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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

Dumbest Terms and Concepts in Local SEO

Dumbest Terms and Concepts in Local SEO

You’re more likely to get the results you want out of your local SEO effort if you don’t waste time on steps that won’t help, if the work doesn’t drive you crazy and make you stop because it’s not what you expected, and if you don’t hire a company to do the wrong kind of work.

Some terms and concepts floating around the local SEO space make those tasks harder for you to do.

I’m not saying they’re myths or “scams,” or even that they’ve got no merit.  All I’m saying is those ideas might lead you down a rabbit hole unless you look at them differently.

In no particular order, here are the dumb terms and concepts that (in my experience) can make your local SEO effort a little less effective and a little more frustrating:

“SEO copywriting”

Refers to sucky writing that you’re not (too) embarrassed to have on your site, only because you think Google likes it.

I’m not saying you should ignore “keywords.”  I am saying you shouldn’t work with someone who thinks SEO is just a matter of weaving keywords into copy.  There’s effective writing, there’s weak writing, and there’s writing you weaken by making keywords go where keywords ain’t supposed to go.

“Review management”

Do you do the best job you can for customers?   Do you ask them for feedback, including in the form of online reviews?  Do you occasionally read your reviews, and write simple owner-responses where appropriate?  If so, then you’re “managing” your reviews just fine, and there’s nothing else to “manage.”

Pay a company for that and all they’ll do is send poorly timed, ham-handed emails to your customers, and write generic and unhelpful replies to reviews good and bad.

I understand that you might want to delegate some of the review-encouragement process.  That’s fine.  It’s smart to farm out certain pieces, if you can.

The mistake is to think of reviews as (1) unrelated to how you run your business, or as (2) just another chore you can hand off entirely.  You’ll get more and better reviews, and get more out of them, and probably avoid a reputation meltdown if you’re at least a little involved.  You’re in a good position (maybe the best position) to know who’s happy and who’s not, how and when to approach would-be reviewers, what to ask them to do, and how best to respond to an unhappy reviewer.

In time, someone in your organization could probably handle it all.  But you should have at least a hand in grooming that person as your “Reviews Czar.”

“Listings management”

Again, there’s little or nothing to manage.

Got your Google My Business page set up properly?  Good.  Log into the dashboard every now, deal with Google’s annoying messages, and return your attention to the hard work of local SEO.

How about your non-Google local listings (e.g. YellowPages)?  Yes, those are a lot of work to set up or to fix the first time.  You may even need to put in a few rounds of work.  Also, if you change any of your basic business info (name, address, phone #, or website URL) you’ll want to update your listings.

But to create listings and maybe update them if there’s a change in your basic info is not management.  Do you “manage” your driver’s license?

It’s smart to get help on the one-time work, or if you need to update your listings.  Just don’t pay for what happens between those milestones, because nothing happens then.  All you’ll do is pay a sinecure.

“Link building”

This term has been a piñata for some time, so I’ll just take a kiddie swing at it.  The trouble with the term “link building” is you’ll probably expect to exert control over every link you want: what domain it’s on, what URL it points to, what the anchor text reads, etc.  Most good links you can’t belch out on command like that.  If you try to hire someone who thinks that, it probably won’t end well.  There’s only so much a third party can do.

At least in my experience, the right understanding of links is:

  1. They take more work than you’d like.
  2. You can’t control them as much as you’d like.
  3. You need to engineer your activities so it’s likely you get a good link out of the deal, but so you won’t consider your efforts a total waste if you don’t.

“Price per citation”

As in, “We can build you 100 citations on local directories for $200 – which is $2 per listing, which is 50% better than what our $3-per-listing competitors offer.”

That’s the wrong way to measure it.

A citation is not a citation.  Some sites are much more important than others are, so some listings are more important to get right than others are.

What if you pay $100 less, but have to wait an extra 6 weeks for the company’s work to wrap up?

How much does it cost you to hire the lowest bidders, get sloppy work from them, and then have to pay someone else to do remedial work?

If you must get third-party help on your listings, pick the most-competent help, not the cheapest.  If the competent one is too expensive, then you probably need to do the work in-house, because the cheapo company will cost you even more in the end.

“Freshness of content”

Should your site get bigger and better every year?  Absolutely.  Should you update old content, and continually try to improve content you can make more in-depth and helpful (in what I call “content CPR”)?  I sure hope you do, because those steps can help you long-term.

But that’s not what most SEOs refer to when they say “you need fresh content.”  They’ll tell you to tweak the content on your pages – not to improve it, necessarily, but just to make it different.   Or they’ll tell you to churn out 9 blog posts every month – posts that not even mom will read.  I call it the “content hamster wheel.”

https://www.flickr.com/photos/armydre2008/3716273172/

To many SEOs, Google just likes a dusty workshop, and doesn’t care whether you actually created something in it.  That’s easier to sell clients on, and it’s easier to bill them for.

“Local content”

 Your pages need to be relevant to what you do for customers, and not just generic info about a city you serve.

Unless you’re a professional tour guide, nobody visits your site to read a Wikipedia-flavored history of the town.  Few people care that Frank Sinatra once went to the bathroom there.

Make it relevant to your customer, to your business/services, and to the location – in that order of importance.

What’s a term or concept in local SEO that you consider crazy, and why?

Was there one you think I was too harsh on?

Leave a comment!

Dumbest Terms and Concepts in Local SEO
Source: Local Visibility System

Using a Shortened URL to Ask for Google Reviews? Goo.gl May Cut You Down

Using a Shortened URL to Ask for Google Reviews? Goo.gl May Cut You Down

https://www.flickr.com/photos/cuatrok77/16044942927/

A good way to make it easier for customers / clients / patients to review you on Google Maps is to send them a link straight to the “Write a review” popup.

You probably send a shortened URL (like https://goo.gl/qQgbjT), because it’s tidier than the full URL.

That will be a problem under two conditions: (1) if your address is “hidden” on your Google My Business page, and (2) you use the Goo.gl URL shortener to create the short link you send to would-be reviewers.

The problem is Google disables your short URL and takes people to a scary page like the one shown here.

The kicker is you won’t even know Google doesn’t like your short URL unless you or your customers click on it.  Goo.gl won’t show you an error message after shortening your URL.  Looks just peachy.

You may even run into that problem if you send a shortened link to a page of search results, rather than to the “write a review” pop-up.  I’m still testing that one.

Count on Google to harsh the mellow.

By the way, you shouldn’t have problems if your Google My Business page shows your full address publicly.  So if you’ve got a bricks-and-mortar location, or if you just don’t want to “hide” your address (these days you don’t need to), you probably could use Goo.gl to shorten your “review us” links without incident, if you wanted to.  But I wouldn’t necessarily suggest that.  Google eventually may take issue with all shortened “review us” links, at which point you’ll probably be the last to know.

Googles policies on shortened links don’t shed any light on why “review us” links are a problem, or on why they only seem to be a problem for businesses with hidden addresses on Google My Business.  Chalk it up to Google reviews being a mess in general.

What can you do?  Some options:

1. Use other URL shorteners, like bit.ly or TinyURL. I imagine the only reasons you’d use Goo.gl in the first place are that you can access your links later, and that you can see usage data (like how many people click on the links). If you don’t care about that stuff, I can’t think of a good reason to use Goo.gl.

2. Send longer, not-shortened links. They’re only messy if you send a link to the “write a review” popup. They’re not too bad if you send a link to a page of brand-name search results, with a simple URL like google.com/search?q=Local+Visibility+System

3. Consider un-hiding your address on your Google My Business page. Whether you should have it hidden in the first place is mostly a matter of preference. On the slim chance Google doesn’t like it, they’ll simply hide your address for you.

4. Test your URLs before sending them to any would-be reviewers. One way to do that is to use Whitespark’s Google Review Link Generator. If you search there for your business and it doesn’t come up, Google probably won’t want you to use a shortened URL.

5. Contact reviewers to whom you sent a Goo.gl URL and send them a link that works.  Maybe apologize for the hassle. (Also, that’s a good excuse to send them a reminder.)

6. Don’t rely only on “review us” links. You shouldn’t do that anyway. Especially given the unreliability of Google-shortened URLs, you’ll want to go belt-n’-suspenders.  If possible, ask for Google reviews in-person first, and provide clear instructions in a follow-up email (if not also in your initial request).  The links should be part of a broader strategy you work on continually.

Thanks to Chris Barnard of Social Dental Network for bringing up this issue in his post at the Local Search Google+ Community .  My original answer there turned out not to be accurate, so I’m glad I kept digging.

Do you send shortened “review us on Google” links?  If so, when have you run into problems, and when have you not?

Can you find any Google policy that clearly states Google’s problem with using shortened links to encourage Google reviews?

Leave a comment!

Using a Shortened URL to Ask for Google Reviews? Goo.gl May Cut You Down
Source: Local Visibility System

Photos Now Allowed in Google Maps Spam-Reporting Feature

Photos Now Allowed in Google Maps Spam-Reporting Feature

Pull up a Google My Business page that shouldn’t be on the map, click the “Suggest an edit” link, and you’ll see a new feature: the ability to upload a photo as evidence to back up your request.

You don’t have to include a photo, but it should help tilt the scales in your favor.  It’s a new feature, so I don’t yet know the effectiveness of anti-spam reports with photos compared to those without photos.

What I do know is that Google’s got a pitiful track record on following up on valid anti-spam edits, so the photos can’t make things worse.  Google never has done enough to prevent and remove mapspam, but since retiring MapMaker in March of 2017 Google’s really let the rash spread and ooze, particularly in the service-area industries.

Edits with photos aren’t anonymous.  Because “Your photos will be publicly available under your name,” an edit with a photo will include a trail of breadcrumbs back to the good-faith Maps user or to the spammer.  This new feature is like a “MapMaker Lite,” in that MapMaker also showed who edited what.  That’s both good and bad, for reasons I think are obvious.  I guess you don’t include a photo if you don’t want a spammy competitor (for instance) to know who you are.

Have you tried out this new feature in Google Maps spam-reporting yet?  If so, how’s it worked for you?

Are you seeing any similar changes in “Suggest an edit”?

Do you think this is a good move on Google’s part?

Leave a comment!

Photos Now Allowed in Google Maps Spam-Reporting Feature
Source: Local Visibility System

Use AdWords Location Extensions? Better Make Sure They Match Your Google My Business Info

Use AdWords Location Extensions? Better Make Sure They Match Your Google My Business Info

https://www.flickr.com/photos/29233640@N07/5131195458/

Adding location extensions in AdWords is a great way to draw more nearby customers, and sometimes to muscle into the paid Google Maps results.  All you need is to have a Google My Business page, run AdWords ads in your area, and go through a pretty easy syncing process.

The trouble is good results may take more babysitting than you’d like.  Your Google My Business page doesn’t take much tending these days, but AdWords is another story.  AdWords takes more tending.  Case in point: if you set up a location extension in AdWords and then update your Google My Business page, your location extension may still show your old, incorrect business info.

Tony Wang of LocalWord described the problem and the solution briefly in this Google Plus thread, and sent me more detail after I asked; here’s a detailed rundown from Tony:

AdWords pulls location extension info from your Google My Business page, so you need link to it while creating the location extension. That “link” terminology is confusing.

One could be forgiven for thinking any changes in GMB will automatically be reflected in the AdWords extension. One would be WRONG.

Turns out the information is imported at the creation of the extension, with no other connection thereafter. If you change the information in your GMB profile, it will NOT be reflected in the extension.

I stumbled upon this by accident, after recently changing a client’s operating hours. I just happened to see the ad with location extension showing, and it had the old hours (location extensions can display hours sometimes, though more often phone #). I assume if other info changed in GMB it would also not update.

Anyway, after calling AdWords support and speaking to an overseas agent (apparently I’m not big enough to get routed to stateside support) the agent checked with his supervisor and then routed me to GMB support, claiming it was a glitch on their end. GMB support verified that all the data was correct on their end and sent me back to AdWords support. Now speaking to a second AdWords agent who was similarly stumped, he also checked with his supervisor, who correctly understood the issue, which is that GMB info does not auto update into AdWords extensions.

So the SOLUTION is to remove the extension and create a new one, thus pulling in the new info.

This is not at all obvious, and I’m willing to bet there are numerous ads out there displaying old information as a result. So the moral of the story is, if you ever update GMB info, remember to go back and re-create your location extensions.

To add insult to injury, Joy Hawkins also noted that the AdWords fields in GMB do sync, which means the capability is clearly there. I complained loudly enough to the support agent that the supervisor grabbed the phone to apologize and assure me he would bring up these issues as suggested improvements.

I’ve checked the Google My Business – AdWords location extension syncing myself, and ran into the same issue Tony ran into.  (I changed one of my client’s business hours in Google My Business.)

Have you run into syncing problems – or other problems – with AdWords location extensions?  What did you do?

Any questions?

Leave a comment!

Use AdWords Location Extensions? Better Make Sure They Match Your Google My Business Info
Source: Local Visibility System

The Perfect Stack of Online Reviews: How Does Your Local Business Measure up?

The Perfect Stack of Online Reviews: How Does Your Local Business Measure up?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/alvaroreguly/37317928410/

“I picked you because of your reviews” is nice to hear, especially it’s often.  But how do you achieve that?

Having “good reviews” isn’t always enough.  Plenty of businesses have good reviews, but don’t attract enough business, or rank well, or beget the kinds of reviews that beget more customers who beget more reviews.  That’s one reason local SEO and review strategy are so connected (if you’re doing it right).

What’s in a “perfect” pile of reviews?   More than you think.  Possibly more than you can get, even if you do everything right.  As someone who’s helped business owners on that for many years, I’ve got a long list of boxes you should try to check.  More on that in a minute.

To keep the checklist to a reasonable length, I’ve got to assume two things about you:

  • You want reviews from real people, and not from friends or Fiverr merchants.
  • You know your customers well enough to know how important it is for your business to have reviewers from “different walks of life,” and that you don’t need my advice on that.

For my list to be of much use, you probably need to keep at least a little influx of reviews from customers / clients / patients.  See this post.

Now, what should that stack of reviews look like?  No one review will meet more than a few of these criteria, but your stack of online reviews as a whole should contain as many of the following as possible:

  1. Reviews on a wide range of sites.
  1. Plenty of 5-star reviews.
  1. A stinker or two. For one thing, they’re a reality-check. We don’t live in a 5-star world.
  1. Recent reviews. Make it clear you’re still in business.
  1. Old reviews. In time you’ll want a few Mick Jaggers in there.
  1. Excruciatingly detailed reviews. Happy, yappy customers who don’t seem to have an “off” button can make great reviewers.
  1. Funny reviews. Maybe you can skip this one if you’re a bankruptcy lawyer, urologist, or funeral-home director.
  1. Sloppy reviews. Some people just don’t think in terms of paragraphs or complete sentences. Doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from a belch of approval.
  1. Photos included with the reviews.
  1. Mentions of your business by name.
  1. Mentions of specific people in your organization (you, partners, employees, etc.).
  1. Reviews on less-trafficked or niche review sites. Don’t necessarily fixate on Google and Yelp.
  1. Reviews by one-time skeptics. There’s no zeal like the zeal of the convert.
  1. Reviews by former customers of your competitors.
  1. Reviews by longtime / repeat customers of yours. “I had a great experience” is only weak when compared to “I’ve brought my wallet here for years.”
  1. Reviews by farther-away customers – people who maybe had to drive a little, or who are on the outer edge of your service area. Great tie-in with “city pages,” by the way.
  1. Reviews by almost-customers. When a near-miss speaks up, it shows you’re willing to turn down business if it’s not the right fit.
  1. Mentions of relevant cities / places. May help your rankings. Of interest to would-be customers  either way.
  1. Mentions of specific services. People like crunchy little bits of detail. Google sure seems to.
  1. Reviews that explain how the reviewer found you.
  1. Reviews that explain how the reviewer picked you.
  1. Reviews from people who reviewed you on another site, too.
  1. Reviews from shy customers / clients / patients. Maybe they use a pen name or initials. Maybe they don’t go into as much detail as they could, and it’s obvious there’s more to the story.  Reluctant reviews can pack a strange wallop.
  1. Comments on other reviewers’ reviews. It can be powerful for customer B to rebut or confirm what customer A said.
  1. Favorable comparisons to a competitor.

I didn’t include screenshots of examples because I wanted to keep it as much like a checklist as possible.  But I’m all about real-life examples, so here are a few examples of great local-business review profiles for you to leaf through:

google.com/search?q=Premo+Electric

google.com/search?q=Alliance+Mortgage+Funding%2C+Inc.

google.com/search?q=HomeMove+Removals+%26+Storage

google.com/search?q=Kaehne%2C+Cottle%2C+Pasquale+%26+Associates%2C+S.C.+Appleton

Can you think of any other parts of a perfect pile of reviews?  (I know I’ve forgotten something.)

Any real-life examples you’d like to share?

Leave a comment!

The Perfect Stack of Online Reviews: How Does Your Local Business Measure up?
Source: Local Visibility System

25 Hard Truths of Google Reviews

25 Hard Truths of Google Reviews

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ikewinski/7172214803/Google reviews can help your business for obvious reasons: they’re mighty visible in the Google Maps search results, and searchers pay attention to the reviews (and sometimes believe them).  The big problem is just as obvious: Google does an awful job of policing reviews, causing all sorts of mischief and mayhem.

You’d like more and better reviews than your competitors have.  But you’ll have a harder time accomplishing that if you know as little about Google reviews as they know.  It helps to know some “inside baseball.”

Here are some hard truths of Google reviews.  Some will be old news to you.  Others will be news.  Those will help you approach Google reviews with fewer blind spots.

Google exercises little oversight.  The sheriff is out of town.

Google doesn’t care whether a reviewer is a real customer, or about what happens to your business as a result of bogus reviews.  You, customers, and Google all care about Google reviews for different reasons.  For Google, reviews are a way to crowdsource info about local businesses and to keep searchers’ attention on Google’s local search results as they get larded with ads.

Reporting a bogus review just once doesn’t work.  Sometimes flagging it down multiple times over a period of weeks or months will work.  More often, you’ll need to go to greater lengths (and Google still may not remove the review).

Ratings-only reviews stick more than they should.  Ratings left by Google users who’ve only rated one business are especially stubborn, because Google can’t detect fishy patterns of behavior (like that a “customer” hired 10 moving companies in 6 different states in the span of a month).

Google filters policy-violating reviews rarely, and they’re tough to get removed manually (if you can get them removed at all).

You do not own and cannot control the Google Maps reviews of your business.  Google owns them, and Google controls them – for better or for worse.

Google fixates on quantity.  “Local Guides” are minted and promoted on the basis of how many reviews they’ve written.  Even if they’re bogus, unfair, or unhelpful (or some combination thereof).

There’s a black market of people who want to buy Google reviews.  One way I know that is because probably twice a week some idiot emails me to ask how many reviews I can write for him.  (Yes, it’s almost always a he.)

You can’t control what’s in the review snippets – the ones you see in the right-hand sidebar (the knowledge panel), or the ones in the Google Maps 3-pack.  The best you can do is encourage happy customers to speak up.

Photos accompanying Google reviews are just as badly policed as the reviews are.  Photos never seem to get filtered automatically.  Often they’re not removed even once you report them.

Reviews don’t seem to drive rankings in the way you might think.  A pile of great Google reviews doesn’t  mean you’ll rank well.  You may get a little bump from getting a few reviews on the board, but after that it seems to be a question of how your reviews encourage more searchers to click on your listing and show other signs that suggest you’re a more-relevant search result than the next business is.  The rankings benefits of Google reviews seem to be indirect.

Pseudonyms and initials are OK, apparently.  Google suggests reviewers use their real names, but does nothing to enforce that.

Reviews can get filtered, unfiltered, and re-filtered multiple times.  A good review is never “safe.”  A review doesn’t go away if you close down your Google My Business page.

Unethical reviewers can keep coming back with new reviews, possibly under different names or in different Google accounts.  The worst Google will do – all they can do – is remove the reviews, and even that rarely happens without your prodding.

There’s no simple way to embed Google reviews on your site.  But I suspect Google will eventually offer a way, similar to Yelp’s.

Reviewers must use their own Google accounts.  Even it’s a hassle for them and for you.  They can’t log into an account you own and use a “pen name,” nor can you post reviews on their behalf.

Your “star rating” may not make sense.  If you have nine 5-star reviews and one 4-star review, your average rating may not be 4.9 stars.

Local Guides are not held to higher standards than are less-active Google reviewers.  Their reviews don’t have to be any truer or more helpful.

There’s no guarantee you can keep your reviews if your address changes much.  Google’s pretty good about letting you keep your reviews if you rebrand, or if you move to a new address that’s within the same town or within a few miles of the old address.  But Google reserves the right to nuke your reviews after a farther-away move.

There’s no penalty on businesses that buy reviews or engage in similar crookedness.  Yelp does it all wrong, and I don’t claim that for Google to do it fairly would be an easy matter.  The trouble is Google’s lack of oversight adds to a “why not?” outlook in some business owners.  Though that usually comes back to bite those business owners when enough customers discover the good reviews were fake and announce as much, too many customers find out the hard way that those businesses are no good.

The rules change, and the strictness of Google’s filter changes.  Google plays with the dials often.

Google reviews are near-impossible to avoid, and only become more visible over time.  That’s great if you’re dialed-in on Google reviews, but not so good if you’ve taken a drubbing.

Google reviews live in the search results.  No longer can people see your reviews on your Google My Business page, which itself is a Sea-Monkey floating in the fragile little tank we call Google Maps.

You can’t find information about reviewers.  Can’t get any facts to determine for yourself which reviews are more credible.  You can’t even see where the reviewers are from.

Businesses in the 3-pack are not ranked strictly by their average ratings.  A 2-star business may outrank a 5-star.  Generally the higher-rated businesses outrank the lower-rated ones, but exceptions abound.  It’s complicated.

Can you think of any other “hard truths” of Google reviews?

Any good war stories?

Leave a comment!

25 Hard Truths of Google Reviews
Source: Local Visibility System

How to Rank for “Near Me” Local Search Terms

How to Rank for “Near Me” Local Search Terms

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ifl/3877530270/

You’ve noticed or heard that “near me” searches are super-popular, and that you should try to rank for those terms in Google Maps and in the rest of the local search results.

Only two burrs in your saddle:

  1. How?
  1. What happens if and when all your competitors jump on the “near me” bandwagon by doing the dumb-n’-easy on-page optimization?

There’s advice out there like, “Just put ‘near me’ into your title tags and in the anchor text of your links.”  That’s a fine start, but what are you supposed to do once all your competitors do the same?  How can you become Google’s “near me” golden child before competitors try to ruin it?

I’d be remiss not to mention right away that I haven’t autopsied “near me” searches as much as Andrew Shotland and Dan Leibson have.  You’d be remiss not to read their posts on the topic, right before or right after reading this one.

Still, I’ve stuck an arm in the “near me” search results for clients and non-clients, and have a few suggestions for you.  Some tips on how to do effective “near me” local SEO – that still works for you even after your competitors attempt to muscle in:

1. Understand that the “me” part of “near me” is a specific place, and not just another keyword to target.  The results Google shows to people who search “near” them can differ as they walk down the street.

Exactly where “near me” is changes from day to day or minute to minute, because the results that Google and other search engines (or apps) are based largely on knowing exactly where the searcher is.  That’s one reason you might optimize the stuffing out of your page or site for “near me” terms and still be outranked by a competitor who just happens to be nearer to the searcher when he/she is searching.  The reverse also is true: just because you’re the closest to the searcher doesn’t mean you’ll dominate “near me” search results.”

Location/proximity matters, but is one factor of many.  Your job is to make it clear to Google and to searchers exactly where you are, and exactly what you do.

2. Don’t necessarily use “near me” verbatim.  It’s natural for a customer to use that phrasing, but it sounds weird if you say “near me” in the first-person voice on your site.  Use “nearby” “near you” or “near [city/place]” or “in [city/place]” when doing so makes for a less-clunky read.  Google will get the idea, and you won’t confuse people.

3. Don’t just target your highest-priority search term + “near me.”  Try to be more specific.  You want to give people more reasons to pick you – reasons other than that you’re nearby.  What if your competitors are also near the searcher?  If appropriate, work into your title tag / H1 / body / URL / page name an often-searched-for variation, like one of these:

“24/7 [service] near me”

“emergency [service] near me”

“cheap [service] near me”

“best [service] near me”

“find [service] near me”

“buy [product] near [city]”

4. Latch onto the local directories that target and rank well for “near me” terms.  Usually the best way to do that is to pile up reviews on those sites, but there are other ways to practice “barnacle” SEO.

Take note of local directories that explicitly go after “near me” terms.

Some illustrative links:

homeadvisor.com/near-me/
thumbtack.com/near-me/
yelp.com/nearme/hvac

5. Say what landmarks or town lines you’re near, or which neighborhood you’re in, or which cities you serve – on your “location” or “city” or “state” pages and maybe even on your homepage.  Describe your business’s location as though you were giving a first-time customer directions over the phone.  If possible, also throw in an exterior photo or two.

Mention the specific cities or towns or neighborhoods customers come from.

If you’ve got a service-area business, you probably shouldn’t barf up a list of 75 cities.  Maybe mention the top 10 or 20 by name.

If possible, add other relevant “local” content that helps would-be customers. 

6. Flesh out your “Location Finder” or “Service Area” page.  Try to do it in the way I described in my last point, but make sure it’s also got at least a few detailed blurbs on your services and a list of the specific services you offer.  Just having a lot of “location” information isn’t enough: On top of knowing where you are and where you serve customers, Google needs to know exactly what you offer at those places.  Petco does a good job of that.

7. Provide old-school driving directions.  From the biggest city to your north, and from the biggest city to your south, and so on.  Both Google and people like those crunchy bits.

8. Assume that searchers’ behavior – both in the search results and on your site – matters even more than usual.  One of the main reasons “near me” searches have exploded in the first place is that Google’s become frighteningly good at learning about searchers and their habits, especially on mobile.  In my experience, if nobody clicks on your search result, Google will hold that against you.  If people click through to your site but don’t like what they see and hit the “back” button, that’ll drag down your rankings sooner or later.  Make your pages stickier by working on your copy.

9. Stop shooting for the “whale” links and first try to nab more links from sites relevant to your area.  

A link from the New York Times or the Smithsonian is great, but not if you ignore simpler link opps that can help you in the meantime.  Those link opps include joining a local Chamber of Commerce, joining a couple state- or city-specific professional organizations, and helping out local causes in whatever way you can.

10. Turn “Portfolio” or “Our Work” pages or posts or photos into “[type of job] near [place]” bits of content.  This is most obviously applicable to you if you’re a contractor, but you can get creative if you’re in another field.  You could do a page or post on “Remodeled Kitchen Near Kenmore Square” or “33-Year-Old Roof Replaced Near Venice Beach.”  Or you could do “April 3, 2018 Estate Sale Near Bronx Zoo” or “Walking Dachshunds Near Downtown Dallas.”  This is a twist on my recommended approach to “city” pages.

11. Don’t change your local SEO strategy too much just to grab more “near me” visibility.  It’s probably not the game-changer some say it is.  Sure, those searches are popular, and it’s important to get a piece of the action now, but it’s only a matter of time before the “near me” watering hole gets too crowded.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/nevilzaveri/4380399641/

People who type in “near me” want the same things as those who don’t.  For you the mission is still the same: make it clear (on and off your site, to Google and to people) exactly what you do, exactly where you are, and exactly what makes you good at it.

What’s a “near me” visibility strategy you’ve used?

How about one you’ve seen work well?

Leave a comment!

How to Rank for “Near Me” Local Search Terms
Source: Local Visibility System

11 No-Outreach, No-Content Ways Local SEOs Can Help Businesses Rustle up Good Links

11 No-Outreach, No-Content Ways Local SEOs Can Help Businesses Rustle up Good Links

https://www.flickr.com/photos/blmidaho/36087178933/

Too many local SEOs and their clients take an all-or-nothing approach to link-earning, and that’s a shame.

Most SEOs casually take the “nothing” approach and don’t help their clients with links at all, and wonder why their clients’ visibility doesn’t improve.

Most of the others – the SEOs who know how much good and relevant links matter – assume the only way they can help is with a swashbuckling approach that involves hundreds of outreach emails and thousands of dollars spent on “content” that people may or may not even glance at.

Business owners often fall into those traps, too.  Even if they know they need to rustle up links, they assume a third party can or should handle all of it.  It usually takes at least a little teamwork to earn the kinds of links that can help your local rankings and overall visibility.

If you do local SEO for a living, you need to be able to help your clients in ways other than “Pay us to handle everything” or “We’ll skip links and just focus on crappy citations and spammy city pages.”

If you’ve hired a local SEO person or company to help, it’s reasonable to expect help on links other than on an all-or-nothing basis.

To that end, here are 11 ways a local SEO-er can and should help a business scare up some good links – without necessarily pouring infinite time and resources into “content” or outreach:

1. Research specific link opportunities. (As opposed to “just write great content.” Not real helpful.)  This questionnaire can help you determine what’s practical.  Beyond that, where you do look?  Some practical ideas here, here, and here.  Work together on as many of the link opps as you can.  Once you’ve exhausted those, research more.  Repeat every few months for as long as you work together.  Even if you do nothing else, at least dig for doable link opps for your client.  Whether all your other local SEO work actually pays off may depend on it.

2. Keep an eye out continually for PR opportunities, and pass them along. If you’re not sure how, start by monitoring the Google News feed and HARO. In general, keep your ear to the ground, pass along anything you see, and do what you can to help your client chase down any opportunities.

3. Look at the business’s current publicity efforts/stunts and offer suggestions on how you might get links out of the deal. Most businesses don’t do much to get publicity, but the ones who do are already doing the hard part. If you simply know what’s going on, you’ll probably see a way to finagle a relevant link or two.

4. Create a Google Drive or similar collaborative spreadsheet to keep track of the link opps you’ve dug up and might be working on. Each tab can be just a big ugly list of URLs, maybe with a column for “next step” and another column for “who’s working on it?”  Then you might categorize the link opps by creating a few tabs, like “ideas to discuss,” “working on,” “dead ends/not interested,” and “got.”  That’s just an example.  You should use whatever works for you.  Even if you don’t use it much personally, it may help your client (if your client is the hands-on type).

5. Look for unlinked profiles, lapsed memberships, and broken inbound links. Does the Chamber of Commerce “member” page not include a link to the site? Did your client forget to re-up this year?  Did you find a great link with a typo in the URL?  A link saved is a link earned.

6. Offer feedback on your client’s link ideas, and always be available to kick around ideas. There’s a chance your client is the type to keep an eye out or birddog for link opps, and maybe to ask you what you think. That’s a great situation, and it’s something you should encourage.  Always offer your professional opinion on whether it’s relevant and worth pursuing, and on what might be involved in doing so.  (Also, check to see whether it’s a nofollow.)

7. Pull Ahrefs or Majestic reports on the business’s link profile and on competitors’ link profiles. Probably a no-brainer if you help people with SEO for a living. What may be less obvious is that you should not go after any and all of the crappy links your competitors have.  Just because they have a certain link doesn’t mean it’s helping them, or won’t hurt you.  Anyway, pass along to your client whatever you find, if your client is interested in that sort of thing.

8. Track the business’s and competitors’ links in Ahrefs or Majestic. Just to keep tabs on new links and lost links. It’s a good way not to forget about links, and to keep your antennae out.

9. Consolidate sites and pages that don’t do well, but that may have a few decent links. If you conclude you’re spreading your content and efforts thin, you might want to claw back those links by pointing them to whichever site or page you want to keep and focus on.  301-redirects may come in handy here.

10. Help the client to stop wasting time on dead-end or dumb link strategies. Citation-building will not get you any or many good links. Nor will squirting out 16 blog posts (that nobody reads) every month.  Nor will “To hell with it – I’m buying some Fiverr gigs.”

11. Twist your client’s arm to get him or her motivated and maybe more involved. Much easier said than done, of course. How you should go about it depends on whom you’re working with, and I don’t know that person.  All I can say is you should try to impart that without good links good rankings tend to be one Google update, Google test, or one tough competitor away from disappearing.  Easy come, easy go.  Also, try to set the bar low at first, so that initially the goal is just to get a few links that are relevant to your client’s industry or area (or both).  More likely than not, those’ll help the rankings/visibility just enough that your client gets motivated and starts gunning down link opps right next to you.

What are some other ways a local SEO can/should help with links?

Any success (or failure) stories you’d like to describe?

Leave a comment!

11 No-Outreach, No-Content Ways Local SEOs Can Help Businesses Rustle up Good Links
Source: Local Visibility System