The Ridiculous Hidden Power of Local Reviews: Umpteen Ways to Use Them to Get More Business

Even the obvious benefits of great customer reviews are almost too many to count.  To wit:

  • They take a little pressure off your site to “convert,” because visitors arrive largely pre-sold.
  • They can help you eat up more of page one of Google.
  • They help you cultivate non-Google Maps or non-Google sources of visibility.
  • They take some of the pressure off your local SEO and other online-marketing efforts, because they build your reputation online and offline.
  • You’ll be a little more attuned to customer-service if you know you’ll ask for a review eventually.
  • Even if your rankings stink, they help you land more word-of-mouth referrals. (Those people probably Google you, too.)
  • Whoever sees your reviews in the local search results is more likely to pick up the phone.

Those are just the beginning, though.  You can squeeze many other benefits from customers’ reviews and from the process of earning and encouraging them.  As AJ Kohn said about commenting on blog posts, the hidden power of reviews is ridiculous.

Here are some of the less-obvious ways you can use your reviews to help your local SEO and marketing even more.

1. Use them to research keywords. You might not call your services what your customers call them, and you might not search for them in the way they search for them.  Where appropriate, try to incorporate those phrases into relevant pages of your site, or create separate pages on them.

2. Mine your reviews to learn exactly what kinds of customers have reviewed you, and why. Use those insights to determine who are the other customers most likely to review you (and ask them), and to make your services better.

3. Study your competitors’ reviews. Ask the same questions as in points #1-2.

4. Use a freshly-written review as an excuse to contact the customer who wrote it. Say thanks.  Ask how he or she is doing, or just say you’d like any further feedback.  That’s good to do on principle, and sometimes you’ll get repeat business out of the deal.


5. Use a new review as an occasion ask for an additional review, on a different site, if the customer is willing.

6. Write owner-responses in a way that makes you look great to anyone reading your reviews.

7. Copy and paste the reviews onto your site. (Google doesn’t seem to mind, and neither does Yelp, and other sites surely don’t care.)  I suppose this isn’t such a hidden benefit of reviews, but I have to mention it because it’s so important.  Your customers’ reviews are copywriting rebar.  Your selling points are stronger if you’re not the only one touting them.   Also, if you cite the city the reviewer is from, they’re semi-“local” content you don’t have to write.  They’re particularly useful on city pages.

8. Put them on a “Reviews” or “Reviews & Testimonials” page on your site. It might even rank for keyword + reviews local search terms.

9. Use them on a “Why Choose Us?” page.

10. Add reviews badges or widgets to your site to showcase the reviews. The badges serve as third-party “trust” symbols, if you use the badge(s) provided by the site where you’ve got the reviews.

11. Create your own badge, if none is available on the site where you’ve got a pile of good reviews.

12. Allude to your reviews in your AdWords ads.

13. Include them (or excerpt or link to them) in your email signature, possibly along with a link to your “Review Us” page.

14. Use them as seeds for blog post topics. You can expand on certain selling points (or other points) a reviewer brought up.

15. Use them to reduce surprises and customer-service issues, by encouraging visitors to read your reviews before they call you. Even if that means they have to open up another browser tab and take their eyes off your site for a minute.  Say something like, “We want you to know how we made other customers happy, and we want you to be our latest happy customer, so please take a minute to read our reviews.”  When they come back, they’ll be more likely to call you, and less likely to eat up your time with questions your past customers already answered.

Any non-obvious powers of reviews I didn’t mention?

How do you leverage your reviews (the good and even the bad)?

Any great real-life examples of one of the points I mentioned?

Leave a comment!

Should You Copy and Paste Your Online Reviews onto Your Site?

You worked your tail off to get those reviews – on Google or Yelp or Facebook or another site – and want visitors to your site to see them.  But you might have refrained from putting them on your site, because of one fear or another.

I was gun-shy about it for several years, too, but have copied and pasted reviews on clients’ sites and even on my site, and have seen others do it without issues.  I’ve found that copying and pasting your online reviews is not only fine, but also smart to do.  (More on that in a second.)

By the way, I draw a distinction between online reviews – which customers write on sites like Google or Yelp – and testimonials, which only appear on your site.  Unless you’re in some super-regulated industry (like financial planning), there’s little or no debate as to whether it’s OK to put testimonials on your site – even though everyone knows you can cherry-pick and edit them.  (In my opinion, they can still be of value if you use them correctly.)

Anyway, back to whether you should showcase your online reviews on your site.  I say you should, for the following reasons:

1. They won’t get filtered because you copied and pasted them. I’ve tested that with Google reviews.  I’ve also tested it with Yelp reviews and reviews on other sites.  The reviews don’t get filtered.  You might get your reviews filtered for other reasons – like asking too many customers at once – but not because you put them on your site.

2.  I have never seen an issue with duplicate content: a page with third-party reviews not ranking well after reviews are added, or the wrong page ranking in the search results, etc. Now, your page with your review probably won’t outrank the review site with your review, because (for one thing) the review site probably has a bit more link juice than yours does.  But that’s got nothing to do with the review.

3.  The review sites seem fine with it. Google – ever the killjoy – doesn’t have a rule against showcasing your reviews.  Yelp has stated clearly that reusing your reviews is OK, as long as you attribute the review clearly.  I’ve never seen less-strict, more-hands-off review sites discourage it, either.

4.  Those reviews are relevant content you don’t have to write. They’ve naturally got “keywords,” and they may be “local” – especially if you cite where your reviewers are from.

5.  You’re letting other people talk about how great you are. That’s more compelling to would-be customers.  By the way, those reviews on your site don’t have to come across as cherry-picked.  You should link to the review site they’re from, and encourage visitors to Google your name and check out your reviews for themselves.

6.  You’re saving the text of the reviews. If they ever disappear for whatever reason, at least they won’t disappear for good.  You’ll have them on your site.

7.  More potential customers will see your reviews. You can’t assume everyone will see your reviews in the search results.

8.  It can condition customers to write reviews. Having great reviews on and off your site is how you’ll get customers to pick you specifically because of your reviews.  Later, after you’ve made them happy, they’re less likely to be surprised if you ask them for a review – and more likely to say yes and to follow through by writing you a good review.

A few notes:

You can excerpt your reviews, if you don’t want to copy and paste them in full.

You don’t need to take screenshots of your reviews.  As I’ve described, copying and pasting the text – which Google can crawl, of course – is not a problem, and having the text be crawlable by Google is half the reason you’d do it in the first place.

You shouldn’t mark up your third-party online reviews with  You should do that only for testimonials that appear exclusively on your site.

You can use review widgets or badges, too.

What’s your approach to using your online reviews?

Any reasons to do it – or not to do it – that I missed?

Leave a comment!

The Complete Guide to Google+ Local Reviews – and Especially How to Get Them

Boggled by Google reviews?

Google+ reviews can be tough to get, and tough for customers to leave for you.  Google sure doesn’t make the process as easy as it could be.

But if you really want to attract more customers through the local search results, you need to get Google reviews from current and past customers.

That’s why I’ve written this.   There are business owners who know Google reviews are important, who want to follow Google’s rules, but who just can’t get any or many reviews from customers, for one reason or another.  If you’re one of those people, this post is for you.

I’ve helped a lot of business owners get reviews, and I’ve seen many review-gathering efforts fail (and yes, I’ve had a hand in a few of those efforts, too).

This post contains everything I know about Google+ Local reviews.

Not only does it contain everything I’ve learned (that I can remember), but it will also include everything I learn from now on.  This is an evergreen post.  So I’ll update and tweak it over time, as Google’s review system evolves.

I’ve split it up into 6 sections:

The basics you must know about Google reviews

What most business owners don’t know (but should)

Best-practices for requesting reviews

Hard-learned lessons

Examples of requests/instructions for writing a Google review


Or you can start right from the top:

The basics you must know about Google reviews

  • YOU need to read and understand Google’s guidelines for reviews, as does anyone in your company who helps you ask customers for reviews.  It takes a couple minutes to read them.  They’re reasonably clear.  If you have questions, you can ask me.  But just read and follow the rules.  Taking a couple minutes to do so can save you from serious heartache.
  • You need to know what Google reviews look like in the main search results and in the “local carousel.”

  • Reviews as a whole are one ranking factor of many.  A competitor with no reviews or awful reviews may outrank you.  But rankings are secondary: The real point of reviews is to give people a reason to click on your listing and then to pick up the phone or visit your website.  A #1 ranking for a business with no reviews is a missed opportunity.
  • Reviews can only be written on Google+ Local business pages, not on personal or on non-local-business Google+ page (more detail here).  >If your page has the little “pencil” button near the top of the page, customers can write a review of your business on that page.

  • Yes, customers must have Google+ accounts in order to write a review.  Having a Gmail account isn’t enough (it needs to be “upgraded” to a Google+ account).  That also means they can’t leave anonymous reviews; they need to be under customers’ real names.  But if you see a review that is anonymous – that says from “A Google User” – then that means it was written before May 30, 2012 (when Google started requiring people to have Google+ accounts to write reviews and to have their names on reviews they’d written in the past).
  • Customers need to post the reviews themselves, through their Google+ accounts.  It’s not OK with Google if you transcribe and then post the kind words a customer has lovingly sent to you in a perfumed letter – even if it’s fine with your customer.
  • Google has “filters” that are meant to prevent spammy or shill reviews from being posted.  But, like many other things Google has created, it only halfway works at the moment (and sometimes fails spectacularly).  It’s slowly getting better, but a lot of garbage reviews still make it through, while too many legit reviews still get filtered.
  • A few of the factors that matter to the “review filter” seem to be: whether customers try to post reviews at an unnatural pace, how many reviews a given person has written previously, the wording of the review, and the user’s location (IP address).  We don’t know exactly what factors Google’s review filters consider, or which matter the most.  But the main thing you need to know is that Google has the facts on your business’s review-gathering activity and each customer’s review-posting behavior – and Google can take all of it into account when deciding which reviews to toss versus keep.  (For more on how to keep your reviews out of the filter, see my checklist.)
  • There are several ways to navigate to your Google+ Local listing on a desktop, laptop, or tablet: People can perform a normal search in Google, they can go through the “Maps” tab, or they can use the two search boxes in  There is no one “right” way.  You just have to find out from your customers what they find easiest.  I’ve found that the easiest is to have customers search for your listing from within (once they’ve signed in or created their Plus account), because that’s where they’ll end up anyway to review you.

  • iPhone/iOS users need the Google Maps app to write a review, and they must navigate to your listing through the app.  Even if they have the app, they won’t see the “Write a review” button on your Google+ Local listing if they navigate to it through their mobile browsers or by scanning a QR code.
  • Customers can leave ratings without actually writing a review.  The rating is just the “stars” without the text of a review.  Some people will do this, and although it won’t hurt you, you shouldn’t encourage it.  You want potential customers and Google to have the benefit of reading at least a couple lines on your business and on what makes you better than the next guy or gal.

  • Your customers’ “friends” – the people in their Google+ “Circles” – may see you in their personalized search results as a result of your customers’ reviews.  To the extent your customers’ friends live or work near you, you’re probably reaching a few more potential customers.
  • Google doesn’t set a minimum or maximum word count on reviews.  They can be as long or as short as your customers would like.  Nor have I found that Google is more likely to filter out one length of review.  My rule of thumb is that one small paragraph is a great length for a review.
  • Customers don’t have to have their photo show up next to their reviews, if they don’t want theirs to; if they don’t add a photo to their Google+ profiles, none will show next to their reviews.

  • Google has rules against cross-posting – that is, copying a Google review and pasting it onto your website or onto another review site (e.g. CitySearch).  If you try to build a clone army out of your Google review, it may be removed, and your clone army will wander around without a Fearless Leader.

  • Google is constantly changing.  Its policies, its staff, and its technology.  The difficulties in getting reviews change from year to year.  The only way to make it pay off long-term is to know and follow Google’s rules and to spend a few minutes every now and then reading up where you can (as you’re doing now).

What most business owners don’t know (but should)

  • You shouldn’t focus solely on Google+ Local.  You need reviews on a diversity of sites.  Give people options, and don’t push everyone toward the same site.
  • I’ve always found that reviews are a huge boost to your Google+ Local rankings, but the rankings benefit probably is more indirect than direct.
  • At least in terms of rankings, the number of reviews you have seems to matter more than the quality of those reviews (i.e. whether your average “Zagat” rating is 9/30 or 29/30).

  • If you see a review you don’t like – on your page or on a competitor’s – pretty much all you can do is flag the review and report it to Google.  The review may be a pack of lies, but there are not (as far as I know) human editors to whom you can appeal.  There is no Supreme Court here.  Google won’t grant exceptions (again, as far as I know).

  • Google seems more likely to filter the reviews of businesses in certain industries than in others – particularly car dealerships and (in my experience) businesses that travel to customers.
  • Reviews can vanish and then return.  They never seem to go away for good.  For instance, sometimes Google will temporarily lose many or all of your reviews – but then they might show up on your page again a few days later.  Google seems to mothball them away, rather than snuff them out completely.
  • On the flipside, your reviews are never “safe.”  They can be thrown out even after having been on your Google listing for years.  This means, for one thing, that you should not focus exclusively on Google reviews.  It also means that if you cut corners in any way – which you shouldn’t do in the first place – even reviews that don’t get filtered may get the axe later.
  • There’s no “reputation-management” service that can ensure your customers’ reviews won’t get filtered by Google.  Anyone who claims “We’ll get reviews from your customers and make sure they show up on Google” is lying.  There is no such trusted source that would allow Google’s little Algorithm Elves to say “Yep yep, another one from, let it on through…keep ‘em coming, you slackers!”
  • Probably the worst thing about duplicate Google+ Local listings is that they can split up your reviews.  In terms of your review “health,” two listings will weaken each other like Siamese twins.  If you have 10 customer reviews and 2 identical or near-identical Google listings, it might be the case that one listing has 6 of the reviews and the other has 4.  It’s better for all your reviews to be marshaled behind one listing that would get all the rankings benefit of those reviews, rather than have two listings that sorta-kinda benefit from a smaller number of reviews.  Also, with multiple listings, it’s harder to create a “wow” effect in the eyes of potential customers than if you had one listing with a ton of Google reviews.
  • Google extracts the little “At a glance” snippets come largely from what customers write in your Google reviews.

  • It’s possible to have an “average rating” that’s slightly lower than 5.0 even if you have nothing but 5-star reviews.  (See this great comment by Mike Blumenthal on a post I did.)
  • Google seems to mothball reviews.  They don’t disappear forever – even if they’ve been filtered before ever making it onto your Google+ Local page publicly, or if they’ve been on your page for a while and then thrown out post facto, or if Google has accidentally “stuck” your reviews on another business’s listing.
  • You can’t copy and paste your Google reviews and put them on your website, but you can take a screenshot of them and put the screenshot on your site, if you were so inclined.  It’s also fine to link to your Google+ Local page from your website, but because you don’t want to shuttle people off of your website once they’re there, at least have the link open in a new browser tab.
  • There are “Top Reviewers,” whose reviews Google “trusts” more than those of other people.  Reviews by these people may help your rankings more than will reviews by other people.
  • Businesses can review each other.  This can be a good way to scare up some more reviews.  David Mihm has talked about this strategy ever since it became possible, and it’s a smart one.  (You can see a real-life example of this in a comment on a post of mine from last year, courtesy of Eric Marshall of ZCreative.)
  • A review is not the final word.  You can and should write responses to the reviews, both good and bad.  When appropriate, you also can and should get in touch with customers who may have written a harsh review and simply ask – if it’s not clear to you already – exactly how you can improve.  Don’t ask for them to delete or change their reviews; just ask for feedback.  Many people (like me) respect and are impressed by that sort of thing.  )There’s also maybe a 10% chance they’ll edit or take down their review spontaneously.

Best-practices for requesting reviews

  • Ask everyone for a review, not just your diehard, happiest customers.  Asking for a review should be like handing out your business card: something you do impulsively, almost without thinking.  Doing it in fits and starts doesn’t work.  You need to ask a constant stream of customers on an ongoing basis  – never too many or too few at one time.  Otherwise, Google and other sites may filter lots of your reviews, and (worse) getting reviews will just become another nagging to-do item that you’ll only get to when you “have time.”
  • Don’t insist that people write you a review on Google+ Local, to the exclusion of other sites.  Convey to your customers that although you always like Google reviews, it’s great if there’s another site they’d prefer to review you on.  This gets back to my earlier point about how you need reviews on a diversity of sites.  Asking about 50% of your customers for Google reviews is a solid policy, in my experience.
  • Point out as often as possible that you’d like your customers’ honest feedback.  Having perfect 30/30 ratings is nice, but sometimes it can look fishy – to Google and (more importantly) to potential customers.  You can use reviews as a way to look perfect when you’re not, or you can use them as an opportunity to learn about where you can improve.  Your choice.
  • Don’t tell people to leave a specific rating (e.g. “Excellent” – which is the equivalent of what used to be 5 stars).  I understand the temptation.  But most people are generous spirits, whom you won’t have to grease up in order to elicit a good word.  And if they’re not raving fans, there’s a good chance they’ll say why they aren’t – which means an opportunity for you to up your game.
  • Don’t ask a bunch of customers at once to post reviews.  It should be as close to real-time as possible – right after the “transaction” (for lack of a better word).
  • Expect a few lukewarm reviews or stinkers (or both).  They’re inevitable.  Even if they weren’t, getting a few harsh reviews is a small price to pay for getting your biggest fans to speak up.
  • Don’t urge customers to use a specific device (e.g. smartphone) to post reviews.  They can and should use whatever works best for them.
  • Do not tell customers what to say in their reviews.  Just let them know that although more detail is always great, short reviews are also OK.  And don’t tell them to mention certain keywords.  That very well could backfire and leave you with filtered reviews.
  • Don’t incentivize.  Not only is it against the rules, but makes you look as though you’re desperate. (Maybe you are desperate, but at least don’t show it blatantly.)  Worst of all, it actually can rub some people the wrong way.  Many people like feeling as though they’re granting a favor to someone, and would prefer not to feel like their words are being bought.  (This ties in with a great talk by Dan Pink – not to mention one of his books, Drive.)
  • Don’t get greedy and insist that any one customer review you on more than one site.  For one thing, you don’t want that person to reuse the review he/she wrote you on Google+ Local and use it somewhere else, or vice versa.  You also don’t want reviewing you to seem like a big, multi-step chore.  If a customer wants to, that’s awesome.  You both must be happy.  But don’t push it.
  • Get a general sense of how many Google+ Local reviews your local competitors have, and how often they seem to get them from customers.  That gives you a sense of what the “bar” is in your local market, and the extent to which reviews are even a differentiating factor between you and your competitors: Businesses in some industries just don’t get reviews, for one reason or another.  Don’t bust your butt to get 2 reviews each week if your competitors only get 2 reviews a year.
  • When possible, try not to give customers the direct link to your Google+ Local page.  Google most likely knows the referring URL – the page your customers were on before they came to your business’s listing.  It’s also likely that Google will start filtering some reviews if it looks as though nobody’s writing them spontaneously and as though you’re pressuring them.

  • Do NOT delegate the requesting of the reviews to someone out-of-house.  It’s fine if your employee or receptionist does it, but it’s best for the head honcho to be the one to ask.
  • Respond to reviews – and not just the negative ones.  You don’t want it to seem as though the only way to get your attention is to slam you.
  • You should ask customers for reviews using several different media.  Not just verbal, not just email, not just my handouts.  Test out which ones seem to work best, and use those.  (Notice how I used the plural – “ones” and “those”?) Some excellent tools are GetFiveStars,, and BrightLocal’s ReviewBiz.
  • If you’re shy about asking for a review verbally, it might help to have some printed request and/or instructions. Even if it’s a worthless prop, it helps to have a show-and-tell piece. It can do a little of the work in explaining what it is you’re asking for. And it can take your customers’ eyes off of you for a second – which is a relief if you feel as though they’re staring holes into the back of your skull while you’re trying to explain what a Google+ Local page is and why you’d like a review there. You could probably do this by whipping out your phone, too. Whatever you like. Physical doo-dads make us feel less awkward; that’s at least one reason there are drinks at parties, and I’m guessing that’s at least one reason the podium was invented for speakers. Figure out what makes you feel less shy – but if you use shyness as a reason not to ask for reviews, the loss is yours.
  • You need a backup plan for situations in which customers try to write you a Google review but they get filtered out for no apparent reason.  If they’re willing to review you elsewhere, great.  But if not, be sure to say that it’s OK for them to add your business to “Circles,” or to write down a testimonial that they wouldn’t mind your posting on your site.
  • Know how to tell whether a review has been filtered.  A customer’s review has been filtered if he/she is signed into Google and can see it on your Google+ Local page but neither you nor anyone else can see it on your Google page.
  • Do not stop asking for reviews.  Ever.  Even if Google throws out some (or all) of your reviews for whatever reason, try to figure out why they might be getting filtered.  But keep grinding away.

Hard-learned lessons

  • You will not bat .1000.  Probably not even .500.  Not everyone you ask will remember or bother to write you a review.  Some who try will have their reviews filtered.  Some who try and succeed will write a review you don’t like.  But so what?  You’ve built a business.  That’s much tougher than pulling together some reviews.  Granted, it’s tough – but so is everything else that’s worth your time and effort.  You can do it.
  • Beware of what I call the “kitchen table effect” – where your request for a review sits on the place where your customers sometimes eat dinner with their families but more frequently pay bills and pile junk mail.  Some people will need to be asked more than once to review you.  And it’s OK for you to ask them more than once – just to remind them in a friendly, oblique way.  Even that won’t always work, but sometimes you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
  • Some (or many) first-time reviewers’ reviews will get gobbled by Google’s anti-spam K9 unit.  There’s not much you can do about this, other than (1) to avoid asking a bunch of customers at once for a review, (2) to encourage honest reviews over unnaturally glowing reviews, and (3) to let customers know that their reviews don’t have to be of a certain length.  (More tips here.)
  • If you’re giving instructions to people who don’t have Google+ accounts, don’t tell them first to find your Google+ Local listing and then to sign up for a Plus account. It’s usually much easier the other way around. Some people say to me, “But Phil, if you just type our name into Google, our listing is right at the top. Isn’t that the easiest way to find our page?” To which I reply “Yes, but if some of your customers don’t have Google+ accounts, they’ll be prompted to create one and will have to search for your listing a second time before they can review you.” The other issue is Google sometimes won’t show your Google+ Local listing at the very top of the search results, even if you search for it by name. Google often reshuffles the rankings. An easy way to find your listing today might not be as easy tomorrow. The bottom line is you should only ask customers to go to your Google page after they’ve got a Plus account.
  • Save each review in two ways: (1) copy and paste the text of each review into a document that you’ll be able to dig up easily later, and (2) take a screenshot of each review a customer has left on your page.  You do NOT – and never will – “own” your Google reviews.  But at least this way you post them as testimonials on your website if it comes to pass that your reviews get filtered and you’re convinced they’re not coming back.

  • Your customers care.  Not all of them, sure.  But that’s OK.  Many will write a review if you ask and if you maybe give them basic instructions as to how.  Don’t assume that you have to wave a Starbucks card in their faces in order for them to do good deed.
  • Review-gathering can (and should) serve as a mini-diagnostic of your entire business and your practices.  For instance, if all your customers say they’d be happy to write you a review but none follows through, that might tell you that your customers don’t have as close a working relationship with you as they should.  Or if you’re consistently at 4 stars, and nobody’s angry with your service but nobody loves it, that might tell you something else.  Your reviews don’t just tell potential customers about your business; they can tell you about your business.

Examples of requests/instructions for writing a Google review:

A great video by Susan Walsh of

From (Mike Blumenthal’s flagship client):

From Yours Truly (click image to see full PDF):

(By the way, I can custom-make a review handout (like the above) for your business.)


Principles for a Review Plan: Considerations in encouraging customer reviews – Mike Blumenthal

Checklist for Keeping Google+Reviews out of the Filter – me

Asking for Reviews (Post Google Apocalypse) – Mike Blumenthal

A Way to Avoid the Google + Local Review Spam Filter? – Joy Hawkins

8 Ways to Recognize Fake Google Reviews – Nyagoslav Zhekov

The Coolest +Local Feature No One’s Noticed? – David Mihm

The Afterlives of Filtered Google+ and Yelp Reviews – me

 9 Questions To Assess Your Review Management Stress Levels – Mike Blumenthal

The Local Business Reviews Ecosystem – me

My SMX West 2013 Presentation on Customer Reviews – me

What Should You Tell A Client When Google Loses Their Reviews – A 4 Part Plan – Mike Blumenthal

5 Ways Negative Reviews are Good for Business – Matt McGee

Local Search Ranking Factors – David Mihm

Any tips or anything else you’d add to the list?  How about questions?  Leave a comment!

Local SEO “Substitutions”

I’ve always liked the part of cookbooks with the “substitutions” chart.  It’s a life-saver for those of us who buy all the right ingredients at the market but gobble up half of them before we can cook anything.

One reason I like the substitutions chart is it reminds me that good cooking isn’t necessarily perfection.

Sure, you can’t substitute every ingredient in a recipe.

But if you’re a little short on time or ingredients and need to improvise, the finished product still will turn out great (usually).


The same is true of local search. Some people seem to think that local search “optimization” means “everything’s got to be perfect.”  It doesn’t.  There isn’t just one correct way to do the steps that will make your business visible to customers in the Google+Local search results and beyond.

Granted, for some steps in your local-search campaign there’s no such thing as “good enough.”  For instance, you must follow Google’s “Quality Guidelines,” or you risk having your business flicked off the local map entirely.

But for other steps “close counts.”  (No, it’s not just in horseshoes and hand-grenades, as the saying goes.)

If you’ve had a tough time of implementing some of the local SEO best-practices you’ve heard from me or from other people, check out my list of “substitutions,” below.

By definition, a substitution isn’t perfect.  These are no exceptions.  Think of them in terms of “if you can’t do this, do that.”


For your Google+Local listing

If you…
Can’t include all your main services as categories in your Google listing (you can list yourself under a maximum of 5 categories).

Have a separate page of your website devoted to each specific service you offer.  This page should tell potential customers all about that particular service. Then make sure you’re linking to these pages from your homepage (or whatever is the landing page you use for your Google+Local listing).

Categories are the best way to tell Google, “Yoo-hoo, over here…OK, these are the services I want to rank for.”  But probably the next-best way to do this is to have distinct, focused pages that describe in detail each specific service you offer (e.g. one for heating, another for air-conditioning, etc.).  That makes it easy for Google to scour your site and determine exactly what kind of business you’re in and what you offer.

Have a page for each service you offer - esp. if you run out of categories


If you…
Can’t think of any eye-catching (but relevant) photos to upload to your Google+Local page

Upload screenshots or photos that aren’t necessarily eye candy but that are relevant to your services and informative in some way.  Things like handwritten testimonials, “fan mail,” your BBB accreditation, or documents that show you’re certified to do whatever it is you do.

I haven’t found that photos affect local rankings.  But good photos will make people more likely to click through to your site or pick up the phone.  Which is what it’s all about. And which means it’s perfectly OK to upload photos that aren’t flashy but that tell potential customers something they might want to know about you or your services.


For your website

If you…
Don’t have a keyword-relevant domain name.

Create a page (or subdomain) on your site with a keyword-relevant page name, and use it as the landing page for your Google+Local listing.

Let’s say your competitor’s website is  He ranks well locally for search terms that contain “chiropractic.”  Your website is  Consider building a page named “Doe-Chiropractic” that talks all about your chiropractic care.

Then use “” as the landing page for your Google+Local listing (in other words, enter that URL into the “Website” field of your Googl+Local listing).  That should make you a little more likely to rank well locally for “chiropractic” and similar searches.

In lieu of a keyword-relevant domain, try a keyword-relevant name for your landing page


If you…
Can’t or don’t want to use hCard or to mark up the name/address/phone (“NAP”) block of text that should be on every page of your site

Put the NAP on every page of your site without marking it up with hCard or Schema.

I haven’t seen any evidence or noticed first-hand that marking up your name/address/phone number with search-engine-friendly code (AKA rich snippets) helps your rankings significantly.

Sure, we know Google pays attention to rich snippets.  If you or your webmaster can implement them, great (one easy way to do it is with this excellent Schema generator).  But it’s OK if you can’t or don’t want to use the markup for some reason.  Just make sure the name, address, and phone number of your business is on every page of your site.


For citations

If you…
Can’t claim your business listing on a given third-party site (Yelp, CitySearch, etc.).

Make sure that the listing at least has the correct info on your business – regardless of whether you’ve claimed that listing – and make sure you get any listings with the wrong info removed.

In my experience, the consistency of your basic business info (name, address, and phone) as it appears all across the web is the biggest factor in how well you’ll rank locally.  Getting this consistency needs to be at the top of your priority list – and it doesn’t really matter how you do it.

If for any reason you can’t claim a given listing for your business, that’s OK: I haven’t found that Google will give you any brownie points for having done so.  But if the listing has incorrect info, you’re in trouble.  The good news is there’s almost always an area on these business-directory sites where you can suggest corrections.


If you…
Aren’t using the Local Citation Finder but want to get all the citations your competitors have.

Use this neat citation-discovery technique or my Definitive Citations List, or some combination of the two.

Citations matter.  A lot.  ‘Nuff said.


For reviews

If you…
Have trouble getting Google or Yelp reviews.

Get some CitySearch or InsiderPages reviews (or other sites).

Google reviews are central to your local-vis efforts, but there have been serious problems with them recently.  The filters are WAY too strict.  Legitimate reviews from real customers in many cases won’t “stick” on your Google+Local page.  Similar story with Yelp, although their review “filters” have always been pretty draconian.

But even if you have loads of Google and Yelp reviews, you’d still be smart to get customers to review you on CitySearch and InsiderPages.  (For a little more detail on this, see my “Local Business Reviews Ecosystem”.)


If you…
Can’t get reviews because it’s nearly impossible to do so in your particular industry – to the point that even your competitors don’t have reviews.

Put a Google +1 button on your site and ask customers to “+1” you, or ask them to email you (or even handwrite) a testimonial that you could feature on your site.  Preferably ask them to do both.

Reviews help your rankings.  Most likely so will having “+1’s” – at least in the near future.  Reviews are great “social proof” that show potential customers why your services are worth their attention and possibly some of their hard-earned money.  Testimonials can do that, too.

In case you want something to slap on your fridge, here’s a little chart that sums up all of the above:

Your handy-dandy local SEO "substitutions chart"

Any other local SEO “substitutions” you can think of – or have actually used?  Leave a comment!

Best Local Search Tools – 2012

It’s possible to get a business visible in Google Places and other local search engines without using any tools…but why would you want to?

Sure, you can drive a nail with a brick (or that poundcake your in-laws sent for Christmas), but it’s much more effective, quicker, and easier if you’ve got the right tool.

I’ve rounded up a list of the best tools that I, other local-searchers, and wise business owners use on a daily basis.  Others exist, but I consider these the cream of the crop.

There were some great lists of local-search tools last year—including an excellent one by Mike Ramsey—but none so far for 2012 (that I’m aware of).  Another year, a new lineup.

I’ve categorized the tools with 3 little symbols:

User-friendly tool= Extremely user-friendly tool.

Tool you should use on an ongoing basis= A tool that’s good to use repeatedly—both before you’re visible and after, as part of a maintenance routine.

Paid tool= Paid tool, but a heck of a good investment.  (Any tool that doesn’t have this symbol next to it is free.)

Near the bottom of the list are some tools that aren’t specific to local search, but that can indirectly help your local rankings anyway.


The list: best tools for local search optimization
Extremely user-friendly + best used repeatedlyGetListed.orgIn the world of local search, GetListed is handier than duct tape and a Swiss Army Knife put together.  It instantly analyzes how locally visible your business is and gives you specific recommendations for how to get more visible.  Plus, the rest of the site contains some superb resources that show you the ropes of local search.

(Once you’ve done a basic scan of your business and maybe browsed GetListed’s resources,  check out my advanced tips for GetListed scans.)


Local Citation Finder
Extremely user-friendly + best used repeatedly + costs a littleLocal Citation Finder - WhitesparkBefore Whitespark came out with this tool, getting citations was like getting your teeth pulled.  Now it’s just like a routine tooth cleaning 🙂

The Local Citation Finder will tell you all the business directories your top-ranked local competitors are listed on – which allows you to go out and list your business on those sites and turn the tables on your competitors.  Very user-friendly.  Absolutely essential if you’re serious about growing your local visibility.


Google Places Category Tool
Extremely user-friendly + best used repeatedlyGoogle Places Category Tool - Mike BlumenthalBeautifully simple, yet powerful: a giant list of all the business categories you can choose for your Google Places page.  Use it to make sure you’ve picked out all the categories that may apply to your business.  It also includes synonyms corresponding to each category, which help if you’re unsure about which categories to pick.  Created by none other than Mike Blumenthal.


Link Prospector
Extremely user-friendly + best used repeatedly + costs a littleLink Prospector - Citation LabsGetting good-old-fashioned links to your website can help your Google Places rankings.  In a nutshell, this is the best link-finding tool I’ve used.  It’s made by Citation Labs.  The demo video can explain the details better than I can.  Also, I really dig their “Pay as You Go” option.


Local Search Toolkit
Extremely user-friendly + best used repeatedlyLocalSearchToolkit - SEOverflowYou can learn a lot about how to rank well in your specific local market if you spend enough time poking around on your competitors’ Places pages to find out what categories they use, which citations they have, and so forth.  Local Search ToolKit lets you gather that competitive intel instantly.


BrightLocal’s ReviewBiz
Best used repeatedlyReviewBiz - BrightLocalI had a brilliant idea: little buttons you could put on your website that customers simply could click to write reviews for you…but then I learned the chaps at BrightLocal had already thought of it and made it.  An awesome tool for getting an extra stream of reviews from your customers without even having to ask them.


Extremely user-friendly + best used repeatedlyMyReviewsPage.comA great way to keep quick tabs on your reviews (how many and what ratings) on the most important review sites, with a really handy “dashboard” feature.  MyReviewsPage also has a number of other features for monitoring and gathering customer reviews.
Microformats.orgGoogle’s bots like it if you add your business name, address, and phone number to the bottom of every page of your website.  But the bots are tickled pink if you can format your name, address, and phone number with a few specific lines of code before doing so.  This format is called hCard.  You can prepare the code you need at  (Chris Silver Smith has a great article to help you do this.)

Another smart move is to add a few lines of a similar kind of code to any customer testimonials you have on your website.  This format is called hReview.  If you mark up your customer testimonials with this code, Google will (essentially) treat those testimonials as reviews.  This means you’ll not only get “review stars” for those testimonials, but those review stars will show up next to wherever your business is ranked in Google’s search results.  Be sure to read this excellent piece by Linda Buquet before preparing your testimonials in hReview.


GeoSitemapGenerator - Arjan SnaterseThe more information Google has about the location of your business, the more likely it is you’ll rank well locally.  Whereas a regular sitemap file is a way to tell search engines where the pages of your website are located, a geositemap file tells search engines where your business itself is located.  The easy-to-use GeoSitemap Generator lets you create the two files you’ll need to upload to your site.


David Mihm’s Local Search Ranking Factors
Extremely user-friendly + best used repeatedlyLocal Search Ranking Factors - David MihmEven the best compass isn’t much use without an accurate map.  This comprehensive, definitive study will help you at any and every stage of your push to get visible to local customers.  If you ever find yourself wondering “Gee, what do I need all these tools for?” look no farther than this document.


Honorable mention: Definitive Citations List
Extremely user-friendly + best used repeatedlyAn ongoing project of mine: to list every citation source I’ve found.  The Definitive List of Local Search Citations List isn’t in the same league of awesomeness as the above tools, but it’s a resource I’ve been working on for a while, which I’ll keep trying to develop and improve.  Please take a look and let me know if there are any citations you’d suggest I add to the list.


Tools that indirectly help local search visibility


Best used repeatedly + costs a littleCrazyEgg.comA simple plugin-like tool that shows you a really sexy heatmap of where your website visitors click, the traffic sources those clicks come from, how far down the page they scroll, and other crucial intel.

Whereas Google Analytics will tell you which links on your site people click on, it won’t tell you things like how many people are clicking on your giant logo at the top of the page, even though it doesn’t link to anywhere, or whether only about 2% of the visitors who came from Facebook actually click on your “Services” page.

CrazyEgg, on the other hand, will tell you all that and more.  You’ll discover that areas of your website potential customers take interest in, and which areas they don’t.  If you tweak your website according to what you learn about your customers’ worries and wants, you can better gear your site toward the specific services they’re most interested in, which will also help your chances of turning those visitors into customers.



Extremely user-friendly + best used repeatedly + costs a littleSnagIt - TechSmithA screenshot tool and photo-editor wrapped up into one very handy bundle.  You need good photos if you want to make your Places attractive enough that visitors are compelled to click through to your site rather than to hit the “Back” button.  Some people swear by Photoshop, but SnagIt is my weapon of choice.  It will also help with some of the fairly wild things I suggest you do with your photos in order to maximize your local visibility.  It has a great free trial, by the way.


Google Alerts
Tool you should use on an ongoing basisGoogle AlertsWant to know where your competitors are getting publicity (and citations and links)?  Need to know if they’re talking smack about your business?  Set up some Google Alerts and you’ll receive emails from Google that let you know what’s been published on the web about you or your competitors.

It’s still very early in 2012; there’s a ton of year left for innovation.  If a new tool comes out that brings something new to the local-search table, let me know and I’ll take a look.

Got any tools to recommend that aren’t on my list—or anything you’d like to say about the tools I’ve already got?  Leave a comment!

Unorthodox Strategy: Testimonial Photos on Your Google Places Page

Do you have hard-earned testimonials that you feel don’t get enough exposure?  Do they just sit contently on your site, largely unseen by potential customers?

Try adding your testimonials as photos to your Google Places page.  Just take screenshots of them and upload them to the normal “Photos” area of your Places page.  Or maybe you already have photos of them—all the better.

I’m not talking about customer reviews.  Obviously, reviews are crucial to your Google Places ranking and to your ability to attract customers in general.  Rather, I’m talking strictly about the testimonials that customers have already written for you.

Why bother shoehorning your testimonials into your Places page?  Well, because the whole point of testimonials is to have potential customers see them.  This builds trust.  If you have them on your website, great.  But you can take it a step further by making your testimonials visible to the local people who find your Places page.

Here’s an example of how a testimonial might look when uploaded to your Places page:

I’ve never seen this done “in the wild.”  However, there must be some business out there that has its testimonials viewable on the Places page.  I’m sure I’m not the first to think of it.

By the way, that’s why I call this strategy “unorthodox”: businesses just don’t do it, even though they can and (I would say) should. You will be the first in your local market to leverage your Places photos in this way.

A couple of suggestions for the testimonials / photos you upload to your Places page:

– Make it clear that they’re testimonials.  You could just include a bold header in the actual picture that says “Testimonials” or something like that.  Ideally, this would be readable as a thumbnail—so that visitors / potential customers can tell that you have testimonials without actually having to click on the slideshow view of your Places photos.

-Have the testimonial photo(s) be among the first 3-4 photos uploaded to your Places page.  You’ll want at least one of the testimonial photos to be visible in the new Google Places “preview” area to the right of your Places listing.  You’ll also want to have some of the testimonials to be visible as thumbnails to anyone who’s on your Places page.  In either case, if people can tell from a thumbnail that you’ve got some testimonials, there’s a good chance they’ll click and see the nice full-sized testimonial.

– Include your customers’ first and last names. Otherwise your testimonials might come across as phony.  (Obviously, you should double-check with your customers first to make sure this is OK.)

– Mention that there are more testimonials to be found on your website (unless, of course, you’re able to stuff all your testimonials into the “Photos” area of your Places page).  You can do this by editing your photos to include a little caption or watermark that says something like “More customer testimonials at”.  In addition to building cred with your potential customers, one of the main goals of including the testimonials on your Places page is to get people to go your website.  That’s why you need to leave them little trails of breadcrumbs that lead to your site.

-Don’t overdo it, of course.  If 3 of your Places photos (out of the total of 10 you can upload) contain customer testimonials, that’s plenty.  The rest of your photos should highlight all the other great aspects of your business that are worth showcasing in your Places photos.

By the way, the pictures of the testimonials don’t need to be pretty.  But if you want to spend a few minutes dolling them up, I suggest using SnagIt.  (I’m not an affiliate; just a raving fan.)

If you do apply this unorthodox strategy, I’d really like to hear about it.

And of course, please let me know if you spot a business “in the wild” that does this.