What If Yext Gobbles up More Local Directories?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/minicooper93402/9582751114

Yext has formed tight partnerships with some notable directories in recent years: MapQuest, InsiderPages, and CitySearch, among other bigger sites (and some rinky-dink ones).

The core feature of Yext’s “PowerListings” offering is that you can standardize your business info on a bunch of local directories (AKA “publishers”) at once.  On some of those sites Yext is one of several ways to update your info.  On other sites it’s now the only way to update or add a listing – which is what I’m referring to when I say Yext has “gobbled up” a site.

The number of sites Yext has partnered with – in some cases exclusively – has been growing.  (To the dismay of some.)

Does the expanding Yext network mean trouble for business owners and local SEOs?

No.

Yext users (especially at the enterprise level) will continue to save time to one degree or another on their citation-work.  But the basics of local SEO won’t be changed in any significant way – for the worse or for the better.

Here’s why I say Yext’s expansion won’t hurt you:

  1. All the sites that matter will maintain manual / free ways to add or edit your listing, or at least they’ll keep sourcing their data from places where you can control your business info. They’ll want to continue to collect business info in the way they’ve always collected it, and not limit their sources of fresh info to what’s in Yext’s pipeline.  They’ll want to keep growing their data-assets.
  1. Major industry-specific directories (e.g. HealthGrades, Avvo, etc.) seem less likely to partner with Yext, at least in large numbers. They wouldn’t be applicable to every Yext user, and some of them require proof of license if you want to claim your listing.  You’ll always be able to fix up your listings on industry sites.
  1. I’m guessing Google starts devaluing a citation source once it stops building its database of local businesses organically. The info gets stale and limited (at least for businesses that aren’t using Yext).
  1. As Andrew Shotland said recently, there’s plenty of room for competing services.
  1. Organic and behavioral factors will continue to influence your rankings more than citations do. (I’m talking about qualities like having tons of info about your services on your site, a few good links, and more and better reviews than your competitors have.)

The only people who might be harmed by Yext’s expansion are the ones who will sign up because they think it’s a silver bullet for rankings, or even that it will fix all their citations.  It won’t do either of those things, although Yext does work as promised on the sites in its network, and that can be valuable.

Yext’s marketing people don’t do enough to correct the “silver bullet” misconception, but some business owners (and lots of local SEOs) don’t do their due-diligence, or they just don’t know what they need.  The marketing question remains a gray area.

I totally understand why many business owners and local SEOs let out a sigh every time Yext gobbles up a directory.  But if all the sites where you want to work on your citations are Yext-exclusive, you’re focusing on the wrong sites.  (See this.)

Yext’s expansion is not a good thing or a bad thing for your local-visibility efforts, in the grand scheme.  Yext is a nice time-saver in certain situations.  It’s simply a tool that’s available to you.

Business owners who want or need to take the manual approach will always be just fine.  Especially because those are the sorts of people who realize that citations are just one aspect of local SEO, and are willing to work on the tough stuff.

What do you think happens if Yext’s network continues to grow?  Any points I overlooked?

Leave a comment!

How to Know If Your Local Reviews Strategy Works

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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!

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!

Industry-Specific Local Review Sites: the Definitive List

(Update 1/4/16: There’s a list of all review sites here.  Of course, it includes the industry-specific sites listed in this post, but it also lists places you can get reviews regardless of your industry.)

“Niche” review sites are underrated.  You’re crazy not to get reviews there.

Sites like Avvo, DealerRater, and HealthGrades (to name well-known examples) tend to rank well in Google’s organic results, especially these days.  Getting reviews on those sites is the best “barnacle” SEO technique there is.

Also, the people who go to those industry-specific sites and see your listing are farther along in the “buying” process.  They generally know what they need and are just looking for who should provide it.

OK, now that I’ve convinced you, the question is: what are your options?

What review sites are specific to your type of business?

I’ve compiled a list.  Here’s what I’ve got so far:

(Oh, and here’s the spreadsheet – where I have a column that lets you sort the review sites by what type of business they specialize in.)

AllTherapist.com
AGFG.com.au
ApartmentRatings.com
ApartmentReviews.net
AutoBody-Review.com
AutoMD.com
Avvo.com
BarShots.com
BedandBreakfast.com
BestCarFinder.com
BestPlumbers.com
Booking.com
CampusExplorer.com
CarDealerCheck.com
CarFolks.com
Caring.com
Cars.com
CarTalk.com
ChoiceHotels.com
CiteHealth.com
DealerRater.com
DemandForce.com
DentistDig.com
Doctor.com
DoctorOogle.com
DoctorsDig.com
DriverSide.com
Edmunds.com
Education.com
EquallyWed.com
Expedia.com
Firmoo.com
Fixr.com
ForeLinksters.com
GigSalad.com
GolfCourseRanking.com
GolfHub.com
GolfLink.com
GolfNow.com
GolfReview.com
GreatSchools.org
HappyCow.net
HealthGrades.com
HolidayCheck.com
HomeAdvisor.com
HomeOwnersCircle.com
HomeStars.com
HomeTownRoofingContractors.com
HotelClub.com
HotelsCombined.com
Houzz.com
LateRooms.com
LawFirmDirectory.org
LawyerRatingz.com
Lawyers.com
Lawzam.com
LocalGranite.com
LuxuriousLandscapes.com
Martindale.com
MechanicAdvisor.com
Menuism.com
MenuPages.com
MyTravelGuide.com
Networx.com
NursingHomeSite.com
OpenTable.com
Orbitz.com
OurParents.com
PublicGolfCourses.net
RateMDs.com
RealSelf.com
RepairPal.com
SelfStorageFinders.com
SeniorAdvisor.com
SeniorHomes.com
SmileReminder.com
SpaFinder.com
SpaHunter.com
SpareFoot.com
StorageQuote.com
StorageSam.com
SureCritic.com
TheKnot.com
TradeCritic.com.au
TripAdvisor.com
Trulia.com
UrbanSpoon.com
USBankLocations.com
VirtualTourist.com
Vitals.com
WeddingBee.com
WeddingWire.com
Wellness.com
Zagat.com
Zillow.com
ZocDoc.com

Once you dig into your industry, you might be surprised.  I’m surprised at how many golf sites I found, and how few relatively attorney directories actually let clients post reviews.

And who knew Click and Clack allow reviews on CarTalk.com?

You’ll notice I called this the “Definitive” list – not “Ultimate” or “Complete.”  That’s because I know I’m missing some sites – probably a lot.  That’s why I’ll keep building this list over time.

But I hope you found at least a couple that you didn’t know about, where you can get reviews from customers.

By the way, on most if not all of these sites, you can also get a citation.

Thanks to the following people for contributing sites:

Jon Hall of Grade.us for reminding me about Martindale.com.

Mike Blumenthal for telling me about LawyerRatingz.com and RealSelf.com.  Check out his GetFiveStars review tool.

Christina Black of ViveVirtual for reminding me about AllTherapist.com.

Gary Smith of Pixel Dust Weddings for telling me about EquallyWed.com, as well as some wedding review sites that were just feeders I had on the list.

Margaret Ornsby of More Customers More Sales for the two Australian sites.

Dan Hiestand of Chico Car Care for SureCritic.com and DriverSide.com.

Brian Rys of Swingset Solutions for PatientFusion.com.

Do you know of any industry-specific sites that should be on the list?  Let me know of them and you’ll make it into the “Credits” section 🙂

Should You Hire an Industry-Specialist Local SEO?

A few local SEOs I’ve consulted for have asked me whether they should specialize.  In other words, should they offer their services only to business owners in a specific industry?

 

Here’s what I said to them:

Know exactly why you want to specialize – and be able to explain it clearly to potential clients.  If you can’t articulate it or think the reason would sound bad if you did, now isn’t the time to specialize.

Figure out how you’ll get into a position where you can offer something to your clients that “general practitioner” local SEOs can’t.

Now I’m going to flip the question upside-down to get at the real issue:

In what cases might you – a business owner – want to work with a local SEO who specializes in your field?

By the way, keep in mind that I’m not an industry-specialist (although I’ve worked with some types of businesses more than others).  I think being an all-industries local SEO guy is the better fit for me, so in one sense I’ve already voted with my feet.  But I want to present a balanced view here, and part of doing that means you know where I’m coming from.

It might be a good idea or a bad idea to work with a local SEO who specializes in your industry.  Here are the factors worth considering:

(Please excuse all the “he” references.  Just makes for a smoother read than “he/she,” or “they.”  Some of the very best SEOs are women, but this industry is still like The Expendables, unfortunately.)

 

Pros

1.  He may have a lot of experience in helping businesses just like yours.

2.  He may have been an in-house SEO for a big company in your industry – which might be good to the degree it means he knows what works on a large scale and can either repeat it or scale it down.

3.  He may have worked in your industry.  He might the same ins and outs you know, and speak the same lingo you speak.

4.  He probably knows the regulations and restrictions that apply to your industry.

 

Cons

1.  He may not have the wide range of experience that a non-industry-specific local SEO would be more likely to have.  He hasn’t necessarily helped business owners in all sorts of situations.

2.  He could have been an in-house SEO for a big company – and that might not be such a good thing if he’s only had success with tons of budget and HR at his disposal.  He may not know how to bootstrap, which could be an issue if you’ve got limited resources.

3.  If you hire him to help with “content,” there’s a chance you’ll get boilerplate, non-unique stuff that’s been used on others’ websites (maybe even on your competitors’ sites).  Not only does your site

4.  You may discover that he only specializes in your industry because he thinks there’s “lots of money in it.”  He doesn’t have a particular affinity for business owners like you, and has no special ability to help them.

 

How do you figure out the pros and cons of the specialist local SEO you’re thinking of ?  I’d ask as many of the following questions as you feel like asking:

“Why are you a specialist?”  Get a concrete answer.  If it’s “I’m good at helping businesses in this niche,” ask how.  If it’s “I like this industry,” ask why.

“How many businesses in my industry have you worked with?”  There’s no “right” answer here, as long as the answer is straightforward and not mush-mouthed.  If you’re the first one your SEO will have worked with as a specialist, hey, that’s fine if he comes out and says so.  If the answer is “oh, hundreds,” you need to ask, “Why so many?”

“How are you better-equipped to help my business (better-equipped than a local SEO who doesn’t specialize)?”  Again, you’ll want to drill down until you hit specifics.

“What’s your exclusivity policy?”  Has your potential SEO-er worked with business you’d consider competitors?  Under what circumstances would he work with or not work with them in the future?

“Do you have a ‘core’ list of citation sources that matter in my field?”  The only bad answer to this: “What’s a ‘citation source’?”

“Where can I see some stuff you’ve written on local SEO for my industry?”  This one could answer many of the other questions.  Here’s an example of the sort of thing you’d want to see.

“What do you know about marketing in my industry that I might not know – or that my old SEO guy maybe didn’t know?”  This is a toughie.  You’ll know a good answer if you hear one.  Personally, I’d say something like, “Well, you probably know a lot more about your field than I do, but here are some things I’ve learned about your field over time….”

“Are there other local SEOs who specialize in this industry, too?  If so, how are you different from (or better than) them?”  It’s OK if the answer is, “Well, we’re not fundamentally different, but I think we’ve invented a better mousetrap, and here’s how….”

You should scrutinize anyone you hire, for any kind of work.  An industry-specialist local SEO doesn’t necessarily warrant more questions on your part – just a slightly different battery of questions.