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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5.  Maybe Yelp will broaden its appeal one day.

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

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

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

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

20+ Depressing Observations about Yelp Reviews – me

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

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

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

Leave a comment!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck!

What’s your score?

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

Leave a comment!

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

Yelp Now Showing Review Summaries on Business Pages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When did you start noticing Yelp’s review summaries?

Why do you think they’re doing it?

Good thing or bad thing

Leave a comment!

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

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

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

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

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

Any questions?

Any slides that weren’t clear?

Favorite strategy suggestions?

Leave a comment!

Local SEO without the Local Map: What Is It?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leave a comment!

Google Shoehorns Critic Reviews into Desktop Local Search Results

Google’s hustled on this one.  Less than a week ago, reviews from “critics” started appearing in the local search results on mobile devices.  Now they’re showing up in desktop search results, too.

Right now, “Critic” reviews only show up for restaurants and the like.  I wouldn’t be surprised if it remains that way, but I could imagine Google doing the same for hotels.

This latest tweak is a number of things: a bite out of Yelp’s pie, possibly a sign that Google knows it’s got quality-control issues with Google reviews, and definitely a test to see whether users click on and read and trust “critic” reviews more than those written by the unwashed masses.

Of course, it’s all part of an effort to jack up AdWords use in one way or another – whether or not anyone outside of Mountain View knows yet exactly how.

One thing that puzzles me about this update (or swiftly rolled-out test) is it’s not clear how Google might extend “critic” reviews to showing up in the local search results for industries where business owners really lay down the Benjamins for AdWords – legal, medical, home-improvement, realty, insurance, etc.  Most restaurateurs aren’t big on PPC.

What do you make of “critic” reviews?

Are you seeing them in any non-dining search results?

Leave a comment!

How Do Local SEO and Conversion Rate Optimization Overlap?

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You want better local rankings.  But rankings won’t pay your bills, so you also want to do a better job of converting traffic.  One is useless without the other, so you need to do both from the start.

A few months ago I weighed in on a Google+ post where the concern was how to “balance” local SEO and conversion-rate optimization on your site.  As I mentioned there, working on your local SEO and boosting your conversions may sound like two separate projects, but they’re not.   There is a lot of overlap, and there are many ways to kill two birds with one stone.

Here are some steps that might help you boost your visibility and traffic and your ability to convert that traffic:

1. Create a separate page on each specific service you offer – or at least on the services for which you want to rank and get more customers.

For instance, until you rank at the top of the local heap for “dentist,” you’re more likely to rank for “pediatric dentist” if you have an in-depth page on how you do a great job for kids.  You’re also more likely to interest parents who are looking for that specific service – more so than if you come across as a generalist.

2.  Make those pages in-depth and detailed, with your USP info, plenty of reviews/testimonials on the page, good photos (preferably not stock), and a clear call-to-action at the end. You’ll give both Google and people more to sink their teeth into.

3.  Create in-depth FAQs pages – or, in general, just answer questions on your site Q&A-style. Not only will this help you convert more traffic, but it’s also more likely to get the right people to your site – the ones who know exactly what they’re looking for.  I’ve written on how you can do this.  Also, it’s the best way you can apply what Dan Leibson calls “Answer-box SEO.”

4.  Build city pages that don’t suck.

5.  Make your site more user-friendly. Google knows if people get to your site and just hit the “back” button, or if they venture deeper and spend some time looking around and take the next step.

Include plenty of internal links to relevant pages, create a main “Services” or “Products” page, make your contact info hard to miss, and remember that there’s no such thing as too long – only too boring.  See my post on analyzing visitors’ click-behavior.

6.  Having a mobile-friendly site. It doesn’t need to be mobile-responsive; it can be on a separate domain (m.yourwebsite.com) – like the kind you might get from Duda.  It simply needs not to frustrating for the average person who might pay you for something.

7.  Write catchy title and description tags. When done right they can get you higher click-through than the next guy gets.  That will likely help your rankings if you sustain it, and it can bring more of the right customers to your site (as opposed to tire-kickers).  You attract to the degree you repel.

8.  Embed a prominent Google Map – in a place on the site where visitors might want to know how they can get to you.

I like to customize the dimensions and put it in the footer.  Making it easy to get driving directions is smart for obvious reasons and, when combined with an influx of reviews, driving-directions lookups may be a minor ranking factor.

9.  Offer old-school driving directions. Landmarks, turn-by-turn, from the north/south/east/west, etc.  Some people prefer them, and it’s “local” content that gives Google more info as to where you’re located.  May also help you rank for some of the ever-increasing number of “near me” searches.

10.  Work like a beast to pile up online reviews on a variety of sites (even on the mediocre ones).

 Getting happy customers to speak up usually isn’t easy, but hey, few high-payoff things in life are easy.  It’s worth the trouble.

Having impressive reviews makes your website’s job easier in at least two ways: people aren’t as likely to leave your site to look up your reviews (especially if they’ve already seen the reviews, and they’re more likely to arrive at your site pre-sold on how good you are.

Your site can be a wounded animal and you’ll still probably get a surprising number of customers if your reviews stand out.  But combine them with a sticky site (see points 1-8) and you’ll win yourself a full goblet and a pile of turkey legs at the Local Feast.

Can you think of more areas of overlap between local SEO and CRO?

What’s something you did that helped you on both counts?

Leave a comment!

Google Makes Local Knowledge Graph King – for a Day?

When you search for a specific local business, you may no longer see the knowledge graph appear in the right-hand sidebar.  Google appears to be testing its position on the SERPs.

The knowledge panel has moved to the left and fully above the fold.  It’s gone from shy prince in the margins to turkey-leg-chomping king in the middle of the court.

Of course, after I went to all the trouble of writing those two paragraphs, the knowledge graph moved back to the right.

And now I’m seeing the new layout again.

It seems to be another of Google’s tests, but it may be the start of a permanent change.

It may be partly for user-experience and to show local “one-box”-type results in a way similar to how they appear on mobile (that is, front and center).  I’m sure it also fits into another of Google’s schemes to squeeze out more AdWords revenue, though at this point it’s not clear to me how.

What would a bigger, bolder knowledge graph mean for you, the business owner?  Probably nothing you weren’t aware of already.  But if this change sticks, your Google reviews will get even more noticeable, important, and worth working on.

Have you seen this larger, shifted knowledge graph when you search for a company by name?

What do you make of the test?  What do you think Google is trying to accomplish?

Leave a comment!

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!