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!

Real Names Not Needed for Google+ Reviews: Smart or Stupid Move?

 

Google no longer requires reviewers to use their real names when reviewing businesses on Google+.

This is a complete turnaround of the policy Google has had for the last few years.  It’s the latest step in Google’s long push to get more Plus users, mostly for data-mining purposes.

As you can tell from the comments on Google’s announcement, people are torn on whether this is good or bad.  There’s also a good discussion at Linda’s forum.

Is it good or bad to be able to leave an anonymous Google+ review?  Overall, I think it’s bad.  But I’d like to lay my thinking out piece by piece.

Here are what I see as the pros and cons:

Pros

1.  It makes it simpler to write reviews of people / businesses who offer sensitive services: divorce lawyers, bankruptcy lawyers, psychotherapists, exterminators, bakers of adult-themed cakes, etc.

Many other sites have allowed anonymous or semi-anonymous reviews; now Google’s one of them.  This is the main “pro” by far, in my opinion.

2.  Full-name reviews will gain value: They’ll be seen as more credible because, in general, they are.  Score one for the business owners who’ve already worked out a strategy for earning those reviews.

Cons

1.  Google is making life easier for spammers, scammers, and miscreants of all stripes.

2.  People will trust Google reviews less, for better or worse.

3.  Fake reviews will be harder to spot.

4.  It encourages one-time reviews.  Writing a review as “John Doe” makes sense when you’re reviewing (say) a divorce attorney.  Not so much if you’re reviewing a hotel.  With this change, Google is encouraging more reviews, but not more reviewers.

5.  Many people still don’t like Google+, and still won’t want to use it.  To the extent those people are your customers, Google’s new policy probably won’t change their minds.

6.  Business owners’ responses to anonymous reviews won’t be as helpful or specific, if they don’t know whom they’re even addressing.

7.  Does this mean reviewers’ profile pictures don’t have to be of them, either?

8.  The sentiment snippets showing in the knowledge graph will become even more of a problem.

Other considerations

Now Yelp looks like the only site that gives a hoot about quality-control.  Not that Yelp is particularly good about QC;  it’s just always been two steps ahead of Google.

I wouldn’t rule out another filter crackdown, once even Google determines there’s too much junk coming through.

Your thoughts?  Any pros or cons you’d add? Leave a comment!

16 Reasons to Get Reviews on a Diversity of Sites

Even business owners who are good about encouraging reviews often make a mistake: they steer would-be reviewers toward the same site.  Usually it’s Google+.  Sometimes it’s another site.

As in the gene pool and in one’s diet, variety is healthy.

Here are 16 reasons you should encourage customers to review you on different sites:

Reason 1:  You’ll keep your eggs in several baskets.  You don’t want all your reviews on Google+.  You really don’t want them all on Yelp.  And may the Big Guy Upstairs smile on you if you went heavy on Yahoo.

Reason 2:  The search results will look good when people search for you by name.  Google often shows off your reviews for you.

Reason 3:  It builds credibility.  Having reviews on a diversity of sites helps confirm that your 5-star reviews on one site aren’t a fluke (or a fabrication).

Reason 4:  It lets you offer customers choices of where to review you.  You want them to do what they find easiest.  That gives them more drive to review you – and fewer excuses not to.

Reason 5:  As a result of Reason #4: encouraging reviews on different sites lets you figure out which sites customers find easiest, which allows you to make the appropriate tweaks to your strategy.

Reason 6:  Diversity of reviews helps your Google Places rankings, in my experience.

Reason 7:  It’s the best way to rank well within those sites.

Reason 8:  It’s a great barnacle SEO technique.

Reason 9:  You might cultivate little streams of customers from those other sites.  Want to “Google-proof” your business?  Start here.

Reason 10:  It’s more raw online info about your business.  Some people will do homework on you.  Do what you can to make it worth their trouble.

Reason 11:  Customers / clients / customers can write reviews on the sites they consider private enough.

Reason 12:  You can learn more about your customers and where / how they found you in the first place.  You’ll probably see patterns.

Reason 13:  Some sites feed reviews to other sites – and search engines.

Reason 14:  To rank for city + service / product / business + reviews is pretty sweet.  (Example: “Monterey dentist reviews.”)

Reason 15:  You may be better able to track referral sources in Google Analytics.  (Useful in a “(not provided)” world.)

Reason 16:  Past / current and potential customers are a little more likely to write reviews of you if they see that’s what others do.  You’re in good shape if you create the impression, “Wow, everyone seems to review this place!”

Late addition – Reason 17:  Review sites themselves come and go and change over time.  See Dave’s great comment, below.

How best to diversify?  Totally depends on your current methods.  Try different printed, verbal, or email instructions.  You might also consider GetFiveStars or Grade.us or my 3-site review handouts.

Can you think of any more reasons to diversify?

How about arguments against mixing it up?

Leave a comment!

Local Reviews Strategy: Mobile vs. Desktop

One of my clients – we’ll call him Greg – asked me a great question the other day:

He wanted to know whether to gear his review-encouragement efforts toward smartphone users or toward desktop / laptop users.

I knew the ins and outs of his situation, and gave him a quick answer.  The essence of it was:

Focus on desktop reviewers if you have to “focus” on one, but encourage smartphone reviews to the extent customers find that easier.

That would be my general advice to you, even if I knew nothing about your situation.

But “mobile or desktop?” is a pregnant question.  Answering it gets complicated fast.

For one thing, the device you ask customers to use can affect your review efforts in big ways:

  1. It affects when you ask for reviews.  (Do you ask in-person, or by email, or both, or some other way?)
  1. It affects when customers can / will write the reviews (if they write them at all).
  1. It affects what you ask customers to do – it affects the kind of instructions you offer.

Why do those questions even matter?  Can’t you just say to everyone, “Hey, we’d sure appreciate a review” and still get reviews from customers?  Yes, and that can work OK.

But reviews are a numbers game.  You’ll get more of them if you can ask customers to do something that’s easy for them, and at a time that’s the most convenient for them.  Put a little thought into your approach and you might get 25 reviews for every 100 customers, rather than 3 for every 100.

Besides trial and error, the only way you’ll figure out which device(s) works better in your reviews campaign is to understand the pros and cons of each.

(By the way, I haven’t seen that one type of review inherently carries more “SEO benefit” than another.)

Pros of mobile reviews

  • If customers say “Yes, I’ll review you” on the spot, it’s easy to ask them to follow through on the spot.  They may even feel an obligation to do so.
  • Some younger customers might find it more appealing to write a review on their phones.
  • If you think some of your customers don’t own a full-sized computer at home, they’re probably used to doing everything on their phones – in which case writing a review for you is probably a cinch.
  • Pretty much everyone has the Google Maps app already.  (Which means all they need to write a review is a Google+ account.)

  • Google may be less likely to filter a review written on a smartphone.  (Thanks to Joy Hawkins for mentioning this  point in her comment, below.)
  • Pure speculation on my part: it’s possible that a review written through the Yelp app is less likely to be filtered.  (Did I mention I’m just speculating?)
  • Customers can check in at the same time.  That may make the review less likely to die in the filter.  And in Yelp that might give your rankings a slight bump.

Cons of mobile reviews

  • You pretty much need an app – one specific to the site.  Asking a customer on the spot to download and figure out how to use it may be a deal-killer.
  • You have to direct customers to one specific site (see above point).
  • Some sites where you might want reviews don’t have an app that makes it easy to write a review on a phone.  Avvo (for lawyers) is an example.  This can be a problem if your customers / clients / patients are concerned about privacy and you’re encouraging reviews on more-private sites.
  • It’s trickier for you to provide helpful instructions for customers who might need them.  (Although Darren’s mobile instructions for Google+ are kinda great.)
  • Customers probably won’t write much in the review.  Nobody’s going to consider a helpful review if it can fit in a fortune cookie.

  • Writing a review on a phone usually isn’t convenient at the moment you ask – and by the time your customers get home they’ll probably forget.
  • Some older customers may not have itchy phone fingers.

Pros of desktop / laptop reviews

  • Customers don’t have to download and use an app.  Assuming you know which specific site(s) you’ll be steering a given customer toward, your instructions can be one-size-fits-all.
  • Simple PDF instructions (like mine) work like a charm.
  • Customers are more likely to act on your email requests if they’re not on their phones.  It’s still easier to read emails on a full screen and to type with a keyboard.
  • Desktop / laptop may be easier for some older customers.

Cons of desktop / laptop reviews

  • Customers have to do it at home (or at work).  That may be several hours after you ask for a review.
  • It’s easier to get distracted.  Your request and their environment are at war for their attention.

  • A review can seem a little more like a chore.  Some people just find everything more enjoyable on their phones.

You should still get your sea legs with both devices.  Learn what kinds of requests work well and not so well.  Learn which sites bear the most fruit.

Wse the above points to try to create the easiest conditions for your customers from the start, and to troubleshoot and improve your process as you go.

Any pros / cons you’d add?  What’s worked well (and not so well) for you?

Leave a comment!

“Some of My Google+ Reviews Just Got Filtered. What Should I Ask My Customers to Do?”

One of my oldest clients asked me that question the other day.  He had dozens and dozens of Google+ Local reviews that he earned over the months.  3-4 of them got filtered after living happily on his page for several weeks.

He then asked, “Should I just ask customers to repost their reviews on Google+?”

I said, “Take it easy, Rambo.”

Then I suggested an action plan:

It’s true that Google’s filters aren’t as tough as they used to be, but they still do filter reviews (as we’ve seen).   If Google sees customers re-post the same reviews that got filtered, that looks weird.

It also looks weird if a customer isn’t a frequent reviewer on Google+, and posts one review, and that review gets filtered, and he/she posts another review of the same place.

Here’s all you can do: if those 3-4 reviewers have written reviews of other businesses besides yours, it’s probably OK to ask them to post another review on Google+, provided that they rewrite it rather than post the same thing.  But if your business is the only one they’ve reviewed, don’t ask them to review you on Google+ again.  Ask them to write a review elsewhere.

What do you suggest asking customers to do if they’re still willing to write a review after their first one gets filtered?  Leave a comment!