With the start of the new year, our team members Aaron Weiche and Mile Blumenthal took part in a webinar looking at reviews and online reputation in 2018. The hour long session was hosted by Local University (which Mike and Aaron are faculty of) and featured industry experts David Mihm of Tidings.com and Joy Hawkins of Sterling Sky as well.
View the video of the webinar below for a ton of great insight, ideas and stats on where reviews are in 2018 and what you should be focusing on.
Review & Reputation Topics Covered In The Video
- The changing landscape of online reviews and their impact- (5:00)
- Learning from reviews beyond marketing(16:15)
- Solicitation and iIndustry attitudes towards asking – (30:30
- What are best practices to avoid and/or deal with problems (41:00)
- Q & A – (46:19)
Read The Webinar Transcript
Mike: Thank you very much for joining us for insight into “The Ins and Out of Reviews and Reputation in 2018”. You know, I have people [with me today] who I respect a great deal and who, over the years, have become my best friends in the industry. So I’m looking forward to this a great deal. So we have with us, Joy Hawkins. Joy, perhaps you…Joy isn’t gonna introduce herself at the moment. David Mihm, perhaps you can introduce yourself real quickly and then we’ll go on from there to Joy.
David: Sure. Can you guys hear me okay? Great.
Mike: Move up your volume just a little bit.
David: A little louder. Just a little louder. All right. Maybe I’ll just speak closer to the mic. How about that?
Mike: That’s awesome.
David: Perfect. I’m David Mihm, Founder of Tidings. We do better email newsletters faster, is kind of how I’m starting to describe it. And before you might know my previous company, getlisted.org, which I sold to Moz. Well, myself and a couple partners sold to Moz in 2012, helped build Moz Local. And like I said, I’ve been doing Tidings for the last couple of years. So I still follow the local search space pretty closely, even though I’ve moved into the adjacent world of email.
Mike: So, Joy, maybe you could give people a quick summary of what you’re doing in your life now. Are you with us, Joy? Let’s switch to Aaron.
Aaron: All right. Aaron Weiche. I’m one of the partners and head of marketing in sales at GetFiveStars, very longtime agency veteran, got involved with web design, and local search at its early stages of each of those, so, long involved in search marketing. And now the last two and a half years in joining forces with Mike, able to concentrate on just one thing instead of hundreds of clients things all day long. So, always neck deep in the review space nowadays and everything that’s going on and what businesses and agencies are doing to work on acquiring more and better reviews.
Mike: And I see that Joy now has her audio on. So, Joy, perhaps you can give us a quick summary of what you’re doing in local these days?
Joy: So, really, well, I’ve just been really busy with getting my agency up and running. So it hasn’t been a year yet but almost a year coming up on April. So…
Mike: Sterling Sky.
Joy: Yes, yes, Sterling Sky. And then, obviously, I’ve been updating The Expert’s Guide to Local SEO, which is the training manual that I have with Local U. I’m working on actually a newsletter that’s gonna be coming out pretty soon. That’s going to be basically learning people every time there is a change in anything to do with Local. So I’ve been noticing that I, like, see something new probably a couple times a week so I decided to create, like, a time log for it on my blog. And it’s gonna be, like, a resource page that I’m gonna be updating regularly. So I’m excited about that.
Mike: I look forward to that.
David: What is it called? Is it gonna be called the “Hawk Watch”?
Joy: Maybe. That’s awesome.
Mike: So, a little bit of housekeeping before we dig in. I just wanna let people know that Local U has two events coming up. April 11th is a sort of introductory small-business-focused event, but it’s a very good…it’s a day-long event. I think currently the early bird special on is $99. It’ll be in Austin. It’s a great training event for people who are getting just familiar with it or looking to understand the local SEO world from the SMB point of view.
And the day after in Austin, everybody here will be there. We’ll also have Cindy Krum and a number of other speakers. We should have a great day. I think it’s 10 speakers for an LocalU Advanced on April 12th. The night before, there is a meet-and-greet in Austin where we’ll… And just as a note, if you haven’t been to Local U, it’s one of the…I enjoy doing them because it’s the nicest networking event in local that I’ve ever been to. And with a lot of sharing and learning, and it’s really a great place if you’re an agency or an in-house SEO or Enterprise, and you wanna learn more but also talk to some of the people who I really enjoy talking to join us.
All right. With that…..
David: I’ll just add really quickly as a quick sales pitch. I also think that the Google representatives who come to our Local U Advanced events are able to solve more problems speaking one-to-one with you than pretty much any other event you’ll go to. So it’s not like the sort of Matt Cutts, you know, Big Brother-type model. These are representatives that will actually help you solve your Google My Business problems.
Mike: Yeah, they come out of the support arena, and they’re very active, and care a lot about solving problems. It’s a big difference. I agree. So, to start off, I just wanna go broadly into the review landscape. I grew up in this world. And I was just thinking back to 2008 when Cityscape was sort of still prominent but in decline. Yelp had really taken off. Google had just introduced reviews in sort of a tête-à-tête with Yelp. And the landscape was dramatically different. Aaron, maybe you…or David, let me ask you, you know, how do you see today in a broad sense sort of shaking out differently than 2008?
David: Sure. So, I mean, we’ve kind of seen a really long product development arc on Google’s part that, you know, a lot of the same features that we now see showing up in knowledge panels. Things like sort of the featured snippets coming from reviews, the structured data around common experiences that people are having. A lot of that stuff was available, I don’t know if it was 2008, but 2009, 2010, Google was showing those in local business listings. So it’s very clear that they have been looking at review content for a really long time.
I think it was 2010 Hotpot came out, which was sort of a personalized recommendation system based on what your friend network…what businesses your friend network was reviewing. And so I see both of those two sort of deep review content and increasing influence of personal recommendations from sort of cohorts that Google’s able to identify that you have. Both of those things are I think pretty dialed in at this point in our…and we’re going to continue to see Google putting heavy effort and energy into both of those two areas.
So I think it’s been a long process for Google to have been sort of polishing this review product, but I think it’s largely, other than Zagat getting removed, thank goodness, we don’t have 30-point rating scales anymore, but I think it’s been a pretty consistent process on Google’s part. And reviews are more important than ever today now that they have it pretty well dialed in.
Mike: As you and I saw when we met in Valencia, Spain, Google, along with TripAdvisor, Google is really the dominant worldwide force these days. So, Aaron, I know you’ve been following closely through GetFiveStars and others just sort of the review growth rate at different sites. Do you have a sense of how it’s, you know, what it looks like today, you know, Yelp versus Google versus TripAdvisor?
Aaron: One of the most, I guess, concise studies of some of that data came from BrightLocal early in January. And really, if you isolate the last couple years, Google’s growth, by far and away, has been dominant, right? They were over 100% growth in 2015 and 2016, they were over 270% growth. In the number two slot was TripAdvisor, surprisingly, with a really nice steady growth for them of, you know, over 100% in 2015 and over 80% in 2016. Yelp, a little bit slower to grow, the massive adoption. We’ve obviously seen from some of the studies we’ve done, there can be, geographical constraints or accelerators to Yelp, right? Coastal, it really engage with Yelp much more than, like, the Midwest does.
So within that, you definitely see. And I think this speaks to me. The last couple years, if we start to look at, what is causing some of that, the horse and the cart between consumers and businesses, I think, has really accelerated growth at Google. Businesses have realized its impact on courting new customers, winning new customers, and building trust. And with that, even though we’re nowhere near what it can get to, businesses are actively monitoring, and engaging, and requesting reviews, and that’s leading to more customers.
Some of their inroads for a consumer might just be that they’re asked to review something. And then they realize, “Well, there’s, you know, so many other reviews sitting out here for businesses and I can use this as a factor when I get into things.” So both those two I really see fueling each other. And no surprise, because of Google’s positioning in the search results and in, you know, the discovery process, it really heightens those and creates a much more vicious cycle for that growth that they’re seeing at, you know, 270% rate in 2016.
David: Vicious from Yelp’s point of view and virtuous from Google’s.
Aaron: Yeah, there you go.
Mike: Google is always virtuous, are they not? Anecdotally.
David: Don’t get me started, Mike. Don’t get me started.
Mike: My 25-year-old, Brooklyn-living, millennial daughter, who was a foodie, said to me the other day, “You know, Dad, since I traveled with you, I started using Google more to look at restaurant reviews. I had always been dedicated to Yelp and I can see…now I use them both, and I can see why Google is helpful.” Which is interesting the shift of attitude in that age group away from Yelp towards Google, which I think is a significant shift.
So, Joy, let me ask you the next question on my list. How do you see reviews impacting rank? Do you see it just an issue of Google reviews impacting rank? Do you see an issue of overall reviews everywhere impacting rank? And, you know, what would you …how many reviews does a business need, I guess, is really in that context?
Joy: Yeah. And so I don’t know if there’s a hard or fast number that you can say that the business would need. But I’d say regularly getting reviews is super-important for any business that wants to rank well. I think for a couple reasons, I think it has a direct impact on ranking, but then also it impacts click-through rate. And the click-through rate or interaction rate would be something that would impact ranking.
Keywords in reviews have a huge impact on ranking, unfortunately. We see this abused quite a bit. It works. And, I mean, I know, Mike, you’ve done studies, like, that’s true for external reviews as well, like reviews on Yelp will impact ranking. I know that’s true for other sites if Google can crawl the content and see the content of the reviews. It can have an impact on ranking on the 3-Pack as well.
Mike: Yeah, so a much interesting…in my study, Yelp, it impacted rank. And it appears to be sort of, again, a secondary impact of Yelp increasing the links to a given location page based on the reviews. And that increase in organic rank is what drove the rank in Google. So, sort of a secondary effect of the reviews. But it does appear that if you have a site, a third-party site that does well because of reviews, then that does seem to confer over. So, I guess, the question to each of you, where should you be asking for reviews?
David: And I don’t think Facebook has been mentioned yet, which is a little crazy to me. Because, Mike, I think you did a study a couple years ago that that’s the number one place consumers prefer to leave reviews, right, or it’s easiest for them to leave reviews.
Mike: It wasn’t number one. It was number two but it was a strong second.
David: Strong second. So I would definitely not ignore Facebook, you know. I don’t think it will drive, if your primary goal for acquiring reviews, which, I think this is a mistake, but if it is to drive rankings at Google, Facebook is probably not the best place. But I see them… Obviously, they’ve released a new local app in the last, what was that, four months ago, something like that, in November. I see that a significant presence on Facebook will continue to benefit businesses in the future and that Google will probably keep trying as best they can to clean as much data from Facebook as possible. So I wouldn’t ignore Facebook as a source to request reviews on. But really, it comes down to consumer preference. I would just make it as easy as possible for consumers to give you feedback even, which, I think, we’ll segue into the next section, but you should definitely not be driving people into a specific site that you think is gonna influence rankings.
Mike: Aaron, you have been hearing this?
Aaron: Yeah, I really look at that. Any review site that has enough credibility and authority to rank in page one, you wanna make sure that you have, a same consistent rating, and the types of comments, and everything else, right? So the two things I instruct a business do all the time, one, just, you know, do enough of a brand search to get your knowledge panel up and look what sites are on page one if it’s your Yelp profile, your Facebook profile.
Mike: Better Business Bureau, for example, into the markets.
Aaron: And that was gonna be…you’re jumping the gun on me. My next thing was gonna tell people, do a brand search and then type the word “reviews” after it, and then you’re gonna see specific review sites. And then you’re even more likely to see sites like the BBB or YP, Foursquare even, or MapQuest, depending upon what industry you’re in. And the reason why I tell people to do this is, more and more consumers are doing that. They wanna bypass any firsthand content that a business is creating, and they wanna go directly to what are third-party reviews, what are others that are out there saying, and doing that type of search is gonna bring you directly to those types of profiles and content sites that have that.
Mike: So you’re saying a consistent brand story, the review sites that impact your industry and your business.
Aaron: Yeah, I mean, it’s gonna… to David’s point, if you have 120 Google reviews and you have no more than 5 on all the other review sites, and the rating disparity is vast and everything else, like, you’re not gonna do as well on conversions with a discerning customer that’s gonna look into those things a little bit. So you really do wanna spread it around. Not all your eggs in one basket. Don’t get hooked on what you think is the best way to obtain traffic because you have to think of the conversion piece after the visibility piece.
Mike: And, Joy, where would you suggest?
Joy: So, like, my top four are always Google, Facebook, Yelp, and I think usually yellowpages.com I throw in there just because it’s such an easy site to leave a review on. But I also usually will do granted searches for, like, the top three or four competitors that kind of dominate the market and look for what sites they have gold stars on. I specifically target ones that have, like, review Schema activated on their site because they just show up so much better. And usually, you’ll find a lot of, like, niche sites that matter for that particular industry or location that you may not have been aware of, so, like, Avvo is a really good one if you’re an attorney but it’s very based on the industry.
Mike: Great. So, with that, let’s move on to the next topic. And just as a note to our listeners, there’s a question panel. Feel free to ask questions. We’re gonna leave time at the end to answer them. So let them rip if you would. Net Promoter Scores, the slide title, but I think it’s, you know, I’m a big believer in Net Promoter Score, which has been common in the Fortune 500 world. And obviously, I’ve implemented it. We’ve implemented it at GetFiveStars as a key question because I see that as a way of determining how likely people are to share information about your business as were a word of mouth.
So in this section, I would like to just talk about, you know, how our business is assessing internal quality, how does that relate to reviews, and what are some tactics that can be used there. So, Aaron, maybe let me ask you this, start with you. So do you think, I mean, I know you…I’ve seen some of your presentations, obviously, and I’ve enjoyed it, by the way. So how do you see businesses missing sort of this key information piece about their quality when asking for reviews?
Aaron: Yeah, this is obviously probably my biggest soapbox topic of late. I wrote a blog post a couple weeks ago on the GetFiveStars’s blog about, “A reviews-only diet is unhealthy for your business.” And when people are so focused on reviews, all they care about is, I need to ask my customers so I get a review, and they’re throwing out all of this fabulous data that is so meaningful, and can be actionable, and everything in-between.
And Net Promoter Score is, you know, one of those pieces that can bring a lot of clarity to a business to help them understand, are we gonna generate word-of-mouth business? And were these customers … did they feel good about their own experience enough so to tell other people? And I think you can easily see, like, there’s both beauty and beast in a five-star rating, right? The beauty of it is, it’s simple, it’s unified, people really understand it.
But there also can be a beast in it because once you start at a certain level and certain people are giving certain reviews, it’s really hard for that to fluctuate. Might not even be actual about the business. And for the business themselves, I think there’s far less to learn from reviews than there is from actually getting customer feedback, and the small survey questions, and Net Promoter Score.
And we see this within our platform, right? The things I put out there is, it’s great aspirational goals to say, if you could say 20% of your clients would write you a review, that’s a very aspirational goal to get that amount of your customers leaving you a review. Now that only leaves one-fifth of your customer base that you can then take their suggestions or their comments and get new ideas, or fix problems, or do anything else.
But when you’re asking for feedback privately through, like, Net Promoter Score, small amount of survey questions, and open feedback, a realistic goal is 40% or even 50% of your customers. So you can 2-to-3X the amount of people telling you about your business, what’s right, what’s wrong, if they’re gonna tell other people about it. And you’re silly to ignore that amount of data when you can double it and understand all those things.
Because, to me, the best review optimization that you can do is to run a fabulous business. That’s gonna lead to way more reviews than whatever fabulous tool you’re using, the process, the sheet you hand them. If you put them in a straitjacket, walk them over to a computer, and make them write it in your office before you leave, right? All of those things will still fall apart, fail, and won’t actually give you tangible data in the end. So optimizing the business is, by far and away, your best review tactic.
Mike: So, Joy, you mentioned previously the visual and conversion advantage of reviews on first-party reviews. Maybe you could address that in how you see them playing out both in terms of cheating, but in terms of honest representation of Schema in the search results.
Joy: Yeah. I think it’s tricky because people have so much faith in these readings, right? And, like, you just look and you’re like, “Oh, this business has a four-and-a-half star average and that’s great.” Greg Gifford actually showed me something that kind of terrified me down at the state of search, where he asked Siri to recommend, like, a Toyota dealer near him. And at first, it was like, okay, we have this one away. And, you know, do you like this one? And he went, “No, I’d like the next one.” And when they spit off the next one, all they gave him was the average star rating. And they’re like, “This Toyota dealership near you has an average star rating of two-and-a-half.”
And this kind of scares me with voice search because, like, who knows what that two-and-a-half was, whether it was one review, whether it’s five reviews. And if it was just some crazy person, you know, leaving a review on Yelp or if it was actually, like, a good representation of the business, I think this is why businesses are starting to kind of go on the dark side, and buy reviews, and try and get them. Because it’s, like, an emerging trend that I’m seeing constantly. Businesses just are so desperate to get positive reviews that they’ll do anything despite the fact that it’s illegal or against Google’s guidelines. And so far, most of the review sites are very terrible at catching them. So, kind of a challenge but I think it’s gonna be more of a problem.
Mike: So how do you see first-party reviews coming into this in terms of organic and Schema on those pages?
Joy: So the Schema that the site uses varies based on the source. So, like, for example, the Better Business Bureau does not actually mark up reviews from customers. So I don’t know if, like, people are aware that or not. But if you get a five-star, like, gold star rating in the organic results from Better Business Bureau, it is a result of being accredited and, like, I think a couple other things. So if you’re not accredited, then it shows, I think, the customer ratings. But you could have, like, 65 negative reviews and have a five-star rating in the search results on BBB because you’re accredited. This is insane, like, yeah. So you gotta look at the site and how they’re actually marking up the reviews. Avvo works the same way. They don’t mark up based on customer reviews either.
Mike: So I’m gonna address this next question to Aaron. Just I know you’ve been exploring this. In terms of using third-party reviews from Google or Facebook or Yelp on your site, what’s the best practice for reusing those both technically and from a conversion point of view?
Aaron: Yeah, so, I mean, the things you wanna watch out for is you don’t wanna be marking up those third-party reviews with Schema. Because all of them, the Terms of Service at the sites, what their layout is they’re already marking them up. You can’t reuse them and remark those up. Now, you know, from a trust and a conversion standpoint, showing that third-party validation is definitely a great idea, right? And all of them, in some way or another, have some really small and fragmented ways where you can display …even Yelp has features where you can display a few Yelp reviews on your site.
But, a business that has a good, healthy review profile in a number of these sites, you definitely wanna, you know, seek out ways where you can display as many of those as possible, and then also integrate it in, again, with your first-party reviews. This is a switch with a new feature that we have coming out at GetFiveStars is merging the first and third-party reviews together so that the consumer can see it, and then allowing them to choose what do I wanna see, right? Do I just wanna read the Google reviews? Because everybody has their own biases on what site they trust the most or what they wanna narrow into. And if you can provide that at your site after you’ve already gotten that user on there, then that’s fabulous.
And then if you give the amount of quantity that you can in first-party reviews, remember just how I talked about you can get two, three, four times the amount of first-party reviews, that really allows them to, you know, dig into more details and understand that. And that’s something that I see will, kind of, be, I guess if I had to look at next trends, just as Joy was pointing out, if you only take the rating, there’s just so much under the hood after that rating that you really don’t understand.
Just last week in San Francisco, Don and I went to dinner. We chose a Moroccan restaurant that was a 4.1 rating on Google, and we were the only two people in there at a 100-seat place. And when we got out of there, like, I gave … out of my 100 and some reviews I’ve ever given, I gave, like, my third two-star review ever because we were the only two people and the service still stunk. And the food was not great even though it was the only meal they were preparing that night and everything else. And if anything, I was like, “Wow, this does not need to be a four-star average on Google. It is so misleading.”
But when you start reading in some of the reviews, you see reviews over the last 90 days at that business, if we would have read them deeper, people were saying, like, “Slow. We’re the only people in there.” Like, there was a trend happening that a star rating isn’t gonna tell you that trend. So I think assembling as much of that data is definitely important, but you should be aware of the Terms of Service of the different sites and stay away from it. As Joy also pointed out, most of these sites are terrible at enforcing any of those things.
But, you know, and we’ll probably get to this later. I really think that’s a massive key for all of these review sites is how do they maintain some authenticity in the review marketplace now that it has importance? Because once you gain importance, then all the other, the black-hat steroid side of things come into play, and you got to police that, otherwise, it’ll fall apart.
Mike: So just as a point of definition, we’ve been talking about first-party reviews. That basically is the language that refers to a business asking for reviews on their own site. It’s been common in e-commerce forever. It’s not been that common in the small business world, but it’s something that I also think is important particularly from an SEO and conversion opportunity.
So this is a speed-dating question. I’m gonna start with David, go to Joy, and then end with Aaron. But, you know, what kind of impact can a proactive strategy and tactic have in terms of asking your customers these sorts of MPS questions, first-party reviews, third-party reviews? What kind of impact can this kind of proactive strategy have?
David: Huge impact. I mean, I think we saw in Local SEO Guides a study of local rankings. Basically, 9 of the top 10 individual ranking factors had to do with reviews. So I think it will have a huge impact on visibility, to Aaron’s point and to Joy’s point as well, I guess. I think getting a larger volume of reviews’ feedback, doesn’t have to be reviews, but feedback, A, is gonna be great user-generated content for your website, which will help it rank for all kinds of random terms you never dreamed of from customers who are, you know, looking for the same kinds of things that you’ve already sold.
And then the second thing is, again, sort of helping out with the two-and-a-half star rating on Yelp where it’s, you know, one one-star review and one five-star review, just a higher volume of reviews on any site, I think, if you’re running a good business and you’re monitoring what’s happening with your Net Promoter Score is bound to help you in the long run. So, sorry that wasn’t a speedy answer, but I think it’s an important question.
Aaron: You skipped Joy. I think Joy is next.
Mike: Oh, you see? Well, I was gonna go…I’m seeing you this way. I was going clock wise.
Aaron: I see Joy. Joy, you go ahead. You’re in the middle.
Mike: All right. I’m gonna go counterclockwise. I just switched and going counter clock wise. Joy.
Joy: One practical way that we use reviews a lot, you know, other than the obvious things like ranking and all that stuff, we actually use them for ideas for title tags when we’re doing title tags for clients. Because reviews will tell us the things that the customers actually care about. So whether that’s speed, or price, or whatever, we look through the reviews and see, okay, like, what are people, you know, actually talking about and care about, and then we use that. Or those types of words crafted with the keywords for title tags to help with click-through rate. I’ve seen really good success from using that strategy.
Aaron: Joy, that’s awesome. I’m about to write a blog post. That’s like one of the tips on different ways you can use reviews. So I love that you’re doing it. That validates what I think when someone as brilliant as you thinks that.
To your question, Mike, proactive. So here’s an easy stat I can share in a study I did between proactive and passive. So we had a 100-location client that does, like, juices, and health food, and things like that. Five of their locations we hooked up with automation where when someone ordered through their loyalty, or their app, or online, we would automatically ask them for feedback and a review in that process. The other 90-plus locations, you know, a user can leave feedback for them based on, you know, through their website and through other normal channels.
Well, in one year of running it that way, the five locations that had automation where you’re proactively asking, they had 47 times the amount of feedback as the other locations. I mean, it just absolutely dwarfed what happened, right? And that’s a very… They’re not even tapping into all of their customer base. They’re just tapping into the 10% to 20% that order online, order through an app, and whatever else. So it just proves that if you take an active stance, and you’re following up with customers after a purchase or after an interaction, and you have a great way to ask for feedback, you know, ask survey questions, ask for reviews in a really nice, quick, simple way, you are gonna get tangible results that don’t even compare to just idly sitting by and, you know, hoping people find their ways to these channels to give you some.
Mike: Yeah. Just a note, I looked at some data the other day on NPS score. Compared to a survey that the same business was doing, it was a fast, casual. They were looking at speed, friendliness, and cleanliness. And what was fascinating to me as I explored that was the high degree of correlation between the survey results and the NPS score. In other words, the NPS score had become a very successful proxy for more detailed questions, which I thought was very, very interesting.
So let me move on to the next question, which is review solicitation. You know, over the summer we saw a large review request provider, solicitation company, have some of their reviews for their clients taken down from Google. Clearly, they weren’t following rules. You know, I think from where I sit, it’s important that there be standards of behaviors so that we don’t pollute the pool in which we are all swimming, not that I ever peed in the pool, but you get the idea here.
David: Keep in mind Mike, I mean, really, there’s, you know, 100 people on this webinar listening. I don’t know if you’re aware of that.
Mike: It’s a good metaphor, right? Anyways, do you see a need to move towards the review solicitation standards? Let me start with Joy since I might have…
Joy: Yeah. So I’m just gonna, if you’re okay with it, Mike, I was just gonna be frank and, like, actually explain what you’re vaguely referring to there. Because I did an analysis for my training on, like, what they actually did. So the company that got nailed with this review solicitation, what was different about their email before and after consulting them was that they were refilling the gold stars when they were sending out their requests to people.
So I had a client that sent me one of the review solicitation emails from earlier in the year, and I looked at it, and then I compared it with after they fixed it. And that was the difference. Basically, the new version did not prefill stars and the old version did. And when they switched to that old version that prefilled the stars, they had it running for, I don’t know, I think three or four months. And basically, every single business that was using this platform, and I spoke to several, said that all the reviews basically got wiped out on Google. So I think Google did like some type of mass-spread wipe-out. So, obviously, like, stuff like that is something you don’t wanna do.
Mike: So, David, I know you’re familiar with Yelp’s stance on review solicitation. Maybe you could summarize it and analyze it for us.
David: Well, let’s see. Their stance on review solicitation is that it’s only okay if Yelp is the one soliciting the review for your business after a consumer checks in at your business on the Yelp app, which, unless you live in, you know, the Marina District of San Francisco, is probably, like, 0.2% of your customers are gonna be doing that. So you’re getting a really, really small sample size if you’re abiding by the letter of Yelp’s law.
Yelp recently tried to extend its law beyond just Yelp to soliciting reviews on any third-party site. So I’m not sure how they plan to, you know, monitor the solicitation behavior of a business on Google, or Facebook, or any of these other sites, not to mention their biggest competitor…well, one of their biggest competitors, TripAdvisor, which actively helps businesses solicit reviews by providing them branded business cards that they can use at checkouts or payment stands or whatever. So, you know, Yelp is really the outlier here in terms of cracking down on review solicitation.
The, I think, Senior Vice President, Chad Richard, at the Street Fight Summit of Yelp said, he thought review solicitation “bamboozled customers,” which I couldn’t disagree with more. You know, Yelp is presenting an inherently biased view of a business by only allowing reviews from active iPhone-wielding millennials. And so I would encourage you guys as businesses to ignore Yelp’s guideline. And if you do get caught and they put some, you know, criminal-looking banner on your Yelp profile, just buy a bunch of really, really crappy links, point them at your Yelp profile, Google will de-index it.
And, you know, to be honest, I haven’t checked to see what happens in Apple Maps but, you know, the worst case is, your Yelp profile doesn’t show up in Apple Maps and just your standard Maps connect profile would. So that’s my advice for people who are worried about the Yelp review filter. Yelp Review Policy is basically to ignore it, and if they catch you, you can de-index your Yelp profile.
Mike: Just as a note, one of the ways they are theoretically enforcing the no solicitation at Google or Facebook is by telling their large partners that they would lose access to the API. So they’re holding their API access hostage to the demand that larger companies not solicit reviews. But I’ve also understood that it’s being very selectively enforced. And some of the bigger companies are still soliciting.
David: Domino’s Pizza has been soliciting reviews, at least as of, what, about a year and a half ago, you know, incredibly actively on Yelp. Presumably, they’ve paid Yelp enough money that Yelp will look the other way. So I think if you are a big brand, I would, you know, again, if they catch you and try to, you know, blacklist your locations or whatever, just buy whatever minimal amount of advertising will get you out of that black box. They clearly have zero ethical standards when it comes to taking money.
Mike: Yeah, I did see an example of a demand letter going to somebody, and they were advertising, and they kept saying, “Well, if you don’t. If you don’t. If you don’t.” It was always in the future. It never took place. It was actually dragged out over quite a few months because they were advertising. They weren’t gonna put that signal there. So maybe just advertising might be a way to get out of the doghouse. So, interesting.
So, Joy, maybe you can answer this. If you do, you know… Obviously, Yelp is more aggressive to filter newbie reviews, they have these restrictions against asking for reviews, if you have a client that would like to get a small number of Yelp reviews, what do you recommend to them?
Joy: So I usually tell them to send out a link in their emails saying, like, you know, “Please leave us a review.” And then instead of linking to any property linked to a brand search on Google for their business name, and usually Yelp will be one of the top results that shows up there, and it’s like, “Well, you’re not technically asking for them on Yelp so how can they possibly, like, call you for that?” That’s what I’ve been doing for my own business.
Mike: Do you filter any of the requests? In other words, one of the problems with Yelp or one of the difficulties is, if the user is a newbie, positive reviews are gonna get filtered, the negative ones don’t, but how do you overcome that? Do you have any tactic to do that?
Joy: Basically, you have to join Yelp personally, and then link it with either Facebook or your email, and you can see which of your current contacts or friends are active users on Yelp. And then you could, you know, go to the extent of reaching out to those specific users and seeing if they’d be willing to review you. Kind of, like, again, it’s well against Yelp guidelines. So there’s a little bit of risks there but that would be the option if you really wanted a higher volume.
David: Phil Rozek of Local Visibility System I think wrote the most detailed post on that practice that I remember. So do something around…do a search around “Local Visibility System Yelp review connection” or something and it’ll probably show up. Maybe we can link to it somewhere in the comments.
Mike: So here’s the speed question. I’m gonna leave you last, David, so that we actually get a couple speed answers. So a couple of tips for responding to negative reviews. Let me start with Aaron this time.
Aaron: Yeah, I think the biggest key is, check your emotions, whether you have to pause and take a timeout. It’s really, one, you would definitely wanna respond to negative reviews. Surveys have shown, like, users care more and more than ever about a business actually responding because they look at it, like, what happens when I have a bad situation? Do you have a process? Do you value complaints? Will you do something to actually take care of it?
And I borrow the line, I heard it from Jay Baer, right, where you’re like, “Customer service these days is a spectator sport,” right? And it’s definitely somewhat about that one person you’re responding to, but it’s more about the 5, the 500 or the 5,000 that will read that review and read that response, and what impression does that leave them with of your business. So definitely be cognizant about that when responding to it, that it’s about what is everyone else gonna interpret out of this interaction as they read it months or years into the future when deciding if they might do business with you?
Mike: I’m gonna ask Joy a slightly different question. Joy, do you think a business should respond to every review?
Joy: No. No, we just usually respond to negative ones.
Mike: And what’s your thinking on that?
Joy: It is kind of a waste of time because the users don’t get alerted of the response. If they did, I think there would be a point in responding to a review. Like if I, as the person that left the review saw that the business owner responded, that’d be nice. But they don’t. Unlike on Facebook where you get an alert. You don’t get that on Google. So there’s just really no point and it doesn’t impact ranking in any way. Owner responses is not a ranking factor. So there’s just no point other than with negative reviews where you wanna obviously, like, apologize and like look like a caring business when someone leaves you a negative review.
Mike: David, anything to add to either of those?
David: Just a quick thing, I guess. No, I actually wasn’t aware that Google users didn’t get notified of responses. But I think…
Mike: It’s split with Plus. There’s no mechanism for…there is no internal mechanism for it.
David: I was gonna say, if you can identify the person and connect them with an email address in your CRM or your reviews Net Promoter Score portal or whatever, I think it would be worth following up with an email and just let the person know how much you appreciated their feedback, and that this really helps your business. Take the opportunity to deepen the relationship with the customer just with a quick thank-you note.
David: Leaving a response is probably not gonna impact rankings. But I think just from an engagement standpoint and a loyalty perspective, I would do it via email.
Mike: Right. I think the recent research I read was that there’s a declining curve of response that if you put too many answers out there, like, answer all the positive ones, that the readers end up not being able to read all the reviews they wanna review. And it actually has a negative financial impact answering them all.
So, all right, final topic. Bad behavior, as it were. So, obviously, there’s a lot of bad actors in the space, some of whom, you know, review solicitation software. Let me start by addressing this question to you, Joy. Have you seen it? We know that there’s been systemic abuses in Google. We saw some takedowns this summer. Have you seen an increase in Google takedowns perhaps via proxy, in other words, complaints in the forums, for example? Have they changed the review algorithms in a way that has increased the number of takedowns of ill-gotten reviews?
Joy: Algorithmically, no, unfortunately. I haven’t seen any, like, good things happen. Manually, like, I’ve seen lots of people reporting huge networks. The problem is Google takes forever to take them down. So, like, we have one that’s pending I think three or four months now that is huge, like, it’s massive, like tens of thousands of businesses that have these fake reviews. You can tie them all together. And it’s like we’re still waiting for Google to remove them.
Mike: They’re trying to trade in the machine and the AI algorithm.
Joy: It’s taking so long. And it irritates me every time I see them because I’m just like, it definitely is helping the businesses that are doing it.
Mike: So, Aaron, if you saw a business getting negative reviews from a competitor, what would you tell them to do?
Aaron: Yeah, I mean, depending upon the platform and the route, right, the best thing to do is to report them. I get it stinks and you have to manually do it, and hope they are reviewed, and everything else. But, you know, in Google, you need to go next to the reviewer’s name and find the little flag icon that is super-hard to find. It’s a light gray. But go and report it. And I would, you know, I would have a couple of people from your office or staff report it to kind of trigger a few different ones actually putting that out there.
But, you know, unfortunately, that’s the way to go right now, is just through kind of some of their manual processes. I have seen much better results at Google than, you know, say, like, Facebook, right? Like, they seem to have, you know, very little pieces that are into that. But we also don’t see some, you know, some of the network problems at a mass scale with Facebook that we see at Google. But definitely pay attention, report, and just understand it’s on you as the business owner. You’re gonna have to state why this is a fraudulent or a fake review, or a former employee. Like, you have to provide the evidence. The reviewer is innocent until proven guilty and you’re the one that has to prove them guilty.
Mike: Yeah, part of the problem there is the actual flag doesn’t offer enough space. So, frequently, if you have that extra proof, you have to then, after a 10-day or week, escalate it into the forums, flag down Joy so she can then report it…
Joy: Don’t flag me down.
Aaron: Joy loves it when you tag her name in the forum.
Joy: Oh, God, no. Please don’t.
Aaron: No, what’s your cell phone number? Let’s get her cell phone number out here.
Joy: That’s the thing I do. Like, people will email me and call me on my work number. I’m like, “Guys,” I’m like, “I’m sorry. I tried out as many users as I can but I am one person that has a full-time job as well.”
Mike: I went to one slide too quick here. I’m sorry. David, quick question, or maybe a quick answer. But, you know, in organic, it’s always been sort of bad form to report competitors. In local, you know, I’ve always felt it was fine to report illegal locations. What do you think about reporting a competitor that’s buying fake reviews?
David: I agree. So, you know, if you’re talking about organic search and somebody is, you know, bought a bunch of links and it’s working, you know, that’s not really harming consumers. That’s harming Google, which, you know, who really cares. It’s a, you know, multi-billion dollar international corporation. But buying reviews or faking reviews, that actually is harming consumers because that’s about the experience out of business. And so that, I think, is totally legit to report as a, you know, hopefully, punishable offense.
I would say I think Google, given what Aaron, you know, Aaron said in one of the opening questions, just I think that they have realized how important reviews are to painting a complete picture of the business. And we’ve seen how prominent reviews now are on knowledge panels and three packs and all these other places. And so I have to think Google is going to commit significant resources this year to combating these obvious networks. It was a prediction I made at the end of 2017, couple months ago. We’ll see if it comes true.
If Mike Blumenthal can figure it out, you know, on a part-time basis from his home office in Olean, surely, you know, dozens of Google engineers in Mountain View with all of the big data at their disposal can knock at least the really egregious actors out pretty quickly.
Mike: So it may just be a reflection I have too much time on my hands. I’m not working hard enough to get five stars. I’m not sure. So, okay, time to move on to Q&A.
Aaron: As long as they name the filter The Mike, right? And then business is like, “Oh, you got Miked.”
Mike: Yeah, Joy had, you know, an update named after her. I want a filter named after me. A review code because that would be a very cool legacy, right? So here’s a question. I’m gonna go to Q&A. We have 12 minutes. So this is from Madeline Evans. What’s the best resource to learn where consumers connect most with different businesses and different verticals? So who wants to take that one?
David: Yeah, I can say I actually dropped in a link in the chat where we got some of the review site growth numbers. So that’s a good place to start. It’s a BrightLocal post from January called The Comparison of Local Review Sites. And, you know, it doesn’t get quite as granular like, hey, you know, you’re a health club or a gym and so here’s the four sites you wanna look at. But it helps you understand, you know, which industries are seeing more arise in reviews. They kind of have a two-year impact on, you know, the growth of reviews in that industry and consumers consuming them. And then the overall high-level stats of, you know, which sites have an importance for a user that’s out there. So that to me is definitely a good, easy starting point.
But, you know, as I alluded to before, it’s maybe now, you know, that one site might be Google and you need to do a search that’s gonna bring up review sites for your business to, like, these are the ones that already rank and have visibility. So you’re best off trying to, you know, really pull those into good shape and good form since they already have the prominence of their visibility.
Mike: Another resource is your own customer base. I mean, there’s a strong demographic tendency to certain sites. But ask them, right? At my blog, too, I also wrote, did some demographic analysis of how different age groups use different sites at blumenthals.com. You can find it.
So here’s a really important question from Gary. Is it okay to pee in the ocean? Oh, I guess we better not answer that one. Well, actually, I do think it’s okay to pee in the ocean but the pool is definitely out.
Let’s move on. So this is from Gwen. Any tips for dealing with rip-off reports besides paying them?
Aaron: David, would you use your same Yelp de-index link tactic with review report?
David: Give it a shot. I mean, if rip-off report is already ranking for your brand name, you know, I don’t think that there’s a huge risk in doing that. You know, obviously, the best practice and all reputation management is just to try to get better or neutral sites to push rip-off report down. But you can certainly try to buy just, you know, a million of the crappiest links from Russia and Poland and then everywhere else that you can think of and see if that does get Google to de-index it.
Aaron: Yeah. And to your point about getting it to move down, I mean, we kind of alluded to this. I think the most underused tactic resulting from a strategy is first-party reviews on your own site. If you have first-party reviews on your site marked up with Schema that Google is gonna see and display, those pages will automatically jump up high. We see those higher from our clients than Yelp profiles, Facebook profiles. And you might only be able to get one or two of them within some of those results. But that’s some really key area to jump up top and push some of the others down, and that’s something you have direct control over, you know, even more so than the third-party sites.
So that’s such, like…first-party reviews are such low-hanging fruit that everyone skips over because, you know, it just doesn’t…they feel like it doesn’t have the wow or the impact, right? I call third-party reviews, those are sprinkles on the doughnut. That’s what everybody, like, sees in the case and gets excited about. My kids would probably just rather eat the sprinkles off the doughnut than anything else. But first-party reviews are icing, right? Like, that needs to exist, otherwise, the sprinkles fall off. Like, don’t skip that piece of it because it is definitely important.
David: And just a really quick note, Google Posts now are also a phenomenal way to push these things down. It’s a huge, you know, probably a 125 or 150…
David: Exactly. That in mobile is, you know, nobody’s ever gonna scroll past Google Posts. So you don’t even have to, you know…not that I disagree with anything Aaron said but there’s actually an even easier, faster way to push organic stuff down the page for your own brand.
Mike: Right. And along that same line is uploading some good Google questions would do the exact same thing. In other words, the more you can influence and fill out, in mobile particularly, the knowledge panel, the further down the page it’s gonna go. So Valerie wanted to know who she can get in touch with to hire somebody to de-index her Yelp page. So I will leave that for offline. I don’t know if… But email me, email@example.com. I may be able to recommend somebody, sure.
Sandra asked this really great leading question in my last slide, which is, “How do I get a Local U in our town?” You know, again, reach out to me, firstname.lastname@example.org. We do have a set of criteria. We look for solid local sponsors. And that means different things in different contexts so please reach out. Repost the link to the article. I’m not sure which article…
Aaron: Yeah, I shared the BrightLocal one. I think it was about that. So I shared that link to all so it should be out there.
Mike: So I guess…
David: I assume we’re gonna publish a recap of this, too, on the Local U or GetFiveStars blog.
Mike: Probably both places, I would guess. We’ll see. Just a quick closing note from each of you perhaps, and then, well, we’re at 11:55, so a quick closing note. Why don’t I start with Joy?
Joy: Sorry. You want a quote on what?
Mike: A closing comment, thought.
Joy: Yeah, so I guess I’ll just comment on, like, reporting competitors that are either, you know, doing negative reviews on you or positive reviews on themselves. If you are gonna be reporting these and you wanna actually have success with it, make sure you put together, like, an external document on Google Docs that outlines all the evidence. That’s the number one thing that people miss when they’re doing these reports and they don’t have success with them. So just make sure you include screenshots, links to, you know, anything that can help confirm their identity, stuff like that, and you’ll have a lot more success in getting rid of those.
Mike: An example that is, we had somebody provided links in the forum to Facebook asks with incentives for reviews. And with that proof, Google took them down. To you, David, thoughts, comments, closing ideas?
David: Yeah, I see reviews as already probably, you know, as a broader bucket of ranking factors. I see reviews as number one already today. I think that’s only gonna increase moving forward. So I think it’s a really good area for long-term investment from a small business perspective.
Mike: Just to clarify. When you say that you see that as in the broad sense, not in the Google sense.
David: Yeah, well, anywhere, right? So I think reviews are gonna influence rankings on the Facebook local app, and they already do, and the Yelp app. So anywhere your consumers are, reviews are gonna be important. So I see it as a really good long-term investment. It’s also if you are a small business, obviously, you know how painful it is to get reviews and get the Net Promoter Score-type feedback coming in, and to analyze it. It’s a huge headache.
So I think reviews are also an excellent place as a long-term service offering for agencies, which I know probably a lot of folks listening on the call are. So if you’re not, if you don’t have a really robust automated solution to onboard your clients into from a Net Promoter Score standpoint, I think now is the time…well, last year or two years ago, three years ago was the time to do it, but definitely start looking at it because it is gonna be a really good spot for you to provide real value to your clients and make a healthy margin.
Aaron: Yeah, and I would close with, your customer is your most valuable asset of your business so finding ways to listen to them should be your top priority. Feedback, NPS, survey questions, all those things. When you’re only asking for a review, all you’re saying to that customer is, “Please market for me.” You’re not saying, “Please talk to me and tell me how your experience was, and can we do better and improve, and this is all about you.” So I think that, as a fundamental, is more of what businesses need to embrace. And if you do all the right things there, the reviews come, and they happen, and you have all these other pieces to really make your business the best business it can be.
Because at the end of the day, you’re not gonna survive on reviews alone. That’s not gonna be something that, you know, truly makes or breaks your business. But what your customers think and that feedback and listening to as many of them as possible absolutely will make or break your business.
Mike: That’s a great closing note. I wanted to thank you all for coming. And I just wanna remind people that Local U Advanced Austin, April 12th. The hotel is very inexpensive, the event is very inexpensive. It would not only be the best event you go to a local this year in terms of networking and content, very content-driven, tactically-driven, it will also be one of the least expensive you’ll go to this year. I’m not sure that… And, I mean, we’ve done that with the intention of making it affordable for everybody. So I hope to see you there.
With that, I just want to, again, thank our presenters, David Mihm with Tidings, Joy with Sterling Sky, and Aaron with GetFiveStars. Thank again very much. And this, as we’ve noted, will be posted at both Local U and perhaps at GetFiveStars. So, again, thank you and goodbye.