Category Archives: Reviews

Google+ Local Reviews

Google + Local help files are now online.

One of the big changes that has occurred with the rollout of Google+ Local has been the change to the Google review environment. Google is moving to the 30 point system developed by Zagat. If there is granular detail Google will show it.

If there is not enough data on different aspects of the business Google will display a summary only.

The scale for rating is from 0-3 but the results are multiplied by 10 and averaged to get final score. In theory it allows for greater distinctions. You can see the rating system in action at this Google+Local business page for The Meatball Shop.

Google will be integrating OpenTable reservations into the Google+ Local Page for restaurants.

The review process will no longer allow for anonymous reviews. Here is what the review button notes:

With Google+ Local, all your reviews and associated photos are visible to everyone on the web, under the name Barbara Oliver (your Plus name). Your reviews and associated photos are displayed to:

  • Anyone who views your profile on Google+
  • Anyone who searches for places, if they’ve added you to their Google+ circles
  • Anyone who views places you’ve reviewed

Google notes that you will need to provide explicit permission and actively migrate your old reviews if you want your previous anonymous reviews to show. Google will ask you if you want to do this the first time you write a review in Google+Local. Thus old reviews apparently will NOT migrate to the new Google+Local Business page and the business owner must either ask previous reviewers to migrate or start afresh. (I need to confirm this.) Reviews will migrate, the review just won’t be attributed to the user’s Google+ name unless the user explicitly OKs it.

If you previously wrote reviews or uploaded photos in Google Places, all of your old Google Places reviews and photos are currently public but attributed to, “A Google user.” If you want to attribute these reviews and photos to your Google+ name, all you need to do is migrate your old Google Places reviews and photos to Google+ Local. At that time, you can choose which content to make public and attributed to your Google+ name, and which content to make private. Private reviews and photos will not appear publicly across Google, but you can view or delete your content by clicking on My Places in Google Maps, and selecting Rated from the More menu.

Google+Local will be creating a class of reviewer known as a Top Reviewer and your reviews will be highlight more broadly across the network.

Oddly, the search function has returned to a two field search where you need to enter the what in the first field and a where in the second field. How retro is that?

The exploring feature has integrated a Hotpot like recommendation function. Google+Local will recommend places they “think you’ll like based on your reviews, check-ins, and suggestions from top reviewers”.

The review policy seems to remain unchanged and the review spam algo will still be in affect.

Here are screen shots from the review & migration process: Continue reading

Google’s New Mobile Search Inadvertently Removes Review Button From Places Page

Google rolled out a very slick update to their iPhone App several days ago. Its fast and essentially makes Place page content almost instantly available. Google apparently upgraded the iPhone Safari app at the same and provided a similarly fast access to the Places data.

new iPhone Google Search App

Unfortunately as you can see in the Google screen shot above, in the app, in Safari search and on some Androids, the button to review a business is missing in action. Google has indicated that they are aware of the bug and are working on a fix.

In the meantime if you are using an iPad or mobile devices to access your Places page so that client can leave reviews you are in a bit of a sticky wicket. There are two work arounds until Google fixes the issue.

To get to a page that will give users the review button you can create a url like this that will work on an iPhone or iPad:

https://maps.google.com/maps/place?hl=en&georestrict=input_srcid:b041566bdd3e5aca

To generate the URL with the srcid code go into the dashboard and click on View and it will generate the URL.

Another tactic is to take the regular cid link and add the “open review box” code (&dtab=2&action=openratings) to the end of the standard Place page link:

https://maps.google.com/maps/place?cid=3291747407840809159&dtab=2&action=openratings

This URL will take the iPhone or iPad directly to the mobile review form rather than stopping at the Places page which might be a better solution anyways.

Appeals Court Upholds $150K in Punitive Damages for 3 Fake Reviews

Eric Goldman of te Technology & Marketing Law reports out a recent Missouri Supreme Court ruling that upheld a jury award of $150,00 against an ex-partner that wrote 3 fake reviews on Yahoo & Google about his former business. The ruling should cause competitors leaving fake reviews to take note as it substantially eases the burden on the defamed business to not have to demonstrate direct losses (which is impossible on the interent).

Hosto and Mitchell formed two companies together. Eventually, the relationship soured, and they acrimoniously split their empire. Still grousy, Hosto (pretending to be former customers) posted three fake derogatory Google and Yahoo reviews of the company operated by Mitchell. After a John Doe lawsuit, Yahoo disclosed enough information to identify Hosto as the author, and Hosto confessed to the vendetta. Thus, we have the unusual situation where a pseudonymous review author isn’t contesting authorship. After a trial, the jury ruled in favor of Fireworks Restoration’s (the plaintiff’s) defamation claim.

So far, everything makes sense. But then we get to the remedies, and things get puzzling. The jury awarded $1 in compensatory damages and $150k in punitive damages. On appeal, the court rejects Hosto’s attempts to undermine the jury award: that Mitchell’s company didn’t suffer any reputational harm; that Missouri law doesn’t allow nominal damages; and that the punitive damages were unconstitutionally large in light of the compensatory damages award. As a result, the jury verdict stands.

What to make of this jury verdict? One way to interpret it is that the jury felt that the company suffered no real harm, but Hosto’s behavior was so outrageous it needed to be punished anyway. While the jury’s first conclusion might seem initially counterintuitive, it’s entirely possible that the company suffered no actual harm from the negative fake reviews. Research indicates that a few negative reviews mixed into an otherwise all-positive review set lifts sales conversion because the negative reviews increase the credibility of the positive reviews and help prospective consumers visualize and assess the possible bad outcomes from their wrong choices. Without more detail, for all we know, Hosto could have done his target a favor.

Yet, the judge refuses to put the burden on the plaintiff to find actual lost customers:

We reject Defendant’s contention that Plaintiff needed to produce testimony from potential customers who opted to turn elsewhere due to the web reviews. With the internet, consumers are able to compare businesses and their wares with unprecedented speed. Interpersonal contact is characteristically absent, so if a consumer declines to engage a business it encounters on the internet, that consumer continues his or her search and the business has no knowledge it has been passed by. As such, it would be unreasonably burdensome to impose upon a business plaintiff the requirement that it locate potential customers that it never knew in order to successfully demonstrate actual damage to its reputation. The deleterious impact of such a constraint far outweighs any benefits it would have in proving reputational harm.

In the end, the lesson from this case is obvious and hardly novel: fake competitive reviews are a bad idea. The jury verdict here shows that the jury will punish anyone caught red-handed. At the same time, the jury was quite savvy about the compensatory damages from fake negative reviews. I hope future judges will be equally savvy.

Positive Only Review Services Come Under Scrutiny in Main Stream Media

Bruce from Aim Marketing in Denver pointed out an article and an investigative news report that highlights a positive review only service posting positive reviews on behalf of their client’s customers . Essentially the Denver based service surveyed the clients post sale for a number of Denver businesses and posted 4 star and higher reviews to Google. The story covers the legality of the process very superficially and doesn’t note at all that the practice violates Google’s TOC. They did note that the businesses subscribing to the service were not aware that negative reviews were not being posted (I am not sure I believe that).

The story does not cover any new territory but it is interesting in that the problem of positive only review services and fake reviews from online marketplaces has risen to the level of visibility that it is being covered by the investigative news world of local television.

GetListed Local U – Edmonton

If you are in Edmonton today, be sure to stop by and say hello. Here are articles that go into greater depth around the topics raised in my presentation:

Reviews - Jumping Into the Void

Slide 4 – Google FAQ on Review Issues And some of the ways they might get lost

Slide 11 - Trust in consumer reviews – Nielson

Slide 11- How consumer Reviews Build Trust in Your Brand - Harvard Business Review

Slide 12 – Pew Research Report on Adults & Reviews

Slide 14-16 – A case study - Garnering Reviews – A Mom & (no) Pop Shop finally Hops on Reviews

Slide 20- 7 Tips on Avoiding Bad Reviews

Slide 22-28 - Principles for a Review Plan: Considerations in encouraging customer reviews

Slide 23 – 21 Ways to Get Customers Reviews

Slide 27 - Responding to Negative Reviews – Your Prospects are the Real Audience

Slide 29 -Reviews: Lipstick on a Pig Leads to User Backlash

Slide 31- Google Places: Onsite “Review Stations” AOK with Google

Slide 32 - Asking for Reviews – UMoveFree Finds the Groove

Slide 33-36 - Removing Friction from the Review Process – Crafting a URL

Mid-Altlantic Innkeepers Conference Keynote

Monday, I am presented the keynote, Google is From Mars and You are From Venus - Or how I learned to stop worrying and love Google at the Mid-Atlantic Innkeepers Conference in Williamsburg.  It was an incredibly well run and fun conference. Meeting with both aspiring and successful bed and breakfast owners was educational and inspirational. Although I think I will keep my day job.

For those that were in the presentation these links will provide background information and details for a pathway to dig deeper into the world of managing your listing in Google Places and ethically approaching the review process. For those of you that were not in attendance, the links provide a good overview of critical base line ideas and tactics that every local campaign should embrace.

Slide 1 - Small Business Alert: Google is from Mars and You are from Venus

Slide 4 – How Google Got its name

Slide 5/6 - Jan 2012 Search Engine Market Share / Local Search %

Slide 17 – How to maximize your branded presence in Google search

Slide 18 – Rich Snippets in Local Results

Slide 19 – Local Search Eye Tracking Study

Slide 20/21 - The Importance of Page One Visibility 

Slide 26 – A Closer Look at the Local Search Data Providers

Slides 27 - How the Google Places Cluster Works

Slide 41 – NAP Consistency

Slide 42- Google Places Policies: Quality guidelines

Slide 44- Choosing the Right Category – A Tool

Slide 44 - Writing a Great Business Description

Slide 45 - Checking for Problems – NAP Audit

Slide 46 - Creating a GeoSitemap – A tool

Slide 48 – Providing a Baseline Presence

Slide 53 Local Search Ranking Factors - the many variables

Slide 53 A brief list of 10 Ranking Factors - somewhat old but still valid and a quick read

Slide 54 Thinking about your Business Name in the Internet Era

Slide 55 - User Generated Content – Geo Tagged Photos

Slide 56- The Importance of Citations

Slide 60 - 20 Citation Sources in the US

Slide 61 – Finding Citations

Reviews - Jumping Into the Void

Slide 72 – Trust in consumer reviews – Nielson

Slide 72- How consumer Reviews Build Trust in Your Brand – Harvard Business Review

Slide 75-77 – A case study - Garnering Reviews – A Mom & (no) Pop Shop finally Hops on Reviews

Slide 81- 7 Tips on Avoiding Bad Reviews

Slide 86- Where to Gather Reviews

Slide 87 - Responding to Negative Reviews – Your Prospects are the Real Audience

Slide 88 - Principles for a Review Plan: Considerations in encouraging customer reviews

Slide 89 -Reviews: Lipstick on a Pig Leads to User Backlash

Slide 91 - Google Places: Onsite “Review Stations” AOK with Google

Slide 92 - Asking for Reviews – UMoveFree Finds the Groove

Slide 94-95 – Removing Friction from the Review Process – Crafting a URL

Slide 98- A Listing management & Review montior tool

Slide 100- Allocating Online Marketing Resources & Building Web Equity

Google Places: Onsite “Review Stations” AOK with Google

Onsite “Review Stations” AOK with Google

Several weeks ago, I attended a Google GetYourBusiness online seminar and I was surprised to hear the speaker strongly encouraging SMBS to install a computer at their places of business to use as a station where clients, immediately upon completing a transaction, could easily leave a review on their Google Place’s page.

Last week, Scott Falcone sent me a link to a copy of an email from the Google Dealer Jumpstart Team endorsing the idea of review stations. Thinking that maybe the sales side of the house might not be on the same page as the Places team, when the question came up in the forums, I raised the issue with the Places support folks. Their response was that as long as there was no direct incentive involved, it would be an acceptable practice.

Clearly if training, sales and support at Google all say it is OK, then it must be OK to have on site workstations for the purpose of generating reviews. And one can infer from all of this is that the review filter would not block the review based on location (IP) alone.

Implications

Yelp and Tripadvisor long ago put in place bans on reviews generated onsite from the place of business. In the case of Yelp, the reviews get filtered. TripAdvisor goes so far as to flag/punish the business with a Red notice questioning the integrity of the hotel. Avvo will allow the practice by prior approval and an explanation as to the need. Google’s policy is clearly contrary to the industry norms. Allowing and even encouraging the behavior of using a review station is questionable at best.

While there is nothing against practice in the Google Places review guidelines it is a practice that I have discouraged in my consulting and writings.

Continue reading

An Imagined Conversation with Google about Reviews, 29Prime & Sock Puppets

29Prime is easy to spot as a deceptive local seo company that preys on unsuspecting small business folks eager to “be on the first page of Google”. Like many low-life firms of their ilk, they have a number of “aliases” (aka 29Live, 29Maps, 29SEM, 29Search, Locallistings.com etc, etc.) they use to make tracking them a little more difficult.

Their robo calls ring into my office no less than 4 times a week with pitches like “Select one now to claim your free listing on Google”, “We are Google’s 6th largest provider of data”, “We guarantee first page placement, “We are Google Authorized to claim your listing”.

As coffee break sport, I often select 1 on the dial pad just to hear the pitch and see how befuddled I can make the salesman by asking for verification of the claims… and of course to learn that free is relative. In this case it means $399 a month.

If there is any doubt in your mind about how despicable 29Prime is you can check out some of these online resources that should quickly convince you.

* their D+ rating at Better Business Bureau and the many disputes.
* More than one independent 29Prime is a scam website or
* this article about the roving reporter in Gilbert AZ claiming to have helped a small preschool get their erroneously charged $1500 back from 29Prime.

But this article isn’t about wondering how a business like this can continue to operate in our lax regulatory/enforcement environment. It isn’t about the myth of efficiency in the markets or how SMBs could continue to be duped by them. It isn’t about how is it conceivable that a company like Google has yet to have their lawyers muzzle 29Prime’s claims to be Google or act on their behalf. Or about how a company like this could be mentioned in the SF Chronicle as a top ranked Local SEO firm.

These are all interesting stories in their own right but not the focus of this article.

This story is about comparing how Yelp and Google handle 29Prime’s star rankings and present the results to the public. This story is asking how, after 4 years in the review business,  Google gets it very  wrong and Yelp seems to get 29Prime’s review standing right.
Continue reading

Review Management: 7 Tips on Avoiding Bad Reviews

In my presentation at Getlisted’s Local University seminars for SMBs, I note that there are three simple elements to a review management plan:

  • Provide Great customer service
  • Ask for reviews
  • Avoid Negative reviews

It used to be said that an unhappy customer would tell 10 people. Today an unhappy customer can influence hundreds if not thousands of people by leaving a bad review. It is common wisdom that, in the age of the internet, providing excellent customer service is the secret to review success.

While that is certainly true it is also a bit of cliche. What business doesn’t strive to provide excellent customer service? Sooner or later something will happen, despite your every intention. Things will go wrong and you will have an unhappy customer. As Matt McGee says, we don’t live in a five star world. Your client’s business is no exception.

There are two kinds of businesses in todays world. Those that have received a negative review and those that will. Bad reviews sting. Much has been written about ways to garner reviews from your clients. Less has been written about dodging the stinkers. It is equally important in generating a review profile that reflects the mostly positive range of your customer’s experiences to AVOID BAD REVIEWS.

Sooner or later you will have an unhappy customer and you want plans in place to deal with that eventuality. If you assume that your systems will fail, you can be ready to deal with the customer, who is all too ready to trash you, in a way that doesn’t drive them to the desperate act of expressing their frustration in the public commons.

Here are some tips on how to avoid bad reviews:

1- Follow up with customers immediately after the sale with a call and/or an email to be sure that all went as planned. Identify problems early on in the cycle so that you can correct them before they become complaints.

2- Make complaining easy. Build a culture that is truly ready to receive the complaint at every level of your business from the cashier to the president. Train your staff and train them well to not be defensive and to solve most problems immediately.

3- Make a complaint form very obvious on your site, perhaps on every page. This not only allows unhappy customers to complain, it makes it clear to potential customers that you are ready to listen. If you title the page “Your company name | Complaints” it will have the added benefit of appearing high on the main search results. This not only telegraphs to your customer your willingness to deal with complaints, it pushes other perhaps less flattering chatter down the page.

4- When you do receive a complaint, follow up quickly and try to resolve it. Nothing rankles a customer stewing about your bad service like waiting for a return phone call.

5-Respond to negative reviews online. Once the issue is resolved circle back with the customer about the review. A recent survey has shown that an appropriate response to a negative review can get the negative review removed in a third of the cases. A roughly equal number of consumers posted a positive review after receiving a response to their bad review. Having a plan and responding appropriately to a negative review is critical to this process.

6-Never fake reviews or enter them on behalf of your clients. It is imperative that you not provide reviewers with any trace that you are abusing your review corpus. Getting slammed by a customer review that questions your ethics calls into question your trustworthiness and integrity. It is the most difficult type of negative review to deal with even if it is not true. Responding online to the question do you beat your wife with a stick or a club creates a no-win situation.

7- Communicate with your local competitors. Competitor spam reviews are becoming more common than ever. If you are on speaking terms with them you are much less likely to fall victim to a puerile spam review attack.The reality is that other similar local businesses are not the long term determinant of your success nor really your major competition. In Barbara Oliver’s recent case, she immediately contacted the two other jewelers affected by competitor spam and established communication and rapport to make it less likely in the future.

Please help me add to the list. Do you have any suggestions as to how to avoid that devastating negative review?

Hit by Competitor Spam Reviews: The Plot Thickens

I seem to be mired in competitor spam reviews these days. The second bad review in as many weeks showed up this weekend on Barbara Oliver & Co. Jewelry’s Place Page. At first glance it appeared legit. The complaint, that it is pretentious to require appointments, is untrue and probably comes from a misreading of Barbara’s recently placed announcement on her website. She noted that during renovations and expansion construction from the 12th to 24th of this month she would be closed except by appointment.

The second review made an owner- response to both negative reviews imperative.  I had not previously responded to the original bad review thinking that the reviewer might go silent. That did not happen. I think Puresheer and EarlPearl are right in that sense… the spammer is unlikely to go away and defend our honor we must.

The answer I chose to use was Kevin Baca’s (of Customer Lobby)  excellent edit of my original response. I modified it slightly (per CathyR’s suggestion) and removed the words “fake review” to avoid a Google snippet disaster.

This is Barbara Oliver, owner of the company. You are right in that there are business owners out there faking reviews. I’m from the old school of small business ethics that insists on earning a good reputation over time with excellent customer service. I give my word that the reviews here on my Place Page are 100% legitimate and left by my real customers. I personally remember each of the wonderful transactions they are mentioning. As you can imagine, we really appreciate the time they took to do this. I invite you to come to our shop to see for yourself our beautiful jewelry, fair pricing and the fabulous shopping experience we provide for each of our valued customers. Barbara

The “perp” though, while trying to be sneakier and leaving a seemingly real second review, seems to have tipped their hand. I was actually “buying” their review of Barbara and Andrews Jewelers until I got to the marketing happy talk left on behalf of the third jeweler.

Responding to the appointment critique was much easier and offered the opportunity to both differentiate Barbara’s services and extol her expansion. The problem is though that it appears that the writer is developing a taste for this sort of thing, however small time.

Should we contact the other jewelers in question and initiate a dialogue? Should we just keep responding and ignore the likely source knowing that they are adding to our review count? Should we consider some third course of action? Perhaps a firm, carefully worded letter from our attorney?

What now?