Category Archives: Reviews

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.

Review Solicitation – Dumb and Dumber


Yesterday I highlighted a review service that was managing the review process for SMBs and posting the good ones into Google, Yahoo etc… an idea that is sure to have a short shelf life and one that is not a good long term strategy. Well here is another.

Aggressive marketers often engage their mouth long before any cognitive activity has taken place. This is an example of that and makes one realize why the process of review gathering is often referred to as “solicitation”.

Ben notes on his website:

Chiropractic Marketing Exposed: We’ve launched a breakthrough new Google Booster Experiment on the Forum in which members promote each others Google Maps listing to get very high rankings on Page One of Google. Watch this Video explaining the whole thing and how to get involved. Watch it NOW!

If you don’t have time to watch the whole video or happen to find the the presenters enthusiasm overbearing, essentially he is recommending that Chiropractors that frequent his forum leave reviews for each other on Google Maps……

Chris Silver Smith had this to say:

Review-swapping, like vote-swapping, strikes me as wrong for the same reasons, albeit on different levels of scale/seriousness. In my opinion, this is a thinly-veiled attempt to exploit reviews for ranking purposes, despite his suggestion of not putting false reviews. I believe Google Maps would perceive it that way, too, which makes it a dangerous tactic to be involved with.

I believe that Google Maps is either not been weighting reviews and numbers of reviews all that heavily (in favor of other ranking factors which I’ve recently been writing about), and they also have means of telling when exploits of this sort are used. I have heard stories of people having their accounts disabled due to detection of exploits in Google Maps reviews.

And Will Scott, Search Influence in New Orleans noted:

We work with a couple chiropractors and there is some serious snake oil out there. These guys are well educated, with years of rigorous training, but they seem overly susceptible to shortcut marketing.

Will’s phrase “shortcut marketing” really says it all. Any review process needs to be part of a well thought long term effort to improve your company’s visibility across the whole local ecosystem.

Reviews – Do Positive Only Review Services have a place?


Over the past few weeks, I detailed several successful ways to generate reviews. I promised at the time to detail some ways that I think are ultimately bound to failure. Here is one.

ReviewBoost claims to “Authenticate and Publish positive reviews across the Internet, maximizing online reputation for businesses of any size.” They claim to “publish reviews on partner sites like Yahoo, Yellow pages, Super pages, City Squares” and to do “review syndication and broadcasting on Google search Network” (whatever that might mean).

At the Google Maps forums, a poster (obviously another marketing company) wonders “Is this a legitimate use of Google Reviews?” and goes on to note:

We were approached by a business that provides review submissions on behalf of clients. I have linked to a sample of their work. They approach businesses and offer to post client reviews on their behalf. They are easy to find and follow since they tag the reviews as posted “By Review”. Is this a legitimate service? If not, how can Google address it?

Link to the map or business listing in question if applicable: http://maps.google.com/maps?cid=1868467862308158144&hl=en&gl=us (look at user reviews)

Here are some reviews from the Places Page referenced:

Clearly, the era of outsourced, positive reviews is upon us. Efficient for the business yes, perhaps even an easy sell. It is also clear that these types of services will soon be spoiling the bed in which we all sleep. The footprint is heavy and ultimately, the process is predicated on the deception of both the participating business and the consumers that only good reviews can get through.

How do you think Google will respond? How would you respond in the forum post? How long before reviews become totally untrustworthy and not worth the bits they are written in?

Which Review Sites Should You Use?


I am frequently asked: Which reviews sites should I send my clients to? Which one should I pick?

My answer: think about your customers needs first (easy, choice), think about your business needs second (leverage) and consider using as many sites as make sense.

I asked this question of David Mihm, Local SEO expert, and his response was:

The syndication value of reviews on well-spidered portals like Citysearch, InsiderPages, and DexKnows appears to me to outweigh any special ranking given to Google’s own reviews (which are of course not syndicated). Additionally, I think Google places extremely high trust in reviews it finds on leading vertical portals like TripAdvisor, Healthgrades, and Avvo.

I strongly agree with David’s premise. Citysearch by virtue of its extensive syndication and still strong visitation puts its reviews almost everywhere (for a list see the end of this article). Citysearch uses Facebook Connect for its login making guaranteeing that most of your clients have a login at the ready and its reviews show up regularly and quickly in Google Maps. By virtue of pervasive syndication, Citysearch reviews have as much as 15% more exposure than a review written in Google Maps.

I would also recommend adding Yahoo Local to David’s list. Many users already have a Yahoo login making it easy for them. More importantly Yahoo Local reviews are the only reviews that show in the Yahoo Universal results. If maximum exposure is the objective then showing in Yahoo Universal (plus Google & Google Maps) results in far greater visibility that even the total exposure to review provided by Citysearch.

Should you use Yelp or Google? Continue reading

Responding to Negative Reviews – Your Prospects are the Real Audience


Ted Paff is the President of Customer Lobby, an on-line solution to help local service businesses to get, manage and publish reviews. Ted called me when he read my principles of a review program post to introduce himself and his company. We had a far ranging conversation that covered everything from the economy to parents but always came back to conversation about reviews and their role in the online world.

I was particularly struck by his company’s approach to finding the lemonade in the lemon of the negative review titled: Negative Reviews Increase Sale and the idea that the response is as much targeted at future customers as the reviewer. I asked him to write a guest blog detailing how he and why he would suggest responding to the negative review :

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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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Another incredible resource in responding to negative reviews is a piece written last year by Miriam Ellis: Edit, Remove and Respond To Reviews – Tools For Conflict Resolution.

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.”

Review Case Study: With More Than One Employee Process Becomes Key


Don Campbell is president of Expand2Web which provides websites and Local SEO for small business owners. North Valley Optometry is owned by Dr. Tarryn Ngo, the wife of Don Campbell’s business partner Randy Hew. It has provided Expand2Web with a great case study on the impact of online reviews. Randy has been responsible for optimizing their web presence as well as implementing their online review process. The firm has 2 employees in addition to Dr. Ngo so process has become a key factor. Here’s Dr. Ngo’s story as told by Randy:

“Before connecting with Don Campbell last year my wife didn’t even have a website and only a couple of reviews (luckily they were good reviews) on Yelp. In July of 2009 we built her a website, optimized it and made it a focus to start asking customers for online reviews. Today she has close to 50 reviews on Google, almost 40 reviews on Yahoo and 6 reviews on Yelp which has taken about 6 months. It’s made a huge impact, the number of net new patients she is now getting on a monthly basis has increased roughly 30% and many of the new patients that come in comment that they have read the reviews online.

From a Local SEO standpoint North Valley Optometry comes up in the 7 pack on several keyword search terms for San Jose and related terms for optometry. What gives us a real competitive advantage is in the 7 pack North Valley Optometry has 40 more reviews than it’s closest competitor which makes it visually compelling for potential customers to click on our local listing.

North Valley Optometry online reviews

The process of asking for a review online is a simple, but getting online reviews is takes time. This is the process we use:

  1. Dr. Ngo (my wife) simply asks the patient some time during their visit to the office if they would be open to giving her business an online review. So far every patient she asks has said “no problem”.
  2. Next the office writes down the name and email address of the patient on a clipboard
  3. At the end of the week one of the girls on her staff types in the patient names and email addresses into a Google spreadsheet that we share.
  4. I copy those email addresses into an email template we created which is a short note asking for an online review with links directly to the Google and Yahoo local listing site.

The follow up email makes it easy for the patient to just click on the links and write a review. Originally the office tried giving the patients a piece of paper with the links on it as a reminder to write a review, but that wasn’t very effective. I think one of the main keys to getting customers to write a review is to make it easy for them.

That’s another reason why we only ask for a review on Google and Yahoo. Most people have a Google and/or Yahoo account so it’s easy for them to write a review. On other directories like Yelp, City Search or Insider Pages most people don’t have accounts already created so it’s asking a lot of a patient to create a new account and than write a review. From a search perspective most customers find North Valley Optometry on Google or Yahoo so it only makes sense to have reviews right there next to our business link in the search results.

Yelp is extremely popular in the silicon valley, but we don’t really bother with it. We found that Yelp will take down the customer reviews if the reviewer isn’t an “active yelper” and consistently reviewing many businesses. And the same problem as the other directories, if the customer isn’t already a Yelper they would have to create an account before giving a review which is a hassle.

Even though everyone has the best intentions to write a review we found that only 10-15% actually write a review. Most likely it’s just one of those “extra” things to do that gets lost in their daily activities of life. The office policy is to only ask the customer once for a review and they don’t give any incentives to a customer for writing one. So when we send the follow up email we want to make sure the request is reasonable and easy for them to follow through.

As you can see the process is pretty simple. At first just remembering to ask the customer for an online review was the biggest challenge. Once the office became committed to asking for a review it became a natural part of the conversation with their patients and implementing the rest of the process has been very easy. Getting a lot of online reviews doesn’t happen over night, but if you’re committed to the process it all adds up over time.

Out of this experience and the experience working with our other customers in local seo Don and I came up with this brainstorm for the myReviewsPage tool to help small business owners like my wife to monitor and build their online reviews.

We’re just starting to implement this free tool at North Valley Optometry. My wife likes the fact that at a click of the button she can monitor all of her reviews on the major directories. The email template is easy enough that they are going to start sending the review email request while the patient is in the office instead of having to go through all those extra steps of writing the patients info on a clipboard and than sending all the email requests at the end of the week or month. I’m hoping the timeliness of sending the emails will also help increase the number of patients that actually leave a review.

Garnering Reviews – A Mom & (no) Pop Shop finally Hops on Reviews


Barbara Oliver and Co. Jewelry, an owner operated jewelry store with one part time employee in Buffalo, NY was referred to me by my sister about a year ago for help with marketing of her “new” website.

Like many small businesses she has trouble integrating new procedures whether from inertia, fear or lack of time. Getting her involved with establishing a review process was a struggle. When I received this email on February 13th of this year I felt like she had finally hit escape velocity (the place where the client no longer needs hand holding):

Hi Mike, this week 6 new customers in the store based on reviews alone.  6 sales, have I mentioned lately how much I love you? If we continue to do this right, I can forego some of the expensive advertising and build up my wallet and our businesses.  WooHoo

Thanks!

Barbara

The review process that we set up has been made so that it is as simple as possible for both her and her clients. She will ask appropriate customers at the time of providing a receipt if they would be willing to leave a review. She qualifies them and with the younger ones that are comfortable leaving reviews at the site of their choice, she just makes the ask. If they are older or less confident she shows them and provides them with a url: www.barbaraoliverandco.com/review on a small slip of paper. The url is set to redirect to the review section of her jeweler testimonial page.

On the bottom portion of this testimonial page the visitor will find a list of review site urls for her business from which to select. Being on her testimonial page, folks seem to get a sense of other comments and confidence from the fact that others have endorsed her. They can choose the site with which they are most comfortable. This allows the customer a certain freedom and avoids forcing the choice. My theory at least is that in the case of an angry customer, seeing other testimonials and reviews might temper any venom.

It was very difficult initially to get her to ask. She was reticent and did not remember. But she started seeing some ranking benefit and vowed to “do better”. I even put a note into her monthly analytics report to automate the “nag”. After a rocky start and 8 months of monthly reminders (automated, verbal & emails) she has integrated the “ask” into her write up routine and has started to get regular reviews at a range of review sites that are now showing up in Google. The reviews are coming in at a steady pace with a nice mix of diverse sources. You can see some of them on her Places Page.

Could you provide a brief overview of your process to garner reviews?….

I simply ask after a sale or service has been concluded if the client would mind reviewing my business, as it does help me grow.  I do find that it is peoples’ nature to want to help you if you have made them happy.

How long have you been actively seeking reviews?

Since last year around January 2009 (Editors note: we started the process in January but she actually started asking reliably in September)

What has been your experience with customer reviews?

I know have 16 very favorable reviews and have watched my presence rise.  The influx of new clients is actually measured as more than any other form of advertising that I have invested in previously.

The internet marketing we have implemented aided my business growth more than I could have imagined.  Although reticent at first to ask clients to post reviews, as they did start to appear, so did new customers. They came in pre-sold on our service and products ready to do business just based on what they read from others.

What process have you implemented to make it easy for your  organization to get reviews and for clients/customers to give them?

We created a spot on my web site to make it a breeze for customers to input their thoughts.  By keeping it simple for even non-computer savvy clients, I get a lot more reviews  from a less limited client base, who might feel overwhelmed by having to search out the method of posting reviews.

What review sites do you recommend to customers? Why?

Google,google,google, then Citysearch, Insiderpages, Yelp (just started) & Yahoo Local just to mix it up a bit.

What were the barriers to getting a smooth process set up?

None, that’s what Mike does, he handles all my web and computer needs,usually before I know I need them. Typically, he gives me new ideas for ways to grow and expose my business.  Then the dinosaur in me fights the idea as I am change resistant.  Then we do it his way and it always works.

Do you incent clients in any way to provide reviews?

So far, a handwritten thank you note and a diamond made of chocolate. Happy customers genuinely want to help you grow.

I always tell them or show them to make it easier.

How do you handle negative reviews?

Have not had to deal with that yet. So far so good.

How has the world of online reviews impacted your business?

I truly have seen a big increase in new faces that are buying.  Usually the client starts the introduction with “I googled jewelers and I loved your reviews”. I have spent a fortune on TV, radio, print and yellow pages.  I honestly can say that the increase in reviews has given me an immediate satisfaction with a venue of clients I know was not reaching before. The importance of reading someone else’s opinion is so very strong.  I am having my web site redone now to mirror the strength of the ratings. I am now able to reduce my advertising budget and put the money into more inventory with the 7 to 8 new faces I see each week.

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Oh…and if you need some advice on buying jewelry …call Barbara Olive and Co Jewelry at (716) 204-1297! She does a great job matching the man (and woman) to the right jewelry. Tell her I sent you. :)

Principles for a Review Plan: Considerations in encouraging customer reviews


Asking for feedback & testimonials from customers has been a long term practice in the business world. The practice has morphed to some degree by new exposure that on-line review platforms have provided to this information. The rewards are much greater and the affect of running afoul of the community standards can be severe. Yelp may think that “soliciting reviews” is somehow inappropriate but it is a practice that has been going on forever in one form or another. Whether Yelp wants to use those reviews is their business decision. However from where I sit, facilitating a clients ability to provide feedback was and is an appropriate activity for a business to engage in.

That being said, engaging customers in the review process can be much like sex…it can go from the sublime to the immoral in 6 seconds flat. Sometimes the difference between right and wrong is just not that great and some folks seem to miss the distinction all together.

Here are some guiding ideas that I use when considering and analyzing plans to ask for reviews. These are posited more as principless than best practices, things to think about when designing your review policy.

There are a number of different ways to structure a review program. How each business specifically sets it up will depend on the comfort level of the owners, their level of tech savviness, the tools at their disposal and their understanding of their clients. These principles can function to guide your plan’s specifics.

So rather than providing you with a specific formula for your review process I am taking a step back and offering up a framework of “principles” to help you think about the program that you do implement. This framework has proven incrediblty helpful as I work with different business owners establishing a truly functional review program and process that works for them.

Customer Considerations

 
Easy Whatever system you implement for the customer, it should be so dead simple that they just don’t have to struggle. The least number of clicks, the straighest path, the least to remember should all be ideals of whatever system you put in place.
Choice This correlates to the above. You want to provide your customers/clients with a range of sites so as to be compatible their online behaviors. It is hard to know if they prefer leaving reviews at one place or another. The more comfort they have with your suggestions the more likely they are to leave the review. You need to be where your customers are. In setting up your program asking them what they prefer is a good idea.
Ethical Whatever review process you choose, it should be open, transparent and beyond reproach. An unhappy customer is bad enough but one that thinks you are scamming the review world will be relentless.
Business Considerations  
Integrated into Business Processes For a business, saying you will do something versus actually doing it, is a matter of the process being easy for employees and a required part of the internal procedures. This may require employee training and perhaps new procedures to be sure that the ask for reviews happens.
Regularity Reviews are like traditional testimonials. If they all occurred last year or the year before both potential clients and the search engines are going to wonder what’s up.
Diversity of review sites Putting your eggs in one basket is never a good strategy. For example Google has been known to periodically loose reviews from one source or another.

It is also difficult to predict next year’s review site winner and the looser. Being in a range of places protects against both eventualities.

Leverage If one review can be seen in 4 review site instead of just one then all other things being equal, a review placed there is more valuable. For example even though CitySearch is declining in popularity, they still have 25 million uniques AND share their reviews with Google, Yahoo, MC and more giving you an opportunity to have the review seen 100 million times
Plan for the Bad Review Even if you run the best business in the world, you will sooner or later, get a bad review. Decide ahead of time how it will be handled and who will handle it. Ending up in argument on the front steps of the customer is a no win situation and some thought put it in how you are going to respond will avoid the worst outcomes.

What broad principals for a review program would you add to or subtract from the list?

They are flexible to handle most situations but structured enough to provide guidance so that if the clients meets these standards their efforts are likely to meet with success. It allows the business to prioritize the principals so that if compromises need to be need it will be clear what the trade off is.
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