The High Cost of Thinking Your Local Search Visibility Is Free

https://www.flickr.com/photos/yxo/189594544/

The name’s a shameless rip-off of Wil Reynolds’s excellent presentation on “The High Cost of Free Traffic.”  One reason I’ve got no shame is that that describes the situation perfectly: Although technically your business’s visibility in Google Maps and the rest of local search is free, you run into trouble once you start treating it as you would other “free” stuff.

Business owners and their marketers often mess up and overlook enough things even when they pay $20 a click (as in AdWords) for their traffic.  Their strategies get even more ragged when they don’t have to pay for visibility in the local search results, and are confident they won’t need to any time soon.

“Free” gives you a sense of relief.  You don’t think much about how you use your water if all you have to do is dip your cup in the creek.  That’s fine as long as it’s not winter or there’s a cattle drive upstream.

What’s the “high cost” of free traffic (the one I named this post after)?  It’s not one specific high price you pay, but rather a long list of missed-opportunity costs.  They’re problems you’ll face, time you’ll waste, or wins you won’t seize.

They’re what happens when you assume “free” rankings and traffic are permanent, or unlimited, or guaranteed, or something you’re entitled to, or always easy to get more of, or always what you need more of.

Cost 1: Trying to farm out all parts of your local SEO strategy.

(Or, even worse, trying to farm out all of your marketing.)

Some parts of local SEO require a decision-maker’s personal involvement.  Doing what it takes to earn good links and reviews are two examples of that.  Though third parties can help to one degree or another, they can’t do it well and without any of your involvement.  “Your one-stop, turnkey solution” is a marketing ploy.  The sooner you realize that, the sooner you’ll get visible in the local search results, and have it actually result in more business, and have it last.

Cost 2: Seeing if you can “just get your site to rank” without putting in any real effort.

If your primitive strategy of microsites / keyword-stuffing / cheap links / lousy “city” pages doesn’t work you’ve wasted time and are back to the drawing board.  Even if you’re fortunate enough to have your bare-minimum effort bring you good rankings, you’ll be one non-pushover competitor or one Google test or update away from Search Engine Siberia.

Especially when it’s early in your local SEO effort, either you need to specialize and carve out a niche, or put in a little work to differentiate yourself, or do both.

Cost 3: Only worrying about the “easy SEO wins” at first.

Isn’t it great if you can meet your goals with a minimum of effort?  Sure.  Shouldn’t you try to do that?  Yeah, probably.  But what if your quick no-brainers yield no results?  Then it’s a question of when you start putting in the hard work, and how long it takes to pay off.  Fixing up your title tags, wiggling a few keywords into the cracks, and cleaning up your local listings will only get you so far.

How long should you wait to see if your quick wins did the trick?  2 months?  6 months?  A year?  Damned if I know.  I say you start digging the well before you’re thirsty.  Start on the ongoing activities while you’re still working on the one-time stuff.

Cost 4: Using a site/CMS that makes changes difficult or slow to make.

Your Squarespace or Wix or Joomla or GoDaddy site is probably fine to keep if you can structure it correctly, create a homepage that doesn’t suck, make it more or less conducive to conversions, and do other basics.  It doesn’t need to be perfect.  It’s better to get a rough site out there early, and improve it later.  The problem is what happens if you can’t improve it later.  Because you consider your local search traffic “free,” you don’t feel it’s urgent to get a site you can work with.  You’ll let it molder until traffic dries up or something really breaks, or both.

Cost 5: Hiring hacky writers.

If you had to pay $20 for each click, would you send visitors to pages that don’t make it clear what you do, or pages that make it apparent you’re “too busy” to put any effort into your site yourself, or pages that make you look like you can’t string two sentences together?  No?  Well, doing that with “free” traffic is even worse.  At least if you pay $20 (or much more) for a click, you might eventually learn that more traffic often isn’t the answer.

With bad writing you have the online-marketing equivalent of BO.

Cost 6: Waiting too long to get serious about getting reviews.

You probably “just want to rank” first.  Once you have more customers, you’ll start encouraging reviews.  That’s backwards.  Good rankings without good reviews tend not to bring in much business.  On the other hand, good reviews will help you as soon as you start getting them, no matter how visible you are.  Go after them early.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/15016964@N02/5919180598/

Cost 7: Not replying to customers’ reviews, even when you don’t “have to.”

You probably don’t let negative reviews go unaddressed.  That’s usually wise.

What about the positive reviews?  Think of how hard you’ve worked to get however much visibility you’ve got, and to do a good enough job for customers that they wrote you those nice reviews.  Don’t you want that visibility and traffic to convert as many customers as possible, so you continue the upward spiral?  Sometimes replying to a positive review – even if only to say thanks – is a way to do that.  It shows you give a hoot, and that you still care about customers after they’ve paid you and reviewed you.

Cost 8: Assuming all your visitors saw your best reviews before visiting your site.

Given all the info Google shows IN the search results these days – especially when people search for your business by name – it’s smart to think of Google’s results as your second homepage.  To wow customers there with all your reviews is crucial, and you need to do it.  Those review sites sure are prominent.

But what if those people go even farther, and get to your site?  Those people are even deeper into your “conversion funnel,” and are this close to taking an action you want.  Don’t hold back now.   Even if they saw your “review stars” in the search results, they probably didn’t see reviews from specific customers.  If you had to pay for each click, you’d make sure your best reviews were front-and-center.  That’s smart even if you don’t pay for each click.

Splatter or sprinkle your reviews across your site.

Cost 9: Waiting too long to start earning links.

Yes, the one-time work on your site and on your listings is important.  You may see a bump from doing only that.  But sooner or later you’ll hit a plateau.  At that point you can’t just “optimize” your site more, or crank out more citations, and expect to get unstuck.  And don’t think an SEO person has some fancy maneuver for your site that will do it.  You’ll go round and round on tweaking or overhauling your site, to no effect.  7 SEO “experts” and many dollars later, you’ll realize you missed a big piece of the puzzle.  You could have spent a fraction of that time on effort on trying to earn good links, and you could have seen results sooner.  Slow process?  Sure, but not as slow as the alternatives.

Here are some relatively easy link ideas, just to get the juices flowing.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ifl/3877530270/

Cost 10: Fixating on ranking across your entire service area.

You want to rank in 25 more towns.  That’s a fine goal.  So you must be pretty visible in your town already, right?  If not, start there and branch out only when you’ve had some success.  Now, it may or not be possible to rank in all (or half) of the places you want to reach.  It depends on many factors, including whether you’re trying to rank in the local organic results (doable) or in the Maps results (less realistic).  I’m not even saying you should trim back your goals.  I’m saying only that you should do what it takes to build up a little visibility in the place where it’s most likely you can do so, before you try to go farther afield.

Cost 11: Creating lots of awful “city pages.”

If you won’t take the time to do them right, at least don’t spend too much time on doing them wrong.  Make 5 worthless pages rather than 50 worthless pages.  That way, you can return that much sooner to whatever you were doing that was so much more important than putting a little thought into your city pages, so that they might rank and convert.

Cost 12: Never using AdWords to learn about would-be customers or to sniff out markets.

Too many business owners think, “Why on earth should I pay for traffic when I can get it for free?”  Well, for one thing, because it’s the only practical way to sniff out people’s level of interest in specific services in specific cities/areas where you don’t rank.

Google Analytics only tells you about the traffic you already get, and nothing about the traffic you might be able to get.  Set up a quick-n’-dirty AdWords campaign, keep it on a short budgetary leash, let it run for a couple weeks, and mine the stuffing out of the “Dimensions” tab.  I know of no better way to research keywords, to get a sense of how well traffic converts for those keywords, and to find out exactly which cities/towns those searchers search from.

If you think of pay-per-click as a way to buy data (and not necessarily to get customers, at least at first) you probably couldn’t get anywhere else, you can put new vim and vigor into your local SEO effort.

Cost 13: Assuming that because your local visibility is “free” it’s also unlimited.

That may be the costliest cost of all, for many reasons.

You can always lose visibility.

You won’t have a monopoly while you have it.

Just because you got some visibility easily doesn’t mean you can get more with similar ease.

You don’t know who will become your competitor next.

Google likes to test just about all aspects of the search results.

Google likes to change policies in all areas of search.

Google likes to stuff the free search results with paid search results.

You don’t even own your local listings.  The only online thing you own is your site, and everything else is rented land.

It’s for those reasons and many others that you do not want to grow complacent.

Why do the signs at parks and nature reserves tell you not to feed the animals?

Because if you feed them and other people feed them, they’ll get conditioned to freebies, and not be as able to hunt and forage.  (Also, the tripe most people eat isn’t necessarily good for a growing critter.)

https://www.flickr.com/photos/84744710@N06/14766013011/

If you’re an animal, it’s fine to catch as catch can, but you probably want to be able to feed yourself if the hands with free food ever go away.  The same is true of business owners.  Don’t be a Central Park pigeon.

What’s a missed-opportunity cost I missed?

Any cautionary tales?

Leave a comment!

Niche Local Citations Don’t Get Enough Love

https://www.flickr.com/photos/bionicteaching/14230076900/

People who know enough about local SEO to be dangerous don’t think twice about paying some poor soul to create 200 listings on glitzy big-name local-business directories like GoPickle, MyHuckleberry, and Sphinxaur.

They heard about these things called citations.

They heard citations matter to your local visibility.

They did basic work on 20-30 important listings, saw a little boost in visibility, and figured they’d squirt out 200 citations and really show ‘em.

It must seem puzzling when all those hours of work amount to nothing more than a monster spreadsheet of listings on local directories that nobody’s ever visited except to create a free listing.

One quickly hits a wall on citation-building.  Citations are but one piece of the local-rankings puzzle.  (I sure hope you also have a strategy for getting good links and reviews.)

But let’s say you want to wring the maximum benefit from citations, without going past the point of diminishing return.  Having more listings on generic sites isn’t better.  Having listings on relevant sites is better.  In other words, you want niche local citations for your business.

What’s a “niche” local citation?

By that, I mean you’ve got your business’s name, address, phone number, and (usually) website listed on a site that’s either (1) focused on your industry or (2) focused on your city or local area, or both.

Examples of industry-specific citation sources include HealthGrades, Avvo, TripAdvisor, and DealerRater – but those are only the big names.  There’s also at least one local-business directory for pretty much any field you can think of.  Local newspapers, local Chambers of Commerce, downtown business associations, and local directories for a specific city/town are the kinds of “local” niche citation sources I’m talking about.

Anyway, local SEOs don’t talk about niche citations enough.  I’ve got a few theories as to why that is:

  • It takes research to find niche citation opportunities, and every client’s situation is a little different. That’s more work than using the exact-same list for every single client.
  • You may need to know something about the client’s industry – or learn more about it – to find places worth being listed on.
  • There aren’t as many niche citation opportunities as there are general local directories. You can’t promise to build 100+ listings, because there are probably about 10 good ones, and even fewer if the business itself is in a specialized field.
  • Some niche listings are paid. Those are harder to justify baking into your pricing, or to browbeat your client into paying for.
  • SEOs can’t spout the “This directory has a monthly reach of 7 million!” nonsense when they try to explain the value of their work. You get a good niche citation on a site with relatively fewer users, but more of them are users and not stumblers.
  • It may never even occur to some SEOs to do anything beyond what other SEOs talk about. It often becomes a color-by-numbers deal.
  • SEOs would have to explain the value of niche citations more than they would, say, an impressive-sounding but fluffed-up list of 100-200 sites.

Why you shouldn’t overlook niche local citations

Simply being listed on a niche site may help your local rankings to a degree, but how much it helps is anyone’s guess.  Rather, I’d say the main benefits of getting niche citations are:

  • They tend to rank well in Google for specific search terms – as opposed to terms that tire-kickers and other not-yet-serious customers might type in.
  • They’re more likely to offer a “follow” link (i.e. one that Google “counts”), especially if they are paid directories. (No, links from those sites won’t land you in Google’s doghouse, if they’re relevant to your field and if they’re not your only way to get links.)
  • There’s a better chance they’ll yield an additional trickle of leads, to the extent the sites cater to a specific audience.

How can you find good niche citations?

Some resources:

Brightlocal’s Best Niche Citation Sites for 41 Business Categories

Whitespark’s Local Citation Finder (or just have them build the niche citations)

My list of review sites

My list of citation sources (by the way, I need to prune this list)

Also, you can always just type in some of the search terms you’re trying to rank for, see what sites come up on the first couple pages of search results, and see how many of those sites you can list yourself on.

Are there any benefits of niche citations I forgot to mention?

Do you find them using different methods?

Any questions?

Leave a comment!

Takeaway from Google’s New Local 3-Pack: Go Niche, Young Man!

Google’s dreadful new 3-pack of local results is a push toward AdWords, without a doubt.  They may also pass it off as a usability improvement, but it’s mostly classic Mountain View skullduggery.

But I think it also at least hints at what kinds of local-business results Google wants to show when money isn’t involved: a handful of results for local specialists.

The same shop that ranks for “auto repair” will be less likely to rank for “transmission repair.”

The dentist who ranks for “dentist” probably won’t also rank for “emergency dentist” or “pediatric dentist.”

The landscaper who ranks #1 for “landscaping” probably won’t also be #1 for “patios.”

And so on.

Google can show relevant results for the more-specific terms (its claim to fame as a search engine), and rake in the AdWords bucks for the broad “ego” terms that tend to create absurd bidding wars (e.g. “criminal lawyer”).

I’m not saying that’s how it is right now.  I think more-specialized, granular results are what Google is shooting for.  As Brian Barwig has pointed out, the results still suck in many cases.

The bottom line is that I’d say the best way to get anywhere in your local SEO – by which I mean ranking well and getting customers – is to position yourself online as a specialist.

That means you don’t try to rank for every term.

It may mean your homepage plays up some service(s) more than others, and you don’t cram every last stinking keyword into your title tag.  It means you don’t pick all the Google Places categories you could pick.  It means you may pursue fewer links, but only ones relevant to your niche.  Maybe you even rename your business.

You may already see things that way, in which case I’m preaching to the choir.

But if you’re not sure whether it’s worth specializing, consider these points:

  1. The quality of traffic and leads is usually better for niche terms. Sure, fewer people type them in.  But those people are more likely to know what they’re looking for, and are less likely to be tire-kickers.
  1. It’s even harder to rank in the top-3 than it is / was to rank in the top-7.

  1. It’s usually easier to rank for terms where you’ve got fewer competitors.
  1. It’s easier to rank for fewer search terms than for many.
  1. It’s easier to optimize a given page of your site to one specialty (or a couple) than to several.
  1. If you’re considering a rebrand, it’s easier to gear your name toward one specialty.
  1. If you go as far as changing your business name, you’ll probably get more clicks. That’s for obvious reasons and, as Darren Shaw has shown, it can influence your rankings.
  1. Why do you think Google lets businesses with “keywords” in their business name rank well (often unfairly)? Why hasn’t Google followed through on removing descriptors from business names – as they said they’d do over 8 months ago?  Because the name probably helps Google categorize the business.  “ABC Transmission Repair” may not rank for “auto repair,” but Google will probably show it for transmission-related terms.  That business picked its battles.
  1. You may rank in more cities, or even for statewide search terms (e.g. “Florida kitchen remodeling”). As the number of local competitors gets fewer, Google has to grab relevant results from farther away in order to fill up even a 3-pack of Google Places results.

  1. It may be quicker to rank. You don’t want your local SEO maybe to pay off only once you’ve put in the ridiculous amount of effort it can take (and then wait) to rank for “dentist” or “lawyer” or “roofer,” or whatever your goal is.
  1. You may find it easier to create better, more-focused “city pages.”
  1. It may make your SEO’s job easier to accomplish 🙂
  1. You can always branch out or broaden your targeting later.
  1. If you don’t rank well in the local 3-pack for some keywords you really want to rank for, you can always go after organic rankings and AdWords to fill in the gaps.
  1. The way things have been going, if you don’t rank well in the local pack for important keywords, you could probably just buy your way in.

Specializing may or may not make sense for your business.  But I hope you’ll at least consider it.  It may make life easier, it may make your local SEO easier, and it may get you more and better phone calls for your effort.

Do you agree?

Any reasons I missed for why you should position yourself as a specialist?

How does Google’s new 3-pack change your local SEO strategy?

Leave a comment!

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

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!

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.