The Perfect Stack of Online Reviews: How Does Your Local Business Measure up?

“I picked you because of your reviews” is nice to hear, especially it’s often.  But how do you achieve that?

Having “good reviews” isn’t always enough.  Plenty of businesses have good reviews, but don’t attract enough business, or rank well, or beget the kinds of reviews that beget more customers who beget more reviews.  That’s one reason local SEO and review strategy are so connected (if you’re doing it right).

What’s in a “perfect” pile of reviews?   More than you think.  Possibly more than you can get, even if you do everything right.  As someone who’s helped business owners on that for many years, I’ve got a long list of boxes you should try to check.  More on that in a minute.

To keep the checklist to a reasonable length, I’ve got to assume two things about you:

  • You want reviews from real people, and not from friends or Fiverr merchants.
  • You know your customers well enough to know how important it is for your business to have reviewers from “different walks of life,” and that you don’t need my advice on that.

For my list to be of much use, you probably need to keep at least a little influx of reviews from customers / clients / patients.  See this post.

Now, what should that stack of reviews look like?  No one review will meet more than a few of these criteria, but your stack of online reviews as a whole should contain as many of the following as possible:

  1. Reviews on a wide range of sites.
  1. Plenty of 5-star reviews.
  1. A stinker or two. For one thing, they’re a reality-check. We don’t live in a 5-star world.
  1. Recent reviews. Make it clear you’re still in business.
  1. Old reviews. In time you’ll want a few Mick Jaggers in there.
  1. Excruciatingly detailed reviews. Happy, yappy customers who don’t seem to have an “off” button can make great reviewers.
  1. Funny reviews. Maybe you can skip this one if you’re a bankruptcy lawyer, urologist, or funeral-home director.
  1. Sloppy reviews. Some people just don’t think in terms of paragraphs or complete sentences. Doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from a belch of approval.
  1. Photos included with the reviews.
  1. Mentions of your business by name.
  1. Mentions of specific people in your organization (you, partners, employees, etc.).
  1. Reviews on less-trafficked or niche review sites. Don’t necessarily fixate on Google and Yelp.
  1. Reviews by one-time skeptics. There’s no zeal like the zeal of the convert.
  1. Reviews by former customers of your competitors.
  1. Reviews by longtime / repeat customers of yours. “I had a great experience” is only weak when compared to “I’ve brought my wallet here for years.”
  1. Reviews by farther-away customers – people who maybe had to drive a little, or who are on the outer edge of your service area. Great tie-in with “city pages,” by the way.
  1. Reviews by almost-customers. When a near-miss speaks up, it shows you’re willing to turn down business if it’s not the right fit.
  1. Mentions of relevant cities / places. May help your rankings. Of interest to would-be customers  either way.
  1. Mentions of specific services. People like crunchy little bits of detail. Google sure seems to.
  1. Reviews that explain how the reviewer found you.
  1. Reviews that explain how the reviewer picked you.
  1. Reviews from people who reviewed you on another site, too.
  1. Reviews from shy customers / clients / patients. Maybe they use a pen name or initials. Maybe they don’t go into as much detail as they could, and it’s obvious there’s more to the story.  Reluctant reviews can pack a strange wallop.
  1. Comments on other reviewers’ reviews. It can be powerful for customer B to rebut or confirm what customer A said.
  1. Favorable comparisons to a competitor.

I didn’t include screenshots of examples because I wanted to keep it as much like a checklist as possible.  But I’m all about real-life examples, so here are a few examples of great local-business review profiles for you to leaf through:

Can you think of any other parts of a perfect pile of reviews?  (I know I’ve forgotten something.)

Any real-life examples you’d like to share?

Leave a comment!

Want to Smear a Multi-Location Business on Yelp? Just Regurgitate Your Review

Let’s say you had a bad experience at a local business with half a dozen locations, and you feel the need to review the business.  How many bad reviews do they deserve from you?

a. One bad review on one site. You’re one customer.  You had one poor experience.  You can’t remark on their other 5 locations, but don’t plan to visit them.  You’ll pick a site where people will probably see your review, you’ll say your piece, and that will be that.

b. A few bad reviews: one on each major review site. Normally you stick to one site, but your experience was so awful you feel you’d be a Bad Samaritan by not spreading the word.  Your 3-4 bad reviews should do the trick.  You know they’ve got 5 other locations you didn’t deal with, but you can’t comment on those, and 15-20 bad reviews from one customer seems crazy (and sounds like a lot of work for you).

c.Unlimited bad reviews: you’ll write a scathing review on as many sites as you feel like, and for every location they’ve got. Who cares that you didn’t deal with their 5 other locations?  The owners should have thought of that before mistreating you so.  No such thing as a bad review they didn’t earn!  If they had 100 locations you’d be justified in writing 100-200 bad reviews.

As a reasonable person, you’d probably pick A or B.  Choice C seems excessive.  It’s also less credible: Your criticism is more believable if it’s clear you’ve stuck to the locations you’ve dealt with.  Won’t seem as much like a personal crusade to destroy the business.

Yelp doesn’t care.  Apparently, any given customer can review as many locations of your business as he or she would like, as long as each review is at least a little different.  Just regurgitate n’ reuse.

To Yelp, if you’ve got 3 locations and 1 angry customer, that customer is entitled to 3 nasty reviews.

Recently, I reported a redundant Yelp review of one of my clients, a doctor with 2 practice locations.  He’s got solid reviews: mostly good reviews, with a few bad ones.  One patient wrote a review of his main office location, and that review seemed legitimate, but then she reviewed his other location.  Admittedly she didn’t even go there.  She said, in effect, “Check out all the bad reviews of the doctor’s main location.  As I said in my review of that one, he’s terrible because…blah blah blah.”

I’ve had some success in reporting unfair and non-compliant Yelp reviews, and getting them removed.  In the past, I’ve been able to get them to remove reviews that are exact copies: a customer writes a 1-star review of one location, and does a simple copy-and-paste for the other location(s).  Yelp has always removed carbon-copies.

Why should redundant, near-duplicate reviews be any different?  Why should customers be able to “spin” the same review and reuse it against you?

They shouldn’t be able to.  I don’t know how to explain why Yelp HQ thinks that (other than by pointing out the obvious: they’re idiots).

Yelp’s review-writing guidelines (like Google’s) appear deliberately broad, so as to allow for a “know it when we see it” judgment when one party flags a review for removal.  I suspect one reason Yelp doesn’t remove redundant, near-duplicate reviews is that Yelp doesn’t know which one is the “correct” review, and doesn’t care to make a call.  For a company with a motto of “Real People, Real Reviews,” Yelp never has paid much attention to basic facts of the reviewer-business relationship, like whether the reviewer has had experience with 12 locations or 1 location or 0 locations of a business.

The other reason, I suspect, is that if Yelp lets fly more bad reviews than they should, business owners are more likely to feel the pinch and try Yelp’s advertising out of desperation.  Just a guess.

Anyway, besides reporting redundant reviews from the same customer, what should you do?  Fill out this somewhat-buried form.  Explain that you don’t dispute the reviewer’s right to review one of your locations – just not all of your locations.  Highlight any language that makes it clear the customer didn’t deal with those other locations.  Your request may still be ignored, but it’s a stone to turn over.

Also, get dialed-in on your review strategy before this kind of thing happens.

Any experience in getting redundant Yelp reviews removed?

How about getting other types of Yelp reviews removed?

No need to tell me how much you hate Yelp in general, but please do leave a comment on your experience with reporting reviews.

Is There Anything You Can DO to Get Yelp Reviews These Days – without a Public Shaming?

For years Yelp has told business owners not to ask for reviews on Yelp.  Not that you shouldn’t ask only for positive reviews or tell customers what to say.  Not that you shouldn’t ply them with discounts or gift cards or other wampum.  You’re not supposed to ask for Yelp reviews, period.

In practice, Yelp’s as bad at enforcing that dumb demand as it is at consistently enforcing other, more-commonsense standards – like that the reviewer is a real customer (or client or patient).

That hasn’t stopped Yelp from piling on even more no-nos.  Recently they demanded that makers of review-encouragement software not present Yelp as an option to customers (which I know also because some of those software-makers have told me so).  Yelp also has threatened to issue “Consumer Alerts” or Yelp-rankings penalties to any business caught asking for Yelp reviews (no matter how ethically).

Worst of all, Yelp has left it vague as to whether you’re not supposed to encourage reviews on any site.  Let’s just assume they haven’t gone quite that far yet.  Let’s also assume that, like me, you’ll only bend so far to comply with absurd demands.

Anyway, the result is that these days you need to tiptoe around more – whether you ask for reviews by using any kind of outreach product, or a “Review Us” page, or an email, or any other nonverbal approach.  Whether you interpret “tiptoe” to mean either (1) “Sounds like I need to cover my tracks even more” or (2) “I’ll follow Yelp’s rulebook to the letter” is up to you.

Yelp’s hope is that your customers review you spontaneously there.  Sometimes it works out that way, often in cities where Yelp is popular.  Where that becomes a pipe dream is in places where few people give a hoot about Yelp or write reviews there, but where it’s hard to miss Yelp search results in Google’s local search results.  In that case you’ve got a glaring hole in your online reputation, but no way to fill it.

Even though Yelp often isn’t fair, and most of their policies are moronic, you might want at least to try to play by Yelp’s rules.  But you also want to get some reviews there (and elsewhere).  Can you do both?

Your options now are more limited than they’ve ever been, but there are a few ways you can try to rustle up reviews and not (1) violate Yelp’s silly rules outright, or (2) risk becoming the first business owner Yelp makes a public example of because you tried a sly workaround.

Here are the 4 most Yelp-policy-friendly approaches (that might actually work for you) to encourage customers to speak up:

1. The “Find Friends” strategy, with a twist (more on that in a second). “Find Friends” is a feature in Yelp that allows you to see who’s an active reviewer on Yelp.  You can enter a name or email address one a time, or bulk-check a list of email addresses.  (You can also do a “Find Friends” search by syncing with your Facebook page, but that’s not as reliable.)

Once you’ve determined which customers have written more than a few reviews (let’s say 5), just ask them for a review/feedback in whatever way has worked for you.  Because Yelp is probably their preferred review site, they’ll probably review you there without your needing to ask for a Yelp review specifically, or drop a link to your page, or do anything else that Yelp discourages.

2. Make your “please write a review” link a query string in Google that shows your Yelp page near the top of Google’s search results. The link should look something like this:

Again, customers can pick Yelp if that’s their preferred review site.  You’re not asking them to pick Yelp, explicitly or implicitly.

3. Splatter your best Yelp reviews all over your site. (Or your one good Yelp review, if you only have one at the moment.)

Try to pick reviews that are relevant to the content of the pages you stick the reviews on.  For instance, if you’re a dentist, maybe don’t put a review from a tooth-whitening patient on your “Full-Mouth Reconstruction” page.

If you do it right, you may condition new customers to think “Yelp reviews” when they think of your reviews in general.  When it comes time to ask them for a review anywhere, there’s a good chance they’ll think of Yelp again.

It’s also a nice passive way to encourage reviews in general, if for whatever reason you just aren’t comfortable with asking anyone for reviews (even if you don’t specify the site).  You probably won’t get a gusher of reviews as a result of this approach, but you’ll probably get a little trickle.

Yelp’s embed feature is convenient.  Here’s a great example of that in practice.

4.  Do a Yelp “check-in offer.” They’re only available to bricks-and-mortar businesses, and not to service-area businesses, so there’s a good chance this one just isn’t relevant to you.  But if you do see customers at your business address, then it may be an arrow in your quiver.

What’s worked for you – or hasn’t worked for you – on Yelp?

How “by-the-book” do you figure it is?

Any new strategies you’re considering?

Leave a comment!

Q&A on BBB Customer Reviews: Not Just Another Unkempt Local Review Site or hate the Better Business Bureau, it’s one of the bigger sites to have dipped a couple toes in the greenish-brown pond of local business reviews.  In my experience it’s a great place to get reviews, as I’ve written.

But the current local-reviews landscape is the Wild West.  The sheriff in TripAdvisorville seems to shoot straight, but the one at Yelp Rock ain’t no Will Kane.  Meanwhile, the sheriff of Mountain View is never in town, and his one deputy managed to lock himself in the cell with the town drunk.

And those are the big sites that actually attempt quality-control of reviews.  Facebook and YellowPages?  Ha.

Like Angie’s List, BBB actually seems to try.  Not to say that no bogus reviews wind up there (bogus reviews are everywhere), but at least there’s an effort.

A higher-up at a regional BBB chapter read my post on how it’s an “underrated” review site, and sent me some info, which prompted me to ask him a few questions.  He prefers not to be named in this post, but here’s the inside scoop he gave me on BBB reviews:


Q: Is there an automatic filter on BBB reviews?  (Like Yelp’s or Google’s filter.)

A: No, there is no automatic filter on BBB reviews. We have BBB staff that read them, as well as ask the business if this person is a customer.


Q: Under what circumstances do you remove a customer’s review manually?

A: Since October 2015 (at my chapter of the BBB) 17% of our online reviews submitted to the BBB were not published. Reasons could have been that 1) BBB was not able to verify that the person writing the review was a customer, or that 2) the review contained abusive language.


Q: Under what special circumstances will BBB reveal the identity of an anonymous reviewer to the business owner?

A: The BBB does not post any anonymous reviews. Once the BBB receives a review it goes into a 3-day “holding tank” before we publish that gives the BBB time to email the business to verify that the review is in fact from a customer and gives the business an opportunity to respond. The BBB does protect the identity of the reviewer by not posting identifiable information. Same regarding formal complaints. We would not publish a complaint that was sent anonymously.


Q: Do formal complaints factor into the “star” rating of a business, and not just against its “letter” grade?

A: No, formal complaints do not factor into the star rating. Currently we have 2 separate grading systems. The A+ – F grading system is based on standards the business meets and has earned. The star rating system is based on consumers’ opinions of the business.

Q: To get reviews on BBB, first you need to get listed.  You can pay to get accredited, of course, but then there’s the free submission option (which has been relocated at least once, and never has been easy to find).  Why is that form so buried and, seemingly, so ineffective?

A: We have had a massive problem with citation building services who white-label their product to agencies submitting inaccurate data – either by accident or maliciously to attempt to damage a competitor’s listing. This has created a massive amount of work for our staff. Often they submit data we already have listed. If we get a listing that we think is submitted inaccurately, we try to reach out to the business by phone and later by letter and send them a questionnaire asking them to update their file in our system (free of charge). We don’t always get return phone calls or get our questionnaires returned. If we think the data is submitted inaccurately, we don’t publish it.

We are also getting a lot of submissions that have virtual office addresses that we can’t verify have employees in the United States. The business can’t be verified in public records of the state or county.

What I really think makes our database so great is that we have humans who act as “Curators” or caretakers to verify that the information that we report to the public is correct. We take this very seriously at our chapter of the BBB. It is what we dedicate the most financial and human resources to, especially regarding our Accredited Business Directory. Those businesses and their owners have been background-checked, and we’ve checked their licenses, business start dates, verified addresses, etc. That is why you won’t find an un-licensed mover in our Accredited Business Directory, or an unlicensed handyman lumped into the licensed plumbing categories.

Another thing that I think really sets us apart from other directory sites is that we ask for sizing information from the company.  For example, we know AT&T would be considered a “colossal large” business because of the number of customers they have.  It would be acceptable for them to get 500 complaints a year and, as long as they respond and make a good-faith effort to resolve those complaints, they could still maintain an A+ record.  Contrast that with a pool builder who builds 20 pools a year and gets 10 complaints. To us, that’s less expected and more of a concern.

Anyway, we are in the process of making some major improvements to our website and iPhone app. We are moving in the right direction digitally, just moving slower than I would wish! 🙂

How does that square with your experience with Better Business Bureau reviews?

Any questions I can pass on to someone at the BBB?

Leave a comment!

Yelp Provides Embed Code for Showcasing Yelp Reviews on Your Site

Last summer, Yelp quietly started providing embed code that you can use to stick any customer’s Yelp review on your site.

As closely as I monitor Yelp, I didn’t know about that feature until now.  A few people wrote about it in passing, but I didn’t know about it until Mike of HikingMike told me in his comment on my 2015 post on copying and pasting Yelp reviews.  (By the way, I really appreciate getting intel like that.)

The embed code might be easier and cleaner-looking than a copy-and-paste or a screenshot.  Here’s what an embedded review would look like:

Read Chris B.‘s review of Local Visibility System on Yelp

How do you get the embed code?  Just go to your Yelp page (or your client’s), hover over the review, and click “Embed review.”

Why embed your Yelp reviews on your site?  Just because it’s usually showing off your reviews in general – both on Yelp and on any other review sites.  You can’t assume everyone saw them before getting to your site.  Your site should showcase what customers say about you, rather than just what you say about yourself.

Maybe hold off if only unhappy customers or unfair idiots have reviewed you.

Consider giving the embed feature a try while (1) it’s still around, (2) it’s straightforward, and (3) little-known.  As Mike wrote wisely in his comment:

“This info will be coming from Yelp so it would rely on their side continuing the embed service. If there were some issue, a location move, or something out of the ordinary, I could see the reviews not showing suddenly. They could change their embed method or code as well.

“But I’m also curious about what happens if the Yelp filter removes a review you have embedded. Will the embed still work or will it disappear? I know a lot of times reviews will show initially and then be filtered within a day or so (usually people that have just 1 review), so I wonder how it will work with those.”

Did you know about Yelp’s embed code before I did?

Have you used it?

Will you use it?

Leave a comment!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5.  Maybe Yelp will broaden its appeal one day.

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

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

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

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

20+ Depressing Observations about Yelp Reviews – me

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

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

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

Leave a comment!

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

Yelp Now Showing Review Summaries on Business Pages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When did you start noticing Yelp’s review summaries?

Why do you think they’re doing it?

Good thing or bad thing

Leave a comment!

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

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

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

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

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

Any questions?

Any slides that weren’t clear?

Favorite strategy suggestions?

Leave a comment!

Review-Site Sitelinks Just Got More Local?

You might be doing well on reviews, but can you see your business when you search for the review site?

More so than I’ve ever seen before, Google’s showing specific local businesses in the sitelinks when I just type in “Yelp,” for example.

I also see specific businesses show up when I search for Urbanspoon – sorry, Zomato.

I’m not seeing this when I search for most other review sites, and I’ve mostly seeing restaurants so far, but it appears you don’t have to be a restaurant to get one of these sitelinks.

The common thread I’ve seen so far is these places all have a decent number of reviews.  Also, the jewelry store in the sitelink is BBB-accredited, which helps its prominence in, and may in one way or another make it more likely to show up to nearby people as a sitelink.

City-specific sitelinks have shown up for several years, but this is the first I’m seeing of sitelinks that (1) are specific to the city you’re searching in and (2) are for specific local businesses.

I am seeing the same results on mobile.

I’m not seeing those sorts of sitelinks in Bing, though:


It seems recent, Google-specific, non-device-specific, and most noticeable in search results for Yelp.

If you’ve got a good reputation on a given review site, this could be party time.

Have you been noticing more business-specific sitelinks when you search for a review site?  If so, on which site(s)?

Besides getting reviews, what do you think a business needs to do to show up there as a sitelink?

What do you make of this, in general?

Leave a comment!

Yelp Shows Phone Numbers in Local Search Results

Either Yelp or Google – or some combination thereof – has decided your phone number should show up in the search results, rather than just on your Yelp listing.

Here’s how a typical listing might have appeared until recently:

And here it is now:

As you can see, the phone number appears in the description tag.  In this case, the description is dynamically generated by Google (Yelp didn’t add the phone number to the description tag).  What’s not clear to me yet is whether Yelp recently made any markup changes to its listings that might have encouraged Google to stick the phone number into the description tag.

I can’t chalk it up to, “Well, now Google just likes to show phone numbers from local directories.”  I’m not seeing phone numbers in BBB or YellowPages or other directory results.

My guess is that Yelp wanted this.  Wouldn’t a call-tracking number in Yelp’s super-visible search results be a nice way for Yelp to “prove” its value as an advertising medium to business owners?

They’re not encouraging higher click-through by giving searchers more info in the search results.  So the phone number would have to pull some weight right there in the SERPs – if this change is intentional and part of a plan to boost ad revenue.

That’s my best guess, anyway.

When did you first notice phone numbers in Yelp search results?

Does the source code tell you anything about how Yelp might have encouraged Google to insert the phone number dynamically into the description tags?

How do you think this might help Yelp – and help or hurt business owners?

Leave a comment!