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Q&A on BBB Customer Reviews: Not Just Another Unkempt Local Review Site

Q&A on BBB Customer Reviews: Not Just Another Unkempt Local Review Site

https://www.flickr.com/photos/stephoto27/6391444495/Love or hate the Better Business Bureau, it’s one of the bigger sites to have dipped a couple toes in the greenish-brown pond of local business reviews.  In my experience it’s a great place to get reviews, as I’ve written.

But the current local-reviews landscape is the Wild West.  The sheriff in TripAdvisorville seems to shoot straight, but the one at Yelp Rock ain’t no Will Kane.  Meanwhile, the sheriff of Mountain View is never in town, and his one deputy managed to lock himself in the cell with the town drunk.

And those are the big sites that actually attempt quality-control of reviews.  Facebook and YellowPages?  Ha.

Like Angie’s List, BBB actually seems to try.  Not to say that no bogus reviews wind up there (bogus reviews are everywhere), but at least there’s an effort.

A higher-up at a regional BBB chapter read my post on how it’s an “underrated” review site, and sent me some info, which prompted me to ask him a few questions.  He prefers not to be named in this post, but here’s the inside scoop he gave me on BBB reviews:

 

Q: Is there an automatic filter on BBB reviews?  (Like Yelp’s or Google’s filter.)

A: No, there is no automatic filter on BBB reviews. We have BBB staff that read them, as well as ask the business if this person is a customer.

 

Q: Under what circumstances do you remove a customer’s review manually?

A: Since October 2015 (at my chapter of the BBB) 17% of our online reviews submitted to the BBB were not published. Reasons could have been that 1) BBB was not able to verify that the person writing the review was a customer, or that 2) the review contained abusive language.

 

Q: Under what special circumstances will BBB reveal the identity of an anonymous reviewer to the business owner?

A: The BBB does not post any anonymous reviews. Once the BBB receives a review it goes into a 3-day “holding tank” before we publish that gives the BBB time to email the business to verify that the review is in fact from a customer and gives the business an opportunity to respond. The BBB does protect the identity of the reviewer by not posting identifiable information. Same regarding formal complaints. We would not publish a complaint that was sent anonymously.

 

Q: Do formal complaints factor into the “star” rating of a business, and not just against its “letter” grade?

A: No, formal complaints do not factor into the star rating. Currently we have 2 separate grading systems. The A+ – F grading system is based on standards the business meets and has earned. The star rating system is based on consumers’ opinions of the business.

Q: To get reviews on BBB, first you need to get listed.  You can pay to get accredited, of course, but then there’s the free submission option (which has been relocated at least once, and never has been easy to find).  Why is that form so buried and, seemingly, so ineffective?

A: We have had a massive problem with citation building services who white-label their product to agencies submitting inaccurate data – either by accident or maliciously to attempt to damage a competitor’s listing. This has created a massive amount of work for our staff. Often they submit data we already have listed. If we get a listing that we think is submitted inaccurately, we try to reach out to the business by phone and later by letter and send them a questionnaire asking them to update their file in our system (free of charge). We don’t always get return phone calls or get our questionnaires returned. If we think the data is submitted inaccurately, we don’t publish it.

We are also getting a lot of submissions that have virtual office addresses that we can’t verify have employees in the United States. The business can’t be verified in public records of the state or county.

What I really think makes our database so great is that we have humans who act as “Curators” or caretakers to verify that the information that we report to the public is correct. We take this very seriously at our chapter of the BBB. It is what we dedicate the most financial and human resources to, especially regarding our Accredited Business Directory. Those businesses and their owners have been background-checked, and we’ve checked their licenses, business start dates, verified addresses, etc. That is why you won’t find an un-licensed mover in our Accredited Business Directory, or an unlicensed handyman lumped into the licensed plumbing categories.

Another thing that I think really sets us apart from other directory sites is that we ask for sizing information from the company.  For example, we know AT&T would be considered a “colossal large” business because of the number of customers they have.  It would be acceptable for them to get 500 complaints a year and, as long as they respond and make a good-faith effort to resolve those complaints, they could still maintain an A+ record.  Contrast that with a pool builder who builds 20 pools a year and gets 10 complaints. To us, that’s less expected and more of a concern.

Anyway, we are in the process of making some major improvements to our website and iPhone app. We are moving in the right direction digitally, just moving slower than I would wish! 🙂

How does that square with your experience with Better Business Bureau reviews?

Any questions I can pass on to someone at the BBB?

Leave a comment!

Q&A on BBB Customer Reviews: Not Just Another Unkempt Local Review Site
Source: Local Visibility System

Moz Local Listings 15 Months after Cancelling: Where Are They Now?

Moz Local Listings 15 Months after Cancelling: Where Are They Now?

About a year ago I wrapped up a simple test on Moz Local (the paid version): do Moz Local-controlled listings disappear if you cancel?  No, from what I can tell.  I had tracked the listings for for an ex-client, and 3 months after cancelling they were still up.

I did that post in October of 2016.  Since then, some commentators on that post and other astute people have asked me, “Where are they now?”

Here’s a snapshot of how they looked a little over a year ago, 3 months after cancelling:

And here’s a snapshot of the listings for the same business now, almost 15 months after cancelling:

None of the important listings has disappeared in the past year, from what I can see.

In the name of “trust but verify,” I just checked those listing manually.  You might notice the gray bar on the left, representing important InfoGroup.  Turns out that listing IS up still (that discrepancy between the 2016 and 2017 snapshots is just a hiccup on Moz’s end).  The unimportant HotFrog listing may have disappeared, though.

What’s interesting is that some of the “enhanced data” that Darren Shaw in his comment thought might get stripped out did in fact seem to disappear into the ether.  The LocalEze and SuperPages listings no longer display the business’s website URL.  Though I’m interested to know whether those listings or other listings decay a little more 2 or 3 years after the fact, I probably won’t do another follow-up post on it.  I don’t want this to become like the 14th KISS “Farewell” tour.

It seems to be as Jim Stob in his comments said: accurate listings for valid businesses stick around.  Their shelf life is at least that of Chef Boyardee, and perhaps even equal to that of a Slim Jim.

Moz Local is a good service in many cases, particularly for new businesses or new locations of a business.  It’s a low-cost and low-effort way to thin the herd of listings you need to wrangle.  If your listings on sites in Moz’s network went up (or got fixed) without much trouble, I suggest keeping it around.

Still, if for whatever reason you cancel it, your listings should stay up – though you should reclaim those listings manually and re-add any additional info (e.g. your site URL) that might have gone missing.

Any questions?  First-hand experience with cancelling?  Leave a comment!

Moz Local Listings 15 Months after Cancelling: Where Are They Now?
Source: Local Visibility System

10 Underrated Local Review Sites You Overlooked

10 Underrated Local Review Sites You Overlooked

https://www.flickr.com/photos/hardlyneutral/16119317027/

You know about the big local-business review sites.  You know about the review sites that matter most in your industry.  You probably know about the pipsqueaks, too.

But what about the review sites that matter more than you know?  Isn’t it possible there are some gaps in your online reputation?

If there aren’t, I’ll eat my hat.  There are always gaps – even for businesses with tons of reviews on many sites.  You probably know the benefits of diversifying where your customers review you.  Those benefits also extend to sites you might have dismissed as irrelevant or insignificant, or that you didn’t even think of.

I’m not saying all of these review sites are relevant to your situation, but at least some will be.

Here’s a rundown of what I consider the 10 most-overlooked local review sites:

Care.com
Why it’s overlooked: it’s not a super-established “brand.”  Partly because the name itself is mushy, and partly because it’s not a search engine or a social network or a startup run by drama queens.  It’s just a solid reviews site.  It’s also visible one.  Care.com is all over Google’s search results in the in-home care and education spaces, for example, and most “service” businesses are eligible for a listing there.

WeddingWire
Why it’s overlooked: because there’s a good chance you don’t run a bridal shop or a tux shop, or are a florist or photographer.  WeddingWire also lists businesses in all kinds of related industries: limos, venues, jewelry, and so on.  You can also get listed and reviewed there even if you own a car rental or a cryotherapy place, or if you’re a dentist, a dermatologist, or a plastic surgeon.  Maybe they’ll even allow divorce lawyers.

Zillow
Why it’s overlooked: because most people think it’s just for real-estate listings and agents.   It’s not.  Pretty much any contractor or other home-improvement professional can have a listing there – and reviews there.  Though Zillow isn’t the 800-pound gorilla in the contracting space that it is in real estate, it may just be a matter of time.  In the meantime, anyone who sees your Zillow reviews there is probably pretty close to calling you.

Thumbtack
Why it’s overlooked: because it’s got a home-improvement bent, it’s up against more-established sites like HomeAdvisor, Angie’s List, and Houzz.  Also, Thumbtack doesn’t seem to go out of its way to encourage reviews – for customers to write them, or for businesses to ask for them.  Still, the site is pretty visible in some niches, and can serve as a nice barnacle site – especially for “near me” search terms.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Thumbtack is acquired by an even-bigger player one day.  I’d scare up at least a few reviews there.

Groupon
Why it’s overlooked: Groupon deals can be business-destroyers.  They often attract crybaby customers.  It doesn’t help that new businesses and businesses in dry spells are the ones most likely to offer deals.  Often those businesses also are the ones least-equipped to pull off the deals without incident – or to handle an online reputation disaster well.  But if you’re a pretty established business and aren’t dying for customers (but still want to attract more of them), look under the Groupon rock.  Yes, Groupon takes a big cut of the deal, but you can get reviews that stay up long after the deal ends.  Those reviews are highly visible, because Groupon is.  Even if you don’t want to offer a deal, you can get customers to “recommend” you and write “tips.”

GlassDoor
Why it’s overlooked: customers don’t talk about it, because customers can’t write reviews there.  GlassDoor is a place for employees (past and current) to review your company anonymously.  Just the same, because customers can see what’s on GlassDoor easily enough, because it’s on Google’s local results like stink on a monkey.  If you stop short of encouraging everyone on your team to review you (anonymously), at least encourage the happy people to say their piece.  The angry ones will.  Time is of the essence.

https://youtu.be/DoQwKe0lggw

InHerSight
Why it’s overlooked: because it’s relatively new (started in 2015 or 2014, from what I can tell).  It’s similar to GlassDoor, except it’s specifically for women.  InHerSight is not exclusively a review site, but on it women can review (anonymously) places they’ve worked.  As of this writing it’s not a super-visible review site, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes off.

WebMD (doctor.webmd.com)
Why it’s overlooked: if you’re anything like me, you associate WebMD only with feeling a mysterious new pain, Googling it, reading the WebMD result, and concluding you’ve got 3 days to live.  But it’s also a giant healthcare directory.  If you’re a doctor, do what you can to rustle up reviews there.

Amazon Home Services
Why it’s overlooked: Amazon hasn’t done much in local search yet, and most business owners don’t want to wet Amazon’s beak or possibly deal with frustrating leads (a la Groupon).  Still, if you can get listed, it’s probably worth having a few reviews there, which can benefit you both before and after the sleeping giant wakes up.

Better Business Bureau
Why it’s overlooked: most business owners associate the BBB with “complaints” from customers and with questionable accreditation ratings of certain businesses.  But it’s also a local-business reviews site, in the mold of Yelp and Google and so on.

BBB results often are extremely visible in the local organic search results – maybe more so than they should be – both for brand-name terms and often for the terms you really want to rank for.  Because people can (but don’t have to) write anonymous reviews there, and because an angry customer is likely to be there anyway to lodge a complaint, bad reviews are especially likely to appear on BBB – and to stick out.  The good news is good reviews stick out there, too.  Of all the “underrated” review sites I’ve mentioned, I consider BBB the most overlooked one of all.

What’s been your experience with those review sites?

Can you think of other review sites you consider overlooked?

Leave a comment!

10 Underrated Local Review Sites You Overlooked
Source: Local Visibility System

Why Your Review-Encouragement Software Is a Meat Grinder

Why Your Review-Encouragement Software Is a Meat Grinder

https://www.flickr.com/photos/andy_bernay-roman/3583900762/

It’s tempting to sign up for a “reputation-management” or “review-generation” product and let it pester all your customers for a review – so you don’t have to take the time (or forget) to do it.

Resist the temptation, at least until you’ve worked out a review-encouragement strategy that works OK.  Otherwise all you’ll do is automate failure.

My advice might be different if review-encouragement software was a surefire way to get you 80% of the great reviews you could get with a hands-on method, but with only 20% of the time and effort.  But in my experience it doesn’t do that, at least out of the box.  (If you’ve worked out a method that works well without the software, maybe you can get to that 80/20 payoff zone.)

A mediocre-to-OK review strategy is simple: just “do a good job” and ask customers to review you if they’re happy, and contact you first if they’re not.  Where it gets trickier is if you want more than just a trickle of reviews, and on sites that really matter.

Most automated review-encouragement programs clear only the lower bar.  They require only you to upload people’s email addresses, customize the email that goes out automatically, maybe tweak some settings, and keep a credit card on-file.  A great review strategy – one that gets the greatest number of happy customers to write the best reviews they can – takes a little more than that.

I don’t want to name specific products, if I can avoid it.  But maybe it’s better that way, because there are a million tools that claim to be your one-stop reviews solution.  It’s likely you’ve used or considered at least one such tool, or you probably wouldn’t be reading this.

Some are near-useless, in that most of the “reviews” are in fact testimonials that just sit on the software company’s site (e.g. Demandforce.com), rather than reviews on Google Maps or Yelp or Facebook or Angie’s List or other sites people notice and maybe care about.  I’m not even talking about that kind of service here.  Rather, I want to give cautionary advice about programs that actually try to encourage reviews on third-party review sites.  Seldom are they as effective as you and I would like.

“But Phil, the Big Ugly Corporation I just bought a new refrigerator from just sent me an auto-email to ask for a review, and they have hundreds of reviews from customers.  It seems to work fine for them!”

Maybe, but Big Ugly Corporation also has tens of thousands of customers more than you have – and many more opportunities to waste in asking for reviews ineffectively.  200 reviews?  That’s still an awful batting average.  If you want to do a little better than 1 for 20, you can’t simply rely on a program.

Why?  Here are the biggest problems with review-encouragement software:

  1. If your email or overall strategy isn’t battle-tested, you may burn through all your customers and have little to show for it. What if your review-management software sounds out all the emails – just as it should – and you don’t get any reviews? Maybe everyone ignores the email, or it goes out at a bad hour, or the links are broken, or there are customer-service issues to sort out first.  You can ask everyone another time, but after that you become a nuisance.  Don’t entrust a piece of software with the goodwill you’ve taken years to earn.  Put it through a few bird-strike tests first.
  1. You can’t personalize an automated request to a reviewer’s unique situation. Long-time customer? Super happy customer?  Did he have privacy concerns?  Is she an “Elite” Yelper?  A one-size-fits-all email won’t acknowledge specifics, and probably won’t accomplish all it could.
  1. The auto-email will seem cold if it’s the first or only time you ask for a review. The recipient will wonder, “Gee, I was just in your office – why didn’t you ask me then?” Ask in-person first, if possible.  At least plant the seed of the idea, get a sense of who’s happy (and who’s not), and maybe get a tacit “yes.”  That way, even an auto-email won’t seem to come out of the blue, and any email follow-up is more likely to work.
  1. It’s harder to sniff out who’s unhappy. The auto-email will go to everyone, or to large groups of people at a time.
  1. Weak writing may undo you. Think of how you’d ask a customer, client, or patient face-to-face for a review. Is that how you’d write your automated email?  Probably not.  In-person you’d care about the timing, and be polite, but also get to the point.  In an email you’re more likely sound stuffy or generic, or to beat around the bush.  Most people are better writers when they speak than when they write.  Too many business owners use automated outreach tools precisely because they don’t want to ask for reviews in-person.  Often I find that’s because they haven’t figured out exactly what or how to ask.  First figure out how you’d make an in-person request, write the email like that, see how it performs, and then automate it if you must.  Not the other way around.

  1. Your auto-email won’t acknowledge people who already reviewed you. That will irk them, and you’ll miss the opportunity to ask, “We’re so crazy about the great review you left us on Review Site A that I’ve just got to ask: could you also review us on Review Site B?”
  1. Timing may be trickier. You have a sense of what are good times and bad times to ask customers/clients/patients for a review. Outreach software only gives you so much control over when the requests go out.
  1. Follow-up may be trickier. What if you want to send a follow-up email to some customers after a week, and to other customers after three weeks? If they contact you with customer-service issues to sort out, will your program still email them a second time?  Maybe you end up choosing not to use the program’s follow-up feature, but if you do use it, it’ll probably complicate your job.
  1. It’s harder to approach touchy situations. People with privacy concerns you might want to direct to anonymous review sites. Others may be willing to write you a great review, but would want to keep it vague.  Some people you may conclude wouldn’t make ideal reviewers after all.  And so on.  You’re nimbler than the program is.
  1. You’ll probably treat it as a one-stop solution. The makers of the software market it as such. They’ll tell you that all you need to do is flick it on and watch the reviews whoosh in.  You hope that’s how it works out, so you give it a try and don’t bother to do the other things you need to do (e.g. ask customers in-person first).
  1. You’ll probably treat it as a “set it and forget it” solution. You chose the outreach tool because it’s easy. How likely are you to go in often and update the thing?
  1. It’s a missed opportunity to learn more about your would-be reviewers. You have to think about, customize, write, and send 100 emails in a month? Yeah, that’s work.  But what a great way to interact with and get to know your customers.  What a missed opportunity if you don’t bother.
  1. You miss out on the satisfaction of asking for reviews and getting great ones – or of dodging bullets to your reputation

So review-encouragement software isn’t a surefire way to rack up 5-star reviews.  What do I suggest you do instead?

Do MANUAL email outreach, at least for a while.  One email at a time.  One person at a time.

Try a simple process that works for you, even if takes more time or effort than you’d like.  Tweak it as needed until it works pretty well.  Then try to make it easier if you want.

At that point, automated review-encouragement software might actually help.  You might try Whitespark’s Reputation Builder, or GetFiveStars, or Grade.us.  Hold it to high standards.  Make sure it brings in almost as many good reviews as you can do with your finest hands-on outreach effort.  Continue to ask in-person first (if possible), and send some requests personally, and try new things.

What’s worked for you?  What hasn’t worked?  Leave a comment!

Why Your Review-Encouragement Software Is a Meat Grinder
Source: Local Visibility System

How to Feed the Google My Business Messaging Feature into Your Landline

How to Feed the Google My Business Messaging Feature into Your Landline

https://www.flickr.com/photos/101951515@N07/17356259048/

If you enable Google’s new “messaging” feature, customers who pull up your business in Google Maps can contact you via their favorite chat app.  Whether that’s a good thing for your business (or it drives you crazy) is for you to decide – maybe after a test drive.

But let’s assume for a minute that you want to use the Google My Business messaging feature.  Let’s assume some customers/clients/patients you want to attract would find it useful.  Do you now have to carry around an extra phone, or stay glued to another screen, or task someone who works for you to do so?

No.

This post is from Dr. Emily Beglin, an orthodontist in Carson City, Nevada, who runs the orthodontists’ directory SelectBraces.com.  Here she describes a MacGyver-like way to feed the Google My Business messaging feature into your existing landline, so you can stay on top of any “messaging” leads without having to stay on top of more devices.

 

In the last decade, there has been a massive shift towards people of all ages using their mobile phones for just about anything, and texting is a huge part of this. It, therefore, makes business sense to add some type of texting capability to your business to make communicating with current and potential new customers faster and easier. I’m going to tell you about two great options that can work well together or separately.

When we started using two-way messaging in our orthodontic practice, our primary objective was to improve our overall patient experience by engaging patients in the manner that best suits their needs and desires. This allows us to provide them with customer service that sets us apart from our competition and the response has been stunning. Our patients love the feature and tell all their friends about it. In a round-about manner, this has led to an unexpected increase in word-of-mouth referral business to our practice.

Our practice was already engaging in Facebook messaging, which is how we came to realize people’s desire to message us, rather than pick up the phone. There are many advantages to allowing your customers to communicate with your business via text and I think just about any type of business that currently communicates directly with customers via phone will benefit from it.

After evaluating a couple of platforms, we chose to go with Text Request. Text Request makes it easy for any business to manage live, two-way text conversations by text-enabling a business’s existing, local landline number to send and receive texts, all from an online account. Text Request is cloud-based so you can send texts through a web browser or from your smartphone.

(One of the other platforms we looked at is zipwhip. The people there are friendly and professional and the product seems sound. However, we found the zipwhip software to be far too complicated for our purposes. At the time of our evaluation, they offered the features we liked the most (custom signatures, group texting, multiple users, saved responses and the widget embed for our website) but only with the higher priced plans. With Text Request, a business can enjoy all the features and instead pay only by the volume of texts they use each month.)

Besides the functionality of two-way texting with our patients, by far my absolute favorite feature is the “embed” widget we use on our website.

On desktop, it displays in the header like this:


When displayed on a smaller screen (like on a tablet or smartphone), the user sees this:

  

Clicking on the, “Click to Text,” button, opens the user’s texting app with the default number to your business:

It’s human nature in the text-o-sphere to expect an immediate response, so we use a customizable autoresponder that looks like this:

 

For businesses with HIPPA-compliance requirements who do not use a server configuration or software that ensures HIPPA compliance, an autoresponder message stating not to relay personal health information(PHI), would be advisable. This is an ever-increasing issue for healthcare providers. If you really want a scare, check out this article about the penalties for non-HIPPA compliance. Yikes! In any case, don’t take my word for it. Make sure your business is HIPPA-compliant in all communications.

Google My Business Messaging feature 

Messaging with customers is a relatively new Google My Business (GMB) feature that has recently been made available in select countries. To configure this feature is pretty straightforward.

  1. On mobile, the GMB listing looks like this before enabling messaging:

 

  1. After logging into your GMB dashboard, click the blue edit button on the upper right:

 

  1. Then click Messaging on the left menu:

  1. You will then be asked to verify your number:

 

  1. Then click Save:

 

  1. It is immediately live on mobile, with the option to message in two places!

The beauty of adding messaging to your GMB listing is that it is seamless. If your business already has a text-enabled number through Text Request or another service, you don’t need to configure anything else.

If you don’t have a text-enabled landline, a business can verify and use a personal or business mobile number.  If you don’t have either a text-enabled landline or a mobile number, Google does say you could use their Allo app, rather than a mobile SMS, but to do that, you will have to download the app and your customers would also have to use it. As far as I’m concerned, that’s not an option and will only complicate, rather than simplify the process.

Although there are other services like Text Request, I love the fact that they have different plans depending on how many messages you send per month, starting from as few as 400, all the way up to 20,000. This means that you only pay for what you use, yet can scale it up as your business grows and as more of your customers choose to reach you via messaging. I also like the fact that there is no monthly contract. That way, if it’s not working out for your business, you’re not on the hook paying for something long-term that your business is unable to use.

We love having two-way messaging for our practice and adding it to our Google My Business listing is the frosting on the cake! It would be useful for all types of businesses, albeit for different reasons, but it works very well for orthodontists and for dentists, or any kind of business where customers make appointments for specific times. For dentists, it’s perfect for filling cancellations. Staff can send out a blind group text to everyone on their waiting list for a specific procedure such as a cleaning. This is a faster way to get the word out about an opening on the schedule and gets a much quicker response than sending emails and leaving a bunch of voicemail messages and then waiting to hear back. This dramatically frees up staff time and easily fills same-day cancellations, which can be costly to any business.

Another benefit of accepting text messages at our business is it allows patients to conveniently reach out to us when the thought is fresh on their mind to contact us. They don’t have to think, “Oh, they’re closed now – it’s Sunday. I need to remember to call them when I get to work tomorrow.” We all know how that goes…

Anyway, I look forward to hearing how messaging works for your business!

Emily Beglin, DDS

Any questions for Doc Beglin (or for me)?

Have you tried the GMB messaging feature yet – and maybe even set it up to feed to your landline with something like TextRequest?  Why or why not?

Leave a comment!

How to Feed the Google My Business Messaging Feature into Your Landline
Source: Local Visibility System

Can’t Add a Google My Business Appointment URL? Try This Hack

Can’t Add a Google My Business Appointment URL? Try This Hack

In my last post I described what Google My Business “appointment” URLs are, and covered some facts and pointers worth knowing if you’d like to use one.

But what if you don’t see in your Google My Business dashboard the option to add an appointment URL?  Turns out there’s a workaround.

Based on what I’ve seen in clients’ accounts, I’d say there’s a 10% chance Google hasn’t rolled out that feature to your industry yet.  How does Google know what industry you’re in?  In this case, mainly by the categories you pick.  To get your appointment URL to show up, you need to do a little footwork with your Google My Business categories.

James Watt of James Watt Marketing in Portland described the workaround in his comment on my last post:

Hi Phil,

I’ve got one more piece of info you might want to add somewhere. I asked the GMB community manager about what to do for business owners wanting to request the appointment URL feature in the profile, and here’s what she said.

Basically, the feature is included entirely based on categories for the business. If you don’t have it available but want it, add an appointment category, set the appointment URL, and then remove the category again. I was a little surprised that that was the answer given, but there it is. Thought I’d pass it along.

So you add a category to the one(s) you’ve already specified, hit “apply,” and see if Google gives you the ability to add an appointment URL.  If not, try a different category.  If you see the option, set your appointment URL, save, and then switch your categories back to what they were.

I tried it on a client just now, and it worked like a charm.  In his case, I had to swap out the “primary” category (i.e. the first one listed), which I switched back as soon as his appointment URL showed up.

Try that workaround.  Please let me know how it goes!

P.S.  Big thanks to James.  He posts often at the Local Search Forum and GMB forum, and I suggest you follow him.

Can’t Add a Google My Business Appointment URL? Try This Hack
Source: Local Visibility System

12 Facts to Know about Google My Business Appointment URLs

12 Facts to Know about Google My Business Appointment URLs

https://www.flickr.com/photos/762_photo/14036204887/

Google wants people to make an appointment.  Businesses now can add (in the Google My Business dashboard) a link to a “book an appointment” page or similar page.  The link will show up wherever your Google My Business page shows up in the local search results.

The “appointment URL” feature has promise.  Here are a few things you may want to know before you dig in and use it for your business (as I suggest you do):

1. An “appointment” URL probably won’t show up automatically for you, unless you use online scheduling software. Even then, you may not automatically get the link, in which case you’ll probably need to add it manually (if you want it).

2. Appointment URLs are not just for restaurants and medical practices. You can also add one if you’ve got a service business, a law practice, or other type of business.

3. Pretty much every business can add an appointment URL right now. This doesn’t appear to be one of Google’s molasses-speed rollouts of a new feature.  Of the dozens of Google My Business dashboards I’ve looked at, the only ones that can’t yet add an “appointment” URL are for a couple of private schools, an auction house, and a painting company.  I’m sure I’ll see the option available to those guys soon enough.)

4. “Practitioners” can add appointment URLs, too.

5. Some businesses can add a “menu” URL, too. Whether you can add only an appointment URL or an appointment URL and a “menu” URL depends on what kind of business yours is.  But even then, it doesn’t have to be a restaurant.  (I see the “menu URL” option for a chiropractor client of mine.)  Other businesses can get a “Products and Services” URL, but I can’t yet tell how.

6. Appointment URLs don’t seem to be available to businesses outside of the US yet, although restaurants outside the US do get the other URLs.

7. Your URL will go live instantly, or within about 5 minutes.

8. Google will accept invalid URLs. You won’t get an error in your Google My Business dashboard.  You’ll just confuse and annoy customers.  So be sure to click on your link to make sure it works.

9. You can add a URL to your “Contact Us” page, or to whatever page you like. (Mine points to my contact page.)

10. The full URL won’t show up. Google won’t show the subpage (e.g. “yoursite.com/appointment”) or subdomain (e.g. “appointments.yoursite.com”) in the URL.  They’ll just show “yoursite.com.”  It’s a display URL.

11. It’s not publicly editable from Google’s knowledge panel (yet?).  So at least your competitors can’t stick you with a bogus URL (yet?).

12. The rules are ambiguous, at least for now. Experiment in the meantime.  Consider creating a “contact” page on your site that’s only accessible through the “appointment” link; see how much traffic it gets.  Track visitors’ clicking behavior on that page by hooking it up to CrazyEgg or HotJar; see where they go next.  Maybe link to a site where you’ve got a fistful of great reviews (hey, Google didn’t say anything about linking to your site).

I’m guessing Google has big plans for these new links.  Like Yelp and the other local-search players that matter, Google wants to be involved in the transaction as early as possible – as we’ve seen with Google Home Services ads (AKA the “paid Maps” results).  Speaking of which, I wonder when those links will appear in Google Home Services ads.

With Google everything’s an experiment, but the “appointment” URL is one lab chimp probably won’t let die any time soon.

Do you not have the ability to add an appointment URL yet?  (If so, please tell me about your business.)

Can you specify other types of URLs (like “Products and Services”)?

Where do you think Google is headed with this – and why now?

Leave a comment!

12 Facts to Know about Google My Business Appointment URLs
Source: Local Visibility System

Getting or Providing a Local SEO Consultation? Make Sure You Touch on These Points

Getting or Providing a Local SEO Consultation? Make Sure You Touch on These Points

https://www.flickr.com/photos/hisashiv/7309441292/

Feel like you forgot to check something?

Whether you’re the client or the consultant, you need strong intel-sharing for your consultation on local SEO to amount to more than a hill of beans.  There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to local rankings/traffic/visibility/business woes.  If you’re sick, the doc needs to diagnose you.  If your car makes a new squeak, the mechanic will ask you some questions.  Similar deal here.

For me to do a good consultation and maybe figure out what my dance partner needs to do next, I need to ask a LOT of questions.  Some of the more-basic, “name, rank, serial number” questions I try to get out of the way first with my preliminary questionnaire, so we don’t eat up time on those during the call, and so I might do a few minutes of fact-finding beforehand.

Whether or not there’s an exchange of basic intel before your call, the “Eureka!” moment will probably come only once you’ve discussed a pretty short list of super-important questions.  Those questions shed light.  Whether you’re the local SEO-er or the person who just paid one for a consultation, you should hit on as many of these points as possible:

 

1. Did you book a consultation with me because of an incident that concerns you, or because you just want to see how to keep improving?
This question can help narrow the scope of the conversation, sooner rather than later.  It may expand into other topics again, even if there’s one specific problem you try to figure out, but at least you’ll start with a clearer goal in mind.

2.  IF there’s been a drop-off in rankings or traffic, has it corresponded to a drop in customers and/or leads?
For starters, this one gives a sense of how dependent the business is on search-engine visibility.

3.  What do you see in Google Analytics?
Helps to determine how bad a possible drop-off really was, or whether.

4.  How do you currently get most of your customers / clients / patients?

5.  What SEO work have you done so far? If you hired an SEO company, what work did they do, specifically?
You need to know of skeletons in the closet.

6.  What are you working on now, exactly?

7.  What work do you plan to do, but haven’t gotten around to yet?
For instance, “I know I need to rustle up some good links, but am not sure where to start.”  This question is always telling.

8.  Are there any activities you’ve stopped or slowed down on?
Sometimes the best move is to resume X and not to bother with Y.

9.  Have you changed any of your basic business info? Name, address, phone number, or URL?
Changes like those can jostle your rankings, particularly in Google Maps.

10.  Have you recently redesigned your site, or do you plan to?
Visibility / traffic rarely improves after a redesign.  Usually it’s followed by (a) more of the same or (b) a drop-off.  This is a good time to run down my quick checklist.

11.  What’s been your process for earning links?
You may want to bring this up very early in the call.  It’s usually one of the problems – if not the problem.  Especially if a big goof-up is not apparent.

12.  What’s been your process for encouraging reviews?
Bad reviews or a lack of reviews often explains (at least partly) why the rankings see-saw but business is always down.  See this.  Rankings without reviews don’t amount to much, usually.

13.  Does one location outperform the other?
Often one location uses a more-ideal landing page, or has more/better reviews, or significantly cleaner citations, or more good links relevant to it. 

What questions do you think are the most crucial?

What’s a “Eureka” moment you had during a consultation?

Leave a comment!

Getting or Providing a Local SEO Consultation? Make Sure You Touch on These Points
Source: Local Visibility System

David’s Bridal’s SEO Person Deserves a Raise

David’s Bridal’s SEO Person Deserves a Raise

Longtime competitor Alfred Angelo goes belly-up without warning, so what does David’s Bridal do?  Make an irresistible offer on an expertly-optimized page that a panicked bride will click on if she sees it in the search results.

In its coverage of Alfred Angelo’s demise The Washington Post mentioned David’s Bridal’s well-timed tweet.

Less-covered has been the quick thinking on the part of their SEO guy or gal.

Just look at that description tag (above).  The “wedding of their dreams” is no mistake; that’s what Alfred Angelo promised, and what now only another, solvent company can deliver on.  The click-through rate on that page must be insane.

The URL is named relevantly: http://www.davidsbridal.com/Content_Bridal_alfredangelo

The content of the page is clear and on-topic – no gimmicks.

What’s interesting is that the page itself doesn’t have a lot of links (yet?).

(Yet another reason I don’t believe Google’s claim that they “don’t have anything like a website authority score.”)

It just goes to show some of the practices that separate a smart SEO person from a hack:

  • Pay attention to the news. “But I’m not a publicist!”  Yeah, that’s what the SEO chief at Alfred Angelo, Sports Authority, and Blockbuster probably said.
  • Do the basics well, but don’t overdo them. Notice the lack of keyword-stuffing on the page.
  • Work all the channels – to get customers onto the page BEFORE it ranks. Remember the early-morning tweet? Google seems to notice that kind of activity.  WaPo certainly did.
  • Wordsmithing. The David’s Bridal’s search result (particularly their description tag) is sticky, and the page is well-written – for people, not for Google.

The only way (I can think of) that David’s could do even better is if they updated all their store-locator pages (example) to include a banner for the Alfred Angelo special offer.

Your competitors don’t need to be large corporations that fail spectacularly and suddenly for you to make a kill-shot like this one.  Next time a competitor screws up enough to make the local rag, see what kind of special offer you can make to help his/her disappointed customers.  It’s got to help them out of a bind (as David’s did), or you won’t look much better than the other company.

Any other lessons from David’s Bridal?  Similar stories?  Leave a comment!

David’s Bridal’s SEO Person Deserves a Raise
Source: Local Visibility System

Secret Weapon of Effective Local SEO: Wordsmithing

Secret Weapon of Effective Local SEO: Wordsmithing

https://www.flickr.com/photos/kdwood2/6873448363/

I almost channeled my inner Cosmo editor and called this something like, “17 Ways Writing Can Spice up Your SEO Life!”

But that would have made me almost as bad as many local SEOs (and their clients).  They often treat writing as an afterthought in their work – or as something to farm out to the cheapest keyboard-slapper they can find.

Wordsmithing doesn’t get enough respect in this business.  Many people look at the relationship between writing and SEO in one of three ways:

“Writing?  We’ll take care of that after everything’s optimized.”

“We already took care of the writing.  Now we’ll SEO it.”

“What are you, like, an English professor?  I said we’re doing S-E-O…for search engines! ”

SEO that sticks and writing that sticks aren’t as separate as most people think.  You can rank well even if your writing is as crappy as everyone else’s is.  But would you really be satisfied with that?  Wouldn’t you rather have your writing help you at every turn?

I can’t tell you exactly what to write, and where.  I can’t tell you exactly whom to hire if you need help.  I won’t try to define “effective” writing.  I sure as thunder won’t tell you that your site will rank well just because your writing is solid.

The point I want to make simply is that you need a wordsmith as much as you need a webmaster.

Here are some benefits of writing with oomph – some ways it can help your visibility in the local search results, and help you get more/better customers out of the deal:

  1. Stickier title tags. Those can compel more people (and maybe more of the “right” people) to click on you.  In my experience that higher click-through helps your organic rankings over time.

 

  1. Stickier description tags. Same benefit as above.

  1. You can get more content onto a given page and not make it a miserable read in the process. Ineffective writers just assume everything’s clear, and never bother to lay it out.  Serious people – the ones who might hire you – want detail.  (They can always skim.)  Google prefers crunchiness, too.

  1. Stickier pages. Google knows who hits the “back” button and who sticks around.  I don’t think anybody knows exactly how Google uses on-site behavior to sort out rankings, but I can’t imagine they don’t use it.
  1. More reviews. Your requests will be more effective – more likely to end in 5 stars.
  1. Better reviews. A well-crafted written request is less likely to annoy customers, more likely to compel them to bring up any problems before they write a review, and more likely to compel them to go into plenty of detail about what they like.  Also, if the writing on your site makes your USP clear, you’re more likely to get happy customers, who become happy reviewers.

 

  1. Better replies to your reviews. Your replies (on Yelp and Google) to reviews can help you win over more of the kinds of customers who care about reviews enough to review you.  They don’t need to be Shakespeare, but they should be personal and not boilerplate.

  1. Your “link bait” is more likely to result in some solid links. It’ll have legs.
  1. You’ll be ignored less in your email outreach.
  1. If you do a guest-post it’s more likely you’ll be invited back to do another one.
  1. Your guest-post is more likely to lead to other opportunities – if your post was useful to someone other than you, or useful to a business other than yours.
  1. You’re more likely to get a “seed audience” for your blog. I may write a whole post on that term some time, but in the meantime, here’s all I mean by “seed audience”: a small group of people who were already paying close attention to you, and who become the first regular readers of your blog.  They’re your first fans.  You need to provide them enough free, helpful info that they bring you more fans over time (or you go back to the drawing board).  My favorite example of a seed audience is people who get your email newsletter, who then also read and benefit from your posts.
  1. Higher likelihood of getting local-listing-related issues resolved if you have to contact “support.”
  1. Your photos will be more useful, interesting, relevant, and SEO-friendly, because you’ll be able to write better captions, alt tags, and title attributes. Some people swear by “optimized photos” as a major ranking factor.  I don’t.  I suspect there’s a little benefit, though, and of course well-integrated photos are good to have anyway.

  1. Any YouTube/video optimization is less likely to be a complete waste of time. Your video titles will make people want to watch, and your “description” will add flavor and maybe compel watchers to take the next step on your site.

  1. Clearer communication on action items that affect your SEO, visibility, and overall ability to make rain. Whether you’ve got an in-house team or are working with a third party, everything will go your way a little more if you can make your points clearly and not make people hate you.
  1. People you found you as a result of your local SEO campaign will be more likely to take whatever next step you want them to.

You know how some wise people have said that SEO isn’t a separate marketing channel, but rather should seep into everything you do.  Well, I say wordsmithing should seep into every part of your SEO.

Just spend more time writing or editing the areas I mentioned.  You’ll be surprised what you can do.

 

Any SEO benefits of writing I missed?  Any stories about how strong writing has helped you?  Any examples?

Leave a comment!

Secret Weapon of Effective Local SEO: Wordsmithing
Source: Local Visibility System