Q&A on BBB Customer Reviews: Not Just Another Unkempt Local Review Site

https://www.flickr.com/photos/stephoto27/6391444495/Love or hate the Better Business Bureau, it’s one of the bigger sites to have dipped a couple toes in the greenish-brown pond of local business reviews.  In my experience it’s a great place to get reviews, as I’ve written.

But the current local-reviews landscape is the Wild West.  The sheriff in TripAdvisorville seems to shoot straight, but the one at Yelp Rock ain’t no Will Kane.  Meanwhile, the sheriff of Mountain View is never in town, and his one deputy managed to lock himself in the cell with the town drunk.

And those are the big sites that actually attempt quality-control of reviews.  Facebook and YellowPages?  Ha.

Like Angie’s List, BBB actually seems to try.  Not to say that no bogus reviews wind up there (bogus reviews are everywhere), but at least there’s an effort.

A higher-up at a regional BBB chapter read my post on how it’s an “underrated” review site, and sent me some info, which prompted me to ask him a few questions.  He prefers not to be named in this post, but here’s the inside scoop he gave me on BBB reviews:

 

Q: Is there an automatic filter on BBB reviews?  (Like Yelp’s or Google’s filter.)

A: No, there is no automatic filter on BBB reviews. We have BBB staff that read them, as well as ask the business if this person is a customer.

 

Q: Under what circumstances do you remove a customer’s review manually?

A: Since October 2015 (at my chapter of the BBB) 17% of our online reviews submitted to the BBB were not published. Reasons could have been that 1) BBB was not able to verify that the person writing the review was a customer, or that 2) the review contained abusive language.

 

Q: Under what special circumstances will BBB reveal the identity of an anonymous reviewer to the business owner?

A: The BBB does not post any anonymous reviews. Once the BBB receives a review it goes into a 3-day “holding tank” before we publish that gives the BBB time to email the business to verify that the review is in fact from a customer and gives the business an opportunity to respond. The BBB does protect the identity of the reviewer by not posting identifiable information. Same regarding formal complaints. We would not publish a complaint that was sent anonymously.

 

Q: Do formal complaints factor into the “star” rating of a business, and not just against its “letter” grade?

A: No, formal complaints do not factor into the star rating. Currently we have 2 separate grading systems. The A+ – F grading system is based on standards the business meets and has earned. The star rating system is based on consumers’ opinions of the business.

Q: To get reviews on BBB, first you need to get listed.  You can pay to get accredited, of course, but then there’s the free submission option (which has been relocated at least once, and never has been easy to find).  Why is that form so buried and, seemingly, so ineffective?

A: We have had a massive problem with citation building services who white-label their product to agencies submitting inaccurate data – either by accident or maliciously to attempt to damage a competitor’s listing. This has created a massive amount of work for our staff. Often they submit data we already have listed. If we get a listing that we think is submitted inaccurately, we try to reach out to the business by phone and later by letter and send them a questionnaire asking them to update their file in our system (free of charge). We don’t always get return phone calls or get our questionnaires returned. If we think the data is submitted inaccurately, we don’t publish it.

We are also getting a lot of submissions that have virtual office addresses that we can’t verify have employees in the United States. The business can’t be verified in public records of the state or county.

What I really think makes our database so great is that we have humans who act as “Curators” or caretakers to verify that the information that we report to the public is correct. We take this very seriously at our chapter of the BBB. It is what we dedicate the most financial and human resources to, especially regarding our Accredited Business Directory. Those businesses and their owners have been background-checked, and we’ve checked their licenses, business start dates, verified addresses, etc. That is why you won’t find an un-licensed mover in our Accredited Business Directory, or an unlicensed handyman lumped into the licensed plumbing categories.

Another thing that I think really sets us apart from other directory sites is that we ask for sizing information from the company.  For example, we know AT&T would be considered a “colossal large” business because of the number of customers they have.  It would be acceptable for them to get 500 complaints a year and, as long as they respond and make a good-faith effort to resolve those complaints, they could still maintain an A+ record.  Contrast that with a pool builder who builds 20 pools a year and gets 10 complaints. To us, that’s less expected and more of a concern.

Anyway, we are in the process of making some major improvements to our website and iPhone app. We are moving in the right direction digitally, just moving slower than I would wish! 🙂

How does that square with your experience with Better Business Bureau reviews?

Any questions I can pass on to someone at the BBB?

Leave a comment!

Why Send Good Customers to Crappy Review Sites?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/kim_scarborough/687997996/

Isn’t that a huge waste?

Think of how hard you worked to learn your craft, start your business, stay in business, get customers, and do a great job for them and earn those positive reviews.

That’s why it’s stupid not to ask for online reviews.  That’s even stupider than Stone Cold.  You’re missing half the payoff.

But isn’t it equally dumb to get reviews on sites most people ignore?  When there are Big Boys like Google, Facebook, and Yelp, why on earth would you ask a happy customer to go to a YellowPages or a SuperPages or a CitySearch to write a review?

Well, there are some reasons you shouldn’t overlook the smaller, less-prominent, less-glamorous review sites.  You should work them into your larger review strategy.  Here’s why:

1. They corroborate your reviews on sites where it’s harder to get reviews. Let’s say you’re killing it on Google, but you look like a one-hit wonder because you’re not doing as well on Yelp.  Getting reviews on other sites that rank well when you search for your business by name will make the Google reviews look less like flukes, and may make the bad Yelp reviews look more like the whiny exceptions.

2.  You’ll get more review stars showing up when potential customers search for you by name. Even if they don’t click through to your YellowPages listing (for example), good reviews there add to the overall effect of, “Hey, these guys have consistently solid reviews.”

3.  They’re easy backup options, for customers who don’t want to bother with Yelp or Google. Many sites even allow reviewers to log in with Facebook, rather than create a separate account just to review you on a given site.  Also, Yelp and Google are the only sites that really filter reviews (Yelp much more so than Google).  You don’t want to send everyone into the meat grinder.

4.  You can repurpose those “easy” reviews as testimonials on your site. That is OK, even on Yelp.  They won’t get filtered.

5.  You can include badges on your site that link to your reviews on the overlooked review sites.

6.  You’re more likely to rank well in those sites, which themselves often rank well in Google for relevant keywords. You might cultivate a little stream of non-Google referral traffic.

7.  You can always ask if they’ll post the same review on another, slightly more difficult site – like Google – where you’d like more reviews. I mean, they’ve already written the thing.  It’s the online-reviews equivalent of an upsell.

8.  There’s a small chance that reviews on “easy” sites help your Google rankings. I don’t know one way or the other (and neither do you), so please take that comment with a grain of salt.  I’m simply saying it’s possible.  Stranger things have happened.

9.  Those sites may become more important in the future.

10.  Sometimes the alternative is to get no reviews at all.

11.  Some customers might actually care about reviews on CitySearch or DexKnows or MerchantCircle.

12.  As Aaron Weiche of GetFiveStars pointed out, you’ll want to create the maximum “wow” effect when customers search for the name of your business + “reviews.” For that matter, even the overlooked sites often rank well when customers search for a specific keyword + “reviews.” It’s just smart barnacle SEO.

Do you agree it’s worth peeling off at least a few customers to review you on sites other than the Big Boys?

What’s your favorite under-appreciated review site?

Why do you like it?

Leave a comment!

Updated for 2015: How to Write a Google Review of a Local Business

Google has changed the steps for writing a Google Plus review…again.

Unlike 3 years ago, this time Google made the steps a little simpler for customers, clients, and patients.  The new “Collections” feature in Google+ seems to have been the impetus for change here.

The review steps haven’t changed much.  Google removed the “Local” tab in Google+, along with the two-field search bar that you’d use to find the business you want to review.  Now all you do is sign into Google+ and look up the business in the search bar.

Here are the simplest steps for posting a Google Plus review (and they work whether or not the customer already has a Google+ account):

New Google Plus review instructions

You may have to include the city + state in the search bar, in order to pull up the right listing.

By the way, I can custom-make instructions like those for you ($20 per PDF).

Thoughts on Google’s latest tweak?

Do you think it makes the review process easier?

Leave a comment!

User Behavior Affects Local Rankings. Now What?

First, go check out Darren’s slides.  After you pick up your jaw, come back here.  The two presentations were an unofficial duo that kicked off the Local track at State of Search 2014.

Want to know how to get higher click-through from the Places results, and how to encourage other actions that Google may care about (like getting customers to look up driving directions)?  Enjoy!

 

Huge thanks to Greg, Mike Stewart, and to everyone else who made State of Search great.  You should go in 2015.  You’ll love it – especially if you’re serious about local search.

Questions about my slides?  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!

12 Points Your Customers Should Know Before Writing a Review

You know you need to encourage customers / clients / patients for reviews.  If you don’t, you’re stunting your local visibility and your ability to get the phone to ring. Easier said than done.  Your effort to earn reviews quickly turns into a juggling act:

  • You want to earn reviews on a variety of sites.
  • Some customers may need instructions.
  • You want good reviews.
  • You want to be ethical.

To accomplish all that takes strategy on your part, as I’ve described before. But what about your customers’ role?  What do they have to know? More than you might expect.  I can think of 12 points (in order of importance) that you should make sure your customers know before they write you a review:

1.  It’s OK not to write a review.  (We also appreciate testimonials, by the way.)

2.  If you simply don’t feel like reviewing us, please feel free to tell us why.  (For example, did we ask too early?  Does it seem like too much work?)

3.  Any site is great.  But if you truly have no preference, we always like reviews on [Site A] or [Site B].

4.  We appreciate detail.  Please write about whatever parts of your experience with us you’d like to write about.  But if you just don’t know where to start, maybe mention the specific service we provided, what problem caused you to come our way in the first place, and what you thought of our customer-service.

5.  We want your honest opinion.

6.  We’d love to know how we can do a better job.

7.  Here are some instructions, in case they help.  Of course, please let us know if you still have questions.

8.  It’s fine if you’d rather not use your full name or real name.  Even on Google+.

9.  It’s OK to name names, if one of our people was especially helpful.  In fact, we’d appreciate it.

10.  It’s great if you feel like reviewing us on more than one site, if you’re just as happy as a clam.

11.  We’d love if you’d mention how you found us in the first place.  (Did you read any reviews?)

12.  You can always edit your review later.

A couple notes

#4 (about how you appreciate detail):

This is the only good, ethical way to encourage keywords – which may help your rankings, and which on Google+ influence your business’s review snippets.

#7 (about providing instructions):

You can provide printed instructions or instructions in an email, or both.  Try my instructions, or create your own.  You might also weave in a “reviews page” on your site.  Experiment.

#10 (about posting more than one review):

Yelp is the most likely of any site to take down a review if it’s a duplicate of another.  I’ve noticed Yelp to be lax about duplicate content, though

What to do

I’m not saying you should rattle off that long list to all your customers.  That may overwhelm them.  Just get a sense of what they probably know already, and then find a way to impart the rest.

That’s a lot to absorb for you, too.  But you’ve got to try.  Being 100% clear about what you’re looking for and not looking for is the only way to encourage reviewers and good reviews without being pushy.

By the way, I suggest you also read this excellent old post by Mike Blumenthal.  It will help you internalize the points I mentioned.  That is the goal here.  You don’t want to over-explain yourself to customers, but you do want to address their concerns proactively or as they come up in different situations.

Any points you’d add?  What do you tell your customers?  Leave a comment!

Real Names Not Needed for Google+ Reviews: Smart or Stupid Move?

Google no longer requires reviewers to use their real names when reviewing businesses on Google+.

This is a complete turnaround of the policy Google has had for the last few years.  It’s the latest step in Google’s long push to get more Plus users, mostly for data-mining purposes.

As you can tell from the comments on Google’s announcement, people are torn on whether this is good or bad.  There’s also a good discussion at Linda’s forum.

Is it good or bad to be able to leave an anonymous Google+ review?  Overall, I think it’s bad.  But I’d like to lay my thinking out piece by piece.

Here are what I see as the pros and cons:

Pros

1.  It makes it simpler to write reviews of people / businesses who offer sensitive services: divorce lawyers, bankruptcy lawyers, psychotherapists, exterminators, bakers of adult-themed cakes, etc.

Many other sites have allowed anonymous or semi-anonymous reviews; now Google’s one of them.  This is the main “pro” by far, in my opinion.

2.  Full-name reviews will gain value: They’ll be seen as more credible because, in general, they are.  Score one for the business owners who’ve already worked out a strategy for earning those reviews.

Cons

1.  Google is making life easier for spammers, scammers, and miscreants of all stripes.

2.  People will trust Google reviews less, for better or worse.

3.  Fake reviews will be harder to spot.

4.  It encourages one-time reviews.  Writing a review as “John Doe” makes sense when you’re reviewing (say) a divorce attorney.  Not so much if you’re reviewing a hotel.  With this change, Google is encouraging more reviews, but not more reviewers.

5.  Many people still don’t like Google+, and still won’t want to use it.  To the extent those people are your customers, Google’s new policy probably won’t change their minds.

6.  Business owners’ responses to anonymous reviews won’t be as helpful or specific, if they don’t know whom they’re even addressing.

7.  Does this mean reviewers’ profile pictures don’t have to be of them, either?

8.  The sentiment snippets showing in the knowledge graph will become even more of a problem.

Other considerations

Now Yelp looks like the only site that gives a hoot about quality-control.  Not that Yelp is particularly good about QC;  it’s just always been two steps ahead of Google.

I wouldn’t rule out another filter crackdown, once even Google determines there’s too much junk coming through.

Your thoughts?  Any pros or cons you’d add? Leave a comment!

16 Reasons to Get Reviews on a Diversity of Sites

Even business owners who are good about encouraging reviews often make a mistake: they steer would-be reviewers toward the same site.  Usually it’s Google+.  Sometimes it’s another site.

As in the gene pool and in one’s diet, variety is healthy.

Here are 16 reasons you should encourage customers to review you on different sites:

Reason 1:  You’ll keep your eggs in several baskets.  You don’t want all your reviews on Google+.  You really don’t want them all on Yelp.  And may the Big Guy Upstairs smile on you if you went heavy on Yahoo.

Reason 2:  The search results will look good when people search for you by name.  Google often shows off your reviews for you.

Reason 3:  It builds credibility.  Having reviews on a diversity of sites helps confirm that your 5-star reviews on one site aren’t a fluke (or a fabrication).

Reason 4:  It lets you offer customers choices of where to review you.  You want them to do what they find easiest.  That gives them more drive to review you – and fewer excuses not to.

Reason 5:  As a result of Reason #4: encouraging reviews on different sites lets you figure out which sites customers find easiest, which allows you to make the appropriate tweaks to your strategy.

Reason 6:  Diversity of reviews helps your Google Places rankings, in my experience.

Reason 7:  It’s the best way to rank well within those sites.

Reason 8:  It’s a great barnacle SEO technique.

Reason 9:  You might cultivate little streams of customers from those other sites.  Want to “Google-proof” your business?  Start here.

Reason 10:  It’s more raw online info about your business.  Some people will do homework on you.  Do what you can to make it worth their trouble.

Reason 11:  Customers / clients / customers can write reviews on the sites they consider private enough.

Reason 12:  You can learn more about your customers and where / how they found you in the first place.  You’ll probably see patterns.

Reason 13:  Some sites feed reviews to other sites – and search engines.

Reason 14:  To rank for city + service / product / business + reviews is pretty sweet.  (Example: “Monterey dentist reviews.”)

Reason 15:  You may be better able to track referral sources in Google Analytics.  (Useful in a “(not provided)” world.)

Reason 16:  Past / current and potential customers are a little more likely to write reviews of you if they see that’s what others do.  You’re in good shape if you create the impression, “Wow, everyone seems to review this place!”

Late addition – Reason 17:  Review sites themselves come and go and change over time.  See Dave’s great comment, below.

How best to diversify?  Totally depends on your current methods.  Try different printed, verbal, or email instructions.  You might also consider GetFiveStars or Grade.us or my 3-site review handouts.

Can you think of any more reasons to diversify?

How about arguments against mixing it up?

Leave a comment!

Should You Accept a Custom URL for Your Google+ Local Page?

When I got a custom URL for my personal Google+ page recently, my reaction was “Oh, cool.”  If you’re a business owner who’s been offered a custom Google+ URL for your local listing, your reaction is or was probably similar: it’s not an earth-shaker, but it’s a nice little surprise.

Google might soon ask you if you want a custom URL – if you haven’t been offered one already.  Should you accept it?

Probably not if…

a.  The URL includes the name of a city you think you might not always be located in;

b.  It’s based on a fictitious DBA (tsk, tsk) you’re using for your Google+ Local page;

c.  It’s based on a website name that you know you won’t be using long-term;

d.  You wouldn’t consider paying Google for it in the future, or

e.  You just don’t like it – to the point that that the old long string of numbers looks good to you.

If any of the above applies to you, I would click the “Not now” button, to decline (at least for the moment) the custom URL

(Update: Max Minzer answered this question in his comment (below): I have not tried clicking the “Not now” button, so I’m not sure exactly what happens when you click that: Do they offer you the URL again the next time you log in, or do they ask again in a week, or are you stuck with the messy old URL until Google maybe decides to force custom URLs on everyone?)

Once again, Google puts business owners in a pickle.  Nobody knows what the grand plan is for these URLs.

I can see them becoming part of a freemium model for Google+ Local pages, where you have to pay for your custom URL, in the same way you pay for your domain name.

I also wouldn’t be surprised if Google eventually shows them on the main search results page.

By the way, as Mike Blumenthal pointed out recently, it really should be called a “custom” URL.  It’s not like you can actually customize it.  A custom suit isn’t one that the tailor says fits you, but it’s the only one in the shop, and if you don’t like it you can just take a hike.

What are your experiences with and thoughts on “custom” Google+ URLs so far?  Leave a comment!