Reviews: Sometimes You Miss the Forrest for the Trees

dumbAmerican business is very focused on goals and measurements. This in particularly true is the sales world. Unfortunately when you treat reviews as the goal it can lead to bad outcomes. A review ask is one step in developing a long term relationship with a customer; it is not an end point. Making it a goal in and of itself can lead to bad outcomes.

Here is a question I received on Google Plus about review processes for a car dealer and my response (Full disclosure I am a principal in an online review process management product which I think is pretty good but may bias my answers. )

Hi I represent a large auto dealership. This quarter we made it a priority to setup Google+ Local pages and start generating reviews. But unfortunately, Even though I have received over 100+ reviews I am seeing only 6 – 8 reviews on any page. This is causing the management to revert to other sites. Can you guys recommend if this issue is resolvable? As we have the quarter ending, we do not have enough reviews to show for all our work. Any recommendations from you will also be useful… 

My answer:
Well my first suggestion is to change
1)your expectations
2)your goals
3)and your methodology

My second suggestion…
is to understand that Google, like Yelp, is going to filter reviews in order to insure quality.  They particularly target car dealers as a source for spammy/forced reviews and have very stringent filters for that industry.

My third suggestion is to understand that reviews are a “long game”. The issue isn’t getting reviews every hour, every day, every week but to get them at a slow and steady pace in a way that reflects your excellent service not your excellent review process. If you were to get 6 reviews a quarter at Google for the next four years you would have 96 reviews. That’s plenty and it not only shows your current quality but that you have been delivering consistent quality over time.

My fourth suggestion is to respect both the user and the review sites with a process that is natural and non “close” oriented. Closing is for sales not for relationship building. Google for example does not think that users should be asked while on premise for a review. They should be asked after the sale in a way that allows them to easily ignore the request. Yelp doesn’t think they should be asked at all (although that is a discussion for another day).

My fifth suggestion is to focus on reviews around the Internet and not just at Google. This respects a user’s habits and preferences more appropriately than forcing them through the Google gauntlet. It’s not a question of pushing for reviews at just Google or not just at Google. Let the user decide from a list of choices that includes Google but doesn’t insist on Google. You and the clients will be a lot happier.

My sixth suggestion: Avoiding bad reviews is significantly more important than achieving good reviews. Giving customers a chance to provide you with honest feedback, criticism and suggestions will create a better outcome by allowing you to fix those customers issues while minimizing the likelihood of that customer hitting the review sites.

My last suggestion is to change your metrics for evaluating success. By only measuring review count over time you are missing the rich opportunity of engaging your customer in a mutually satisfying process. Measure satisfaction, measure requests for feedback, measure client engagement…. those all will provide nuance to your review count.

The issue is happy customers NOT review count. If you have measurably happy customers and you ask them to leave you a review someplace, sometime then ultimately you will find that it is a lot less of a struggle at Google and every place else and the reviews that you do get will be of better quality.

And most importantly? You will not have annoyed those very people you are trying to make happy, your customer.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Reviews: Sometimes You Miss the Forrest for the Trees by

27 thoughts on “Reviews: Sometimes You Miss the Forrest for the Trees”

  1. BIG head nod here… usual Mike, you’ve captured the essence of the whole review process! And as most of us SEO practitioners have noticed the whole auto channel is so so fraught with spammy reviews the notes that a ‘few’ a quarter is the way to go!!

  2. Great advice Mike. I think the underlying problem is that many business leaders view reviews as a “box that needs to be checked”. In this context, reviews are viewed as being akin to printing sales collateral and not the first step of a multi-step relationship.

    I would add the following to your list:
    – create a repeatable process in your business for review solicitation that is maintainable long-term. Think about: who is in charge of it, how and when will it get done, is the effort cost-justifiable, etc.
    – make the review solicitation a successful part of relationship building regardless of the outcome (get or don’t get a review);
    – view review solicitation as part of a long-term customer communication plan. It is cheaper to get more repeat and referral customers than keep buying new business.

  3. @Ted
    Yes I have been mulling the whole post sale conversation angle and trying to firm it up in my mind. Getting feedback is the first step in a long process that can lead to not just repeat sales but where certain customers become your fervent advocates…at scale.

  4. Mike: Thoughtful piece. As you well know there could be other considerations with regard to reviews and this very particular industry. I think these guys have a heavy incentive to get a LOT of reviews, regardless of the sage advice you have presented.

    I think if I were in their shoes I’d run this stuff upstairs and figure out how to balance everything:

    1. I probably need a lot of reviews
    2. General business advice probably leans towards Mike’s suggestions.
    3. I need to balance 1 and 2 above
    4. Per the advice I need to really establish relationships with customers. Its great to sell or lease them a car…but beyond that:

    A). I want them to recommend us to their friends, colleagues, and family
    B) I want to provide them with maintenance and service over the years.

    In general though I appreciate your advice. We have a couple of smb’s that have more or less been practicing your suggestions for years. It really helps.

    One last interesting tidbit concerning reviews around the web: I looked at one of our sites with regard to the “other reviews links” found on the bottom of the local box. This particular smb had reviews listed from yahoo and three other sources.

    Of the other 3 sources I saw a total of 6 visits from the other sources (excluding yahoo). That is paltry. Incredibly teeny. Visitors/searchers can find those sites in general search, going to those sites direct or finding them off the local knowledge box.

    They obviously haven’t. In that same time period, that particular smb had over 600 site visits from yelp. Yelp reported to the smb that there were several thousand views of the page (whether we believe that or not) and yelp reported over 100 direct calls from mobile.

    The yelp visibility for the smb is pretty good for a variety of search terms.

    Of course in that same period visits from google were immensely more than yelp. Immensely more.

    When we spoke w/ customers about 20% referenced reviews.

    Now…I believe and practice what you said above: Spread reviews around the web. We do that. In fact we give customers a variety of choices on where to write a review, similar to exactly how you suggested it.

    Regardless, currently it doesn’t appear that some of the other sites offer much visibility today. Regardless we’ll continue to do that. I think its good advice….and frankly (in most cases the reviews don’t disappear (written with fingers crossed)) 😉

    But at least for today there is more bang from Google + reviews and Yelp reviews… least in our experience.

  5. @Dave
    Your points are all well taken and every business needs to develop their own approach to the process.

    Several reference points to add nuance to your response. My recommendation to leave reviews around the web is for several reasons
    1- to make it easier on the customer. If they already have a login someplace, sheesh let them use it even if the review is never seen.
    2-Google looks around the web and even if customers never see the review directly or respond to it directly at least we know that Google will hopefully pick it and notice it. And share it via the link.
    3-Yelp is certainly more viable than most review sites in terms of sending some customers but they don’t want you asking
    4-Don’t ignore Facebook. Its a way to get some engagement on your FB page and perhaps even start the post sale conversation. Part of the reason for spreading them around is to identify the next popular review site that might become viable as well.

  6. This reminds me so much of what Wil Reynolds (SEER Interactive) focused on when he gave his presentation @ Local U. When you do “Real Company ‘Stuff'”, you are focusing on the relationship! The reviews will come much easier because the customer will WANT and feel PERSONALLY motivated to leave you a review.

    Great post Mike!

  7. Great points all Mike.

    However when he said: “Even though I have received over 100+ reviews I am seeing only 6 – 8 reviews on any page. ”

    It seems to me he is referring to a bug in the Google review system I discovered and escalated to Google on March 28th that is still not fixed, although they are working on it.

    It’s a world-wide problem from the research I’ve done. No matter how many reviews you have, only 6 show on the page.

    Example: This restaurant has 300 reviews but only 6 show.

    Looks like a pagination problem to me and the reviews are in the DB, just aren’t showing beyond page 1.

  8. @Linda
    That may very well be the case. However they are easy enough to see…. the way most users would see them and that is by doing what most users would do which is search on the front page of Google and click on reviews. I presume the bug keeping them from showing more than 6 will be resolved.

  9. Mike:

    pt 1. I agree with you. We still do it. OTOH, the data we saw was miserable vis a vis some third party sites. But that could be for today. Some of those review sites could gain visibility down the line.

    We ABSOLUTELY want to make it easier on customers……and I liked this one….some of the people who had gotten our emails with a variety of alternatives for leaving a review…left them ON A BUNCH OF THEM. what a bonus!!!! 😀

    pt 2. I agree.

    pt 3. for us, the staff that engages customer’s for reviews does reference yelp.

    Hey look, we ask if they are yelpers. We do it in conversational ways. If they aren’t yelpers we don’t bother asking for reviews there. Even if a customer just loves the service and would jump in and write a glowing review on yelp…..if they aren’t yelpers…we have found that they don’t generate enough other yelp reviews to get them to stick.

    4. FB is great. Excellent advice……although…in our experience…when one looks at FB engagement from the stats FB provides….again we see only a relatively tiny amt of traffic that hits the reviews. heck…most FB traffic is off the people’s own FB news feeds….so little traffic migrates to the FB pages.

    But it all helps.

  10. All good suggestions Mike on how to look at and go about getting clients to leave a review about you and your services (after) they have worked with. I would add that its effective and useful to embed your 5 Star Reviews from your G+ Local Listing onto your About Page so those who visit your website have a chance to see this social proof element before they initiate contact with you.

  11. Well, now everyone has the answer on how to deal with bad reviews. If it only takes six to eight, it’s easy to bury them.

  12. Great suggestions. You really need to build your feedback overtime. That’s because that’s how big businesses are made. It starts with a good product or service then it leads to real good reviews. This then offers some solid social proof that can greatly increase a business’ sales.

  13. This is really good advice. Fake reviews won’t help a business. I always ask for feedback so I can resolve issue that I might not otherwise know about. I try to call each client after a few days and make notes of what they say and then come up with solutions. I am honest too which helps. I have a reputation for good customer service which I want to keep and build upon.

  14. Mike:

    This thread had me go back and look at practical and metric based analyses of reviews.

    Metrics are tough.

    We don’t get any traffic summaries with regard to views of google plus review pages. Even if we did its going to be a dubious report. There would be no way to verify any numbers google provided for us. Its in their control.

    With a claimed yelp record we get reports from them on “visits and actions”. Maybe its real data and maybe not. We can’t verify what they tell us.

    We can check on visits to websites from yelp via logs and various analytics. Our own experience is that yelp’s reports via a claimed listing are “better” and closer to our logs in the last year than they were two or more years ago. A couple of years ago our experience was that yelp’s reports on actual visits were consistently but not egregiously overstated from our logs/analytics. In the last year or 15 months they are pretty much in sync.

    Facebook, which you referenced above seriously obfuscates data to an smb. Its download of statistics is atrocious with over 60 columns of data…much of it bs in our experience.

    Today, when it comes to actual FB visits onto our page(s) and visits to the reviews portion…its hard to discern exactly how much traffic that is getting to the page and the various components; pictures, reviews etc.

    From older data it was clear that a tiny percentage of visits to our site were off our page. Most people see any posts off their newsfeeds. That means they aren’t viewing the page itself. When they do visit the page a small minority of visitors actually clicked through to the reviews.

    Not a lot of people are seeing our reviews on FB. Its like the example I put above about people actually going to the “other reviews” links at the bottom of a local/knowledge box.

    I don’t know how many visitors click on those other reviews…but from traffic we see from other reviews websites…its seriously de minimis.

    Virtually nothing. Its probably similar to what occurs off of the “reviews section” on FB. Relatively very little visibility to those reviews.

    Yet from experience, we do know we’ve had customers from our FB pages …and we know that some customers have read the reviews on FB. Yet its small.

    When we poll customers from one smb with a relatively high dependence on search, a relatively high reliance on reviews, and word of mouth we find that about 20% of customers reference reviews. A dramatically higher percentage of customers reference word of mouth.

    Our own perspective and experience coincides with so much research. Customers read reviews and use them to help make buying decisions. They are very important.

    Ahhh…word of mouth. The long standing most effective form of marketing. Web reviews are a practical extension and application of this most important element of a marketing campaign.

    Back to practicality.

    We continue to offer customers a variety of choices for web review sites, as you suggest above.

    Since metrics and analytic summaries are virtually non existent with regard to volumes of traffic to review sites. We simply don’t know from metrics.

    We continue to try and gather that information by asking questions of potential customers and actual customers to get a better feel for what works and what works in greatest quantity, let alone which review sites, if any, are the most trusted.

    We don’t have those answers. :D….but we work at it.

    We’ll continue to spread opportunities for reviews for reasons you mentioned above. Yet there is no doubt in our own experience is that the most visited and effective sources, (again in our own experience) are google plus and yelp. (at least currently).

    Here is an additional item. We see traffic from referral sources that we currently define as bs content sites with review “like” titles and content that have gained higher visibility in google search. Since that type of content works we are redoing some content on our own sites that reflect those types of approaches.

    Finally we are working to create more dynamic believable “testimonial pages” on our own sites that have reviews that will show with a greater level of believableness to visitors than typical review or testimonial pages.

    We are aware of things of that working for some other sites and are attempting to recreate elements of that nature for our own sites.

    After all…word of mouth and reviews. They work.

  15. Great article Mike.

    So many of our customers and resellers get too focused on Google+ reviews as the ONLY metric, and about getting them fast, when it is about so much more as you point out so nicely.

    1. Create a culture of providing great customer service
    2. Give people options and make it easy to provide the valuable feedback that we all want as business owners
    3. Use that feedback to both promote and manage your business to help you grow.



  16. I like your advice. It’s ALWAYS more expensive to attain new customers than to please existing ones. Unfortunately a lot of business focus more on the former rather than the latter. I never understood why cable companies were so ready to let current customers walk and give away the farm to new ones. I recently bought a car and the sales manager gave me a pre-printed list of 10+ websites to do a review at, I ended up not doing any. It would have been more effective if he just said something to compel me to post a review rather then give me an assignment.

  17. Couldn’t have said it better myself Mike! Whenever I approach clients about a review strategy, they jump the gun and want to pester every single customer they have to leave a review on their Google+ Local page.

    I always advise them to take a slow and steady approach, aiming to get about 1 or 2 reviews a week, depending on the size of the company. I do push for Google+ Local reviews first, until they get the Google gold stars. Once they have them, I advise my clients to get reviews on all other 3rd party sites to improve positive visibility.

    My technique of avoiding negative reviews is a two step email strategy. Send the customer an email asking if they were happy with the service..If its a no, deal with the problem behind the closed doors of email! & if the answer is yes, send them a second email linking to the page you wish for them to leave you a review

  18. @ Doug:

    Very interesting. Very robotic on their part, and as Mike said, its no way to develop a relationship in any capacity whatsover.

    BTW: How did you like the service? If the request had been made in a manner that inspired you to post a review would it have been positive, negative, or middling?

  19. hi mike,
    very great post, i’d like to ask you:
    For a small business placed in a small city, is it a best practice to create a repeatable process for review solicitation ?
    i mean, if this business have always the same clients.

    1. Giuseppe
      That’s a great question. I certainly think that if your main goal is feedback as opposed to reviews than a repeatable process that is a very soft touch makes sense to be sure that you are maintaining quality over time.

      But it certainly doesn’t make sense to keep asking for reviews over and over again.

  20. Another great piece Mike! I most certainly agree with you on everything pointed out, specifically the fact that a review should be used as a means to engagement rather than a feather in one’s cap. With this being said what are your thoughts on a client with very few reviews asking for them? Is it fair to say asking is acceptable if it is in the context of learning what customers think of your business as well as making improvements?

  21. One thing that I learned from Yelp (believe it or not), which I think is a great “mantra” for business owners, is to think in terms of “Check out our G+ Local page”, instead of “Leave us a review on our G+ Local page”.

    It gives it a whole different feel and creates a review paradigm shift that many business owners need.

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