Why Send Good Customers to Crappy Review Sites?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/kim_scarborough/687997996/

Isn’t that a huge waste?

Think of how hard you worked to learn your craft, start your business, stay in business, get customers, and do a great job for them and earn those positive reviews.

That’s why it’s stupid not to ask for online reviews.  That’s even stupider than Stone Cold.  You’re missing half the payoff.

But isn’t it equally dumb to get reviews on sites most people ignore?  When there are Big Boys like Google, Facebook, and Yelp, why on earth would you ask a happy customer to go to a YellowPages or a SuperPages or a CitySearch to write a review?

Well, there are some reasons you shouldn’t overlook the smaller, less-prominent, less-glamorous review sites.  You should work them into your larger review strategy.  Here’s why:

1. They corroborate your reviews on sites where it’s harder to get reviews. Let’s say you’re killing it on Google, but you look like a one-hit wonder because you’re not doing as well on Yelp.  Getting reviews on other sites that rank well when you search for your business by name will make the Google reviews look less like flukes, and may make the bad Yelp reviews look more like the whiny exceptions.

2.  You’ll get more review stars showing up when potential customers search for you by name. Even if they don’t click through to your YellowPages listing (for example), good reviews there add to the overall effect of, “Hey, these guys have consistently solid reviews.”

3.  They’re easy backup options, for customers who don’t want to bother with Yelp or Google. Many sites even allow reviewers to log in with Facebook, rather than create a separate account just to review you on a given site.  Also, Yelp and Google are the only sites that really filter reviews (Yelp much more so than Google).  You don’t want to send everyone into the meat grinder.

4.  You can repurpose those “easy” reviews as testimonials on your site. That is OK, even on Yelp.  They won’t get filtered.

5.  You can include badges on your site that link to your reviews on the overlooked review sites.

6.  You’re more likely to rank well in those sites, which themselves often rank well in Google for relevant keywords. You might cultivate a little stream of non-Google referral traffic.

7.  You can always ask if they’ll post the same review on another, slightly more difficult site – like Google – where you’d like more reviews. I mean, they’ve already written the thing.  It’s the online-reviews equivalent of an upsell.

8.  There’s a small chance that reviews on “easy” sites help your Google rankings. I don’t know one way or the other (and neither do you), so please take that comment with a grain of salt.  I’m simply saying it’s possible.  Stranger things have happened.

9.  Those sites may become more important in the future.

10.  Sometimes the alternative is to get no reviews at all.

11.  Some customers might actually care about reviews on CitySearch or DexKnows or MerchantCircle.

12.  As Aaron Weiche of GetFiveStars pointed out, you’ll want to create the maximum “wow” effect when customers search for the name of your business + “reviews.” For that matter, even the overlooked sites often rank well when customers search for a specific keyword + “reviews.” It’s just smart barnacle SEO.

Do you agree it’s worth peeling off at least a few customers to review you on sites other than the Big Boys?

What’s your favorite under-appreciated review site?

Why do you like it?

Leave a comment!

Yelp Elite Saga Ends in Blaze of Glory

After 3 years as an “Elite” Yelper, I get this email out of the blue:

I’m only surprised by how long it took them to wisen up.  My Yelping was an experiment from the very beginning.  Also, since my profile has had a link to my site from day one.

Of course, their “conflict of interest” concern is ridiculous in my case. An unethical business owner wouldn’t need to be “Elite” to sabotage his or her competitors’ reputations. And if being “Elite” makes them better able to do so, I’ve laid out the rhyme and reason to that program. Unethical business owners could easily do it, and Yelp’s either unable or unwilling to stop them.

Which one of my deep crawls into Yelp’s rotting guts got their attention?

Yelp Elite for 3 Years with Only 66 Reviews: How?

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

New Spammy Emails from Yelp to Business Owners

20+ Depressing Observations about Yelp Reviews

Can You Repurpose Customers’ Yelp Reviews on Your Website? An Answer from Yelp HQ

Yelp Monetizes the Description?

Yelp Ranking Factors

(Yes, there are even more.)

I’ll keep reviewing businesses from time to time.  I’ll also continue to use Yelp as my little laboratory, and share with you everything I discover about how the sausage is made.

In the meantime, let us join in a glorious death-scream.

What are some questions you’d like me to explore next, as part of the ongoing “Yelp experiment”?  Leave a comment!

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

https://www.flickr.com/photos/digislides/6066906966/

You may know about Yelp’s “Find Friends” feature, which allows you to see whether specific customers (or other people) have joined Yelp.  This is a great way to encourage customers to write you a review, in a non-pushy way.

You may even know there’s a way to look up customers en masse.  You can connect Yelp to Facebook…

…or you can connect Yelp to your email account…

…and it will show you all your contacts who have Yelp accounts.

But you might run into problems, especially if you go the Facebook route:

Problem 1: You’ll have a bunch of non-customers among your email contacts or Facebook “friends.”  You don’t want reviews from them, and you don’t want to burn up a bunch of time on vetting your list.

Problem 2: Yelp will only give you a way to contact them in Yelp – in a message you can send customers if you add them as a friend – when you may prefer to send them an email.

Problem 3: You might want to be organized about how you contact Yelper-customers: you may want their full names next to their email addresses, next to some notes on their jobs, next to date you sent your first email or added them as a friend, etc.

It may sound like a pain, but working off a list of your customers’ email addresses is the only way (that I know of) to look up a long list of customers.

I recently vetted a list of 2500+ customers for one of my clients.  What could have taken me or someone else 10 hours ended up taking only a little over an hour, with some fancy footwork.

I suggest using my bulk-lookup approach if you’ve got more than about 100 customers on your list.  With fewer than that, it’s quicker just to customers’ email addresses one at a time

A couple other people have written about this – there’s a mediocre Wikihow post here and a decent post here – but they leave out some crucial details that may mean the difference between wasting time and saving time.

Eduard de Boer of Whitespark (and a key part of the LocalSpark service I offer jointly with Whitespark) also has an effective, somewhat different method that involves Yahoo mail instead of Gmail.

But Yelp doesn’t want you to ask for reviews, you say.  You don’t want to run afoul of their rules, you say.  Well, to that I reply:

  • Yelp’s “don’t ask” rule is stupid.
  • Yelp doesn’t filter reviews you asked for; it filters reviews based primarily on how many reviews someone’s written. Yelp doesn’t trust reviewers who’ve written no or just a couple reviews.
  • What you choose to do with the info you gather is up to you. Maybe none of your customers is an active Yelper, or maybe they’re all grumps who never give a business more than 3 stars.  But if you’ve identified some solid Yelpers, you can ask them point-blank for a Yelp review, or give them a nudge, or just say you’d love a review somewhere, or not ask at all.  Your call.

Anyway, here’s a quick summary of the steps to do a clean and efficient bulk “Find Friends” lookup:

Step 1: Create a spreadsheet of all your customers’ email addresses and first and last names, and save it as a CSV file.

Step 2: Create a new Gmail address to use strictly for Yelper-hunting.

Step 3: Import your CSV file of contacts into Gmail.

Step 4: Log into your personal Yelp account OR create a new personal Yelp account.

Step 5: Go to “Find Friends” and sync with Gmail.

Step 6: Scour the list of Yelper-customers and note down anyone who’s written more than 5 reviews.

Step 7: Decide whom to contact, and contact them.

Still not 100% clear on the steps?  Here’s much more detail:

Step 1:

Create a spreadsheet of all your customers’ email addresses and first and last names, and save it as a CSV file.

The first names should be in column A, the last names in column B, and the emails in column C.

Again, make sure to save it as a .csv.

On the off-chance you’ve got more than 4200 contacts you should break up your list into two CSV files.  Yelp can process up to about 4200 contacts, but chokes if you try more than that at once.

Don’t have your customers’ email addresses?  Unless you’re Starbucks and don’t even know their names, not having those emails is madness.  Come back when you’re serious about marketing.

Step 2:

Create a new Gmail address to use strictly for Yelper-hunting.

It needs to be a dedicated Gmail address so that you don’t run non-customers through Yelp’s “Find Friends” lookup.  I’m sure your college roommate and Aunt Ruth would be glad to put in a good word for you on Yelp, but that’s not what we’re trying to accomplish here.

Step 3:

Import your CSV file of contacts into Gmail.

First click the “Gmail” tab in the upper-left, then “Contacts,” then “Import.”  Then select “CSV or vCard file.”

If asked, choose to import from “old” Google Contacts.

Click “Import Contacts” (on the left).  Upload the CSV file you created in step 1, so Gmail imports that list of customers.

Once the import is done, stay logged into this Gmail account.

Step 4:

Log into your personal Yelp account OR create a new personal Yelp account.

It needs to be a personal Yelp account, not a business account (the kind you create at biz.yelp.com), because there is no “Find Friends” feature in a business account.

If you’re doing this on behalf of someone else (e.g. a client or employer) it’s fine to use your personal account, because you don’t need to contact any customers through Yelp, or even actually add them as friends.  All you need to do is identify who the active Yelpers are, so you can match them to names and emails on your spreadsheet.

But if you do want to “friend” them – as your initial way to contact them or as a friendly follow-up – you’ll probably want to set up a separate personal Yelp account and use that here.


Step 5:

Go to “Find Friends” and sync with Gmail.

Make sure you’re still logged into the Gmail account you created in step 2.

Once you click the option for Gmail, just wait a minute.  As I mentioned, Yelp will be able to process a list of roughly 4200.  If you’ve got more than 4200 contacts, make sure you’ve split it up into two or more CSV lists, as I described in step 1.  Compete steps 6-7 for the first list, and hold off on processing the other(s) until later.


Step 6:

Scour the list of Yelper-customers and note down anyone who’s written more than 5 reviews.

Why only pay attention to people who’ve written more than 5 reviews?  Because Yelp usually filters reviews written by people who’ve written no reviews or just a couple.  I’ve found that Yelp starts “trusting” reviewers more after about 5-10 reviews.

Anyway, what I’d do is add another column to your spreadsheet – one with the number of reviews each customer has written.  Put “13” next to Nick, and “675” next to Jim and Suzanne, and so forth.  Again, I wouldn’t bother with any people who’d written fewer than 5 reviews.

So no your spreadsheet should look like this:


Step 7:

Decide whom to contact, and contact them.

Only now can you can decide exactly what to do with those contacts.  What I’d do is prune the list a little.  That means you:

  • Cross off anyone you think had a mediocre-to-poor experience with you. (If you haven’t done so already, you should probably contact them to see what you can do to make things better.)
  • Read at least some of your customers’ reviews of other businesses. Cross off any clearly grumpy reviewers.  Don’t contact people who seem stingy with stars or who gripe too much about minutiae.
  • Contact people who already reviewed you on Yelp, but whose reviews got filtered. Thank them, and ask them to consider posting a review (maybe the same one) somewhere else.

(By the way, if you had more than 4200 contacts and had to break up the list into more than one CSV file, now you’ll want to process the remaining contacts. First log into the Gmail account you created specifically for friend-finding, and delete all the contacts you just processed in Yelp.  Then import into Gmail another batch of them (up to 4200) and repeat steps 4-7.)

Your list is probably pretty short by now – which is good, because it’s payday.  Here’s where I’d send each active Yelper on your list a quick email, in which you ask for a review.

If you’re going to be a goody two-shoes about it, you don’t need to ask specifically for a Yelp review; if you just ask these customers for a review somewhere, it’s likely they’ll pick Yelp by default.

Keep the email short, but as personalized as possible.  Try to allude to the specific job you did: “I hope you’re enjoying your new ___” or “It was a pleasure helping you to ___ your ___” or whatever seems appropriate

If you want, include a link to your “Review Us” page.

Congrats.  You’ve smelted tons of ore into gold, and you’ll probably get some nice Yelp reviews out of the deal (especially if you apply my basic strategy and troubleshooting tips).

Any first-hand experience with finding and contacting “friends” on Yelp?  What were your results in terms of reviews?

Any questions?

Leave a comment!

Yelp Elite for 3 Years with Only 66 Reviews: How?

I like to support local businesses that I want to stay in business, I love to write, and as an SEO I must experiment every now and then.

That’s why in spring of 2013 I started crawling around in Yelp’s guts, as just another local reviewer.  I’d written a couple reviews on Yelp a few years earlier, before I even knew about the filter, so those reviews never saw the light of day.  By 2013, I wanted to understand the filter better, mostly so I could help my clients put together a review strategy that didn’t just send perfectly good reviews into the grinder.

I learned some useful tidbits, like that a 3-star review is more likely to stick than a 5-star (even if written by a new, less-“trusted” Yelper), that the first review of a business is more likely to stick, and that it typically takes about 10 reviews – spread out over several months – for Yelp to stop filtering your reviews.

But things only got interesting once I accidentally became an “Elite” Yelper.

It wasn’t part of my intended experiment, nor do I have a particular fondness of Yelp.

It was also a surprise, because although there are people who’ve written hundreds of reviews who aren’t “Elite,” most EYs have written hundreds.

But then I get the nomination email in February 2014, after I’d written only 26 Yelp reviews in 2013 – for a lifetime total of 26 reviews.

I wrote those 26 reviews in a span of 8 months.

I kept up the reviews throughout 2014, but only wrote 20 that year.  Good enough for “Elite” again.

Same deal in 2015: only 20 reviews again (purely by coincidence).  Still an EY.

So even though I’ve never attended the little “Elite Squad” parties, have shown zero interest in becoming part of the “community,” rarely compliment or “friend” local reviewers, and have written only 66 reviews, they’ve kept me around for 3 years now.

Clearly becoming an EY doesn’t have much to do with quantity of reviews.  Or length or detail: most of my reviews are maybe 2-4 short paragraphs. 

So what factors do determine who gets the dubious title of “Elite” Yelp reviewer?  Yelp won’t tell you much.  But there are 7 factors that I’ve noticed (so far):

Factor 1: Reviewing some of the same businesses your “community manager” has reviewed.

Particularly places he or she likes and that you like.   I suspect this is the only person who nominates “Elite” Yelpers, so if you write a zinger review of a restaurant or some other place your CM likes, all of a sudden you’re on your CM’s radar, and you’re kindred spirits.  That didn’t even occur to me until I after I reviewed one of my favorite restaurants, which my CM also happens to like and frequent, at which point she sent me a Yelp “compliment” on my review.

Factor 2: Quality over quantity.

This one’s tough.  I’m not saying to channel your inner Tolstoy.  Many Yelpers get into narcissistic amounts of detail that nobody wants to read.  But it’s hard to pump out tons of reviews that still manage to be helpful, and it’s even harder to pump out reviews that people (especially a “community manager”) will enjoy.

One way to keep your reviews helpful – and sometimes funnier than you’d expect – is to review really boring businesses, which usually makes you dig deep to think about what you can possibly say.

Factor 3: Humor.

This one’s the toughest.  But even if your humor is the corniest since Roger Moore played 007, I’m tempted to say it doesn’t matter.

All that seems to matter is whetheryour “community manager” likes your reviews, and whether you get lots of “votes,” or if maybe even a “Review of the Day.”  Which leads me to the next point….

Factor 4: “Votes.”

Whenever someone labels one of your reviews as “Useful,” “Funny,” or “Cool,” that’s good (at least as far as Yelp is concerned).

Factor 5: Be the first to review some businesses.

Yelp wants to enhance its data on local businesses.  Also, once a business gets a review, Yelp has an occasion to call the owner and pitch ads as a way to keep the good times rolling.  Who better to carry out those two tasks than some chump who’s willing to write about local businesses for free?

Factor 6: Your re-nomination pitch.

If you’ve written at least a few reviews in the year, around Thanksgiving Yelp will email you to ask whether you’d like to remain “Elite.”

They’ll ask you to send in a pitch if you’re interested.  The substance and length are up to you.

You’ll want to put thought and creativity into this.  It shouldn’t necessarily be a rational argument.  Write it as you would one of your Yelp reviews – in the same voice (especially if that voice squeaks with corny humor).  Except this time you’re reviewing yourself.

 

Factor 7: Keep writing reviews even after you re-nominate yourself.

You’ll hear back around early January if you’re still “in.”  So from roughly Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day you’ll probably want to rip out a couple of reviews, just so the powers-that-be can see how much you care about Yelping and that you have no life.

Speaking of which, at this point you – a business owner or local SEO – might be wondering:

God, what a dweeb this guy is.  I don’t even like Yelp, and who cares who becomes an “Elite” reviewer?  I want my 10 minutes back.

Well, it’s important to understand how Yelp works if you want to get good reviews there.  For better or for worse, there is a huge human factor to Yelp.  Also, if for whatever reason you want to become an “Elite” Yelper yourself, any time you submit an edit or flag a review, they’re a little more likely to act on your suggestions.

Or maybe you’re just a curious cat, like me.

Have “Elite” Yelp reviewers affected your business in any way?

Any questions or relevant experiences?

Leave a comment!

Yahoo Local Review Stars No Longer Show in the SERPs

As a local search engine, Yahoo has long been the equivalent of an ’80s hair metal band, still squeaking along decades after its heyday.

For the last few years, its only real boon to your local visibility was that it still ranked well in Google for brand-name searches.  Even if your Yahoo listing only reflected your Yelp reviews, at least it gave you “review stars” in the search results, which can help impress would-be customers.

In theory, Yahoo was a place where you’d still want to get at least a couple reviews from customers.

No mas.

Now the only reason to get reviews on Yahoo is to impress the five people in your area who use it as their favorite local search engine.

What do you think?  Do Yahoo Local reviews have redeeming qualities I missed?  (If so, I’ll eat my hat.)  Leave a comment!

Announcing the Definitive List of Local Review Sites

Photo used w/ permission of Danny Nicholson of whiteboardblog.co.uk

How complete is your collection of reviews?

To know that, you’ll need to know of all the sites where customers can (and should) review your business.

I’ve found 398 local review sites so far.  Some you already know about – and may even have reviews on – but others are overlooked opportunities.

I’ve put together a handy spreadsheet for you.  It’s not in this blog post: I made a page for it because it’s a little easier for me to keep the list up-to-date that way.

Go there to sit through my preamble, to get your hands on the spreadsheet, and to read my liner notes.

See the list of review sites

By the way, right here is the place to leave comments or questions.  Don’t hold back, now.

Asking Customers for Google Reviews in the New Google Plus: What Are Your Options?

Google’s really done it this time. The “write us a Google review” steps that worked so well for so long soon will work no more.

In the new layout of Google+, if you send customers to your local page they will see no way to write you a review, because there is none.  (Sure, there’s a little button that lets users switch to “classic view,” but that won’t last long.)

Once the “new” Google+ has rolled out universally and there’s no option to use the “classic” layout, you’ll only have two ways to get customers to the place where they can write a review: (1) tell them to search for your business by name on Google.com if they’re on a desktop or (2) tell them to use the Google Maps app if they’re on mobile.

There have always been at least a few serious downsides to those two methods:

  • Customers use different browsers and devices.
  • The Google Maps app hasn’t always given you the option of writing a review.
  • Google wouldn’t always pull up the right Google page – the one you want reviews on – even if you don’t have problems with duplicate listings.

Soon you won’t have a choice.  (Why Google did this is a whole separate discussion, for another day.)

You can no longer even add a parameter to the end of your Google-page URL to have the “write a review” window pop up when your customer clicks the link (e.g. https://plus.google.com/+localvisibilitysystem?review=1).

I’ll probably have to update my battle-tested instructions for the 4th or 5th time since 2011, at which point you can order a slick one-page PDF that makes a frustrating process simple as possible for customers.

Until I get around to that, here’s a rough outline of the easiest steps you’re asking reviewers to do:

  1. Sign into Google Plus OR create a Plus page if you don’t have one already.
  1. Type in such-and-such to pull up our page; do this at Google.com if you’re on a desktop or in the Google Maps app if you’re on mobile.
  1. Find the “Write a review” button and write your review.

Also, the type of link Mike Blumenthal suggests will work.  Of course, providing a link only works for email-based requests.  I usually suggest asking in-person and following up by email when necessary.

The kicker is that Google still requires reviewers to have a Google Plus page in order to write a review, which has been a PITA since May of 2012.  I heard murmurs some months ago that Google will go back to requiring just a Google account (not a Plus account) to write a review, but I need to go back and try to find where I heard that.  In any case, I’m guessing Google will stop requiring a Plus page sooner or later.

Anyway, Google reviews will continue to be huge for your local visibility, even if Google’s made it a little harder for you to get them.  Roll with the punches.

Any thoughts, tips, or workarounds?

Have you tried asking for any reviews since the layout change?

Leave a comment!

Quick Initial Review of Moz Local Insights (Beta)

Moz Local has come a long way in the last 20 months.  It’s a handy option for getting some of your most-important listings up and running, especially for new businesses.

It isn’t a one-stop shop for all your citation needs – nor is it meant to be – but it can often eliminate serious legwork.  It’s affordable ($84 / location / year, as of this writing.)  I often recommend it.

David Mihm just announced some new features – called Moz Local Insights.  It’s a combination of 3 dashboards that show you stats on where your business falls in the local heap.

It’s a beta release, so my initial take is probably what you’d expect: there’s a lot of promise in these new features, but they need some work.  (That’s true of any beta release.)

This post isn’t meant to be an exhaustive review, but rather just my lab notes so far.  I may add updates as I notice new things in Moz Local Insights.

Anyway, let’s go through the three new tabs, one at a time:

 

 

 

Update 11/14/15: The “Performance” area is working for me now – as a result of either Moz’s fixes or my realizing a couple senior moments I’d had, or both.

I can’t say yet what I think of the “Performance” area, because I couldn’t get it to connect with my Google Analytics accounts (where I’ve got most of my clients’ GA dashboards).

Here’s a screenshot I nabbed from David’s announcement post, just to show you what the “Performance” tab should look like:

It appears to be a slick custom Google Analytics dashboard, essentially.  Although geeks like me find it fun to sift through GA data, clients often don’t, so I think this will add value there.

It would be nice if Moz Local could attribute clicks you got as a result of your Google Places 3-pack rankings, if you’re using a tracking URL to track that stuff.

 

 

 

You’ll probably want to play around in the “Visibility” tab.  By default, Moz Local will track the categories you specified as the keywords you want to track.

The search terms you want to rank for are probably pretty different from the categories you want Moz Local to use for your various listings.  That’s why it would be nice if they sent you an email or showed a pop-up that says “Hey, update your keywords!”  (I hope you can track more than 5 of them in version 2.0.)

Maybe they emphasize that step more if you’re setting up Moz Local for a given business for the first time; I set up my clients in there pre-Insights.

The bottom line is: be sure to click that “Add and Manage Keywords” and update your keywords before you do much else in the “Visibility” tab.

 

 

 

 

The “Reputation” tab doesn’t seem to reflect accurately (yet) how many reviews the business has, and where it’s got those reviews.

Here’s one example of a client who’s got reviews on a bunch of sites, including several that show up on page one when you search for him by name:

But here’s what Moz Local shows:

The “Reputation” tab has a nice, clean layout, so I think it will be useful as a reporting tool that clients can easily log into.

At that point it won’t be too different from the Google My Business reviews dashboard, but of course the issues with Google’s dashboard are (1) many clients can’t figure out how to get in there, and (2) with Google’s new interface it’s gotten even less intuitive.  That this will be under the same roof as Moz Local’s other reporting features is nice.

One add-on I’d like to see in here is the ability to export your reviews: the text, the ratings, the reviewers’ names, where the reviews were written, when they were written – the whole burrito.  (There’s an ORM tool out there that has this export feature, but I can’t remember which one.  ReviewTrackers gives you that ability.  Thanks to Darren for reminding me.)

An export would be a handy feature partly so your reviews don’t go poof if they’re filtered or otherwise lost, and partly so it’s easy to mark them up with Schema and put them on your site (yes, even on Google+ and Yelp that’s OK).

In a nutshell: Moz has some work to do, but I like where “Insights” is headed.

What do you think of it so far?

Have you left them feedback on the beta version yet?

Leave a comment!

60+ Questions to Troubleshoot and Fix Your Local Reviews Strategy

https://www.flickr.com/photos/57855544@N00/340654164/

Most business owners know they need online reviews if they want to get more customers.  Some of them have actually tried to get happy customers to speak up.  Very few get anywhere.

Even if the business owner makes a reasonable request at an appropriate time, customers still have to follow through.  But they forget, or get distracted, or get confused, or aren’t asked to write a review on a site they find convenient, and so on.  The business owner gets frustrated and concludes reviews are impossible to get and not worth the effort.  He or she then loses would-be customers to someone else.

One thing I hang my hat on is being able to help business owners put together and execute on a review strategy that works: better reviews, more reviews, and more customers.  I’m talking about getting reviews on Google+, Yelp, Facebook, other sites you and I are familiar with, and on industry-specific sites.

I’ve taken part in gnarly failures and bust-out-the-Champagne successes.  I’ve worked with clients in more industries than you can shake a stick at (and have made review handouts for many more), and know all the things that can go wrong and what you really want to get right.

On the one hand, it’s a simple trinity: do right by your customers, provide instructions that they find easy to follow, and ask whenever possible.  As long as everything you do is with those principles in mind, you’ll do fine on reviews.

But on the other hand, the devil is in the details.  Also, you may be in a tricky situation (e.g. you’re a therapist or bankruptcy lawyer).  Or maybe you just want to go from good to world-class.

I’ve rounded up all the 64 questions I use to determine how my clients can get their review strategy on-track.

If you’re a business owner you’ll want to ask yourself these.  If you work for the business owner you’ll want to see how many of these you can sniff out on your own, and then have your boss or client fill in the gaps

I’ve also put together a Google Drive doc of all the questions – just the questions, without my explanations underneath them.

You probably won’t have to address all the questions.  I list 64 here simply to cover all the possible issues your review strategy might have run into.

FYI, it might be tough to use this as a checklist.  Some questions a “yes” answer is good, for others a “no” answer is good, and for other questions you might want a different type of answer.

Happy troubleshooting!

 

Basic questions

1.  Do you want to get more reviews?

Some business owners think reviews are too hard to get, or that in their unique situation getting reviews is impossible, or that customers don’t care about reviews.  Usually they end up agreeing with me that none of that is true, but some people are dead-set in their thinking.  If that’s you or your client, the rest of these questions probably won’t help you much.

 

2.  Are most of your customers happy?

If they’re not, you should still try to get the happy ones to speak up, but you may have a bigger challenge to work on in the meantime.

 

3.  What have you tried so far?

Broad question here, but that’s because there are so many possible answers.  The answer will give you an idea as to what other diagnostic questions (see below) to ask next.

 

4.  Do you provide easy-to-follow instructions for writing a review?

As opposed to simply making a request and assuming customers know what to do.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/sa_steve/2732053391/

5.  Do you offer reviews a choice as to the site?

Don’t focus too much on Yelp and Google+: they’re the only sites that really filter reviews (especially Yelp), and Google’s steps for posting a review are cumbersome and not clear to most people.  Steer at least some customers toward easier sites, and maybe use my “zigzag” strategy.  But you’ll want to diversify where you get reviews anyway, and that’s one way to do it.  I suggest you offer customers 3-6 choices.

 

6.  In what medium have you been asking for reviews?

Do you ask in-person, by email, by phone, on invoices, or what?  If you’ve only tried one method of asking for reviews, try another method – or ideally a combination.

 

7.  Do you know which customers are happy?

The worst thing to do is not to ask anyone because you’re so afraid someone might write a bad review.  It’ll happen eventually, if it hasn’t happened already.  But you want to get the happy customers to speak up, and asking them is the only good way to do it.  If you can’t tell who’s happy, just ask.  It can be as subtle, like, “So, is there anything else we can do for you today?”  Then ask for a review if it seems like a good idea.

 

8.  When you’ve asked customers for reviews, how did they react?

Did they say yes when you asked in-person, but never followed through?  Or did they ask whether they have to use their full name?  Did they snail-mail you a testimonial – rather than post an online review?  Their reactions will tell you what to change, or at least which diagnostic questions to ask yourself next.

 

9.  Do you know the laws or regulations on reviews in your industry?

The financial-consulting industry is the only one I know of where you just can’t ask for online reviews, according to the SEC.  My understanding has always been that doctors and psychotherapists can ask for reviews if they ask patients in an FTC-compliant way and if they tell patients that they don’t need to get into specifics (as per HIPAA).  Get the facts if you have any doubt as to the legality of your review strategy.  Don’t let uncertainty make you beat around the bush and not encourage happy customers to speak up.  Oh, and you don’t want to get in hot water.

10.  How likely is it that your customers / clients / patients would have privacy concerns if they used their full name to post an online review of you?

Make sure they know two things: (1) they don’t have to describe anything too specific or personal – they can focus on describing you and your service – and (2) they can review you on private / anonymous sites.

11.  How long have you been trying to get more reviews?

You don’t know how well your strategy works if you’ve only tried it for a month, or you’ve asked fewer than about 20 customers, or if you’re new to the whole idea of asking for reviews.  Try it for long enough that you can draw conclusions, and then tweak or change gears as needed.

 

12.  How long have you tried whatever strategy you’re currently using?

Give it a chance.  But be willing to change it or try something else if it doesn’t seem to work (see below questions).

 

13.  Do you have a problem with passive ways to encourage reviews (ways that don’t involve asking specific people directly)?

Add review badges or widgets to your site, consider copying and pasting reviews and featuring them throughout your site (see this and this), link to your reviews in your email signature, and include instructions on the “Reviews” page on your site.  You won’t get a ton of reviews, but these indirect methods may help you get a trickle.  Do this if you’re gun-shy about asking directly.

14.  How often do your customers’ reviews get filtered?

Having lots of filtered reviews (on Yelp and Google+) can be a good sign: it means people are following through.  Something’s working.

 

 

Setting the stage

15.  Do the names of your online listings closely match the name your customers / clients / patients know you as?

They may not even be finding the listings they want to post reviews on.  Work on your listings and make sure you can pull up the correct listings.

16.  Do you know for a fact that you don’t have any duplicate listings on the sites where you want reviews?

They may be posting reviews on the wrong listings.  Find the duplicates and fix or remove as many as you can.

 

17.  Do customers know that you will personally read and acknowledge their reviews?

Say so in your request.  Make it clear you’re looking for honest feedback, not just 5 stars.  Also, post responses to at least some of the reviews.  You don’t want reviewers to feel they’re shouting into the wind.

 

18.  Have you posted overheated responses to reviews?

Don’t scare people off.  Respond to negative reviews if you feel you need to, but don’t lose your cool.  Sleep on it before posting a response, and see if you can turn lemons into lemonade.

 

19.  If you’ve already got any reviews, do your customers know about them and know that they won’t be the first?

They’ll feel more comfortable if there are precedents.  It’s good if you can point to reviews that aren’t too long or personal, so that reviewers don’t feel daunted.  But then how do you get your first review?  Either by accident (from someone you didn’t expect to write one), or by asking enough people, or by reaching someone who wants to be the first because he/she is a really happy customer and wants you to stay in business.

lawyer-reviews

20.  Have you personally ever written an online review of a “local” business?

Do it.  Know what’s involved, and what you’re asking people to do.  Ideally you know what it’s like to write a review on the specific site(s) you’re asking customers to review you on.  (That’s half the reason I review businesses on Yelp.)

 

21.  How do most of your customers find you originally?

The ones who found you online are more likely to have checked out your reviews, to care about reviews, and to recognize their value to you and to other customers.  You’ll still have to work to get them to review you, but the point is they’re a little better-conditioned than are word-of-mouth referrals (for example).  To any customers who didn’t find you online you’ll probably need to explain why reviews matter to you, show how easy it is to post one, and provide step-by-step instructions.

 

Whom to ask

22.  Have you asked your very best, closest, most-loyal customers?

Give them a choice of at least two sites, give them simple instructions for each (more on that topic later), and follow up if they haven’t written you a review after your initial request.  Chances are they’ll review you.  If so, you probably have a workable strategy, and can start asking other customers.  (If they don’t review you, use the other questions to figure out why.)

 

23.  Take 5-10 customers you asked for a review – or plan to ask for a review – and look them up on Google+, Yelp, and Facebook: how many of them have ever written reviews of other businesses?

Customers who already write reviews understand why reviews matter to you, and probably don’t need much hand-holding.  You can also discover which site(s) they might prefer to review you on.

24.  Have you read the reviews you’ve already got and understood exactly what kind of people end up reviewing you?

If you can identify a type of person who’s likely to review you, you may have a better idea of whom to ask (and not to ask).

 

25.  How would you describe most of your customers’ economic situation?

Some groups of people are more likely to use their phones for most things they do online.  Make sure you give mobile-centric review instructions to customers who may not have much access to (or use for!) a desktop / laptop.

 

26.  How old is your typical customer? (Or if your customers fall into several age groups, what are the biggest 1-2 age groups?)

Sweeping generalization here: younger customers are a little more inclined to write you a review on mobile, whereas older ones might be warmer to a desktop / laptop.

 

Who asks

27.  In your company, who besides you might be able to ask customers for reviews?

Don’t want to ask customers yourself?  Don’t want to ask all of them yourself?  Want to run a “test” and figure out who’s the best?  Distribute the work, at least for a while.

 

28.  Who do you think would be the best person in your company to ask for reviews, and why?

Maybe you’re the boss and know your business best, but maybe Sara at the front desk has the relationship with customers, and might just be more charming than you.  Or maybe Louie is your best tech and would haul in the reviews, if only you could get him to start asking.

 

29.  Even if someone else usually asks customers for reviews, have you ever tried asking customers yourself?

Just so you can speak from experience, and tweak your strategy based on experience.

 

30.  Have you heard or seen exactly how people in your organization ask customers?

Do they emphasize that the review is a favor, and not an obligation?  Do they provide clear instructions?  Are they patient?  Are they polite to customers who don’t want to write a review?  Do they thank all customers?  Listen to some phone calls and read the emails.  Whether you do that openly or channel your inner Dick Cheney is up to you.  Just as long as it leads to a constructive talk.

 

When to ask

31.  When do you ask customers?

Your initial request should be right after the job is done, if possible, and then you should follow up within about a week.  You probably won’t have your best results if you let a month go by, or if you only ask immediately after the job is done.  (More on the topic of following up later.)

 

32.  Does at least one of your requests happen when the customer is in a position to write you a review immediately if he or she wants to?

Some people are more likely to follow through on the spot, rather than later.

 

33.  Have you tried asking at different times?

Ask on a different day, or at a different time of day, or both.  In particular, test if it seems to make a difference whether you ask during the week or on the weekend.

 

 

What to ask

34.  Do customers know you’re asking for an online review on a third-party site – not simply a testimonial that they let you stick on your site?

Too many business owners have told me, “Yeah, I have tons of reviews – I have a whole bag of ‘em in my office!”  No, those perfumed letters are testimonials, which presumably your customers gave you permission to put on your site.  I’m talking about online reviews, which people can post whether you ask them to or not, and which you can’t edit or cherry-pick.  Make sure your customers know the difference and know what you’re requesting.

 

35.  Do you encourage honest (even critical) feedback?

You don’t want your review corpus to look fishy.  But you do want to know how to provide a better service – for obvious reasons, and so you can earn even more “review stars” long-term.  Also, if you’re the type who’s concerned about asking customer for reviews only to have them leave you bad ones, encouraging honest feedback means you’re less likely to gall the less-happy customers.  They’re less likely to think, “How DARE they ask me for 5 stars – I’ll show ‘em where they can stick their 5 stars….”

 

36.  Which site(s) do you ask customers to review you on?

Try a different site.  Preferably one that’s less painful than Yelp or Google+.  If you get reviews there, you’ll know you’re at least on the right track.

 

37.  Do you comply with the rules of the sites where you want more reviews?

The consequences of ignoring Yelp’s polices can be pretty ugly.  Once upon a time Google+ reviews were also policed, and although now it’s no neighborhood for Mr. Rogers, you should still follow the rules.

 

38.  Have you avoided incentivizing reviews with things like gift cards or discounts?

It’s cheesy, ethically questionable, and might insult some customers (who may beat you over the head with it in their reviews).  Your payola will probably work, if your definition of success is simply getting reviews.   But those reviews will probably be short and pro forma and not too compelling to would-be customers, or they’ll look outright crooked.

 

39.  Do you make it clear which review site is your “first choice”?

You need to offer choices, but not so many that your reviewer freezes.  (As I mentioned before, I suggest asking any given reviewer to choose from one of 3-6 sites.)  They may also freeze if they have to decide between sites.  Provide a slight nudge.

 

40.  Do you ask any one customer to review you on more than one site?

Don’t turn it into a big chore, or make it seem that way.  You may be able to ask a customer who just successfully wrote you a review on one site to review you on another, but it would have to be a customer you’re pretty close with, and even then you wouldn’t want to wear out your welcome.

 

41.  If a customer seemed ready to write you a review on the spot, do you know exactly what you would ask that person to do?

Once in a blue moon, you may ask in-person for a review and your customer will say, “Sure.  I’ve got my phone right here.  Tell me what to do.”  Know what you want him or her to do.

 

42.  Do you tell customers roughly how long it will take to write a review?

Tell everyone that you appreciate a short review, but that you also love detail.  You’re respecting their time either way.  That’s a good way to get reviews from people who’d otherwise think it’s a pain and not bother, and to get the juicy, keyword-rich, in-depth, helpful reviews that can really convert readers into customers.

 

How to ask

43.  Do you make your review request sound like a personal favor (and not an obligation)?

You’re more likely to get a review, and you’ll stay classy.

44.  Do you email a bunch of customers at once?

Don’t.  Especially early on.  You don’t want to send an ineffective or ill-timed request, have it flop, and then have no more customers to ask.  (And if you’re using a personal or email account you don’t want to get in hot water with your ISP.)  Your reviews might also get filtered (at least on Yelp and Google) if too many people try to review you at once.  If you must request reviews in batches, keep the batches small (5-15 people).

 

45.  To what extent do you personalize each request?

I’m far more likely to review you if you say “Hey Phil” or “Mr. Rozek” than if you say “Dear Valued Customer,” even if the rest of the email is boilerplate.  And I’m way more likely to put in a good word for you if you allude to the specific service or product I paid for, or a conversation we had, or build off some rapport.  The more bespoke your request, the better.  Of course, that’s hard to “scale,” so pick your poison.

 

46.  Do you ask customers in more than one medium?

In my experience, the best is to ask in-person with printed instructions (like these) and later to follow up by email.  But you may find that snail-mail or a phone call or a review-card / review-page work well for you.

 

47.  Have you tried any tools?

You should.  Don’t expect them to work without any strategy or finesse on your part.  Don’t rely on them 100%, or stop experimenting even if they work well.  But tools like Grade.us and GetFiveStars (my personal recommendations) can serve you well.

 

48.  If the tools you’ve tried haven’t worked so well, have you tried others?

Again, you’ll probably need to experiment before you find a tool that helps.  (But again, don’t expect it to haul in reviews  without any thinking or effort on your part.)

 

49.  Have you relied solely on tools like DemandForce or SmileReminder?

These tools have their place in the world, but the trouble is that (last I checked) the reviews just sit in a walled garden on DemandForce.com or SmileReminder.com, because that’s where patients / clients write them.  They aren’t going to Yelp or Google+ or Facebook or HealthGrades or wherever.  I’ve seen businesses (usually medical practices) with 500 reviews on, say, DemandForce.com, but none on Google.  You need some reviews on the BIG sites – no matter how hard it is to get them – and you need diversity.

 

Your instructions

50.  If you tell customers that you’d like a review on any of a variety of sites (rather than just one), do you give them instructions for how to post a review on each of those sites?

Google+ is the site where they’ll probably need the most guidance, but you should provide at least rough instructions for whatever other sites you care about.

 

51.  Do you know for a fact that your review instructions are up-to-date?

On Google+ the steps change on average about once a year.  Facebook probably has tweaked them a couple of times, too.

 

52.  Do you make it simple for people to review you on any device?

Make sure they know whether to use their phones or desktops (if it matters), and make sure mobile reviewers know whether they need to download an app and that shorter reviews are OK.  If you send follow-up emails make sure to send a test email to yourself, and pull up the email and walk through the steps both on your desktop and on your phone.  Try your best to the stumbling blocks before would-be reviewers do.

 

53.  Do your printed instructions look well-designed and feel like good paper?

Consider printing on a thicker stock.  Or laminating your instructions.  Your request will seem more thought-out, and people will be less likely to use them to scoop up cat hairballs.

54.  If you’re using a “Review Us” page, do you link to instructions on how to post reviews?

It would be a shame not to: the customer is happy enough and cares enough to have visited your page.  Make it easy from here.  Nice examples here and here.

 

Following up

55.  Do you follow up on your initial request?

Just because they haven’t reviewed you doesn’t mean they won’t.  They forget, or their spouse hits them with the honey-do list, or your nice printed instructions enter the Doomsday Machine of papers on the kitchen table.  Follow up once.  Be nice and casual.  You won’t be considered a pest.

 

56.  Do you follow up in a different medium from the one you used to ask the first time?

If you ask in-person, maybe follow up by email.  If you only sent an email, ask the customer in-person next time, or maybe send snail-mail.  Experiment.

 

57.  Does your follow-up include (or point to) instructions for how to post a review?

For the same reasons you included instructions the first time around.  Make it easy to say yes.

 

58.  Does your follow-up seem automatic or stuffy?

Make it as customized (or even more so if possible) than your initial request.

 

Other troubleshooting questions

59.  Do your customers accidentally review the wrong business?

Check competitors’ listings for your reviews – especially if those competitors’ businesses are named similarly to yours.  Report those reviews and show how they’re for the wrong business.  (They may not get transferred to you

 

60.  Have you tried to learn from anyone who’s got more / better reviews than you, or who just has a lot of experience with online reviews?

Don’t cut corners if they cut corners, but see if there are any smart moves you can try.

 

61.  How many of the reviews you’ve already got are from people you asked for a review, versus how many were written spontaneously?

If nobody reviews you unless you ask, you know you need to ask.  On the other hand, having more than a few spontaneously written reviews means customers probably don’t find it tough or uncomfortable to review you, so the wind may be at your back if you just start asking.

 

62.  Have you had a little success on some review site(s), or do you have difficulty getting reviews on any site?

Having reviews somewhere probably means that they’re willing to put in a good word for you, but just need better-timed requests or reminders or clearer instructions.  It also means you could probably pile on more reviews there without too much effort.  Where you’ve got reviews so far may even tell you where those customers found you to begin with.

 

63.  How many of your customers have connected with your business on Facebook in some way?

That makes it real easy to ask for reviews on sites that accept Facebook logins – where customers don’t have to go to the trouble of setting up an account on a site just to review you.

 

64.  How do you encourage unhappy customers to update their reviews to be more favorable?

Get in contact and fix any issues you can, if possible.  If you can make that angry customer happier, ask if he or she will update the review to reflect that.

I hope that wasn’t overblown like an ‘80s power ballad, but I also hope you don’t say I wasn’t thorough.

Use the questions to tweak your strategy.  It will pay off.

Here’s the link to the questions-only Google Drive doc again.

Thanks to Alex Deckard of CAKE Websites for kicking around some ideas with me.

In your efforts to get reviews, have you run across a problem that my troubleshooting questions wouldn’t address?

Any questions or suggestions that are unclear?  Any others you can think of?

How about any questions that gave you a “Eureka” moment?

Leave a comment!

Yelp Now Wants Reviewers to THINK Before Posting? Only If the Business Has 1-4 Reviews

I was mucking around in Yelp yesterday and noticed a new message when I was logged in and viewing a business’s page.

Here’s what Yelp users see if they’re viewing a business with 5 or more unfiltered reviews:

“Start your review.”  Understandable enough.  Yelp wants more “recommended” reviews on the site, and is giving you a little prod.

But here’s what it says when logged-in users look at a page with 1-4 unfiltered reviews:

“Your opinion could be huge.”  That’s ambiguous.  Yelp is implying two things – the first of which is pretty obvious.

Of course, if you’re reviewing a business you like, you want your opinion to help the business – if only so that it stays in business.

I wish I could have reviewed this candy store in Back Bay Boston that closed when I was a kid.  It was a “candy forest.”  You’d walk on a bridge over a pond of wrapped blue mints, past the giant mushroom with caramels hidden under the top, over to the fake hollow tree full of chocolates.  Too bad I can’t remember the name.  Loved that place.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/dasqfamily/440866619/

But it’s probably good that the candy forest predated Yelp by many years.  Some whiner would have gone in there, let his screaming kid eat the candy as he walked through the forest, refuse to pay for it, and then with a red face and unhinged emotions write a 1-star review of the magical candy forest.

That’s the second point Yelp’s new quasi-warning is supposed to impart to reviewers: A 1-star review stings if a business only has a couple of other reviews.

The cutoff appears to be 5 reviews.  Yelp sorta-kinda encourages you to think about what you’ll write about a business with 4 reviews or fewer.

Given Yelp’s recent woes, I would guess that this is Yelp’s attempt to encourage more coolheaded reviews.  That would mean better press for Yelp, and fewer business owners who hire lawyers to cross swords with Yelp’s very busy lawyers over bloodied online reputations.

The only problem with my theory is the message you see when you view a business with no reviews:

Nothing resembling a warning there.

Sure, I think most people are smart enough to realize that one review about a business doesn’t mean much, and maybe the people at Yelp are smart enough to realize that.  But you’d think the same “Your opinion could be huge” message would be appropriate here.

Maybe Yelp is just trying to prevent a lemming effect, where a business gets a couple dud reviews from the first two reviewers, and then the subsequent reviewers pile on.

Why do you think Yelp is showing these new prompts?

Do you think it’s a small step in the right direction, or in the wrong direction?

Leave a comment!