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:

    Finally…some sane advice in the insane world of online reviews:) Are businesses really fretting about this issue? To me, this whole issue is common sense. It’s not natural to actively campaign for reviews. Before Google (or even the Internet for the matter), would a business owner actively pursue reviews? Probably not. Everything you outlined here is spot on in terms of how businesses should be handling customer reviews. The letter is great too. Thanks for sharing!

    Travis Van Slooten

  2. @Travis

    Thanks.

    Before the internet, alert businesses would solicit, track and leverage testimonials. In smaller markets, the association of prominent clients was a huge selling point for others in the community. In larger communities it was a form of social proof. So yes business owners did actively pursue this sort of endorsement.

    Clearly now the process is more independent of the dealer, there are some risks but I think it made sense then as it does now to ask your customers to endorse you.

  3. Mike,

    I couldn’t disagree with Travis more.

    Most of the customers that I deal with are service businesses and they routinely send out evaluation and review forms to their customers soliciting feedback – after every single job. This goes back decades, in some cases. One of my clients has books of testimonials – one for each decade – he’s in a very high-rent location, and people want to know the quality they’re getting, in-advance. Putting a 3/4 inch printed spiral-bound book into their hands definitely makes a difference.

    BTW – for this same client, spammy reviews that are very low (probably competitors with fake names) are left on his business page, while other good reviews have disappeared. Apparently, Google is using a similar algorithm as Yelp does.

    Also, online “social proof” – what others are saying about this business – is a large part of the decision process that potential customers use to decide which business to patronize. I have a lot of anecdotes attesting to this when people call and tell the client that they selected them because of the reviews. Well, scratch that with Big G for the time being…

    Google really needs to get their act together soon, as these sorts of problems are really negatively impacting businesses.

    I will be at the SMX workshop in NYC next week, and hope to personally grill the Google rep (and meet you, of course :o) on what they’re doing to fix the unbelievably buggy Frankenstein creation that we have to deal with.

    1. @Ed

      Google would contend that they do have their act together.

      Regardless of whether they have their act together or not, it is their sand box. In limited testing, I have seen that 95% of reviews from regular, trusted Google users do get published. Clearly Google perceives it to be in their benefit to be opaque about why and which reviews are taken down. I disagree with that assessment but that is what it is.

      So I would suggest, as I did above, that while the takedown was painful, it was a clear signal that whatever process your clients were using for the Google reviews was not working and that you need to figure out how to create a new process that does work. Do you disagree with that idea?

      I am curious what techniques your clients did use. Did they only ask for Google reviews? Did they encourage non Google users to leave reviews?

      I look forward to meeting you in NYC and I look forward to Google’s answer as well.

  4. @Mike –

    What technique is/was used?

    In the case of several clients, they simply asked their customers to let others know of their experiences by leaving their business an online review.

    Not soliciting. Not offering incentives. Just asking for feedback from customers – and to put that feedback online where others can see it.

    Not all people who are happy with a business have their entire life online (Facebook, Google+, Yelp reviewer), and places like Yelp, Google, etc. need to realize that just because someone opens a new account (forced upon them to leave the review) and leaves ONE review, doesn’t necessarily mean that it is suspect or bogus.

    1. @Ed
      re In the case of several clients, they simply asked their customers to let others know of their experiences by leaving their business an online review.

      Or was the request more like they asked their clients “to let others know of their experiences by leaving their business an online review at Google“?

      Most folks that have had massive take downs were almost exclusively directing all review traffic to Google. And a lot of it.

      If you are in an industry that gets 1 review every 6 months if that and your client is getting 10 reviews a week, wouldn’t you be suspicious if you were google?

      Re Not all people who are happy with a business have their entire life online (Facebook, Google+, Yelp reviewer), and places like Yelp, Google, etc. need to realize that just because someone opens a new account (forced upon them to leave the review) and leaves ONE review, doesn’t necessarily mean that it is suspect or bogus.

      That is very true. It is my opinion at well. But the reality here is that your (no offense) and my opinion are of little import in this case. What matters is what Google is doing and how as a business can you continue to market/promote their business in an ethical way that benefits you and does right by the client.

      I suggest that you make it clear to those customers that do not spend their entire life on Google/Yelp (or have a track record there) that they should leave their reviews elsewhere. A review at CitySearch is light years better than a review that doesn’t show up on Google.

  5. So helpful. Many dentists out there will be thankful for your synthesized advice. Thank you!

    Kelly Larson
    Advanced Practice Management

  6. Slow and steady wins the race, diversify & force multiply, ethical and simple – you said it!

    Great example letter – we do handouts for clients, along with the long-form instructions to patients.

    #1 rule of marketing – ask, and you shall receive. Don’t stop asking…just adjust the frequency/capacity.

    Would running a ‘review contest’ be considered unethical by the Google Gods? It’s certainly something that is incentivzed, but it’s also organic.

  7. @Chris

    #1 rule of marketing – ask, and you shall receive. Don’t stop asking…just adjust the frequency/capacity.

    Great rule.

    re review contest

    As long as it does not involve direct incentives it is within the guidelines. However it might incent too many newbies to take a whack and if those reviews don’t show, it could be very frustrating for them.

  8. Good suggestions Mike! Building reviews on many sites makes sense for lots of reasons. However, while this is good news for our business, it is increasing the complexity of online survival from an SMB point of view.

    Why do you think Google doesn’t display/handle its filtered reviews in a manner similar to Yelp?

  9. @Mike,

    I’ve had clients do it in a variety of ways – very similar to what you put in your sample letter. But, yes, Google is definitely a target to get things going – back when the star rating took 5 reviews.

    I can tell you that there were not a lot of reviews getting pushed towards the sites – 1 per week, possibly?

  10. @Ted

    Great question. As it is it is a terrible consumer experience to take the time to post a review and not have it show and not have a clue WTF is going on. Atrocious consumer interface .

    The one answer that I got from a Googler was that it would allow spammers to understand how the algo worked and to be able to better circumvent it. Whether that is the reason or just lazy programming, I have no idea but it really sucks.

  11. @Ed

    Well if they were not active Google users, didn’t have a strong ID and the rate was higher than normal…. those are all signals that might have had a role to play (who knows what Google actually looks at)… I think given that there are 100 million active Plus users and 400 million Plus registrants… those should be the folks that you target to leave you a Google review… the rest should be sent elsewhere.

  12. Man, this hits close to home. Almost every day, it seems that one of my dental/ortho clients are freaking out about Google. And it’s difficult for them to understand why Google deletes their reviews.

    In a normal world, there’s a rule book; but with Google things aren’t so black and white. At least that’s how the layperson looks at this.

    I can’t wait to discuss this next week at SMX and LocalU.

  13. Hmm – something garbled my last transmission:

    @ChrisR –

    “I can’t wait to discuss this next week at SMX and LocalU.”

    Discuss?? I say we hold Joel Headley hostage until they fix their dang system!!

    @Mike –

    “WTF” “sucks”

    Glad to see that you’re “getting in the mood!” 🙂

  14. @Ed
    Like I said above, I think the consumer facing interface on this product/process is terrible.

    That does not mean that I can do much about it and it absolutely doesn’t mean that SMBs/consultants/SEOs should throw their hands up in despair. There is still a need to find a way to get good reviews.

    Taking charge of the problem and doing that is the only way forward.

  15. WE have several clients that have a laptop in the lobby, and suggest people compose a review before they leave the business. Each of the important review sites are book marked. Do you think Google would see this as spam?

    1. @Mike Bayes

      It’s a difficult and nuanced question.

      A review station creates more than one possibility for generating review footprints that would trigger the removal.

      I have postulated that it is possible given certain conditions where the reviews would not be filtered. I have not had an opportunity to test. So if it is working that is the best test.

  16. @mike bayes I know Mike B will answer this, but I definitely think that’s “actively” soliciting reviews from clients. I’m assuming the laptop is on your wireless network, which has the same IP address… totally will raise a red flag.

    But if it’s working…

  17. Mike
    I see that google is showing other places to review at the bottom . I just had a perfectly clean review taken down from google in 48 hours. The lady reviewed from her home.

    Why did you not mention yelp. My one and only review got caught in their filter.

    What other review places are likely to surface in google?

    I was wondering why you picked the ones you picked to use.

    Thanks tony

    1. @tony
      Google has lots of reasons to take down reviews.

      I didn’t mention Yelp because they are a bigger PITA about reviews than Google.

      There are a number of other IYP and local sites that google looks at. Best bet is to look at a lot of results in your industry on Google and see which ones google is using.

      I picked Avvo because it was industry specific to my client and allowed anonymous reviews. I chose Citysearch and Insiderpages because they use Facebook logins and have very broad distribution. I used Yahoo because lots of users have Yahoo logins and reviews are a main ranking factor on Yahoo.

  18. Currently working with a Plastic Surgeon that previously had very little in the means of an online presence. They have boxes and boxes of letters and cards singing praises – now its just a matter of encouraging such praise to be shared online! Not only do we have to deal with Google’s requirements – but also with the ASPS bylaws that are very strict when it comes to incentivising or encouraging during the review process.

    From what I am reading if a user signs up for a new Google account and then posts a review – having not been active – this review will not show? With Yelp being embedded in iOS 6 – Yelp is becoming more and more of a player. Interested to see a growing reviewer base with easier and more methods to leave comments for businesses and services online!

  19. Mike,
    Great article particularly as a lot of industries are still quite clueless as to how to gather reviews online. The sample email/letter is perfect and would be great to send out straight after you have dealt with a guest or client. I am struggling with Google merging two completely different businesses at the moment. I have almost got it sorted but now they have changed the business name – any insights on that?

  20. Hi Mike,
    Yes sorry about the diversion…I am finding that Google are a bit of a ‘nightmare’ at the moment. However gaining reviews is a very important area for client businesses and really needs to be done properly. So thanks again for the sample letter/email.

  21. BE PERSISTENT – the best way to gain reviews is through training & the number game.

    It is a form of sales so train the staff how to bring it up through out the interaction: plant the seeds, water it and harvest it. Talk about it with excitement and enthusiasm making it more memorable to the client.

    If you are waiting to bring it up at the very last second, the, you failed.

    Keep asking, expect 5% to follow through but in the end it will add up making the difference.

    Beside, they integrated Google + (their social network) into the local process. Let them to use there Google + account to leave their feedback.

  22. Why not hedge your bets and have people leave reviews on places that Google will find them and put them into the “Reviews from around the web” section at the bottom of your/clients local page.

    I’m compiling a Database of sites based on vertical markets that my company will be using for this exact purpose.

    Marc

  23. @Marc –

    Google no longer does the “Reviews from around the web” since early last year when they were threatened by Yelp (and possibly others) for doing that.

    If this has changed, I was unaware they they were doing it again.

  24. Yeah, they got ride of that awhile ago. It is best to identify the people who use there phones and are review savy.

    For example, “How did you hear about of company?” or “What brought you into our place of business?”

    If they say they found out about it on the internet or through there smartphone, then encourage them to leave a review. This will result in a higher conversion of mention to action.

  25. The overall feeling we are left with is that the entire process is still soooo fragile.

    People complain daily that reviews are removed – perfectly legitimate ones, and that it is simply too difficult for users to post reviews.

    In the end I understand Google not wanting businesses to solicit reviews, but I am not sure what they expect as it seems more and more that the review process is more and more difficult!

  26. Hi Mike,

    I hope all is well.

    I got an interesting question from a client regarding reviews and wanted to get your take on it. The client asked if they could take reviews that have been left on Google+, Yelp and other sites and put them in a testimonials section on their own website.

    Do you know if this would cause any problems with duplicate content or if there is any reason they shouldn’t?

    Thanks,
    Bryan

  27. I strongly recommend that clients make a copy of every review for safe keeping. That being said you would need to read the TOS and copyrights for both sites. It is likely that they control the copyright.

  28. I was wondering the same thing as Bryan… In Google’s eyes, is it okay to take a review of my business that was left on Yelp, Google Plus or other review site and post it as a testimonial on my website (with the client’s permission)?

    How about if a client posts a review on one review site and then posts that same review on another review site? Is this seen as duplicate content and if so, does the business get penalized for this?

    Thanks

  29. @Bryan and @Denise,

    One way to get around this is to copy the text of the review, put it into a word processor of some sort, and then take a screen shot of it. That way it is an image that you can use on your website. People can read it, but the Google bots/spiders can’t.

    There continues to be debate about the dreaded “duplicate content” and just how omniscient Google is when it comes to detecting that, but if you take an image of the review and put it on your website, it solves that problem.

  30. The best solution to all the pathetic algorithm filtering system on the web is a simple verification method of the real customer, client, patient, sort of like Amazon system.

    The problem with taking snap shots of the reviews and posting them on your website, is that people may never get to your site to read it, why? Because people are finding you and other companies on Google first and if they see more positive reviews on Google competition page, you could lose your potential client.

  31. I read about the 666 rule but my question is this… When a client posts a review on Google Plus, does it show up immediately or is there a lag time? Thanks!

  32. Mike,

    Here’s what I would like to see as an upcoming blog post:

    “Mike’s Guidelines to getting customers to write reviews that will show up on Google – A roadmap”

    🙂

    Do reviewers need to be on Google +? Do they need to be “Googlers” – does frequency of reviews matter? Location of reviews? participation on Google+? What seems to matter?

    Are review stations a red flag? Should we stop this practice entirely? IP Address filtering?

    We need a roadmap for our clients, Mike. Yes I know that if you give this to us then the Spammers will have it too. But what the H*** else are we to do?

    Our clients cannot get a Zagat score until they hit 10 reviews, but even getting one review to show up lately is a rarity.

  33. @Greg

    I agree, partially… You should have both reviews on your site to show clients who have found you based on your marketing efforts, and on the web for searchers.

  34. Mike,

    I think somewhere you had pointed out something to the effect that business owners should encourage customers to review them on Google Plus only if they are regular Google users. Are you referring to people with established Googel Plus accounts only? What about people who use G-mail regularly but do not have a Google Plus account? Should business owners refrain from encouraging G-mail users to create a Google Plus account for the purpose of posting a review?

  35. @denise

    That’s a great question and one to which I don’t yet have an answer.

    Clearly a heavy gmail user is someone that Google has lots of data about but they do not yet know who they are as a person. Will the creation of a + profile minutes before leaving a review be viewed as suspect?

    As I noted above “you may need to test a few tactics until you find one that works but it is worth the effort” and I think that this is one that is worth testing.

    If find that they aren’t showing, or the % that show is below an acceptable threshold, move on.

  36. What is upsetting to me that sites like YELP or now Google, doesn’t want businesses to solicit reviews. Maybe when you are more savvy, you go to websites and leave positive reviews (more likely for restaurants or some other places you are currently happy with). However, MOST customers are only going to leave reviews when they are extremely upset and frustrated. They are not always right! Doesn’t matter because their review will show up there for months or years to come!
    We cannot solicit reviews, Yelp filters their reviews (especially the positive, if you are not paying for their advertisement). These review sites have the ultimate power over small businesses. I consider myself computer savvy, but I can count on two hands how many times I went and left positive reviews for the different businesses I use every day. People just don’t do that often. But I know if I feel some business treated me badly, I definitely want others to know.

  37. Hi Mike:

    I enjoyed reading this and a lot of the feedback and comments.

    Seems to me as though Google continue to not care about what damage they do to small businesses and Yelp have now joined them in that endeavor.

    If they did care they would find a solution to this issue, instead of paying lip service to it in their normal BS way.

    Very soon people will not trust reviews on Google or Yelp at all. As by their own experience they have been unable to leave feedback when they want to. Then the best referral system of all (word of mouth) will kick in about the issues with them and they will be both forced to change. I certainly would not.

    Bill

  38. One of the things many business owner don’t consider is how the mere act of asking for a review impacts their relationship with their customer. When you ask a customer to write a review, you’re asking them to do you a favor. The good news is this. When a customer writes a review at your request, they feel good about themselves for doing you a favor. And when they feel good about themselves, they feel good about you.
    When a happy customer writes a review they reinforce in their own mind all the things that make you and your company referral worthy. That’s the good news. Now for the bad news.
    If you do not acknowledge that they took the time and effort to write a review for you, they will think less of you and your company. They will see you as ungrateful and not referral worthy. That’s why it’s so important to respond to every review (good and bad) and every reviewer personally thanking them for their effort. When you do that, you’re building a customer for life and a referral engine that won’t stop.
    Here’s my take on Google and Yelp not posting reviews. Big Deal! In the scheme of things it’s irrelevant to your relationship with your biggest referral source, your customer. All that matters is that you acknowledge their effort and thank them for their kind words. Google will eventually get the review thing fixed … and so will Yelp. In the mean time, keep asking your customers to write reviews on the review sites of their choice and let them know how much you appreciate them doing that for you. I believe that act of gratitude will generate more new business for you than any single review on Google. I also believe that this is the most overlooked and expensive aspect of the review process for the majority of business owners. That’s my two cents.
    P.S. We send our customers hand written and stamped postcards in the mail thanking them for their review, whether it shows up on the Internet or not. The front of the post card reads “Thank You.” No selling, no coupon offer, no reminder to tell their friends about our service … just Thank You.

  39. 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.

  40. 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!

  41. @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.

  42. 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!

  43. 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?

  44. 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.

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