Why Send Good Customers to Crappy Review Sites?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/kim_scarborough/687997996/

Isn’t that a huge waste?

Think of how hard you worked to learn your craft, start your business, stay in business, get customers, and do a great job for them and earn those positive reviews.

That’s why it’s stupid not to ask for online reviews.  That’s even stupider than Stone Cold.  You’re missing half the payoff.

But isn’t it equally dumb to get reviews on sites most people ignore?  When there are Big Boys like Google, Facebook, and Yelp, why on earth would you ask a happy customer to go to a YellowPages or a SuperPages or a CitySearch to write a review?

Well, there are some reasons you shouldn’t overlook the smaller, less-prominent, less-glamorous review sites.  You should work them into your larger review strategy.  Here’s why:

1. They corroborate your reviews on sites where it’s harder to get reviews. Let’s say you’re killing it on Google, but you look like a one-hit wonder because you’re not doing as well on Yelp.  Getting reviews on other sites that rank well when you search for your business by name will make the Google reviews look less like flukes, and may make the bad Yelp reviews look more like the whiny exceptions.

2.  You’ll get more review stars showing up when potential customers search for you by name. Even if they don’t click through to your YellowPages listing (for example), good reviews there add to the overall effect of, “Hey, these guys have consistently solid reviews.”

3.  They’re easy backup options, for customers who don’t want to bother with Yelp or Google. Many sites even allow reviewers to log in with Facebook, rather than create a separate account just to review you on a given site.  Also, Yelp and Google are the only sites that really filter reviews (Yelp much more so than Google).  You don’t want to send everyone into the meat grinder.

4.  You can repurpose those “easy” reviews as testimonials on your site. That is OK, even on Yelp.  They won’t get filtered.

5.  You can include badges on your site that link to your reviews on the overlooked review sites.

6.  You’re more likely to rank well in those sites, which themselves often rank well in Google for relevant keywords. You might cultivate a little stream of non-Google referral traffic.

7.  You can always ask if they’ll post the same review on another, slightly more difficult site – like Google – where you’d like more reviews. I mean, they’ve already written the thing.  It’s the online-reviews equivalent of an upsell.

8.  There’s a small chance that reviews on “easy” sites help your Google rankings. I don’t know one way or the other (and neither do you), so please take that comment with a grain of salt.  I’m simply saying it’s possible.  Stranger things have happened.

9.  Those sites may become more important in the future.

10.  Sometimes the alternative is to get no reviews at all.

11.  Some customers might actually care about reviews on CitySearch or DexKnows or MerchantCircle.

12.  As Aaron Weiche of GetFiveStars pointed out, you’ll want to create the maximum “wow” effect when customers search for the name of your business + “reviews.” For that matter, even the overlooked sites often rank well when customers search for a specific keyword + “reviews.” It’s just smart barnacle SEO.

Do you agree it’s worth peeling off at least a few customers to review you on sites other than the Big Boys?

What’s your favorite under-appreciated review site?

Why do you like it?

Leave a comment!

Boss Jobs in Local SEO

I’m talking about the specific tasks in a local SEO campaign that the boss of the company must do personally.

boss-jobs

The boss: the one person who can’t quit or get fired, who most wants more customers, and who ultimately has to fix any problems that keep customers away.

The tasks: few in number and pretty easy stuff, but stuff that only one person can do.

Everyone wants a 100% hands-free solution to getting visible in Google’s local search results and beyond – a way to get the phone to ring without his/her involvement.  I offer something mighty close to that, but it’s 90% hands-free; there’s that 10% that the person in-charge must do, or there’s a logjam and the crucial to-dos don’t get done.

I walk my clients through that 10%, and I’m going to lay out those tasks for you right now.

If you’re not the boss, I suggest you saunter over to the corner office now, interrupt your boss’s mini-golf, and have a read-aloud.

If you’re the boss, read on.  Because if you don’t personally do the below, you’re hurting your local rankings and visibility, limiting your ability to attract new customers, and letting down any employees who depend on you for a paycheck.

Boss Job #1:  Understand how long a good local SEO effort can take to bring results, and work on growing other sources of visibility/customers in the meantime, if necessary.  I’m the biggest local SEO advocate there is.  But building a business on one source of visibility is like building a chair with one leg.

Boss Job #2:  Be or hand-pick the person at your company who will do the phone-verifications for the really important listings.

I’m talking mainly about ExpressUpdate, LocalEze, CitySearch, YellowPages, and Yelp.  (And FourSquare, if you’re gung-ho.)

Those sites require someone who works at your company to pick up the phone at the number you use for your local listings and enter a spoken PIN into the site where you’re trying to create/claim your listing.

If you use call-forwarding, that person will need to disable the forwarding so that he/she can pick up the phone at the number that’s displayed on your listings.

If you can do the phone-verifications personally, great.  But if not, hand-pick the person who will.  You’ll want to know exactly whom to take out to the toolshed if it doesn’t get done.

Boss Job #3:  Buy the domain name and hosting of your site(s) personally.

As in not through a third party, even if you pay that third party to do work on your site.

Same reason as for Boss Job #2.

Boss Job #4:  Have personal control of the Google account used to create/claim your Google+ Local listing, your Bing listing, and your citations.

If someone quits or is fired, you should still have access to all your listings.

Boss Job #5:  Oversee the process of asking customers for reviews.

Nobody outside of your company can or should do it.  It’s a question of who in-house should do it.  It should either be someone high-up – so that the customer doesn’t feel like a non-priority – or it should be the person who actually performed the service for the customer.

If you aren’t that person or pick the person who will ask customers, either the reviews won’t come because it’s “someone else’s” job to ask for them, or the results won’t be good.

Boss Job #6:  Oversee the writing of any blog posts or “content” that’s put on your site.

I do NOT mean you should write each piece (or any) personally, nor do I mean that you should even critique or proofread more than a few of them from time to time.

What I am saying you need to do is make sure the person who does the writing (1) won’t pump out keyword-stuffed drivel that’s laden with anchor text and that might win you a black eye from Google, (2) won’t plagiarize, (3) won’t incur photo-copyright violations, and (4) won’t write stuff that’s so bad that would-be customers hit the “back” button.

The good news is everything else you can delegate to employees or to people with the necessary skills.  Yep, I’m referring to that other 90% of the work that goes into a good local SEO campaign.

Any other “boss jobs” that you can think of?  Questions about how to do any of them?  Leave a comment!

An Overlooked Way to Report a Crooked Local Competitor

A recent conversation with my buddy, Darren Shaw of Whitespark.ca, led me to wonder: what is the best way to report a business that’s using a fake address or fake DBA to get ahead in the Google+ Local results?

 

The question came up because of a comment I made in this year’s Local Search Ranking Factors study, about how you’re doing the right thing if you report a competitor who’s using questionable means to eat your lunch in the local results.

(If you want to check out my original comment, it’s the third-from-last one – and my last comment – in the LSRF, down near the bottom of the page.)

Google would have you believe that the only way to report a competitor is to use the “Report a problem” feature.  My experience never has been that “Report a problem” is particularly effective.  But what’s made me lose faith recently is that the competitor of a client of mine has been using a UPS store as his address – and you can clearly see the UPS signage from Street View.  The boneheads at  Google have done nothing.

Which made me think: is Google’s “Report a problem” the only way you can even try to level the playing field?

No: you could also report the offending business on MapMaker.  If your edit comes to the attention of a good Regional Expert Reviewer (RER), you may be in luck.  But MapMaker is still a roll of the dice.

Then it occurred to me: what if you flag down the business at other important sites in the local-search “ecosystem”?

I’m talking about alerting sites like Yelp and YP to the fact that your competitor is using fake info.  That’s the stone I forget to turn over – and that other people probably also forget to turn over.  (If you frequently report crooked competitors this way, I tip my hat to you.)

Which sites should you go to?  By my count, the only important local-search sites with some semblance of a “report inaccurate info” feature are Yelp, YP, SuperPages, InsiderPages, ExpressUpdate, and Yahoo.

 

As for ExpressUpdate.com, I think you just have to contact them personally (from the “Contact Us” button at the bottom of the site).  No idea how helpful they are, though.

What should you put in your reports?

  • You competitor’s real business info;
  • The inaccurate or fake business that your competitor is using instead;
  • How you know the fake info is fake, and how you know the real info is real, and
  • Your contact info, if possible.

I wish I could say exactly how well this type of reporting works.  I don’t know yet.  For whatever reason, unethical competitors usually aren’t a problem for my clients, so I don’t have too many occasions to flag them down.

As far as I can see, there are 3 possible outcomes of flagging down dishonest competitors on sites like the above:

1.  Nothing happens – in which case I suggest trying again in a couple of weeks, and maybe asking other people to flag them down.  I can’t guarantee that grinding will do the trick, but don’t assume it won’t.

2.  One or more of the sites corrects or removes the offending listing, which could hurt not only your competitor’s visibility on that site, but also his/her NAP consistency and possibly Google+ Local rankings.

3.  Enough of the sites start displaying the real info that Google finally realizes the info on your competitor’s Places/Plus page is fake.  As Bill Slawski has written, Google’s patents describe that this is one anti-spam method that Google uses to police Maps.

Don’t confine your efforts to level the playing field.  Keep flagging down those competitors on Google, but also try it on other sites.  Something’s gotta give.

What methods have you tried to report competitors using fake info?  What seems to have worked – or not worked – so far?  Leave a comment!

IYP Ranking Factors: Getting Visible in Local-Biz Directories

IYPs – short for “Internet Yellow Pages” – get a bum rap.

Some of it is true:

Yes, they’re directories, not search engines.

Yes, some of them are mere flies on the windshield of Google.

Yes, we often harbor murderous fantasies when one of their sales representatives calls us on the phone.

It’s for all these reasons and others that most business owners pay little attention to these sites.

This makes sense on one level: these sites don’t have nearly as much “eyeball share” as Google does.

But it’s a mistake.  If you’re in a competitive local market, you’re going to want every edge you can get.

More specifically: you’ll want every promising eyeball you can get (not to sound creepy or anything).  On the whole, many people use IYP sites – partly because Google usually ranks them above or right below its own local search results.

That’s why you need to know basically how these third-party directory sites rank their business listings: as on Google, on these sites there are visible businesses and invisible ones.  You want yours to be in the first group.

These sites influence your Google+Local rankings, too, but that’s another story.

I recently spent a few hours trying to figure out what separates some businesses from others on 7 of the biggest IYP sites.  I’ve listed the sites in alphabetical order, with the ranking factors for each underneath.

Here are the ranking factors I’ve found for each site:

(Please note: these simply are my observations, based on a few hours of gumshoeing and several years of helping my clients with local search.)

 

1. Reviews (AKA “ratings”).  That’s it.  One ranking factor.

In terms of how CitySearch ranks businesses, there is a very clear pecking order:

-“Best of CitySearch” winners (if there are any in a particular local market).

-Then businesses that havereviews, ranked in descending order of “CitySearch score” and/or number of reviews (more on this in a second).

-Then businesses with no reviews.

A little more detail:

Businesses that win the “Best of CitySearch” award tend to have some reviews, but I’ve seen winners that have 1 or 2, which leads me to believe reviews may not even be a factor in winning.  My understanding always has been that there are judges – AKA “scouts” – who pick the winners, but I’ve always been unclear on the specifics (despite a couple of unanswered inquiries on my part).  Whatever the case, BoC winners get the top spots.

Slightly farther down the totem pole are all the businesses with reviews.  All of them rank above all the businesses without reviews.

How do all the businesses with reviews get sorted out?  Well, that leads us to “CitySearch score.”  It’s the equivalent of an “average rating” (like what you see on Google and Yelp).  100% is perfect.  75% may mean that 3 out of 4 customers gave you a positive rating – which they can do without actually having to string together a couple sentences in a review.

CitySearch ranks businesses mostly by score, but also by number of ratings.

CitySearch usually ranks businesses with 90% above ones with 85%, which in turn outrank the ones at 72%, and so on.  You get the idea.

There are some exceptions to this: Occasionally a business with a 90% CitySearch score will outrank one with a 100%.  In these cases, the number of ratings also seems to be a factor: a business with 95% based on 60 ratings may outrank a business with 100% based on 20 ratings.

But businesses with a score of 50% or more always outrank the ones that have a score below 50%

When several businesses have 100% scores (which is common), it seems that the one with the highest number of reviews/ratings will be at the top.

Given that your local competitors probably don’t include many or any “Best of CitySearch” winners, and that businesses without any reviews rarely are contenders on the site, your #1 task is just to rack up a couple of reviews on the site.  (CitySearch reviews help you out on many other sites, too.)

 

1.  Paid results.  Businesses that pay get the top spots.  Everyone else dukes it out based on:

2.  Reviews.  InsiderPages is similar to CitySearch in this way.  All businesses with reviews outrank all the ones that don’t have any.

Here, too, the businesses are ranked based on the number of reviews they have and by order of average rating (e.g. 5-star average, 4-star average, etc.).  But unlike on CitySearch, here the number of reviews seems to carry a little more weight than how high the average star rating is.  It appears quantity matters a bit more than quality, in this regard.

 

1. Being “Verified by Manta.”  Once you create your Manta profile, they call you up to make sure your info is accurate.  I don’t recall ever having done this with my clients (maybe once or twice…don’t remember), but I believe it’s free.

2.  Business name.  If the name of your Manta listing includes a given search term or city name, you’ll probably rank highly for it.  But do NOT mess with your business name just to grab an extra edge: it may hurt the all-important consistency of your “NAP” info across the web.

By the way, there’s no such thing as a “Manta review,” so reviews aren’t even part of the equation here.  Probably all you can do to climb over a few competitors is owner-verify your Manta listing (again, with the caveat that I’m not 100% sure whether it’s free – not that it necessarily would be a bad use of a buck).

 

1.  Paid results.

2.  Business name.

3.  Reviews (?).  This is a bit unclear to me: although businesses with reviews generally seem to outrank ones that don’t, sometimes I’ll click on a listing with a star rating next to it and the actual listing page for the business won’t show any reviews (I have a theory about this, though).  I do know, though, that MerchantCircle is no stranger to the occasional shenanigan.  It’s definitely a good site to be on, and you’ll want to make sure your listing is complete and accurate.  I just don’t really know the extent to which MerchantCircle reviews help you on the site (or in your Google+Local rankings).

 

1. Paid results.  SuperPages seems to have a ton of businesses on-board with “sponsored listings” – to such an extent that the “basic” listings often are halfway down the page or lower.

2.  Business name.

3.  Categories.  SuperPages has an unusually wide range of categories you can list your business under, but you can’t specify any custom categories.  You can pick up to 5.  It’s really worth taking a few minutes to make sure you pick them wisely.  (One good practice is to check out which ones your competitors are using.)

4.  Reviews.  Relative to other sites, SuperPages doesn’t have an enormous amount of review activity – though certainly it would be smart to make sure you get a couple reviews on it.  In effect, this makes the other 3 main ranking factors I’ve identified a little more important.

 

I did a whole post on Yelp ranking factors, as you may have seen.  But here are the CliffsNotes on what seem to be the biggest ranking factors:

1.  Existence of reviews.

2.  Keyword-relevance of reviews

3.  Categories.

4.  Name of business.

5.  Number of reviews.

6.  Reviews by “Elite” members.

7.  Check-ins via smartphone.

8.  Quality of reviews.

(For more detail, check out the post.)

 

Let’s start this one off with some great observations by my good buddy Darren Shaw of Whitespark.ca:

I looked at some businesses ranking in yellowpages.ca a while back and it looked to me that the #1 thing was just to get a couple reviews. Any reviews. Most businesses didn’t have any reviews on the site, and the ones that did tended to rank. The trouble with yellowpages.ca is that they randomize the rankings on every page load. Refresh this a few times: http://www.yellowpages.ca/search/si/1/plumbers/Edmonton+AB

The items in blue are paid, and the items with pins are paid as well but a lower cost package. It looks pretty random.

I’m pretty sure that if you phone and talk to a sales rep at most directories, they’ll tell you exactly how the rankings are generated. Typically it’s paid level 1, paid level 2, paid level 3, then random non-paid with reviews possibly playing a role. They seem to randomize the various paid levels as well so that each business gets equal opportunity to rank #1 in their section.

 Just for the sake of comparing notes, here are the YP ranking factors I’ve noticed:

1. Paid results.  They’re everywhere.  The only randomized results – the ones Darren mentions (above) – seem to be the paid results.  The “basic,” free listings appear to rank the same way consistently – based on some of the ranking factors we’ve seen elsewhere.

2.  Business name.

3.  Categories.

4.  Reviews.  YP is an important site to your local-search efforts in a lot of ways – certainly if you’re in the US, but especially if you’re in another country.  Even if you don’t give a hoot about how visible you are on YP, I do recommend getting at least a few reviews there.

Even if some of specific factors I mentioned were news to you, the takeaway messages from all of this shouldn’t be news:

1.  Make dead-certain you’re listed on each of the above sites, spend a few minutes picking out the most-relevant categories you can for your listings, and try to get reviews on as many of the sites as you possibly can.

2.  Although many ad packages are a waste (or an outright scam), don’t necessarily dismiss them out of hand.  For instance, if there’s on IYP site where you have a ton of great reviews, getting more people to see that listing may pay off.

3.  Whenever there’s an often-ignored to-do item that can set you apart on one specific site (like verifying your Manta profile), do it.  Most of your competitors would rather kick back and shovel Pringles into their faces than take a few minutes to pick low-hanging fruit.

Do you have any thoughts on / experience with the sites I mentioned or with others?  Any advice or suggestions?  Leave a comment!