Can Google Index the Content of Embedded Yelp Reviews?

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Can Google?  Yes.  Will Google always index the content in Yelp reviews?  Jury’s out.

Google can access the content in Yelp reviews you embed on your site (via Yelp’s embed feature), despite the fact that those Yelp reviews are in iframes.

Here’s an example:

On those two pages the only content with that phrase is in an embedded Yelp review.  (And that’s always been the case on those pages.)

Because Google has gotten better at rendering  iframe conent and Javascript in recent years, maybe it’s inevitable Google indexes more of that content than it used to (or was able to).

On the other hand, on the pages I cited a minute ago, much of the content is in Yelp reviews.  Proportionally, their content is pretty Yelp-heavy.  The pages I looked at where Google doesn’t seem to have indexed the Yelp content also have proportionally more non-Yelp-review content.  That suggests there’s some truth to John Mueller’s characteristically brief and clear answer that, in effect, Google is more likely to index iframe content (like embedded Yelp reviews) when that content makes up a large chunk of the page.

Why does any of that matter to your local SEO?

For one thing, copying and pasting your customers’ Yelp reviews onto your site long has been the best way to ensure that Google can access that relevant content (that you didn’t have to write!).  But copying and pasting is a hassle if you want the reviews to look good on your site, because you’ll have to style them a little.  Now, I’d say it’s not as much of a trade-off: you can use the embed feature to have your Yelp reviews look OK on your site, and still be confident that Google at least knows what’s in the reviews.

Another upshot is that you might lessen the problem of your Yelp page outranking your site for certain brand-name search terms.  Often Google seems split as to which one should rank higher: your site because presumably it’s the “home base” of your business, or your Yelp page because it’s got the juicy reviews on your business?  More often than not Google puts your site above your Yelp page, but not always.  If your Yelp page seems to be cannibalizing your site’s visibility, consider cannibalizing your Yelp reviews on your site by embedding them.  Might make your site a little stickier, too.

Anything I should test or look into?

What’s been your experience with embedding Yelp reviews?

Any benefits or drawbacks I didn’t mention?

Leave a comment!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

google.com/search?q=Premo+Electric

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

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

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

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

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

Leave a comment!

25 Hard Truths of Google Reviews

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ikewinski/7172214803/Google reviews can help your business for obvious reasons: They’re mighty visible in the Google Maps search results, and searchers pay attention to the reviews (and sometimes believe them).  The big problem is just as obvious: Google does an awful job of policing reviews, causing all sorts of mischief and mayhem.

You’d like more and better reviews than your competitors have.  But you’ll have a harder time accomplishing that if you know as little about Google reviews as they know.  It helps to know some “inside baseball.”

Here are some hard truths of Google reviews.  Some will be old news to you.  Others will be news.  Those will help you approach Google reviews with fewer blind spots.

1. Google exercises little oversight.  The sheriff is out of town.

 

2. Google doesn’t care whether a reviewer is a real customer, or about what happens to your business as a result of bogus reviews.  You, customers, and Google all care about Google reviews for different reasons.  For Google, reviews are a way to crowdsource info about local businesses and to keep searchers’ attention on Google’s local search results as they get larded with ads.

3. Reporting a bogus review just once doesn’t work.  Sometimes flagging it down multiple times over a period of weeks or months will work.  More often, you’ll need to go to greater lengths (and Google still may not remove the review).

4. Ratings-only reviews stick more than they should.  Ratings left by Google users who’ve only rated one business are especially stubborn, because Google can’t detect fishy patterns of behavior (like that a “customer” hired 10 moving companies in 6 different states in the span of a month).

5. Google filters policy-violating reviews rarely, and they’re tough to get removed manually (if you can get them removed at all).

6. You do not own and cannot control the Google Maps reviews of your business.  Google owns them, and Google controls them – for better or for worse.

7. Google fixates on quantity.  “Local Guides” are minted and promoted on the basis of how many reviews they’ve written.  Even if those reviews are bogus, unfair, unhelpful, or paid-for (or some combination thereof).

8. There’s a black market of people who want to buy Google reviews.  One way I know that is because probably twice a week some idiot emails me to ask how many reviews I can write for him.  (Yes, it’s almost always a he.)

9. You can’t control what’s in the review snippets – the ones you see in the right-hand sidebar (the knowledge panel), or the ones in the Google Maps 3-pack.  The best you can do is encourage happy customers to speak up, often and in large numbers.

10. Photos accompanying Google reviews are just as badly policed as the reviews are.  Photos never seem to get filtered automatically.  Often they’re not removed even once you report them.

11. Reviews don’t seem to drive rankings in the way you might think.  A pile of great Google reviews doesn’t  mean you’ll rank well.  You may get a little bump from getting a few reviews on the board, but after that it seems to be a question of how your reviews encourage more searchers to click on your listing and show other signs that suggest you’re a more-relevant search result than the next business is.  The rankings benefits of Google reviews seem to be indirect.

12. Pseudonyms and initials are OK, apparently.  Google suggests reviewers use their real names, but does nothing to enforce that.

13. Reviews can get filtered, unfiltered, and re-filtered multiple times.  A good review is never “safe.”  A review doesn’t go away if you close down your Google My Business page.

14. Unethical reviewers can keep coming back with new reviews, possibly under different names or in different Google accounts.  The worst Google will do – all they can do – is remove the reviews, and even that rarely happens without your prodding.

15. There’s no simple way to embed Google reviews on your site.  But I suspect Google will eventually offer a way, similar to Yelp’s.

16. Reviewers must use their own Google accounts.  Even it’s a hassle for them and for you.  They can’t log into an account you own and use a “pen name,” nor can you post reviews on their behalf.

17. Your “star rating” may not make sense.  If you have nine 5-star reviews and one 4-star review, your average rating may not be 4.9 stars.

18. Local Guides are not held to higher standards than are less-active Google reviewers.  Their reviews don’t have to be any truer or more helpful.

19. There’s no guarantee you can keep your reviews if your address changes much.  Google’s pretty good about letting you keep your reviews if you rebrand, or if you move to a new address that’s within the same town or within a few miles of the old address.  But Google reserves the right to nuke your reviews after a farther-away move.

20. There’s no penalty on businesses that buy reviews or engage in similar crookedness.  Yelp does it all wrong, and I don’t claim that for Google to do it fairly would be an easy matter.  The trouble is Google’s lack of oversight adds to a “why not?” outlook in some business owners.  Though that usually comes back to bite those business owners when enough customers discover the good reviews were fake, first too many customers find out the hard way that those businesses are no good.

21. The rules change, and the strictness of Google’s filter changes.  Google plays with the dials often.

22. Google reviews are near-impossible to avoid, and only become more visible over time.  That’s great if you’re dialed-in on Google reviews, but not if you’ve taken a drubbing.

23. Google reviews live in the search results.  No longer can people see your reviews on your Google My Business page, which itself is a Sea-Monkey floating in the fragile little tank we call Google Maps.

24. You can’t find much information about reviewers.  You (and would-be customers) can’t get any or many facts to determine which reviews are more credible.  You can’t even see where the reviewers are from.

25. Businesses in the 3-pack are not ranked strictly by their average ratings.  A 2-star business may outrank a 5-star.  Generally the higher-rated businesses outrank the lower-rated ones, but exceptions abound.  It’s complicated.

Can you think of any other “hard truths” of Google reviews?

Any good war stories?

Any silver linings?

Leave a comment!

Want to Smear a Multi-Location Business on Yelp? Just Regurgitate Your Review

https://www.flickr.com/photos/senor_codo/211565650/

Let’s say you had a bad experience at a local business with half a dozen locations, and you feel the need to review the business.  How many bad reviews do they deserve from you?

a. One bad review on one site. You’re one customer.  You had one poor experience.  You can’t remark on their other 5 locations, but don’t plan to visit them.  You’ll pick a site where people will probably see your review, you’ll say your piece, and that will be that.

b. A few bad reviews: one on each major review site. Normally you stick to one site, but your experience was so awful you feel you’d be a Bad Samaritan by not spreading the word.  Your 3-4 bad reviews should do the trick.  You know they’ve got 5 other locations you didn’t deal with, but you can’t comment on those, and 15-20 bad reviews from one customer seems crazy (and sounds like a lot of work for you).

c.Unlimited bad reviews: you’ll write a scathing review on as many sites as you feel like, and for every location they’ve got. Who cares that you didn’t deal with their 5 other locations?  The owners should have thought of that before mistreating you so.  No such thing as a bad review they didn’t earn!  If they had 100 locations you’d be justified in writing 100-200 bad reviews.

As a reasonable person, you’d probably pick A or B.  Choice C seems excessive.  It’s also less credible: Your criticism is more believable if it’s clear you’ve stuck to the locations you’ve dealt with.  Won’t seem as much like a personal crusade to destroy the business.

Yelp doesn’t care.  Apparently, any given customer can review as many locations of your business as he or she would like, as long as each review is at least a little different.  Just regurgitate n’ reuse.

To Yelp, if you’ve got 3 locations and 1 angry customer, that customer is entitled to 3 nasty reviews.

Recently, I reported a redundant Yelp review of one of my clients, a doctor with 2 practice locations.  He’s got solid reviews: mostly good reviews, with a few bad ones.  One patient wrote a review of his main office location, and that review seemed legitimate, but then she reviewed his other location.  Admittedly she didn’t even go there.  She said, in effect, “Check out all the bad reviews of the doctor’s main location.  As I said in my review of that one, he’s terrible because…blah blah blah.”

I’ve had some success in reporting unfair and non-compliant Yelp reviews, and getting them removed.  In the past, I’ve been able to get them to remove reviews that are exact copies: a customer writes a 1-star review of one location, and does a simple copy-and-paste for the other location(s).  Yelp has always removed carbon-copies.

Why should redundant, near-duplicate reviews be any different?  Why should customers be able to “spin” the same review and reuse it against you?

They shouldn’t be able to.  I don’t know how to explain why Yelp HQ thinks that (other than by pointing out the obvious: they’re idiots).

Yelp’s review-writing guidelines (like Google’s) appear deliberately broad, so as to allow for a “know it when we see it” judgment when one party flags a review for removal.  I suspect one reason Yelp doesn’t remove redundant, near-duplicate reviews is that Yelp doesn’t know which one is the “correct” review, and doesn’t care to make a call.  For a company with a motto of “Real People, Real Reviews,” Yelp never has paid much attention to basic facts of the reviewer-business relationship, like whether the reviewer has had experience with 12 locations or 1 location or 0 locations of a business.

The other reason, I suspect, is that if Yelp lets fly more bad reviews than they should, business owners are more likely to feel the pinch and try Yelp’s advertising out of desperation.  Just a guess.

Anyway, besides reporting redundant reviews from the same customer, what should you do?  Fill out this somewhat-buried form.  Explain that you don’t dispute the reviewer’s right to review one of your locations – just not all of your locations.  Highlight any language that makes it clear the customer didn’t deal with those other locations.  Your request may still be ignored, but it’s a stone to turn over.

Also, get dialed-in on your review strategy before this kind of thing happens.

Any experience in getting redundant Yelp reviews removed?

How about getting other types of Yelp reviews removed?

No need to tell me how much you hate Yelp in general, but please do leave a comment on your experience with reporting reviews.

The High Cost of Thinking Your Local Search Visibility Is Free

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The name’s a shameless rip-off of Wil Reynolds’s excellent presentation on “The High Cost of Free Traffic.”  One reason I’ve got no shame is that that describes the situation perfectly: Although technically your business’s visibility in Google Maps and the rest of local search is free, you run into trouble once you start treating it as you would other “free” stuff.

Business owners and their marketers often mess up and overlook enough things even when they pay $20 a click (as in AdWords) for their traffic.  Their strategies get even more ragged when they don’t have to pay for visibility in the local search results, and are confident they won’t need to any time soon.

“Free” gives you a sense of relief.  You don’t think much about how you use your water if all you have to do is dip your cup in the creek.  That’s fine as long as it’s not winter or there’s a cattle drive upstream.

What’s the “high cost” of free traffic (the one I named this post after)?  It’s not one specific high price you pay, but rather a long list of missed-opportunity costs.  They’re problems you’ll face, time you’ll waste, or wins you won’t seize.

They’re what happens when you assume “free” rankings and traffic are permanent, or unlimited, or guaranteed, or something you’re entitled to, or always easy to get more of, or always what you need more of.

Cost 1: Trying to farm out all parts of your local SEO strategy.

(Or, even worse, trying to farm out all of your marketing.)

Some parts of local SEO require a decision-maker’s personal involvement.  Doing what it takes to earn good links and reviews are two examples of that.  Though third parties can help to one degree or another, they can’t do it well and without any of your involvement.  “Your one-stop, turnkey solution” is a marketing ploy.  The sooner you realize that, the sooner you’ll get visible in the local search results, and have it actually result in more business, and have it last.

Cost 2: Seeing if you can “just get your site to rank” without putting in any real effort.

If your primitive strategy of microsites / keyword-stuffing / cheap links / lousy “city” pages doesn’t work you’ve wasted time and are back to the drawing board.  Even if you’re fortunate enough to have your bare-minimum effort bring you good rankings, you’ll be one non-pushover competitor or one Google test or update away from Search Engine Siberia.

Especially when it’s early in your local SEO effort, either you need to specialize and carve out a niche, or put in a little work to differentiate yourself, or do both.

Cost 3: Only worrying about the “easy SEO wins” at first.

Isn’t it great if you can meet your goals with a minimum of effort?  Sure.  Shouldn’t you try to do that?  Yeah, probably.  But what if your quick no-brainers yield no results?  Then it’s a question of when you start putting in the hard work, and how long it takes to pay off.  Fixing up your title tags, wiggling a few keywords into the cracks, and cleaning up your local listings will only get you so far.

How long should you wait to see if your quick wins did the trick?  2 months?  6 months?  A year?  Damned if I know.  I say you start digging the well before you’re thirsty.  Start on the ongoing activities while you’re still working on the one-time stuff.

Cost 4: Using a site/CMS that makes changes difficult or slow to make.

Your Squarespace or Wix or Joomla or GoDaddy site is probably fine to keep if you can structure it correctly, create a homepage that doesn’t suck, make it more or less conducive to conversions, and do other basics.  It doesn’t need to be perfect.  It’s better to get a rough site out there early, and improve it later.  The problem is what happens if you can’t improve it later.  Because you consider your local search traffic “free,” you don’t feel it’s urgent to get a site you can work with.  You’ll let it molder until traffic dries up or something really breaks, or both.

Cost 5: Hiring hacky writers.

If you had to pay $20 for each click, would you send visitors to pages that don’t make it clear what you do, or pages that make it apparent you’re “too busy” to put any effort into your site yourself, or pages that make you look like you can’t string two sentences together?  No?  Well, doing that with “free” traffic is even worse.  At least if you pay $20 (or much more) for a click, you might eventually learn that more traffic often isn’t the answer.

With bad writing you have the online-marketing equivalent of BO.

Cost 6: Waiting too long to get serious about getting reviews.

You probably “just want to rank” first.  Once you have more customers, you’ll start encouraging reviews.  That’s backwards.  Good rankings without good reviews tend not to bring in much business.  On the other hand, good reviews will help you as soon as you start getting them, no matter how visible you are.  Go after them early.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/15016964@N02/5919180598/

Cost 7: Not replying to customers’ reviews, even when you don’t “have to.”

You probably don’t let negative reviews go unaddressed.  That’s usually wise.

What about the positive reviews?  Think of how hard you’ve worked to get however much visibility you’ve got, and to do a good enough job for customers that they wrote you those nice reviews.  Don’t you want that visibility and traffic to convert as many customers as possible, so you continue the upward spiral?  Sometimes replying to a positive review – even if only to say thanks – is a way to do that.  It shows you give a hoot, and that you still care about customers after they’ve paid you and reviewed you.

Cost 8: Assuming all your visitors saw your best reviews before visiting your site.

Given all the info Google shows IN the search results these days – especially when people search for your business by name – it’s smart to think of Google’s results as your second homepage.  To wow customers there with all your reviews is crucial, and you need to do it.  Those review sites sure are prominent.

But what if those people go even farther, and get to your site?  Those people are even deeper into your “conversion funnel,” and are this close to taking an action you want.  Don’t hold back now.   Even if they saw your “review stars” in the search results, they probably didn’t see reviews from specific customers.  If you had to pay for each click, you’d make sure your best reviews were front-and-center.  That’s smart even if you don’t pay for each click.

Splatter or sprinkle your reviews across your site.

Cost 9: Waiting too long to start earning links.

Yes, the one-time work on your site and on your listings is important.  You may see a bump from doing only that.  But sooner or later you’ll hit a plateau.  At that point you can’t just “optimize” your site more, or crank out more citations, and expect to get unstuck.  And don’t think an SEO person has some fancy maneuver for your site that will do it.  You’ll go round and round on tweaking or overhauling your site, to no effect.  7 SEO “experts” and many dollars later, you’ll realize you missed a big piece of the puzzle.  You could have spent a fraction of that time on effort on trying to earn good links, and you could have seen results sooner.  Slow process?  Sure, but not as slow as the alternatives.

Here are some relatively easy link ideas, just to get the juices flowing.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ifl/3877530270/

Cost 10: Fixating on ranking across your entire service area.

You want to rank in 25 more towns.  That’s a fine goal.  So you must be pretty visible in your town already, right?  If not, start there and branch out only when you’ve had some success.  Now, it may or not be possible to rank in all (or half) of the places you want to reach.  It depends on many factors, including whether you’re trying to rank in the local organic results (doable) or in the Maps results (less realistic).  I’m not even saying you should trim back your goals.  I’m saying only that you should do what it takes to build up a little visibility in the place where it’s most likely you can do so, before you try to go farther afield.

Cost 11: Creating lots of awful “city pages.”

If you won’t take the time to do them right, at least don’t spend too much time on doing them wrong.  Make 5 worthless pages rather than 50 worthless pages.  That way, you can return that much sooner to whatever you were doing that was so much more important than putting a little thought into your city pages, so that they might rank and convert.

Cost 12: Never using AdWords to learn about would-be customers or to sniff out markets.

Too many business owners think, “Why on earth should I pay for traffic when I can get it for free?”  Well, for one thing, because it’s the only practical way to sniff out people’s level of interest in specific services in specific cities/areas where you don’t rank.

Google Analytics only tells you about the traffic you already get, and nothing about the traffic you might be able to get.  Set up a quick-n’-dirty AdWords campaign, keep it on a short budgetary leash, let it run for a couple weeks, and mine the stuffing out of the “Dimensions” tab.  I know of no better way to research keywords, to get a sense of how well traffic converts for those keywords, and to find out exactly which cities/towns those searchers search from.

If you think of pay-per-click as a way to buy data (and not necessarily to get customers, at least at first) you probably couldn’t get anywhere else, you can put new vim and vigor into your local SEO effort.

Cost 13: Assuming that because your local visibility is “free” it’s also unlimited.

That may be the costliest cost of all, for many reasons.

You can always lose visibility.

You won’t have a monopoly while you have it.

Just because you got some visibility easily doesn’t mean you can get more with similar ease.

You don’t know who will become your competitor next.

Google likes to test just about all aspects of the search results.

Google likes to change policies in all areas of search.

Google likes to stuff the free search results with paid search results.

You don’t even own your local listings.  The only online thing you own is your site, and everything else is rented land.

It’s for those reasons and many others that you do not want to grow complacent.

Why do the signs at parks and nature reserves tell you not to feed the animals?

Because if you feed them and other people feed them, they’ll get conditioned to freebies, and not be as able to hunt and forage.  (Also, the tripe most people eat isn’t necessarily good for a growing critter.)

https://www.flickr.com/photos/84744710@N06/14766013011/

If you’re an animal, it’s fine to catch as catch can, but you probably want to be able to feed yourself if the hands with free food ever go away.  The same is true of business owners.  Don’t be a Central Park pigeon.

What’s a missed-opportunity cost I missed?

Any cautionary tales?

Leave a comment!

Why Your Review-Encouragement Software Is a Meat Grinder

https://www.flickr.com/photos/andy_bernay-roman/3583900762/

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?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/myoplayer/7716993794/in/photolist-agJ3pc-6ooGDz-T6XH6-cKVBp9

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

https://www.flickr.com/photos/75012107@N05/15823736068/

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!