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 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.

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 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 may still work.  (Of course, that 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

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.

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.


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 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 or, 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,, 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.

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!

How to Pick the Best Barnacle SEO Sites: a Checklist

The concept of barnacle SEO is simple enough: get visible on a site that ranks well in Google for the local search terms you’re going after, because that’s usually easier than getting your site to rank for those terms.  (You’ll still try to do both, of course.)  I’ve also written about the most-practical ways to execute it.

But barnacle SEO poses three challenges:

(1) It takes work.

(2) Most people overlook easy wins.

(3) The payoff usually isn’t as obvious as, say, high rankings in Google.

I’ve put together a checklist of all the ways (I can think of) that you can gauge the usefulness of a “barnacle” site.  I hope it helps you figure out where to channel your efforts.

To be more specific, I hope the checklist helps you determine:

  • Which review sites bring the most payoff with the least effort
  • Which “barnacle” site(s) would be best to advertise on
  • Which listings might be worth paying for
  • Which sites you might want to publish content on (where possible)
  • How you can get more benefit from a site where you’ve already got some presence

Here’s the checklist:
(click to open PDF)

How to pick a barnacle SEO site

Of course, there’s no site that meets all the criteria.  Yelp, Facebook, and YouTube probably come closest.  But those sites are saturated, and getting visible there may or may not be practical for you.  Just use the checklist to understand how one site stacks up against another, in terms of how it might help your local visibility.

By the way, because I had to fit all those points onto one smelly old pirate scroll, some points could use a little more explaining.  Here’s a little more detail on some of the criteria:

“Does it show “review stars” if you get a review?”

I’ll be lazy and recycle the example I used in my last post:

 “Can visitors immediately see the info they’re looking for?”

The trouble with an otherwise decent “barnacle” site like Angie’s List is that you’ve got to be a paying member to read the reviews.  Even on the BBB (an overlooked place to get reviews) the reviews are a little buried.

Not a reason to ignore either of those sites, but the semi-hidden reviews detract from the payoff a little bit.

“Does it give you an extra way to stay in touch with visitors?”

You can stay in touch with Facebook fans, YouTube channel subscribers, Pinterest followers, and the like.  Maybe they’ll become customers (even returning customers) one day.

“Is its SEO enviable?”

I’m referring to the point Nyagoslav makes in this excellent post, where he shows what a rock-solid job Yelp has done with its on-page SEO, and how that can indirectly help your business.

Thanks to David Deering for helping me with the design work on the checklist.  (Contact him if you need a new site, help with SEO, or heavy-duty help with Schema markup.)

Do you have a favorite “barnacle” site (especially an often-overlooked site)?

How about a barnacle strategy that’s worked well for you / your client?

Any questions about the checklist?

Leave a comment!

Facebook Reviews Now Get You Rich-Snippet “Review Stars” in the Local Search Results

Facebook has been a sleeping giant in the local-reviews game for a couple of years now – just as it’s been a sleeping giant in local search in general for longer.  It’s an excellent place to get reviews, because it’s got the user-base, because it’s quick and easy to post a review, and because Facebook reviews don’t get filtered.

My only gripe has been that your Facebook page doesn’t show “review stars” when it shows up in the search results.

Until now:

I tell every client to get at least a few reviews on Facebook (usually with a review handout like this), among many other sites.  Unlike Yelp, it’s one site that every business can and should get a toehold in.  In that respect, it’s second only to Google in local-search ecosystem.

Now you have an additional motivation to scare up some reviews on Facebook and to work it into your long-term reviews strategy: your average ratings there may show up for brand-name searches near the very top of the page.

In some cases your Facebook stars will show up for broad search terms (as in the first screenshot I showed).

To me, this is good news.  The extra visibility means that probably more business owners and customers will pay attention to review sites other than Yelp and Google+.  I think quality-control will be an issue for Facebook, but that’s the case everywhere.

What do you think?

Where does Facebook fit into your review strategy – and will that change?

Leave a comment!

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

Image Credit David Berkowitz

There’s long been a concern among “local” business owners and marketers that Yelp might filter or otherwise remove your hard-earned reviews if you copy and paste them onto your site.  Yelp’s a killjoy, so there’s some basis for that assumption.

But it turns out Yelp is fine with your publishing Yelp reviews on your site (and sometimes elsewhere), under a few conditions.

I couldn’t find the official policies on that practice posted anywhere, and a recent conversation on Google+ got me wondering, so I asked.  Here’s what Lucy at Yelp HQ told me the other day:

We have a few common sense guidelines if you want to use your Yelp rating and reviews in basic marketing materials, including your own website:

DO ask the reviewers themselves before using their reviews. You can contact them by sending them a “Private Message” on Yelp through your Business Account.

DO stick to verbatim quotes, and don’t quote out of context. If a review has colorful language that doesn’t suit your needs, you should probably move on to the next review.

DO attribute the reviews to Yelp using the Yelp logo (e.g.,”Reviews from Yelp”), and do attribute the reviews to their authors and the date written (e.g.,”- Mike S. on 4/5/09″). Yelp logos can be found at

DON’T distort the Yelp logo or use it in any way to suggest that Yelp or its users are affiliated with your business or helped create your marketing materials. Your business and your marketing need to stand on their own.

DON’T alter star ratings. Average star ratings change over time, so you also need to include the date of your rating nearby (e.g.,”**** as of 5/1/09″).

While we would hope not to, we reserve the right to change these guidelines from time to time or rescind our permission for any or no reason.

Reasonable enough, except for that last clause.  It also squares with what I’ve found to be true of reviews (Yelp and Google+) regardless of policy: they just don’t get filtered if you repurpose them.

What’s been your experience with reusing reviews?  Do you ask customers first?  Have you run across businesses who flagrantly go against Yelp’s reuse policies?  Leave a comment!

Citysearch Local Rewards: the Newest Answer to Yelp’s Elite Squad

When I went to Citysearch today, I noticed a wee something on the homepage:

Citysearch has been in the reviews game for years.  But this is CS’s first attempt at creating a program akin to Yelp’s well-known “Elite Squad” and Google’s lesser-known knockoff, “Local Guides.”

CS’s twist is that die-hard reviewers get Amazon gift cards.

Here’s the full announcement:

Citysearch users want to know what businesses you like and why. They want to know what businesses to avoid. And we want to reward you when you take the time to provide your opinion, photos and more. We also want to provide you opportunities to earn rewards for supporting local businesses. The points you earn can be converted to an Amazon Gift Card at any time, once you’ve earned at least 1000 points. To start earning points all you need to do is create an account and verify your email address.

There are lots of ways to earn points.

  • Be the first person to review a business.
  • Be the first person to upload a photo for a business.
  • Write a review that is helpful.
  • “Send” a business to your friends.
  • Support a qualified business (COMING SOON).

Have you done the following before?

  • Review a business.
  • Vote a business “thumbs up” or “thumbs down”
  • Upload a photo.
  • Create a Guide.

It’s nice to see a general local directory get more serious about reviews, and not simply sit ringside while Yelp and Google slap at each other.

A few problems:

a) Not many people use CS.  Its troubles are well-documented.

b) It’s not as prominent in Google’s search results as it used to be.

c) It’s riddled with bogus reviews.

Also, the fact that Citysearch is offering Amazon gift cards for reviews may mean that people crank out thoughtless reviews just to score some of that Monopoly Money.  (Not that CS would be the only site with that problem.)

Still, CS has long been a site that I and others have recommended scaring up some reviews on, partly because those reviews get syndicated far and wide.

It’ll be interesting to see whether the Local Rewards program takes off, and whether it brings somewhere Citysearch with it.

What do you think of the program?  Will this change your reviews strategy at all?  Leave a comment!

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

(Reviews embedded as Google+ posts)


Example 2: Navarre Auto Repair

(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

(Reviews embedded as Google+ posts)


Example 4: Andrew Turchin, DMD

(Reviews copied and pasted)


Example 5: Honest Family Dental

(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?

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!