Generic, Local-SEO-Friendly Business Names: the Pros and Cons of Using One

Generic, Local-SEO-Friendly Business Names: the Pros and Cons of Using One

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ftmeade/21716408891/

You’re considering a change of one size or another to the name your business, in the name of better local rankings.  The basic plan is to get a “keyword” and city or other place name into your name.

To make that change you might feel the need to keyword-stuff your Google My Business name, to use a fake name on your Google My Business page, to register a “doing business as” (DBA), to rename your business entirely, or to name your new business with local SEO in mind from the get-go.

The first two options aren’t wise, and the others may be wise.  Depends on your situation and on how you’ve weighed the pros and cons.  Here are the pros and cons you’ll want to weigh before you mess with your name:

Pros of a generic, “local-SEO-friendly” name:

  • You may rank for that search term (and maybe similar terms) more easily and quickly. The name of your Google My Business page affects your Maps rankings more than it should – partly because Google often isn’t good at telling brand-name searches from broader searches.  Your name also matters to your organic and non-Google rankings, to a lesser extent.
  • More-relevant anchor text in links. Any time the text of a link to your site is the name of your business, the link will contain a “keyword” and maybe your city naturally.  You won’t need to resort to shenanigans.
  • Some customers’ reviews will contain that search-engine-friendly name. The content of reviews seems to matter, in my experience.
  • For some search terms you might be the only business that appears on the local map (in a “local one-box” result, as it’s called).
  • Maybe you just can’t think of a good name.

Cons of a generic, “local-SEO-friendly” name:

  • It’s easy for your competitors to do the same. Most will not bother or simply will keyword-stuff their names but it may take only a couple of like-minded competitors to end your fiesta.  Easy come, easy go.
  • You may get competitors’ bad reviews. Their angry customers may confuse you with your competitors.
  • Competitors may get your good reviews. Your customers can get their wires crossed, too.
  • In general, more people may think you and your competitors belong to the same organization (maybe you’re part of a chain). That can lead to confusing phone calls, annoying emails, mixed-up coupons, bad press, and more.
  • You may be mistaken easily for spam. Competitors and do-gooders may submit Google Maps edits to your name.  Don’t assume Google will make the right call on whether to apply those edits.
  • You may be pigeonholed. Maybe you want to rank for other search terms and in other cities.  Then you’ll be at a crossroads as to how to do that.
  • Citation audits may be tougher. You (or a third party you work with) may find listings that aren’t yours, and miss listings that do belong to your business.
  • Google may have a harder time identifying searches specifically meant for your business – AKA brand-name searches. Because of your generic, broad name, Google likely will hedge its search results with businesses other than yours, just in case the person wasn’t searching for your business.  When in doubt Google includes junk.
  • You probably can’t trademark your name.
  • You miss out on the benefits of having a sticky, memorable name.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/aheram/3383179223/

How has the name of your business helped (or hurt) you?

To what extent did you think about the search-engine-friendliness before picking it?

If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently?

Leave a comment!

Generic, Local-SEO-Friendly Business Names: the Pros and Cons of Using One
Source: Local Visibility System

Can’t Fix a Spammy Google Maps Name? Try a Partial Edit

Can’t Fix a Spammy Google Maps Name? Try a Partial Edit

https://www.flickr.com/photos/seanfreese/7185529293/

Let’s say you have a local competitor with a Google My Business page with a spammy name like “Your Best HVAC Company Cleveland.”  You know the real name of their business is “Harry’s Heating,” and you’ve submitted the real name as an edit in Google Maps, but Google didn’t approve your edit.  Google is too thick to recognize the fake name is fake – and against Google’s own policies – so the spam stands, and your spammy-named competitor ranks artificially well.

What now?

Try editing out only the name of the city.  It’s a baby step.  Google is more likely to approve your edit – and instantly – in my experience.  So, for a spammy listing like “Your Best HVAC Company Cleveland” you’d submit “Your Best HVAC Company” as the correct name of your competitor’s page.

Even if your first edit to the name has been “pending” for a few minutes or a few days (likely to be rejected by Google in the end), your newer, less-ambitious edit will be approved almost instantly if it’s approved at all.  It’s not stuck in a queue behind your earlier edit(s).

Why is a partial edit more likely to stick?  I’m sure there’s an algorithmic explanation (most edits are approved and rejected by algorithm), but I’d guess it’s simply because you’re asking Google to make a smaller decision.  You’re not asking Google to change the whole name of a business.

Wouldn’t it be better if Google fixed your spammy competitor’s name completely, so the business’s real name showed up on Google Maps, rather than the Keyword Spam Lite version?  Of course.  But there are many benefits to trying a partial edit:

1. Google may actually approve the partial edit. Clearly Google had a problem with your broader edit.

2. You’ll lessen your competitor’s exact-match-keyphrase mojo. A page with a spammy Google My Business name ranks well often not simply because it’s got “keywords” in it, but rather because Google’s terrible at telling when people are searching for a specific brand or company. Even when you type in a broad search term (e.g. “electricians in San Antonio”), Google thinks there’s a chance you’re searching for the spammy business that has a Google My Business page of that name.  Google would prefer to show you 3 businesses on the local map (including the spammer), knowing that 1-2 of those businesses won’t be what you want, rather than risk not showing you the specific company it thinks you might want to see.

3. Your competitor will have an ugly-sounding name show up in the search results. It may be more ugly or less ugly than the original version of the name (the one that included the city). But if it doesn’t rank as well (see point #2), even fewer people are likely to click, which in turn may put another damper on your spammy competitor’s rankings over time.

4. You’ll put another notch on your anti-spam belt. Your future edits will have a slightly better chance of being approved by Google.

5. Even if your competitors change their names back to include the city, you’ll become a pain in their necks. If they don’t just give up, by repeatedly adding the city back into their Google My Business name they’ll establish a longer history of spamming. That’ll be relevant information if you ever escalate the problem at the GMB forum.

6. Over time you might clean up your whole local market – at least a little bit. New would-be spammers will stick out even more, and some of the more-casual spammers may be deterred if they don’t see every other business use a spammy name. With luck, you can transform the local Superfund site into a mere town dump.

What’s a stubborn Google My Business “name-spam” case you’re dealing with?

Any war stories?

Any tips?

Leave a comment

Can’t Fix a Spammy Google Maps Name? Try a Partial Edit
Source: Local Visibility System

How Long Does It Take for a User-Submitted Yelp Page to Rank on Page 1 for a Branded Search?

How Long Does It Take for a User-Submitted Yelp Page to Rank on Page 1 for a Branded Search?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jasonparis/4066106103/One week or less, from what I’ve seen.

A 7-Eleven opened nearby last year, but Yelp didn’t have a page for that location.  The locally-owned convenience store that used to be at that location had and still has a Yelp page.  (Nobody’s reported it as closed, and Yelp hasn’t de-duped.)  But the 7-Eleven didn’t have one for 9-10 months after opening.

I guess their SEO person is grazing in tidier pastures.

Anyway, I took it upon myself to submit a Yelp page for 7-Eleven, as I do from time to time.  I’m not big on convenience stores, and I’m even less big on pro bono enterprise local SEO, but my grand act was borne of curiosity: I had occasion to look up the hours.  Recently, a drunk guy crossed the street to ask if I knew how late the 7-Eleven was open.  I told Otis 11pm sounded right, but that I didn’t know for sure.  I looked it up when I got back from my stroll.  Turns out Google My Business didn’t have the hours, so I checked Yelp, which also didn’t have the hours.

On June 11th I created a Yelp page for 7-Eleven (minus the hours).  When I checked it on June 18th, a week later, it ranked #4 for a brand-name search. (It probably ranked on page 1 even sooner than that.  Wish I’d checked.)

So what?  Well, I suggest you patrol Yelp occasionally for “unofficial,” unclaimed, in many cases user-submitted (or competitor-planted) pages for your business.  You may or may not want that page, and it may or may not make your business look good, and it probably will be mighty visible when people search for you by name.

Keep an eye on competitors’ Yelp pages, too.  Those may rank well, even for competitive search terms, but you can probably get them removed or fixed without too much heartache.

How Long Does It Take for a User-Submitted Yelp Page to Rank on Page 1 for a Branded Search?
Source: Local Visibility System

Scraping Gray SEO Barnacles off the Local Spam Flotilla

Scraping Gray SEO Barnacles off the Local Spam Flotilla

https://www.flickr.com/photos/hotmeteor/4082689948/

“Barnacle” SEO, or the process of getting a page other than a page on your site to rank well in Google’s local organic search results, can be a great way to grab extra local visibility.  If your competitors get barnacle SEO to work for them, more power to ‘em – if they do it in a fair and square way.  If they don’t, you shouldn’t let it stand.

Yelp is the great-granddaddy barnacle site.  Your competitors may use it in a gray-hat way, though.  If your competitors use a fake or keyword-stuffed name in Yelp, and appear to have that page ranking well in Google as a result of that name, the chances are good you can scrape off some of that visibility.  You probably know the real name of their business (or you can find out easily), and you can be pretty confident that the name has propped up their Yelp rankings artificially if they’re outranking businesses with many more or much-better reviews.

I dealt with that recently for a client of mine.  One of his competitors had a Yelp page named simply “iPhone Repair.”  That was not the real name of the business, but that didn’t stop the Yelp page from ranking #1 in the local organic results for “iPhone repair.”  Well, I submitted an edit on that Yelp page.  In the optional “comments” you can include in your edit I mentioned what the real name was and how I knew (it was on their site).

Yelp fixed the name a couple days later, and the page ranked #1 for a while longer: It took Google probably 10 days to re-index the Yelp page, at which time it dropped from #1 to #6 in the organic results, and fell off of page 1 completely a few days after that.

Sure felt good to scrape that barnacle off.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/dickdotcom/13971900011/

For all of Yelp’s MANY flaws big and small, it is better at policing spam than Google is.  Plenty of spam still gets by Yelp, of course, but at least your anti-spam edits are less likely to be ignored.  As SEOs and business owners, our first impulse is to go after spammy Google My Business pages.  Which is fine and smart to do – as long as you also try to clean up spammy competitors’ Yelp pages.  May not work in your case, but your chances are better.

A few other, less-obvious upshots of trying to fix spammy Yelp pages:

1. Unlike in Google My Business, it’s harder for spammy competitors simply to change back to their fake or keyword-stuffed names. Yelp can and perhaps will lock the “name” field of their page, even if it’s been owner-verified. Less potential for whac-a-mole.

2. Those competitors are less likely to rank well IN Yelp’s search results.

3. Those competitors probably benefit from the same fake-o name in Google My Business. If you can get Yelp to fix the name, Google may be more likely to fix the Google My Business name, too.

4. Because Yelp is the main data-provider for Apple Maps and Bing Places, getting a competitor’s name fixed on Yelp may undo any ill-gotten rankings they’ve gotten in Apple or Bing. (For what that’s worth.)

Local SEO barnacles grow easily, but that also means they’re low on the food chain.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/trishhhh/2515019389/

What’s been your experience with anti-spam edits in Yelp – particularly of competitors’ names?

Any non-Yelp sites where you’ve been able to clean up competitors’ spam?

Any other war stories?

Leave a comment!

Scraping Gray SEO Barnacles off the Local Spam Flotilla
Source: Local Visibility System

What Kinds of “Contacts at Google” Can Local SEO Companies Have?

What Kinds of “Contacts at Google” Can Local SEO Companies Have?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/infomastern/12407730413/in/photostream/

Some local SEO companies tout “contacts” at Google who can straighten out problems (like competitors’ spam or a penalty you think you’ve received).  Sometimes that suggestion is plain untrue, other times it’s an exaggeration, and most times it’s irrelevant and won’t help you.

Knowing the specific type of “contact” your company has (or claims to have) at $GOOG can help you avoid wasting time, and it can help you determine how aboveboard your company or consultant is.

If your local SEO people (current or prospective) hint they’ve got any kind of “in” at Google, ask for specifics, like what department that person is in, and how your company or consultant knows him or her.  Your local SEO-er may be referring to one of several kinds of Google connections:

1. Google Analytics or AdWords Certified Partner status.  Based on the number of mangled local SEO campaigns I’ve seen run by “Certified Partners,” I can say with confidence that any benefits of working with a “Partner” company don’t translate into a better-policed Google Map.

2. Dedicated AdWords rep (unlikely).  If your SEO people do AdWords, and if they have enough ad-spend in the accounts they manage, they may have what resembles a relationship with an AdWords rep.  How’s that relevant to Google Maps and your plight there?  Well, you may have spent a chunk of dough on ads for keywords  for which your competitors rank well as a result of obvious Maps-spam.  In that case, an AdWords rep might escalate the issue with the Google My Business department more quickly than you (or your SEO company) could through the usual channels.  But that may happen even without a dedicated rep (see next point).

3. Random AdWords rep.  If your SEO company doesn’t manage Rubenesque accounts, they (and you) probably will probably get a different AdWords rep every time you’ve got a problem.  So your ability to contact a rep doesn’t mean your SEO-ers have what I’d call a “contact” at Google.  Still, that Googler’s limited usefulness for Google Maps concerns is the same as what I described in my “Dedicated AdWords rep” point (above). 

4. Google My Business support rep du jourMaybe your SEO people have tweeted at Google My Business support, or posted at the forum – maybe more than once – and perhaps got some issues resolved.  That doesn’t mean they’ve got a special “in” at Google, or that he or she can or will help you now or in the future. 

5. “Top Contributor” at the Google My Business forum.  For the most part, TCs are extremely generous with their time and provide a valuable service.  But they are volunteers, and not Google employees.  TCs interact with Googlers semi -regularly, but those Googlers have very limited power to work on Maps issues big or small, partly because the Maps department sees high turnover.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/stevenpisano/17255430203/

6. Googler acquaintance.  Does your SEO person play squash with a Google employee?  Did they go to high school together?  Did they have a 5-minute conversation at a conference?  That’s nice, but it’s not an “in” that will help you.  Google handles (or neglects) damn near every problem algorithmically, on a scale that can squash whole industries and local economies.  One lowly, Google-bus-riding employee can lob only so many thunderbolts from the skies.

7. No “contact,” but a good track record of getting Google Maps edits approved.  Even in full-on embellishment mode, your SEO people probably wouldn’t characterize a good edit-history as a “contact,” but rather as “having sway” or as “Google listens to us,” or some such thing.  Perhaps the SEO people don’t have that track record, but know someone who does.  In any case, though that kind of puffery would concern me, a good spam-fighter may be the most-useful “contact” you can have in this age of shrinking Google employees and planet-eating algorithms.

Is there a type of contact at Google I forgot to mention?

Any war stories about a Googler who was surprisingly helpful (or useless)?

Leave a comment!

What Kinds of “Contacts at Google” Can Local SEO Companies Have?
Source: Local Visibility System

5 Types of Google My Business Descriptions That Go Boom

5 Types of Google My Business Descriptions That Go Boom

https://www.flickr.com/photos/eggplant/6579003815/

Few business owners have used the Google My Business “description” field, now that it’s returned.  Even fewer make their description do any work.

Google wiped out businesses’ descriptions when it retired GMB descriptions a couple of years ago.  Most ranged from spam to clutter.  Given the cyclical nature of everything in Google Maps, I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before every business on the local map has a Cheez Whiz description again.

Until then, you can craft a GMB description that makes more of the right people more likely to take the next step you want them to.  Also, if users’ behavior matters to Google at all, a sticky description may help your rankings over time.

I can think of 5 basic types of descriptions I’ve seen (or helped create), each with different approaches to the same goal.  Here are 5 species of Google My Business descriptions that might work for you:

Kill-Shot

This type of description is brief, gets across your USP, and asks the searcher to take the next step.

Different call-to-action here – a baby step:

For a bricks-and-mortar store, you might want to deploy a “come on down”:

You and Me

The “You and Me” sounds like its name: in it you don’t talk about your business or about customers in the third-person voice.  It’ll sound less stuffy, if you do it right.

Saying “we” / “us” / “our” might also work.

The above example is from Mike Blumenthal’s most-visible client – often among the first to make good use of new Google My Business features.

Strength in Numbers:

Your GMB description is a good place to wheel out impressive numbers and other specifics.

Brass Tacks

Google gives you 750 characters, and shows the first 250 characters before truncating your description, but maybe you don’t need that many characters to say exactly what you do.

In this kind of description, you assume the right searcher knows what the next step is.  That’s one difference between it at the “Kill-Shot.”  The other difference is that the “Brass Tacks” description is more matter-of-fact and less emotion-driven.

Carpe Diem (AKA “The Homepage away from Home”)

The opposite of the “Brass Tacks,” in this type of description you don’t save info for your landing page.  You don’t assume people will make it that far, so you rip through your main selling points.  You see your description (and the whole sidebar it’s in) as some customers see it and as Google wants everyone to see it: as your new homepage.

What kind of description is yours?

Any great examples you’ve run across?

Leave a comment!

5 Types of Google My Business Descriptions That Go Boom
Source: Local Visibility System

Google My Business Description Gets the Catbird Seat

Google My Business Description Gets the Catbird Seat

Google appears to have moved the new-ish “description” field to the top of the right-hand sidebar (AKA the knowledge panel).

For the few weeks since Google reintroduced Google My Business descriptions, the description had showed up near the bottom of the sidebar.  Now it’s above even the most-basic business info, like the address and phone number.

Clearly Google wants people to see the thing.

Whether it’s a permanent change or just another test remains to be seen.  It’s also unclear how this might tie into Google’s ongoing push to monetize the local search results.

Still, you should make hay while the sun shines, and write the catchiest, hardest-to-resist description you can in the 250 characters you’re given.  (Google truncates the description after 250 characters.)

Where do you see the “description” field, in relation to the other info in the sidebar?

Are you seeing it on all devices

What do you think Google’s up to?

Leave a comment!

Google My Business Description Gets the Catbird Seat
Source: Local Visibility System

4 Ways to Read Google’s No-Cherry-Picking Policy on Google Reviews

4 Ways to Read Google’s No-Cherry-Picking Policy on Google Reviews

https://www.flickr.com/photos/bertknot/8942969294/

Google recently added the following to their seldom-enforced list of preferences policies on Google Maps reviews:

“Don’t discourage or prohibit negative reviews or selectively solicit positive reviews from customers.”

The basic meaning seems clear enough: Google doesn’t want you to cherry-pick reviews.  Fine.  Got it.

But what’s Google’s definition of “discouraging or prohibiting” a negative review or “selectively soliciting” a positive review?  Have you done either of those things without realizing it?  Is Google only trying to scare the serious offenders and put everyone else (like you) on alert?

Joy Hawkins did a helpful post about Google’s “review-gating” policy.  Here is her take on what Google now tells us not to do:

“Review-gating is the process of filtering candidates before asking them to leave you a review.  Normally this is done by sending all customers an email template and first asking them if they had a positive or negative experience.  If they had a positive experience, they are asked to leave a review on Google but if they had a negative experience, they are prompted to leave private feedback and are never sent the option to leave a review publicly.”

Google doesn’t call it “review-gating,” or specifically mention customer-outreach tools, but I’d say Joy’s conclusion is solid, and good advice to heed.

The only trouble is other review-encouragement practices may or may not be in the crosshairs of Google’s new policy.  You can interpret “don’t discourage or prohibit negative reviews or selectively solicit positive reviews from customers” in a few other ways.  You could hamstring your effort on reviews unnecessarily, or you could do something Google doesn’t want you to.

Here’s probably the loosest way to read Google’s new “rule”:

Interpretation 1: “We don’t care if you only approach happy-ish customers for Google reviews, and we don’t even care exactly how you ask, just as long as you constantly make it clear that customers can leave you a negative review if they feel the need.”

A more-specific reading:

Interpretation 2: “We don’t care whom you ask for Google reviews, but you’d better not fixate on their star ratings or what they say in the reviews.  So that means don’t be like the hotel that fined guests for leaving bad reviews, don’t tell customers things like, ‘If we haven’t earned your 5-star review yet, please contact us first’, and don’t use review funnels.”

Here’s the harshest interpretation of it:

Interpretation 3: “Ask all customers for reviews, or ask none at all. Don’t let your knowledge of a customer’s happiness influence whether you ask him or her for a review.  If you do ask for a review, pretend there’s no such thing as ‘negative’ review, a ‘positive’ review, or star ratings.”

Here’s what I think Google means:

Interpretation 4: “We’re obligated to tell you that you shouldn’t ‘selectively solicit’ or ‘discourage or prohibit’ reviews.  We’re smart enough to define those terms more clearly for you, but we’d rather leave it open to interpretation.  That’ll deter some people, and it’ll spook software makers into enforcing our policies for us, and it lets us change our definitions however we want.”

Google long has left its review guidelines and other guidelines mushy (or obscure), apparently by design.  Google’s policies, enforcement SOPs, and internal politics change all the time.  Why wouldn’t they keep their options open?

For many years I’ve urged clients and others not to put words in customers’ mouths, not to fixate on 5 stars, and always to seek honest feedback.  It’s possible to try too hard to avoid bad reviews.  In doing so you miss out on many of the benefits of reviews in general.

But if you learn customers have gripes, it’s only reasonable to try to work out any problems first.  That’s what they hope and expect you’ll do.  They know full well that they can leave you a bad review at any time.  I suspect the Google Maps powers-that-be would agree, but on the off-chance they don’t, let’s see them try to do something about it.  As David Baxter said over at the Local Search Forum, “It’s about deterrence.”

How do you interpret Google’s latest mushy “policy” language?

Does it change your strategy in any way?

Any possible readings I missed?

Leave a comment!

4 Ways to Read Google’s No-Cherry-Picking Policy on Google Reviews
Source: Local Visibility System

Google My Business Now Lets You Specify a List of Services

Google My Business Now Lets You Specify a List of Services

This is the first I’ve seen of the “Services” area in Google My Business.

(Update 4/6/18: A few people saw this first a few days ago (h/t Nyagoslav Zhekov), but the rollout seems to have been tiny until now.)

The input is pretty structured, as you can see.

Only the “name” field appears to be required.  The “Price” and “Description” are optional, from what I’ve seen so far.

It may be another of Google’s slow rollouts or buggy rollouts, because the info I slopped down (pictured above) hasn’t showed up yet when I search for “Local Visibility System.”  It’s possible that, like structured-snippet extensions in AdWords, your “services” only show up for certain search terms.

Anyway, I’ll continue to experiment in my dashboard and in certain clients’.  By the way, I’m seeing “Services” in non-US clients’ dashboards, so the rollout doesn’t appear limited to the States.

If the “Services” feature sticks around it’ll fill a need.  Google’s list of “Categories” long has fallen short of accurately describing many businesses.  Because of that, because of Google’s murky guidelines on category-selection, and because of Google’s poor policing of Maps, many business owners pick too many categories or shoehorn keywords into the “business name” field.  Maybe the “Services” field will make those sorts of things less tempting.

Are you seeing “Services” in your (or a client’s) Google My Business dashboard?  Are your additions showing up publicly yet?

Leave a comment!

Google My Business Now Lets You Specify a List of Services
Source: Local Visibility System

How Should You Ask for Online Reviews? The Pros and Cons of Each Approach

How Should You Ask for Online Reviews? The Pros and Cons of Each Approach

https://www.flickr.com/photos/29707865@N05/2780508266/

There are no “solutions” – only trade-offs.  Your task is to pick the trade-off – or the combination of them – that works best for you.  That applies to most areas of local SEO and marketing (and life), and it applies to your effort to get more good reviews from customers / clients / patients on Google Maps and on other “local” review sites.

You probably aren’t dialed-in on reviews yet.  You know there are many ways to encourage people to review your business online, but aren’t sure what the best way is.  All you can do is pick the best (or least-bad) trade-off for you.

Here are the pros and cons of each method of asking customers for reviews:

Asking in-person for a review later

Pros

  • You plant the seed of the idea. You don’t expect the customer to review you then and there, nor do you even need to provide instructions in-person.  Once determining he or she is happy, you just ask, “We’d love if you could write a review of us.  Is it OK if we email you some quick steps?”  You get the benefits of asking in a more-personal way, but without putting the customer in an awkward situation.
  • The email doesn’t come out of the blue, because the customer expects it.
  • You force yourself to listen to your customers and to think about whether you’ve earned a 5-star review.

Cons

  • None (that I’ve seen or can think of). Especially you’re shy about asking for reviews, it can be more of a “testing the waters” interaction.  If the customer doesn’t seem happy or seem the type who might review you, maybe you just don’t ask that person for a review.

Asking in-person for a mobile review on the spot

Pros

  • It’s hard for customers to ignore your request.
  • You can walk them through the process and answer any questions.
  • You can sniff out how happy the customer is, which can tell you whether you should follow up later (maybe in an email).

Cons

  • Some people will feel put on the spot, which may come back to bite you.
  • The reviews may be terse and seem dashed-off, forced, or fake. People have places to go and things to do.  They won’t go into detail – the kind of crunchy bits you want in reviews whenever possible.

Review station (a dedicated iPad or laptop in your office or store)

Pros

  • Same benefits as in the strategy of “Asking in-person for a mobile review on the spot” (above).

Cons

  • Same drawbacks as in the “Asking in-person for a mobile review on the spot” strategy.
  • The jury’s out on whether Google reviews are more likely to get filtered by Google, if they all come from the same IP.
  • Some customers may feel watched.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/traveloriented/34811387095/

Emailing one customer at a time

Pros

  • You can tailor each request to each person, based on what you know about him or her.
  • It’s a great opportunity to sniff out who’s happy and who’s not.

Cons

  • It takes time. You can’t be sloppy.  Get the customer’s name right.  Remove any boilerplate.  Maybe allude to the specific service he/she got.

Using an email service (MailChimp, Aweber, etc.) to send requests automatically

Pros

  • It’s quick. You write one email, and your email service sends it out without your personal involvement.
  • It can be a good way to ask customers slowly and steadily – rather than ask too many people at once, or fall off the wagon and not ask anyone
  • You can study the analytics: how many people opened the email, how many people clicked the links, etc.

Cons

  • It takes finesse not to email people who aren’t in a position to review you (like leads who haven’t become customers).
  • You can’t tailor the email to one specific customer.

Email blast (via MailChimp, Aweber, etc.)

Pros

  • If everything goes well you can get many reviews in short order.
  • It’s quicker than emailing one customer at a time.

Cons

  • If it doesn’t work you’ve burned through many customers and worn out your welcome to ask again.
  • If you didn’t vet the list of customers first you may end up with a bunch of bad reviews. Then what?
  • Even if it works well, your reviews are more likely to get filtered, to the extent people choose Google or Yelp.

Providing review handouts / instructions in-person

Pros

  • Good instructions make the review-writing process simpler and less daunting
  • The printout serves as a visual prop. That might make it easier for you to ask customers, and may make your request clearer to them.
  • It’s a physical reminder (“Oh yeah, I said I’d write a review”).

Cons

  • Some customers may feel put on the spot, so you might want to test the waters (“So, how did we do?”) before you hand them a printout.

Providing review handouts / instructions in an email (or attached)

Pros

  • Again, good instructions make the process simpler for customers.
  • You can provide the instructions but not rely on them; you’ve also got the email itself to make a friendly request that’s hard to say no to.
  • Customers are more likely to get your request at a time they can act on it.
  • Unless customers just delete your email, it’ll stick around in their inboxes, and in that way will serve as a little reminder for couple of days.

Cons

  • An email isn’t as personal as an in-person request or a phone call.
  • It’s easy to tune out an email.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/waffleboy/9695952341/

“Review us” page

Pros

  • It’s probably the easiest way to give customers a choice of review sites (maybe 2-5), so as to diversify where you’ve got reviews.
  • You can incorporate a review-encouragement tool like GetFiveStars or us, making it easy to set up the page.
  • You can easily send customers to the page in an in-person request or in an email (or both).

Cons

  • You add another step to the process, because you’ve got to direct customers to a page that in turn directs them to a review site of their choosing.
  • Probably some customers’ reviews won’t end up on the sites where you want reviews most. Maybe you have plenty of Facebook reviews, but want more Google reviews, and people keep picking Facebook.  You’ll have to tweak with the lineup of sites, and which ones you prioritize.

Phone call

Pros

  • Great time to gauge the customer’s happiness, and to sort out any issues that might stand in the way of a good review.
  • It’s tough for the customer to blow off.
  • It’s more personal.
  • It’s easy for you to walk the customer through the review-writing process.
  • Asking hat-in-hand looks good, as it does any time you ask a favor of someone.

Cons

  • Some customers will take a lot of hand-holding (though it’s time well-spent on your part).
  • It’s possible you won’t call at a good time.

ORM or “feedback funnel” software (e.g. GetFiveStars)

Pros

  • Having review-request emails sent out automatically can save you a ton of time
  • Most review-encouragement software makes it easy to offer customers several choices of review sites, helping you rack up reviews on a variety of sites.

Cons

  • You may be tempted to rely too much on the software to do all the work, without much or any oversight or fine-tuning on your part, in which case your software may become a meat grinder. Business owners (or their employees) never lack the time to ask customers for reviews.  They simply don’t know what to ask, how to ask, or when to ask.  You should ask in-person for a review, and have the email serve as a follow-up or reminder.
  • You’ll have to play around with the settings and probably send out some ignored requests before you find what works best.

Video walk-though

Pros

Cons

  • It takes a little effort to make a good, clear, brief video, and you’ll need to change it if the steps change at Google Maps or on another site.
  • You may not always have the video handy when you want to walk customers through the reviewing process. They need to be in front of a screen.

Text message (SMS)

Pros

  • It’s quick for you to set up, given that you’ll probably use a third-party tool to send the texts.
  • For some customers it’s very convenient.

Cons

  • For other customers the text shows up at the wrong time: they’re driving or walking, or otherwise indisposed.
  • Often it’s annoying to receive texts from people other than friends or family. It can come across as pushy.
  • You can’t include much in the way of instructions in a text.
  • Any reviews you get probably won’t be too detailed, may be riddled with typos, and may appear dashed-off. The chances are good they’ll be unhelpful or even look fake.
  • It may seem impersonal.

Snail-mail requests

Pros

  • It’s unusual, memorable, and a little harder to ignore. Most business owners – even the smart and proactive ones – do what’s easiest, quickest, and cheapest.
  • If you send the request with printed info your customer welcomes (your newsletter, a thank-you note, photos of the project, aftercare instructions, etc.) you’re catching him or her in a good mood.
  • You can get creative in how you ask.

Cons

  • Printing and postage costs. (But if you get a review, that’s a tiny price to pay.)
  • It’s not fashionable.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/d_schaefer/25862149923/

Links, buttons, or widgets on your site

Pros

  • You don’t have to stick your neck out to ask for reviews.

Cons

  • It’s easy for people to ignore your link / button / widget.
  • Most people who see the link / button / widget probably aren’t customers – just leads – and aren’t in a position to review you.

Yelp check-in offer

Pros

  • Yelp will ask customers on your behalf. As you know, Yelp doesn’t want you to ask for reviews in any way.  Inconsistent and absurd?

Cons

  • It’s for Yelp.
  • The reviewers are Yelpers.

Little cards with printed instructions

Pros

  • It’s easier to keep around and hand out cards than full-page review printouts.
  • You don’t have to think as much about what goes on the cards, because there’s not room for much. Just basic instructions, or “Please visit com/reviewus to write us a review.”

Cons

  • Customers who may need more guidance are out of luck.
  • The cards are easy to ignore, lose, or throw in the trash.

QR codes

Pro and con

  • You’ll try QR codes once and never try them again.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/cabreraluengocom/7022353187/

Passive strategies: letting reviews “happen”

Pros

  • In certain fields – like psychotherapy or financial-consulting – you’re so hamstrung that you can’t encourage reviews proactively. In that case a Daoist approach probably is all you can do.
  • It’s good to know what your “baseline” is: what kinds of reviews and how many reviews you get just by doing a good job for customers. You’ll probably end up concluding that’s not enough, but on the off-chance it is, more power to you.

Cons

  • Angry customers are more likely to write reviews spontaneously than happy customers are. Maybe you can’t encourage the happy people to speak up, but in that case you’d better have a way to identify the less-happy people and to smooth things over with them.
  • Slow progress is better than no progress. No matter how tough it is to get the happy people to review you, more of them will review if you take some steps to make that happen.
  • In putting together a review strategy, you learn a lot about your customers along the way. You may miss out on that if you just take it easy.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/milkyfactory/16795551505/

In my experience, here’s what works best most often (your mileage may vary):

  • Ask in-person for a review. Test the waters.  Provide instructions if possible.
  • Follow up with a personal email, sent to one customer at a time. Provide instructions again (with a review handout, a “review us” page, a video – anything).
  • Follow up with a reminder in a week or two, if necessary. Probably a second, differently phrased, shorter email, but a phone call (or piece of snail-mail) would also work.

Can you think of a common review-encouragement method I missed?

Any pros or cons I missed?

What’s worked well (or badly) for you, and why?

Leave a comment!

How Should You Ask for Online Reviews? The Pros and Cons of Each Approach
Source: Local Visibility System