry-pick.  Make sure your customers know the difference and know what you’re requesting.

 

35.  Do you encourage honest (even critical) feedback?

You don’t want your review corpus to look fishy.  But you do want to know how to provide a better service – for obvious reasons, and so you can earn even more “review stars” long-term.  Also, if you’re the type who’s concerned about asking customer for reviews only to have them leave you bad ones, encouraging honest feedback means you’re less likely to gall the less-happy customers.  They’re less likely to think, “How DARE they ask me for 5 stars – I’ll show ‘em where they can stick their 5 stars….”

 

36.  Which site(s) do you ask customers to review you on?

Try a different site.  Preferably one that’s less painful than Yelp or Google+.  If you get reviews there, you’ll know you’re at least on the right track.

 

37.  Do you comply with the rules of the sites where you want more reviews?

The consequences of ignoring Yelp’s polices can be pretty ugly.  Once upon a time Google+ reviews were also policed, and although now it’s no neighborhood for Mr. Rogers, you should still follow the rules.

 

38.  Have you avoided incentivizing reviews with things like gift cards or discounts?

It’s cheesy, ethically questionable, and might insult some customers (who may beat you over the head with it in their reviews).  Your payola will probably work, if your definition of success is simply getting reviews.   But those reviews will probably be short and pro forma and not too compelling to would-be customers, or they’ll look outright crooked.

 

39.  Do you make it clear which review site is your “first choice”?

You need to offer choices, but not so many that your reviewer freezes.  (As I mentioned before, I suggest asking any given reviewer to choose from one of 3-6 sites.)  They may also freeze if they have to decide between sites.  Provide a slight nudge.

 

40.  Do you ask any one customer to review you on more than one site?

Don’t turn it into a big chore, or make it seem that way.  You may be able to ask a customer who just successfully wrote you a review on one site to review you on another, but it would have to be a customer you’re pretty close with, and even then you wouldn’t want to wear out your welcome.

 

41.  If a customer seemed ready to write you a review on the spot, do you know exactly what you would ask that person to do?

Once in a blue moon, you may ask in-person for a review and your customer will say, “Sure.  I’ve got my phone right here.  Tell me what to do.”  Know what you want him or her to do.

 

42.  Do you tell customers roughly how long it will take to write a review?

Tell everyone that you appreciate a short review, but that you also love detail.  You’re respecting their time either way.  That’s a good way to get reviews from people who’d otherwise think it’s a pain and not bother, and to get the juicy, keyword-rich, in-depth, helpful reviews that can really convert readers into customers.

 

How to ask

43.  Do you make your review request sound like a personal favor (and not an obligation)?

You’re more likely to get a review, and you’ll stay classy.

44.  Do you email a bunch of customers at once?

Don’t.  Especially early on.  You don’t want to send an ineffective or ill-timed request, have it flop, and then have no more customers to ask.  (And if you’re using a personal or email account you don’t want to get in hot water with your ISP.)  Your reviews might also get filtered (at least on Yelp and Google) if too many people try to review you at once.  If you must request reviews in batches, keep the batches small (5-15 people).

 

45.  To what extent do you personalize each request?

I’m far more likely to review you if you say “Hey Phil” or “Mr. Rozek” than if you say “Dear Valued Customer,” even if the rest of the email is boilerplate.  And I’m way more likely to put in a good word for you if you allude to the specific service or product I paid for, or a conversation we had, or build off some rapport.  The more bespoke your request, the better.  Of course, that’s hard to “scale,” so pick your poison.

 

46.  Do you ask customers in more than one medium?

In my experience, the best is to ask in-person with printed instructions (like these) and later to follow up by email.  But you may find that snail-mail or a phone call or a review-card / review-page work well for you.

 

47.  Have you tried any tools?

You should.  Don’t expect them to work without any strategy or finesse on your part.  Don’t rely on them 100%, or stop experimenting even if they work well.  But tools like Grade.us and GetFiveStars (my personal recommendations) can serve you well.

 

48.  If the tools you’ve tried haven’t worked so well, have you tried others?

Again, you’ll probably need to experiment before you find a tool that helps.  (But again, don’t expect it to haul in reviews  without any thinking or effort on your part.)

 

49.  Have you relied solely on tools like DemandForce or SmileReminder?

These tools have their place in the world, but the trouble is that (last I checked) the reviews just sit in a walled garden on DemandForce.com or SmileReminder.com, because that’s where patients / clients write them.  They aren’t going to Yelp or Google+ or Facebook or HealthGrades or wherever.  I’ve seen businesses (usually medical practices) with 500 reviews on, say, DemandForce.com, but none on Google.  You need some reviews on the BIG sites – no matter how hard it is to get them – and you need diversity.

 

Your instructions

50.  If you tell customers that you’d like a review on any of a variety of sites (rather than just one), do you give them instructions for how to post a review on each of those sites?

Google+ is the site where they’ll probably need the most guidance, but you should provide at least rough instructions for whatever other sites you care about.

 

51.  Do you know for a fact that your review instructions are up-to-date?

On Google+ the steps change on average about once a year.  Facebook probably has tweaked them a couple of times, too.

 

52.  Do you make it simple for people to review you on any device?

Make sure they know whether to use their phones or desktops (if it matters), and make sure mobile reviewers know whether they need to download an app and that shorter reviews are OK.  If you send follow-up emails make sure to send a test email to yourself, and pull up the email and walk through the steps both on your desktop and on your phone.  Try your best to the stumbling blocks before would-be reviewers do.

 

53.  Do your printed instructions look well-designed and feel like good paper?

Consider printing on a thicker stock.  Or laminating your instructions.  Your request will seem more thought-out, and people will be less likely to use them to scoop up cat hairballs.

54.  If you’re using a “Review Us” page, do you link to instructions on how to post reviews?

It would be a shame not to: the customer is happy enough and cares enough to have visited your page.  Make it easy from here.  Nice examples here and here.

 

Following up

55.  Do you follow up on your initial request?

Just because they haven’t reviewed you doesn’t mean they won’t.  They forget, or their spouse hits them with the honey-do list, or your nice printed instructions enter the Doomsday Machine of papers on the kitchen table.  Follow up once.  Be nice and casual.  You won’t be considered a pest.

 

56.  Do you follow up in a different medium from the one you used to ask the first time?

If you ask in-person, maybe follow up by email.  If you only sent an email, ask the customer in-person next time, or maybe send snail-mail.  Experiment.

 

57.  Does your follow-up include (or point to) instructions for how to post a review?

For the same reasons you included instructions the first time around.  Make it easy to say yes.

 

58.  Does your follow-up seem automatic or stuffy?

Make it as customized (or even more so if possible) than your initial request.

 

Other troubleshooting questions

59.  Do your customers accidentally review the wrong business?

Check competitors’ listings for your reviews – especially if those competitors’ businesses are named similarly to yours.  Report those reviews and show how they’re for the wrong business.  (They may not get transferred to you

 

60.  Have you tried to learn from anyone who’s got more / better reviews than you, or who just has a lot of experience with online reviews?

Don’t cut corners if they cut corners, but see if there are any smart moves you can try.

 

61.  How many of the reviews you’ve already got are from people you asked for a review, versus how many were written spontaneously?

If nobody reviews you unless you ask, you know you need to ask.  On the other hand, having more than a few spontaneously written reviews means customers probably don’t find it tough or uncomfortable to review you, so the wind may be at your back if you just start asking.

 

62.  Have you had a little success on some review site(s), or do you have difficulty getting reviews on any site?

Having reviews somewhere probably means that they’re willing to put in a good word for you, but just need better-timed requests or reminders or clearer instructions.  It also means you could probably pile on more reviews there without too much effort.  Where you’ve got reviews so far may even tell you where those customers found you to begin with.

 

63.  How many of your customers have connected with your business on Facebook in some way?

That makes it real easy to ask for reviews on sites that accept Facebook logins – where customers don’t have to go to the trouble of setting up an account on a site just to review you.

 

64.  How do you encourage unhappy customers to update their reviews to be more favorable?

Get in contact and fix any issues you can, if possible.  If you can make that angry customer happier, ask if he or she will update the review to reflect that.

I hope that wasn’t overblown like an ‘80s power ballad, but I also hope you don’t say I wasn’t thorough.

Use the questions to tweak your strategy.  It will pay off.

Here’s the link to the questions-only Google Drive doc again.

Thanks to Alex Deckard of CAKE Websites for kicking around some ideas with me.

In your efforts to get reviews, have you run across a problem that my troubleshooting questions wouldn’t address?

Any questions or suggestions that are unclear?  Any others you can think of?

How about any questions that gave you a “Eureka” moment?

Leave a comment!

Can You Repurpose Customers’ Yelp Reviews on Your Website? An Answer from Yelp HQ

https://www.flickr.com/photos/davidberkowitz/5923527436/

Image Credit David Berkowitz flickr.com/photos/davidberkowitz/5923527436/

There’s long been a concern among “local” business owners and marketers that Yelp might filter or otherwise remove your hard-earned reviews if you copy and paste them onto your site.  Yelp’s a killjoy, so there’s some basis for that assumption.

But it turns out Yelp is fine with your publishing Yelp reviews on your site (and sometimes elsewhere), under a few conditions.

I couldn’t find the official policies on that practice posted anywhere, and a recent conversation on Google+ got me wondering, so I asked.  Here’s what Lucy at Yelp HQ told me the other day:

We have a few common sense guidelines if you want to use your Yelp rating and reviews in basic marketing materials, including your own website:

DO ask the reviewers themselves before using their reviews. You can contact them by sending them a “Private Message” on Yelp through your Business Account.

DO stick to verbatim quotes, and don’t quote out of context. If a review has colorful language that doesn’t suit your needs, you should probably move on to the next review.

DO attribute the reviews to Yelp using the Yelp logo (e.g.,”Reviews from Yelp”), and do attribute the reviews to their authors and the date written (e.g.,”- Mike S. on 4/5/09″). Yelp logos can be found at http://www.yelp.com/developers/getting_started/api_logos.

DON’T distort the Yelp logo or use it in any way to suggest that Yelp or its users are affiliated with your business or helped create your marketing materials. Your business and your marketing need to stand on their own.

DON’T alter star ratings. Average star ratings change over time, so you also need to include the date of your rating nearby (e.g.,”**** as of 5/1/09″).

While we would hope not to, we reserve the right to change these guidelines from time to time or rescind our permission for any or no reason.

Reasonable enough, except for that last clause.  It also squares with what I’ve found to be true of reviews (Yelp and Google+) regardless of policy: they just don’t get filtered if you repurpose them.

What’s been your experience with reusing reviews?  Do you ask customers first?  Have you run across businesses who flagrantly go against Yelp’s reuse policies?  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!

Pasting or Embedding Google Reviews on Your Site: Will They Get Filtered?

For a few years now, people like me have told clients and others that it’s probably not a good idea to copy their Google reviews and paste them onto their site as testimonials.

The concern is that Google might filter those hard-earned reviews, and they’d longer no appear on the Places page, where they belong.

It’s a valid concern, too.  Google’s review guidelines tell reviewers not to “post the same content multiple times.”  Sure, that’s ambiguous, but given how Yelpishly draconian Google’s filter was in 2012 and given that Google still filters some reviews, it’s reasonable to interpret that as, “Your Google review had better not show up anywhere else.”

It’s hard to read Google’s mushy “rules” sometimes.  So let’s ask a different question: do Google Plus reviews get filtered if you paste them onto your site, or embed them as Google+ posts?

It appears they don’t get filtered.

I’ve rounded up a few examples:

Example 1: Simmonds Dental Center

plus.google.com/+Simmondsdentalcenter/about

(Reviews embedded as Google+ posts)

 

Example 2: Navarre Auto Repair

plus.google.com/+Navarreautorepair/about

(Reviews copied and pasted)

You get the idea, so now I’m just going to give you the links to some examples and let you dig around if you’d like.

 

Example 3: Peninsula Air Conditioning

plus.google.com/+PenAirAu/about

(Reviews embedded as Google+ posts)

 

Example 4: Andrew Turchin, DMD

plus.google.com/117483215318765329117/about

(Reviews copied and pasted)

 

Example 5: Honest Family Dental

plus.google.com/+HonestFamilyDentalAmeetTrivediDDSAustin/about

(Reviews embedded as Google+ posts)

 

Now, Gentle Reader, you may be wondering: “What about confirmation bias?”  Did I just find the businesses that cross-posted reviews successfully – and not the ones who sent their reviews into the meat grinder?

I found the above examples “in the wild.”  I simply found businesses that put their Google reviews on their sites, and then I checked to see whether those reviews were still on their Places pages.  (By the way…what’s with all the dentists?)

Until I see evidence that suggests otherwise, I’m satisfied that you’re not leading Pickett’s Charge if you put your reviews on your site.

Should you embed your reviews on your site?

I don’t see why not, as long as you don’t expose your hindquarters to the sharp fangs of IP lawyers.  As Mike Blumenthal has pointed out, Google suggests you ask your customers for permission to showcase their words on your site.

One other question to ponder: could Google eventually take down your reviews?  Maybe.  Google often flip-flops on review policy.  But you’ve got to consider the lifetime value of a review.  If hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands of people see a review on your site or your Places page on their way to your site, but one day it gets filtered, didn’t that review pull its weight?

If you’re uncomfortable with embedding or pasting reviews, you could always use the tried-and-true technique of taking screenshots of the reviews and putting those images on your site – because Google can’t “read” images (yet?).  You could even use Linda’s cool animated-GIF-slideshow technique.  (Of course, for CYA reasons you still might want to ask customers for permission first.)

Where do you come out on this?

Any first-hand experience that contradicts what I’ve found?

Have you put your Google reviews on your site – and if so, what happened?

Leave a comment!

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!

How Long Can a Google+ Review Stay Filtered? At Least 2 Years

I’m a jerk.

Someone wrote a nice Google+ review on my business page in 2012, and I didn’t thank him until today.

‘Course, it would have helped if I knew about the review.  It had been filtered for over 2 years.  It wasn’t there a week ago.  I saw it for the first time only a few hours ago.  (And I only stumbled across it when doing some research for my State of Search talk.)

To add insult to injury, the review was from no less than David Mihm.

Why was it filtered?

My theory is that David’s review fell victim to Google’s Great Review Purge of 2012.  As you may recall, Google was filtering reviews left and right.  For a time, they were out-Yelping Yelp.

Google eventually relaxed the filter, at the beginning of 2013.  Many reviewers that had been filtered came back to life, and new, post-2012 reviews weren’t filtered nearly as often.  Good news, for the most part.

Turns out that was only the beginning of the 180-flip.  Throughout 2013 Google pushed customers to leave reviews and pushed business owners to ask for them.  This past July, Google even OK’d pseudonyms.

The other reviews people kindly posted on my page – the ones that seemed to stick initially – were all written after 2012.  So that fits with my theory.

What surprised me is just how bad Google was at playing God with reviews.

Even 2 years ago, David had written 40+ reviews, over a period of 4-5 years.  Not a newbie reviewer by any means.

Plus, all the reviews on my page were written spontaneously.  As much as I appreciate the kind words, I’ve never asked anyone to review me on Google.

Why did the review only show up now?

That’s what puzzles me.  Google’s filters loosened over 20 months ago, at which time many reviews came back to life (indeed, they never really go away).

True, some reviews never seem come back, but usually those are the real stinkers (and even many of those stay up).  Why didn’t this review come back?

It can’t be that my page had to get a certain number of reviews for all the oldies but goodies to return: More than 6 months passed between when my most-recent review was written and when David’s got unfiltered.

Nothing else happened recently in terms of Local Visibility System reviews, except for the very nice Yelp review I got a few weeks ago.

So I’m stumped, unless there’s such a thing as a 27 Club for reviews.

 

Any theories?

Have you noticed old reviews resurface recently?

For that matter, have you noticed anything odd with Google+ reviews lately?

Leave a comment!

You Can Incentivize Google Plus Reviews…Just Not in the Way You’d Think

It’s bad form to offer customers hard incentives to write you reviews.  That includes money, products, work, massages, Starbucks cards, Chuck-E-Cheese tokens, or anything else of tangible value.

On Google Plus it’s also against the rules.  For once, Google’s review policies are relatively clear:

Conflict of interest: Reviews are most valuable when they are honest and unbiased. If you own or work at a place, please don’t review your own business or employer. Don’t offer or accept money, products, or services to write reviews for a business or to write negative reviews about a competitor. If you’re a business owner, don’t set up review stations or kiosks at your place of business just to ask for reviews written at your place of business.

You can’t hold raffles or contests that reviewers can enter by writing you a review.

Then there’s the unofficial word from 20 months ago that you can’t hold review contests that donate to charity, where Google apparently stated that “Any incentive offered in return for a review of a specific business is against our policy.”  But that “policy” wasn’t part of the rules then, and it certainly isn’t now:

To encourage reviews for your business: Remind your customers to leave feedback on Google. Simply reminding customers that it’s quick and easy to leave feedback on Google on mobile or desktop can help your business stand out from sites with fewer reviews.

Even in the “Tips for writing great reviews” document there’s no such broad stance against “any incentive.”

After flip-flopping for too long, Google’s’ not only OK with your asking customers / clients directly for reviews, but also encourages you to ask.  It’s just that you can’t butter your reviewers’ bread.

So what can you do besides beg?

You appeal to the little Mr. Rogers within each of your customers.

You do it by telling customers that whichever employee, technician, hygienist, etc. who helped them will get a small bonus for any positive feedback about the job they did.

It’s not a new concept, but it’s worked like a charm for my friend and long-time client, who’s put it into practice for getting reviews on Google and elsewhere.  Here’s exactly what he tells customers:

By the way, any members of our crew who served you today will get a bonus for any positive comments you’d like to add about their performance.

This works because you’re not waving money or an Amazon gift card in reviewers’ faces.  You’re not telling them that their word – their very reputation – is worth just $25 or $50.

Rather, you’re appealing to the part of human nature that enjoys helping other people out.  You’re also deferring to your customers’ judgment.

Of course, you’re not telling reviewers to give you 5 stars.  They can write, “The prices were high, the person who answered the phone was an ogre, but at least Fred was polite and did a good job for me.”

To me, this approach is just a smart way of encouraging – not even “incentivizing” reviews.  You’re not trying to grease customers’ wheels, and you’re only asking for positive feedback to the extent that your customers feel that someone on your team earned it.  And it seems to work.

What do you think of this approach to encouraging reviews?  Have you tried it?  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!