Local University Seminar: My Takeaways

May 8th, 2014 By Kevin Baca



Last week,  Local University, a comprehensive seminar on local marketing, came to Silicon Valley, and the Customer Lobby member services team took the opportunity to learn from the best of the best.

The bulk of the event is a 4-hour “crash course” hosted by some of the biggest names in local, including Mike Blumenthal, David Mihm, and Greg Sterling. It’s tailor-made for local business owners, and while the scope is fairly broad, the emphasis is on local search optimization. That’s why both Google and Bing representatives were on hand to speak at the event.

The seminar session moved briskly and covered an incredible amount of terrain, but I was struck by how digestible it all was. The presenters have been at this for a few years now, so they careful not to overload with information. Instead, they hone in on the most important pieces of information — things every local business owner should know.

Here are just few takeaways:

1. Don’t bother with tricks

If you own a local business, chances are pretty high you’ve received a call from a “Google expert” claiming to have some technique that will ensure your business appears on the first page of Google search results. Rest assured: He’s not and he can’t.

The days of SEO tricks are over, and the key to building trust with Google is focusing on your customers. Make sure your website is designed to answer their questions and that your listings are up to date with accurate information. That’s enough work in itself, so you may still want to hire someone, but if they start pitching spamy back-link campaigns, looks elsewhere.

2. Make Reviews Part of Your Process

Review solicitations has to be made part of your day-to-day marketing process. Far from being a marketing after-thought, the need for steady review content on Google+, Google Organic search results, Yelp, and other third-party sites is now a cornerstone of digital marketing.

Now, of course I’m biased on this topic. But, the Local U experts make a compelling case for review solicitation because reviews impact everything from search ranking to web presence and ultimately sales.


3. Go After the Low-Hanging Fruit

When it comes to Internet marketing, there are many do-it-yourself action steps that will yield a tremendous return. One of the most straight-forward steps is claiming your listings and ensuring the name, address, and phone number data is consistent. This is fairly straightforward, but it can be time-consuming and it’s tricky to know where to begin. The Local U experts do an incredible job laying out an action plan. Even the Google reps were impressed.

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Review Strategy: Start With What You Have

May 1st, 2014 By Ted Paff

First, the basics: Online reviews impact your business.  Your prospects look for reviews in each of the several phases of the purchase funnel.  Your current customers are reading reviews prior to making a repeat-purchase decision (we will publish more data on this topic in the future).  Search engines use reviews about your business as a key ranking factor.

Who else looks for reviews about your business?  Potential partners, resellers, banks, creditors, ….. everyone that is serious about doing business with you.  Enough said; reviews matter.

get started

Ask or Wait

The first question in thinking about a review strategy is:  should we proactively ask for reviews or just wait for them to come?

Which group do you fall into:

  • My business get +5 new reviews per month AND our average star rating is greater than 4.5
  • My business gets less than 5 new reviews per month OR our average star rating is less than 4.5

If your business falls into the first group, congratulations…your done with the rest of this blog post!  If not, asking for reviews will help you get more reviews more often and help you get a 42% higher rating on the reviews you get.

Start with What You Have

We suggest starting with a goal of getting 2-5 new reviews every month.  How do you do it?  Start with what you have.

How many customers do you have each month?  What contact information do you have for each of them?  For guidance, assume that 5-15% of the emails you send requesting a review right after service will result in a review IF you are asking them for a review on a website that doesn’t require an account to be created to write the review.  For sites like Google and Yelp that require an account to write a review, assume a conversion rate of less than 1/3 of the guidance above.

Using some basic logic, you can create a plan for your business.  For example, if you only have 2-5 new customers per month, your review invitation strategy is relatively straight forward: contact each customer over the phone (your best way to get their attention), ask if the service was OK and ask for a review (offer to send URLs via email if they need help).   [Pro Tip: use our Customer Call feature which has the highest conversion rate of "ask" to "completed review" of any method we have tested].

On the other hand, if you have hundreds of customers each month but not that many email addresses, consider handing out a paper form requesting a review when your work is completed  [Pro Tip: use our Handwritten Review feature to convert paper-based testimonials into online reviews].

If you get hundreds of new customer emails every month, send an email to each of them asking for a review.  In the email (or on to which the landing page on which you send them), offer lots of different review sites so you can capture reviews from those that have an account on Google or Yelp AND those that do not.  [Pro Tip: use our Smart Invite feature to request reviews on all of the websites your business targets.  For reviews written on Customer Lobby, we syndicate your reviews to multiple sites around the web.].

What ever you decide, focus on creating a repeatable process that will work for you and your team for years to come.  Its a long race.

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Weather Affects Reviews

April 24th, 2014 By Kevin Baca


According to a recent study of 1.1 million restaurant reviews spanning a decade, bad weather is a predictor of negative reviews. The study, which was reported in the NY Times, found that negative reviews were especially likely when the temperature fell below 40 degrees and rose above 100 degrees.

Hot weather, especially, seems to precipitate negative reviews, as the dog days of July and August generate the most.

It makes sense, I guess. Consumers are understandably more irritable in the sweltering heat and bitter cold. Yet, somehow this data belies the rational expectation that review sentiment should correlate to variables specific to the business being reviewed, and not external factors.

The study covered only restaurants reviewed on sites like Citysearch, Foursquare, and TripAdviser, but it’s fair to assume this phenomenon extends to unsolicited reviews for a range of industries, including local service businesses.

On average, unsolicited reviews tend to be more negative because the people most inspired to actually write a review are often the angry customers. And, as the survey illustrates, the tipping point for these angry reviews can be as arbitrary as a hot day.

So, should businesses wait until the weather is nice to actively solicit reviews? Nah. We have found that good businesses who ask ALL of their clients for reviews will generate mostly 4 and 5 star ratings. After all, they’re good businesses.

Conversely, many otherwise 5-star businesses fail to ask for reviews and ultimately see their aggregate ratings driven down by a few angry customers. Customers who, as it turns out, may just be a little extra grumpy because it’s unpleasant out.





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Should You Ask for Reviews on Facebook?

April 17th, 2014 By Ted Paff

As you might have noticed, reviews are now a thing on Facebook.  But just because something is available doesn’t mean that you should always ask for it.


The main reason to ask for reviews on Facebook is that the reviewers friends will see the review posted in their feed and visitors to your Facebook page will see “social proof” that some real people think your business did a good job.  Eventually, Facebook might also launch its own search engine and your reviews would potentially be used as a ranking factor in non-branded search terms for your industry.

The downside is that your reviews are behind a big blue wall.  In other words, unlike reviews almost anywhere else  on the web, Facebook reviews are not listed in search engines.  They are, in a sense, lost content unless someone goes to your Facebook business page.  In addition, the old phrase “easy come, easy go” springs to mind when thinking about how likely it is that your reviews on Facebook will still be displayed  in a couple of years.

Crazy talk  you say?  Facebook would never take down user content??  Remember back (2 years ago) when Yahoo made a big push to engage local businesses by building its local capabilities?  Well, if Yahoo can blow up its entire reviews database after 5+ years, Facebook could easily do the same.

The Verdict

The answer to the question posed in the title:  yes.  BUT, only as a small percentage of the total review requests you make.  Having some reviews on Facebook as social proof is useful but having a balanced review strategy is much more important.  Simply stated, reviews around the web matter more than lots of reviews in any one place.

Action Plan:  Industry Matters

Many people use Facebook to construct a view of themselves that they want to project to the world.  People lie and/or selectively share information on Facebook to seem more interesting.  Understanding this insight has a big impact on how businesses should attempt to interact with their customers on Facebook – including asking for reviews.

How?  Think about what industry your business is in.  Would being a customer of your business and/or the service you provide make a person seem more interesting/cool/funny to their friends?  If so, your in luck!  You are likely to get lots of reviews on Facebook, Yelp and Google where writing a review of your business is self-aggrandizing for the reviewer.  What is even better is that you probably don’t need to ask for a review from your customers and you are right now wondering what all the fuss is about in getting people to write reviews.  Examples of this type of business are skydiving businesses, animal shelters, Tesla rental companies, etc.

But what if you are not in a “sexy” or “cool” business?  The bad news is that it is going to be much harder.  The good news is that its not impossible.  Although reviewers are nearly 4 times more likely to write a review of a restaurant than an auto repair business, they still do write reviews of auto repair, insurance, etc.  So keep asking for reviews!

If you are a Customer Lobby member, stand by, we will be adding Facebook to our Smart Invite very soon to help you managed a balanced review portfolio around the web.  If you are  not a Customer Lobby member, check out our free trial or ask an expert how to get more reviews.

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New Survey: Reviews and Local SEO

April 10th, 2014 By Kevin Baca

Local SEOs represent the number one re-seller of Customer Lobby for two main reasons: 1. Reviews drive actual sales, and 2. Reviews confer a meaningful Google search ranking boost. In fact, David Mihm regards reviews signals, including quantity, velocity, and diversity, as one of eight thematic clusters of data from which Google determines ranking.

It’s no wonder, then, that a new Brightlocal survey of 20 leading local search experts revealed a strong predilection for reviews. So much so, that 55% of the experts regarded a review strategy as “critical to local optimization.” Somewhat surprisingly, these local experts consider reviews more important for local SEO than links. It truly is a new day.


Importance placed on 3 primary SEO tactics:


You can find many more graphs and analysis on the study at the Brightlocal Blog. But, there’s one other chart which I think perfectly brings home the increasing role of reviews solicitation and management for local search optimization:

Given the release of Google’s new review monitoring platform, it is obvious that Google looks across a variety of websites attributed to a local business. One useful hint for business owners. Look at the “reviews around the web” section of your Google+ page. Those are just some of the reviews pages Google is looking at determine where you rank in local-centric search results vis-a-vis your nearest competitors.


Reviews Around the Web


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2 Destructive Thoughts for Entrepreneurs to Avoid

April 3rd, 2014 By Ted Paff

If you are an entrepreneur (its a mind-state not a job function/title), there are 2 categories of thought that are subtly destructive:

  1. I have a destination (e.g. rich, famous, successful, etc.).
  2. I am already there.

Its easier to understand how the second item above is destructive.  When when we think we are already there, complacency sets in.  Complacency seeps through organizations like a virus and its just as hard to get rid of.  When a challenge (competitor, changing product, etc.) for your business arises, complacency insures your inability to react.

The more subtly destructive though is “I have a destination.’”  But wait, isn’t this what we were all taught?  To have a goal and chase it?  The destructive part is not the chase, its the focus on a particular destination.  Self-focused destinations take the deep happiness out of the chase and makes it less likely that we can see it to the end.

Be happy.  Enjoy the chase.


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Building Trust with Your Content.

March 27th, 2014 By Kevin Baca

I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to invest a lot of money to fix my car or invite a technician into my home, I want to get to know that person a little. If given the choice between a nameless, faceless brand and an actual person with real qualities, in particular good qualities, I am going to lean toward the latter. Every time.

As it turns out, this logic informs some of the ways in which consumers conduct research before selecting a local business. So much so, that according to this BrightLocal survey, consumers actually place a good deal of value on local business webpages that feature a photo of the business owner. In fact, when asked which images on a local business website most inspire trust, a photo of the business owner was preferred by 46% of respondents.


Now, I’m not suggesting every local business owner immediately post a photo of themselves, though I suppose it can’t hurt. The more important insight is that consumers actively seek to gain a better sense for the person with whom they are choosing to do business. When selecting content for a website, or other branded online destinations, whether images or copy, personalization should be a guiding factor.


In practical terms, the fastest way to make web properties less generic and more personal is to promote transparency via social media, UGC, and dynamic content, such as blogs with comments. Some examples are social media plugins, including links to personal Facebook pages, and links to 3rd-party sites, such as reviews sites, where the content is user generated. Again, the point of all this is to engender trust, and according to Nielsen, earned media, which includes third-party reviews, are the most trusted form of advertising.


Customer reviews from third-party sites are valued only insofar as they are trustworthy. In this regard, negative reviews on a featured reviews page are actually incredibly value because they immediately confer legitimacy. As we have recommended, over and over, there is tremendous personalization value in publishing owner responses with reviews where appropriate. And, you do this for the same reason you publish that photo; to show your prospective customer who you are.

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Local Business NAP Management

March 20th, 2014 By Ted Paff

I don’t often pitch another company’s product but this is a good exception. moz

If you are in charge of managing the online presence of a local business, it is hard to imagine why you would not buy the new Moz Local product.  At $49/location per year, its 10 times cheaper than Yext and half the price of UBL.  Of course, you could do this yourself, but …. oh snap… its actually cheaper than doing it yourself.

There is a video here that explains what they do and why you should do it.  At a minimum, here is a tool to check out your data match for free.  Two days ago, Andrew Shotland wrote a review of this product that provides a very helpful view of its capabilities and shortcomings.

My Incentive

No, we are not making any money from recommending this product but that is not to say that we don’t have an incentive in recommending it.  One of the cool parts of our product is the ability to syndicate your reviews to multiple 3rd party review sites.  However, to make syndication work, the name/address/phone/website of your business location needs to be accurate and complete across the multiple sites to which we syndicate the reviews.  The better your data match (this is the stuff that Moz Local fixes), the better our product works for you.  Help us help you and sign up for Moz Local.

If you know another good way to manage NAP data, please post it in the comments.  We are happy to pass on helpful news.

To my friends at Moz Local (David, I am talking to you), this is a fantastic addition to the local business online marketing tool kit.  Congratulations!

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Google Redesign

March 13th, 2014 By Kevin Baca

Notice something different about Google but can’t quite put your finger on it? Don’t worry, you’re not losing it.

Google redesigned their search engine results pages, and while some of the changes are fairly nuanced, and thereby forcing half the Internet users in the world to do a double-take, the changes made to paid search results are significant.

Paid search results are the ads that appear at the top and along the right side of the organic search results. Up to now, those ads were enclosed in a shaded area that visually distinguished them from organic results. Not anymore:


Ads Look More Like Organic Search Results:

serp three


Obviously, the ads on the right of the page are not going to be mistaken for anything else, but the ads up top look a lot like organic results and Google is stacking as many as three together, which pushes the organic results further down the page.

This means, local pack results will be well below the fold in some instances.


Organic Results Between Ads and Local Pack:

local pack


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Hard to Get Customer Reviews? Here is Why

March 6th, 2014 By Ted Paff

Have you ever wondered why its so tough to get your customers to write you a review?


Email sent by a business to one of its customers is opened 18.5% (average for U.S. based services businesses) of the time.  Once it is opened, the link contained in the email (e.g. link to a page onto which the consumer could write a review), is clicked on average 2.6% of the time.  Depending on which study you look at (here and here are good ones), these numbers can be higher or lower but they provide a good starting point.

Now, suppose that you capture email addresses for 50% of your customers and that you send an email to ALL customers after you complete work for them.  In that case, you should expect:

18.5%  x  2.6%  x  50%  =  0.2% of your customers to get to a page to write a review.

That means that for every 1,000 customers you have, you would get 2 reviews.

Its actually a little worse than that because most customers who land on a page on which they can write a review but do not have an account on that system simply leave.  For example,  Google, Yelp, Angies’ List combined have less than 30% market coverage.  That means that those 2 reviews you were hoping for from 1,000 customers is actually 0 or 1 review.  Ouch.

How to Get More Customer Reviews

Here are some great ideas to help you get more customer reviews (Andrew Shotland also mentioned some of these ideas):

  • Invite reviews using more than just email requests.  Customer Lobby’s members have access to  customer calls (highest percentage of review capture), mobile/kiosk review stations, and  handwritten review forms.  Combine many different forms of email request to get your best outcome.
  • Collect more email addresses from customers.  If you are sending out requests for a review using email, the more people you ask, the more likely you are to get a response.
  • Let them know its coming.  By simply letting your customers know that you would appreciate a review and that you will send them a follow up note, we have seen companies increase their review capture rate by 50%.
  • Send a reminder a few days later.  Customer Lobby automatically sends out a follow up request for a review.  This second email has a much higher rate of converting into a review.  People get busy and sometimes a reminder really helps.
  • Automate it.  In my experience, things that are not automated tend not to get done over time.  Customer Lobby now offers the ability to fully automate review requests by linking your billing software with Customer Lobby.  We will automatically reach out to your customer to ask for a review when a job is completed.

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