Pasting or Embedding Google Reviews on Your Site: Will They Get Filtered?

For a few years now, people like me have told clients and others that it’s probably not a good idea to copy their Google reviews and paste them onto their site as testimonials.

The concern is that Google might filter those hard-earned reviews, and they’d longer no appear on the Places page, where they belong.

It’s a valid concern, too.  Google’s review guidelines tell reviewers not to “post the same content multiple times.”  Sure, that’s ambiguous, but given how Yelpishly draconian Google’s filter was in 2012 and given that Google still filters some reviews, it’s reasonable to interpret that as, “Your Google review had better not show up anywhere else.”

It’s hard to read Google’s mushy “rules” sometimes.  So let’s ask a different question: do Google Plus reviews get filtered if you paste them onto your site, or embed them as Google+ posts?

It appears they don’t get filtered.

I’ve rounded up a few examples:

Example 1: Simmonds Dental Center

plus.google.com/+Simmondsdentalcenter/about

(Reviews embedded as Google+ posts)

 

Example 2: Navarre Auto Repair

plus.google.com/+Navarreautorepair/about

(Reviews copied and pasted)

You get the idea, so now I’m just going to give you the links to some examples and let you dig around if you’d like.

 

Example 3: Peninsula Air Conditioning

plus.google.com/+PenAirAu/about

(Reviews embedded as Google+ posts)

 

Example 4: Andrew Turchin, DMD

plus.google.com/117483215318765329117/about

(Reviews copied and pasted)

 

Example 5: Honest Family Dental

plus.google.com/+HonestFamilyDentalAmeetTrivediDDSAustin/about

(Reviews embedded as Google+ posts)

 

Now, Gentle Reader, you may be wondering: “What about confirmation bias?”  Did I just find the businesses that cross-posted reviews successfully – and not the ones who sent their reviews into the meat grinder?

I found the above examples “in the wild.”  I simply found businesses that put their Google reviews on their sites, and then I checked to see whether those reviews were still on their Places pages.  (By the way…what’s with all the dentists?)

Until I see evidence that suggests otherwise, I’m satisfied that you’re not leading Pickett’s Charge if you put your reviews on your site.

Should you embed your reviews on your site?

I don’t see why not, as long as you don’t expose your hindquarters to the sharp fangs of IP lawyers.  As Mike Blumenthal has pointed out, Google suggests you ask your customers for permission to showcase their words on your site.

One other question to ponder: could Google eventually take down your reviews?  Maybe.  Google often flip-flops on review policy.  But you’ve got to consider the lifetime value of a review.  If hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands of people see a review on your site or your Places page on their way to your site, but one day it gets filtered, didn’t that review pull its weight?

If you’re uncomfortable with embedding or pasting reviews, you could always use the tried-and-true technique of taking screenshots of the reviews and putting those images on your site – because Google can’t “read” images (yet?).  You could even use Linda’s cool animated-GIF-slideshow technique.  (Of course, for CYA reasons you still might want to ask customers for permission first.)

Where do you come out on this?

Any first-hand experience that contradicts what I’ve found?

Have you put your Google reviews on your site – and if so, what happened?

Leave a comment!

Who Can Write You an Online Review – Besides Customers?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/josemanuelerre/14723419461

Tricky question.

Let’s start with the obvious gold standard: your customers write openly about their experiences with you in online reviews, and you did such a good job for them that those reviews glow.  Anyone who types in your name can easily see your tip-top reviews on Google+ and Yelp and Facebook and on other sites.  That’s the goal.

But what about reviews from people other than your customers, clients, or patients?  How legitimate are those reviews?  Do they have their place in the world when the odds are slim that your customers will ever speak up?  How about when review sites don’t even have policies against non-customer reviews?  Should you still ask?

Those questions matter for a few reasons:

  • In some industries it’s tougher to get reviews than in other industries. If you’re a dentist or innkeeper and you don’t have reviews (preferably positive ones) then you’ve got problems.  But if you’re a psychotherapist or divorce lawyer who’s short on reviews you’re not alone.
  • Different sites have different rules on reviews. Yelp doesn’t want you to ask anyone for reviews, even if you welcome honest and possibly harsh appraisals.  Google’s policies seem to change with the zodiac signs.  Facebook is laissez-faire.
  • You want to feel comfortable when you ask for a review. That’s tough if you feel you’re crossing a line.
  • Being ethical is the most important thing. Companies that disappoint customers down but still squeeze out positive reviews eventually get what’s coming.

Who should and shouldn’t write you an online review?  A recent conversation with Darren got me to thinking about that slippery question.  I can’t think of a simple answer, so I’m just going to burp on my thoughts on it.

I want to emphasize that these are my opinions.  Feel free to disagree with me in the comments.  I don’t know that anyone’s delved into this topic yet, so even if these are the first words on it, they’re surely not the last.

Legitimate non-customer reviewers:

  • Recipients of pro bono work. You might be a lawyer who took on a case pro bono, or a doctor who patched up somebody and didn’t send a bill, or a tow-truck driver who hauled someone back to civilization for free.  In my opinion, it is fine to say, “By the way, I’d really appreciate a review.”
  • Relevant spouses or family members of the customer (the person who paid you). As I once wrote, there’s nothing wrong with requesting a review from a guy who bought an engagement ring, and requesting one from his fiancée if possible.  Or if two members of a family bring their cat to the vet I would say it’s fine to encourage both of them to speak up online.  They’re likely to follow each other’s leads.

  • Almost-customers, like people for whom you did a free consultation. Of course, you don’t want too many reviewers like them.  But if they say they really appreciate you time – even though they’re going in another direction – it’s fine to say, “It’d mean a lot to me if you could jot that down in a quick online review.”
  • Event attendees. Let’s say you hosted a charity event or a free tour.  Assuming it’s clear to the reader that those people aren’t customers, I’d say they’re fair game.

Possibly-legitimate reviewers

  • Peers.  For instance, if you’re a lawyer, Avvo lets you review other lawyers.  The nice thing is that they’re unlikely to pretend to be your clients, so the review will probably be transparent to a fault.  The drawback is that it’s tempting to go for a quid pro quo, which can make both parties look un-objective.

  • Other business owners. Google lets you do this.  But that doesn’t mean you should, unless the relationship is clear and not a “scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” deal.
  • Friends who are also customers. Would they have written you a positive review if they weren’t friends with you – just happy customers?  Is it clear in the reviews that there’s a personal relationship?  Were they customers who became friends?  This one’s tricky.

Reviewers in very gray areas

  • Of course mom will say you’re great.  And your kids had better give you 5 stars, or no allowance.  But what if you actually accepted money from Uncle Louie to re-upholster his Pacer?  Yes, he’s a customer, but he’s also biased. I would not suggest asking family.

  • Friends who aren’t customers. Even if the relationship is crystal-clear to readers, this just isn’t why we came up with the idea of reviews.
  • Reviews from disgruntled employees have their place in the world, but to ask an employee for a review is sketchy.  I think the only question here is: do you ask employees to remove reviews that they wrote because they thought they were doing you a favor?  (I probably would.)
  • Not a good idea if the internship is current, or might lead to employment.  Otherwise, maybe.

Don’t ask just anyone for reviews.  Even if your principles differ from mine, at least have them and follow them.  That’s the best way to keep your reputation out of Boot Hill.

What do you think of reviews from non-customers?  Have you ever requested any?

Where do you draw the ethical line(s)?

Leave a comment!

20 Local SEO Techniques You Overlooked (Almost)

https://www.flickr.com/photos/calliope/7890771190

We local-SEO geeks talk about the same old basic principles a little too much: clean up your citations, don’t get penalized by Google, be mobile-friendly, earn “local” links, create “unique” content, deserve reviews, ask for reviews, etc.

It’s all good advice.  I’ve devoted many of my blog posts in the last 4 years to unpacking that advice so it’s easy to act on.

The trouble is we’re repetitive.  We’re almost as bad as the talking heads at CNN.  We rarely move on to what you should do once you’re pretty solid on the basics – and there is a lot you can and should do.

(In fact, many of the overlooked wins can also help you even if you just started working on your local SEO.)

Here are 20 stones I find unturned way too often:

1.  Nail the categories on your non-Google listings: Pick out the most-relevant ones, and as many of them as are applicable. Dig them up with Moz Local’s free “Category Research” area and with my category lists for Apple Maps and Yelp.

2.  Do a second round of work on your citations. Do it a couple of months after the initial blob of work.  You might be amazed at how many stragglers you find.  Might be enough to motivate you for a third go-round.

3.  Try to find and possibly hire a MapMaker editor to join the Forces of Good in your local anti-spam war. Of course, there’s no guarantee that even a MapMaker editor can stop your competitors’ spam offensive, but it’s worth a shot.

4.  Become or get to know an “Elite” Yelper (like this recruit). Got a review that’s viciously personal, un-PC, or is obviously from an imposter?  The Elite Yelper may know just how to phrase the takedown request for the best chances of a takedown.  Also, because most Elite Yelpers don’t really have lives, Yelp seems to expect them to report data-errors (like wrong addresses), and usually acts on them.

5.  Embedding on your website the Google map that’s featured on your Places page. Don’t embed a map of a generic address.  You want Google to know people are looking up directions to you.

6.  Get a Google Business View photo shoot. (10 reasons here.)

7.  Pick the right itemtype for the blob of name / address / phone info that you’ve marked up with Schema.org markup. Or take a few extra minutes to go bananas with your Schema.

8.  Join a couple of local and industry associations. I’m talking about your local Chamber of Commerce and the sorts of organizations you’d find if you Google the word that describes your business + “association” or “organization.”  They’re often worth joining for the offline benefits, and you’ll probably get a good link.

9.  Diversify the sites where you encourage customer reviews. The benefits are many.

10.  Create a “Reviews” page. Use it to showcase your reviews (possibly with widgets and badges) and to ask any customers who visit the page to put in a good word.  You can pretty easily create a page from scratch, or you can make a nice one with a service like Grade.us.  Link to it in the signature of your emails, as a gentle way to encourage any customers you email to pick up a quill.

11.  Write blog posts to answer super-specific questions that a customer might type into Google. Don’t try to rank for your main keywords (“How to Pick the Best Dentist in Cleveland: a Guide by Cleveland Dentists for Cleveland Dentist Patients”).  It won’t work and you’ll look stupid.  (Refer to this post and its follow-up.)

12.  Get some barnacle SEO happening. By now, Will Scott’s concept isn’t new, but most business owners still don’t even try to do it.  But just start with the basics: if you pick out all the right categories (see point #1) and encourage reviews on a variety of sites (see point #9) you’ll be in pretty good shape.

13.  Use wildcard searches for keyword-research. (This one was new to me until very recently.)

14.  Lengthen pages that aren’t ranking well – including and perhaps especially your homepage. Yes, this sounds old-school, and about as cool as a pocket protector.  But I’m not telling you to add gibberish.  Go into detail about what makes you different, describe your service / process, address concerns the reader might have, etc.  Google likes having meat to sink its teeth into.  One-paragraph Wonder Bread pages tend not to do as well.

15.  Ask for reviews twice. People forget, and it’s a nice excuse to keep in touch.  Follow up with customers you asked for a review – especially if they said they would.  It’s easy to avoid making yourself a pest: just say you’d still appreciate their feedback, ask them if they have any questions for you, and thank them in advance.

16.  Include links to sites where you have reviews. (Be sure to have those links open into a new browser tab, so nobody’s leaving your site.)  Use review widgets and badges when you can.

17.  Cannibalize underperforming microsites, bad blog posts, or other online carcasses. Grab (and edit as need be) any content that’s redeemable, and use it to make your site bigger and better.

18.  Get listed on Apple Maps. Yes, everyone knows about aMaps by now, but I’m amazed at how many times I start working for clients and see only their competitors on Apple.

19.  Try hard to reach non-English speakers, if applicable. Don’t just stick Se Habla Español (for example) in your footer as an afterthought.  Include a paragraph in that language on your homepage and on your “Contact” page.  Maybe create a whole page geared toward those customers.  Be sure to use the hreflang tag if you have more than one version of the same page.

20.  If you’re a local SEO-er, find steps your clients might be able to do better than you can. Don’t just look for more billable hours; look for the best person for the job, or the best combination of people.  Don’t spend hours trying to dig up all their old phone numbers and addresses; ask them first.  Whenever a writing task comes up, pump your clients for info.  When you need to find link opportunities, send them my link questionnaire.  They know the business better than you do.  If you don’t get much cooperation, fine.  At least you tried, and you’re giving them options.  But I’ve found that most clients recognize when they’ve got just the right wrench for the oddly-shaped bolt.

What’s an “overlooked” local SEO tip you like?

Any that you’re considering but not sure about?

Leave a comment!

Who Should Ask for Reviews: Business Owner or Employee?

“Phil, how do I get more reviews?”

I’m asked that all the time.

What I’m almost never asked is who should ask customers, clients, or patients for reviews.  That’s a shame, because a good strategy + the wrong person = the wrong strategy.

Business owners or others who work at the company should be the ones asking for reviews.  Not marketers or SEOs. Not reputation-management people. Not programs.  They don’t know the customers, and customers feel zero obligation toward them.

If someone in-house needs to ask for reviews, the question becomes: who?

My advice usually is: the higher up the chain of command, the better.

But there are pros and cons to having the business owner ask customers for reviews, versus having someone else in the company do it.  Here are all the arguments I can think of for each approach:

Why employees should ask for reviews:

Reason 1:  Customers might have interacted only with one specific employee. He or she is the “contact” person for those customers.  A request from anyone else might seem out-of-place.

Reason 2:  Certain customers may feel a bond with a specific employee – the one who worked with them personally.

Reason 3:  Employees may have a better sense of which customers are happy versus unhappy.

Reason 4:  The business owner may simply be short on time. (Still, he or she still should ask customers at least occasionally, if for no other reason than to see how well the process works and how customers feel.)

Why the business owner should ask for reviews:

Reason 1:  The customer may feel more important and listened-to. He or she will take offense if the brass seems unlikely ever to read the review, or if the business owner seems “too busy” and sends a messenger.

Reason 2:  The business owner is probably the one with the most interest in racking up reviews – the most skin in the game – and is most likely to apply the needed finesse.

Reason 3:  The business owner can see first-hand how well the review strategy works.

Reason 4:  The business owner is in the best position to field complaints and to make big-picture changes if need be. As Mike Blumenthal has said, “the issue is happy customers.”

Reason 5:  The business owner should know what’s involved in asking personally for a review, before asking his / her employees to do it. Lead by example.

Reason 6:  The business owner is more likely to know the SEO strategy, and to know where the holes are. “We need reviews on Facebook,” or “We can’t ask customers to go to Yelp, or else they’ll run into the filter.”

Reason 7:  The business owner will feel at more liberty not to ask for a review. An employee may ask a ticked-off customer for a review because the boss wasn’t clear about which customers should be asked.

Reason 8:  The business owner can mention that employees get bonuses for exceptional service. I suppose an employee could say, “FYI, I’ll receive a little bonus if you’re thrilled with the work I did for you.”  But that could be awkward.

Reason 9: The customer may feel freer to call out a specific employee who didn’t cut the mustard. Yes, the criticism will sting, but it’s better to have an honest bad review than a vague bad review.  At least one shows you where there’s room for improvement.

Reason 10: The boss will be in an even better position to mine the reviews.

Even though I can think of many more reasons for the business owner to ask for reviews than for anyone else to do it, it’s worth having different people try their hands.  Who knows who will get the most and best reviews.

Who on your crew asks for reviews?

What’s the thinking behind your strategy?

Leave a comment!

Every Local SEO Diagnostic You’ll Ever Need to Know (Plus Some)

You may be stumped as to why you’re not ranking well (or at all)…but don’t say it’s because you tried everything and just couldn’t figure it out.

You probably didn’t try everything.

I can think of 56 diagnostics you should try if you want to troubleshoot local SEO problems or find missed opportunities.  I’ll tell you all 56 in a minute.

First, a few points about what this post is not:

It’s not a list of every tool.  That’s what this post is for.

It’s not a technical audit (although a few of my suggestions fall into that category).

It’s not a tutorial on exactly what to do about what each diagnostic may show you.  Many times the next steps will be clear, but sometimes they’re tricky.  (For maximum detail on action items, get my free guide – or consider my X-Ray service.)

By the way, this is an evergreen post, so I’ll keep adding diagnostics.  (Please leave a comment if you have any to suggest.)

Let’s get into it, shall we?  I’ve broken this up into 7 sections.  You can click on a link to jump to a section.

General

Google Places

Website

Citations

Links

Reviews

My 7-point quick checkup

…or you can just start right here at the top.

General diagnostics

Measure the business’s distance to the center of town
Look up driving directions (in Google Maps) from the business to the town where it’s located or where its owners want to rank.  Are you 20 miles from what Google considers the center of town?  Are you significantly farther away than your higher-ranking competitors are? You want a sense of whether it’s even possible to rank in your “target” city.

Search in the business’s ZIP code
Type a search term into Google, click the “Search tools” button under the search bar, and enter the ZIP or postal code that the business is located in.  Does it rank?

Search in an incognito browser window
You may see biased results if you’re logged into your Google account or if you haven’t cleared your browser’s cookies in a while.

Study Google Analytics
For now, just log in and look for any steep dips in traffic.  Then you can use these other diagnostics to figure out why the drop-off happened.  (There are tons of resources for learning about Google Analytics in-depth, and they’re easy to find, so I’ll leave that part to you.)

Check Google Webmaster Tools
Any crawl or indexation issues?

Check your Apple Maps, Bing Places, and Yahoo Local rankings
If you rank more visibly in those places than in Google, it’s less likely you’re looking at a technical issue on your website and more likely that you’re staring at Google’s sharp fangs.

Get my questionnaire filled out
I’m talkin’ about this.  Probably only useful if you’re the SEO person who needs all the pertinent facts from your client – although it might still be a useful exercise even if you’re doing your own local SEO.

Google Places diagnostics

Check for the Google Places pack
Are you seeing only organic results for search terms that used to pull up the Google Places 7-pack (or 3-pack) results – or vice versa?

Perform a brand-name search
Do you see the Google Places page?  Is it the correct one?  Do you see the expected listings on other sites (e.g. Yelp)?

Search from different default locations
Type in a search term, click the “Search tools” button under the search bar, and enter other cities or ZIP codes.

Check rankings both with and without city names
Do you rank for “dentist” but not for “Cleveland dentist”?

Check the “Maps” tab
Are you ranked #10?  Are you on page 5?  To find out, type in a search term, click the “Map results…” link under the Google Places results, then click the “See results in list view” link. That’s for checking your visibility in the “new” Google Maps. But, as Linda points out, you should also check your rankings in classic Maps, because you may see different results there – possibly pre-Pigeon-update results.

Search on Google Plus
Go to plus.google.com, sign in, go to the “Local” tab, and search for the business.  Can you find its Google Places page?  Is it the one you expected to find?

Check both Googles
Let’s say your business is in Canada.  Check its rankings both on Google.com and on Google.ca.  You may notice a huge difference.

Make sure the page is verified
Look for the little checkmark near the profile photo.

Make sure the page has been “upgraded”
Do you see only an “About” and “Photos” tab, or do you see 3-4 tabs (like “Posts,” “Videos,” or “YouTube”)?

See if Google has made changes without your OK
Yes, Google does that sometimes.  Log into your Google My Business dashboard and you may see a message that says Google made tweaks to your page (usually to your address or categories).

Search for your business in MapMaker
Look at the “Details” tab.  Is any info incorrect?  (By the way, don’t bother with this step if you’ve got a service-area business.)  If anything seems incorrect, don’t mess around with it without reading this post first.

Check your map-marker location
Google your address.  Now check out on the map on your Google Places page.  Does the red marker show up in exactly the same place on the map?  If not, move the marker.

Find duplicate or near-duplicate Google Places pages
Use Michael Cottam’s excellent and free tool.  Or use the old-school techniques that Joy Hawkins’ describes.

Check the Google Places landing page URL
Go to your Places page and click the link to your site.  Does it forward to a domain other than the one you just clicked on?  Does it even take you to your website at all (yes, I’ve seen typos here, sad to say)?  Please tell me you’re using your homepage as the landing page.

Double-check the business hours
I’ve seen significant traffic dips on (for example) weekends when I’ve had clients who are closed on weekends.  Is that because search volume is naturally lower on the weekend because people are taking it easy, and that’s why the businesses are closed to begin with?  Or is Google less likely to show search results that contain closed businesses?  I suspect it’s a little of both.  So make sure your hours don’t mark you as “Closed” for more hours than you really are closed.

Website diagnostics

Do a site:yourwebsite.com search
How many of your pages are indexed?  Are you seeing old, duplicate versions of pages?  Are all your title tags the same (or just terrible)?

Check your robots.txt
Go to yourwebsite.com/robots.txt.  Make sure it doesn’t contain the dreaded “Disallow: /” line.  Especially if you’re not sure how to assess a robots.txt file you’ll want to use Google’s tester.

Look for mirror sites
I’m talking about clones of the site you want to rank well: same guts, different domain name.  Slimy companies may build these for you in a misguided attempt to try to “track conversions.”  The best way to find them is to Google a few lines of text from your homepage, and to see whether another domain pops up in Google.  Or use Copyscape or Plagium.

Find any unwanted subdomains or staging sites
Search for them by typing site:yourwebsite.com -www search.  Hat tip to the Local SEO Guide guys for reminding me about this one.

Make sure the NAP info is crawlable text
Google needs to be able to read your name / address / phone (“NAP”) info.  That’s not possible if your NAP is an image.  So here’s the test: can you copy and paste it?  If so, Google can read it OK.

View the source code
Only do this if you are your own webmaster, have built websites in the past, or otherwise know what to look for.  But if you do know what to look for, you may find some real demons.

Check the site on a smartphone
If you’re in an industry where a lot of the traffic (let’s say 30% or more) is from smartphones and you don’t have a mobile-friendly site, your bounce rate may be high.  That may hurt your rankings.

Use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool
Hat tip to Tony of Cartography Marketing for reminding me of this one.

Check the “itemtype” line in your Schema.org markup
The itemty-…huh?  I explain that one in another long post.  It’s a little technical, and it won’t explain low rankings, but it might give you a slight edge in the local roller-derby.

Citation diagnostics

Do a (free) Moz Local scan
Hands-down the best way to get a quick sense of how much work your citations need.  Oh, and don’t ignore the suggestions for categories.

Check the BBB record
I love this hack.  You can find alternative business names, old phone numbers, and more.

Make sure you’re listed on Google’s pets
Beyond Yelp and YP, what sites rank well for the terms you’re trying to rank for? For instance, Google expects you to be on HealthGrades if you’re a doctor, or Avvo if you’re a lawyer, or Houzz if you’re a contractor. I’m mostly talking about industry sites. Thanks to Gyi Tsakalakis for reminding me of this point.

Search for the phone number in the standard format
I like to search with dashes as the separators (e.g. 123-867-3509).  It’ll pull up the same results as it would if you Googled the phone number with parentheses around the area code.

Search the phone number with periods as separators
Some people think the dots look chic, so they use them in their phone number.  But Google does not treat periods the same as dashes.  You may see different search results come up when you search for the number with periods (e.g. 123.867.5309).

Search for your business name and city
Great diagnostic from Darren: “If everything is in order, you should see a knowledge panel for the business. If you don’t get one, that can indicate Google isn’t getting enough signals to identify your brand. Try working on citation audit & cleanup, and review acquisition.” (By the way, Darren’s crew can help with messy citations.)

Search for the address
What kind of address is it (e.g. residential)?  Do the expected business listings (e.g. YellowPages) come up?  Do you see unexpected phone numbers come up?  Any discrepancies as to what city / town that address might be in?

Do a USPS ZIP Lookup
What town does Uncle Sam think your ZIP is in?  Know that before you touch your citations.

Use the Local Citation Finder
Do your competitors have better local citations?  Which competitors?  Where can you go to get those citations?  The Local Citation Finder can save you hours of toiling.

Use NAP Hunter
Those madmen at Local SEO Guide created a Chrome extension to help you unearth incorrect and duplicate citations.  Another huge time-saver.  Or, if you want to take the scenic route, you can use the sitelinks search box to find duplicate citations.

Yext free scan
Ignore the eschatological “144 Errors!” warnings and just get a rough sense of how many totally wrong phone numbers, addresses, and names are floating around the web, and on what sites. Note: if you use Yext’s free scan you’ll get solicited by Yext. (Thanks to Rob Scutti for reminding me of this trade-off.)

Check the state’s Secretary of State filing
Fix any business info that’s incorrect or out-of-date.

Check THE big YellowPages-type player in your country
YellowPages.ca is the make-or-break listing if you’re in Canada.  YellowPages.com.au is huge you’re in Australia.  Yell.com is crucial if you’re in the UK.  Get your listing right and you may see progress on the Google Places side.

Check Twitter for acknowledged problems
Great resource: Bill Bean’s Twitter Handles for Local Business Citation Sources.

Link diagnostics

Check backlinks
Use OpenSiteExplorer, MajesticSEO, or Ahrefs – or some combination of the three, ideally.  Spot-check your links and decide if they’re junk.  Get any junk links removed.

Check Google Webmaster Tools for a manual penalty
A worst-case scenario (one reason you don’t want to skip the “Check backlinks” step).

Get a Toxic Links score from LinkDelete
Another one in Darren’s words: “Run their quick scan to get a sense of how many bad links you have. Don’t freak out if the number is higher than expected. They tend to over-report a bit, in my opinion.”

Look at the release history of Penguin and other algorithm updates
Does Google Analytics show a steep drop-off in traffic on or right after a day that Google released an algorithm update?

Check for links between affiliated businesses
Do your five sites merrily link to each other?  Don’t.


Review diagnostics

Type in [name of business] + reviews
Just see what – if anything – comes up.  Not having many or any reviews is bad local SEO and worse marketing.  Read this and this.

Check Google’s reviews dashboard
Sometimes buggy and won’t pick up Yelp reviews, but good for getting a quick sense of where a business has reviews.

Check YellowBot
Same goal as above.  As I’ve shown, reviews from all over the place show up on YellowBot.

Check the “More reviews” section in the knowledge graph
Yet another way to check for where a business has reviews.

Find filtered Google+ reviews
See this brilliant post by Joy Hawkins.

My 7-point quick checkup:

I can uncover probably 80% of problems in about 10 minutes, just by doing these quick tests (which I mentioned earlier):

1.  Check rankings both with and without city names

2.  Perform a brand-name search

3.  Measure the business’s distance to the center of town

4.  Do a site:yourwebsite.com search

5.  Do a (free) Moz Local scan

6.  Google the phone number(s)

7.  Check backlinks

 

Great further reading

Advanced Local Citation Audit & Clean Up: Achieve Consistent Data & Higher Rankings
– Casey Meraz

Troubleshooting Local Ranking Failures: a Beginner’s Guide
– Miriam Ellis

*Local SEO Audit Template
– Dan Leibson

(*That’s not the real title of the post, but I’m not shoehorning that 17-word monstrosity in here.  Sorry, Dan :)  Nice post, though.)

 

Do you have a problem you still can’t figure out after trying those diagnostics?

Is there a troubleshooting method I forgot?

What’s your favorite?

Leave a comment!

User Behavior Affects Local Rankings. Now What?

First, go check out Darren’s slides.  After you pick up your jaw, come back here.  The two presentations were an unofficial duo that kicked off the Local track at State of Search 2014.

Want to know how to get higher click-through from the Places results, and how to encourage other actions that Google may care about (like getting customers to look up driving directions)?  Enjoy!

 

Huge thanks to Greg, Mike Stewart, and to everyone else who made State of Search great.  You should go in 2015.  You’ll love it – especially if you’re serious about local search.

Questions about my slides?  Leave a comment!

Mining Your Online Reviews: 25 Nuggets You Can Use to Get More Local Customers

A good review means it’s Miller Time and a bad review is just a black eye – right?

No.  You’ve got a little more work to do.  The better you understand your reviews, the better you understand your customers and your business.  That’s how you’ll attract more of the types of customers you want.

Sounds like a mushy goal.  But you can do it by crunching on your reviews until you chew into the bits of gold.

I’m talking about all the online reviews you have anywhere – from Google+ to Yelp to YellowPages to industry-specific review sites.

Don’t have many reviews yet?  Great.  It won’t take you long to mine them for insights.

Don’t have any reviews?  No problem.  Mine your competitors’ reviews.

Read all the reviews and try to answer these 25 questions:

Quick dig

1.  Do customers bring up the aspects of your business (especially services) that you want them to?

If not, you might need to tell them, “Hey, the more detail you can go into, the better.”  (As a bonus, this is a good and ethical way to get more keywords in your reviews.)

2.  Which service(s) of yours do your customers review most? That might tell you which customers are most likely to write a review if you ask them to.

3.  Do reviewers rave about a service that doesn’t even have its own page on your site? Create a page for it.  There’s a good chance it’ll rank – especially if it’s a niche service.

4.  Did they mention that you provided them an emergency service, a free estimate, or a discount? You might want to create a separate page on your site where you talk up that angle.

5.  What do customers love about you? Tweak your USP if it doesn’t reflect what makes your happiest reviewers so happy.  If possible, update the pages on your site and your Google Places description (and descriptions on other sites) to showcase the crisper USP.

6.  Do they mention how they found you in the first place, or whether your online reviews were a selling point? Give that piñata an extra whack.

7.  Do reviewers mention a specific person in your company? If so, what do they say?

Bonus points: do you have a whole page on your site about that person, where you play up his/her strengths?

8.  Do customers use their full names? If not, you may want to tell them you also appreciate reviews on review sites that don’t require full names.

9.  What’s the balance of men vs. women who reviewed you? Is there a balance?

How well does that reflect your pool of customers?  If not, can you say that you’re much more likely to get reviews from women or from men?

10.  Which people have profile photos (on Google+ or Yelp)? This can tell you who might be more willing to take a few minutes to write you another review on another site.  Consider asking those people for a review somewhere else – especially if they’re still customers / clients / patients.

 

Deep dig

11.  Who’s reviewed you on multiple sites? Those people are your brand-advocates – your cheerleaders.  Send them a thank-you note and a smoked pheasant.

12.  Leaf through your reviewers’ profiles: Are they habitual reviewers, or did they write a review just for you? This might tell you where they found you in the first place.

You never know what you might find.

13.  Have your absolute-best customers reviewed you? If not, ask them (or ask again).

14.  How many of your reviewers are repeat customers vs. first-timers? This will give you an idea of when customers might be most likely to act on your request.

This can tell you (among other morsels) roughly which stage of the relationship is the best time to ask for reviews.

15.  Did any of your customers also do business with or review your competitors? What do those customers like about you and dislike about your competitors, or vice versa?

16.  Which of your reviewers have written several reviews on Yelp – but haven’t written Yelp reviews of your business? Might be time to raise some awareness.

17.  Check out the spontaneous reviews. Which sites did people review you on without your having to ask?  That can tell you which sites customers find easy to use, and maybe about where they found you in the first place.

18.  Who wrote more reviews that you didn’t ask for: happy customers or unhappy customers?

19.  Are there any reviews that might be useful as testimonials on your site? (Consider each site’s policies when re-posting reviews.  Only Yelp and Google are against it, but I’ve seen so many businesses reuse reviews as testimonials that I can’t believe Yelp and Google care too much.)

20.  Is there a specific time of year that many customers reviewed you? That might be a good time to ask them in the future.

21.  How old are most of your reviewers? Do younger customers seem more likely to review you, or are the older ones more likely to?  Whose reviews are longer or more thoughtful?

22.  What cities are your reviewers from? How visible are you in those places?

23.  Are specific customers giving you the star ratings you expect from them? If you expected 5 stars from Jane and she gave you 5 stars, and you expected 3 from John and he gave you 3 stars, keep asking the Janes for reviews and figure out how you can make the Johns a little happier.

24.  Whose Yelp reviews got filtered? Consider asking those people to review you somewhere else.

25.  When did customers post reviews relative to when you asked them to review you? Do they tend to review you same-day, or is there an incubation period?  This can tell you when’s a good time to send a follow-up request.

You could spend a few minutes or a few hours mining your reviews – depending on their number and on your interest.  It doesn’t need to be a teeth-grinding ordeal.

You don’t even have to do it personally.  An employee or assistant or someone in the family could do it.  The ultimate is to mine your reviews, then ask someone else to, and then compare notes.

What have you learned from your reviews?  Have you mined them but don’t think you’ve got any nuggets?  Leave a comment!

You Can Incentivize Google Plus Reviews…Just Not in the Way You’d Think

It’s bad form to offer customers hard incentives to write you reviews.  That includes money, products, work, massages, Starbucks cards, Chuck-E-Cheese tokens, or anything else of tangible value.

On Google Plus it’s also against the rules.  For once, Google’s review policies are relatively clear:

Conflict of interest: Reviews are most valuable when they are honest and unbiased. If you own or work at a place, please don’t review your own business or employer. Don’t offer or accept money, products, or services to write reviews for a business or to write negative reviews about a competitor. If you’re a business owner, don’t set up review stations or kiosks at your place of business just to ask for reviews written at your place of business.

You can’t hold raffles or contests that reviewers can enter by writing you a review.

Then there’s the unofficial word from 20 months ago that you can’t hold review contests that donate to charity, where Google apparently stated that “Any incentive offered in return for a review of a specific business is against our policy.”  But that “policy” wasn’t part of the rules then, and it certainly isn’t now:

To encourage reviews for your business: Remind your customers to leave feedback on Google. Simply reminding customers that it’s quick and easy to leave feedback on Google on mobile or desktop can help your business stand out from sites with fewer reviews.

Even in the “Tips for writing great reviews” document there’s no such broad stance against “any incentive.”

After flip-flopping for too long, Google’s’ not only OK with your asking customers / clients directly for reviews, but also encourages you to ask.  It’s just that you can’t butter your reviewers’ bread.

So what can you do besides beg?

You appeal to the little Mr. Rogers within each of your customers.

You do it by telling customers that whichever employee, technician, hygienist, etc. who helped them will get a small bonus for any positive feedback about the job they did.

It’s not a new concept, but it’s worked like a charm for my friend and long-time client, who’s put it into practice for getting reviews on Google and elsewhere.  Here’s exactly what he tells customers:

By the way, any members of our crew who served you today will get a bonus for any positive comments you’d like to add about their performance.

This works because you’re not waving money or an Amazon gift card in reviewers’ faces.  You’re not telling them that their word – their very reputation – is worth just $25 or $50.

Rather, you’re appealing to the part of human nature that enjoys helping other people out.  You’re also deferring to your customers’ judgment.

Of course, you’re not telling reviewers to give you 5 stars.  They can write, “The prices were high, the person who answered the phone was an ogre, but at least Fred was polite and did a good job for me.”

To me, this approach is just a smart way of encouraging – not even “incentivizing” reviews.  You’re not trying to grease customers’ wheels, and you’re only asking for positive feedback to the extent that your customers feel that someone on your team earned it.  And it seems to work.

What do you think of this approach to encouraging reviews?  Have you tried it?  Leave a comment!

When Can Digging for Competitive Intel Help Your Local SEO?

People often ask me what kinds of competitive fact-finding I think can help their local SEO efforts.  My answer usually is, “Not what you’d think.”

The theory is solid enough: you want to know why your competitors outrank you in the local results, so you try to find out everything you can about them.  Knowledge is power, right?

But there are some problems inherent in competitive-intelligence:

  • You’ll be tempted to do whatever your competitors do, even if it’s stupid and might earn them a penalty in the future. Lemmings off a cliff.
  • You won’t know exactly why they’re ranking well now.
  • You may not know how long they’ve ranked well (for all you know, there’s a bug), and you can’t know how long it will last.
  • It’s hard to know to what extent your competitors’ search-engine visibility results in paying customers.
  • Google can see things that you can’t.

You don’t want to be the schmuck who says, “I don’t get it…I’m doing everything my competitors are doing, so why don’t I have good rankings?”  Well, because Google may not be looking for more of the same in the search results – and your would-be customers certainly aren’t.

The best thing you can do is gather the kind of competitive-intel that you can use to get ahead of your competitors, and to ignore the useless facts that only allow you to ape them.

Let’s start with the useless stuff that – in my opinion – isn’t even worth researching:

Useless competitve-intel

  • Keyword-density. Because you too can be the proud owner of a spammy site that confuses and annoys visitors.
  • Anchor text of inbound links. If you can control the anchor text it’s probably not a good link in the first place.  But in either case, the temptation to go too far is too strong.

icarus

  • Title tags. Most people (especially SEOs) write horrid title tags.  Ignore them and just write a good one.
  • Domain name. Yes, a keyword-relevant domain is a small advantage.  But changing your name is a big deal, and not worth the hassle purely from a rankings standpoint.
  • Domain age. Same issues as with domain names, except an old domain that you buy is an even smaller advantage, and you may inherit some backlinks baggage.
  • Name of Google Places landing page. In my experience, you’re more likely to rank well if you use your homepage.  But there are exceptions.  If you see a competitor who’s using a city-specific landing page he / she may be one of the exceptions.  Your mileage may vary.
  • Google Places description. Your competitors probably don’t rank for every keyword in their descriptions.  Most likely neither will you.

Sometimes-useful intel

  • Inbound links. (C’mon, you know the pros and cons of looking at competitors’ links.)
  • Site structure. Your competitors’ pages may be easier for Google to crawl, and there may be more of them that conceivably could rank well.
  • Title tags. Most people (especially SEOs) write horrid title tags.  Ignore them and just write a good one – OR, if you must look at someone else’s title tag, do it just to get the creative juices flowing.  (Thanks to Dave for reminding me in his comment that this sometimes has value.)

My favorite intel

  • What useful pages do your competitors have that you don’t?
  • Where do they have reviews?
  • How many reviewers do they have? It’s worth knowing whether your competitors have had many customers / clients / patients to review them, or they’re banking off one or a few super-fans
  • How many of their other locations rank well? You might want to pay closer attention to a company that’s 5 for 6 than one that’s 1 for 6.
  • What categories do they use on their Google Places page and on other listings?

  • What kinds of barnacle SEO advantages do they have?

  • What obvious mistakes are they making? (And how can you avoid making those mistakes?)

Pay attention only to the areas where you can do something beyond just ape what other people are doing.  Especially in the long term, that’s the only way you can use competitive-intel to pull ahead, rather than to be just another plastic-coated noggin in the peloton.

What’s your philosophy on researching local competitors?  What do you pay attention to or ignore?  Leave a comment!

12 Points Your Customers Should Know Before Writing a Review

You know you need to encourage customers / clients / patients for reviews.  If you don’t, you’re stunting your local visibility and your ability to get the phone to ring. Easier said than done.  Your effort to earn reviews quickly turns into a juggling act:

  • You want to earn reviews on a variety of sites.
  • Some customers may need instructions.
  • You want good reviews.
  • You want to be ethical.

To accomplish all that takes strategy on your part, as I’ve described before. But what about your customers’ role?  What do they have to know? More than you might expect.  I can think of 12 points (in order of importance) that you should make sure your customers know before they write you a review:

1.  It’s OK not to write a review.  (We also appreciate testimonials, by the way.)

2.  If you simply don’t feel like reviewing us, please feel free to tell us why.  (For example, did we ask too early?  Does it seem like too much work?)

3.  Any site is great.  But if you truly have no preference, we always like reviews on [Site A] or [Site B].

4.  We appreciate detail.  Please write about whatever parts of your experience with us you’d like to write about.  But if you just don’t know where to start, maybe mention the specific service we provided, what problem caused you to come our way in the first place, and what you thought of our customer-service.

5.  We want your honest opinion.

6.  We’d love to know how we can do a better job.

7.  Here are some instructions, in case they help.  Of course, please let us know if you still have questions.

8.  It’s fine if you’d rather not use your full name or real name.  Even on Google+.

9.  It’s OK to name names, if one of our people was especially helpful.  In fact, we’d appreciate it.

10.  It’s great if you feel like reviewing us on more than one site, if you’re just as happy as a clam.

11.  We’d love if you’d mention how you found us in the first place.  (Did you read any reviews?)

12.  You can always edit your review later.

A couple notes

#4 (about how you appreciate detail):

This is the only good, ethical way to encourage keywords – which may help your rankings, and which on Google+ influence your business’s review snippets.

#7 (about providing instructions):

You can provide printed instructions or instructions in an email, or both.  Try my instructions, or create your own.  You might also weave in a “reviews page” on your site.  Experiment.

#10 (about posting more than one review):

Yelp is the most likely of any site to take down a review if it’s a duplicate of another.  I’ve noticed Yelp to be lax about duplicate content, though

What to do

I’m not saying you should rattle off that long list to all your customers.  That may overwhelm them.  Just get a sense of what they probably know already, and then find a way to impart the rest.

That’s a lot to absorb for you, too.  But you’ve got to try.  Being 100% clear about what you’re looking for and not looking for is the only way to encourage reviewers and good reviews without being pushy.

By the way, I suggest you also read this excellent old post by Mike Blumenthal.  It will help you internalize the points I mentioned.  That is the goal here.  You don’t want to over-explain yourself to customers, but you do want to address their concerns proactively or as they come up in different situations.

Any points you’d add?  What do you tell your customers?  Leave a comment!