Are You Reading This?! Part I of How to Capture Your Online Audience

July 24th, 2014 By Kelsey Brown

Back in April, media organization NPR played a little prank on its Facebook followers with this post, proving that a snazzy image and a gripping headline really do get a lot of attention.

Often, all of the attention readers want to give.

attention_deficit-300x281

So, how do you make sure your online package packs a punch sans information overload? For both of our sakes, I’ll make this brief:

  • Know your Web audience and put yourself in those shoes.  Your prospects need service, you provide service. To polish up this practical reality a little, aim for a website design that answers visitors’ questions while also proving why YOU are a cut above the rest.
  • Don’t be afraid to use images. “Too much of a good thing” can definitely apply here, but having a gallery of previous projects you’ve done, people you’ve worked with (if they’re okay with it, of course), or some choice before-and-after photos gives visitors stronger confidence in what your service can provide them. Plus, you can break up intimidating text blocks.
  • Your reviews are ready for their close up. Did you know I was going to say that? Just remember that 88% of today’s consumers trust online reviews from other customers to the same degree they trust personal recommendations when choosing businesses. Get consistently updated and verified reviews from your valued customers, then put that content in a visible location on your website (like on the right-hand panel over there –>). You did the work, now let the reviews work for you.

I’ll be making a miniseries out of this topic, as I feel it’s a hugely important one that is often either taken for granted or played up as more complicated than it needs to be. For now, take a moment to look over your website. Would YOU give yourself a call for service?

Thanks for reading.

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Negative Reviews: How to Handle Stalkers

July 17th, 2014 By Ted Paff

I have written and spoken extensively about how to handle negative reviews in the past.   I continue to believe the basic advice in that blog post  is appropriate in (nearly) every situation.

However, some circumstances are worthy of extra commentary and review stalkers are one of those.

Review Stalker

stalker

A review stalker is:

  • someone who writes multiple reviews, typically on multiple review sites.
  • focused on a situation that is not a fixable by you.
  • not willing to let the issue go after you do your best to help them.

A review stalker is NOT someone who writes one bad review. They also tend not to be typical customers.  Often, they are not customers at all.  If a potential stalker has an issue with a situation that is fixable by you without compromising your business ethics or values, then it is usually worth doing what you can (in considering the cost/benefit of this, think through the cost of your time, the bad PR, the lost customers, etc.) to make the problem go away.

Responding Publicly to Stalkers

Once you have tried to talk with the person and done your best to fix the situation, your only option is to respond to the review (one caveat is when the reviewer is not a customer of your business and leaves the review on Customer Lobby, we will remove that review).  In responding to stalkers:

  1. Carefully read the review and determine all of the issues that a *potential customer* might have in choosing your business that are raised or are hinted at in the review.
  2. Use these basic response tactics and respond by discussing what changes you have made (or are in the process of making) so that this issue will not happen for a future customer.  Be creative here.
  3. Avoid the temptation to call them out as a stalker.  Most likely the reader of the stalker’s review will not see other reviews written by that person so calling them out as a stalker makes you sound defensive.
  4. Repeat each time a new review is posted by this person but avoid the temptation to copy/paste your response.  Treat each review as a new situation.

Lastly, let us help you.  Even if you are not a customer of Customer Lobby, we are happy to discuss your stalker and help you craft a response.

 

 

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Free, Awesome Thing: Email Marketing Edition

July 10th, 2014 By Kevin Baca

freeapps

You know those ads on the Google Search results page? Well, they make Google a ton of money. So much so, Google can afford to devote incredible development resources toward building robot cars and free products.

While the robot cars are pretty fascinating, small business owners would be wise to acquaint themselves with Google’s Apps product suite, in particular Google Docs and Google Sheets. You can think of Docs and Sheets as free, if less robust, versions of Microsoft Word and Excel. Not too shabby.

Google Drive

If you have a Google account, for example a Gmail account, you can access Google Docs and Sheets via Google Drive — that’s where you’ll be saving your Docs and Sheets. And, that’s the other cool thing: Google Drive is in the cloud, so now you have free cloud storage too. You can upgrade to Google Apps for Business to increase your cloud storage and customize your business email, but for now, I’m interested in the free stuff.

Email Marketing Add-On

For the purpose of this blog post, I’m going to skip ahead a bit and talk about a new “Add-on” to Google Docs and Sheets. It’s an email marketing tool called Merge by MailChimp. Merge by MailChimp is an incredibly robust tool for sending newsletters and other email marketing campaigns, and it’s free.

Here’s how it works:

1. Install Merge by MailChimp

To Install the Add-on, all you have to do is open a blank Google Doc, click on the Add-ons option in the toolbar, and scroll to get Add-ons From there, a pop-up will appear with logos for various applications you can install.

addonspompt

2. Create List

Your next step should be to create a Google Sheet consisting of the contacts you intend to email. You can do this by entering the contact information directly into a Google Sheet, or by uploading a list of contacts into Google Drive, which then gives you the option of converting the file to a Google Sheet.

Be sure to name the Sheet with a title that corresponds to your email campaign. The spreadsheet should include at least an email address, but you can use merge tags to dynamically pull any other fields in your email, for instance first name.

3. Create Email

Now the fun part. The hardest thing about email marketing has always been creating the HTML for the email campaign. The magic of Merge with MailChimp is that it transforms the formatting in a Google Doc to HTML formatting, so all you have to do is type your message into a Google Doc, format it as you would with a word processor, and add images, such as your logo.

email_layout_example

4. Send Email

While you still have the email doc open, go to Add-ons in your tool bar, scroll to Merge by MailChimp, and select Send email.  From there, you will be prompted to select the Data Source. The Data Source, as you can probably guess, is just the Sheet you created in step one. Find it. Click on it.

With your data source selected, a sidebar will appear with all of the control necessary to launch your email campaign. The MailChimp app does an excellent job interpreting your data source, but take a quick look to make sure they have everything correct.

You can then preview your email by clicking  preview  at the bottom of the sidebar. If you want to get an even better sense for how your email will appear for your recipients, you can click the send a test button, which will allow you to send an email to an email address you want to see a test version.

Once you are all set, click send, and Mailchimp will prompt you one last time to make sure all of your contact information is correct.

 

Confirm the sheet and columns are correct:

Sidebar

 

Make sure MailChimp recognizes the merge tags:

sidebar2

 

Finally, set your return email address, from name, and fill out your business address to be compliant with CAN-SPAM laws:

sidebar3

 

MailChimp will prompt you one last time to make sure all of your contact information is correct, then it’s all high fives!
highfive

 

5. Track Results

Perhaps the slickest aspect of this free feature is the reporting. Once you have sent your email campaign, you can track the results with open and click-through analytics.

To see your campaign report, at any time, just click on the Add-Ons link at the top of your toolbar, and instead of selecting send email, click view reports.

Again, the sidebar will appear, but this time it will have the latest data, including the number of unique opens and clicks. Below that data, you will see a list of the recipients and the number of times they opened the email.

reports

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All Roads Lead to Reviews: BrightLocal’s Annual Survey Highlights Shifts in Consumers’ Buying Processes Online

July 3rd, 2014 By Kelsey Brown

BrightLocal just revealed its latest findings on where online reviews fit into the purchasing processes of consumers.

Oh yes, this is big.

You can read this year’s full Local Consumer Review Survey here, and check out Greg Sterling’s insight here.

What does the release of this 4th annual Survey mean, exactly? It means it’s Christmas in July. It means an excellent elucidation of the who, what, when, where, and why of online consumer reviews and why we are passionate about pushing those reviews to the forefront for businesses.

For example:
do you trust online reviews as much as personal reccs

Among their sample size of 2,104 individuals from the United States and Canada, BrightLocal found that an impressive 88% put their trust in reviews they read on the Web — as much trust as they put into advice from personal contacts.

Just as fascinating is the “No” category, down 8% in the last year and a whopping 20% from the foundation of the Survey in 2011. These numbers are undoubtedly further proof of the times we’re in and how the times are shifting market dynamics.

Where do those trusted and noticed online reviews lead potential new customers next? Well…

next step after reading review

With 57% of consumers saying they go to a business’s website after reading good reviews they’ve decided are trustworthy and verifiable and only 6% of consumers reporting they take no further action/don’t pay attention to online reviews at all, we get back to why reading BrightLocal’s insightful annual report feels like unwrapping that gift you’ve been waiting for.

Actually, the best part comes after the unwrapping, when my colleagues and I have opportunities (like today’s post) to help local businesses answer the “So What?” of online review and reputation marketing with results like those outlined above. The focus on online reviews is increasing — and that’s a fact — so take advantage of the tools you have for generating that feedback and attracting prospects. After all, online reviews are not the only major evolution in today’s online marketplace, and staying ahead of the shifts is a very bright idea.

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Local Business Survival in Age of Marketplaces

June 26th, 2014 By Ted Paff

There is a new threat on the horizon for local businesses: online marketplaces for local services.

Hamster wheel

Online Marketplace for Local Services

These new marketplaces are similar to the online marketplaces that have closed thousands of Main Street retailers over the last decade but selling local services.  Think Amazon selling moving services or Houzz selling general contractor services or Angie’s List selling plumbing services.  These are marketplaces where consumers can now shop for local services.

Today, these sites are mostly set up as “deals” businesses.  This was the industry that Groupon made popular with consumers.  However, coming soon, these companies (and several others) will be offering price comparison and the ability to book services directly creating an online marketplace for local services.

Future Threat

So why are these companies a threat for local businesses?  The situation is clearly different than retailers where online price shopping has revolutionized the distribution channel for most products.  While hiring a plumber is different than buying a toaster, new customer acquisition is a substantial part of the value equation of any business.

Here is an example.  Lets say you are a offering a local service (e.g. plumber, auto repair, lawyer, doctor, etc.).  You know that on average it will cost you $100 to provide the service (cost of labor, materials, etc.) and, on average, you will bill $200 for that service resulting in $100 of profit.  Now the interesting part:

  1. If a company offers to sell you access to that new customer (e.g. a “listing fee”, a transaction fee or a membership fee, etc.), how much are you willing to pay?  Said another way, how much are you willing to cut into your profit percentage to get more profit dollars?
  2. Imagine that all of your competitors are also on this network and imagine that the online marketplace starts to increase fees.  Do you have some aggressive competitors in your local market that are willing to pay more than you are to get that new customer?
  3. Now imagine that the majority of all of your new customers are coming through this channel that will likely have a very low, or even negative, profit margin.

In this scenario, a local business owner’s choices are stark: either give up much of the profit of each new customer or give up getting most of your new customers.  But is this really a threat or just one more item on a long list of problems that might “one day” happen?

Today, it is a non-issue.  However, when Amazon, Yelp, and several others all push services in a direction that could have a substantial negative impact on your profit margin, its time to pay attention.

How to Win in This Game

This may or may not be the way that local services are sold/bought in the future.  However, if this trend starts to take off, here are somethings you can do about it:

  1. Stay in the game.  As marketplaces begin to gain traction, make sure you are listed and generate transactions in each of the major marketplaces.  Pay careful attention to your cost to capture a new customer in each of the marketplaces.  For most local businesses, it will be worth being aggressive in paying for new business if you are…
  2. Get VERY good at getting repeat customers.  To me, this is the main take-away of these marketplaces: they are a great way for local businesses to generate new customer flow but you could easily go bankrupt if you are not good at capturing the contact information of your customers and marketing to them to generate repeat business from those customers.  Because much of the profit will be taken out of the first transaction with a new customer in the form of lead capture costs paid to the marketplace, the profitability of your business will mainly come from repeat customers with a much lower marketing cost per revenue dollar.

As early Groupon customers learned the hard way, if you do not create a strong system to market to past customers, you are destined to be stuck on the hamster wheel of low-margin new customer generation.

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Google My Business?

June 19th, 2014 By Kevin Baca

devices

 

Last week, Google rolled out its new small business product called Google My Business, which provides a single platform for updating information on Google Search, Maps and Google+.

Informational Webinar

If you were already using Google Places for Business or the Google+ Pages Dashboard, you will have to now acquaint yourself with Google My Business right away because they have all been consolidated into the My Business platform. In fact, you can attend a Hangout webinar hosted by Google to learn more about the launch: Thursday June 19, 11:00 PST

What it does

While I described Google My Business as a “platform” above, in fact, it is much more than that. Mike Blumenthal refers to it as a brand, a platform, and a portal with enhanced analytics and an interface that connects to other Google products, including AdWords.

Features include:

  • Manage all Google web properties from a single mobile app
  • Monitor 3-part reviews Google crawls
  • Comment on Google+ Reviews
  • Track Customer Insights and Analytics
  • Manage multiple locations from one dashboard
  • Integrated with customer engagement features with Google+ and Google Hangouts

What it means

Greg Sterling goes so far as to call the product suite a rudimentary CRM. And, when you look at the messaging put out by Google, it’s easy to see why. The product is being billed as a platform to “Connect with Customers” as much as being found.

At the moment, “engagement” is limited to social media, hangouts, and customer reviews. So, it is really more of a public-facing marketing tool, than customer relations management platform. To be sure, all of this is being given away for free, but the hope is that small businesses will use the platform to purchase ads.

Whatever the case, Google My Business in this current iteration is, at the very least, a vast upgrade that should make it much easier for local businesses and marketers to manage Google web properties from a single platform.

 

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The Online Grapevine: Building Your Reputation in the Age of Millennials, Mobile, and Social Media

June 12th, 2014 By Kelsey Brown

So they say we are officially in the age of the “shareconomy“. Some analysts pin this phenomenon exclusively to Millennials like myself, stating a generational attitude adjustment of ours created a new sharing-is-caring approach to goods and services.

It’s not hard to see why analysts would blame/thank (a feeling as subjective as “Millenial”‘s connotation) the 20 and 30-somethings for popularizing the shareconomy. With a number of recent college graduates finding themselves back at square one, private possessions and pads becoming harder and harder to acquire, and substantial employment proving more difficult to land than in decades past, the idea of using only what you need and only when you need it, without much commitment, is an especially attractive one to this age group.

This model isn’t entirely new, though. Yes, paragons of the recent sharing surge like Lyft, Airbnb, Kickstarter, and even a driveway-sharing app called SpotOn Parking are very new installations, but the core concept of people with something and people without something establishing relationships is not so novel.

A much more significant element of “new” to note here actually lies beyond specific companies and movements of the last few years.

mobile-phone-in-hand-007

Instead of saying that people never exchanged services for pay, never invested their money in things they wanted to see make it, etc., we can say that the power to seek out service exchanges never fell so squarely in the people’s hands.

Word of service experiences never traveled so quickly or mattered so much, either.

My point is this: “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” has long been a part of the economy. It’s the same elementary supply and demand curve that runs the whole thing. However, out of increased necessity and taken-for-granted Web connectivity (be sure to read past that tricky title), an individual’s or company’s ability to fill in gaps with their advantageous offerings – especially as seamlessly as those born into the Internet’s critical mass age expect – is in the spotlight more than ever before.

So, as a larger company or a one-person operation nowadays, it is more critical that you keep your reputation online rather than off, and that you keep your customers buzzing about their experiences with you. Don’t neglect using booming social media to your business’s advantage. Don’t let months pass without updating your website with fresh customer reviews showing you’re active and making customers happy every day.

After all, customers are always going to choose the best service – no matter if they’re from Generation X, Y, Z, or Q – and they’re always going to need to make purchases. What you need to assess is how you’re riding the wave, and we’re here to help.

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It’s Not Rocket Science, It’s Just Work

June 5th, 2014 By Ted Paff

The CEO of another software company reached out to me this past week and, in describing what he does (and to some extent, what we do), he noted, “it’s not rocket science.”

rocket science

He is right, of course – it’s not rocket science.  It’s *just* work.  But I think what he was trying to imply (things that aren’t rocket science aren’t hard or special) is dead wrong.

Quick Test

Here is a quick test:  Can you name 3 things that are totally unique to your business?  3 things that no other company offers?  Not 3 things in combination but 3 items, each of which is totally unique to your company?  I doubt it.

That is REALLY hard to do for just about any bushiness.  But that does not diminish the uniqueness or value of your business.  Instead it points to the fact that what makes your business unique and competitive is not the sum of its (non)differentiated parts.

What makes enables a business or an individual to win day after day in highly a competitive market is a commitment to do your absolute best for those you serve every day.

Reputation Marketing Starts Here

Reputation marketing starts with the idea that you have a reputation worth marketing.    It starts with a commitment to provide a great service/product.

Do you have a reputation worth marketing?  Let us help!

It’s not rocket science.  But it is a lot of work.

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Moving? Don’t Forget to Tell Google.

May 29th, 2014 By Kevin Baca

movin

Google needs your help. You see, they have been preoccupied with building robot cars and fixing the typography in their logo. So, you’ll have to excuse them for not keeping up with your business’s data cluster.

Oh, you didn’t know you had a data cluster? Well, you do, and Google uses this data to determine how prominently your business listing ranks online. Without getting too granular, here’s what you need to know: Your company name, address, and phone number need to be listed accurately and consistently everywhere online.

If you have moved locations recently or changed your company name, that could be a problem. Your NAP data doesn’t magically change by itself so your data cluster, that thing Google uses to rank you ahead of your competitors, could be compromised.

The solution is simple: Change your NAP data on directories, data providers, and any other websites that cite your business online. Okay, so simple, but also really, really challenging.

When it comes to changing NAP data, there’s no silver-bullet. Not yet, anyway. Much of the work has to be done manually, because you’re not just creating listings, you’re claiming and editing them.

Here are some pointers for the do-it-yourselfers out there:

1. The Locus

Your Google Local listing is the locus of your data cluster, so make sure your address information is exactly the way you want it because you’ll be matching every other listing to the NAP on your Google Local listing. Warning: Do not opt to keyword-stuff your company name.

Upon editing the company name on your Google Local listing, Google will ask you to verify the changes by phone or postcard. Note: Your changes will not go live until you have verified them. For the best information on how to edit and optimize your Google Local listing, see Mike Blumenthal’s excellent blog.

2. Data Providers

The NAP data on your Google Local listing has to match citations across the web, and there are loads of them, so it may seem hard to know where to start.

But, the thing is, many of the directories that list your business information get that NAP data from large data providers. The biggest of which are Infogroup, Localeze, Acxiom, and FACTUAL.

So, it is important to go directly to the data providers, before you start editing any of the dozens of directories.

3. Audit

The daunting task at this point is figuring out which websites to edit. Well, one way to do this is to simply Google your old address information. Pretty much all of the search results that appear will need to be edited.

Aside from Google research, you may want to rely on a third-party service or tool. Moz Local, for example, touts an NAP audit tool which will help you find variations on your business name.

4. Reviews

When it comes to editing citations across the web, sites that host your customer reviews are of special importance. That is because your reviews data confer trust signals to Google. In fact, reviews could be seen as their own ranking category.

To this end, you may want to edit the NAP data on your CityGrid listing. CityGrid is the largest content network on the web, and reviews on the CityGrid network can appear in dozens of participating directories online.

The good news is that CityGrid pulls NAP data from InfoGroup, which you took care of in step 2. However, the Data providers can take some time before the feed into your other listings.

5. Facebook

You’ve edited your Google Local listing, the big data providers, directories you’ve audited, and reviews sites, so what’s next? In my opinion Facebook should be high on the priority list.

Aside from the potential ranking benefit of social signals, Facebook is an incredibly valuable branded web destination, and with a little optimization, your business’s Facebook page will likely outrank most of the small directories anyway.

Once you have taken these steps, it may still take Google a while to complete the whole picture of your data cluster, so get started as quickly as possible.

 

 

 

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“57 Channels (And Nothin’ On)”: Bruce Springsteen Sings Critical Consumer Psychology

May 22nd, 2014 By Kelsey Brown

Even if you’re not familiar with Springsteen’s 1992 hit, I’ll wager you can relate to the fascinating phenomenon of the “paradox of choice”, so-named in psychologist Barry Schwartz’s 2004 book and TED Talk (a riveting watch when you have the time and “57 Channels” has faded out).

Heck, I’ll even bet you my car/plumbing/flooring/water heater/private jet (if I had one…we can’t all live like rock stars) that you have personally experienced becoming more and more stressed as you’re flooded with options.

20100611_choices

To be fair, the song is from 1992, and the book and TED Talk are from 2004. It may be many years later right now, but all these insights into the paradox of choice have aged like a fine wine. How so? Well, we still have difficulty choosing which wine of about 200 at the store will make us the happiest.

As Schwartz summarizes best, the human mind often experiences a kind of paralysis when we are given tons of options. I’d argue that while options are dandy, actual and final decisions are terrifying – or at least can be, especially without comforting validation of the final choice. As our options increase exponentially, so does our fear of making the wrong choice.

This is where we really see the mind-blowing power of reviews.

Say you’re shopping at a clothing store recommended by some friends (choice validation #1). You finally choose a cool new shirt after trying on more than you thought humanly possible. The dressing room attendant says he/she also has that shirt (validation #2).  You throw on your snazzy new shirt, walk out into the world, and get a compliment (#3)! That compliment is a peer review, and it’s just made your day. “Hey, that’s an awesome shirt” validates the decision that you, the buyer, made.

The same is true of a consumer waffling over what car dealership to visit/what plumber to call/what flooring business to use/whether tankless is the future/what size private jet to buy (again, if only we could all be so lucky), and that’s precisely why shoring up customers’ confidence with plenty of thorough, verified, peer-produced reviews is so imperative when it comes to sparking, then strengthening, business relationships.

At every stage of your customer’s buying process, you want to be a visible presence. Collect and broadcast reviews from customers all across the Web, prove your great service, and don’t be afraid to request more feedback to make customers of any stage feel good about their decisions (learn how to do all of that here). Respond to reviews (both positive and negative) to keep building rapport and assuring customers that, yes, they chose right.

Stand out from the static!

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