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

https://www.flickr.com/photos/29707865@N05/2780508266/

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

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

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

Asking in-person for a review later

Pros

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

Cons

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

Asking in-person for a mobile review on the spot

Pros

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

Cons

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

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

Pros

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

Cons

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

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

Emailing one customer at a time

Pros

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

Cons

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

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

Pros

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

Cons

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

Email blast (via MailChimp, Aweber, etc.)

Pros

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

Cons

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

Providing review handouts / instructions in-person

Pros

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

Cons

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

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

Pros

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

Cons

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

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

“Review us” page

Pros

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

Cons

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

Phone call

Pros

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

Cons

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

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

Pros

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

Cons

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

Video walk-though

Pros

Cons

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

Text message (SMS)

Pros

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

Cons

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

Snail-mail requests

Pros

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

Cons

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

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

Links, buttons, or widgets on your site

Pros

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

Cons

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

Yelp check-in offer

Pros

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

Cons

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

Little cards with printed instructions

Pros

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

Cons

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

QR codes

Pro and con

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

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

Passive strategies: letting reviews “happen”

Pros

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

Cons

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

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

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

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

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

Any pros or cons I missed?

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

Leave a comment!

25 Hard Truths of Google Reviews

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ikewinski/7172214803/Google reviews can help your business for obvious reasons: They’re mighty visible in the Google Maps search results, and searchers pay attention to the reviews (and sometimes believe them).  The big problem is just as obvious: Google does an awful job of policing reviews, causing all sorts of mischief and mayhem.

You’d like more and better reviews than your competitors have.  But you’ll have a harder time accomplishing that if you know as little about Google reviews as they know.  It helps to know some “inside baseball.”

Here are some hard truths of Google reviews.  Some will be old news to you.  Others will be news.  Those will help you approach Google reviews with fewer blind spots.

1. Google exercises little oversight.  The sheriff is out of town.

 

2. Google doesn’t care whether a reviewer is a real customer, or about what happens to your business as a result of bogus reviews.  You, customers, and Google all care about Google reviews for different reasons.  For Google, reviews are a way to crowdsource info about local businesses and to keep searchers’ attention on Google’s local search results as they get larded with ads.

3. Reporting a bogus review just once doesn’t work.  Sometimes flagging it down multiple times over a period of weeks or months will work.  More often, you’ll need to go to greater lengths (and Google still may not remove the review).

4. Ratings-only reviews stick more than they should.  Ratings left by Google users who’ve only rated one business are especially stubborn, because Google can’t detect fishy patterns of behavior (like that a “customer” hired 10 moving companies in 6 different states in the span of a month).

5. Google filters policy-violating reviews rarely, and they’re tough to get removed manually (if you can get them removed at all).

6. You do not own and cannot control the Google Maps reviews of your business.  Google owns them, and Google controls them – for better or for worse.

7. Google fixates on quantity.  “Local Guides” are minted and promoted on the basis of how many reviews they’ve written.  Even if those reviews are bogus, unfair, unhelpful, or paid-for (or some combination thereof).

8. There’s a black market of people who want to buy Google reviews.  One way I know that is because probably twice a week some idiot emails me to ask how many reviews I can write for him.  (Yes, it’s almost always a he.)

9. You can’t control what’s in the review snippets – the ones you see in the right-hand sidebar (the knowledge panel), or the ones in the Google Maps 3-pack.  The best you can do is encourage happy customers to speak up, often and in large numbers.

10. Photos accompanying Google reviews are just as badly policed as the reviews are.  Photos never seem to get filtered automatically.  Often they’re not removed even once you report them.

11. Reviews don’t seem to drive rankings in the way you might think.  A pile of great Google reviews doesn’t  mean you’ll rank well.  You may get a little bump from getting a few reviews on the board, but after that it seems to be a question of how your reviews encourage more searchers to click on your listing and show other signs that suggest you’re a more-relevant search result than the next business is.  The rankings benefits of Google reviews seem to be indirect.

12. Pseudonyms and initials are OK, apparently.  Google suggests reviewers use their real names, but does nothing to enforce that.

13. Reviews can get filtered, unfiltered, and re-filtered multiple times.  A good review is never “safe.”  A review doesn’t go away if you close down your Google My Business page.

14. Unethical reviewers can keep coming back with new reviews, possibly under different names or in different Google accounts.  The worst Google will do – all they can do – is remove the reviews, and even that rarely happens without your prodding.

15. There’s no simple way to embed Google reviews on your site.  But I suspect Google will eventually offer a way, similar to Yelp’s.

16. Reviewers must use their own Google accounts.  Even it’s a hassle for them and for you.  They can’t log into an account you own and use a “pen name,” nor can you post reviews on their behalf.

17. Your “star rating” may not make sense.  If you have nine 5-star reviews and one 4-star review, your average rating may not be 4.9 stars.

18. Local Guides are not held to higher standards than are less-active Google reviewers.  Their reviews don’t have to be any truer or more helpful.

19. There’s no guarantee you can keep your reviews if your address changes much.  Google’s pretty good about letting you keep your reviews if you rebrand, or if you move to a new address that’s within the same town or within a few miles of the old address.  But Google reserves the right to nuke your reviews after a farther-away move.

20. There’s no penalty on businesses that buy reviews or engage in similar crookedness.  Yelp does it all wrong, and I don’t claim that for Google to do it fairly would be an easy matter.  The trouble is Google’s lack of oversight adds to a “why not?” outlook in some business owners.  Though that usually comes back to bite those business owners when enough customers discover the good reviews were fake, first too many customers find out the hard way that those businesses are no good.

21. The rules change, and the strictness of Google’s filter changes.  Google plays with the dials often.

22. Google reviews are near-impossible to avoid, and only become more visible over time.  That’s great if you’re dialed-in on Google reviews, but not if you’ve taken a drubbing.

23. Google reviews live in the search results.  No longer can people see your reviews on your Google My Business page, which itself is a Sea-Monkey floating in the fragile little tank we call Google Maps.

24. You can’t find much information about reviewers.  You (and would-be customers) can’t get any or many facts to determine which reviews are more credible.  You can’t even see where the reviewers are from.

25. Businesses in the 3-pack are not ranked strictly by their average ratings.  A 2-star business may outrank a 5-star.  Generally the higher-rated businesses outrank the lower-rated ones, but exceptions abound.  It’s complicated.

Can you think of any other “hard truths” of Google reviews?

Any good war stories?

Any silver linings?

Leave a comment!

Cheat Codes for Google+Local Customer Reviews

Cheat codes to get you to the next level...of customer reviewsIf you’re confused as to how to get customer reviews on your Google+Local page (the page formerly known as Places), your customers are probably confused-er.

Common questions from customers include:

Do I need a Google+ page to write a review?

How do I find your business in Google now?

…and

How do I write you a review?

If you’re like many business owners, your big question is: “How do I show my customers how to review me – without overwhelming them?

Here are some instructions you can customize to your business – which walk customers through how to post a review on your Google+Local page:

This handout is specific to one of my clients, as you can probably tell.  But feel free to rip off the layout or adapt it to your business.

If you’ve got mad PDF-editing skills, you can customize the handout to your business.

Or you can take the images I use and stick them in a design program of your choice. (Here’s a zip file of the images.)

Or you can doodle it on paper, scan it in, and then print it or email it to your customers.

Note that the PDF contains embedded links that take customers straight to where they can sign up for a Plus account and to your Google+Local page.

As an alternative, here are some written instructions you can send customers (you can use them verbatim, though you may want to make step #5 specific to your business):

  1. Go to https://plus.google.com/
  1. Create a Google Plus page/account
  1. Log into your Google Plus page (or stay signed in)
  1. On the left side of your Plus page, click the “Local” tab
  1. Search for us near the top of the page (in the boxes next to where it says “Google+”)
  1. Click the little pencil for “write a review”
  1. If Google asks you any questions, just click “Continue”
  1. Select a rating number (“0-3”), write the review, and click “publish.”

Right now, in this “transition” period , there are several ways customers can post a review for you.  I’ve simply found that the above steps – particularly the ones in the handout – to be the most straightforward and the least likely to change long-term.

I’d love any suggestions for how to make the steps easier, though.

(By the way, you can always have me custom-make a Google review handout – like the one above – for your business.  I give these review handouts to all my clients, and I’ve made them as standalone pieces for hundreds of business owners who’ve just needed more Google reviews.)