5 Steps for 5 Stars: Reputation Management for Small Businesses

MIHMORANDUM NO. 115 | August 12th, 2008Reader Comments (12)

A “Review” of Reviews

25% of the questions Todd Mintz asked me in his excellent interview last month had to do with reputation management for small businesses. A synopsis of my response:

Online reputation management goes hand-in-hand with Local optimization….(but) [i]t’s a tough situation — small businesses have to work twice as hard as larger businesses to manage their online reputation, with fewer resources.

So, with this post, I thought I would try to make things a little easier for small businesses by compiling a list of truly exceptional posts related to this topic written in the last couple of months, and summarizing their findings.

1. Understand the value of reviews

Anger against Local Search Engines and content portals is being fueled by ignorance and confusion about online marketing on the part of small business owners. Educate yourself! (Will Scott, Search Influence) As are opaque, hidden, or counterintuitive review policies on the part of these larger websites–see #3 for more on this topic.

It’s not entirely clear whether ratings have any effect on ranking within Local search algorithms. Nonetheless, ratings draw additional eyeballs, even to sites ranked towards the bottom of a ten-pack or three-pack (Michael Jensen, CityMarketer)…

…This can mean MANY more clicks on your listing, which may indirectly affect your ranking (Chris Silver Smith, Natural Search Blog in my SMX Local Recap).

If you’re in a hospitality industry, like hotels or restaurants, particularly on the West Coast, ratings are going to be critical to your online success (Palore and Others).

If you’re in an industry that doesn’t get a lot of reviews, even one or two bad ones can have a dramatic impact on your business (Matt McGee, Small Business SEM)

2. Prioritize your review efforts—figure out who the most important players are.

InsiderPages and CitySearch reviews are both captured by a number of Local Search Engines, in addition to their own websites. Google and Yahoo Local still have a huge market share themselves, however (Michael Jensen, CityMarketer).

Look at which of the major profile websites (CitySearch, Yahoo Local, etc.) are ranking in the Top 10 in Google for your keywords. Chances are, Google’s spidering them VERY well, and will pick up reviews from those sources in its own Local algorithm (Steve Espinosa).

If you’re in the hospitality industry, TripAdvisor.com and BedandBreakfast.com can help you a ton (Miriam Ellis, SEO Igloo + Mary Bowling, Blizzard Internet Marketing).

3. Understand the guidelines of what is an acceptable review acquisition strategy. “What’s acceptable” may vary from site to site.

Yelp has caught a TON of flak recently for its rather unsavory handling of a review controversy highlighted in the San Francisco Chronicle on July 4th of this year. Fellow Bay Area media outlet CBS5 followed up with this thorn in Yelp’s side almost exactly a month later. (More on the Yelp controversy from Greg Sterling).

Most Local portals don’t have a clear review policy, but if they do, make sure you know what it is before you engage in a tactic that could lead to a penalty or ban. Yelp specifically does not like incentives of any kind being used for reviews (Greg Sterling, Screenwerk).

Engaging in solicitation of reviews using a free WiFi or workstation at your location may lead to reviews getting filtered or removed (Miriam Ellis, SEO Igloo).

4. Implement a review acquisition strategy.

Going back to #3–However, this free WiFi strategy might be highly successful at acquiring a vast number of reviews across multiple platofrms, if implemented properly (Michael Jensen in my SMX Local Recap).

Michael runs a really neat website called LeaveFeedback.org which randomizes the sites on which customers leave reviews from a single URL. If your WiFi landing page is set up properly, and you give visitors the choice of where they would like to leave reviews, you might not run into this filtering problem.

Michael’s business partner Aaron Stewart also chimes in with this gem of a post in which he advises the use of Twitter to monitor what people are saying, and perhaps to solicit reviews or at least promote events which people will want to review.

Also keep in mind that very few portals are as stringent as Yelp at detecting and removing incentivized reviews. But if you do use an incentive, do your best to space out the timing of when you receive the reviews, as a crush of them all at once may raise a flag or trip a filter (me, from personal experience with a client).

And finally, here’s a headsmacker: if your customer has an obvious email address, such as @Gmail,com or @Yahoo.com, ask them to review your business using that particular engine. They won’t have to sign up for a new account and they’ll likely already be comfortable with the review interface (Tim Coleman, Convert Offline).

5. Respond to your customers’ reviews the right way.

Take the high road with negative reviewers, even if they are one of your competitors. Figure out what you can do to work together to promote each other’s businesses positively and make lemonade from lemons (Miriam Ellis, SEO Igloo).

Turning nasty in responding to reviews just reflects poorly on your business and does nothing to convince people to trust you above the negative reviewer (Greg Sterling, Screenwerk).

Yelp came under fire yet again for its refusal to let business owners moderate their own reputation online…the summer has not been good for Stoppelman and Company (Greg Sterling, Screenwerk).

My own advice: responding does not mean simply answering or acknowledging you have heard people’s complaints online. If you’re getting a large number of similar negative reviews, chances are there is actually a flaw in your business somewhere.

Take steps to address that flaw so that you get more reviews like “I don’t understand what these people on here are talking about. The service was great at Joe’s Pizza and I had a great time.” Eventually, older reviews will get pushed towards the bottom of the pile and newer, positive ones will rise, signaling to prospective customers that you have made a change in your business and it’s worth seeing for themselves.

A List of Recommended Blogs Writing Frequently on Small Business Reputation Management:

I intend for this to be a cumulative list to which I will regularly post additional resources on this topic, so if you’ve come across one, please list it in the comments!

12 Responses to “5 Steps for 5 Stars: Reputation Management for Small Businesses”

  1. Michael Jensen says at

    Great resource here David.

    In terms of ratings contributing to reviews, earlier this year at SMX West a guy from Yahoo indicated that they consider the ratings from Yahoo Reviews (and only those) as an element of their ranking algorithm. If I were Yahoo Local, Google Maps, et al. I would use it as a factor.

  2. MiriamEllis says at

    What a summary, David! You must have had bookmarks galore to remember all of these great posts and I love the way you’ve brought them together into one readable resource. Excellent read!

    Miriam

  3. Aaron Weiche says at

    Even if you only had “2 Steps To Getting Local” and outlined #1 and #2, the majority of small businesses could almost instantly increase and strengthen their situation.

    For those that have common understanding of what they can directly do, getting them to input #4 and have a review growth strategy is a great next step. Well done David as usual.

  4. Todd Mintz says at

    Excellent overview of important advice that small business owners need to know about.

  5. Tony Wright says at

    Great resource list. I’ll be pointing some clients to this post. Sphunn!

  6. Jon says at

    Thanks David for a very thorough and useful resource list (I’ve Sphunn it)

    Must have taken you many hours to compile – I’m working through it bit by bit

    Cheers, Jon

  7. Don Kaufman says at

    At the local internet marketing panel you participated in (NY, 10/09), there was talk of 8 reviews being optimal (6 good, 1 bad, 1 neutral). Agree? If so, how do we encourage our clients to distribute those placements?

  8. David Mihm says at

    Hi Don,

    I don’t know that I would have recommended any set number of reviews, or even a set percentage. I may have given that as an example of a natural-looking review curve (Yelp says something like 85% of reviews are 3 stars or better), but in general I wouldn’t worry about telling your customers to leave a certain type of review. Just do your best to get them to talk about their good experiences.

  9. Don Kaufman says at

    Thanks much. I just want to go on record as saying your research presentations and guidance have been instrumental in helping me learn how to be an effective local Internet marketer. If you review my website, you’ll see your fingerprints here and there — but w/o plagiarism, I believe :)

  10. Kelvin says at

    Thanks for the breakdown. This is perfect since we are in the process of coming up with a strategy what works for us. One question though, since there are so many 3rd party review sites out there, how do one know which one to send customers to? The 3 that we narrow down are yelp, yahoo local and google. Do we need more from other sites? not sure if its a number game and more review sites means higher rank.

    Thanks
    Kelvin

  11. Brian Markman says at

    Reviews are critical not only for rank but to actually get a decent CTR we have found. The review count seens to matter upto about 500 then after that you seem to be accepted or trusted. I have found it more effective to stick with one site and focus your efforts there however you can not just ignore the others. You must monitor them all to watch your company profile.

    Brian

  12. Jonathan says at

    Well quite a thorough list of good points there and it is something I really want to incorporate into my seo strategy for clients. The importance of good reviews seems to be getting more important especially with the likes of Google Base and Local Business directories and so eventually I can see reviews effecting natuaral seo rankings as well. Great post – top notch!

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