Why Your Review-Encouragement Software Is a Meat Grinder

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It’s tempting to sign up for a “reputation-management” or “review-generation” product and let it pester all your customers for a review – so you don’t have to take the time (or forget) to do it personally.

Resist the temptation. At least until you’ve worked out more manually a review-encouragement strategy that works OK.  Otherwise all you’ll do is automate failure.

My advice might be different if review-encouragement software was a surefire way to get you 80% of the great reviews you could get with a more-hands-on method, but with only 20% of the time and effort.  But in my experience it doesn’t do that, at least right out of the box.  (If you’ve worked out a method that works well without the software, maybe you can get to that 80/20 payoff zone.)

A mediocre-to-OK review strategy is simple to execute: just “do a good job” and ask customers to review you if they’re happy, and contact you first if they’re not. Where it gets trickier is if you want more than just a trickle of reviews, and on sites that really matter.

Most automated review-encouragement programs clear only the lower bar.  They require only you to upload people’s email addresses, customize the email that goes out automatically, maybe tweak some settings, and keep a credit card on-file.  A great review strategy – one that gets the greatest number of happy customers to write the best reviews they can – takes a little more than that.

I don’t want to name specific products, if I can avoid it.  But maybe it’s better that way, because there are a million tools that claim to be your one-stop reviews solution.  It’s likely you’ve used or considered at least one such tool, or you probably wouldn’t be reading this.

Some are near-useless, in that most of the “reviews” are in fact testimonials that just molder on the software company’s site (e.g. Demandforce.com), rather than reviews on Google Maps or Yelp or Facebook or Angie’s List or other sites people notice and maybe care about.  I’m not even talking about that kind of service here.  Rather, I want to give cautionary advice about programs that actually try to encourage reviews on third-party review sites.  Seldom are they as effective as you and I would like.

“But Phil, the Big Ugly Corporation I just bought a new refrigerator from just sent me an auto-email to ask for a review, and they have hundreds of reviews from customers.  It seems to work fine for them!”

Maybe, but Big Ugly Corporation also has tens of thousands of customers more than you have – and many more opportunities to waste in asking for reviews ineffectively.  200 reviews?  That’s still an awful batting average.  If you want to do a little better than 1 for 20, you can’t simply rely on a program.

Why?  Here are the biggest problems with review-encouragement software:

  1. If your email or overall strategy isn’t battle-tested, you may burn through all your customers and have little to show for it. What if your review-management software sounds out all the emails – just as it should – and you don’t get any reviews? Maybe everyone ignores the email, or it goes out at a bad hour, or the links are broken, or there are customer-service issues to sort out first.  You can ask everyone another time, but after that you become a nuisance.  Don’t entrust software with the goodwill you’ve taken years to earn.  Put it through a few bird-strike tests first.

  1. You can’t personalize an automated request to a reviewer’s unique situation. Long-time customer? Super happy customer?  Did he have privacy concerns?  Is she an “Elite” Yelper?  A one-size-fits-all email won’t acknowledge specifics, and probably won’t accomplish all it could.
  1. The auto-email will seem cold if it’s the first or only time you ask for a review. The recipient will wonder, “Gee, I was just in your office – why didn’t you ask me then?” Ask in-person first, if possible.  At least plant the seed of the idea, get a sense of who’s happy (and who’s not), and maybe get a tacit “yes.”  That way, even an auto-email won’t seem to come out of the blue, and any follow-up is more likely to work.
  1. It’s harder to sniff out who’s unhappy. The auto-email will go to everyone, or to large groups of people at a time.
  1. Weak writing may undo you. Think of how you’d ask a customer, client, or patient face-to-face for a review. Is that how you’d write your automated email?  Probably not.  In-person you’d care about the timing, and be polite, but also get to the point.  In an email you’re more likely sound stuffy or generic, or to beat around the bush.  Most people are better writers when they speak than when they write.  Too many business owners use automated outreach tools precisely because they don’t want to ask for reviews in-person.  Often I find that’s because they haven’t figured out exactly what or how to ask.  First figure out how you’d articulate an in-person request, write the email like that, see how it performs, and then automate it if you must.  Not the other way around.

  1. Your auto-email won’t acknowledge people who already reviewed you. That will irk them, and you’ll miss the opportunity to ask, “We’re so crazy about the great review you left us on Review Site A that I’ve just got to ask: could you also review us on Review Site B?”
  1. Timing may be trickier. You have a sense of what are good times and bad times to ask customers/clients/patients for a review. Outreach software only gives you so much control over when the requests go out.
  1. Follow-up may be trickier. What if you want to send a follow-up email to some customers after a week, and to other customers after three weeks? Or if they contact you with customer-service issues to sort out, will your program still email them a second time – before you’ve worked out the issue?  Maybe you end up choosing not to use the program’s follow-up feature, but if you do use it, it’ll probably complicate your job.
  1. It’s harder to approach touchy situations. People with privacy concerns you might want to direct to anonymous review sites. Others may be willing to write you a great review, but would want to keep it vague.  Some people may not make ideal reviewers after all.  And so on.  You’re nimbler than the program is.
  1. You’ll probably treat it as a one-stop solution. The makers of the software market it as such. They’ll tell you that all you need to do is flick it on and watch the reviews whoosh in.  You hope that’s how it works out, so you give it a try and don’t bother to do the other things you need to do (e.g. ask customers in-person first).
  1. You’ll probably treat it as a “set it and forget it” solution. You chose the outreach tool because it’s easy. How likely are you to go in often and update the infernal thing?
  1. It’s a missed opportunity to learn more about your would-be reviewers. You have to think about, customize, write, and send 100 emails in a month? Yeah, that’s work.  But what a great way to interact with and get to know your customers.  What a missed opportunity if you don’t bother.
  1. You miss out on the satisfaction of asking for reviews and getting great ones – or of dodging bullets to your reputation

So review-encouragement software isn’t a surefire way to rack up 5-star reviews.  What do I suggest you do instead?

Do MANUAL email outreach, at least for a while.  One email at a time.  One person at a time.

Try a simple process that works for you, even if takes more time or effort than you’d like.  Tweak it as needed until it works pretty well.  Then try to make it easier if you want.

At that point, automated review-encouragement software might actually help.  You might try Whitespark’s Reputation Builder, or GetFiveStars, or Grade.us, for example.  Whatever you use, hold it to high standards.  Make sure it brings in almost as many good reviews as you can do with your finest hands-on outreach effort.  Continue to ask in-person first (if possible), and send some requests personally every now and then, and always try new things that you might work into the program you use.

What’s worked for you?  What hasn’t worked?  Leave a comment!

Dumb Shortcuts to Getting Online Reviews

Image credit Vinny DaSilva / vinnydasilva.com / twitter.com/vad710Getting happy customers/clients/patients to speak up and write online reviews is usually tough.  Even if you do everything you should, it’s still tough going.  Not all the happy people will speak up, and there’s always a chance the unhappy few will.

If you’re wise, you’ll realize you can’t get to perfect, but that you can always get closer and that the payoff is worth the effort.  So you’ll continuously work on your strategy.

On the other hand, you might have considered at least one shortcut to get more reviews and better reviews.  I bet I know what you’re considering.   I hope you don’t do it, but if you do it anyway, I’d at least like you to know the arguments against it.

Here are 10 all-too-common “review shortcuts” some business owners try to take, and why you might not want to be one of them:

Watching over reviewers’ shoulders.

Maybe you set up an iPad in your office, and walk reviewers through exactly what to do, while you’re in the same room.  That’s noble, and you probably just do it because you want to make the process hassle-free.  But there are downsides.
Why it’s a mistake:

  • Many reviews won’t look like honest opinions because they won’t be honest opinions. How can reviewers say what they really think if you’re standing there?
  • The unhappy people will decline to use your review station, or they’ll get even more steamed if they felt “pressured.” Either way, they’re just as likely to write you a bad review anyway.  “Quality control” it is not.
  • The happy people may not feel at liberty to take their time and go into detail about why you’re great. You want them to.
  • It’s against Google’s rules.

Holding a contest.

You ask people to review you because you’ll donate to charity, or because you’ll pick a “review of the month,” or something like that.
Why it’s a mistake:

  • It’s illegal or legally questionable.
  • It’s against most review sites’ policies.
  • You’ll get short, unhelpful, artificial-looking reviews from people who just want the freebie.

“Getting the ball rolling” with reviews from family, friends, colleagues, etc.

You plan to get real reviews at some point, but don’t want your first reviewers to feel uncomfortable, and you don’t want your business to look unpopular in the meantime.
Why it’s a mistake:

  • It’s against Google’s rules and Yelp’s rules.
  • It’s illegal or legally questionable.
  • It’s unnecessary if you’ve got reviews from real customers.
  • For would-be customers it just calls into question the authenticity of your real
  • It looks sad and desperate if you’ve got no reviews from real customers.

Reviewing yourself.

Why it’s a mistake:

Posting on behalf of customers.

They sent you perfumed letters to say they feel, but they didn’t post online reviews, which are what you really want.  You don’t want to bother them with that process, so you figure you’ll publish their reviews for them.  They’re the same words, so what’s the problem?
Why it’s a mistake:

  • Either you have to impersonate your customers/clients/patients, or you have to say in your review that you’re posting on their behalf. “Bad optics,” as they say in Washington.  You raise more questions than you answer.
  • The reviews you post are more likely to get filtered.
  • What if those people see “their” reviews and say you never had permission to post their review?

Offering incentives.

You offer a gift card, or free service next time, or a discount, or enter customers into a raffle.  People are so busy, and they won’t bother to review you unless you grease the skids, right?
Why it’s a mistake:

  • Even if it works, you’ll get unimpressive, bare-minimum reviews from customers who just want free stuff.
  • It’s illegal or legally questionable.
  • You may have hell to pay if you’re a doctor or a lawyer.
  • It’s against most review sites’ policies.
  • It will offend some people, who would have been perfectly willing to write you a good review if you didn’t imply that you can just buy their praise.
  • The person you’re trying to get a review from may not believe your reviews anymore.
  • Armed with that knowledge, there will be murder in your competitors’ eyes.

Having marketers or so-called SEOs review you.

Hey, you pay them good money, and their job is to help you make rain, and reviews can help with that, so what’s the harm?  You’ll even do some work for them so they’re technically your “customer.”
Why it’s a mistake:

  • They’re usually poor writers. (Especially the SEOs.)
  • Either they disclose the relationship or they write a Jell-O review with no specifics.
  • There’s a good chance your competitors know the name and face, because the marketer may have tried to pitch them on working together. It’ll be an SEO soap opera full of “Before there was us” and “But I thought you knew” and “How could you!”  Probably won’t end well.
  • It’s illegal or legally questionable.
  • It’s against most review sites’ policies.

Swapping reviews.

You refer people to Fred.  Fred refers people to you.  You won’t pretend to be each other’s clients, but Fred can tell the world what you’re made of, and you’ll do the same for him.
Why it’s a mistake:

  • Either your reviews are mutually useless, or both of you have to lie through your teeth.
  • It looks shady.
  • You hitch a little piece of your reputation to someone else, whom you can’t control.

Including a gag clause to prevent negative reviews.

Maybe you’ve had crazy people take a hatchet to you in online reviews in the past, and you don’t need more of that right now.  If they have a problem, they can take it up with you and you can probably, but they can’t malign you publicly or you’ll sue them into the Stone Age.
Why it’s a mistake:

  • You know how they say “love will find a way”? Well, rage will also find a way.  Angry customers will find a way to get the word out – about the original issue, and about your effort to silence them.  (See “Streisand effect.”)
  • Your reviews will look too good to be true. Some people will question their authenticity.
  • Your competitors will cause you all sorts of misery if they find out.
  • You miss out on the benefit of letting would-be customers see how you handle problems. As Matt McGee says, we don’t live in a 5-star world.  If you get a bad (or even illegitimate) review and respond to it in a classy way, you look good.  Perhaps even better than if you had no reputation warts.  People love a comeback.

Buying reviews.

Happy customers don’t want to speak up.  The crooked competitors do it, and they’re making off like bandits.  Google and Yelp don’t filter their reviews, but seem to filter all your good ones.  It’s not fair.  You wish you could think of another way, and you want to get more real reviews eventually, but you’re losing money, so what else can you do?
Why it’s a mistake:

  • The reviews will range from mush to gibberish to lies.
  • It’s against Google’s and Yelp’s and other sites’ rules.

  • Real customers may call you out.
  • Competitors will call you out.
  • It’s lazy.
  • It’s illegal.
  • It looks shady.
  • It is shady.
  • It’s a missed opportunity to get to know your customers better.

 

Gee, thanks, Mr. Killjoy.  Sounds like I can’t do much of anything.  How SHOULD I get reviews?

Read these posts and apply the suggestions:

How to Execute the Perfect Local Reviews Strategy

Principles For A Review Plan: Considerations in Encouraging Customer Reviews

60+ Questions to Troubleshoot and Fix Your Local Reviews Strategy

How to Remove Fake Google Reviews

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

Is there a “reviews hack” you’re considering?

Can you think of any other counterproductive shortcuts?

Have you tried an approach that didn’t help you get reviews the way you thought it would?

Leave a comment!

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!

Should You Copy and Paste Your Online Reviews onto Your Site?

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You worked your tail off to get those reviews – on Google or Yelp or Facebook or another site – and want visitors to your site to see them.  But you might have refrained from putting them on your site, because of one fear or another.

I was gun-shy about it for several years, too, but have copied and pasted reviews on clients’ sites and even on my site, and have seen others do it without issues.  I’ve found that copying and pasting your online reviews is not only fine, but also smart to do.  (More on that in a second.)

By the way, I draw a distinction between online reviews – which customers write on sites like Google or Yelp – and testimonials, which only appear on your site.  Unless you’re in some super-regulated industry (like financial planning), there’s little or no debate as to whether it’s OK to put testimonials on your site – even though everyone knows you can cherry-pick and edit them.  (In my opinion, they can still be of value if you use them correctly.)

Anyway, back to whether you should showcase your online reviews on your site.  I say you should, for the following reasons:

1. They won’t get filtered because you copied and pasted them. I’ve tested that with Google reviews.  I’ve also tested it with Yelp reviews and reviews on other sites.  The reviews don’t get filtered.  You might get your reviews filtered for other reasons – like asking too many customers at once – but not because you put them on your site.

2.  I have never seen an issue with duplicate content: a page with third-party reviews not ranking well after reviews are added, or the wrong page ranking in the search results, etc. Now, your page with your review probably won’t outrank the review site with your review, because (for one thing) the review site probably has a bit more link juice than yours does.  But that’s got nothing to do with the review.

3.  The review sites seem fine with it. Google – ever the killjoy – doesn’t have a rule against showcasing your reviews.  Yelp has stated clearly that reusing your reviews is OK, as long as you attribute the review clearly.  I’ve never seen less-strict, more-hands-off review sites discourage it, either.

4.  Those reviews are relevant content you don’t have to write. They’ve naturally got “keywords,” and they may be “local” – especially if you cite where your reviewers are from.

5.  You’re letting other people talk about how great you are. That’s more compelling to would-be customers.  By the way, those reviews on your site don’t have to come across as cherry-picked.  You should link to the review site they’re from, and encourage visitors to Google your name and check out your reviews for themselves.

6.  You’re saving the text of the reviews. If they ever disappear for whatever reason, at least they won’t disappear for good.  You’ll have them on your site.

7.  More potential customers will see your reviews. You can’t assume everyone will see your reviews in the search results.

8.  It can condition customers to write reviews. Having great reviews on and off your site is how you’ll get customers to pick you specifically because of your reviews.  Later, after you’ve made them happy, they’re less likely to be surprised if you ask them for a review – and more likely to say yes and to follow through by writing you a good review.

A few notes:

You can excerpt your reviews, if you don’t want to copy and paste them in full.

You don’t need to take screenshots of your reviews.  As I’ve described, copying and pasting the text – which Google can crawl, of course – is not a problem, and having the text be crawlable by Google is half the reason you’d do it in the first place.

You shouldn’t mark up your third-party online reviews with Schema.org.  You should do that only for testimonials that appear exclusively on your site.

You can use review widgets or badges, too.

What’s your approach to using your online reviews?

Any reasons to do it – or not to do it – that I missed?

Leave a comment!

One-Time Work vs. Ongoing Work in Local SEO

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The nature of your work on a local SEO campaign should change over time, or you’re doing it wrong.  How you’ll make progress in week 3 differs from how you’ll make progress in year 3.

You’ll do fine if you know which steps can only help you once, versus which steps can help you for as long as you work on them.  More on those in a minute.

On the other hand, your local rankings will take a dirt nap if you never do more than the one-time work.  Steps like “optimizing your website” and building and correcting your local listings can deliver impressive results – once, at most.

If that yeoman’s work is what you think local SEO amounts to, you’ll wonder why you made such fast progress and then hit a wall.  You’ll figure you just need to do more of what gave you that initial bump, so you’ll tinker with your site and build 300 citations – and still won’t see results.  You’ll conclude local SEO “doesn’t work,” throw up your hands, and watch your competitors roll by.

I blame local SEO companies (or at least some of them).  They want their SEO packages to look good on paper, to be easy to charge for, to be easy to delegate to people who can work for cheap, and not to require clients’ personal involvement (beyond writing the check) so they avoid bottlenecks and can bill until the end of time.  That’s the charitable view, by the way.

You’ll get better results if you divide the work into one-time tasks and continuous tasks.  Here’s how I like to classify each of the main steps.

One-time, foundational work:

  • Create or claim your Google My Business page
  • Create listings on the “local” sites that matter (AKA citation-building)
  • Correct and de-dupe your listings (AKA citation cleanup)
  • Fill out incomplete listings (specify your hours, categories, etc.)
  • Make technical fixes to your site
  • Do basic optimization: title tags, NAP info on every page, a page for each service, etc.
  • Create a page for each specific service and/or product you offer

Ongoing work you should NEVER stop doing:

  • Continue to do whatever else got you your best links so far
  • Research new link opportunities
  • Get those links
  • Ask for reviews on a variety of sites
  • Mine your reviews
  • Re-audit your site for new problems
  • Add more helpful content to existing pages
  • Create a new page any time you’ve got a new offering
  • Update your listings any time your basic business info changes
  • Continue your blogging or other content-creation efforts IF you know them to be effective (if they’re not effective, get help)
  • Continue any non-Google, preferably offline marketing you do
  • Keep learning about local search, SEO, and other areas of online marketing

By the way, I haven’t laid out each step sequentially.  The order varies from to case.  In general, the one-time steps you do in the early parts of your local SEO effort.  But sometimes they drag on later than you’d like them to, or you have to revisit them for one reason or another.  Also, the ongoing steps you should start as early as possible, partly because it takes time to pile up good links and reviews and to reap the benefits.

As long as you don’t fall into busywork, don’t obsess over things that are good enough (e.g. citations), and do work on hard things that your lazy competitors won’t bother with (namely earning links and reviews), you’ll continue to climb.  If you plan to get outside help, don’t hire a local SEO just to help on your listings and website.

Are you working on tasks where you think you might have hit the point of diminishing return?

Any ongoing steps I forgot?

Leave a comment!

If Nobody in Your Area Cares about Yelp, Should You Still Bother Getting Reviews There?

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“My customers don’t care about Yelp.  Nobody around here cares about Yelp.  Why should I even try to get reviews there?”

That’s a valid concern of business owners in most of the US – and in most of the world.  Yelp, the Billion Dollar Bully, makes itself hard to avoid and even harder to like.  The site is only powerful because of all the reviews.  They’re its lifeblood.  So why on earth would you want to ask your hard-earned customers to review you there – when they probably don’t value it any more than you do?

A few reasons to hold your nose and work to get at least a few good reviews on Yelp:

1. Even people who don’t give a rip about Yelp still see your average rating in the search results when they Google you by name. They can tell that it’s a review site, even though they may not care that the review site is Yelp.  If nothing else, it’s a voice in the chorus.

2.  Yelp feeds reviews to Apple Maps, Bing Places, and Yahoo Local. So if you have a 1-star or a 5-star average on Yelp, that’s what people who check out your listings on those 3 local search engines will see.

3.  It’s worth having a couple positive reviews on Yelp just in case someone does a hatchet job on you there. It’s a defensive move, at the very least.  The time to start trying to get good reviews is not when you’re in a hole.

4.  Even though most people in the great State of _____ have the good sense not to care much about Yelp, some small segment of the population may pay attention to it. Throw them a bone.

5.  Maybe Yelp will broaden its appeal one day.

6.  It’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. Yelp doesn’t need to become your main squeeze, or a major time-commitment.  The goal is to get at least a couple good reviews on the board.

7.  It’s great practice for you, in the name of getting dialed-in on your review strategy. You’ll get a little better at knowing whom to ask, when to ask, how to ask, etc.  If it proves too tough to get a given customer to review you on Yelp, ask him or her to review you somewhere else instead.

How to get at least a few reviews on Yelp?  These posts may help:

How to Bulk-Identify Prime Yelp Reviewers with Yelp’s “Find Friends” Feature in 7 Easy Steps – me

20+ Depressing Observations about Yelp Reviews – me

8 Reasons Why Your Business Should Use Yelp’s Check-In Offers – Joy Hawkins

3 Next-Level Yelp Tricks for Business Owners – Brian Patterson

Do people in your area give a hoot about Yelp?  How do you approach it?

Leave a comment!

P.S.  Thanks to Lisa Moon of Paper Moon Painting for asking me a thought-provoking question last year that made me want to write about this.

How Much Do You Know about Local Reviews? Take This Quiz

Like it or not, your business hinges on your reputation (or soon will).  Your online reviews are an ever-growing part of your reputation – and sometimes they’re one and the same.  But getting happy customers / clients / patients to speak up is hard.

There’s much more to it than just, “Run a good business and ask your customers.”  Those two things are essential, but they’ll only get you so far.  Whether your review strategy is pretty good or phenomenal depends on how well you know details, particularly the ins and outs of each review site that matters.

Even if you’ve done OK on reviews so far, you probably want to do even better.

Even if your business has done well so far with few or no reviews, you’ll need good reviews to bump it up a level.  Also, you don’t want to wait until you’re in a hole with negative reviews to get serious about getting the happy people to speak up.

Do you have what it takes to start racking up the reviews? My 20-question quiz will tell you.

It’s tough, but doable.  It’s not trivia or history quiz.  All the questions focus on the real-life challenges you face as a business owner who works hard to win customers, works even harder to do a good job for them, and just wants more of them to speak up online. (It’s also relevant if you’re an SEO or other marketer and want to help your clients on reviews.)

Good luck!

What’s your score?

Any questions?  (Please don’t give away the answers.)

Leave a comment!

P.S.  Special thanks to Darren Shaw for his great feedback on the questions and answers.

Yelp Now Showing Review Summaries on Business Pages

If your business has more than about 10 Yelp reviews, Yelp now will try to summarize them in 2-3 sentence-long blurbs at the top of your page.

This appears to be new.  At least for Yelp.  Google’s been showing the same kinds of summaries for over 2 1/2 years.

Unlike with Google’s review-sentiment summaries, Yelp lets you see at least some of how the sausage is made.  If a specific keyword appears often enough in the (unfiltered) reviews, it will probably end up in a sentiment snippet.

Click on one of the blue hyperlinked keywords and you’ll see where in the reviews Yelp grabbed that word.  Similarly if you click on one of the gray “# reviews” links; Yelp will show you which specific reviews it bred together to beget the review-sentiment  lovechild.

Keywords in reviews have always seemed (in my experience) to help your local SEO in indirect ways.  They affect your reputation – or at least the “first impression” – in obvious ways.  Add another way.

I’m guessing Yelp rolled out these summaries as a way to make large bodies of reviews easier to digest for users of the mobile app.  In theory it may also be of minor use when you’re looking at a business with hundreds of reviews, though in a case like that I doubt Yelp’s summaries will satisfy most people.

I’m sure there’s also a monetization scheme stuck to the bottom of the other shoe.

When did you start noticing Yelp’s review summaries?

Why do you think they’re doing it?

Good thing or bad thing

Leave a comment!

Review Strategy for Enterprise Local SEO: How Big Brands Can Survive the Reviews Revolution

Last week I spoke at the Brandify Summit in LA.  Great event and great audience – full of people who run the local SEO for big companies (e.g. Wal-Mart, Disney, Walgreen’s).

I talked about how most big companies are awful at encouraging reviews, and how they can learn from the smartest small-to-medium businesses.  You can benefit from my review-strategy suggestions no matter how big or small your business is.  Here’s my slide deck:

Be sure to check out the further reading in my second-to-last slide (#47).

By the way, if you found that useful, you’ll love this post.

Any questions?

Any slides that weren’t clear?

Favorite strategy suggestions?

Leave a comment!

Local SEO without the Local Map: What Is It?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jg_photo_art/5142967906/

Google is still in the early stages of injecting ads into the Google Maps 3-pack.  Google never met an ad it didn’t like, so the only question is when (not if) the map pack will become Times Square.

The thought of a pay-to-play local map scares the bejeezus out of many local business owners and local SEOs.

Will you lose your seat at the Local Feast to a big dumb corporation that can shovel more money into AdWords than you can?   Or, if helping people with local SEO is your business – and you don’t do PPC – will you be lying in chalk?

No and no.  Not if you apply a strategy (more on that in a second) that’s based on a few truths:

1. As long as there are local customers, local businesses, and the Web, there will always be local SEO. It’ll just continue to morph over time, as it always has.

2. Your “Google Maps” visibility has a huge amount of overlap with other areas of online marketing – particularly with your organic-search visibility (read: your links and content) and with how good you are at earning reviews on a variety of sites.

3. The local map is not the holy grail. Keep in mind that I make a living in large part by helping businesses get visible there, so I’m the last guy to say it’s not important.  But I’ve seen people dominate the local pack and not get any new business.  Also, Google can always mess it up (even more), lose the trust of searchers, and reduce the potential payoff.  If your one source of leads is your Google local-pack rankings, you are mooning a lion.

4. Local SEO is not just about rankings (duh). When you need something, do you automatically hire whomever ranks #1?  Neither do most people.  Local searchers are not a captive audience.  Most of them will dig until they find a business they trust.  Visibility in Google is only one part of becoming that business.

Fine, but what do you do if Google’s local map becomes prohibitively expensive, or worthless, or disappears entirely?  What’s left?  Is it Van Halen without David Lee Roth?

Local SEO wouldn’t be lessened, or even all that different.  If we write off the map results, your local SEO campaign becomes a combination of your work on the following:

  • Branded search results.  When people look up your business by name, can they immediately tell your site belongs to you and not to a sound-alike competitor?  Are they impressed by your customers’ reviews of you on all the review sites that show up on page 1 for your name?  Have you received any local press?  Are you listed on niche sites?

  • Organic visibility.  It’s usually the business with the best organic visibility that ends up ranking best on the local map.  Often, that comes down to strength of your links.  But you may also want to write blog posts on extremely specific topics in your industry or city, or create good “location” or “city” pages, or both.  Arguably even now you’re not necessarily better off if you rank well in the local pack but not in the organic results; they’re neck-and-neck.  But if the local pack becomes a total trash heap, your organic visibility pays off even more, because people will go back to looking there for all non-ads search results – just as they did before Google Places came onto the scene.
  • Barnacle SEO.  Getting your Yelp, Facebook, YouTube, or other non-company-website, non-Google online properties to rank for “local” keywords can help you haul in more leads, even when your other rankings aren’t so good.
  • Facebook.  It’s slowly waded about shin-deep into the local pond, but there’s no reason to think the shirt isn’t coming off.  It’s only getting more important, and there any many ways to use it to get more local customers.
  • Other local search engines: Apple Maps and Bing Places and Yahoo.
  • Local directories or review sites. Not the rinky-dink ones, but rather places like Yelp, Angie’s List, and maybe even nasty old YellowPages.
  • Industry-specific directories or review sites. Zillow, Avvo, HealthGrades, TripAdvisor, DealerRater, etc.  Those are the big names, but even small niches have directories, and you should pay attention to them.
  • Sites and apps not yet created. Local search in general has gotten bigger over the years, not smaller.  It’s become more of a part of everyone’s life, and will continue in that direction.

If Google’s local map results change significantly or go away, it’s not the beginning of the end, but maybe just the end of the beginning.

Now, I would be surprised if the local map ever becomes 100% pay-to-play, and I’m certain that it won’t change to that overnight.

But you still want a bunker plan.  That means you need to stock up the bunker with MREs and batteries and road flares and ninja throwing stars and whatever else before all hell breaks loose.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/13476480@N07/16671969110/

That’s why, even if the local map-pack remains free and a meritocracy at least in theory, I suggest you work on the things I just described no matter what.

What are some important non-Google-Maps aspects of local SEO?

What’s in your “bunker plan,” in case the local map gets too pay-to-play?

Leave a comment!