The High Cost of Thinking Your Local Search Visibility Is Free

The High Cost of Thinking Your Local Search Visibility Is Free

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The name’s a shameless rip-off of Wil Reynolds’s excellent presentation on “The High Cost of Free Traffic.”  One reason I’ve got no shame is that that describes the situation perfectly: Although technically your business’s visibility in Google Maps and the rest of local search is free, you run into trouble once you start treating it as you would other “free” stuff.

Business owners and their marketers often mess up and overlook enough things even when they pay $20 a click (as in AdWords) for their traffic.  Their strategies get even more ragged when they don’t have to pay for visibility in the local search results, and are confident they won’t need to any time soon.

“Free” gives you a sense of relief.  You don’t think much about how you use your water if all you have to do is dip your cup in the creek.  That’s fine as long as it’s not winter or there’s a cattle drive upstream.

What’s the “high cost” of free traffic (the one I named this post after)?  It’s not one specific high price you pay, but rather a long list of missed-opportunity costs.  They’re problems you’ll face, time you’ll waste, or wins you won’t seize.

They’re what happens when you assume “free” rankings and traffic are permanent, or unlimited, or guaranteed, or something you’re entitled to, or always easy to get more of, or always what you need more of.

Cost 1: Trying to farm out all parts of your local SEO strategy.

(Or, even worse, trying to farm out all of your marketing.)

Some parts of local SEO require a decision-maker’s personal involvement.  Doing what it takes to earn good links and reviews are two examples of that.  Though third parties can help to one degree or another, they can’t do it well and without any of your involvement.  “Your one-stop, turnkey solution” is a marketing ploy.  The sooner you realize that, the sooner you’ll get visible in the local search results, and have it actually result in more business, and have it last.

Cost 2: Seeing if you can “just get your site to rank” without putting in any real effort.

If your primitive strategy of microsites / keyword-stuffing / cheap links / lousy “city” pages doesn’t work you’ve wasted time and are back to the drawing board.  Even if you’re fortunate enough to have your bare-minimum effort bring you good rankings, you’ll be one non-pushover competitor or one Google test or update away from Search Engine Siberia.

Especially when it’s early in your local SEO effort, either you need to specialize and carve out a niche, or put in a little work to differentiate yourself, or do both.

Cost 3: Only worrying about the “easy SEO wins” at first.

Isn’t it great if you can meet your goals with a minimum of effort?  Sure.  Shouldn’t you try to do that?  Yeah, probably.  But what if your quick no-brainers yield no results?  Then it’s a question of when you start putting in the hard work, and how long it takes to pay off.  Fixing up your title tags, wiggling a few keywords into the cracks, and cleaning up your local listings will only get you so far.

How long should you wait to see if your quick wins did the trick?  2 months?  6 months?  A year?  Damned if I know.  I say you start digging the well before you’re thirsty.  Start on the ongoing activities while you’re still working on the one-time stuff.

Cost 4: Using a site/CMS that makes changes difficult or slow to make.

Your Squarespace or Wix or Joomla or GoDaddy site is probably fine to keep if you can structure it correctly, create a homepage that doesn’t suck, make it more or less conducive to conversions, and do other basics.  It doesn’t need to be perfect.  It’s better to get a rough site out there early, and improve it later.  The problem is what happens if you can’t improve it later.  Because you consider your local search traffic “free,” you don’t feel it’s urgent to get a site you can work with.  You’ll let it molder until traffic dries up or something really breaks, or both.

Cost 5: Hiring hacky writers.

If you had to pay $20 for each click, would you send visitors to pages that don’t make it clear what you do, or pages that make it apparent you’re “too busy” to put any effort into your site yourself, or pages that make you look like you can’t string two sentences together?  No?  Well, doing that with “free” traffic is even worse.  At least if you pay $20 (or much more) for a click, you might eventually learn that more traffic often isn’t the answer.

With bad writing you have the online-marketing equivalent of BO.

Cost 6: Waiting too long to get serious about getting reviews.

You probably “just want to rank” first.  Once you have more customers, you’ll start encouraging reviews.  That’s backwards.  Good rankings without good reviews tend not to bring in much business.  On the other hand, good reviews will help you as soon as you start getting them, no matter how visible you are.  Go after them early.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/15016964@N02/5919180598/

Cost 7: Not replying to customers’ reviews, even when you don’t “have to.”

You probably don’t let negative reviews go unaddressed.  That’s usually wise.

What about the positive reviews?  Think of how hard you’ve worked to get however much visibility you’ve got, and to do a good enough job for customers that they wrote you those nice reviews.  Don’t you want that visibility and traffic to convert as many customers as possible, so you continue the upward spiral?  Sometimes replying to a positive review – even if only to say thanks – is a way to do that.  It shows you give a hoot, and that you still care about customers after they’ve paid you and reviewed you.

Cost 8: Assuming all your visitors saw your best reviews before visiting your site.

Given all the info Google shows IN the search results these days – especially when people search for your business by name – it’s smart to think of Google’s results as your second homepage.  To wow customers there with all your reviews is crucial, and you need to do it.  Those review sites sure are prominent.

But what if those people go even farther, and get to your site?  Those people are even deeper into your “conversion funnel,” and are this close to taking an action you want.  Don’t hold back now.   Even if they saw your “review stars” in the search results, they probably didn’t see reviews from specific customers.  If you had to pay for each click, you’d make sure your best reviews were front-and-center.  That’s smart even if you don’t pay for each click.

Splatter or sprinkle your reviews across your site.

Cost 9: Waiting too long to start earning links.

Yes, the one-time work on your site and on your listings is important.  You may see a bump from doing only that.  But sooner or later you’ll hit a plateau.  At that point you can’t just “optimize” your site more, or crank out more citations, and expect to get unstuck.  And don’t think an SEO person has some fancy maneuver for your site that will do it.  You’ll go round and round on tweaking or overhauling your site, to no effect.  7 SEO “experts” and many dollars later, you’ll realize you missed a big piece of the puzzle.  You could have spent a fraction of that time on effort on trying to earn good links, and you could have seen results sooner.  Slow process?  Sure, but not as slow as the alternatives.

Here are some relatively easy link ideas, just to get the juices flowing.

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

Cost 10: Fixating on ranking across your entire service area.

You want to rank in 25 more towns.  That’s a fine goal.  So you must be pretty visible in your town already, right?  If not, start there and branch out only when you’ve had some success.  Now, it may or not be possible to rank in all (or half) of the places you want to reach.  It depends on many factors, including whether you’re trying to rank in the local organic results (doable) or in the Maps results (less realistic).  I’m not even saying you should trim back your goals.  I’m saying only that you should do what it takes to build up a little visibility in the place where it’s most likely you can do so, before you try to go farther afield.

Cost 11: Creating lots of awful “city pages.”

If you won’t take the time to do them right, at least don’t spend too much time on doing them wrong.  Make 5 worthless pages rather than 50 worthless pages.  That way, you can return that much sooner to whatever you were doing that was so much more important than putting a little thought into your city pages, so that they might rank and convert.

Cost 12: Never using AdWords to learn about would-be customers or to sniff out markets.

Too many business owners think, “Why on earth should I pay for traffic when I can get it for free?”  Well, for one thing, because it’s the only practical way to sniff out people’s level of interest in specific services in specific cities/areas where you don’t rank.

Google Analytics only tells you about the traffic you already get, and nothing about the traffic you might be able to get.  Set up a quick-n’-dirty AdWords campaign, keep it on a short budgetary leash, let it run for a couple weeks, and mine the stuffing out of the “Dimensions” tab.  I know of no better way to research keywords, to get a sense of how well traffic converts for those keywords, and to find out exactly which cities/towns those searchers search from.

If you think of pay-per-click as a way to buy data (and not necessarily to get customers, at least at first) you probably couldn’t get anywhere else, you can put new vim and vigor into your local SEO effort.

Cost 13: Assuming that because your local visibility is “free” it’s also unlimited.

That may be the costliest cost of all, for many reasons.

You can always lose visibility.

You won’t have a monopoly while you have it.

Just because you got some visibility easily doesn’t mean you can get more with similar ease.

You don’t know who will become your competitor next.

Google likes to test just about all aspects of the search results.

Google likes to change policies in all areas of search.

Google likes to stuff the free search results with paid search results.

You don’t even own your local listings.  The only online thing you own is your site, and everything else is rented land.

It’s for those reasons and many others that you do not want to grow complacent.

Why do the signs at parks and nature reserves tell you not to feed the animals?

Because if you feed them and other people feed them, they’ll get conditioned to freebies, and not be as able to hunt and forage.  (Also, the tripe most people eat isn’t necessarily good for a growing critter.)

https://www.flickr.com/photos/84744710@N06/14766013011/

If you’re an animal, it’s fine to catch as catch can, but you probably want to be able to feed yourself if the hands with free food ever go away.  The same is true of business owners.  Don’t be a Central Park pigeon.

What’s a missed-opportunity cost I missed?

Any cautionary tales?

Leave a comment!

The High Cost of Thinking Your Local Search Visibility Is Free
Source: Local Visibility System

30+ Internal Resources Every Serious Local SEO-er Should Have or Develop

30+ Internal Resources Every Serious Local SEO-er Should Have or Develop

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No, this isn’t one of those dreadful “274 Local SEO Tools” posts.  Most of those lists suffer from bloat, or come from a seller with an ulterior motive, or are stuffed with affiliate links.  Also, because of the constant changes in Google and in the rest of the local-search ecosystem, most “tools” roundups  have the shelf life of sushi.

You should be able to do effective local SEO (for your business or for clients) without a single third-party piece of software or other tool.

I am not saying you should go tool-free.  Some tools sure make life easier.  I’m saying that you should have the ability to go old-school, and that simply using a tool doesn’t mean you’ll do good work.

It’s also nice not to nurse on a tool that can break or become useless or be taken from you.

Long way of saying I’m all about internal resources.  They help me understand my own processes and stay on-track, they make work easier for my helpers and me, and they clarify problems and action items for my clients.  Many of them double as deliverables I give clients.

You probably have a couple of home-brewed resources already.  But you’re probably missing at least a few that can reduce work, thinking, or repetition on your part, and that can make your life easier.

Below are the 30+ internal resources I’ve found useful to cultivate and use for local SEO.  I’ve provided links or examples where possible.  You’re free to adapt or improve on any of them.

General

1. Preliminary questionnaire. For getting the basic facts before you start on a project.

2. Questionnaire for consultations/troubleshooting. Helps you remember the most-important questions to ask.  It’s especially useful if your client can fill it out before you get on the phone, so you can troubleshoot beforehand.

3. “Swipe file”: real-life examples that reflect every suggestion you make. It’s nice if you’ve also got real-life examples of what you don’t   I try to do that in my posts (where appropriate), but I also wheel out other examples for clients.

4. “Lab chimp” client: one who’s open to the occasional experiment, as long as it’s not spammy or otherwise unethical.

5. Old local SEO audits you did. They’ll serve as starting points or templates for future audits you do – for those clients or for others.  Eventually they’ll become like yearbook photos.  You’ll be surprised at how your audits grow over time.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/infomatique/15851977331/

6. “Rules of writing” document for anybody who writes for you. If you’re not even willing to write down your SOPs or preferences, it’s a little harder to expect your hired stunt-pens to meet the challenge.  (Feel free to email me if you’re interested in seeing mine.)

7. Spreadsheet for checking rankings manually. Yep, without tools.  If you’re like me, it’s not something you’ll use often, but it’s good to have around.

8. Written guide to your basic approach to local SEO. Doesn’t need to be for anyone else’s eyes, but you should have the basic workflow written down somewhere.  You can get mine.

9. “Brain trust” to answer clients’ questions: either a list of posts you did on clients’ questions, or resources other people created that address those concerns. (The origin of half my posts is that I got sick of re-explaining the same point over and over, and just wanted to write my best answer once and for all, so all I’d have to do is send a link.)

Local listings

10. “Intake form” for citations: a spreadsheet your clients can fill in to give you (and any helpers) the info you need to work on their local listings. Here’s Whitespark’s form.

11. Citation worksheet: a spreadsheet you/your helpers can use to work on local listings. Here’s what I use as a starting point for US businesses.  You should have one for each country where you have clients or locations.

12. Place to keep login info for any listings you work on. Ideally that’s part of the “citation worksheet” (pictured above).

13. List of relevant and notable “niche” citation sources. Can be a mashup of resources like this, this, this, and this.  You’ll probably need to sift through the list to identify the most-important niche listings any given client should have. Add any keepers to your aforementioned citation worksheet for that client.

14. “Black book” of all the support departments at local-business directories and similar sites. Lists of contact info are here and here.

15. Local listings for your business. Just so you know how to handle listings on most of the sites you might work on for a client.

16. Google Maps user-profile with a solid track record of making edits (particularly anti-spam edits) that Google approves.

 

17. Yelp account with a solid track record: a history of reporting reviews that end up getting removed, or suggesting edits that end up being approved.

Site

18. Site-audit spreadsheet. Here’s mine.

19. Real-life example of every element or practice you want (or don’t want) on a site. A homepage that covers all the bases, a “city page” that ranks well and brings leads, an irresistible title tag, a great job of incorporating all the services into the menu and internal linking, etc.

20. A migration checklist short-n’-sweet, or exhaustive.

21. Schema.org markup for every occasion you use Schema. You don’t want to rely on plugins.  Also, if and when you hand-code and test it, you probably won’t want to do it all over again next time.

22. Your own site. For your business.  Kind of looks bad if you don’t have one (though most SEOs’ sites are about as useful as a Sears-Roebuck catalog).

23. A site you can experiment on freely. That may rule out all but your site.

(Of course, there are many paid and/or third-party tools that can help you on the site audit, and even more to help you work on the site.  Those have been covered in other posts, though.  I’m not here to remind you that you need your own FTP client.)

Links

24. Link questionnaire for your clients to fill out. Gives you a sense of what types of link-earning ideas your clients are most interested in, and any current link opportunities.

25. Spreadsheet for collaborating with clients on link opportunities. How you should lay this out is just a matter of taste, and of what works for you. I like to include several tabs: “ideas to discuss,” “working on,” “dead ends/not interested,” and “in the bag.”  Any given link opp goes on one of those tabs.

26. Spreadsheet for collaborating with any helpers of yours on link-huntin’.

27. Copies of successful outreach emails – emails that helped you eventually get hard-to-get links. You don’t want to reinvent the wheel every time, though you do want to take time to customize each email, of course.

28. Copies of your link-opportunities reports: the list of link opportunities you found and suggested to clients. Probably some of them will be relevant and useful in the future, and at the very least they’ll get the creative juices flowing.

Reviews

29. Spreadsheet for auditing clients’ reviews: which 5-12 review sites they should care about, how many reviews they’ve got on each site, how you’d suggest prioritizing, and the next steps you’d suggest. You can use it to plan your long-term work together on rustling up reviews.

30. List of questions you can use to figure out why your clients aren’t getting reviews. Maybe a shorter version of this.

31. Template for an initial review-encouragement email – for clients to send to their customers/clients/patients. Customize and tweak as necessary.

32. Template for a follow-up review-encouragement email. A friendly reminder, in case your client doesn’t get a review after sending the first email.

33. Written outline of the general review-encouragement strategy you suggest to clients. You can and should customize it to any given client’s specific situation.

34. Spreadsheet the client or designated “reviews person” can use to stay on top of the outreach for reviews. Who’s been asked, what happened, what’s next, etc.

35. Template for customizing review handouts. Like this or this.

Any internal (non-third-party) local SEO resources you’d add?

Any you’d like to share – maybe resources you created?

Which one(s) do you find the most useful?

Leave a comment!

30+ Internal Resources Every Serious Local SEO-er Should Have or Develop
Source: Local Visibility System

Is There Anything You Can DO to Get Yelp Reviews These Days – without a Public Shaming?

Is There Anything You Can DO to Get Yelp Reviews These Days – without a Public Shaming?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/maha-online/324444128/

For years Yelp has told business owners not to ask for reviews on Yelp.  Not that you shouldn’t ask only for positive reviews or tell customers what to say.  Not that you shouldn’t ply them with discounts or gift cards or other wampum.  You’re not supposed to ask for Yelp reviews, period.

In practice, Yelp’s as bad at enforcing that dumb demand as it is at consistently enforcing other, more-commonsense standards – like that the reviewer is a real customer (or client or patient).

That hasn’t stopped Yelp from piling on even more no-nos.  Recently they demanded that makers of review-encouragement software not present Yelp as an option to customers (which I know also because some of those software-makers have told me so).  Yelp also has threatened to issue “Consumer Alerts” or Yelp-rankings penalties to any business caught asking for Yelp reviews (no matter how ethically).

Worst of all, Yelp has left it vague as to whether you’re not supposed to encouraging reviews on any site.  Let’s just assume they haven’t gone quite that far yet.  Let’s also assume that, like me, you’ll only bend so far to comply with absurd demands.

Anyway, the result is that these days you need to tiptoe around more – whether you ask for reviews by using any kind of outreach product, or a “Review Us” page, or an email, or any other nonverbal approach.  Whether you interpret “tiptoe” to mean either (1) “Sounds like I need to cover my tracks even more” or (2) “I’ll follow Yelp’s rulebook to the letter” is up to you.

Yelp’s hope is that your customers review you spontaneously there.  Sometimes it works out that way, often in cities where Yelp is popular.  Where that becomes a pipe dream is in places where few people give a hoot about Yelp or write reviews there, but where it’s hard to miss Yelp search results in Google’s local search results.  In that case you’ve got a glaring hole in your online reputation, but no way to fill it.

Even though Yelp often isn’t fair, and most of their policies are moronic, you might want at least to try to play by Yelp’s rules.  But you also want to get some reviews there (and elsewhere).  Can you do both?

Your options now are more limited than they’ve ever been, but there are a few ways you can try to rustle up reviews and not (1) violate Yelp’s silly rules outright, or (2) risk becoming the first business owner Yelp makes a public example of because you tried a sly workaround.

Here are the 4 most Yelp-policy-friendly approaches (that might actually work for you) to encourage customers to speak up:

1. The “Find Friends” strategy, with a twist (more on that in a second). “Find Friends” is a feature in Yelp that allows you to see who’s an active reviewer on Yelp.  You can enter a name or email address one a time, or bulk-check a list of email addresses.  (You can also do a “Find Friends” search by syncing with your Facebook page, but that’s not as reliable.)

Once you’ve determined which customers have written more than a few reviews (let’s say 5), just ask them for a review/feedback in whatever way has worked for you.  Because Yelp is probably their preferred review site, they’ll probably review you there without your needing to ask for a Yelp review specifically, or drop a link to your page, or do anything else that Yelp discourages.

2. Make your “please write a review” link a query string in Google that shows your Yelp page near the top of Google’s search results. The link should look something like this:

https://www.google.com/search?q=Local+Visibility+System

Again, customers can pick Yelp if that’s their preferred review site.  You’re not asking them to pick Yelp, explicitly or implicitly.

3. Splatter your best Yelp reviews all over your site. (Or your one good Yelp review, if you only have one at the moment.)

Try to pick reviews that are relevant to the content of the pages you stick the reviews on.  For instance, if you’re a dentist, maybe don’t put a review from a tooth-whitening patient on your “Full-Mouth Reconstruction” page.

If you do it right, you may condition new customers to think “Yelp reviews” when they think of your reviews in general.  When it comes time to ask them for a review anywhere, there’s a good chance they’ll think of Yelp again.

It’s also a nice passive way to encourage reviews in general, if for whatever reason you just aren’t comfortable with asking anyone for reviews (even if you don’t specify the site).  You probably won’t get a gusher of reviews as a result of this approach, but you’ll probably get a little trickle.

Yelp’s embed feature is convenient.  Here’s a great example of that in practice.

4.  Do a Yelp “check-in offer.” They’re only available to bricks-and-mortar businesses, and not to service-area businesses, so there’s a good chance this one just isn’t relevant to you.  But if you do see customers at your business address, then it may be an arrow in your quiver.

What’s worked for you – or hasn’t worked for you – on Yelp?

How “by-the-book” do you figure it is?

Any new strategies you’re considering?

Leave a comment!

Is There Anything You Can DO to Get Yelp Reviews These Days – without a Public Shaming?
Source: Local Visibility System

One Phone Number for Multiple Google My Business Pages: Can It Cause Problems?

One Phone Number for Multiple Google My Business Pages: Can It Cause Problems?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/mikedixson/14602606799/

I tend to suggest using a different phone number for each location of your business, but exactly what’s the downside of using the same number on all of your Google My Business pages? 

Google’s guidelines don’t tell you to use a location-specific phone number.

Merged” Google pages don’t seem to be a problem these days – and even when they were, a shared phone number probably wouldn’t have caused pages to merge.

I’ve seen businesses use one number for many locations and rank just fine – and you may have observed that, too.

Google My Business forum Top Contributors don’t indicate that a shared phone number is a big problem (though it’s “not ideal”).

Some of my fellow local-search geeks suggest using separate phone numbers – and I agree with that advice, generally.  But I haven’t seen anyone spell out exactly what might happen if you use the same number everywhere.

Here’s one possible downside: Google may not verify one or more of your pages.

That happened recently to a multi-location client of mine.  They chose to use the same phone number for their 5 (or so) Google My Business pages in different major cities across the US.  Though I’d suggested getting and using different phone numbers – one for each location – their choice also made sense in their case.  They’d had a couple of GMB pages up for a few years, and created the others in recent months.

They verified all their GMB pages without incident, except for one page.  The client got on the phone with GMB support (always a good time), and they were told that the problem was that the phone number wasn’t unique to that one location.  Of course, that was also true of the other pages, which had been verified A-OK.

After some back-and-forth and presumably a little groveling, the client got Google to wave the page through.  All’s well that ends well.

But what about your situation?  If you’re multi-location, should you use a unique number for each of your Google My Business pages?

I wouldn’t say a multi-location phone number is like giving your rankings a Kent Micronite.  If you get all your pages verified, your visibility will depend on the usual suspects.

Still, I recommend using a unique phone number, if at all possible.  You’ll make it a little more apparent to Google and to searchers that you’ve actually got people in all the places you say you do.

What’s been your experience with using the same phone number (or different numbers) on Google My Business?

Have you heard of any specific problems resulting from using the same number across the board – or heard any strong advice?

Any questions?

Leave a comment!

One Phone Number for Multiple Google My Business Pages: Can It Cause Problems?
Source: Local Visibility System

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