Asking for Reviews (Post Google Apocalypse)

Since Google started clamping down on review solicitation, particularly in the dental and auto dealer worlds, many businesses have expressed fear, dismay and discouragement about reviews in general and Google’s review policies in particular.

Comments like “At this point I am ready to give up and ask my customers to avoid Google and go to Yelp. it is not worth all of the brain damage. does anyone at Google care enough to help? or should I just move on?” or “I’m completely moving away from encouraging customers to leave reviews on Google.” were all too common in my post on Google’s newest “guidance” in the arena.

My suggestion? Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Google may be frustrating and they may be opaque but they are still generating 60-90% of your leads. Endorsements on the front page of a search result are still very valuable. The issue is finding a way to continue to get reviews around the internet, including Google. You may need to test a few tactics until you find one that works but it is worth the effort.

But you say: How can I possibly ask a customer to leave a review there if Google is going to throw it away and waste their time. I say: Tell you customers what to expect, give them choices and let them decide.

The reality is that you don’t need 10 reviews a week at Google. In fact you don’t need 10 reviews a month or a quarter there to succeed. Most businesses need to accrue one review every month or two so that at the end of 3 years you will have 30. You need to ultimately get more than 10 so you get Zagat rated and you need to stop fretting about how many you have there and how many you have lost. You need to keep putting one foot in front of another, keep gaining endorsements across the internet.  In the end if you run a good business and have loyal customers you will get your share of reviews at Google and elsewhere.

If you have had massive review take downs at Google you need to review your processes and procedures and acknowledge that what you were doing was not working and will not work. If you are a car dealer you need to stop spiffing your salesmen to hustle a customer over to an on-sight review work station. If you are a high volume dentist you may need to simply hand out a piece of paper explaining the review process rather than actively soliciting reviews of 20 clients a day via email. And if you were buying reviews or using a review service to enter comment cards well DUH!, time to stop. If you were helping folks sign up for a Google account, that probably needs to end as well.

So what is left for a business to do that wants to gather reviews? The same as has always been the case. Put in place a review process that gives customers lots of choice, generates reviews at a wide range of sites in addition to Google and is easy for your staff to implement. Keep it ethical, keep it simple and you will find that you get the enough reviews at Google and lots of reviews elsewhere.

Here is a sample email/letter that I have crafted for a client. It was written for a legal client but the logic of it can be used for any business.

*******

Leave Us Your Feedback

We’ve found that customer endorsements are very helpful in keeping our business thriving so that we can continue to provide service to the community. We would truly appreciate an online review from you!

Visit the site of your choice to leave a review or comment. Pick whichever one that you find easiest and most convenient.

1. You may use your Facebook login at Citysearch or InsiderPages

Citysearchhttp://goo.gl/MP27j

Click the thumbs up/down to leave your opinion then login via Facebook or your email address
Insiderpagehttp://goo.gl/hDyBH
Click on write a review and follow the instructions.

2. If you are a regular Google User and already have a Google Plus account you can go to

Googlehttp://goo.gl/ygGGm

Login and click on the write a review link.  Note that Google requires you to show your full name on the review. If you wish to be less public you can use Avvo where you will be able to post your review anonymously.

Note: Google has opaque rules about which consumer reviews they will show. If you are not an active user of their products you might want to pick a different site so that you can be sure that your review will be seen by others.

3. Avvo is a legal site for consumers that allows login by Facebook, Twitter, Google, LinkedIn or your own email and it easily allows you to post a review anonymously.
Enter the review, indicate whether to show your first name or whether the review is anonymous and then login by your favored method.

4. Yahoo Mail accounts are common and if you have one this might be the easiest way to leave a review.
Click on write a review button, login with your Yahoo mail account and write the review.

Thank you for reviewing us. We appreciate your business.

Signed:
XXXXX

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Asking for Reviews (Post Google Apocalypse) by

79 thoughts on “Asking for Reviews (Post Google Apocalypse)”

  1. Mike,

    Thanks for pointing me to this discussion. You make some great points and I love the letter. We’ve been adding explanatory videos prior to sending customer’s to a review site and that seems to help.

    I do not agree with some of the comments, that businesses should not solicit reviews. Number of reviews is definitely a ranking factor for Google and probably the other review sites. You can’t be passive about reviews.

  2. Hi Bruce:
    We created one minute “How To Leave A Review” videos for the top 22 review sites and our customers love them too. They can see in a very quick format exactly what to expect when they create an account or leave a review on Google Plus, Yelp, Citysearch, YP.com and 18 other sites. The best part about using video is that you can include heartfelt and helpful comments on things like how to share your review on the social networks and what makes for a meaningful an helpful review. Customers appreciate knowing how to get the most out of their review, and the video helps them do just that. It’s unfortunate that sites like Google Plus are so difficult to maneuver that we have to create a video explaining what to do. Anything you can do to make it easier for customers to write a review is time very, very well spent. Mikes example is spectacular!

  3. @Bob –

    Videos are a great tool to assist customers through complexity. However, just remember that you should update those videos when the UI (user interface) changes at those sites – which seems to happen a lot. It’s a fast-moving environment. Otherwise, your videos will not be helpful, and could confuse the situation.

  4. I recently came across a post that suggested Google takes into account how an intended reviewer gets to a business’s Google Plus page. According to the post, if the reviewer had clicked a link (e.g. the link to a business’s Google Plus page sent to him via email) and then proceeded to leave that business a review, his review would likely get filtered out as this path indicates he was prompted by the business owner to write the review. The post went on to say that ideally Google wants reviewers to arrive on the business’s Google Plus page naturally (e.g. run a search for the business name…) as reviewers who arrive on the page on their own are considered to be more credible sources.

    This is the first I’ve heard of this and I have yet to put this theory to the test. But that is exactly how I’ve been going about asking for reviews… I’ve been sending out a “feedback request” email (similar to the example letter posted in this thread) upon the completion of service to selected clients. The last 4 clients who tried leaving me a review on Google Plus did so by clicking on the link that I sent them. 3 of the 4 reviews have yet to appear on my page. And the 1 that did show briefly (posted by an established Google Plus user with a long time G-mail account) was filtered out after 2 days.

    Unfortunately, it seems like a reviewer’s “path” may in fact be influential here. Hopefully not though. It is already enough that we are asking customers to review us. The least we can do is make it as easy as possible by providing them with a direct link to our listing. It would be completely impractical to add an additional hoop for customers to jump through in order to leave a review.

    I’m curious to hear what others have to say about this. Thanks!

  5. Denise:
    I’ve been wondering about this too. Not only can Google detect if the link comes from your website, but it can detect if it comes from an email as you mentioned. I’ll be testing this with my clients and I’ll let you know what I discover. By the way, was your source credible or was it from someone who may have thought this to be an issue too without testing it?

  6. Denise, Jeffrey, Bob,

    I’ve been thinking the same and here’s a suggestion I gave a couple people that may be worth testing. (I have not tested and am not saying it’s the magic solution.)

    In follow up emails after service where you are “offering them the opportunity” to leave you a review (totally kosher and not incentivizing) OR on your site, wherever you have a review link, I wonder about this…

    How about instead of linking directly to the G+ L page, link to your listing in maps. (The CID link.) Then explain how to get to the G+ Page and leave a review from there.

    Because then all traffic to the G+ page that lands on the review button comes from a Maps search page (not from email or a link on your site.)

    Example using Mike’s page:

    Instead of linking here: https://plus.google.com/109717500159349273683/about?gl=us&hl=en

    Link here? https://maps.google.com/maps?ie=UTF8&cid=8612728639224254627 (Then explain how to get to the review button.)

    :-) Worth a try since not much else seems to be working these days.

  7. Linda:
    Great idea. I’m going to try that. Here’s another idea. You could explain to your customers how important it is that they copy and paste the link that you just sent them into their browser rather than clicking on it. This way you could send them the link that takes them straight to the review page. What do you think?

  8. Bob,
    I’m don’t remember the guy’s name but I think he is one of those big time SEO guys. The way I read it, he seemed to be offering the info more as fact than as a hypothesis. I’ll see if I can find his site again.

  9. Linda,
    I just left a review on Mike’s page using the Google Maps link and clicking through to G+ from there. The review showed up immediately.

  10. @denise

    I did a small scale test with 5 strong users being directed to leave reviews via email links of 4 or 5 different businesses and all except one showed up.

    I had all five review one business via an email link and 4 of the 5 showed up.

    A very small test but it implies that in and of itself email solicitation is with a direct link to the listing is NOT an a priori reason to nuke a review.

    The fact that 4 of 5 reviewers were able to review one business implies that run rate at least in this very short duration test was not a reason to nuke reviews in and of itself.

    Clearly there is a lot going on in the filter that we can not see and just because this test worked on these businesses does not mean it will work in general.

    I think that there is likely different rules for different industries.

    I think that the way a user got to a review is probably an issue when associated with some other variable(s). Perhaps volume, user authority, user behaviors. Who knows.

    What industries are you working in? It is strange to me that you sent out the sample email and that 4 users all tried to use google and that they all hot back in touch.

    Like with SEO in general you need to focus on reviews without focusing on reviews.

  11. Thanks for testing that out. I run a dog boarding service. The category listed on my G+ page is “kennel.” I purposefully sent out the letter to clients who use G-mail, one also had a G+ account. I also put Google first on the list so they’d be more likely to choose it. One client actually posted his review on Google, Yelp, and Angie’s List. I realize that is probably why his got filtered out. For another client, I can see her name and rating in the search results when I’m logged into G+, click on local, and search for dog boarding, Granada Hills however her review doesn’t show on my G+ business page and her rating has not been included in my total # of reviews. I realize the futility in getting so wrapped up in this review business. It’s just that G+ keeps bumping me down to 9 reviews and I feel like when I was at 10 and my score showed up, I was getting a lot more calls.

    P.S. I really appreciate what you do for everyone, thanks!

  12. Serendipitously one of my customers just called to tell me he was no longer going to encourage his customers to review his business on Google. He currently has 12 fives star reviews … all pre-Plus and has not had a single additional review show up since. He told me that he knew for a fact that three of his customers wrote a review on Google Plus and none of them showed up. He also told me that they found his business listing on their own. He did not send them a link in an email or provide a link from his website. My guess is that getting reviews to show up on Google Plus has a lot more to do with the reviewer being an avid Google Plus user than how they got there. I do plan to continue to test this idea however.

  13. Thank you so much for giving us clear information about why reviews aren’t showing and tools to use in response! Our company has been building websites for construction companies. Quite often they have an older demographic that isn’t as conversant with “posting review” so as part of the website we would include a page that was a step-by-step of the process of submitting a Google Review. This started pre G+/Google Places merge and was helpful to those contractors. Now most of those contractors are only showing the bad reviews that were spammed by their competitors without any of the good reviews offered by legitimate clients through help on their websites.

    This article was the first I have found with information & options that I can put into place for these contractors, so thank you.

  14. Mike,

    I appreciate the time you took to put this great blog post together. It was a fantastic article.

    I’m very familiar with the online review space as I work for a new company called Terillion (terillion.com/reviews). I thought you might be interested to hear that we help local businesses get real reviews from their real customers at the point of sale or service. Customers simply write a quick handwritten review on our new iPad kiosk app or simply tap our poster with their NFC enabled phone to write a quick review. The customers themselves then distribute those reviews and interactions to places like Facebook, Twitter, Google, Yelp, Trip Adviser, our own Terillion directory and more. With this service, fake reviews aren’t needed and real reviews are easy to collect and distribute evenly all over the web.

    Just thought I’d share so you could know there a things being done to help businesses collect real reviews from their real customers, consistently. Again, thanks for the great article. It’s very much appreciated.

    Jessica Robertson

  15. Jessica

    I went to your website and tried the QR code. Your page showed iPhones in the promo photos so I thought that your system might just work with it but it did not work. All I got were 404 Page not found messages.

    I thought that I might try the Text demo as well. That worked as far as it went but I was not provided with any option to leave reviews at Google.

  16. Mike,

    My apologies. Over the weekend our developers switched servers – we were assured everything would be finished by today, and I assumed that it was – but alas, that is why some of our links didn’t work. Again, our sincerest apologizes – I’ve been assured that everything should be working normally by tomorrow.

    Tomorrow I’ll send you an email with a live demo so you can see how our customers are actually using it, along with a few screen shots of the process.

    We appreciate you checking out our site and our technology – thanks again for you fantastic blog. We’re all avid readers here at Terillion.

    Best,
    Jessica Robertson

  17. Hi Mike,

    We have recently had a bad review posted on our google places. We have tried to dispute it but I know that it is unlikely that google will remove it. In the meantime, we have asked some of our patients to write reviews and we are now noticing that none are getting published. Has our page been flagged and preventing from reviews from being published? If so, how long do we have to wait to get more reviews without Google punishing us? This is hurting our business drastically! We are unable to respond to the patients review because it will then violate HIPAA. As a medical practice, we are very limited in our actions. Any advice?

  18. We worked hard to get 12 new reviews under the Google Plus – we had two Google User reviews over 3 months.

    We have gotten another 6 or 8 having been told by the customer or having seen them appear for a short while.

    Now the Google algorithm keeps whittling away at the ones that have existed for a while until we only have Ten.

    We have found it difficult to get customers to post comments to Google Plus, I think because they are not into “Social Stuff” and they wonder what they are getting into in the Google signup process. They wonder why they must also get an email account??

    A confused mind will not act.

    Most of our customers are mature adults.

    Businesses should not be punished because their customers are not “into” the online Social Scene. Google, I believe, required a Google Plus account in order to get Google Places businesses to ask for the review, have new people get a Google Plus account to increase their numbers in the race with Facebook.

    They get the account signups but deny the benefit of the review to the business which prompted the signup??

    An active Google Plus account?? You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.

    Surely it will get better with time.

    John

  19. John

    You misread Google’s motives and intentions especially around reviews. Yes, they want folks to sign up for a G+ account but not so they can leave reviews but so that Google can understand more about them, make the users life easier the next time they want to use a Google product and suggest to that user the next step.

    They, however, DO NOT want reviews from these newbies. That is crystal clear. Asking your users to go to Google is disrespectful of the user and clearly will lead to a high percentage of review take downs. You are the one cause the confusion by asking newbies to go to Google and go through this process.

    I always say that a review at CitySearch is worth INFINITELY more than a review that doesn’t show up at Google.

    You need to be totally transparent with the user, give them options as to where they leave a review. If you give them several reasonable choices including Google only the ones that are comfortable with the Google review way will make that choice. Their review is very likely to stick.

    You will end up with just about as many reviews at Google but many more reviews everywhere else. You win, the client wins and Google gets what they want.

    This is not fast but over the next two or three years you WILL have a significant number of reviews EVERYWHERE.

  20. Mike,

    What can a business do when google is preventing new reviews from being posted as well as removing our response to a negative review? Google informed us that they would not remove a review but we can respond to it. I posted a very professional response and the next day google removed it. They are not allowing us to write any responses to any reviews. I feel like the more I contact google, the more they penalize us. How can a business defend itself if google will not allow them to respond to inaccurate reviews?

  21. Thanks for sharing this because I now know what happened when I provided a link for my patients to review our practice on Google plus.

  22. Chris
    Do you believe your issue with Google reviews was based on “providing a link” to your review page or because the people leaving reviews were newbies?

  23. Our practice uses a third party called Demandforce to run several aspects including emailing. We posted via df to our patients with a link and an incentive because I wanted some organic reviews. The response was amazing…we had 6 reviews instantly, some from establised G+ users and some registering to claim our offer. Next, we were hearing that folks couldn’t leave reviews, or left a review and it wouldn’t show up, and eventually all reviews were gone.

    I couldnt understand this until running across these post.

    Those are my facts…I don’t know if I answered your questions thought.

  24. Mike- I appreciate this in depth post and all the time you have been taking to respond to comments and queries. I sent an email out to a dozen past clients in hopes of getting a handful of Google reviews. My Microsoft clients all refused and clients who tried to look at the link I sent them on their mobile phones or Ipads were thoroughly confused. So far 3 reviews have popped up, 1 from a G+ user and 2 others. Crossing my fingers that they stay around.
    I love the letter you created and will likely use something similar crafted for my real estate business. We don’t have Avvo, but Zillow is a great place to host reviews for those in the real estate vertical.

  25. At the moment reviews should only be left on a customers own mobile phone using their wireless data provider or at home or a regular IPS they use.

    And I would ensure the +Profile has got some Circles in and out, done some Posts and +1s and a few local drinkery and eatery posts.

  26. It is considered manipulations of the review sites for a business to prompt clients to leave a review because the busniness will filter who they ask a review from; the business will not ask an uphappy client for a review.

    Businesses that prompt clients for reviews probably have an obvious more amount of reviews than others in their niche. It is probably easy for the review sites to see what is a normal rate of reviews and what is the rate when businesses are prompting for reviews.

    A more personal approach may be needed.

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