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Small Business, Google Places and Reviews – How Tos

8

The year is 1991. You are a small business owner. The majority of your customers:

A) Are your acquaintances/neighbors;
B) Learned about you from A)s (via face-to-face or phone talk);
C) Learned about you from the Yellow Pages;

Fast-forward 20 years and…

You are still the same small business owner. The majority of your customers:

A) Are from your city/town area;
B) Learned about you from A)s (via face-to-face or phone talk, Skype/AIM chat, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, email, Yelp, or any other of these);
C) Learned about you from Google, Bing, Yahoo (organic or paid search), other IYP;
D) Contacted you via your website;

It is obvious that nowadays it is much more complicated to get your business stand out from the competition and be found by potential customers. One aspect that differs greatly and steals the sleep of every SMB owner is the fact that any information could be spread around the globe literally within seconds (check the public reaction section on The Death of Michael Jackson). This change has both positive and negative connotations. On top of it all, information spread around the web may stay there for a strikingly long time (which makes it very different from the real-world word of mouth) and be publicly available. You need positive feedback more than ever.

What you can do

We assume that you have already taken the advantage of a professional company’s service and your business shows up in the organic searches of your main search terms. Your online reputation is widely exposed to the public now. Improving your overall company’s customer service, thus ensuring no negative mentions would be associated with your company, is a great place to start ensuring a positive image. Besides that you need online reviews and you need a strategy to enhance the process of getting them. Let’s face the truth – there are not so many people that would go on Yelp and would take the time to write about how you fixed their central heating, or helped them redecorate their house or lawn (not to mention that Yelp isn’t available everywhere in the world). You will have to ask your clients about their opinion and show them where to express it, providing them the easiest possible access to the review spot.

Where to get reviewed

Many specialists agree that providing wider range of opportunities for your customers is important. In the yearly Local Search Ranking Factors survey, they pointed out the following review websites:

1. Yelp
2. Google Places
3. Citysearch
4. Yahoo Local
5. Niche industry sites (including TripAdvisor, OpenTable, and DealerRater)
6. InsiderPages
7. JudysBook
8. SuperPages
9. YellowPages
10. Kudzu

I agree with these, although it has to be noted that their importance differs from industry to industry, so this list is rather generic. I’d also add to it the company’s website itself, especially after the public announcement of Schema which among many other features allows for Google Places to import reviews from the business’ website.

How to get reviewed

There are many ways in which you could ask your clients to write a comment on you and your business. However, you must think on how to make that process as simplified as possible.

1) Asking clients directly:

This is the easiest way if you are servicing in homes. One good idea would be to create a scan-able QR code, which would lead directly to your listing on some of the mentioned websites, where the client could place the review. You can print the code on your business card’s back side, on a simple piece of paper, or even on your van. It should look something like this:

By scanning this QR code your customers would be led directly to the review panel on your Place page. How to create your own QR code? It only takes a few simple steps. First, go to your Place page and click on “Link” in the upper right corner. Then copy the whole link. For example (some Place page’s URL):

http://maps.google.com/maps/place?q=Gremillion+Mechanical+Heating+%26+Air+Conditioning&hl=en&cid=5772692510613524077

Then simply add the following code directly to the end of the URL above:

&dtab=2&action=openratings&ct=write-review

Forging ahead, go to any QR code generator online tool, like Kaywa, QR Stuff or GOQR.ME and generate it (kudos for that idea go to Mike Blumenthal).

Moreover, you can create a short URL out of the same one that is embedded in the QR code, so that your customers, who don’t have a smartphone could also leave their reviews. The best services for URL abbreviation are goo.gl and bit.ly. As a result, now you are free to set up the back of your business card to look something like this:

Back of Business Card

2. Follow-up email:

This would be easy if you are communicating with your clients mainly via emails and/or your customers are mainly people who tend to regularly check their gmail, hotmail or yahoo mail. I am purposefully pinpointing these 3 because they are an important part of the process of deciding how to formulate your email. Why? Because Google, Yahoo and Microsoft are smart and they know that saving time and making things simple matters. You will have to customize the content of your message  depending on what email provider your clients are using.

- Gmail – it is probably best to invite gmail clients for Google Places reviews, because as they are reading your email, they surely are already logged in to their Google Account, so they will automatically be able to leave their comment without having to log in separately;

- Yahoo! Mail – ask them to post a review on your Yahoo! Local listing. Just as with Google Places, attach “?open=review#review” to the end of the listing’s URL, and  the concatenated URL will directly open the review page;

- Hotmail – as you can guess, it would be smartest to invite hotmail clients for Bing Business Portal reviews by providing a link to your  listing (however, this is currently available only in the US)

3. Facebook:

You can place any link on your Facebook fan page. However, I would recommend that you emphasize on providing links to get reviewed on the IYPs. Many of these websites provide the opportunity for a new user to log in using their Facebook account (Citysearch, InsiderPages, Citysearch, JudysBook, SuperPages, YellowPages). This means that the clients viewing your Facebook page are one click away from writing a review. Furthermore, you could set up a special tab on your company’s Facebook page, where customers could directly leave reviews.

4. Be careful using Yelp:

Yelp’s policy differs from the majority of the other review websites. They have a specially created filter system, which very often catches irregular or first-time reviewers and puts them in the “Filter Folder”, where they are not visible for the regular visitor of the page. I usually do not recommend Yelp to be used as a review source, unless the business is a restaurant, cafe or a bar. The site is user-unfriendly for businesses such as electricians, plumbers, movers and towers, which generally provide one-time service to their customers.

Epilogue

Online reputation management is extremely important part of every small business. I am planning to write a sequel, including newly adopted features, such as Featured Review, Descriptive Terms, City Pages, as well as the new Google business-customer mobile connection systemTalkBin.

  1. Imprezzio Marketing
    Imprezzio Marketing06-30-2011

    I completely agree with you about Yelp – I stay clear of them. Have you ever seen Yelp’s reviews on Yelp? It’s pretty funny…a lot of angry business owners complaining about their reviews getting filtered – http://www.yelp.com/biz/yelp-san-francisco

  2. Nyagoslav Zhekov
    Nyagoslav07-01-2011

    Yep, I have never been a fan of Yelp as their system seems to be completely broken. I know about tens of cases when users with multiple reviews are being hired (on Fiverr and the likes) to write reviews that stick. Completely fake ones. At the same time each business (especially non-food industry businesses) with more than 3-4 reviews, have at least a few more LEGIT, from real clients that get filtered out. Whatever they tell me, I can’t accept that as fair.

  3. Steve
    Steve07-15-2011

    I appreciated the information. I found that when I used the html code and created a QR Code the code when scanned did not go to Google places and allow me to try and review the site. I got an error message and was given a link to google home. When I went to the next page it was Google Place but there was no choice to review the site.
    If I was logged in to my Google account the link did work after I clicked on Google Home and I was able to review the site.
    Any additional suggestions would be appreciated. I was using a HTC Evo phone.

  4. Nyagoslav Zhekov
    Nyagoslav07-17-2011

    Hey Steve, thanks for the comment. Unfortunately, the code seems to work only for iPhone. I am still searching for the correct URL for Android and HTC. When I find out something I will definitely update the article and let you know. Thanks for stepping by once again.

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