20+ Depressing Observations about Yelp Reviews


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!

BBB Accreditation: Boring But Bumps Your Local SEO

I may be unpopular for saying this….

But here goes:

You should consider getting accredited by the Better Business Bureau.  It can help your local visibility (if you’re in the US or Canada).

Mind you, I am no fanboy.  There are a few valid reasons to skip the BBB:

  • Money (although it’s only a few hundred bucks a year).
  • Time (you do have to apply).
  • Maybe you think the BBB just peddles junk.


But I can think of 8 reasons your local rankings and reputation can benefit from BBB-accreditation:

1.  You get a great link. (Yes, it’s a “follow” link.)

 2.  It’s one of a few straightforward ways (that I can think of) to get good links to subpages on your site – pages other than your homepage. That’s especially useful if you’re multi-location business and use “location” pages as the landing page for your Google Places pages.  In my experience, it’s better to use the homepage as your landing page, but if you can get some good links to those “location” pages they may fare just as well in the rankings.

3.  Some segment of the population does care what the BBB says about local businesses.

4.  Ranks well for brand-name searches.

 5.  Even ranks well some broad searches.  Great for barnacle SEO.

6.  Customers can write reviews on your BBB page. I encourage you to encourage them.

7.  It’s a nice “trust symbol” to put on your site.

 8.  It’s a good citation.

I may not have made you like the BBB more, but it’s a practical way to help your local visibility a little.  Close your eyes and think of England.

What if you decide to skip it?  No big deal.  Just make sure you get other good links.

What’s been your experience with the BBB?

Know of any alternatives that help in some of the practical ways I described?

Leave a comment!

12 Kinds of Duplicate Content in Local SEO: Which Ones Are Trouble?

There are two intertwined myths about duplicate content:

1: That Google is on the warpath against it, penalizing sites left and right.

2: That duplicate content is a thing – one specific problem.

Neither is true, because of one fact: there are many different types of duplicate content.  (Google says so, too.)

That’s even more true in local SEO – because to rank well in local search you’re not just dealing with your site, but also with a bunch of listings.

Some types of duplicate content hurt your rankings, whereas many are just a mild drag or are harmless.

It’s not bad SOP to try to make all your content everywhere unique.  But sometimes it’s just not necessary, and you don’t want it to suck up too much of your time and distract you from stuff that really matters.

I can think of at least 12 types of duplicate content.  Pay attention to the types that (at least in my experience) might hurt you, and don’t spend time worrying about the harmless ones.


1. Mirror sites
Same content, different domains.  The rationale is that maybe both the sites will rank well, or that one of them will have a call-tracking number to “prove ROI!”

Google’s warnings are strongest for wholesale duplicate content between sites.  In my experience, using mirror sites never ends well.  Either one site ranks OK and the other doesn’t, or neither ranks well.  Mirror sites confuse Google and would-be customers alike.


2. Duplicate / near-duplicate Google listings

Google listings that have nearly identical names, addresses, and phone numbers can hurt your rankings.  Use Michael Cottam’s excellent duplicate-finder tool to uncover them.

By the way, “practitioner listings” often aren’t a problem, in my experience.  (In other words, if you’re a doctor, lawyer, real-estate agent, or insurance agent, it’s OK if you have a listing in your name and the practice or agency has one in its name.)

3. Duplicate citations
Not a big deal if you have 2 very similar listings on, say, MojoPages or Brownbook – one of those little sites.  But do you have one YellowPages.com listing named “Acme Dynamite” and another named “Acme Dynamite Company”?  Delete one of them, or else Google might scrape YP (a trusted third-party source) and create an unwanted Google Places listing for you.

Also, you should be gung-ho about removing duplicate listings on highly visible sites like YP, Yelp, and Facebook.  To the extent you get reviews on those sites, you’ll want to get the reviews piled up on one listing, rather than spread them thin between several listings.

4. Internal duplicate title tags
Does your “Services” page have the same title tag as your homepage?  Google won’t penalize you or anything; it’s just that you’ve lost an opportunity to help different pages rank for different search terms.

5. Duplicate title tags between sites
Similar problem as in point #4.

But there’s an additional problem: if you have multiple sites that include the name of your business in the title tags, you may mess mess up your brand-name search traffic.  When people search for your business by name you want one site to come up in Google, so that everyone goes to that site.  Why?  Because Google loves brands.  The more you can seem like one (i.e. popular offline and online), the better.  But you don’t want to confuse Google as to what site represents your “brand.”

6. Duplicate / near-duplicate pages on your site – particularly “city” pages
I’ve never noticed a site get penalized specifically for barfing up two dozen pages that target different cities by swapping out the city names (“HVAC Contractors Atlanta,” “HVAC Contractors Decatur,” etc.).

But a few problems remain: (1) those clone pages often don’t rank well, (2) even if they do rank well they eventually drop because users pogo-stick away from them, and (3) they usually don’t produce many phone calls.

Low-quality “city” pages aren’t as much a drag on your rankings as they are a giant lost opportunity.  Yours don’t have to suck, though.

7. Reviews cross-posted by customers
Scenario: a customer writes you a nice review on Yelp, so you ask her to write a review on Google+.  Just make sure it’s not the same review.  Make sure the words are significantly different, or the review might get filtered on both sites.  (By the way, Yelp and Google are the only sites that aggressively filter reviews – at least as far as I know.)

Not a problem:

8. Reviews that you copy and put on your site
This isn’t against Yelp’s or Google’s (or other sites’) policies, and I’ve seen so many businesses copy and paste their reviews onto their sites that I’ve concluded it’s just not a problem.

9. Duplicate descriptions between listings
You can use a different description on Yelp from the one you use on Manta, or you can have those descriptions and all your others can be pretty much the same.  (I say “pretty much” because different sites have different length requirements for your blurb, so a little variation is inevitable.)  Doesn’t matter.

10. Website content cross-posted on listings
Want to use a blurb from your homepage as your description on Angie’s List?  Harmless.

11. Google+ posts duplicated on multiple Google Places / Plus pages
If you’ve got multiple locations – each with a Google Places page – it’s OK to publish the same post in each one’s “Posts” stream.

12. Re-posting Google+ reviews
Google allows this.  Very few businesses know that they can show off their Google reviews in their “Posts” stream.

Can you think of any other types of duplicate content, in the context of local SEO?

Which ones have you found to be harmful vs. harmless?

Leave a comment!

How Long Can a Google+ Review Stay Filtered? At Least 2 Years

I’m a jerk.

Someone wrote a nice Google+ review on my business page in 2012, and I didn’t thank him until today.

‘Course, it would have helped if I knew about the review.  It had been filtered for over 2 years.  It wasn’t there a week ago.  I saw it for the first time only a few hours ago.  (And I only stumbled across it when doing some research for my State of Search talk.)

To add insult to injury, the review was from no less than David Mihm.

Why was it filtered?

My theory is that David’s review fell victim to Google’s Great Review Purge of 2012.  As you may recall, Google was filtering reviews left and right.  For a time, they were out-Yelping Yelp.

Google eventually relaxed the filter, at the beginning of 2013.  Many reviewers that had been filtered came back to life, and new, post-2012 reviews weren’t filtered nearly as often.  Good news, for the most part.

Turns out that was only the beginning of the 180-flip.  Throughout 2013 Google pushed customers to leave reviews and pushed business owners to ask for them.  This past July, Google even OK’d pseudonyms.

The other reviews people kindly posted on my page – the ones that seemed to stick initially – were all written after 2012.  So that fits with my theory.

What surprised me is just how bad Google was at playing God with reviews.

Even 2 years ago, David had written 40+ reviews, over a period of 4-5 years.  Not a newbie reviewer by any means.

Plus, all the reviews on my page were written spontaneously.  As much as I appreciate the kind words, I’ve never asked anyone to review me on Google.

Why did the review only show up now?

That’s what puzzles me.  Google’s filters loosened over 20 months ago, at which time many reviews came back to life (indeed, they never really go away).

True, some reviews never seem come back, but usually those are the real stinkers (and even many of those stay up).  Why didn’t this review come back?

It can’t be that my page had to get a certain number of reviews for all the oldies but goodies to return: More than 6 months passed between when my most-recent review was written and when David’s got unfiltered.

Nothing else happened recently in terms of Local Visibility System reviews, except for the very nice Yelp review I got a few weeks ago.

So I’m stumped, unless there’s such a thing as a 27 Club for reviews.


Any theories?

Have you noticed old reviews resurface recently?

For that matter, have you noticed anything odd with Google+ reviews lately?

Leave a comment!

Ultimate List of Review Widgets and Badges for Your Local Business Website

What good are your reviews if nobody sees them?

Whenever possible, you should show them off on your site by using a review “widget” or badge.  Many review sites offer them for the taking.

But review widgets and badges are more than flashy “trust” symbols.  They can also:

  • Encourage any current / past customers who visit your site to leave reviews
  • Help with your barnacle SEO (because you’re linking to your listings)
  • Add a little extra color and je ne sais quoi to your site

For the record, here’s what I’m talking about:

For the third part of my recent unofficial trilogy on more-advanced review strategy (see this and this), I’ve rounded up every piece of review bling I could find.

How many widgets / badges you can put on your site depends mostly on your industry and on where you already have reviews.

See which ones you can add to your site.  Here are the links:

Angie’s List

Widget: http://www.angieslist.com/angie-badge/
Industry: Any


Widget: http://www.avvo.com/partner_with_us/syndication
Industry: Legal


Widget: http://bit.ly/1tYUsBR
Industry: Any


Widget: http://bit.ly/1ERKE4Y
Industry: Home-improvement


Widget: http://www.houzz.com/buttonsAndBadges
Industry: Home-improvement

Note: You’ll need to have reviews on Houzz and be signed-in to get your widget. Thanks to Ben Bowen of Ross NW Watergardens for pointing this out in his comment.


Widget: http://bit.ly/1D6bPY2
Industry: Legal


Widget: http://www.kudzubizsuccess.com/?p=599
Industry: Any


Widget: http://www.superpages.com/ratings_badges/search_page.html
Industry: Any


Widget: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Widgets
Industry: Tourism and dining


Widget: http://www.trulia.com/tools/ambassador/
Industry: Real estate


Widget: http://www.weddingwire.com/shared/Widgets
Industry: Wedding-related


Widget: http://www.wellness.com/docs/12761/wellness-provider-program
Industry: Health


Widget: https://biz.yelp.com/bling/
Industry: Any


Widget: http://www.zagat.com/business-owners/badge
Industry: Dining


Widget: http://www.zillow.com/webtools/widgets/review-widget/
Industry: Real estate and home-improvement


A few notes:

You’ll notice I didn’t include paid review-encouragement systems – like CustomerLobby, DemandForce, or SmileReminder – although they do give you ways to showcase your reviews.

Didn’t see the site you wanted represented among the above widgets / badges?  You can always create your own badges, which you link out to places where you’ve got reviews.  That’s the only good way to show off your Google+ reviews, for instance.  (If you do this, I suggest you have the links open into new browser tabs, so that you’re not making people leave your site.)

Use CrazyEgg or a similar tool to see how many people click on your review badges – or even see them in the first place.  You may conclude that you should show off your reviews in the sidebar, or only on specific pages, or on this or that part of the page.  Tinker around until your plan comes together.

Am I missing any review widgets that you know of?

Do you use any widgets on your site?  If so, which one(s) do you like?

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.)


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 🙂

Yelp: "Filter" Is Now a Dirty Word

Yelp has stopped referring to reviews as “filtered.”

Go to the Yelp listing of any business that had some of its reviews gobbled up, and scroll down until you find the little gray link right below the “Write a Review” button and below any reviews that actually made it onto the page.

That link, which used to say – for example – “4 filtered reviews,” now says “4 other reviews that are not currently recommended.”

Apparently, “filtered” is now a dirty word at Yelp HQ.

You might even say Yelp is filtering its speech on filters.

3 other changes:

1.  There’s no CAPTCHA once you click on the link.  You can see the reviews right away.

2.  You no longer see just the filtered…err, not recommended reviews on the “not recommended” page.  There’s a video.

3.  Yelp shot an entirely new video (below).  It was posted to YouTube yesterday (11/13/13).  There’s not even one mention of the word “filter.”  They had an old video, but it was only available from the FAQ page (which, by the way, also doesn’t use the word “filter” anymore).  That video has since been taken down (“made private” on YouTube).


It’s interesting that the word “currently” is in there.  That’s intentional.  As I and others have noted, Yelp reviews can be filtered, unfiltered, and re-filtered, and so on.  It depends mostly on how active the reviewer is on Yelp.  Even if you write a review and it’s filtered the first time around, if you review other businesses over a period of a few months and become “friends” with other Yelpers, that review will most likely rise from the ashes.  It appears Yelp is trying to make that fact a little more apparent to business owners and would-be reviewers.

I think the folks Yelp are trying to accomplish mainly two things by opening the kimono slightly:

(1)  They’re trying to encourage more people to become active reviewers/users (which ultimately can help Yelp boost ad revenues, among other things),  and

(2)  They may want to mollify some of the business owners who are furious about the review filter.

Your thoughts?  Why do you think Yelp has thrown a wet towel on its own term for its own approach to screening reviews?  Leave a comment!

12 Reasons Google’s "City Experts" Reviews Program Sucks

Well, what I mean to say is that it’s going to suck.  What I suspect will be the short life of Google’s latest program has barely begun.

Google’s “City Experts” Google+ reviews program is essentially Google’s version of Yelp’s “Elite Squad.”

(For more detail, read this excellent piece in TechCrunch and this even-better write-up by Greg Sterling.  And if you want the “official” line, see the G+ post.)

The program has only rolled out to a few cities.  Normally I’d be miffed at Google for not including Boston in a rollout, but in this case I’m not too cracked-up.

Why?  Because I think City Experts will be either a quiet little misfire or go up in a blaze of glory before being discontinued not too far in the future.

I see at least 12 problems:


Problem 1.  The quotas.  You have to write 50 Google+ reviews to become a City Expert, and 5 reviews every month subsequently in order to keep your standing.  Not only does that tell me and everyone else that Google values quantity over quality, but it also creates an unnatural pressure to review X number of businesses within Y number of days.  To paraphrase Google’s review guidelines, that’s a “conflict of interest.”  At least Yelp’s criteria for becoming a member of the Elite Squad boil down to “we know it when we see it” (their words, not mine).

Problem 2.  It will be abused by marketers.  They’ll post reviews of their clients, and perhaps negative reviews of their clients’ competitors.  What’s to prevent that from happening?

Problem 3.  It will be abused by business owners.  Too many of them already cut corners to get Google Plus (and other) reviews.  What do you think happens when Google raises the stakes?

Problem 4.  It will be abused by unethical reviewers.  Pretty soon we’re going to catch City Experts offering reviews on Fiverr.com.

Also, will their reviews be subject to Google’s review filter?  Elite Yelpers’ reviews aren’t filtered.  But, then again, Elite Yelpers are vetted by other humans.  It’s not clear to me whether that will be the case with Google.

Speaking of unclear parts of the program, it’s unclear to me whether “City Expert” = “Top Reviewer.”  If so, then that means their reviews will pull a lot of weight in the “new Maps” rankings, when the searcher chooses to sort search results by reviews.

Problem 5.  It will be abused even by generally well-meaning reviewers.  Why?  Because there’s no rule that says you need to be a real customer of a business in order to review it.  There no such rule on Yelp, but Yelp doesn’t specify a 5-monthly-reviews quota.  What we’re going to see is some City Experts running out of businesses where they’ve actually spent money, but needing to write reviews anyway.  So they’ll reviews businesses where they’ve never been customers, just because it’s the 29th of the month and they have two reviews to write – or else they’ll lose their “title” and free swag.

Problem 6.  Google will need more of a support or conflict-resolution system to deal with the possible problems I just mentioned.  Without it, the waters will be muddied for everyone.  Users/customers won’t see the City Experts’ reviews as credible, and reviewers won’t put in the time to earn a distinction that isn’t distinguished.

Problem 7.  There’s going to be no sheriff.  Nobody will really be in charge.  It will be just like Google+ Local.  At most Google will get some well-meaning but callow intern to try to oversee the program.  Google’s all about algorithms…remember?

Problem 8.  The reviewers themselves may get confronted by business owners, especially if there’s nobody at Google to take some of the heat.  Their reviews are tied to Plus accounts, which generally have more and more-detailed personal information than the average Yelp Elites’ profiles do.

High-visibility reviews + potentially angry business owners + relatively low privacy for reviewers + no conflict-resolution mechanisms at Google = big mess.

Problem 9.  The fact that photos are required creates a bias in favor of bricks-and-mortar businesses.

Speaking of photos, what will be done about ugly or inaccurate or promotional or fake photos?  Will Google examine those in any way, or will this be another Wild West situation?  What if Anthony Weiner wants to become New York’s City Expert?

Problem 10.  Greg Sterling brought up an excellent point: what will happen to duplicate or near-duplicate reviews?

I suspect some of the Yelp Elites might join and duplicate their reviews on Google. Will Yelp penalize them if that does happen?

I’m wondering the same thing, and I also want to know what Google will do about duplicates.  The review guidelines specify that Google “may…remove reviews that include plagiarism or are copied from other sites.”

Problem 11.  How do we know Google won’t sunset the program in 6 months?  Google has a track record of euthanizing its products, both good and bad.  Anyone who pays attention to Google+ knows that, and must be at least a little concerned that his/her reviews eventually will lose their “Expert” stickers and become as inconspicuous as everyone else’s reviews.

Problem 12.  Google won’t be able to make it “cool” enough to catch on.  City Experts are Yelp Elite manqué.  At the moment, the program is too much like Yelp’s program to be anything more than an also-ran.  It needs to be different, or it will play second fiddle.  My educated guess is that City Experts will be retired or rolled into another Google property, sooner or later (probably sooner).

I hope I’m wrong about the future of the City Experts reviews program.  Not many people have been beating the “get Google reviews – ethically!” drum as hard as I have.  Few things make me happier than when clients tell me that the Google reviews we worked to earn helped them attract new customers.  So, suffice it to say, I like Google reviews.  I rant because I care.

It would be cool if the program is problem-free enough to be around for long enough that it becomes rewarding to honest business owners and to searchers.

If you’re a business owner, my advice is: if you’re already getting reviews on Google+ and (ideally) on other reviews sites, don’t change your strategy because of the City Experts program.  If it’s around for long enough to matter, then sooner or later you’ll get reviews from those chosen few just by doing what’s worked for you so far.

Lightning Round Q&A on Local SEO

A few days ago, I asked the good people on my email list to send me their questions.

They’ve always sent me great questions, and I always take a crack at them.

But local search – and Google+Local in particular – is as messy and complex as ever.  Sometimes it helps to see a bunch of questions other people have, and the answers to those questions, all at once.

I like the Ask Me Anything rounds that some SEOs do.  Same idea here.

So, I received a ton of great questions from business owners and marketers/SEOs alike.  Some of the questions almost call for a whole blog post to answer, but I’ve tried to give quick answers – hence the “lightning round” part.  But there are so many questions that this has turned into the most epic post I’ve done yet.

I’ve organized the Q&A into a few sections:

General local search





General local search questions

“What’s the #1 thing that improves rankings for local business pages?”

I’m going to focus on the “improves” part of your question: I’d say businesses see the most improvement when they clean up all their citations.


“Do social mentions affect my rankings if they don’t include my NAP?”

Indirectly, maybe – but only to the extent that they’re a catalyst for things that can directly help your rankings, like unstructured citations or maybe links.  Facebook activity seems to be a major factor for Bing, though.  I’m sure things like Google +1s and Circles will start counting for more in the near future, but they don’t seem to at the moment.


Have you noticed it being easier to rank a new local business in Bing than in Google? Any ideas why?  I am top ranked in Bing but am on page 2 in Google after 4 months.”

I’ve had clients who rank tip-top in Google but not so well in Bing.  The fundamentals are the same (e.g. consistent citations, on-page factors).  But things like Facebook activity and Yelp reviews seem to matter more in Bing.  Overall, I’d say Bing is a little easier, but if you’re ranking well in Bing, you’re probably on the right track with Google.


“What is the best way to identify all citations that need to be cleaned up for a given business?”

My favorite cocktail: a combination of the Local Citation Finder, GetListed.org, and my definitive list of local citations.


“Beyond a) creating citations, and b) having an optimized webpage and c) getting reviews, what else can be done to improve ranking?”

(1) Get more reviews, on as many sites as you can.  Never stop.

(2) Get citations from sites specific to your industry.

(3) Add as much additional info (e.g. descriptions, photos, etc.) as you can to your listings on those citation sources.

(4) Blog – the right way.

(5) Think of a small (or larger) “local event” you can host.


“I’ve found some towns do not return map results for local queries. I believe it’s because of their small size. What do you do in this scenario?”

Don’t neglect your Google+Local page, citations, reviews, etc., but start going more after organic rankings for those search terms that aren’t returning the Google+Local (AKA “maps”) results.


“What’s the best way to start cleaning up your citations after you move to a new address?”

Start by fixing your listings on ExpressUpdateUSA.com, LocalEze.com, MyBusinessListingManager.com.  Those take the longest to digest updates, so you’ll want to fix them ASAP.  Then do CitySearch, YP.com, and Yelp (if possible; it’s not always).  Then move on to your other citations, referring to my list, and/or with the aid of Nyagoslav’s excellent guide to citations.


“Most of my patients live in an adjacent city to where my office is.  I bought a couple domains that include the name of the nearby city that my patients live in, and then I forwarded those domain to my main site.  Can I expect those forwarded domains to rank well in the organic search results in the nearby town?”

No.  This isn’t an approach I’d suggest.  I haven’t seen forwarded domains in the search results recently, so I’m not even sure Google will rank the forwarded domains at all.  (If someone has a definitive answer to this, please chime in!)  But it’s almost certain not to work in a market that’s even a little competitive.  Having a search-term-relevant domain alone just isn’t enough.  Probably your best bet (1) to start doing AdWords, (2) or to create some pages (on any of your domains) that are geared specifically toward patients in that nearby city.


“If I’m targeting nearby cities to try to get organic results for my local business, do I need a separate website for each city I want to be visible in?”

No.  You can have separate websites for each city, but in most cases I wouldn’t recommend building them, because it’s hard to do so without being spammy.  You’re probably better off creating unique pages on your current site for each city (see previous question).


“What specific steps do you use to determine what is causing your competitor’s website to rank above yours (if it is) in the Google organic results?”

That’s a very involved question, and this is a “lightning round” 🙂  But if I had to distill it, I’d say that there are 5 main diagnostic questions you’ll need to answer:

1. Which specific pages are outranking yours, and for which search terms?

2.  How do their pages differ from yours?  Do they have a lot of meaty, useful, on-topic information on the pages that are ranking well – whereas maybe you only have a paragraph?  Try to compare apples to apples.

3.  Do your pages seem significantly more “SEO’d” than your competitors’?  If you’ve got spun content, exact-match anchor text out the wazoo, keywords stuffed into every nook and cranny of your site, etc., then your competitor may be outranking you simply by not making rookie mistakes.

4.  What do you see when you do an OpenSiteExplorer checkup on them?

5.  How unique and helpful are your competitors’ pages?


I wrestle with understanding organic listings.  Searching for a dentist in Belfast, Northern Ireland, there are 7 organic listings . Do how does Google determine who is on this list? There are some dentists with no Google Plus local reviews above others who have 7 reviews.  I just don’t understand this.”

That doesn’t sound quite right: It’s usually 7 Google+Local listings:

But I can say that reviews are one factor among others – the main others being  (1) your Google+Local page, (2) your website, and (3) your citations.  Need more detail?  Take a gander at the Local Search Ranking Factors 🙂


“What’s the best way to handle multiple categories (e.g. kitchen renovations, bathroom renovations, basement renovations)?”

There’s not much of a “trick.”  Just specify them on your Google+Local page, onyour Bing Places listing, and on your third-party listings.  Follow Google’s guidelines and my best-practices for categories.


There are several services for citation submission. Yext comes to mind. It would seem that a service that does the bulk of the submission work would be useful, but that each listing would need manual tweaking. Is that your experience too? Do you have a preferred bulk submission tool?”

Yext is good in certain situations.  But you’re right that you also need to do at least some manual tuning-up of your listings.  No tool eliminates that necessity.


We have several new clients and although a listing appears when you Google their name, nothing appears in any other searches.  When should a new listing appear in keyword searches?”

Totally depends on how competitive the local competition is for those search phrases.  It can take months and months.


“What are you seeing in terms of search volume for searches of keyword-only vs. keyword + city?  I know Linda Buquet has talked about seeing more search volume for keyword-only and I’ve also seen this now for a few AdWords clients I have, where it’s about a 2-to-1 for keyword only vs. keyword + city.  So aside from AdWords is there a way to rank for those searches, since keyword-only is mainly going to show businesses close to searchers’ IP location?”

It’s pretty much always the case that “keyword” has more search volume than “keyword + city.”  But you shouldn’t be using different strategies to get visible for each type of search term.  If you rank well for “keyword + city,” you’ll usually also rank well when people in that city just type in “keyword.”  Google will show those people local-biz results that it deems to be local.  So the name of the game is to make it abundantly clear to Google what city you’re located in.


“What do I do when a company I am working with on advertising wants to use a telephone number other than the one we use on citations?”



How do I break out of my immediate area to target a “region” or state? CAN it be done with Local?”

Sometimes it’s possible to appear for statewide search terms (e.g. “dentists MA”) in the Google+Local results.  This great old post from Mike Ramsey explains it nicely.  But you’ll probably have better chances of ranking for statewide searches organically.


Google+Local questions

“Is Google+ Local ready to go yet?”

Are we ready to terraform Mars?  Have we built a Commander Data?  No…Google still hasn’t finished the transition from Google Places to Google Plus.


“Does it improve rankings to create a Google+ Local page for your company and then ‘merge’ it with Google Places?”

Not to my knowledge.  I’ve noticed that businesses with “merged” pages tend to rank more highly, but I think that’s only because their owners tend to be proactive about their local visibility in general.  So I’d say there’s correlation but not causation.


“I’ve got a client that has a spa.  She’s got like 8 rooms for tanning, sauna, etc.  She’s renting one room to another business that does a related service.  I’ve instructed my client to NOT share the phone line and instead to have the new person get a new line.  I’ve spoken with the other business’s web guy and we seem to think that two businesses in the same suite – for example, suite #200 –should be fine if the business is different and the phone is different.  What’s the best way to have two or more businesses listed at the same address?”

If they are legally separate businesses, then you’re taking the right approach.  They’ll need separate phone lines, DBAs, and websites – but this is a matter of course if in fact they’re legally separate businesses.


“How should you handle a relocation?  Do you shut down the current Google+ Local page and create a new one?  Or do you edit the address to the new location?”

I believe the protocol du jour is for you to edit your address to the new location.  Mike Blumenthal has a fairly recent post with more detail.


“The ‘city centroid’: Does this still carry a lot of weight in rankings?

It depends on a lot of factors, but in general, not really.  The main thing that matters is whether your business is located in (or extremely near to) the city you want to rank well in.


“How can I get my location to rank if I’m on the outskirts of town but still in the town?”

Depends on what you mean by “outskirts.”  If you’re in the ‘burbs, your best bet is to go after organic rankings.  But if you’re truly located in the city proper, it’s still the same ballgame to rank well in the Google+Local results, and you probably won’t be at any disadvantage.


“My client has 17 locations and can’t use the main corporate site as a hub.   They’ve been building citations where the “website” field contains a URL that forwards to the sister-site of the corp brand.  On this sister site they have the locations broken down into microsites (not pages).  Their Places pages are pulling the corp site info.  Long story short: how do you build a campaign when you have to use a forwarding URL?”

You don’t.  Using a forwarded URL shouldn’t be a problem as far as your citations are concerned, but that URL needs to match the URL of your Google+Local landing page – and Google will probably whack you for using a forwarding URL.


“When I search for “orthodontist” within my zip code, an orthodontist colleague of mine has the first two of three positions in the Google+Local results.  I occupy the third position.  How does a duplicate listing get ranked above my listing?”

If the website for the practice is strong (i.e. lots of relevant content, maybe some good links), probably both Google+Local listings are benefiting.  If both listings have been around for more than a couple of years, there’s also a good chance that they both have consistent info on their citations.  It may also help if both listings have reviews.


Where is the link under the 7 pack that says “View more local results”?  How do I view page two now?  Is there a page two anymore?  I have a few clients that were happy to be on page two (very competitive markets), so now what do I tell them?”

The “more” link is gone.  No page two unless you click on the “Maps” tab – which also appears to be under the blade.  Tell your client…


“What your business is moving, do you update all other listings first and then Google+ Local, or the other way around?”

Update your listings first, and then (once you’ve moved) update your Google+Local listing.


“If you have two locations, do you link your Google+Local pages to your homepage or to landing pages on your site?  The idea being to optimize chances to get two pages to rank for queries: one next to the map and one in the standard results.”

Generally speaking, it’s best to use a different page of your website as the landing page for each Google+Local listing (that is, each location of your business).


“Google seems to have made changes lately.  What are the main changes in a nutshell, and what should be our response be, in terms possibly doing local SEO differently?”

1.  Better tech support (in that now it exists).

2.  New listing-manager rolling out.

3.  No page two.

No need for you to do SEO differently.  It’s still the same ingredients that go into the rankings burrito.


“I created a Google listing about 5 months ago.  I filled out the description, images, videos, categories, etc.  We have done all the possible citations. A lot of work.  We even paid for a “virtual tour” (which I thought Google would like and see as a “trust factor,” as you need to pay for it).  We already have 9 reviews.  However, we are still not on page one.  Our competition is not SEO-oriented and does not do much in that regard, but they still appear before us.  I know it takes time to get to page one, but still it looks to me that something is wrong here.  What am I missing?”

You somewhat answered your own question: local rankings usually take a while.  If you’ve truly got the citations under control – a big “if” – then I’d really suggest trying to get reviews on a diversity of sites (e.g. not just Google, not just Yelp, etc.).  Beef up your third-party listings (AKA citations) with as much additional info on your services as you can.  If possible, start blogging – but only if you do it according to Matt McGee’s suggestions.


“How do I handle the sale of a business that has been located at one address for 15 years, but that gets bought by new ownership, resulting in a name change?”

Update the business name on as many sites as you can, and as quickly as you can.  Update your Google+Local listing, too.  A good starting point would be to focus on the listings you see when you do a GetListed.org scan.  Once you’ve done that, scour the Web for listings with the old name, and try to get those fixed or removed.  Your rankings may very well take a hit in the short-term, but they should be fine in the long-term if you’re diligent about cleanup.


“My business is listed #1 in the local results for one search term, but number 4 for another, and not even in the top 7 for another popular search term.  How do I push my listing up in the cases where it’s listed lower?”

Ask every customer for a review, make sure your third-party listings have plenty of info (e.g. descriptions, categories, etc.) on the services you’re not ranking for, and crank out some good blog posts or articles that someone looking for those services would find useful.  Above all, take it slow and easy.  You seem to be on the right track.


“I received my PIN in the mail and entered it to verify my Google+ Local page.  The PIN was verified, now a few days later it’s no longer verified.  Should I request another PIN?”

Yes.  Assuming you know for a fact that your listing is 100% kosher according to Google.


“I know a landscaper who services a region that includes 4 cities. However, his office is in a rural location.  Can he use Google+ Local to get listed for any or all of the cities? Technically he sometimes meets clients at his office but normally he would travel to the customers’ homes to meet them.”

If he has one location, then he can have one Google+Local listing (not 4), and he’ll have to “hide” his address.  He may or may not actually rank well in all 4 cities – depends on a lot of factors – but if he’s met the two conditions I mentioned, at least it’s possible he’ll rank well in a good chunk of his service area (especially if it’s a rural area).


“Why would a verified Google listing (confirmed via phone or postcard) show the “We currently do not support this location” error?”

Sounds like the listing has been pulled for a violation or due to a bug.  Not much you can do about the latter.  But if you suspect the former, read Nyagoslav’s great post on troubleshooting.


“Your post on city pages, will that get me listed in Google Plus local?”

No.  It’s focused on “localized organic” rankings.


“I assume the ‘upgraded’ Google+ Local page is one in which the social and the local are combined?  I’m still lost on how this works (maybe everyone is…?).”

Correct.  Pretty soon (I hope) everyone’s Google+Local page will be upgraded to have all the “social” bells and whistles.  But, for the time being, some pages have all the features of Google+, whereas others don’t.  (More info on the differences here.)


“My main question has to do with a business with multiple listings.  How do you approach getting them set up on Google Plus local?  Do they need a separate listing for each location?  How do you handle citations for them?”

Yes, each physical location can have its own Google listing – and each Google listing must correspond to a physical location, or you’ll incur the wrath of the Google Gods (and rightfully so).


You don’t have to do a bulk upload.  All the listings don’t even need to have been created in the same Google account.  For instance, if it’s a franchise and each franchisee wants control of his/her listing, the listings can be created and/or claimed through different people’s Google accounts.

There’s no way to do the citations “in bulk.”  It’s number of locations multiplied by number of sites you want to be listed on.  Ideally you have a separate landing page URL for each location / Google+Local listing; if that’s the case, then put that URL in the “website” field on each citation site.


If you’re using a home address for your Google listing, can you rank well in a fairly competitive market?”

Sure can.


“I have a client that has a law practice with 2 distinct NAP’s, websites, and categories (ne is for DUI defense, the other is criminal defense).  That is, they have 2 local phone numbers, 2 registered business names, 2 websites, and 2 different suite #s, out of 1 main office location.  Will Google+ Local ding one listing or the other, given that both practices are housed under the same physical address?  (Again, there are 2 different suite #s.)”

If they are two officially, legally separate practices, then you’re fine.  But if it’s one lawyer who runs one practice but wants to have two Google listings for rankings purposes, then one or both listings may very well get penalized.


“When you choose a category from within the Google Places editor, what are your thoughts on choosing a custom category?  I have read many blogs saying you should only choose defined categories, yet, if I decide to go with a specific custom category I get a lot of impressions, whereas no other defined category would cause these impressions for a particular keyword.  I experimented removing the custom category and only having defined categories and this caused a considerable drop in impressions.  So is it OK to go with a custom category, or am I risking longer term damage?”

Google seems to be phasing out custom categories. Still, custom categories can really help your visibility, provided you follow some guidelines.


“I integrated Google Places into Google+ Local as a verified Local Business.  This now offers me to choose categories in Google+ Local within the “Edit Business Information” screen.  Yet I can still choose categories within my original Google Places dashboard.  I am confused by the two different places to edit categories, and I am reluctant to add categories within Google+ Local, since, it appears my Google Places Dashboard categories are working really well.  Do I risk damaging my rankings by fiddling within the Google+ Local categories?  Or, should I duplicate the categories from Google Places Dashboard here?”

Your current setup sounds fine.  I’d leave it as-is.  You’re not going to hurt your rankings by adding relevant categories on the Google+Local side, but I wouldn’t say you need to.  Google’s categories will be a mess – rather, a two-headed monster – for at least a little while longer.


Review questions

I have had 9/10 reviews filtered on my Yelp site.  How do you make them stick?  I have heard that if your customers aren’t active on Yelp their reviews get filtered.”

There’s nothing you can do to make more reviews stick.  What you heard is correct.  The best thing to do is to ask your customers up-front whether they’re already active on Yelp.  Yelp doesn’t want you even asking – let alone encouraging – customers for reviews.  So to the people you know to be active Yelpers, maybe you can suggest or intimate that you would not be entirely averse to their possibly considering posting a review 😉  For everyone else, I suggest you follow my “zigzag” approach.


“Is there ANY way to change the review filter on Yelp?  (They have an odd way of only showing the majority of the bad reviews up front, even if someone has a majority of good reviews).”

No, sad to say.  See previous answer.


“Aside from Google+ and Yelp, what other website should clients write reviews on?”

CitySearch, InsiderPages, and Yahoo are my picks.  If there are any sites specific to your industry, try to scare up reviews on those as well.


“I want to appear on Google as one of the sites on the search map.  I have my site tuned up, filled out, but still don’t appear there.  Does it really just come down to the number or reviews a site has?”

Reviews are crucial, but other factors matter quite a bit.  It’s not enough to have a “filled out” site.  You also need to put a lot of elbow grease into citations, for one thing.  Although sometimes local rankings are a game of inches, more often they depend on how well you apply the fundamentals.


“Is Google going to integrate reviews from Google+Local with AdWords in the next 12 to 18 months?”

No idea.  I’m not sure anyone knows.  I do know that if you’re on AdWords Express and if you have Google+Local reviews from customers, the reviews will show in your ad.  But AdWords Express isn’t as effective as classic AdWords, so it would be nice to see some integration there.

Misfit questions

“How does having a mobile website affect Google rankings?”

I don’t believe that it does affect rankings – at least not directly.  But having a mobile-friendly site may help indirectly, because visitors are less likely to bounce and are more likely to “engage” with your site and maybe share it socially.  Those things can help your rankings.


“What do you think about paying for Yelp ads?  The lowest the rep quoted was $200 a month.  We have a small business and an even smaller advertising budget!”

I think it’s worth testing, with two caveats:

(1) See how many of your competitors are using it, and how many businesses like yours in other cities are paying for Yelp ads.  That will give you a sense of whether anyone in your line of work might be making money from Yelp ads.

(2) You’ll need to lay some groundwork first, by beefing up your Yelp listing as much as possible, applying at least a little conversion-rate optimization to your site (no point paying for ads that lead to a dog of a site), and doing what you can to encourage Yelp reviews.


“I know a high-end hairdresser who is already ranking high – and three times – on most targeted keywords: Once with AdWords, once in organic, and once in the local results.  How do you get more new customers into the door when you seem to already catch all the search traffic you can possibly get?”

Never ease up in your efforts to get reviews from as many customers as possible, and from as many different sites as possible.  Make your site as “sticky” as humanly possible.  Fill it with your knowledge.  Also, I’m a huge fan of CrazyEgg and Qualaroo.


“Is it possible to correct bad SEO – e.g. mass linking with poor anchor text on low quality blogs?”

Absolutely – assuming you completely stop the bad SEO practices that got you into hot water to begin with, and assuming you then make an effort to stand out in some way, be it through tons of reviews, tons of helpful and relevant info on your site, etc.


“Some service businesses & contractors work out of their homes but don’t want their homes listed publicly on the internet.  What’s the best way to handle this?”

Read my two posts on the topic:

Can You Rank Well in Local Google without Revealing Your Street Address Anywhere?

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


“How can I know if my web site is effective at making people take action? Lately we are getting very few calls but our analytics are showing about 10-15 views a day.”

It’s hard to know.  Your site shouldn’t try to “make” people take action.  It should answer their questions.  That’s the most important thing.  Aside from that, I can’t get into heavy-duty CRO here, but one piece of low-hanging fruit is to make sure you’ve got your address and phone number (and maybe email address) on every single page, above the fold.  Also, as I mentioned before, CrazyEgg and Qualaroo are tools that can help you learn more about your visitors and tailor your site to their needs.


Is it important to embed other maps besides a Google Map on the website?  (Like one from Bing?)”

Nah.  Embedding even a Google Map on your site isn’t necessarily “important”: it’s mostly a convenience for visitors, and it’s just another little way to convey to Google that you’re local.  But no need to add a Bing or MapQuest map or whatever.

“There are a lot of differing fields that you can / have to fill out on the various citation directories. Is there a universal form to fill out?”

No, although I do have a questionnaire (the second of two – here’s the first) that I ask my clients to fill out.  I’m sure I could improve it, but it covers the bases pretty well.


“What is a “reputation management” account – as it relates to Dex or other yellow pages companies?”

A rip-off.  Just set up some Google Alerts and If This Then That alerts, and check on the main review sites from time to time.


“I do my own local SEO. Often in verification calls I get a lot of sales pitches.  One last week asked whether I wanted to “renew my subscriptions” and then when I said no told me they were going to send the bill “for the previous year.”  What’s up with that?”

Sounds like a typical shenanigan.  If you’ve never paid that site for advertising, there’s no way you’re on the hook for anything now.

You’ll get a decent number of sales pitches when you list your business on a lot of these third-party sites.  It may seem like a Faustian pact, but it’s a small price to pay for being listed on sites that, ultimately, help your local visibility.

Huge thanks to everyone who sent in questions.  You rock.

Let’s keep it going: Do you have any quick questions for which you just need quick answers?  Throw me a comment!