Important Lessons from Reputation Management Mistakes

Just a quick video to show you two big local business reputation management mistakes.

Nelson’s HomeTowne Recreation just sent me this email asking for feedback on their business. But I’ve never done business with this company and I don’t live anywhere near Wisconsin.

We don’t subscribe to any of these things with our support email address. Somehow because they received an email from us — maybe a webinar invitation or something like that — and they’ve automatically added us into their reputation management system.

Reputation Management Mistake #1: Asking Non-Customers for Reviews

Lesson number one, make sure that you’ve really looked at the rules of your reputation management system. Don’t just shove any email that you receive into the system. Make sure you’re only putting in people that you’ve actually done business with.

This particular email came from Signpost. I’m not saying anything against Signpost or Hometowne Recreation, but these settings are something that you want to really think about. Make sure you set it up right and make sure whatever reputation system you’re working with, that you’ve asked the right questions. Only add in contacts from people that you have recently done business with.

Issue number two, there’s review gating going on here. So as a local business, you’ve got to make sure you ask your reputation management system how they’re handling review gating. Let me show you what I mean.

Reputation Management Mistake #2: Review Gating

Let’s say that I give these guys a poor rating. When I click on the two star rating, all they do is capture my feedback for their private use. But when I give them a great five star rating, they instead ask me to give us review on Yelp or Google. This is review gating.

First of all, if Yelp finds out or suspects you’re actually asking for reviews, they will spank you big time. There’s a better way that you can do reviews on Yelp that I’ll share with you in a different video down the road. But this kind of review gating and review solicitation violates Yelp’s term of service.

Review gating is also violates Google’s terms of service. You can’t only ask people for a Google review if they give you a four or five star rating.

Again I’m not saying that Signpost is a bad system, or that Nelson’s HomeTowne Recreation is trying to do anything sneaky. But you’ve got to make sure that you take control of your reputation. Don’t add email addresses of people who haven’t done business with you. Make sure the setting you use in your reputation management system don’t violate the terms of service on Yelp and Google. If anybody finds out about these reputation management mistakes and reports them, you listings could be penalized.

I’d also like to do a call out to all the reputation management systems out there. If you’re going to allow review gating for your clients, that’s your call. People are all adults … they can choose. But make sure that the businesses you’re working with know about these settings and are configuring them up properly to not send review solicitations to non-customers, and to not violate Yelp and Google’s terms of service.

How Consumers Use Local Business Reviews in 2020


Do you know how customers really use online reviews to make decisions about your local business … and how you can better manage your online reputation?

Since 2010, BrightLocal has conducted their annual Local Consumer Review Survey to answer this question and gain insight into customer behavior.

The latest survey is out and we’ve asked BrightLocal’s Myles Anderson to join us for this week’s Office Hours session.

He’ll share key findings from the report and offer his expert advice for how to build a strong online reputation in 2020. You’ll learn:

  • How consumer use of local reviews have evolved over the last decade.
  • How they use local reviews to research and choose local businesses.
  • What local businesses can do to better manage their online reputation.
  • Which industries have seen the greatest impact from online reviews.
  • How many reviews and what star rating businesses need.
  • How marketing firms can win more reputation management work in 2020.

Planning Content to Rank in Local Search and Drive Business


We all want content for local search that will help us rank better and convert more visitors into customers. But how, exactly, do we do it?

Frank Olivo of Sagapixel has developed a very smart method to plan, create and leverage great website content for local businesses. I’ve asked him to share his experience and method with us during this Office Hours session.

According to Ahrefs, 91% of the content it monitors from business websites gets no traffic at all. Don’t waste your time and effort on content that doesn’t work.

In this video you’ll learn:

  • The 3 reasons why we produce blog content
  • How to gauge whether you should write about a topic or not
  • How to choose the correct format for your content
  • How to increase the likelihood of Google viewing your content as “highly relevant and authoritative”
  • How to plan content that has an increased potential to passively earn links

Avoid being part of the 91%, and learn how to make your website content rank for local search and appeal to your customers.

Zenreach Demo – WiFi Marketing for Local Business

WiFi marketing is a big opportunity for local businesses, but very few companies do it right. It has very strong potential for business owners as well as agencies looking to add value to their clients.

In this session, Kai Umezawa, the co-founder of Zenreach, joins Eric Shanfelt for an in-depth, “Under the Hood” look at how WiFi marketing has evolved and how Zenreach is helping businesses get the most benefit from it.

Zenreach has built a network of millions of consumer profiles with deep demographic data. They can automatically recognize 1-in-7 people who walk into your business.

You can use Zenreach to send automated welcome emails to those people or encourage them to come back. You can also integrate it with your favorite email / marketing automation system.

With this data, you can build smart remarketing and lookalike audiences on networks like Google and Facebook. You can then launch online ad campaigns to reach new customers or retarget past customers.

Finally, Zenreach ties the results of email or online ad campaigns not by impressions or clicks, but by how many people actually visit your business after seeing your message.

Google My Business Ranking Factors for 2020

What are the specific factors that impact Google My Business rank? Which of these can you influence and how much can you really expect to impact your search rank?

Every business wants to rank as high as possible, but Google’s algorithm is based on three primary factors to determine where businesses ranks in a local search: relevance, proximity and prominence.

In this Office Hours session, we’ve asked three of the most respected local SEO experts in the world — Joy Hawkins, Dan Leibson and David Mihm — to share their thoughts on Google My Business Ranking factors for 2020.

You’ll learn …

  • How Google’s recent algorithm changes affected local search
  • If proximity is still the biggest ranking factor
  • If citation management and NAP consistency are still important
  • Whether local business websites still matter
  • The impact does link building really has
  • If ranking factors are different for service area businesses
  • How reviews impact Google My Business rank in 2020
  • Whether GMB spam actually works and what to do about it
  • If Google looks at products / services / menu for ranking factors
  • How user and business behavioral signals impact ranking
  • What to do about GMB posts in 2020

This is a critical, must-see session for every local marketer.

Links from this session:

EDITOR’S NOTE – You may also be interested in our Google My Business Optimization checklist and GMB Tools to help manage your listings.

GMB Tools Demo – Better Google My Business Management

EDITOR’S NOTE – Be sure to try GMB Tools for yourself. You can work with all of the features for free for 30 days and keep access to the advanced GMB analytics free forever.

GMB Tools helps business and agencies better manage, optimize and report on their Google My Business listings. In this Office Hours session, you’ll get an inside look at how it works and how you can use it.

Google My Business has several limitations when it comes to reporting and managing business listings. For example, in GMB, you only get 3 months worth of analytics (insights) about your listing. But with GMB Tools, you get:

  • Instant access to 18 months of analytics
  • Archived analytics data allowing you to see long-term performance of your listing
  • Powerful charts and graphs to better understand your GMB performance data
  • The ability to block unwanted updates to your GMB listing
  • A powerful, multi-rule-based review auto-responder
  • Bulk GMB posting and scheduling
  • Continual analysis of your listings with suggestion on how to improve them
  • Rollup reports to better analyze multiple locations
  • Comparative reports from two different time periods (month, years or custom)
  • A quick GMB review widget that you can embed on any website

GMB Tools is built on the popular and trusted MapLabs platform, but is operated directly by Local Marketing Institute. In this session, Eric Shanfelt, Founder of LMI, shows you exactly how the system works and how you can use it to get more out of your Google My Business listing.

Local Marketing Institute Is Now Free!


Yes, you read that right … we’ve eliminated the paid membership for Local Marketing Institute. All of our training videos are now completely free to watch!

You will still need to join the site, but there is no longer any monthly charge or any VIP membership. In fact, we stopped charging everyone mid-November. 🙂

Why did we do this?

Simply put, our mission is to help local businesses grow through effective digital marketing. We want to help as many businesses and agencies as possible with local digital marketing tactics that are proven and trustworthy … taught by the best local marketing experts in the world.

We didn’t feel like we were fulfilling that mission as long as we were charging people to watch our training videos.

Educating local businesses and marketers is a passion for our entire team. I have personally seen so many businesses get bad advice or get taken advantage of by unscrupulous companies.

I’ve seen marketing companies who truly want to serve their clients, but need a little extra help keeping up with all of the changes and bringing additional value to their clients.

And I personally know so companies who have wonderful businesses, but are being held back by ineffective or even harmful digital marketing.

So there you have it!

All of our training videos are now available for free. It will take us a while still to update all of our posts with the right layout, so thanks in advance for your patience.

We’re very excited about this new direction and wish you all the best. Cheers!


Eric Shanfelt
Founder & CEO
Local Marketing Institute

How to Get Reinstated After a Google My Business Suspension

Getting reinstated after a Google My Business suspension can be done if you follow the right process. A suspension means that your listing has been either soft or hard suspended from Google Maps and Search.

A soft suspension means you have no control over the listing, and it is still displayed on maps and search as unowned. A hard suspension is when the listing is removed completely from search and maps.

Either way, you are guilty until proven innocent in Google’s eyes at this point and all you can do is ask for reinstatement.

Editor’s Note – Be sure to check out our Ultimate Google My Business Optimization Checklist to make sure you’ve optimized your listing and how to get support for questions / problems. Also, be sure to check out Ben’s website at

How to recover from a suspension

To recover from a Google My Business suspension, get ready to ROAR! Recognize what is wrong, Organize your facts, Accept it, then Reinstate. Here’s a quick synopsis of the process:

  1. Don’t panic

    Take a chill pill! Rushing to the Google My Business reinstatement form usually ends up causing more harm than good.

  2. Get advice

    Reach out to the Google My Business Support Community and one of the volunteer Product Experts or users to review your information.

  3. Provide your information

    Give the volunteers as much information as you can including: business name, street address OR the address used to verify if you are a service area business, website URL, URL of your GMB dashboard, a screenshot of your info tab in GMB (all of it), any proof of signage on the door on in a building directory (a vehicle picture works if you are a service area business), anything else to prove you are a real business entity.

  4. Submit a reinstatement request

    Only after you’ve done the above steps should you take action and submit a reinstatement request.

  5. Wait for a response

    You might get a denial immediately, but if you don’t hear back from Google immediately, this is actually a good thing. Keep watching your email and checking your listing for updates or a change in status.

  6. Wait to make edits after reinstatement

    Wait several days after reinstatement to make edits to your listing or you could be suspended again.

How the reinstatement form works

The reinstatement form is the most efficient method since it goes directly to the team that is responsible for reinstatements. Support in any other form is a step or two removed from the reinstatement team.

Under normal circumstances, you can get a listing reinstated in 1- 7 days. If it goes past 7 days, and you have not gotten a denial, you have a whole host of other issues going on.

Answering yes, leads to a dead end. Select NO even if there is an existing request in play. More on that in the part where we talk about what to expect.

You must have access to the listing in question to answer YES to this question. Answering no is a dead end as you can see below. Answering yes moves you on to the next question.

This question is just asking you if you have poured over the guidelines and made changes if needed. An answer of “No” or “I don’t know” will lead to the following dead end, so go ahead and answer YES.

This question is geared toward letting Google know that you are located at a physical location. This applies to service area businesses (as you need a location to verify) and of course to storefronts. A NO leads to a dead end. Answer YES, and you move onto the next question.

This question is geared toward seeing if you should have an address showing or not. Remember, you should only have a service area set if you do go see customers at their location. Hybrids are allowed, like for instance a pizza restaurant could have dine in (storefront) and a service area (delivery). Here, a YES moves you onto the next question. A NO moves you to question 9.

This is pretty much the same question as previously answered, but it is trying to see if you are a storefront. Answering YES moves to the next question. Answering NO moves you onto question 9.

Here Google is just wanting to know if you have a duplicate listing in your dashboard. Answering this question with a NO moves onto the end. Answering with a YES moves you onto another branch of questions.

If you have disabled all duplicates, great. If you are keeping them around for some reason, then explain why when filling out the next form. Answering YES or NO leads to moving onto finishing the form.

Answering YES, brings you to question 7. Answering NO, ends the wizard. Now, let’s get onto filling out the form to remove your Google My Business suspension.

  • Name: Your name.
  • Official email address: This is the email that you use to manage the GMB listing in question.
  • Name of business: This is the name as it is in the suspended listing (use the edited version if you changed it)
  • Address: Use the verification address, even if it is a service area business.
  • URL: This is found inside Google My Business on the home or info tab. Do not put your website URL in here as it will not work. The picture below shows you where to find it.

The last part is pretty straight forward. You put in your phone number.

Then enter in any changes you made to the listing. This includes chages to the name, hours, address (for a move) etc. Be very detailed here and leave nothing out. Admit wrong if you have to (like in the case of keyword stuffing).

If you have additional information, put it in the last box. I like to put proof of the business existence here.

What to expect after you submit

After you are done fully submitting the form, immediately check your email and see if you get an auto-response from Google Specialists to maintain one line of communication. If so notate the case ID in the subject of the email. If you contact support you will need this ID.  

In case you get a denial right away. You have a real serious issue. At this point, you need to contact a specialist to dig in and find out what is happening. Almost no number of requests will help you.

If you did not get an automated email, this is good and the desired outcome. From this day forward you will not get an email from Google regarding this listing until a reinstatement occurs, or shortly thereafter. Keep an eye out for an email saying your listing has updates, this is the first sign your listing is back online. Or sign up for a service that will monitor your Google my Business listing.

You will either get a success or a denial email at this point. If it is a success email, again take a chill pill. You need to wait for approximately 3 full business days for your ranking to come back. Also, I suggest not making any edits during this time. You could get suspended again very quickly.

What if you get rejected?

If you get a denial, (I know I know how dare they!) look over the guidelines againand make sure all is looking good. See step 2 at the beginning of the article. If you have a fake listing, do not bother. If you are in a virtual office or a PO Box, consider getting a real address. (Seek advice before doing a reinstatement move as they are complicated, but guarantee getting reviews back). The general rule of thumb is you only get a few reinstatement requests before you get the auto replies. So make the first few requests count.

Pro Tip: Remove your 24 hours and make it something reasonable. I see this so often.

Pro Tip 2: Do NOT under any circumstances make a new listing, even if Google tells you to, unless you want to lose all previous ranking power and your reviews. Be patient.

Reinstated, but pending for more than 3 days?

First off, congrats on getting your Google My Business suspension reinstated! Unfortunately, if you are pending for more than 3 days there is something wrong or you are in what is called a duress category. You will need to get in touch with GMB Support and provide your evidence. Then you will be fully reinstated.

Hopefully, this article helps you navigate the reinstatement waters of Google My Business. It is not impossible, and sometimes it can take a discerning eye to figure out what is wrong. The process for reinstatement is pretty straight forward. Pay attention to everything along the way, get some advice, or hire someone. If you are a legitimate business you will get your listing back.

WordStream Demo – Local PPC Ad Management

When it comes to Google, Facebook and Bing ads, one of the tools that we’re fans of here at Local Marketing Institute is WordStream.

We’ve asked them to join us in this week’s Office Hours webinar for a behind-the-scenes look at their ad management platform.

WordStream helps SMBs and the agencies who serve them by aggregating Facebook, Google and Bing ad campaigns in one interface with excellent customer support.

This allows a better look at ad spend and ROI across multiple ad platforms, AI-driven suggestions to improve ad performance and overall simplified campaign and account management.

Navah Hopkins, WordStream’s Services Innovation Strategist, will show us exactly how WordStream works and how it can help you get more from your display and PPC campaigns while saving you time.

In this webinar, you’ll learn:

  • What to do if you only have 20 minutes to invest in ad account management.
  • How to assess if you’re getting the right leads for your business at a profitable price.
  • Creative tips and tricks to ensure your messaging lands regardless of channel
  • How to simplify reporting for clients/bosses

Whether you’ve run ad accounts before and are looking for workflow hacks, or this is your first attempt at running a paid campaign, WordStream can empower you to unlock the most ROI out of your time and budget.

The Evolution of Local Business Reviews

Local business reviews have evolved drastically over the years. But has your review strategy changed to adapt?

In this session, local SEO expert, Mike Blumenthal, shows you how reviews have changed and what those changes mean for your business. You’ll learn:

• Which review platforms matter now
• How reviews actually influence customer decisions
• The impact of review gating
• How Google uses reviews to understand your business

You’ll also learn how businesses now use reviews to get strategic insight into internal processes and ways to improve their customer experience.


Mike Blumenthal: Business reviews are fascinating to me. Obviously, I’ve made an amazing career out of it, but even before that, I’ve often looked at them and recognized them as this amazing intersection of our society online. There’s consumers, government, businesses, and review sites….they all are stakeholders in this. I thought it would be interesting to look at the last few years in each of these categories to get a sense of where we are today. Step back from the technical day-to-day stuff, and think a little higher level so that we can provide more value in this context.

I’m going to look at past and current aspects of those four stakeholders to give you a sense of what I’ve perceived. Consumers are obviously a critical player in the market. If you look at this research from BrightLocal, where they have been tracking annually this question of, “Do consumers trust reviews as much as personal recommendations?” And as you can see, this was rising for many years, from 2010 to 2014. And it sort of dropped, leveled off. The data set isn’t really clear yet, but it certainly isn’t increasing anymore. Consumer trust level of reviews has leveled. If you look at the opposite inside of this equation, people who don’t trust reviews, that is showing a similar trend. The people who don’t trust reviews was declining, and it also leveled off.

This is easy to understand with all the noise we see in the press. It’s all about personal experiences, particularly with Amazon, but also to a lesser extent with Google, with the problem of fake reviews. It’s totally believable that trust has hit some level and it may decline further in the future.

I did some similar but different research. I asked consumers, a fairly large data set, and I’ve redone it every six, eight, 12 to 18 months over the past four or five years. I ask consumers whether after purchasing from the local business, how often do they leave reviews? And notice that from 2014 to 2017, the people who said they never leave reviews was declining pretty dramatically to the point where it went from 57% in 2014 to just over 30% never left reviews in 2017. You saw a similar sort of increase in the people who do leave reviews, those who have less than six or those that left more than six here both increased during those periods. Pretty dramatically as well.

I did this again a couple months ago, and we saw reversal of a long-term trend. We don’t have enough data to know whether this is an aberration of whether it’s a shift. But, we see that in 2019, consumers who never write reviews has jumped back up to levels closer to 2015.

A couple years ago, this is 2014, I did some research asking consumers when they search online for local businesses, how many review stars do you need to consider the business? I find it fascinating, particularly when you compare consumer and business attitudes about reviews. Every business thinks they have to have five stars. But, 85% of the consumers said four stars or less were enough for them to consider the business. So, the bulk of consumers are perfectly satisfied with something other than a five star review corpus.

In fact, recent research from a Womply noted that five star businesses actually have below average sales compared to those in the 3.5 to 4.5 range. Those that are the 3.5 to 4.5 earn more revenue, and those in the 4 to 4.5 earn 20% more than any of the other cohorts. I think that what you can surmise from these two bits of research is that consumers reward authenticity, which speaks against the small business attitude that I have to have five stars. In fact, it would appear that actually having less than five stars is optimal.

Eric Shanfelt: I’m assuming that should be for the four star, I know that it used to be that the four star or higher is where Google would filter out if you put like “best Chinese restaurants near me.” It would filter out with four stars.

It seems like 4 to 4.5 stars is really the sweet spot, like you said with your last bullet.

Mike Blumenthal: Yeah, if you’re going to approach this tactically, absolutely. I think what you want to say is, “How do I become a better business so that I earn more stars?”

But that’s a bigger conversation I’ll have a little later. The other thing is that one of the ways you can tell a spammer these days is by looking at these business listings. If they’re all five stars, you have to think twice about whether this business listing is real or not.

Business attitudes have also changed over the years, although some things never change. I did another fairly large scale survey. I asked consumers what percentage of businesses provide excellent service, and the most common answer for consumers was 55% do. When I asked that same questions of businesses, it was a much higher perception. Some things don’t change over time. I think to be in business, you have to be very confident. And to some extent, that confidence might blind you to certain realities about the quality of service you’re providing. I think that blind spot is something that businesses need to be aware of. Agencies also need to be aware of this when they’re talking to them, so they can help deal with reality.

One of the things I frequently see in communicating with businesses is when a business starts interacting with reviews. Often times, when I first meet them, they’ll say to me, “Oh, all my business comes from offline referrals.” It’s a very common thing. They’re actually in a state of denial because when I go look at the data, that doesn’t turn out to be true but they still think that.

The second that happens is because they haven’t been collecting reviews, there’s very few, they get a couple bad ones and they are pissed. They’re angry at the customer. They’re angry at Google. They’re angry at the world because somebody had the audacity to call them out. Then they start bargaining, either with Google, you’ll see it in the forums. This person that wasn’t even a customer of ours, they just came in. Google doesn’t care if they’re a customer or not, Google just says, “Look, they’ve interacted with your business. They have a right to review it.” Could be an unanswered phone call or it could be your door was locked five minutes before your closing time.

Bargaining is the next step the business often takes. They sort of throw their hands up, “Oh, I can’t deal with this.” And then finally, they move into some level of acceptance. It’s like the five stages of grief. I don’t mean to minimize the five stages of grief, but it’s often like that in small businesses where they feel this sense of, “All right, I’ve got to finally accept this reality.”

But acceptance means many different things in this world of businesses. Some businesses just go out and start buying reviews. They’re like, “Oh, I can’t beat this system. I’m just going to go pay $5 a pop and get some more. Or I’m going to worse,” or maybe not worse, “Have my wife or my mother, or daughter, or employees write reviews.” In fact, you just saw the other day there was a cosmetic company the FTC caught having their employees write the reviews.

And then the next level of sophistication or a step up from that is where businesses say, “I got to get more reviews.” Often they’ll say, “I got to get more reviews at Google.” It’s a very sort of narrow view of the world of reviews. And finally, what I’ve seen is that in the more sophisticated businesses, the ones that realize that a bad review meant that they didn’t do something right, whatever it is. Those folks typically start getting into the idea that reviews allow them to measure and explore ongoing improvements. They recognize that through the reviews, their consumers are collaborating on telling the business brand’s story. I think it’s important to note that in this world of everybody having a voice, the business no longer can tell their brand story by themselves. Used to be you put up a new fresh coat of paint on your marketing campaign, Wells Fargo would declare they’re wonderful, and then they’d go screw another three million people. It’s no longer that easy to do. I mean, you really have to realize that consumers, what they are saying about you is what other consumers believe.

So this acceptance can mean many things, and it’s my contention that you need to move through this hierarchy and get to the end to be really successful with reviews.

Eric Shanfelt: This is more what you were talking about, where your reviews are moving more from a tactical thing you have to do into a strategic thing, a strategic key part of the business?

Mike Blumenthal: Exactly. I think that they, in aggregate, become one of the most effective ways to improve your business and understand what people think about you. I would note, though, that businesses frequently regress. And I think the end of gating, a year ago April, was an interesting case. We ran Gather Up as a customer experience, a review monitoring and reputation company. When we ended gating, we had businesses calling us and canceling their subscriptions because they had to gate. We did do gating. It was an option within our system. We did it because businesses needed the comfort to make that decision and move into the space, but some of them never got rid of that sort of blankie and really got annoyed with us.

But I was curious, now that time had passed, what did it mean? I went into our system, looked at 10000 locations that were in our systems for the 12 months exactly prior to the end of gating, and we did this grand experiment. We shut off gating one day to the next. We were ready, we had all of our ducks in a row fortunately, and we shut it off one day the next very soon after Google said they didn’t like it. This is the view the 12 months before. Their Google rating was 4.66. 46746 reviews during that year prior. And then in the year after, no gating, exact same 10000 businesses, their review rating dropped at Google from 4.66 to 4.59, a fraction of a star.

Eric Shanfelt: Almost negligible.

Mike Blumenthal: Almost negligible, and given the vagaries of statistical analysis, I didn’t cleanse the data set, so it’s likely it’s the same number within striking range, statistically being the same number. So that was interesting.

What was more interesting was that the Google reviews went up by 68%. Some of that was because Facebook sort of screwed the pooch on reviews, but a lot of it was just because it was now easier to leave reviews on Google, and surprisingly, more people did, and it didn’t really impact the gating. I guess my point here is that the fear of reviews is worse than the reality of reviews.

Eric Shanfelt: All right. In essence, the gating, getting rid of the gating didn’t really have a negative effect?

Mike Blumenthal: Not on the star rating, but it appeared to positively influence the volume. I think that’s significant.

Eric Shanfelt: That is huge.

Mike Blumenthal: Government too has something to say in this arena, at least in New York State. They’re particularly aggressive, and over the last five years, there’s been three cases in New York State where the government went in and would fine businesses significantly. I had one who was actually a client at the time who was offering a $5 coupon if you left a review. It didn’t matter if it was positive or negative. He had a $10,000 fine just for the coupon, right? And he couldn’t afford to fight it.

Now, the federal government has not been quite so aggressive as say New York State. They publish all of their cases online, and review laws fall under the endorsement laws, which essentially state that if there’s going to be public proclamations about how good you are by reviewers, then they have to reflect reality, they can’t be done on a pay-to-play basis, there can’t be any incentives, can’t be done by people who have a conflict of interest.

Anyways, they have periodically stepped in for some endorsement. You can see for the first eight years I tracked, there were 10 endorsement cases against businesses. Subsequent four years, there’s 21, and then the four years most recent, 42. And like I noted earlier, there was a recent case where a cosmetic company was caught red-handed no question cheating on their reviews. The FTC stepped in. Although the punishment was fairly mild, they basically agreed not to misbehave again. There were no fines, unlike New York.

Eric Shanfelt: I think it’s important that what you said though is that this isn’t just a federal thing with FTC. A lot of state’s attorney general are also getting involved with this now, and those cases are beginning to pick up a lot more significance, even at the federal level.

Mike Blumenthal: Right, and similar laws exist in England, Australia and Canada. It behooves you not to violate these rules.

And then the final player stakeholder in this environment is the review platforms. I was chatting with David Mihm before I prepared this talk, and he happened to have the common review platforms from 2009 from his local ranking factors. These are the sort of general media platforms, not the verticalized ones, but the ones that were of general importance. You look at those, and while Super Pages and I suppose and Yellow Pages still have reviews, they’ve become essentially non-existent. And now we’re down in the generalized space to Google and Yelp, even Facebook having switched out from reviews to recommendations doesn’t seem obvious that they’re still in the review space, so… a big reduction in the number of review sites.

When you look at it into one vertical, at least in restaurants, you see a similar reduction. Google and Yelp, obviously, are in the space. But then TripAdvisor and OpenTable, and Zomato, which I think they bought Urban Spoon, they’re sort of again, half in the space.

But when you look at this list of who’s currently in the space, TripAdvisor and Yelp were around in 2006 when I did this original research. Google, OpenTable and Zomato did not exist then, and all these other ones went by the wayside.

So Yelp is an interesting case. They’re sort of last man standing in the review space. Obviously, with a lot of early emphasis on restaurants. But Yelp has always, as a strategy, wanted long form reviews by the few elites that they have engaged in their system. And this is an example review that I grabbed from Barbara Oliver. Now Barbara Oliver, a typical sale for her is an engagement ring, it’s $10000 or whatever, and this is, I just thought it was emblematic of what Yelp is doing.

Mike Blumenthal: So this Megan, right? She has 264 friends, and she’s written 256 reviews, and uploaded 206 photographs at Yelp, right?

Eric Shanfelt: A big Yelper.

Mike Blumenthal: A big Yelper. Get a life. And not only that, but she has friends, enough friends there that they actually find her reviews useful. Obviously she uploaded a photo, and again, this is for a store that sells expensive jewelry, and what does she write about? She writes a four paragraph review about a $3 battery that she got replaced.

Eric Shanfelt: With a photo of a bunch of chocolates.

Mike Blumenthal: Which Barbara gives away, free compliments of business. This is what Yelp has always wanted and this is what they have, right? They’ve really excluded most people from their review space. If you’re a newbie there, you’re not welcome, you have to have a certain number of reviews. If you write short-form reviews, you’re not welcome. Which I find interesting. And when I look at their traffic, they have to publish traffic results and they have to publish material threats because they’re a public company.

And they frequently notice that their biggest material threat to client acquisition is the fact is Google. They risk not getting as many customers coming in from Google. I don’t know if you’ve noticed any, but Yelp is not doing as well on search results as say TripAdvisor. Obviously Google has inserted themselves in that.

This is their traffic from June 2017. Which was the highest traffic level I could find. 185 million users. And this is their traffic from this last June when they filed, 172 million users. And this is pretty consistent, whatever that is, 7.5, 8%. 10% reduction in traffic. I mean, Yelp has reached peak traffic and they’re beyond it at this point. Their increase in mobile apps, which they nagged the bejesus out of people to sign onto, is not offset anywhere by the decline in mobile or web-based stuff. So Yelp is in a traffic decline.

That phrases a question for me because Yelp takes on such a big presence in business’s minds. And so I went to Google trends and I typed in a nonsensical comparison between the search phrase Yelp because we knew people were going to Google and searching for Yelp in some combination. And I compared to the search restaurants near me, which is a very small segment of the searches that Google gets locally. But what you see in this chart is the fact that Yelp searches at Google were going up until 2016, and starting around 2011 with the advent of mobile phones, searches for restaurants near me started increasing.

I found that pattern fascinating because it basically reflects the adaption of mobile technology, where Google, and the change in Google delivering more and more business profiles and “results and near me” searches. Now you don’t even need to say near me, just say restaurants and up pops a local pack.

I dug into this a little deeper, and I went in year by year. In 2013, Yelp was still predominant and much more frequently searched than restaurants near me. 2014, it doesn’t show up very well, but there’s a lessening of the blue in the state charts. You can see a few red bars on the right in terms of the states. 2015, a little more lightening in this area, a little more red, which means that the near me searches are starting to increase.

And then we start seeing this transition starting in 2016 where the mid central states are moving beyond Yelp searches and their more prominent searches are restaurants near me. 2017, almost all the midwest. 2018, the bulk of the Rockies and the mountain states. 2019, you basically see Illinois, New York, and a few of the western states, which has traditionally been Yelp’s territory. You can see this ongoing decline of users looking for Yelp and a commence or increase in users leveraging Google’s capability here.

Now search is hyper local. I went in and I dug out the state of Texas and did this same comparison, but this is over a five year period. And I thought it was fascinating that that little blue area in the middle is still Yelp, and that’s Austin, ad whereas the red is Google. One, it looks very much like the electoral graph, right? I mean, this is how people vote in Texas, right? Austin votes for democrats and everyone else for republicans, but there was another correlation that I thought was fascinating in this that both Donald Trump and Jeremy Stoppelman both could be pretty rude offensive people. I’m not sure that this is what this graph is saying, but it seemed like a correlation that was relevant to me.

Anyways, it’s very localized and obviously in your market, you’ve got to make this decision. If you’re in California, Yelp is still valuable, but most parts of the country, it is in declining value, and I think it’s being edged towards irrelevancy.

But I wanted to dig even deeper into this question-

Eric Shanfelt: Mike, I had a really interesting question come in on that chart. Could you go back to that chart from the previous year?

Interesting questions came in: this search that you’re doing on Google trends obviously reflects web searches, but does that necessarily reflect the fact of a decline in actual use of Yelp since most people are now actually using the Yelp app rather than going through Google to get to Yelp?

Mike Blumenthal: Here’s 2017. On the left is their app, 28 million. And you can see there’s 150 million using the web, so that’s not most. Most are using the web to access Yelp, 2017. In 2019, you have some increase in app use but nowhere near most, right? What you’re seeing is that yes, there’s been some uptick in app use at Yelp, but nowhere near offset their loss and still nowhere near their volume or web search, right?

Eric Shanfelt: Basically, you’re saying still it appears that the usage of Yelp versus the usage of Google to find restaurants has declined on the data that you can find?

Mike Blumenthal: Exactly, and app use is only 25% of their total traffic, which doesn’t bode well for them as a trend, right? In other words, they’re not building or able to build app use as fast as their web use is declining.

Then I dug into Gather Up data. I fortunately had a group of 250 restaurants that were in our system for a number of years, and we looked at month-by-month comparison of Facebook, Google, TripAdvisor and Yelp reviews. For every month from January ’15 through April of this year, and you can see that at the beginning, Yelp had 194 reviews for the month of January for this group and Google had 19. So Yelp was doing 10 X the number of reviews that Google was doing. At the end, Yelp had roughly the same number of reviews for this group. And Google during this same period of April 2019 had 10 X, 11 X the number of reviews, right?

When you look here, you can see this diverging during this early 2016 timeframe. We’ll get to that in a bit.

Mike Blumenthal: Then I look at financial services. This is a group of 10,000 businesses in the financial arena. Finances is very low empathy for reviews, in other words, much harder for them to get reviews, so I have to look at a bigger data set to get any significant data. But interestingly beating for them, Facebook was the leading review site for them, 208 at the beginning. You can see here’s that same April 2016 divergent. This is when Facebook seemed to throw in the rag on reviews and they ended with two times the number of reviews per these 10,000 locations per month.

Mike Blumenthal: When you go look at Yelp, even Yelp though in this industry was greater than Google at the time this survey started, right? Yelp was getting 2 X the number of reviews per location, per this cohort, per month at the beginning, and at the end, they were about the same. In other words, same volume, but Google was getting 36 times as many reviews. I guess you could say that Google is killing it, although you might want to modify to say Google is killing them. However you say it, certainly Google is getting the preponderance of reviews, and when you plot these as a percentage of total reviews each month, you can see this more dramatically. The influence that Google has had in terms of the relationship between their reviews and the total corpus of reviews has grown consistently over that time.

You mentioned that I sometimes consider myself a curmudgeon of local search. Dan is my curmudgeon in study. He’s sort of the person who has the best chance of following my boot steps because he says to me, “What about California restaurants? Prove it to me, prove it to me that even they are having trouble getting Yelp reviews.”

Mike Blumenthal: I dug into our data set and found a California-based food chain that’s a fast casual kind of business. Looked at the same data set, 169 reviews for I think it’s 50 or so restaurants from Yelp at the beginning whereas Google had zero, literally, in California for this same period. And we look at the end, Yelp is down in California in this group by some significant percentage and Google is up. The point where it inflected is a year late, almost a year later, not quite. And the point where Google starts passing Yelp is even later. While there’s still blue in my original map, this would indicate to me that even California is going towards Google, and if we look at this next year, we’ll see even more of it.

Eric Shanfelt: I like that data. Not that the Google Trends wasn’t relevant, but this is hard data on reviews actually being collected over time on platforms for a larger food chain. So I think it’s actively didactically showing the point you’re trying to make is that the influence of Google reviews versus Yelp reviews has shifted significantly over the past few years.

Mike Blumenthal: Correct, and Google has done a number of things to make that happen. One of those was, and this matches up with the inflection points in those charts, is that when they finally got rid of the burden of Google+, and opened up reviews with the Gmail, that was one of the main factors that facilitated reviews on Google. There’s other things, I mean they obviously allow us to generate Google review links at scale. It’s not against their rules for enterprises to ask for reviews. It’s not against the rules for agencies to ask for reviews on behalf of them. All of those are against the rules with Yelp, so Yelp is in many ways creating their own limitations here.

Google approaches reviews differently. Diametrically, it posts the way Yelp does, right? Yelp views reviews as a singular long form piece of information that you want to read. Now, I’m sorry, I don’t want to read a four paragraph thing about batteries. But that’s Yelp’s approach, that’s what they’ve decided to go with. Google on the other hand looks at reviews sort in aggregate. And starting at around the same time frame, they started elevating every page on a brand search about a business that had stars in it, giving those pages a little bump in the search results.

If you pay attention, you can see this brand story in aggregate in a very quick view. I think that’s sort of one strategy that Google has used to leverage all this data that they grabbed from out of the web.

They don’t limit themselves to just Google reviews. I read this patent, which was first written up by Bill [inaudible 00:30:03], and then written up subsequently by me at the Gather Up blog. If you take a look at this patent that was published in 2018, it’s fascinating. User reviews may be gathering from blogs, social network postings. Emails, God, who believes that they were snooping on their emails? Articles written for websites, printed publications, postings made to a user review section of an online vendor or marketplace. They look everywhere for reviews. Google doesn’t limit themselves. They have such good artificial intelligence, special learning of language and analysis, they can, and we’ve seen this as far back as 2010. But they can parse reviews and send them out from almost any place, and they do. This is in their patent.

In addition, I found this was fascinating that they use these reviews, not like count them and give you a score and you rank higher because there’s more. I mean, that’s a small element to the ranking you know. But more interesting to me is that they look at the frequency of text in reviews, the categories, the entities, the nouns, the adjectives, they count each of these up, they determine a score, and that information may become strongly associated with a particular entity so that they essentially expand the reach of the listing by increasing the phrases upon which it might show. It’s a totally different approach, and because they have so much data, they can do this. It’s just a different way of looking at reviews.

There’s another example where if you go to Google and you start looking for a Q&A, and you start typing in a question, Google will start surfacing review content and answer to that question, again, using their natural language processing to perhaps answer your question right then and there. Again, pointing out sort of how Google looks at reviews differently.

And then finally, this was recently rolled out on the desktop. It had been rolled out on mobile for a number of months where they are summarizing this. Again Barbara Oliver, it’s really that high level concepts that are associated that people can find so people can just click in and see all the ones about engagement rings, or see the ones about her being a gemologist. They’re looking at reviews to guide people just beyond the singular review.

In terms of new things Google is doing, most of you are familiar with the local answer box when you type in a business name plus word “reviews.” Google shows reviews from around the web, but they also show reviews sort of wrapping, even a query about a business’s hours, right? Your business, somebody could look up your hours, and if your reviews are not up to that 4.0 level, somebody could be impacted in terms of whether they call you. Or where they look up their hours, phone number, or services, when people do a direct query on those things, Google is providing the answer box, but the answer box on mobile is wrapped in review content, which I find fascinating. It just shows you how far Google is pushing this idea of reputation around your business profile

Eric Shanfelt: I think it also is emphasizing your point. You’re saying, “Hey, you’re no longer running your own brand. You have to manage your brand in conjunction with your customers.”

Mike Blumenthal: Yes, and to a lesser extent with Google, but yes, absolutely. That brings us to this. What kind of strategies and tactics can you put in place? And I think the big picture is framed by that question that you really need to realize that the only way to successfully navigate that question long haul about curtailing your brand story is by being really good.

Obviously, there’s some tactical things you want to think about in terms of consumers and the government. I really think that the loss of consumer trust needs to be respected and you need to be transparent when you use reviews. I think the end of gating was a good thing, and I think that you should not gate on your own website when you’re showing reviews, testimonials, things like that. You should show them all. I think that even you might go so far as to create and abide by your own reviews terms of service that show why a review might not show, and I think you should make that link obvious. I think that transparency is going to be the only way to keep consumers from trusting reviews less.

From the FTC’s point of view, avoiding incentives, avoiding buy reviews or using employees to get them. There is a requirement in the FTC that if you use ratings on your website in your marketing, they should reflect the actual averages of your real reviews. Trying to inflate them, I think one is counterproductive in terms of trust for the consumers. It’s obviously against the law. But I think we saw earlier, it’s unnecessary. I think people reward authenticity.

And even if you’re outsourcing to a third party, your business is still liable. If you have an agency doing this for you and they do some of this stuff even unbeknownst to you, you are liable.

Eric Shanfelt: Good question just came in here Mike on that. It said, “So, would you actually encourage businesses to allow one star reviews of people who are unhappy with the business to show up on their own website?”

Mike Blumenthal: I do. If you go to Gather Up, you’ll find ours. I do. I think that people, from my point of view, it helps the right buyers buy your product, to understand when it doesn’t work, and who it doesn’t work for. I mean, I don’t want the wrong buyer coming, I want the right buyer coming. And the people that weren’t happy, weren’t happy for a reason because we fucked up. And or we didn’t have a product that met their needs, or whatever it was. I don’t see any reason with not sharing that.

It’s a little hard, it’s a little painful. It’s a little discomforting.

Eric Shanfelt: I think it’s a real scary proposition for most businesses, but it sounds like what you’re saying is in the end, it pays off.

Mike Blumenthal: It does pay off. I mean, obviously you don’t want misogyny, sexism, racism, violence, threats, and advertisements for competitors and the links, and all that stuff. So yeah.

Eric Shanfelt: Clear out all the junk.

Mike Blumenthal: Clear out all the junk. You write a terms of service, and you want people that have actually done business with you. You don’t want the person who got here when your employee was being rushed to the hospital and you had to close the doors writing a review about you. The requirement is they do business with you. That’s a legitimate terms of service. You want fair terms of service, you want to be transparent about it, and you want to publish them all.

Which raises the question of where, when, and how do you promote your reviews? Where should you be asking? My perception is that Yelp is fading in importance. Obviously they really restrict how much you can ask there. You can get that little red badge of shame if you ask, then you have to be really subtle about asking there. But it really is much as relevant and at least stop worrying about Yelp, right? I mean, don’t fret about it. It’s like here’s what I say to Jeremy Stoppelman. That was a visual, for those of you who are listening, it wasn’t very polite.

Don’t worry about Yelp is really one way to look at it. And then, you want to also think in terms of the verticals that could help with your branding. You don’t need to spend a lot of time focusing on this, but Barbara Oliver here has been working on her reviews that show on Google for 10 years. This is not a one and done, or this month, or next month, or the month after. It’s a long-term project.

Over the next five years, you can get a couple reviews at these vertical sites. You don’t need a lot. You just need enough that it tells a consistent brand story, right? Obviously if your brand story in her case is 4.9 and 5, she has to be doubly careful that the Yelp story is consistent with that because she’s not going to be believed out of the gate, and she really has to be that good, and fortunately she is. I mean, it’s like lucky to have her as a customer.

Getting 10% of all your customers to leave a review with Google is a real stretch goal. I mean it’s hard. It’s not easy. It takes work. But they are much more willing to give you direct feedback.

What we find is if you ask for direct feedback and a Google review, you may get a little bit less than 10%. But in aggregate, you get much more, much, much, much more information. Like Google, I see that information as having huge strategic value

Review sites, Google, Yelp, Facebook to some extent, but I see Yelp providing less importance. Facebook is very situational. You want to assess because Facebook is no longer showing which snippets either in the Google search results, so if you’re very active on Facebook, that might provide some benefit, but I would think about it.

Eric Shanfelt: This is good. I definitely agree that certainly in relevance, Google is certainly becoming more and more prominent. Yelp is fading in some circumstances. But it’s not just Yelp itself. I mean, Yelp is also like syndicating reviews to Bing to Apple Maps, to Apple Siri, to Amazon Alexa. When sharing those other syndications, does that help change the view at all? Or do you think nope, that still doesn’t really matter?

Mike Blumenthal: I think you have to continue to monitor. You have to be very careful about how you solicit there because if you’re not, you will end up with the red badge of shame and you’ll be reduced in rank. Given those two facts, you have to approach Yelp as still potentially one of the things you need to think about and monitor and respond to, but like I said, I think it needs to drop in importance in your toolkit.

Eric Shanfelt: Got it. Yelp may still have validity with reviews, but even Yelp’s own policies make it something that businesses and agencies serving those businesses, they can’t really focus a lot of time, attention, and effort on it, otherwise Yelp will spank them.

Mike Blumenthal: And be sure that in your market it’s still relevant. In the Midwest, like here, I consider myself, even though it’s western New York, it’s Midwest, people don’t use Yelp. It’s just not relevant as a resource. I think though in this context, I see first-party reviews as very valuable, and I see vertical sites as valuable. And the first-party reviews, we’ll get into this. But so, this brings us to the point about thinking about reviews strategically as opposed to just tactically.

There’s a million things you can do with review content that I think is amazing. Will Reynolds wrote this blog post about writing better ad copy by taking a review corpus and driving it through one of the many online statistical end gram tools that will essentially analyze the frequency of phrases and give you their top phrases so you can see how people are writing about you, and then using those to give back to the consumer in the form of reviews.

Phil Rozek wrote a really good one on using them for keyword planning because a lot of times businesses forget how their consumers talk, and reading reviews, and reading competitors’ reviews can help you better understand that language, so using them in that context.

This is a research I did around insurance agents. I looked at the complaints in 700 insurance agents. And insurance is kind of an interesting business because an agent in a local market doesn’t control all the variables of quality. Pricing is set by the national company. The settlements are done by the national company. And cost pricing increases, for example, with the biggest complaint.

Well, if I were an insurance agent, I took all of this data, I categorized them in a spreadsheet, and went through, and added them all up to see what the complaints were. Cost price increase is the biggest complaint. Then as an insurance agent, the way I deal with that, or should deal with it is three months, you know a price increase is coming, three months before renewal, you’ll reach out. So you can use this data to mitigate these pain points for your customers, and this was done manually.

I think too that content is one of the hardest things to do on a small business website. Whether you’re an agency or a small business, and to me, the review content from your customers in the form of first-party reviews is just joyous content. And it provides a basis, particularly with some online, but a basis for a long-tail strategy. On the engagement ring page, you can have not just social proof, but you can have the actual words of the people who actually bought engagement rings from you. And so I just see that as solving a huge pain point in the world of business websites.

Eric Shanfelt: Like you said, that content is going to make this page richer so that impacts not just the local business results, but in the organic search results, this page has a better possibility of appearing.

Mike Blumenthal: Exactly. And it stays fresh; it’s always being updated because your customers are doing it for you. I mean, why let Google have all the fun of user-generated content, right?

Eric Shanfelt: That’s right.

Mike Blumenthal: I think that user-generated content is great as long as you have a system to automate it, and it just happens, cool.

And then finally, we’re seeing the development, like we just recently rolled this out in beta, but we can now go into a corpus of reviews, and we can say, “Show me all the two, three and four star reviews, and plot those along this graph, and show me what things people are happy about in those reviews and what things were they unhappy about.”

Even if you have a four star review, there may still be some sentiment in there that you could work on to improvement. And so, the tools to improve your business are coming out and are readily available these days, whether you do it manually like I did in that previous research, or you do automatically by someone else. Being able to go into all your three and four star reviews and say, “Gee, here’s what I got to do to get my threes to fours, or what I got to do to get my twos to threes, or I can see that my staff is doing great but I may have a bad employee, or my mobile ordering is not as up to step.” Whatever. It’s just an incredible way of understanding and moving on this tactical pathway. I see getting reviews as this sort of tactical view that I mentioned earlier on.

I see responding to reviews is the next level of that tactic. We’re seeing a lot of evidence, one, Google, GatherUp, and many other review sites sending notes back to the customers that you’ve responded. So it’s a customer touchpoint. Two, we see there’s a number of pieces of research out there that you get roughly a half point higher review rating score for responding to reviews. People are less likely to grump publicly if they know you’re watching.

We also saw recently from research that indicated that review responses lead to higher income as well. Review responses is the next sort of obvious point to engage with. It’s difficult, and sometimes beyond the reach of some small businesses. But I think it’s something you want to think about, particularly in higher value added worlds like Barbara Oliver, like home construction.

But then you want to think about using these reviews for marketing and social proof on your website. You want to think about them for your ad words and keywords and your content strategy. Those are all moving in this strategic direction, but I think most importantly, we alluded to this earlier, is that the only way to succeed in this over the next five years is to understand that you do not any longer have control over your own brand, and it’s your customers that are defining it, and the only way to consistently define that at the level that needs to be defined is by really using these tools to improve your business.

And so this whole business to the right is where I think people need to be thinking about reviews as they move forward. And it’s also, if you’re an agency, this is where the real value add is. I mean, everybody can automate the getting of reviews or the asking for reviews. But as an agency, I think you need to be thinking about these because then you can moving out of the commodity market into the role of business [inaudible 00:47:38].I know you and I have talked about this that agencies need to be more than just a tactical partner to a business these days.

Eric Shanfelt: Mike, one of the things that I think is interesting here, I think that you were talking about the sentiment analysis and being able to use reviews to improve the customer experience, improve your business, I think it’s very interesting. I do think that a lot of that has already been happening, that the customer sentiment has already been out there, and the word of mouth has already been going on. But a lot of businesses haven’t had any visibility into that sentiment.

With the advent of reviews and then systems like this that do this sentiment analysis, this is always been happening, but now, you actually have a window into what your customers really perceive your business to be that’s unbiased.

Mike Blumenthal: If it isn’t unbiased, it’s at least what other people are seeing. It may not be totally unbiased.

Eric Shanfelt: Good point.

Mike Blumenthal: But it’s what the consuming public sees because Google is taking such a dominant role, they’re highlighting all of these on their brand search, so this is what Google is bringing into the mix. Regardless of whether it’s unbiased or not, it’s what the consumers are saying and seeing, and so in that sense, you have to accept that reality.

There’s a saying in Norway that there is no bad weather, there’s only bad clothing. In the sense, Google is the weather, we can’t change it, but we can dress differently. And I think that’s really the moral of this tale that we have to put on better clothes and handle it differently.

Eric Shanfelt: I heard the same expression in Ukraine.

Mike Blumenthal: Oh, okay. Well, maybe it’s all of course. So that’s the formal part of my presentation. I am open to questions.

Q1: Should businesses respond to reviews?

Eric Shanfelt: Yeah, I got a couple of questions that came through. And I think you may have already elaborated on this, but one person asked could you please ask about review responses? Is it still something you recommend businesses do, both with positive and negative reviews?

Mike Blumenthal: If obviously there’s an issue of time and value in relation to the responses. In a consumer survey I did about review responses, even in positive reviews, 30% of the consumers said they would like a response even if it was positive because they took the time to leave a review, right? So a fairly big percentage of people want you to respond.

Secondly, it’s a consumer touchpoint. Google, Gather Up, all these other will now send out notices to the customers that you have responded, so I can see that as beneficial. It isn’t always easy, so if you have to triage, I would go in the following order. I would deal with the negatives first, writing the response for the prospect because you’ve probably already lost that customer trying to engage them in a solution and show that you’re reasonable and you’re empathetic. People understand that you’re not perfect. The best you can do is try to own up to that. I would deal with those first.

I would deal with the ones where you could respond by increasing people’s understanding of your business second, and then if you have time, like with GatherUp, I am working to respond to every review that we get, and the reason I’m doing that is I want to learn how to not be a glad hander in review responses. I don’t want to just want to say, “Thank you for that great review.” It’s like gag me with a spoon, right? I want to personalize my responses, and I’m doing it with the idea that I will be able to develop a tool that recommends to review responders some suggestions for answering. I am doing it with a very ulterior motive, but I think that you can, and I’ve learned that you can, and what I used for tactic is personally I address the person by name, I take the last thing they said, I give it back to them in some form, and then thank them. And so by doing that in that structure, you can answer every review without seeming quite so robotic.

Q2: Are you using non-templated responses to make a tool for templated responses?

Mike Blumenthal: Yeah, so I mean I think they’re asking about my idea of trying to create something like Gmail, which suggests answers. We’re going to be taking, at some point, my corpus of responses and other people who we think done a good job with responses and trying to retrain a sentiment analysis, word analysis, machine language program to try to understand how you might be able to put these pieces together to create a non-standard response. The answer is yes, I think is our goal.

Q3: Do you think replying to reviews also applies to other directories like Yelp and vertical directories?

Mike Blumenthal: You’re going to get a lot less reviews there, but if somebody took the time to leave a review, I guess I believe you should respond. If they gave you a direct compliment or sent you a letter, you’d probably respond. Why should this be any different? And I see it even particularly more important on your own first-party reviews because that’s your house. It’s like, “Welcome into my house.” Somebody’s going to come in and say hi. You’re not going to ignore them. I just see it as a social courtesy. But again, there may be a need for triage because you have to run a business, and so it just sort of depends in a higher value world of selling houses than you should be able to. In a lower value sale, it may be harder, but higher volume, maybe harder. But you have to find some balance that works for you.

It doesn’t appear that you have to respond to all reviews. I mean, I don’t respond to ratings. What’s there to say? The rating’s the rating. And then if the review is very short, I might not respond to it. There was some ways to not have to respond to reviews, and the recent research seems to indicate you’re not harmed by not responding to 25% of them other than whatever that customer might feel or not feel personally.

Q4: Are Facebook reviews still relevant?

Eric Shanfelt: Got it. Would you consider Facebook reviews to still be relevant? Is it worthwhile to even focus effort on these reviews or should efforts be more targeted toward Google and first-party only?

Mike Blumenthal: Yeah. I see them as declining relevance, and, like I said, I think they should focus on Google, first-party, and then put a secondary focus on whatever is going to show up on your brand search reviews from around the web, right?

Let’s say you already have 50 reviews at Facebook of the old review types, right? You’re going to get stars, those are going to show up in the business profile knowledge crap. If you can get two others in there like Barbara did with Wedding Wire and The Knot, you get three, and it starts telling a very compelling story. I think you want to put in a little bit of effort, doesn’t take a lot, into some of these other sites, and the way you find them are look at the first two pages of your brand search, look at the stuff on page two or even page one that could have reviews that don’t, and try to get a couple of reviews there over the next couple years. Again, I don’t see it as a burning issue, but I do see it as something you should periodically address.

Q5 What are first-party reviews?

Eric Shanfelt: Makes sense. Mike asks what do you mean by first-party reviews?

Mike Blumenthal: First-party reviews meaning they’re giving it to you directly as opposed to Google. Like the way GatherUp works, we have multiple modes. One, you just give it directly to Google, or two, you have a choice who you give it to, or three, we have a flow that asks for first-party reviews, direct reviews, and then takes [inaudible 00:55:56]reviews. And what we see is in adding that step does decrease the Google reviews somewhat, but it so dramatically increases the first-party content that from where I sit, it doesn’t matter. But it would also make it easy to switch, so you switch.

First-party is just those that are coming directly to you. Third-party going to Google, Yelp, Facebook.

Eric Shanfelt: Right, yeah. The reviews you collect and publish on your own website are first-party. Google, Yelp, Facebook, vertical sites, those are third-party reviews.

Q6: Is it okay for me to copy a Google review and paste it on my website?

Mike Blumenthal: Are you asking me the legal question or are you asking me the ethical question?

Yeah, it’s complicated legal area. Consumers at Google own the Copyright to the Google review, so it is some minor violation of Copyright law if that consumer were to come after you, but there’s no real harm done typically. I wouldn’t do it if I were in a HIPPA controlled industry.

Eric Shanfelt: Right.

Mike Blumenthal: I would also though, if you’re going to do, the FTC says you need to reflect your actual averages, so if you claim you’re a five star business using Google reviews, not a five star business, really concrete proof for them that you’re violating that rule, so I would comply with that rule.

Consuming are so willing to give you that first-party. I don’t think it’s necessary to post the Google reviews on your site, but I don’t see any harm in it either because Google’s not going to sue you.

Q7: For a small local business, do you recommend a certain frequency of getting new reviews? And can you get too many all at once? Would it raise a red flag at Google?

Mike Blumenthal: The volume issue is not an issue at Google. I mean, there are reasons why reviews flow in sometimes greater than others. I think that consumers expect to see reviews within the last few months. You don’t want them to get stale, so I think there’s that. I don’t think there’s a right number. I think it’s going to be dependent on how you ask and on your product. Some products are easier to talk about online than others, like people really want to brag about the jewelry they bought at Barbara. They don’t want to brag about the fact they just bought homeowners insurance, but some percentage of insurance purchasers insurances will. It’s going to be really dependent on that.

I think that the best strategy is to not worry about it. Just setup a system where it happens all the time automatically, regularly, so your staff are asking. And the best we find is a personal ask plus a follow-up, either an email or SMS, that’s going to give you the highest yield. Whatever that yield is, just go with it. This is a long-term plan. For me, like I said, Barbara’s been doing this for 10 years. It’s a long time. It’s not something that you’re going to do overnight. So just build it and bake it into your business processes so it’s least amount of pain for you and the customer. You can optimize it, but don’t stress over the volume.


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