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!

17 Sites That Allow Private or Anonymous Reviews of Local Businesses

Some of your customers, clients, or patients might only review you if they don’t have to reveal their names in the review.  Why?

  • They might be embarrassed about the problem that caused them to come to you.
  • They might need privacy to give you honest and complete feedback.
  • Maybe they just wear tin-foil hats.

You need to know about the more-private review sites for at least three reasons:

(1) So you know where to point would-be reviewers who are concerned about privacy.  You still want reviews from those people.

(2) So you can encourage reviews without running afoul of any regulations in your industry – especially if you’re a doctor or lawyer.

(3) So you know where to look for negative reviews that people may have posted anonymously.

Besides finicky Google+ and Yelp, most review sites offer some anonymity.  Possible reviewers need to know you don’t want “Google or Yelp or nothing.”  You want reviews on other sites anyway – especially if they’re influential in your industry.

Here’s a breakdown of 17 prominent sites that allow private or anonymous reviews – and exactly how private each site is:

17 private/anonymous review sites (click to enlarge)(click to enlarge – it’s a big PDF file, so give it a second to crunch)

A few notes

My goal for this was to mention least one private / anonymous site that you can encourage reviews on, no matter what your industry is.

That’s why I have some sites that may seem “niche” – like WeddingWire and Zillow.  WeddingWire isn’t just for dressmakers and cake-bakers; you can also be listed and get reviews there if you’re a photographer, jeweler, florist, or DJ.  Likewise, Zillow isn’t just for real-estate agents; you can get reviews there if you’re a roofer or landscaper (for example).

I didn’t want to dwell on one industry.  That’s why you won’t see more than a couple examples of private / anonymous sites for a given industry.

Even if there’s not a review site that’s specific to your field, you’ve still got Angie’s List, CitySearch, InsiderPages, Yahoo, and YP.  It’s good to get a smattering of reviews at those places anyway.

When I say a “real name” is required, I’m referring only to the rules / preferences of a given site.  It may have no way to tell a reviewer’s real name from an alias.  I doubt Sarah B. would get in any hot water if she created an account as or wrote a review as Penny O.  Make sure your customers know that.

This list is US-specific.  I’m guessing the equivalent of YellowPages in other countries – YellowPages.ca, PagesJaunes.fr, PaginasAmarillas.com, etc. – allow private reviews.  I’d be curious to learn about other sites.

Last but not least, huge thanks to design whiz David Deering for putting together the “Top Secret” report.  I suggest you check out his offerings.

What’s a private / anonymous review site you think you’ll be working into your review strategy from now on?

Any current favorites?

Not sure which ones are worth pursuing?

Leave a comment!

Private Local Citations: Where Can You List Your Business But “Hide” Your Address?

You might be thinking that this sounds a lot like my post titled “Can You Rank Well in Local Google without Revealing Your Street Address Anywhere?

That’s because this is an unofficial “sequel” (for good reason, as you’ll see).

How about taking a few minutes to read that older post.  Then come back here.

Done?

If you just buzzed through the first post because you’re hanging on my every word in this one – or if memory is your weapon of choice today – it’s time for a quick recap of the older post on “private citations”:

1.  Some business owners want to rank well in Google’s local search results and beyond, but don’t want their street addresses to be easily findable online (most likely because they work from home).  Maybe you have these privacy concerns, or know someone who does.

2.  Unless your business is listed on a variety of online directories (AKA citation sources), you probably won’t rank well in the local search results.  But you don’t want your address to be easily findable on those sites.  Now you’re feeling stuck.

3.  Turns out you’ll probably be able to rank well locally after all, because most of the important online directories actually do allow you to “hide” your street address – that is, to keep your address from showing up publicly on your business listing.

Where to "hide" your address on a business listing (as seen on Local.Yahoo.com)

On the last point, notice that I said “most” of the important directories let you hide your street address.  In that older post I did on “private citations,” I only looked at the sites that you see when you do a free GetListed.org scan of your business.  At the time, those totaled 12 sites.  A great start, sure.

But an effective citation-building effort – again, which is crucial to your rankings – takes more than listing your business on even those 12 sites.

That’s why I’ve looked at more sites and have learned even more about where privacy fits into local search.

I’ve looked at a total of 31 of the most-important sites for your business to be listed on, and I’ve seen which sites let you keep your address private.

 

The breakdown: which sites are (and are not) “private”

(You can also get the breakdown on Google Drive, or as a PDF or Excel doc.  Just in case you want to see all the sites at a glance.)

AngiesList.com: yes.  There is not a checkbox for this; the “address” field is optional, so you can simply choose not to specify your street address.

Bing Business Portal: yes.

BizWiki.com: no.

BrownBook.net: yes.  The “address” field is optional; simply choose not to specify your street address.

City-Data.com: no.  The rules specify that the site is “only for brick & mortar businesses.”

CitySearch.com: yes.  (See my instructions for adding or claiming your CitySearch listing.)

CitySquares.com: yes.  The “address” field is optional; simply choose not to specify your street address.

DexKnows.com: maybe.  If you’ve hidden your address on LocalEze and suppressed your ExpressUpdateUSA listing, your address most likely won’t show up on DexKnows.

DirectoryCentral.com: no.

DiscoverOurTown.com: no.

ExpressUpdateUSA.com: no.  AKA InfoGroup, this is one of three main “data-providers” – in other words, a really important site to be listed on.  As I noted in my post from 2012, “you can’t simply ‘turn off’ the display of your address on your ExpressUpdate listing.  But you can search for your listing on the site and request its deletion, OR you can call up Customer Service and ask them to suppress your listing.”

EZLocal.com: yes.  The “address” field is optional; simply choose not to specify your street address.

FourSquare.com: no.  (Hiding your address would defeat the main purpose of being listed on FourSquare in the first place: getting customers to “check in” to your business on their phones.)

HotFrog.com: yes.

iBegin.com: yes.  The “address” field is optional; simply choose not to specify your street address.

JudysBook.com: maybe.  If you pay the monthly fee to claim your listing, you may be able to leave off your street address.  The other way to get your business listed on JudysBook is for a customer to find the hidden “submit” area and then to post a review of your business, although in this option the street address is required.

Kudzu.com: yes.  The “address” field is optional; simply choose not to specify your street address.

Local.BOTW.org: yes.

Local.com: yes.

LocalEze.com: yes.  (This is a major “data-provider” and an extremely important site to be listed on.  See my recent post for more detail.)

Manta.com: yes.  On one screen you’re made to provide a street address, but on the next screen you can check a “hide address” box.

MapQuest.com: yes.

MerchantCircle.com: yes.  The “address” field is optional; simply choose not to specify your street address.

MyBusinessListingManager.com: yes.  AKA Acxiom, this is a major “data-provider.

Nokia (here.com/primeplaces): yes.  You have to specify your street, but you don’t have to specify your number.

SuperPages.com: yes.

Yahoo: yes.

YellowBot.com: yes.  But only once you’ve claimed your listing.  (See comment below from YellowBot co-founder Emad Fanous.)

YellowBook.com: maybe.  You can only edit the address by calling 1-800-929-3556; they may allow you to hide the address if you ask.

Yelp.com: yes.

YP.com: yes.

 

A few takeaways

Takeaway 1. The biggest directories (e.g. Yelp, YP) usually let you hide your address.  If you do nothing else, make sure you’re listed on these.

Takeaway 2.  The smaller directories (e.g. BizWiki, DirectoryCentral) aren’t as likely to let you hide your address.  Whether you want to add or keep a listing on these sites depends on which you’d rather have: a little extra “citations juice” or a little extra privacy.

Takeaway 3.  Your biggest challenge in juggling citation-building and privacy is to determine how you want to handle your listings on two of the three “primary data-providers”: ExpressUpdateUSA.com and MyBusinessListingManager.com.  The other main data-provider (LocalEze.com) lets you hide your address, so that one isn’t an issue.  But the former two sites make you list your address, and they feed your business info to lots of other sites.  You should be able to strike a good balance of local rankings and privacy if you’re listed on these non-private sites but make sure your address is private elsewhere.  But if you’re really concerned about privacy, you’ll need to contact the people at ExpressUpdateUSA (AKA InfoGroup) and MyBusinessListingManager (AKA Acxiom) and ask them to suppress your listing.  (I know the former allows you to do this, but I’m not sure about the latter.)

 

Some notes

Arguably a good citation-building campaign involves your creating and managing even more than 31 listings.  So does my list only get you only partway down the road?

No, because there are two “buts” that mean now you’ve probably got all the info you need to build citations effectively but privately:

1.  Several of those 31 sites feed business info to other sites, which means that over time the number of citations your business has will grow naturally and without your needing to do anything.  Meanwhile, to the extent you’ve made sure your address isn’t listed on those sites, it won’t get spread all over the web.  Win-win.

2.  If those 31 sites are the only ones you’ve listed your business on, then you’ve got a very good citations profile.  But to take it from “very good” to excellent will probably involve digging deeper (probably with the Local Citation Finder) to find citations that Google places extra “trust” in: either directories that are specific to your industry, or specific to your city/region, or both.  Because there’s an infinity of these industry- and location-specific sites, I’ll never be able to research which ones are “private” – at least before I’m using dentures and a walker.  So I’ll leave it up to you: whether you’d rather be listed on “niche” sites that may or may not require you to list your address.

Still, I want to learn about the privacy levels of even more sites.  That’s why this is an evergreen post: I’m going to update it as I learn about more sites.

 

What about non-US sites?

One obvious limitation of my current list is that I haven’t researched all that many non-US sites.

True: some of the sites (like Manta.com) are available outside the USA, or have a network of “sister” sites (like YP.com) in other countries.

And yes, if you download the list, you’ll notice that I’ve indicated which sites are “international.”  That should help you if you’re located outside the US.

But…if you have some time to spare and want to go through Nyagoslav Zhekov’s two great posts on important non-US citation sources and want to let me know what you find, I’d more than appreciate it (and will cite you here :)).

Once again, here are the download options for the list of of “private” citations:

Google Drive
PDF
Excel

Got any questions or suggestions about juggling local rankings and privacy?  Go ahead – leave a comment.