The Ridiculous Hidden Power of Local Reviews: Umpteen Ways to Use Them to Get More Business

Even the obvious benefits of great customer reviews are almost too many to count.  To wit:

  • They take a little pressure off your site to “convert,” because visitors arrive largely pre-sold.
  • They can help you eat up more of page one of Google.
  • They help you cultivate non-Google Maps or non-Google sources of visibility.
  • They take some of the pressure off your local SEO and other online-marketing efforts, because they build your reputation online and offline.
  • You’ll be a little more attuned to customer-service if you know you’ll ask for a review eventually.
  • Even if your rankings stink, they help you land more word-of-mouth referrals. (Those people probably Google you, too.)
  • Whoever sees your reviews in the local search results is more likely to pick up the phone.

Those are just the beginning, though.  You can squeeze many other benefits from customers’ reviews and from the process of earning and encouraging them.  As AJ Kohn said about commenting on blog posts, the hidden power of reviews is ridiculous.

Here are some of the less-obvious ways you can use your reviews to help your local SEO and marketing even more.

1. Use them to research keywords. You might not call your services what your customers call them, and you might not search for them in the way they search for them.  Where appropriate, try to incorporate those phrases into relevant pages of your site, or create separate pages on them.

2. Mine your reviews to learn exactly what kinds of customers have reviewed you, and why. Use those insights to determine who are the other customers most likely to review you (and ask them), and to make your services better.

3. Study your competitors’ reviews. Ask the same questions as in points #1-2.

4. Use a freshly-written review as an excuse to contact the customer who wrote it. Say thanks.  Ask how he or she is doing, or just say you’d like any further feedback.  That’s good to do on principle, and sometimes you’ll get repeat business out of the deal.

 

5. Use a new review as an occasion ask for an additional review, on a different site, if the customer is willing.

6. Write owner-responses in a way that makes you look great to anyone reading your reviews.

7. Copy and paste the reviews onto your site. (Google doesn’t seem to mind, and neither does Yelp, and other sites surely don’t care.)  I suppose this isn’t such a hidden benefit of reviews, but I have to mention it because it’s so important.  Your customers’ reviews are copywriting rebar.  Your selling points are stronger if you’re not the only one touting them.   Also, if you cite the city the reviewer is from, they’re semi-“local” content you don’t have to write.  They’re particularly useful on city pages.

8. Put them on a “Reviews” or “Reviews & Testimonials” page on your site. It might even rank for keyword + reviews local search terms.

9. Use them on a “Why Choose Us?” page.

10. Add reviews badges or widgets to your site to showcase the reviews. The badges serve as third-party “trust” symbols, if you use the badge(s) provided by the site where you’ve got the reviews.

11. Create your own badge, if none is available on the site where you’ve got a pile of good reviews.

12. Allude to your reviews in your AdWords ads.

13. Include them (or excerpt or link to them) in your email signature, possibly along with a link to your “Review Us” page.

14. Use them as seeds for blog post topics. You can expand on certain selling points (or other points) a reviewer brought up.

15. Use them to reduce surprises and customer-service issues, by encouraging visitors to read your reviews before they call you. Even if that means they have to open up another browser tab and take their eyes off your site for a minute.  Say something like, “We want you to know how we made other customers happy, and we want you to be our latest happy customer, so please take a minute to read our reviews.”  When they come back, they’ll be more likely to call you, and less likely to eat up your time with questions your past customers already answered.

Any non-obvious powers of reviews I didn’t mention?

How do you leverage your reviews (the good and even the bad)?

Any great real-life examples of one of the points I mentioned?

Leave a comment!

20+ Depressing Observations about Yelp Reviews

https://www.flickr.com/photos/blackzack00/9985685503

I’ve seen Yelp from many angles: as a local SEO-er, as a local-reviews madman, as a consumer, as a two-year “Elite” reviewer, as a concerned citizen, and as a business owner.

That means I’ve got a love like-hate relationship with Yelp reviews.

It’s a nice feeling every time a client of mine gets a hard-earned review there.  Also, I pay some attention to Yelp reviews when I’m debating where to take my open wallet.

On the other hand, Yelp is infuriating for most business owners.  From the misleading (at best) ad-sales tactics, to the aggressive review filter, to the absurd policy that says you can’t even ask for a review, Yelp’s about as likeable as Genghis Khan.

Those issues are just the beginning.  I can think of at least 20 difficulties with Yelp reviews you’ll have to navigate.  You might have learned about some of them the hard way already.  Now you can find out about the rest.

This isn’t just a mope-fest.  You’ll learn a thing or two about how Yelp handles your reviews, and once I’ve laid out all the problems (that come to mind) you’ll probably think of ways to improve your reviews strategy.

Well-known problems

1.  Yelp filters reviews – and often does a poor job of it.

2.  You aren’t supposed to ask for Yelp reviews.

3.  Reviews are the main factor for your rankings within Yelp, and Yelp’s category pages often dominate Google’s search results.

4.  There’s a good chance a negative review will be visible on the first page of your brand-name search results, especially if the reviewer mentions your company by name.

5.  Yelp doesn’t make its policies apparent enough. Its “don’t ask for reviews” policy should be impossible for business owners to miss.  That it filters most reviews by first-timers and other new reviewers should be obvious to would-be reviewers before they write anything.

6.  As soon as you get even one Yelp review you’ll start getting sales calls, pressuring you to pay for ads. (I wouldn’t suggest you bite.)

7.  Yelp is hard to avoid on the Coasts (especially on the West Coast). In certain cities – like San Francisco, Portland, and NYC – you’re probably behind a lot of local competitors if you don’t have at least a few reviews there.

Little-known problems

8.  Yelp feeds reviews to Apple Maps, Bing Places, and Yahoo Local. Your bad reviews can show up on those 3 major local search engines (and beyond).

9.  It usually takes 10-15 reviews before a Yelp reviewer is “trusted” and his/her reviews are no longer filtered often or at all. It’s not practical to ask your reviewers to make a habit of Yelping, so as to reach that number of reviews .  That’s why the name of the game is to identify any customers / clients/ patients who are already active on Yelp, and to let it be known that you’re on Yelp and like feedback (wink, wink).

10.  Yelp reviews can get filtered and unfiltered multiple times. It depends on whether the reviewer goes inactive for more than a couple of weeks.  But this problem seems to go away once a reviewer has written about 15-20 reviews over a period of around 3 months.

11.  Even some “approved” reviews can become collateral damage if later you get too many reviews that do get filtered.For example, let’s say you have 4 reviews.  2 of them were written by very active Yelpers (maybe “Elites”) and are safe.  The other 2 were written by people with a handful of reviews each, and those reviews live happily on your page for a few months.

Now you put on your Icarus wings and ask half a dozen people who’ve never written a review on Yelp to review you.  Their reviews show up on your page for a couple of days before going into the grinder – and 2 of your reviews written by sometime Yelpers get filtered, too.  The only reviews that remain are the ones written by hardcore Yelpers.

12.  Negative reviews appear somewhat more likely to stick.

13.  The first review of a business is somewhat more likely to stick.

14.  If your business’s first review on Yelp is negative it’s probably going to stick.

15.  Reviews written by people with many “friends” are somewhat more likely to stick. It’s very easy to rack up “friends” on Yelp, so if you have a ticked-off customer with many “friends” you may have a problem.

16.  Content has almost no bearing on whether a review gets filtered. It’s mostly about how active the reviewer is / has been.  Swearing (as long as it’s not name-calling) is usually allowed.  Also, the mischievous elves who man Yelp’s review filter seem entertained by the kinds of reviews that could have been ghostwritten by Jack Nicholson.

17.  Reviews that you “flag” are very hard to get removed unless the text of the review is ad hominem or un-PC. The truthfulness of the review or credibility of reviewer doesn’t matter much to Yelp.

18.  If your business moves to a new location Yelp probably won’t transfer your reviews.

19.  Yelp reviews won’t show up in your knowledge graph.

20.  You’re at a disadvantage if you can’t or don’t want to offer a Yelp check-in offer. Why?  Because if you do a check-in offer Yelp will ask your customers to write reviews.  Pretty hypocritical, as I’ve argued.

21.  Yelp has been pushing the “not recommended” reviews farther and farther out of sight. You click the link to see “reviews that are not currently recommended,” you’re shown two filtered reviews, and then you have to scroll down and click another gray link that says, “Continue reading other reviews that are not currently recommended.”  How many customers will do that?  Oy.

22.  Who becomes an “Elite” reviewer is arbitrary. It partly depends on whether your reviews get “voted” on, and whether you’ve written any “Reviews of the Day.”

But it seems to depend above all on whether your region’s “Community Manager” sees your reviews and likes them.

23.  Only the first couple of lines of business owners’ responses will show up, unless readers click the small “Read more” link. Bad reviews will show in their Tolstoyan entirety, but you’ve got to say something compelling in haiku space, or else the would-be customer never sees your side of the story.

Don’t you feel better now?  No?  Time for a cat picture – and not just of any cat:

Now that we’re both in a happier place, let’s take up a weighty question:

Given the massive PITA factor, why on earth should you still pay any attention to Yelp?

Because the reviews get lots of eyeballs, and because Yelp is splattered across Google’s local results

What can you do?

Ask most or all of your customers for reviews, and give them choices (including easier sites).  Some of those people will be Yelpers.

Link to your Yelp reviews – or just your page – on your website and in your email signature.

Identify already-active Yelpers and send them mind-waves.

Diversify where you get reviews.

Keep making customers happy.

Any observations on Yelp reviews?

Any strategy suggestions?

Leave a comment!

How to Execute the Perfect Local Reviews Strategy

Step 1.  Commit – or don’t.

What do you want?  What disaster are you trying to keep away from your reputation?

You’ll need to be patient and have a little fire in your belly – no matter what you’re trying to accomplish or avoid.

And you’ll need to learn from your reviews to make your business better.  Or else your reputation will own you, and not the other way around.

 

Step 2.  Get listed on the big review sites and on at least a few industry-specific sites.

Remove duplicate and incorrect listings along the way.

These sites are the only places you can get online reviews – at least the kind that can really help your local visibility and rankings.  If you don’t have listings on these sites, nothing else matters and you will get zero reviews.  Testimonials – AKA bits of “fan mail” that you post on your site – don’t count.

 

Step 3.  Respond to any negative reviews you find.  (Read this and this.)

Mend bridges with those customers.  Work on the underlying issue(s) they complained about, if humanly possible.

 

Step 4.  Make it easy to leave spontaneous reviews.

Link to a couple of your listings in your email signature.

Put a gentle nudge on your invoices or receipts.

Link to some of your listings from your site – preferably with noticeable “buttons.”

You can make these yourself, or you can use tools like ReviewBiz or Grade.us.

 

Step 5.  Start asking all your new customers – and preferably old and existing customers – for their email addresses.

Find a way to make it worth their while.  This will be important for later.

 

Step 6.  Pick about 5 customers and ask them to review you somewhere.

It could be on Google+, or on an easier site that accepts Facebook usernames.  Whatever you do, don’t push them toward Yelp; you need a different strategy there.

Try to ask them in-person and to provide simple printed instructions, if possible (example).

 

Step 7.  Check back a week or two later to see who posted a review, and follow up.

Thank any customers who did.  Reconnect with the ones who didn’t.  Ask if there’s any way you can help them in general, and mention again that you’d really appreciate a review.

 

Step 8.  Set up whatever system you want to use for contacting customers by email

Consider using a tool like GetFiveStars.  It makes it easy to follow up with customers by email (remember step #5?), and it lets you track your reviews.

Or you can use an email service like Aweber or MailChimp.

Email a handful of your customers to ask if they’ll review you.  These can be people you already asked in-person and are just reminding, or they can be another batch of customers you’re asking for the first time.

Don’t ask all your customers at once: You don’t want to wear out your welcome while you’re just trying to figure out what timing and language seems to work best, and how email should fit in.

 

Step 9.  Apply whatever you learned from the previous batch of reviewers.  Not only in terms of how to make your requests easier to say “yes” to, but also in terms of what they might have said in their reviews.  What were their gripes, and what can you do about them?

(By the way, if it seems like you’ve done this step before, you’re right.  And you’ll do it again and again.  If you don’t learn from your reviews, they’re just dots on the screen.)

 

Step 10.  Respond  to any reviews you can.  Tell the less-happy people what you’ve done to improve (see Step 9).  Say thanks to the happier customers, where appropriate.

 

Step 11.  Continue asking small groups of customers – like 2-10 – every week for reviews.

It doesn’t need to be the exact-same number every week.  But don’t ask zero customers one month and then 40 the next month.  Be somewhat consistent.

Ask everyone twice: ideally you ask in-person first, and then by email.  Don’t be a pest.  Just give a friendly reminder.  Space these out by 5-10 days.

 

Step 12.  Experiment.  Try something different every few “batches.”

Ask customers to go to different sites – not the same one each time.  (Make new instructions for new sites if needed.)  Try sending printed follow-ups by snail-mail.   If you usually ask customers on Tuesdays and Thursdays, try asking on a Friday.  Mix it up.  See what seems to work.

 

Step 13.  Keep repeating steps 9-12 to infinity.  Tweak your processes as much as you feel you need to, but never stop asking, refining, and acting.

Enjoy the great reviews and happy customers.

What steps have you done in your review strategy so far?

How do they compare to the one I suggest?

Any questions or advice for me?  Leave a comment!