The Perfect Stack of Online Reviews: How Does Your Local Business Measure up?

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“I picked you because of your reviews” is nice to hear, especially it’s often.  But how do you achieve that?

Having “good reviews” isn’t always enough.  Plenty of businesses have good reviews, but don’t attract enough business, or rank well, or beget the kinds of reviews that beget more customers who beget more reviews.  That’s one reason local SEO and review strategy are so connected (if you’re doing it right).

What’s in a “perfect” pile of reviews?   More than you think.  Possibly more than you can get, even if you do everything right.  As someone who’s helped business owners on that for many years, I’ve got a long list of boxes you should try to check.  More on that in a minute.

To keep the checklist to a reasonable length, I’ve got to assume two things about you:

  • You want reviews from real people, and not from friends or Fiverr merchants.
  • You know your customers well enough to know how important it is for your business to have reviewers from “different walks of life,” and that you don’t need my advice on that.

For my list to be of much use, you probably need to keep at least a little influx of reviews from customers / clients / patients.  See this post.

Now, what should that stack of reviews look like?  No one review will meet more than a few of these criteria, but your stack of online reviews as a whole should contain as many of the following as possible:

  1. Reviews on a wide range of sites.
  1. Plenty of 5-star reviews.
  1. A stinker or two. For one thing, they’re a reality-check. We don’t live in a 5-star world.
  1. Recent reviews. Make it clear you’re still in business.
  1. Old reviews. In time you’ll want a few Mick Jaggers in there.
  1. Excruciatingly detailed reviews. Happy, yappy customers who don’t seem to have an “off” button can make great reviewers.
  1. Funny reviews. Maybe you can skip this one if you’re a bankruptcy lawyer, urologist, or funeral-home director.
  1. Sloppy reviews. Some people just don’t think in terms of paragraphs or complete sentences. Doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from a belch of approval.
  1. Photos included with the reviews.
  1. Mentions of your business by name.
  1. Mentions of specific people in your organization (you, partners, employees, etc.).
  1. Reviews on less-trafficked or niche review sites. Don’t necessarily fixate on Google and Yelp.
  1. Reviews by one-time skeptics. There’s no zeal like the zeal of the convert.
  1. Reviews by former customers of your competitors.
  1. Reviews by longtime / repeat customers of yours. “I had a great experience” is only weak when compared to “I’ve brought my wallet here for years.”
  1. Reviews by farther-away customers – people who maybe had to drive a little, or who are on the outer edge of your service area. Great tie-in with “city pages,” by the way.
  1. Reviews by almost-customers. When a near-miss speaks up, it shows you’re willing to turn down business if it’s not the right fit.
  1. Mentions of relevant cities / places. May help your rankings. Of interest to would-be customers  either way.
  1. Mentions of specific services. People like crunchy little bits of detail. Google sure seems to.
  1. Reviews that explain how the reviewer found you.
  1. Reviews that explain how the reviewer picked you.
  1. Reviews from people who reviewed you on another site, too.
  1. Reviews from shy customers / clients / patients. Maybe they use a pen name or initials. Maybe they don’t go into as much detail as they could, and it’s obvious there’s more to the story.  Reluctant reviews can pack a strange wallop.
  1. Comments on other reviewers’ reviews. It can be powerful for customer B to rebut or confirm what customer A said.
  1. Favorable comparisons to a competitor.

I didn’t include screenshots of examples because I wanted to keep it as much like a checklist as possible.  But I’m all about real-life examples, so here are a few examples of great local-business review profiles for you to leaf through:

google.com/search?q=Premo+Electric

google.com/search?q=Alliance+Mortgage+Funding%2C+Inc.

google.com/search?q=HomeMove+Removals+%26+Storage

google.com/search?q=Kaehne%2C+Cottle%2C+Pasquale+%26+Associates%2C+S.C.+Appleton

Can you think of any other parts of a perfect pile of reviews?  (I know I’ve forgotten something.)

Any real-life examples you’d like to share?

Leave a comment!

10 Underrated Local Review Sites You Overlooked

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You know about the big local-business review sites.  You know about the review sites that matter most in your industry.  You probably know about the pipsqueaks, too.

But what about the review sites that matter more than you know?  Isn’t it possible there are some gaps in your online reputation?

If there aren’t, I’ll eat my hat.  There are always gaps – even for businesses with tons of reviews on many sites.  You probably know the benefits of diversifying where your customers review you.  Those benefits also extend to sites you might have dismissed as irrelevant or insignificant, or that you didn’t even think of.

I’m not saying all of these review sites are relevant to your situation, but at least some will be.

Here’s a rundown of what I consider the 10 most-overlooked local review sites:

Care.com
Why it’s overlooked: it’s not a super-established “brand.”  Partly because the name itself is mushy, and partly because it’s not a search engine or a social network or a startup run by drama queens.  It’s just a solid reviews site.  It’s also visible one.  Care.com is all over Google’s search results in the in-home care and education spaces, for example, and most “service” businesses are eligible for a listing there.

WeddingWire
Why it’s overlooked: because there’s a good chance you don’t run a bridal shop or a tux shop, or are a florist or photographer.  WeddingWire also lists businesses in all kinds of related industries: limos, venues, jewelry, and so on.  You can also get listed and reviewed there even if you own a car rental or a cryotherapy place, or if you’re a dentist, a dermatologist, or a plastic surgeon.  Maybe they’ll even allow divorce lawyers.

Zillow
Why it’s overlooked: because most people think it’s just for real-estate listings and agents.   It’s not.  Pretty much any contractor or other home-improvement professional can have a listing there – and reviews there.  Though Zillow isn’t the 800-pound gorilla in the contracting space that it is in real estate, it may just be a matter of time.  In the meantime, anyone who sees your Zillow reviews there is probably pretty close to calling you.

Thumbtack
Why it’s overlooked: because it’s got a home-improvement bent, it’s up against more-established sites like HomeAdvisor, Angie’s List, and Houzz.  Also, Thumbtack doesn’t seem to go out of its way to encourage reviews – for customers to write them, or for businesses to ask for them.  Still, the site is pretty visible in some niches, and can serve as a nice barnacle site – especially for “near me” search terms.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Thumbtack is acquired by an even-bigger player one day.  I’d scare up at least a few reviews there.

Groupon
Why it’s overlooked: Groupon deals can be business-destroyers.  They often attract crybaby customers.  It doesn’t help that new businesses and businesses in dry spells are the ones most likely to offer deals.  Often those businesses also are the ones least-equipped to pull off the deals without incident – or to handle an online reputation disaster well.  But if you’re a pretty established business and aren’t dying for customers (but still want to attract more of them), look under the Groupon rock.  Yes, Groupon takes a big cut of the deal, but you can get reviews that stay up long after the deal ends.  Those reviews are highly visible, because Groupon is.  Even if you don’t want to offer a deal, you can get customers to “recommend” you and write “tips.”

GlassDoor
Why it’s overlooked: customers don’t talk about it, because customers can’t write reviews there.  GlassDoor is a place for employees (past and current) to review your company anonymously.  Just the same, because customers can see what’s on GlassDoor easily enough, because it’s on Google’s local results like stink on a monkey.  If you stop short of encouraging everyone on your team to review you (anonymously), at least encourage the happy people to say their piece.  The angry ones will.  Time is of the essence.

https://youtu.be/DoQwKe0lggw

InHerSight
Why it’s overlooked: because it’s relatively new (started in 2015 or 2014, from what I can tell).  It’s similar to GlassDoor, except it’s specifically for women.  InHerSight is not exclusively a review site, but on it women can review (anonymously) places they’ve worked.  As of this writing it’s not a super-visible review site, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes off.

WebMD (doctor.webmd.com)
Why it’s overlooked: if you’re anything like me, you associate WebMD only with feeling a mysterious new pain, Googling it, reading the WebMD result, and concluding you’ve got 3 days to live.  But it’s also a giant healthcare directory.  If you’re a doctor, do what you can to rustle up reviews there.

Amazon Home Services
Why it’s overlooked: Amazon hasn’t done much in local search yet, and most business owners don’t want to wet Amazon’s beak or possibly deal with frustrating leads (a la Groupon).  Still, if you can get listed, it’s probably worth having a few reviews there, which can benefit you both before and after the sleeping giant wakes up.

Better Business Bureau
Why it’s overlooked: most business owners associate the BBB with “complaints” from customers and with questionable accreditation ratings of certain businesses.  But it’s also a local-business reviews site, in the mold of Yelp and Google and so on.

BBB results often are extremely visible in the local organic search results – maybe more so than they should be – both for brand-name terms and often for the terms you really want to rank for.  Because people can (but don’t have to) write anonymous reviews there, and because an angry customer is likely to be there anyway to lodge a complaint, bad reviews are especially likely to appear on BBB – and to stick out.  The good news is good reviews stick out there, too.  Of all the “underrated” review sites I’ve mentioned, I consider BBB the most overlooked one of all.

What’s been your experience with those review sites?

Can you think of other review sites you consider overlooked?

Leave a comment!

Update 10/9/17: For a short list of overlooked review sites in the UK, see the comment from Caroline of Alba SEO.

Niche Local Citations Don’t Get Enough Love

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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!