Category Archives: Reviews

Updated Google Schema Review Guidelines for Local Businesses

Review rich snippets are a powerful local markup type but they have been open to abuse and misuse. Google with release of their critic review snippet extension has also significantly updated their rules for Local Business‘s use of review rich snippets on their website.

IN typical Google fashion, the new rules while adding additional use cases manage to direcgtly contradict the previous rules particularly in regards to whether you can mark up reviews from third party sites (previously you could but you can no more.

At the GetFiveStars blog, I have detailed the new rule changes and which of the new rules you should be aware of when implementing rich snippet mark up on your site.

Head over there and let me know what you think of the new rules.

Shame on Elizabeth Warren (and Yelp)

Google is a monopoly in local search. Whether they leverage their monopoly power and intentionally disadvantage smaller competitors is probable. But that disadvantaging is what would need to be proved to make the case for any antitrust remedy to be proposed.

But when I hear Elizabeth Warren say in a speech that in 2012 the FTC staff noted that Google used “its dominant search engine to harm rivals of  its Google Plus user review feature” I have to wonder who is this woman? She is clearly bright so why would she be spouting a completely specious argument? And then I hear Yelp’s Luther Lowe mimic the line I wonder if maybe they are using the same bad researcher for their talking points.

Screenshot 2016-07-05 15.58.45It’s amazing how with one dumb statement you can call into question a whole line of reasoning because that statement has been so disabused by the actual outcomes.

A reasoned look back at Google Plus since 2012 would indicate that Yelp wasn’t the target but a bit player in their plans. But regardless Google’s Plus plans went terribly awry.

In 2012 Google did roll reviews into Google Plus. Its apparent objective at the time was to artificially inflate Plus usage in their battle with the other looming monopolist, Facebook. By taking products both small (reviews) and large (YouTube) (and a ton of others) and wrapping them up in the big whole of Plus, Google was hoping to aggregate enough users of the forced march to scale their budding social network. They thought that their many disparate users, including those leaving and reading reviews, would jump start Plus. I don’t see how it worked in reverse. Having reviews on Google Plus didn’t or wouldn’t increase the visibility of reviews or hurt a competitor.

But not only did the Google plan not work but it back fired. YouTube users revolted. And in the review space, it became so hard for users to write reviews that fewer folks were writing them.

Because users had to have a Google account AND create a new Google Plus account to leave a review there was so much friction that it became very difficult for most users to ever get to the point of actually leaving a review. In research I have looked at from last year, Facebook and Yelp had, over a significant timeframe, far outpaced both the absolute and relative numbers and growth rates of reviews left at Google Plus. In the end they both passed Google by a significant margin.

Clearly Google’s “grand scheme” didn’t work. Not only didn’t it put a dent in Facebook it actually helped Yelp. In fact the plan was so bad that Google has spent the last two years disentangling local and reviews from Plus. By this spring when Google “upgraded” Google Plus they ripped reviews totally out of Plus. If anything Yelp gained by Google’s actions.

Thats an amazing use of monopoly power. Even if disadvantage was the intent (and I am not sure it was), it never materialized. So to use it as a basis for current critique of Google’s monopoly power seems laughable.

For an argument to win an anti-trust case it has to be logically coherent and observationally consistent and determined to be factually true. Not only was this argument not consistent it turned out to be not just not true but false.

Do I think that there are ways that Google disadvantages Yelp and TripAdvisor? I think it possible. I have seen anecdotal evidence that it occurs and it seems to be baked into the relationship between Google’s indexing, the Knowledge Graph algo and Yelp’s strong SEO.

But it isn’t with Google Plus or even reviews on Google and Warren and Yelp basing their argument on these sorts of “facts” weakens their argument to the point of absurdity. Shame on both Elizabeth Warren and Yelp.

Making a Business More Complaint Receptive

I have just published the last (at least for now) article on complaints:  13 Ideas to Make Your Business More Complaint Friendly. In the article I came up with a number of ways to set your business up for success from both an operational point of view as well as a process one.

But I still have a ton of questions and thoughts that are half formed and I would love your ideas*.

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 8.43.26 AMIn this post I categorized ideas that would help a business think differently about about complaints at a baked in level, at the core of the business. My sense is that if isn’t systematized in a meaningful way resolution won’t happen consistently or in the business’s favor. Here’s how I broke it down:

Be ready to handle complaints
Make it easy to complain
Welcome complaints when they do come
Resolve complaints quickly

Some of the questions that I have:
How do you calculate the “ROI” of complaint resolution?
Why do more businesses not have better systems in place?
Can process define success or is attitude the main issue?
What are some more ideas to make complaining easy?
Why don’t more customers complain?
When do you just have to tell the customer to take a hike?
How do you tell a customer to take a hike?
Are there common scenarios that need a different type of process?

And stories. Bring me your stories:
Do you have anecdotes of complaint resolution going really well?
Really poorly?
Of businesses that get it?
Of those that don’t?
Of complaints that turned into reviews and worse?

*As always I don’t have much to offer in return… just links. I realized in writing this that I am what you might consider the opposite of a link junkie. I want to give them out as liberally as I can in return for conversation and learning. I don’t really care if I ever get one, although I have gotten a few over the years and I would like to share the “wealth”. I am a learning junky. Help me learn, get a link or three, lets talk.

8 Steps for Dealing with Customer Complaints

I have just added another post in the Complaint Series at GetFiveStars:  8 Steps for Dealing with Customer Complaints.

I put together a concise guide to help you create a plan for complaint resolution. And that is something I really think you should do, put together your own plan. When the s%^t hits the fan, it will give you a play book to reference to avoid the many pitfalls that can get in the way of a good outcome.

But not all businesses and not all complaints fit neatly into the guide I provided. In fact there are many situations where the person handling the complaint just can’t act to resolve the issue. What then?

For example imagine you run an insurance agency that has prices set by corporate. And you get a complaint about pricing from sweet little old lady/gentleman on a fixed income, over which you have no control? I would imagine switching out step 7.  Perhaps in stead of  “Act to resolve the situation” the agent  should “Advocate for the customer” and take their complaint back to corporate.

I would love to hear where and when you think the 8 step complaint guide that I provided might break down and not work; what are the exceptions? what are the alternatives? How would the steps in your plan or imagined scenario be different?

Here are the previous posts in the series in case you want to see some of the data that informed by guide:

  1. SURVEY: How Quickly Should A Business Respond to a Complaint?
  2.  SURVEY: Are We As Good As We Think We Are?
  3. SURVEY: What Happens When Things Go South? You Lose More Customers Than You Ever Know
  4. Survey: 8 Things That Really Cause Consumers to Complain
  5. 5 Good Things About Customer Complaints

Complaints and How They Can Go Ballistic

Screenshot 2016-06-16 15.42.27
Note the wires in the photo next to the map

Ozzie’s Premium Frozen Yogurt and Gelato is an ice cream shop in Santa Maria, CA that has recently changed hands. And also recently managed to attract both bad reviews and press around the issue.

The press handled their situation with equanimity but the reviewer, feeling scorned, did not.

Who knows the actual facts (like why didn’t the reviewer complain when it happened? and why did the ex-owner chime in at Yelp?) but we do know what they are saying. And its bound to have a negative impact.

First from The Sun Biz spotlight article on June 15th:

A similar review from what appeared to be the same person emerged on Facebook around the same time and was shared many times, Tina said.

The postings stem from an incident on May 28. Tina was working at the restaurant that night when two female customers came in and ordered frozen yogurt and boba tea. They both dined inside the restaurant for a little while before leaving. Later that night, Tina remembers getting a phone call from one of the customers complaining they found two pieces of thin metal inside the boba tea. The pictures posted to Yelp showed two bent pieces of metal—each about the size of a finger—that looked like they came from a wire brush.

This is impossible, Tina said, because a loud rattling noise coming from inside the blender would’ve been apparent. Also, Tina had made the tea herself.

The next evening, Tina said the woman who placed the call returned to the store with another woman, and a heated argument ensued. Tina said that while one woman was arguing, the other appeared to be recording with her smartphone.

Tina believes they were trying to bait her into doing something she didn’t want to do.

“She never gave us a chance to explain anything,” Tina said. “She wouldn’t let me or my husband explain.”

The police were called and things got smoothed out. But Tina claims the negative review impacted her business.

And this extracted from the review at Yelp:

The female employee welcomed me and recognized me from last night. I greeted her probably much more calmly and nicely than most people in this given situation would have. I told her I needed to speak to her about an issue with the drink I ordered last night. When I showed her the wires in the baggy and told her they came out of my boba tea, she blew up on me. She denied everything I was saying, called me a liar and attempted to take the baggy out of my hand to throw it away. She called out the male employee from the back and told him that I put the wires in my drink and that I was just looking to get them in trouble. They both began to yell at me in front of my young sister and they immediately called the police on me, which I was fine with. I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong apart from just walking in there and expressing my concern over their negligence.

I reacted calmly in this situation and with respect for them and their business, whereas I believe most people would have reacted much worse than I. All I wanted was to express myself and my experience that I had with going into their shop for the first time last night, and maybe have them apologize to me for having gone through it; maybe even have them take responsibility for it. But I can understand why they’re wary and didnt apologize or take responsibility for it. To them, I could have manipulated the situation. But I know that the honest truth is from my side of this. I received metal wires in my boba tea that I purchased from this business. They could have damaged my teeth or gums had I chewed them, or if swallowed, could have caused internal bleeding for sure.

As you may (or may not know) I am writing a series about complaints at GetFiveStars. A topic I was hoping to write about was how to “resolve” the “unresolvable” complaint. Any and all good ideas on the topic will be liberally (that’s code for a link) credited.

Whether fact or fiction, this situation of the wire in the tea clearly falls into that area of unsolvable complaints. There was not an easy solution but what transpired, apparently triggered by the owner’s fear, seems to have been the worst of all possible outcomes.

If you were the owner, behind that counter and you were feeling the pain of this complaint, what would you have done to attempt to resolve this? How would you have tried to respond to this customer?

Google Hotel Knowledge Panel Now Showing TrustYou Review Summaries

The Google Hotel Knowledge Panel is now showing TrustYou review summaries (h/t TC Tim Capper of Online Ownership). I am not sure when this started appearing but the summaries show granular detail about rooms, location and facilities and replace the Google review snippets that were shown previously.

There is some irony that Google is sourcing this data from a 3rd party given that the review system implemented after the purchase of Zagat  and ended after the departure of Marissa Mayer, included much the same type of extra detail.

TrustYou, Google’s data source for this granular data, is a reputation management product that tracks review content, helps Hotels get reviews and provides what it calls Meta-Review data to sites like Kayak, Trivago and Sabre.

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 10.50.35 AM

FTC to Amerifreight – Failure to Disclose Review Incentives Against the Law

Update: it would appear that Amerifreight’s Google listing has been taken down. 

The FTC has, for the first time, successfully sued a company for incenting on line reviews and not declaring this material connection.

According to Google reviewer mb2970s:

mb1970s

mb1970s

 

7 months ago
I was moving from Nashville to Albuquerque. This is the third time that I have ever transported a vehicle (previously with two other companies).

Pros:
1. Vehicle arrived safely without any damage or items stolen (although that is more of a comment re: the carrier).
2. Vehicle was picked up within the 1-15 day window agreed to.
3. Vehicle was delivered in a timely fashion.

Cons:
1. Prior to choosing this company, I called twice, left a voicemail message, and emailed the customer service rep without a response. I was once told that the customer service rep was at lunch and would call me back in an hour. I called back over two hours later, and the rep did not know that I had called. Based on the reviews, I went ahead and used them anyway.
2. The quoted price was based on giving a “fair review” on two websites. If you don’t leave a review, they’ll add $50 to your quote, which would be $50 more than any other company quoted me (including several that had a carrier immediately available when I spoke to them … however, I kept with Amerifreight based on their online reviews).
3. The customer service rep gave me very little information up front, and after we got off the phone sent me an email with multiple items that I had to fill out before they would start looking for a carrier. I was not told about the need to fill out these forms before they would start looking, so I’m glad I read through the forms immediately.
4. One of the forms states that your chances of getting a carrier quickly is greatly increased if you say that they can charge you up to $200 more to book a carrier without calling you first. They state that they will try to keep from doing this.
5. When I was called with a carrier available, it was for $250 more than quoted (after the $50 discount for writing a review).
6. I’m having to write this review in order to get a discount that brings my costs to the same as other carriers offered. The other carriers were quoting me based on immediately available carriers (not estimates/quotes).
7. When I asked about the student discount, I was told not to bother because it basically just drops the amount that they’ll list your vehicle for (hence less likely to ship … and will likely have to raise the price anyway). I think this is deceptive advertising.
8. When I received an email reminding me about this review, there was a long paragraph about how I should leave a 5-star review if at all possible because it would effect how the customer service rep was compensated.

Summary:
While this company transported my car safely and in the window requested, I’ve had better experiences with other companies that cost less (even during high auto transport seasons). I will not use Amerifreight again.

Today The FTC announced an agreement with Amerifreight that they will cease the practice:

AmeriFreight, an automobile shipment broker based in Peachtree City, Georgia, has agreed to a settlement with the Federal Trade Commissionthat will halt the company’s allegedly deceptive practice of touting online customer reviews, while failing to disclose that the reviewers were compensated with discounts and incentives.

The FTC’s complaint marks the first time the agency has charged a company with misrepresenting online reviews by failing to disclose that it gave cash discounts to customers to post the reviews.

“Companies must make it clear when they have paid their customers to write online reviews,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “If they fail to do that – as AmeriFreight did – then they’re deceiving consumers, plain and simple.”

AmeriFreight is an automobile shipment broker that arranges the shipment of consumers’ cars through third-party freight carriers. Its website touted that the company had “more highly ranked ratings and reviews than any other company in the automotive transportation business.” As part of its advertising, it encouraged consumers to “Google us ‘bbb top rated car shipping.’ You don’t have to believe us, our consumers say it all.”

Amerifreight currently
 has 540 reviews at Google and 21 at Yelp. 

The settlement is significant in being the first time that the FTC has inserted itself into the local review space. While there was no monetary settlement, Amerifreight did agree to cease and desist and agree to 20 years of oversight to prevent future abuses.

This action was a long time coming but makes it clear that incentives are inappropriate country wide.

It is though amazing to me what so many folks are willing to do for $50. Hardly reinforces my faith in humanity.

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Facebook Reviews Should Be a Part of Every SMB Review Plan

If you had any doubts as to whether Facebook has a place in your review strategy, news this past week from Bill Bean that Facebook reviews were now showing in the Google “Reviews from Around the Web” should put them to rest.

I was curious how widespread this was and whether it was just a one off or if Google had started including links to Facebook reviews on a widespread basis. A number of folks noted to me that they had seen Facebook.com links on their reviews from around the web .
ReviewUsonFacebook
This search at Google (site:plus.google.com “verified local business” AND “facebook.com” AND “Reviews From Around the Web”) indicates that Google has indexed a large number of Facebook review pages and is including them on the business’ G+ Page for Local.

Facebook has snuck up on us in the local review space over the past 12 months to become a significant player. Facebook rolled out reviews across all of their business pages last November but earlier this year limited reviews to just pages that were for local businesses.

My research clearly indicates that Facebook has become a strong contender as a favorite amongst users as a place to leave local reviews.Screen Shot 2014-09-28 at 8.37.24 AM Continue reading Facebook Reviews Should Be a Part of Every SMB Review Plan

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