Local Search

The 3 Pillars of Local Search Reviews

If Local Search was a building, it was look something like this…

local pillars 01 The 3 Pillars of Local Search Reviews

(photo from the Telegraph)

There are new things being added, subtracted, re-arranged, re-named, left unfinished, and stolen all the time in the industry. We have seen the rise of deals, check-ins, mainstream local results in SERP’s, review fights between the giants, and countless other methods of connecting local businesses to customers.

Because of this, the local search industry has developed the phenomena of  “storm chasers”. Meaning those that will change their strategy often. Run to every new update, and try to be the first to find the “secret” that will cash out quickly until the next big storm comes.

Example

This past week Google Places made a few cosmetics changes which “disapparated” citations from the Places page which stopped counting and highlighting 3rd party reviews. This is what the search results look like now:

local pillars 02 The 3 Pillars of Local Search Reviews

And here for the Places page review section, only Google reviews are showing and 3rd party sites have been relegated to links below.

local pillars 03 The 3 Pillars of Local Search Reviews

The Citations have already been discussed, but I wanted to put in my two-bits in.  A storm chaser would translate this update as a mad dash for Google Places reviews. They would forget 3rd party sites (Yelp, Citysearch, etc.) and make sure that when their listing are compared with others on Google Places competitors, they would have the most reviews. Instead, it would be a wise thing to focus on the 3 pillars of local search reviews. The pillars are never changing, as they hold up the entire review strategy for the local search industry.

One: Diversity

Reason

Google has put ranking weight on the number of different sites with business reviews. Now is that reason enough to diversify? If not, how about the countless issues that Google has had with misplacing reviews? More importantly, Google Places is not the only way that people find information about a business.

The Yelp mobile app in the Apple Store currently has 105,969 reviews while Google Places has 2373 reviews. Also, some industries have review specific sites (think Urbanspoon) that provide a great gathering system for the food industry. A site like CitySearch.com’s reviews can be left with a simple Facebook login, and their reviews feed to both Bing and Google (now as a link) and also has an impressive amount of people searching on their network as a stand-alone site.

Ideas:

  • Incorporate review links on your website (I generally like to have 4 different portals) that cover all your bases.

local pillars 04 The 3 Pillars of Local Search Reviews

  • Ask your Facebook friends to leave you reviews on CitySearch

local pillars 05 The 3 Pillars of Local Search Reviews

  • If you are in a popular Yelp industry or place, then print out and highlight some of your reviews in your place of business.

local pillars 06 The 3 Pillars of Local Search Reviews

  • If you have an email list, find all the gmail users and send an email asking for reviews on Google Places. If they have a yahoo address send them a link to yahoo local. And if they have a Hotmail address, then send them an invite for gmail icon wink The 3 Pillars of Local Search Reviews

The key is to make sure you don’t just do one thing to get reviews. Incorporate a lot of methods, but make sure you do have a list of sites that you want promote reviews on and try to guide people there. Most users have one they prefer in the top 4-5 review sites.

Two: Consistency

Reason

Like most forms of user generated content; reviews are extremely difficult to work into your daily business. Most companies I see get really excited for a while and will get a plethora of reviews, then go months without asking for them. Here are a few reasons to have a steady flow of reviews…

  • It looks natural. Getting reviews in mass amounts quickly seems extremely spammy.
  • People look at dates of reviews. If they see recent reviews the trust level goes up substantially in determining business quality.
  • You are constantly getting feedback on your product or service.

Ideas

  • Create a review pamphlet that sits in a prominent place in your business and can be passed out in bags or with receipts.
  • Include links to review portals in your emails as part of your signature.
  • Include review information on invoices or receipts.
  • Set up a calendar with a different review campaign each month (with alarm notices so you don’t forget)

The key is to simply make the decision that reviews are important to your business, and not give up or give in. Nobody in your space will be able to compete long term against a consistent strategy.

Three: Reliability

Reason

Contrary to popular belief, reliability centers around bad and mediocre reviews. While most business owners would do anything to have a 5 star business, a normal business cannot avoid criticism. Nothing sends a flag to users more than a plethora of 5 star reviews with no mention of  4’s, 3’s, or 2’s. So, don’t be afraid to let anyone and everyone leave a review.  An employee might make a mistake, or you might come up against a mean old nag. A perfect business isn’t one with perfect reviews, it’s one that deals with their reviews and feedback perfectly. As long as you promote people leaving reviews, then you should end up with a very accurate portrayal of your business. Feedback can help you to progress in areas of need.

Comments from the owners/managers on reviews are also very important. It’s a voice that a business can portray in response to negative, and positive, feedback alike. By responding, you show that you are real.

Don’t buy reviews. But if I can’t stop you then make sure that the reviews are a mix of feedback. Mostly good, sometimes mediocre, and once in a while bad.

Ideas

  • Highlight a review a month on posters in your business. People who come in will see you are actively monitoring + promoting reviews and will trust what they see + read.
  • Set up for a paid service like Steprep.com which will notify you any time a review is published so that you can act accordingly.
  • If you want to take a chance, highlight both positive reviews, and no so positive reviews on a testimonials page, and explain what you have done to remedy the problem.
  • Have a history of reviews. When I read hotel reviews where there are 100’s or 1000’s of reviews, I know that there is no way they can all be fabricated. When I see a business with 2-3 reviews…I wonder.

Build the Pillars

It might be a lot easier to have a storm chaser focused strategy. People do it all the time with links and citations, but they are not seen and read by your customers the way a review is. If you do one thing right in local, make it your reviews. Build on a strong and diverse platform that will allow you roll with the changes with ease because your strategy will be based on pillars.

 The 3 Pillars of Local Search Reviews

Mike Ramsey

Mike Ramsey is the owner of Nifty Marketing, a Local Search Marketing company hailing from Burley, Idaho. His twitter handle is niftymarketing and he is a proud husband and father. Mike has lost 12 pounds on his local search recipe plan because after all, it’s not edible.

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48 thoughts on “The 3 Pillars of Local Search Reviews

  1. Great points, very succinct. Easy for business owners to digest 3 well written pillars, let’s just hope they listen. Buying reviews is ridiculous, thanks for taking a stand in that direction rather than just offering it as an option. A lot of SMBs still think that is a viable choice – its not, in the long run.

    If its between product A with some bad reviews and product B with all gleaming reviews, I’m choosing A because I feel that’s more indicative of a true customer experience – kinda goes w/o saying…Consumers can easily separate fact from fiction…they’re looking to do so.

  2. The more that online reviewing becomes mainstream. The harder it will be to fabricate reviews. Consumers really dig when they want to make a purchase or eat a good meal. All it takes is one really spammy fake review to ruin credibility for ever.

  3. WOW Mike!  You’ve really outdone yourself on this one! LUV the image!!!

    I’ve been commenting bits and pieces of my review strategy here and there to correct bad info/assumptions ever since this update hit. My strategy is almost identical to yours.

    I’ve had people ask me if I could just write a big article about review strategies and why I say it’s still important to diversify. (Mainly Dentists, like the one you show above, have been asking, due to my Tuesday post about the whole DemandForce review issue.)

    You just saved me a TON time. I’ll just send people here instead of trying to write a book about it and save my carpal!  Will probably blog it today if I have time and link to this post and one other really good one from this week.

    THANKS!

    1. Thanks a ton Linda! I have been thinking about this one for some time. I spent a few days after the cosmetic update just asking people their thoughts on the changes, what algo changes might follow, and what their plan would be. After some feedback I knew that a more solid strategy needed to be discussed.

  4. Great article Mike! I have been using similar strategies for getting reviews for some customers, although it greatly varies from industry to industry. Regarding the last interface update, I think the problem is more not of “do the reviews from third-parties influence the ranking”, but of “do the reviews from third-parties influence the conversion rate as much as before”. Now that the ratings from third-parties are not included in the overall count the Google Users reviews matter much more in terms of conversion I believe. That’s the core problem. Of course diversity matters a lot and is part of the ranking factors, but let’s be real – even if you’ve got 100 5-star reviews on Citysearch, Insiderpages, Judysbook, Superpages, Yellowpages, and a spammer comes and leaves 10 1-star reviews on your Place page, well, you could get out of business in no time if you rely too much on the Google traffic as many SMBs are.

    BTW, I believe there is one more pillar, which is however, somehow less controlable than the other 3 – content of reviews :)

    P.S. I think you mean Bing here: “And if they have a Hotmail address, then send them an invite for gmail ;-)” :)

    Cheers,
    Nyagoslav

    1. Your right…Content is king even in reviews, just not as controllable. I believe that content comes from consistency. Some reviews will be weak. But occasionally you will get a gem from a power user. Also, I think this strategy would make sure that you stayed up on google places reviews as well as other portals. A spammer will put 10+ reviews and be ahead, until he sees that every month your generating 15 real ones, and the month after you get 20 real ones, compared to very fake ones. Also, once you can check out profiles of reviewee’s on google+ easily…it will be easy to spot fake ones that are reviewing listings all around the world.

      And for hotmail…I meant sending them a gmail invite. ;-) Hotmail is horrible and I wouldn’t recommend a review sent to bing other than through citysearch. Bing doesn’t even have a review system.

    1. I think that is a piece of the massive local ecosystem. But If that is the only strategy, then my listings will have a very easy time beating your listings ;-)

      All jokes aside. If I were to name 3 pillars of local search as a whole it would be

      1. Links
      2. Citations
      3. Reviews

      3.5 Onsite Optimization
      3.6 Places Page Optimization
      3.7 Local Social

      6 pillars i guess

  5. Mike,  great post here.  I agree with so much what you had to say.  I do however believe (more now then ever) that a SMB needs to get 5 or more reviews ASAP on their Google Places Listing so they can get that 5 golden star rich snippet next to their listing (assuming they are on page 1 above the fold).  Without it, a listing just doesn’t stand out in the SERPs if the competitors have 5 or more.  Ideally if your lucky you may be the only one with this.  Especially now that they have removed the 3rd party reviews from the review count.

    Then once you get those initial 5 or more reviews on GP, then diversify your reviews across the 3rd party review sites.

    1. Yeah. Really, if a company pushes for reviews period (especially to their gmail account list) they should be able to do that in a week while still pushing everything else. It is definitely needed though.  Thanks for the comment Matthew!

    1. They do. The story on the house is almost as crazy as the building. It is owned by a Russian Gangster. He wanted to have the biggest cabin in his area but when he built two floors he said it looked awkward so he kept building up (himself). Then, a rival gang got him thrown in jail and stole his wealth. So, years later. He lives in the bottom two floors and dissembled the walls on the 2nd floor so that the rest can be considered decoration and not livable to avoid authorities stepping in on the mess.

  6. I agree with Matthew:  Having spread my reviews around in the past….now I need  a big focus on Google Reviews.   What will I do later once I get a healthy number of google reviews,….I might start distributing them…..but I’m putting more weight into G reviews now.   But all in all,,,,in our cases getting reviews is a big job in that we have businesses that tend not to be places where customers naturally add reviews.  So we have to put the weight on google

    1. I understand a certain weight on Google, but really…. The algo is still focused on diversity of reviews as a factor. My research presented as smx showed no correlation with google reviews and rankings and big 3rd Party correlation.

      From a CTR standpoint, I completely agree. If Google Places is the main way people find your business then naturally that is where they will want to leave reviews. I now list google as the first button for reviews. I used to do citysearch as it helped google, bing and citysearch.

      1. Mike:  I’m less focused on the algo and the thought that review totals influence rankings….tho who knows….Google is a damn large mystery and does shake up things quite a bit.   And while I don’t believe that volumes of reviews have a big impact on rankings, Yam Regev’s comments above could preview a difference, afterall.

        At this point I’m focused on adding Google reviews because of the visual impact of reviews on a blended result, let alone a 7pac.

  7. I like the thoughtfulness and perspective.  It is ultimately about building the client’s business, and the more places the people can post and/or find reviews, the better

    1. Exactly. Reviews can’t be thought of as a ranking factor. They hold to much other power to overlook.

  8. I like the thoughtfulness and perspective.  It is ultimately about building the client’s business, and the more places the people can post and/or find reviews, the better

  9. Bravo.  Most people don’t put enough weight behind having an actual “campaign” or plan for this stuff.  Well thought out.

    1. I know right. Amazing how many businesses dont even realize you can have a review strategy. Those are generally the businesses that have 1-5 negative reviews that they dont even know about!

  10. Good thought of you, expecially with google review.you are on the cuting edge, keep it up and communicate it with people like me. thanks-

  11. This is definitely one of the best posts I’ve read on SEJ. I think everything you covered hinted at some great strategies to follow when managing and collecting reviews for your business. Great work Mike!

    1. Wow, kind words Steve. There are a lot more things that could be said but until the average buisness is doing at least the above mentioned…there really is no point. Will be interesting to see where the state of reviews are at in 2012.

  12. Have nothing to add, Mike ( ;-) )! Beautiful article.

    I just can share some experience that have  happened to me yesterday: I have a listing that was ranked B in 2nd page, we asked 1 of our customers to post a review to this listing & he did so by his new “Hotpot” account, right after, this listing jumped into the 7 pack (ranks E). The industry is competiitve (but not as the locksmith industry).
    I can’t remeber such a quick reaction & heavy impact on a listing that got a Google review before the new UI change last week.

    I’m a great believer in reviews diversity, but this experience caused me to stop & think for a while.

    1. hmm, are you thinking that there was an update to the algo already? Or do you think that the review solidified the account’s location and matched it to the website?

      1. We’ll have to wait for the next monthly update in order to understand it better. If the review will survive the update, we might conclude that Google puts a bit more weight on its own reviews. If the review will be removed, we’ll understand that this a specific case of great impact by a review.

        Google is preferring its own reviews..? In a (conspiracy) aspect, it might make some sense ;-)

        Anyways, nothing is ‘real’ but after the monthly update

      2. I do think that their reviews will have more weight than previous (at some point) but I still think it would be a mistake to then only focus on google reviews. Too many bad experience with them loosing a pretty big list of legitimate ones.

  13. Excellent article Mike. Our clients are always looking at how to get more reviews. We provide them with instructions on how to get their customers to write a review. We will add in info you have provided. Thanks!

    1. Cool! I would be interested to know the other articles you send them to! I like to have diverse info to send to clients.

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    Within the HTML of your website are title tags for each of your pages. Placing keywords such as “Pittsburgh Widgets” in your title tags can help search engines determine where you are located, and therefore, rank your website for searches within your location. If you are unsure how to place title tags in your website, ask your Webmaster. Title tags should be different for EVERY page of your website.

  15. Use Local Keywords on Your Webpage Title Tags
    Within the HTML of your website are title tags for each of your pages. Placing keywords such as “Pittsburgh Widgets” in your title tags can help search engines determine where you are located, and therefore, rank your website for searches within your location. If you are unsure how to place title tags in your website, ask your Webmaster. Title tags should be different for EVERY page of your website.

  16. Well written Mike,  This is something useful pillars to make out some good strategic plan. I think positive review about our product is more vital for us.

  17. I’ll just send people here instead of trying to write a book about the carpal and save! Probably the blog today, if I have time and a link to the post office and other really well in the second week.
     

    Mirriored Furniture

  18. I like how you compare the structure of local search to that horrible mess of a house!  Thanks for a great read and I’ll check back for more!