Category Archives: Reviews

Google Maps Rich Snippets for Local FAQ: Testimonials to be Treated as Reviews

When Google announced support for Rich Snippets for Local 3 weeks ago, there were a number of unanswered questions. A number of these are now answered in the Rich Snippets for Local Search FAQ:

- Currently Google (FAQ #3) only recognizes microformats (hCard, hReview) for Rich Snippets for Local Search. Thus, until Google expands support for microdata and RDFa formats, you should stick with hCard and hReview formats.

-You (#4) should only provide the actual phone number for the location and should not include call tracking numbers.

-If you (#6) provide precise geo-coordinates Google will use them but if not then address alone is okay.

-Structured data (#9)should not be used as an alternative to verifying your Places listing but in conjunction with it.

The big surprise for me though was FAQ #10:

How will Google treat businesses posting testimonials with review mark up on their own site? Will these be treated as a review by the Place Page?

Testimonials will be treated as business reviews on the Place Page.

This means that site owners will be able to contribute testimonials from their site to their Places page. The implications of this are profound in terms of the impact that these testimonials will have on review count. The impact that they will have on tone of the reviews, sentiment analysis and rank are yet to be seen but if they are handled exactly as current reviews are, this too will be profound. Webmasters will be busy tonight! :)

Here is the complete list of links to the questions answered in the FAQ: Continue reading

Google Places Reviews Being Lost – Houston We have a Problem!

Google Places seems to have again misplaced reviews in significant quanties. The forums are loaded with complaints particularly during the past 24 hours with 5 of the last 10 postings in the forums being about missing reviews (here, here, here, here, and here).

Reviews for a small business are a very sensitive area. Initially most SMBs are hesitant to engage in the process for fear that they won’t be liked and their warts will be visible for all the world to see. Once they do engage in the review process they become the ultimate proud mother hen, protecting their reviews as if they were the palace guards and the reviews were the crown jewels. It in area of great angst for many and Google’s poor handling of them brings down a stream of complaints and insults like no other area in the forum.

Google Places has a long history of loosing reviews. It usually occurs when there are large changes occurring. Often times they return after several weeks although in my case it has been 3 months without seeing them on my listing.

Exactly why reviews are lost but business listings are not, implies that the information is kept in a different index. When there is a major upgrade  they end up needing to be reassociated with the cluster. (At least this my theory and for what it is worth, publicly embraced by Google).

Regardless of the cause, it appears to be a systemic weakness in the architecture of Places. It is also a weakness that is noted by many a business who readily point it out. It is strange to me that Google would leave such a weakness so visible if for no other reason than a fix would quiet the rioting hordes.

So, what exactly can a business do if their reviews go missing? What tactics can help in this situation? Continue reading

Pew Research: 24% of American Adults Have Posted Reviews

The Pew Internet and American Life Project has just published their recent results of Online Product Research by American adults. The hghlights:

*58% of Americans now reporting that they perform online research concerning the products and services that they are considering purchasing.

*The number of those who do research about products on any given day has jumped from 15% of adults in September 2007 to 21% in September 2010

*24% of American adults say they have posted comments or reviews online about the product or services they buy,

The numbers confirm Greg Sterling’s long stated Research Online Buy Offline mantra. The number of adults reporting having done product reviews is somewhat surprising to me. Interestingly the reviewers are roughly equally split between men and women and across age groups with some tilt towards white, higher educated and higher income individuals as more likely to leave reviews.

While the research is specifically about product reviews, I think it not unreasonable to think that a similar trend will apply to business reviews.

Review Spam Under Attack by the FTC

I somehow missed this FTC enforcement action when it was released at the end of August. The FTC used the blogging disclosure guidelines that it released at the end of 2009 to slap the hands of an advertising firm that had it’s employee post reviews on iTunes without full disclosure.

From the NY Times article:

The Federal Trade Commission said on Thursday that a California marketing company had settled charges that it engaged in deceptive advertising by having its employees write and post positive reviews of clients’ games in the Apple iTunes Store, without disclosing that they were being paid to do so.

The charges were the first to be brought under a new set of guidelines for Internet endorsements that the agency introduced last year. The guidelines have often been described as rules for bloggers, but they also cover anyone writing reviews on Web sites or promoting products through Facebook or Twitter.

They are meant to impose on the Internet the same kind of truth-in-advertising principles that have long existed offline.

Last year, New York State settled a lawsuit against a Plastic Surgeon over false reviews but this is the first instance that I know of where the Federal Government has intervened in the review world. It is one thing to annoy the historically aggressive attorney generals of New York and another to put into motion the federal government looking at review spam. Clearly, this effort was targeted at ad agencies:

“We hope that this case will show advertisers that they have to be transparent in their practices and help guide other ad agencies,” said Stacey Ferguson, a lawyer in the advertising practices division of the trade commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.

That being said it should throw up a warning flag to any company doing the same. Too see an excellent example of the type of review spam that is becoming fairly common in Google Maps, see this article by Miriam Ellis. The article was written prior to the FTC ruling and Miriam asked the basic question of what would the FTC do in such situations. Now we have more than inkling of their direction.

Some other articles about the ruling:
MarketPlace: New FTC guidelines apply truth-in-advertising principles to online reviews
Citizen Media Law Project: FTC Flexes Blogger Rules Again

Reviews Are Dead! Long Live Reviews – Will Facebook Places Change the Review Landscape?

It is early in the game and folks are just digesting what Facebook Places is all about but I was struck by a Twitter comment by Seb Provencher (@sebprovencher):

With the FB Places launch, we can officially say it: merchant/place reviews are dead. Status updates are the new merchant reviews.

So I asked several folks that followed the announcement closely to provide a more nuanced view of the statement.

From Seb Provencher who had not yet had his first coffee so this opinion is open to revision:

- Status updates (or tweets) are easy to do.
- many people have stopped blogging because doing short-form messages
is so much “easier”, less time-consuming, than a big blog post.
- I think the same thing will happen to long-form merchant reviews.
It’s going to become so much easier to do a quick status update review
using Facebook places (and those will accumulate on the Facebook Place
page) that a lot of people will migrate from doing reviews on Yelp (or
IYPs for that matter) to

For me, Facebook Places is not about “check-ins”. It’s about signaling
socially your location. It’s about structuring a conversation about a
local place and anchoring it to the right place.

From Greg Sterling who responded from his iPad even though it is 6:45 am where he is:

Status updates are not the same or better than reviews in many cases because people won’t offer more than “tips” or sometimes will just create noise: “we’re all here.”

So “try the fries” or the “killer reindeer sausage” doesn’t answer other questions I may have about a place, such as whether it’s good for kids, etc. If FB “aggregates” all this info and does a kind of semantic analysis of it then it may not be as necessary to consult reviews in the future at some point.

It’s also not clear immediately how FB is going to make all this information discoverable. There’s going to be a search component here but the form it takes isn’t yet clear — even to FB.

Seb is probably responding to the mainstream potential/appeal of the product and the idea that people will just write tips or short blurbs rather than reviews.

But reviews will continue to have their place (so to speak) from a consumer perspective. In terms of “references” and SEO that’s going to be an interesting thing to watch here.

Google could access all the API and “Like” button information that is coming out of Facebook equally. And this move puts some pressure on them to “socialize” their own Places I think.

And David Mihm who also is an early riser:

Hyperbole. Ratings are important for a quick look by the consumer who doesn’t want to read through all the garbage. There’s also an actual reviews tab built in by default to FB pages.

Your thoughts?

Responding to Negative Reviews – Your Prospects are the Real Audience

This article on responding to negative reviews was first published here in March. With Google introducing their feature allowing business owners to respond to respond directly to reviews, I thought it worthwhile to reprint it. Google’s advice on how to respond to reviews in their Help section is, of necessity, too brief to cover the topic thoroughly. Things though can go wrong with the response process if the business does not have a good response plan in place. To get a sense of how far wrong things can go when an SMB decides to respond to negative reviews see Inc’s You’ve Been Yelped detailing how bookshop owner Diane Goodman, was “booked for battery and remanded to San Francisco General Hospital for a mental health evaluation.”

Several other good resources for responding to negative reviews are:
-Miriam Ellis: Edit, Remove and Respond To Reviews – Tools For Conflict Resolution
-Scott Clark: 15 Tips for Responding to Google Place Page Reviews
-Matt Mcgee: 5 Ways Negative Reviews are Good for Business

This article is written by Ted Paff is the President of Customer Lobby, an on-line solution to help local service businesses to get, manage and publish reviews. His company’s approach is to find the lemonade in the lemon of the negative review and he promotes the idea that the response is as much targeted at future customers as the reviewer. It is well worth reading a second time:

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So you got a negative review about your business.  Although it stings right now, what you do next has a bigger impact on the ultimate outcome of this situation than the negative review itself.  Your actions will determine if this event enhances your reputation or becomes an embarrassing smudge.

Should you Respond and What to Say

As much as you might want to, you can’t profitably respond to all negative reviews.  Never respond to a review unless you can do Step 1 and Step 2 below (Step 3 is optional).

Step 1:  Own the issue.

Your first objective in a response is to communicate that: you are paying attention to the issue; the issue is important to you; and that you are sorry the reviewer had a problem.  Your prospects will be reading your reply with rapt attention.  Write this for them. Tell them that when someone has a problem, your business will hear them.  It doesn’t matter if the reviewer lied or only told half of the story – own whatever issue they wrote about.

Step 2:  Describe how future customers will not have this issue.

A critical part of any response is to tell your prospects that something has changed and this issue will not happen to them.  This is a golden opportunity to market your business.  For example, writing that ‘we have put a new process in place…’ tells your prospects that your company is good and is getting better.

Step 3:  Offer to fix the issue

Your business will spend a lot of time and money on sales and marketing.    Although you can’t always fix every issue (sometimes you don’t want to), your offer to fix a reviewer’s problem is a great marketing investment.   In the response, suggest that they contact you directly so you can try to resolve the issue.

Guidelines for your Response

Write it with your prospects in mind.  Before writing your response, think about who your audience is.  Although your response should be addressing the reviewer, the vast majority of the readers of your response are likely to be your prospects. Writing your response with the majority of your readers (a.k.a. your sales prospects) in mind will help you set the right tone.  For example, write about your company’s commitment to customer satisfaction.  Your response should not try to change the reviewer’s mind or dispute the facts as set out in the review.

Don’t be defensive.   One suggestion we often give to our clients is to send a draft of your response to someone that doesn’t work at your company.  Ask them to delete anything that sounds defensive.

Take your time.  A negative review most likely made you angry.  Resist the temptation to reply quickly because, unless you have superhuman emotional control, the reply is likely to sound angry.

Keep it brief.  Resist the temptation to “set the record straight.”  The surest way to ensure that your response never gets read is to give your side of the story.

Writing a short, non-defensive reply to a review that owns the issue, describes how the issue has been resolved (maybe includes an offer to fix the issue) will earn you the trust of your future customers.

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How Google Has Handled Reviews Reflects a Long History of a Tin Ear and Little Action

Google’s recent introduction of the ability for SMBs to respond to reviews is a welcome and surprising turn of events in the Places arena. Reviews have long been a sore point with businesses that often feel wronged by the review procedures at Google. Many SMBs think of the current arrangement as unfair and they rarely understand the why or how of Google’s non response to review issues.

I asked Cathy Hillen Rulloda, a florist from Anaheim active in local marketing, what she percieved as issues with the way that Google handled reviews and she noted that while the ability to respond to reviews was long overdue, other serious issues remained:

- No ‘Amazon-like’ “real name” indication to add credibility to reviews.
- Unlimited sock puppet accounts are being created by malicious folks and spammers.
- No simple/easy way to get malicious reviews (where folks made no purchase and/or are competitors) removed. I realize a reader will likely detect a review like that as ‘inappropriate’ but far more eyes go to the overall star rankings than to the individual reviews.
- Too long an update period from third-party review sites. A malicious/bogus review can get deleted from the original site (CitySearch, Yahoo, etc…) but still display on Google for up to three months. This has happened to me and it was completely frustrating.

Clearly she is not alone in her thoughts on reviews. If you peruse the forums you will find a multitude of complaints about reviews in these areas:

- How to Remove Reviews
- Missing Reviews/ Where have my reviews gone?
- Flagging Reviews
- Fake Reviews

It is amazing how little has changed. What is fascinating about her responses is that they are many of  the same issues that I ranted about in September of 2008: Continue reading

Will Reviews Become Google’s First Successful Foray into Social?

Small businesses are engaged (and often enraged) with reviews on their Google Places Pages. Understandably, the SMB posters at the Places Help forums have a great deal invested in their businesses and the reviews about their business. As a result they often respond with great passion about Google’s handling of them. The forums are rife with over the top pleas, cajolings and complaints about reviews on their Places Page.

Many SMBs don’t really like reviews. For many it is the first time they are accountable to outside forces over which they feel that they have no control but wish that they did. Historically they have responded to this tension by lashing out (sometimes justified and others not) at Google with their frustrations.

In my sales days, I was taught that objections were in fact buying signals. Complaints by SMBs about reviews seem to fall into that category and to me indicate that they are ready to actively engage with Google’s new feature allowing them to respond to customer reviews.

It is my sense that they won’t just respond but that they will actively respond. The passion that SMBs have about reviews will lead them to engage their customers in Places for better or worse. This engagement will incent more of them to claim their listings and monitor their reviews in a more active and even compulsive way.

Reviews have always been social in nature. In some respects they may be a business’s best social forum as the (hopefully happy) customers do most of the work. Yelp and before them others like CitySearch created social platforms around the review process and the business response. But because of the visibility of the 7 – Pack,  Google Places will capture the attention of SMBs in a way and with a volume that quickly become significant. It will lead to an ongoing, interesting (and possibly often bizarre) interchange between businesses and their customers.

Because of the potential for volume and visibility it may make reviews more “social” than ever and could very well become a primary territory for SMBS to interact with the world around them. Has Google possibly created their first successful foray pushing Maps to become a Social platform?

Yelp Reviews Back in Google Maps as their .COM Growth Stops

Yelp’s relationship with Google Maps has been off and on again. Their reviews have disappeared and reappeared on Google Maps over the past 3 years as Google’s and Yelp’s relationship has waxed and waned. But the relationship now seems to be on once again. About 10 days ago Yelp’s reviews again started showing up on Places Pages. I would posit that this reinclusion reflects Yelp’s need to buttress and improve their traffic short haul while they implement the changes necessary to fend off the location based startups.

Yelp has been the hot local site from 2007 through last year and their Compete.com numbers reflected their meteoric growth on the desktop. But their .com growth in unique visitors and page views started to decline last August and has continued downward throughout this year. At the end of April, Compete shows their unique visitors to be in the 25 million range, down from the 30 million last August.

Some of the slowdown on the desktop has been taken up with growth in mobile and particularly the iPhone. Yelp notes that they had 1.4 million visitors over the past 30 days via their iPhone app. That amounts to ~3% of their total visitors and does not make up for the almost 20% decline in their .com usage.

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The numbers and their decision to allow Google to include their reviews suggest that Yelp’s transition to a general purpose review site has not taken off as they had planned. Long haul, Yelp does need to keep their eye on the many location based competitors. That being said, it seems even more important that they keep their eye, short term, on their main competitor in the review space, Google Maps. It appears to me that their need for growth and traffic has won out over their obvious points of contention with Google.

From a practical viewpoint, it demonstrates why any SMB needs to continue to gather reviews from a wide range of sources as the vagaries of these corporate relationships change, you don’t want to be caught in the crossfire.