Real Names Not Needed for Google+ Reviews: Smart or Stupid Move?

 

Google no longer requires reviewers to use their real names when reviewing businesses on Google+.

This is a complete turnaround of the policy Google has had for the last few years.  It’s the latest step in Google’s long push to get more Plus users, mostly for data-mining purposes.

As you can tell from the comments on Google’s announcement, people are torn on whether this is good or bad.  There’s also a good discussion at Linda’s forum.

Is it good or bad to be able to leave an anonymous Google+ review?  Overall, I think it’s bad.  But I’d like to lay my thinking out piece by piece.

Here are what I see as the pros and cons:

Pros

1.  It makes it simpler to write reviews of people / businesses who offer sensitive services: divorce lawyers, bankruptcy lawyers, psychotherapists, exterminators, bakers of adult-themed cakes, etc.

Many other sites have allowed anonymous or semi-anonymous reviews; now Google’s one of them.  This is the main “pro” by far, in my opinion.

2.  Full-name reviews will gain value: They’ll be seen as more credible because, in general, they are.  Score one for the business owners who’ve already worked out a strategy for earning those reviews.

Cons

1.  Google is making life easier for spammers, scammers, and miscreants of all stripes.

2.  People will trust Google reviews less, for better or worse.

3.  Fake reviews will be harder to spot.

4.  It encourages one-time reviews.  Writing a review as “John Doe” makes sense when you’re reviewing (say) a divorce attorney.  Not so much if you’re reviewing a hotel.  With this change, Google is encouraging more reviews, but not more reviewers.

5.  Many people still don’t like Google+, and still won’t want to use it.  To the extent those people are your customers, Google’s new policy probably won’t change their minds.

6.  Business owners’ responses to anonymous reviews won’t be as helpful or specific, if they don’t know whom they’re even addressing.

7.  Does this mean reviewers’ profile pictures don’t have to be of them, either?

8.  The sentiment snippets showing in the knowledge graph will become even more of a problem.

Other considerations

Now Yelp looks like the only site that gives a hoot about quality-control.  Not that Yelp is particularly good about QC;  it’s just always been two steps ahead of Google.

I wouldn’t rule out another filter crackdown, once even Google determines there’s too much junk coming through.

Your thoughts?  Any pros or cons you’d add? Leave a comment!

16 Reasons to Get Reviews on a Diversity of Sites

Even business owners who are good about encouraging reviews often make a mistake: they steer would-be reviewers toward the same site.  Usually it’s Google+.  Sometimes it’s another site.

As in the gene pool and in one’s diet, variety is healthy.

Here are 16 reasons you should encourage customers to review you on different sites:

Reason 1:  You’ll keep your eggs in several baskets.  You don’t want all your reviews on Google+.  You really don’t want them all on Yelp.  And may the Big Guy Upstairs smile on you if you went heavy on Yahoo.

Reason 2:  The search results will look good when people search for you by name.  Google often shows off your reviews for you.

Reason 3:  It builds credibility.  Having reviews on a diversity of sites helps confirm that your 5-star reviews on one site aren’t a fluke (or a fabrication).

Reason 4:  It lets you offer customers choices of where to review you.  You want them to do what they find easiest.  That gives them more drive to review you – and fewer excuses not to.

Reason 5:  As a result of Reason #4: encouraging reviews on different sites lets you figure out which sites customers find easiest, which allows you to make the appropriate tweaks to your strategy.

Reason 6:  Diversity of reviews helps your Google Places rankings, in my experience.

Reason 7:  It’s the best way to rank well within those sites.

Reason 8:  It’s a great barnacle SEO technique.

Reason 9:  You might cultivate little streams of customers from those other sites.  Want to “Google-proof” your business?  Start here.

Reason 10:  It’s more raw online info about your business.  Some people will do homework on you.  Do what you can to make it worth their trouble.

Reason 11:  Customers / clients / customers can write reviews on the sites they consider private enough.

Reason 12:  You can learn more about your customers and where / how they found you in the first place.  You’ll probably see patterns.

Reason 13:  Some sites feed reviews to other sites – and search engines.

Reason 14:  To rank for city + service / product / business + reviews is pretty sweet.  (Example: “Monterey dentist reviews.”)

Reason 15:  You may be better able to track referral sources in Google Analytics.  (Useful in a “(not provided)” world.)

Reason 16:  Past / current and potential customers are a little more likely to write reviews of you if they see that’s what others do.  You’re in good shape if you create the impression, “Wow, everyone seems to review this place!”

Late addition – Reason 17:  Review sites themselves come and go and change over time.  See Dave’s great comment, below.

How best to diversify?  Totally depends on your current methods.  Try different printed, verbal, or email instructions.  You might also consider GetFiveStars or Grade.us or my 3-site review handouts.

Can you think of any more reasons to diversify?

How about arguments against mixing it up?

Leave a comment!

Local Reviews Strategy: Mobile vs. Desktop

One of my clients – we’ll call him Greg – asked me a great question the other day:

He wanted to know whether to gear his review-encouragement efforts toward smartphone users or toward desktop / laptop users.

I knew the ins and outs of his situation, and gave him a quick answer.  The essence of it was:

Focus on desktop reviewers if you have to “focus” on one, but encourage smartphone reviews to the extent customers find that easier.

That would be my general advice to you, even if I knew nothing about your situation.

But “mobile or desktop?” is a pregnant question.  Answering it gets complicated fast.

For one thing, the device you ask customers to use can affect your review efforts in big ways:

  1. It affects when you ask for reviews.  (Do you ask in-person, or by email, or both, or some other way?)
  1. It affects when customers can / will write the reviews (if they write them at all).
  1. It affects what you ask customers to do – it affects the kind of instructions you offer.

Why do those questions even matter?  Can’t you just say to everyone, “Hey, we’d sure appreciate a review” and still get reviews from customers?  Yes, and that can work OK.

But reviews are a numbers game.  You’ll get more of them if you can ask customers to do something that’s easy for them, and at a time that’s the most convenient for them.  Put a little thought into your approach and you might get 25 reviews for every 100 customers, rather than 3 for every 100.

Besides trial and error, the only way you’ll figure out which device(s) works better in your reviews campaign is to understand the pros and cons of each.

(By the way, I haven’t seen that one type of review inherently carries more “SEO benefit” than another.)

Pros of mobile reviews

  • If customers say “Yes, I’ll review you” on the spot, it’s easy to ask them to follow through on the spot.  They may even feel an obligation to do so.
  • Some younger customers might find it more appealing to write a review on their phones.
  • If you think some of your customers don’t own a full-sized computer at home, they’re probably used to doing everything on their phones – in which case writing a review for you is probably a cinch.
  • Pretty much everyone has the Google Maps app already.  (Which means all they need to write a review is a Google+ account.)

  • Google may be less likely to filter a review written on a smartphone.  (Thanks to Joy Hawkins for mentioning this  point in her comment, below.)
  • Pure speculation on my part: it’s possible that a review written through the Yelp app is less likely to be filtered.  (Did I mention I’m just speculating?)
  • Customers can check in at the same time.  That may make the review less likely to die in the filter.  And in Yelp that might give your rankings a slight bump.

Cons of mobile reviews

  • You pretty much need an app – one specific to the site.  Asking a customer on the spot to download and figure out how to use it may be a deal-killer.
  • You have to direct customers to one specific site (see above point).
  • Some sites where you might want reviews don’t have an app that makes it easy to write a review on a phone.  Avvo (for lawyers) is an example.  This can be a problem if your customers / clients / patients are concerned about privacy and you’re encouraging reviews on more-private sites.
  • It’s trickier for you to provide helpful instructions for customers who might need them.  (Although Darren’s mobile instructions for Google+ are kinda great.)
  • Customers probably won’t write much in the review.  Nobody’s going to consider a helpful review if it can fit in a fortune cookie.

  • Writing a review on a phone usually isn’t convenient at the moment you ask – and by the time your customers get home they’ll probably forget.
  • Some older customers may not have itchy phone fingers.

Pros of desktop / laptop reviews

  • Customers don’t have to download and use an app.  Assuming you know which specific site(s) you’ll be steering a given customer toward, your instructions can be one-size-fits-all.
  • Simple PDF instructions (like mine) work like a charm.
  • Customers are more likely to act on your email requests if they’re not on their phones.  It’s still easier to read emails on a full screen and to type with a keyboard.
  • Desktop / laptop may be easier for some older customers.

Cons of desktop / laptop reviews

  • Customers have to do it at home (or at work).  That may be several hours after you ask for a review.
  • It’s easier to get distracted.  Your request and their environment are at war for their attention.

  • A review can seem a little more like a chore.  Some people just find everything more enjoyable on their phones.

You should still get your sea legs with both devices.  Learn what kinds of requests work well and not so well.  Learn which sites bear the most fruit.

Wse the above points to try to create the easiest conditions for your customers from the start, and to troubleshoot and improve your process as you go.

Any pros / cons you’d add?  What’s worked well (and not so well) for you?

Leave a comment!

“Some of My Google+ Reviews Just Got Filtered. What Should I Ask My Customers to Do?”

One of my oldest clients asked me that question the other day.  He had dozens and dozens of Google+ Local reviews that he earned over the months.  3-4 of them got filtered after living happily on his page for several weeks.

He then asked, “Should I just ask customers to repost their reviews on Google+?”

I said, “Take it easy, Rambo.”

Then I suggested an action plan:

It’s true that Google’s filters aren’t as tough as they used to be, but they still do filter reviews (as we’ve seen).   If Google sees customers re-post the same reviews that got filtered, that looks weird.

It also looks weird if a customer isn’t a frequent reviewer on Google+, and posts one review, and that review gets filtered, and he/she posts another review of the same place.

Here’s all you can do: if those 3-4 reviewers have written reviews of other businesses besides yours, it’s probably OK to ask them to post another review on Google+, provided that they rewrite it rather than post the same thing.  But if your business is the only one they’ve reviewed, don’t ask them to review you on Google+ again.  Ask them to write a review elsewhere.

What do you suggest asking customers to do if they’re still willing to write a review after their first one gets filtered?  Leave a comment!

3 Nimble Moves for Local-Review Ninjas

It pains me to say this, but these review-encouragement ideas aren’t mine: Other people told me (or reminded me) about them recently.

We’ve walked step-by-step through what your strategy should be.  We’ve looked at which review sites you should focus on.  I’ve even breathed down your neck to keep you motivated.

But maybe you’ve got the basics covered and want some next-level ideas – ways to get more out of your current efforts to get reviews.  I’ve got 3 of those for you.

They’re “advanced,” but they’re not hard.  You can work them into your current strategy quickly and almost invisibly (without having to change your strategy).  That’s why I call them “ninja moves.”

Ninja Move 1: Feature your Google+ reviews in posts on your local page.

Darren mentioned the Blue Plate Diner in Edmonton in a recent comment, at which point I noticed the review they showcased in their “posts” stream.

This is a subtle way to encourage any customers who see your “posts” stream to write you a review.  But it’s more important as a way to broadcast your existing reviews a little more.

It’s also wise to showcase your reviews in your posts because anyone who clicks on the link to your Google+ page in the main search results will be taken straight to the “posts” tab of your page.

How do you feature a review in a post?

Assuming you’ve got the “upgraded” type of Google+ Local page, you first go to the “About” tab on your page and find a review you’d like to share.

Let’s use my poor, neglected local page as an example, and let’s look at the overly generous review by Angela Wright MBE.

If I were smart, I’d click the “share this review” arrow, and put the review in my “posts” stream.  That’s it.

Oh, and in the post you’ll want to thank your reviewer, as Blue Plate Diner wisely did.

 

Ninja Move 2: Hard-laminate any printed instructions you give to potential reviewers.

“But lamination is expensive.”

“I don’t have time.”

“I don’t have a laminator.”

“Why can’t I just email customers to ask for a review?”

“Get with the times, Phil.  If it’s not an app people don’t use it.”

Phooey.

Texas dentist Mike Freeman told me about this approach, and it’s brilliant.  Simply laminate whatever paper instructions you use to show your customers, clients, or patients how to leave you a review.

(Dr. Freeman ordered my battle-tested Google+ review handout, but you can laminate whatever instructions you like.)

You don’t need to laminate hundreds of copies of whatever instructions you use.  Try it with a few and see what happens.

The lamination accomplishes three things: (1) it makes the instructions hard to crumple up or fold up, (2) it makes them harder to lose in the sea of papers and bills on the kitchen table, and (3) it makes your request seem better-planned-out and more sincere.

It may be a professional touch, but it’s not expensive.  As Dr. Freeman told me:

“Laminators can be purchased on Amazon for roughly $30 and the plastic pouches cost about $20 for a pack of 100. A very low investment on what could potentially help a small business gain a lot of reviews.”

 

Ninja Move 3: Use Yelp’s “Find Friends” feature to identify active Yelpers.

This is another stick of Darren dynamite (see this and this).  As he, I, and others have written, the big factor that determines whether Yelp reviews get filtered is how active the reviewers are.  Anything written by a first-time reviewer probably won’t see the light of day.

So how do you find customers who at least already have Yelp accounts?  Log into your Yelp account and go to go the “Find Friends” area (https://www.yelp.com/find_friends/address_book).

This feature won’t help you much if you have no contact with your customers – by email or on Facebook.  But if you don’t have any means of reaching them, you’ve got bigger problems than reviews.

Yelp doesn’t want you even to ask for reviews.  I’m not alone when I say that’s a stupid rule, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles.  What you do with any “active” Yelper-customers is up to you.  This is just the best way to identify those people.

Have you tried any of the above?  How’s it worked out?

What are some “ninja” review moves that have worked for you?

Leave a comment!

Local Search Wisdom from SearchLove Boston 2014

Darren’s talk yesterday on How to Prioritize Your Local Search Work was the most practical I’ve seen.  It was a peak among peaks at Distilled’s SearchLove conference.

Local SEO is filled with hocus pocus.  Even when people do work on important stuff, they often neglect some of the basics.  That’s because their priorities aren’t clear.

Problem solved:

Darren’s not one to read off the slide deck.  It’s packed with nuggets, but his talk itself covered even more.  Here are a few things that wouldn’t come through on the slides:

 1.  All the good advice that didn’t make the cut because it wasn’t must-do stuff.  Darren wanted to talk even more about reviews – which he cited as the highest-payoff part of local SEO (and I agree with that).

2.  How highly he recommends GetFiveStars and Moz Local.

3.  Darren gave a nice shout-out to Yext – in the context of it being handy for enterprise-level SEO.

4.  The handy cheat-sheet – which is easy to miss (on slide 90 of 99).

5.  How many questions Darren got during the Q&A and during breaks.  Local search is a pain-point for so many business owners, marketers, and SEOs.

What did you take away from the slides?

What are your local SEO “priorities”?

Questions?

Leave a comment!

How to Execute the Perfect Local Reviews Strategy

Step 1.  Commit – or don’t.

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

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

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

 

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

Remove duplicate and incorrect listings along the way.

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

 

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

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

 

Step 4.  Make it easy to leave spontaneous reviews.

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

Put a gentle nudge on your invoices or receipts.

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

Enjoy the great reviews and happy customers.

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

How do they compare to the one I suggest?

Any questions or advice for me?  Leave a comment!

17 Sites That Allow Private or Anonymous Reviews of Local Businesses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Any current favorites?

Not sure which ones are worth pursuing?

Leave a comment!

Great Book: “Five Stars: Putting Online Reviews to Work for Your Business”

If you give a hoot about your business’s online reviews, you’ll want to pick up a copy of a great book that just came out today.  As the name suggests, Five Stars is all about reviews – particularly “local” reviews (Google+, Yelp, etc.).

Five Stars was written by Gradiva Couzin and Jennifer Grappone – the two super-sharp gals who wrote SEO: An Hour a Day.  They’re well-known SEOs and experienced marketers…and easy-to-follow writers.

It’s published by Wiley/Sybex – the same crew that brought you heavyweights like Avinash Kaushik’s books on Google Analytics and Brad Geddes’s Advanced Google AdWords.  Like those, Five Stars is a definitive field guide.

I can say from first-hand experience that Gradiva and Jen nailed the approach you need to take if you want more and better reviews: I was the technical editor for the book.  You might find a Phil fingerprint or two.

If you want actionable, doable suggestions for how to get more and better reviews, local visibility, and customers, this is the best few bucks you’ll invest all year:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1118689445

Do let me know how you like Five Stars (and how you like your reviews).

By the way, feel free to ask me any questions you might have, or to offer a suggestion on the book.  Just leave a comment!

Will Yelp Transplant Your Reviews?

Yelp reviews aren’t something you want to lose, if you can help it.  Under what circumstances can you get Yelp to move, transfer, or transplant your reviews from one business listing to another?

Darren Shaw and I were wondering about that the other day.  The answer wasn’t in Yelp’s FAQ (or anywhere else), either.  So I contacted Yelp to ask:

Can a business owner (or anyone else) request for Yelp reviews to be moved / transferred to another listing?  And if so, under what circumstances might Yelp be able to move the reviews?

The scenario I’m thinking of is if a business has two duplicate listings on Yelp and each one has 5 reviews.  It would be a shame to lose those 5 reviews, so can the business owner get the reviews on Listing A transferred to Listing B – if they’re truly for the same business and location?

-Phil

Stella from Yelp HQ replied:

If there happen to be duplicate listings of the same business, whether there are reviews on each listing or not, our team will merge the listings and all content will be combined. So, if there were 5 reviews in each listing before, once merged, the new, single listing would then have 10 reviews.

-Stella

So getting your reviews transferred sounds like a pretty hands-free process on the part of you, the business owner – if and when Yelp finds listings.  But I’ve seen duplicates and near-duplicates stick around on Yelp for a year-plus, so Yelp’s finding the rogue listings spontaneously might be a big “if.”

My suggestion: if your reviews are being spread thin by duplicate or near-duplicate listings, don’t just wait around for Yelp to discover and merge the listings.  Report those listings sooner rather than later.