Local SEO: 7 Google My Business questions asked and answered

At first glance, Google’s offering for local businesses might appear fairly simple. But questions inevitably arise. Contributor Sherry Bonelli explains the nuances and offers answers.

The post Local SEO: 7 Google My Business questions asked and answered appeared first on Search Engine Land.

Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.

Reblogged 2 weeks ago from feeds.searchengineland.com

Special Notes for SABs Amid Decreased Local Search Visibility

Posted by MiriamEllis

One of the most common complaints I hear from service area business owners, like plumbers, locksmiths, and housekeepers, is that Google has always treated them as an afterthought. If you’re in charge of the digital marketing for these business models, it’s vital to understand just how accurate this complaint is so that you can both empathize with SAB brand owners and create a strategy that honors limitations while also identifying opportunities.

In marketing SABs, you’ve got to learn to make the best of a special situation. In this post, I want to address two of the realities these companies are facing right now that call for careful planning: the unique big picture of SAB local listing management, and the rise of Google’s Home Service Ads.

Let’s talk listings, Moz Local, and SABs

I was fascinated by my appliance repairman — an older German ex-pat with a serious demeanor — the first time he looked at my wall heater and pronounced,

“This puppy is no good.”

Our family went on to form a lasting relationship with this expert who has warned me about everything from lint fires in dryers to mis-branded appliances slapped together in dubious factories. I’m an admiring fan of genuinely knowledgeable service people who come to my doorstep, crawl under my house where possums dwell, ascend to my eerie attic despite spiders, and are professionally dedicated to keeping my old house livable. I work on a computer, surrounded by comforts; these folks know what real elbow grease is all about:

It’s because of my regard for these incredibly hard-working SAB owners and staffers that I’ve always taken issue with the fact that the local Internet tends to treat them in an offhand manner. They do some of the toughest jobs, and I’d like their marketing opportunities to be boundless. But the reality is, the road has been rocky and the limits are real.

Google goofed first

When Google invested heavily in developing their mapped version of the local commercial scene, there was reportedly internal disagreement as to whether a service area business is actually a “place” and deserved of inclusion in Google’s local index. You couldn’t add service area businesses to the now-defunct MapMaker but you could create local listings for them (clear as mud, right?). At a 2008 SMX event, faced with the question as to how SABs could be accurately represented in the local results, a Google rep really goofed in first suggesting that they all get PO boxes, only to have this specific practice subsequently outlawed by Google’s guidelines.

Confusion and spam flowed in

For the record,

  • Both SABs and brick-and-mortar businesses are currently eligible for Google My Business listings if they serve customers face-to-face.
  • SABs must have some form of legitimate street address, even if it’s a home address, to be included
  • Only brick-and-mortar businesses are supposed to have visible addresses on their listings, but Google’s shifting messaging and inconsistent guideline enforcement have created confusion.

Google has shown little zeal for suspending listings that violate the hide-address guidelines, with one notable exception recently mentioned to me by Joy Hawkins of Sterling Sky: SABs who click the Google My Business dashboard box stating that they serve clients at the business’ location in order to get themselves out of no man’s land at the bottom of the Google Home Service ad unit are being completely removed from the map by Google if caught.

Meanwhile, concern has been engendered by past debate over whether hiding the address of a business lowered its local pack rankings. The 2017 Local Search Ranking Factors survey is still finding this to be the #18 negative local pack ranking factor, which might be worthy of further discussion.

All of these factors have created an environment in which legitimate SABs have accidentally incorrectly listed themselves on Google and in which spammers have thrived, intentionally creating multiple listings at non-physical addresses and frequently getting away with it to the detriment of search results uniformity and quality. In this unsatisfactory environment, the advent of Google’s Home Service Ads program may have been inevitable, and we’ll take a look at that in a minute.

Limits made clear in listing options for SABs

Whether the risk of suspension or impact on rankings is great or small, hiding your address on SAB Google My Business listings is the only Google-approved practice. If you want to play it totally safe, you’ll play by the rules, but this doesn’t automatically overcome every challenge.

Google is one of the few high-level local business index requiring hidden SAB addresses. And it’s in this stance that SABs encounter some problems taking advantage of the efficiencies provided by automated location data management tools like Moz Local. There are three main things that have confused our own customers:

  1. Because our SAB customers are required by Google to hide their address, Moz Local can’t then verify the address because… well, it’s hidden. This means that customers need to have a Facebook listing with a visible address on it to get started using Moz Local. Facebook doesn’t require SAB addresses to be hidden.
  2. Once the customer gets started, their ultimate consistency score will generally be lower than what a brick-and-mortar business achieves, again because their hidden GMB listing address can’t be matched to all of the other complete listings Moz Local builds for them. It reads like an inconsistency, and while this in no way impacts their real-world performance, it’s a little sad not to be able to aim for a nifty 100% dashboard metric within Moz Local. Important to mention here that a 100% score isn’t achievable for multi-location business models, either, given that Facebook’s guidelines require adding a modifier to the business name of each branch, rendering it inconsistent. This is in contrast to Google’s policy, which defines the needless addition of keywords or geo-modifiers to the business name as spam! When Google and Facebook fundamentally disagree on a guideline, a small measure of inconsistency is part and parcel of the scenario, and not something worth worrying about.
  3. Finally, for SABs who don’t want their address published anywhere on the Internet, automated citation management simply may not be a good match. Some partners in our network won’t accept address-less distribution from us, viewing it as incomplete data. If an SAB isn’t looking for complete NAP distribution because they want their address to be kept private, automation just isn’t ideal.

So how can SABs use something like Moz Local?

The Moz Local team sides with SABs — we’re not totally satisfied with the above state of affairs and are actively exploring better support options for the future. Given our admiration for these especially hard-working businesses, we feel SABs really deserve to have needless burdens lifted from their shoulders, which is exactly what Moz Local is designed to do. The task of manual local business listing publication and ongoing monitoring is a hefty one — too hefty in so many cases. Automation does the heavy lifting for you. We’re examining better solutions, but right now, what options for automation are open to the SAB?

Option #1: If your business is okay with your address being visible in multiple places, then simply be sure your Facebook listing shows your address and you can sign up for Moz Local today, no problem! We’ll push your complete NAP to the major aggregators and other partners, but know that your Moz Local dashboard consistency score won’t be 100%. This is because we won’t be able to “see” your Google My Business listing with its hidden address, and because choosing service-related categories will also hide your address on Citysearch, Localeze, and sometimes, Bing. Also note that one of our partners, Factual, doesn’t support locksmiths, bail bondsmen or towing companies. So, in using an automated solution like Moz Local, be prepared for a lower score in the dashboard, because it’s “baked into” the scenario in which some platforms show your full street address while others hide it. And, of course, be aware that many of your direct local competitors are in the same boat, facing the same limitations, thus leveling the playing field.

Option #2: If your business can budget for it, consider transitioning from an SAB to a brick-and-mortar business model, and get a real-world office that’s staffed during stated business hours. As Mike Blumenthal and Mary Bowling discuss is in this excellent video chat, smaller SABs need to be sure they can still make a profit after renting an office space, and that may largely be based on rental costs in their part of the country. Very successful virtual brands are exploring traditional retail options and traditional brick-and-mortar business models are setting up virtual showrooms; change is afoot. Having some customers come to the physical location of a typical SAB may require some re-thinking of service. A locksmith could grind keys on-site, a landscaper could virtually showcase projects in the comfort of their office, but what could a plumber do? Any ideas? If you can come up with a viable answer, and can still see profits factoring in the cost of office space, transitioning to brick-and-mortar effectively removes any barriers to how you represent yourself on Google and how fully you can use software like Moz Local.

If neither option works for you, and you need to remain an SAB with a hidden address, you’ll either need to a) build citations manually on sites that support your requirements, like these ones listed out by Phil Rozek, while having a plan for regularly monitoring your listings for emerging inconsistencies, duplicates and incoming reviews or b) hire a company to do the manual development and monitoring for you on the platforms that support hiding your address.

I wish the digital marketing sky could be the limit for SABs, but we’ve got to do the most we can working within parameters defined by Google and other location data platforms.

Now comes HSA: Google’s next SAB move

As service area business owner or marketer, you can’t be faulted for feeling that Google hasn’t handled your commercial scenario terribly well over the years. As we’ve discussed, Google has wobbled on policy and enforcement. Not yet mentioned is that they’ve never offered an adequate solution to the reality that a plumber located in City A equally services Cities B, C, and D, but is almost never allowed to rank in the local packs for these service cities. Google’s historic bias toward physical location doesn’t meet the reality of business models that go to clients to serve. And it’s this apparent lack of interest in SAB needs that may be adding a bit of sting to Google’s latest move: the Home Service Ads (HSA) program.

You’re not alone if you don’t feel totally comfortable with Google becoming a lead gen agent between customers and, to date:

  • Plumbers
  • House cleaners
  • Locksmiths
  • Handymen
  • Contractors
  • Electricians
  • Painters
  • Garage door services
  • HVAC companies
  • Roadside assistance services
  • Auto glass services

in a rapidly increasing number of cities.

Suddenly, SABs have moved to the core of Google’s consciousness, and an unprecedented challenge for these business models is that, while you can choose whether or not to opt into the program, there’s no way to opt out of the impacts it is having on all affected local results.

An upheaval in SAB visibility

If HSA has come to your geo-industry, and you don’t buy into the program, you will find yourself relegated to the bottom of the new HSA ad unit which appears above the traditional 3-pack in the SERPs:

Additionally, even if you were #1 in the 3-pack prior to HSA coming to town, if you lack a visible address, your claimed listing appears to have vanished from the pack and finder views.

hsa2.jpg

*I must tip my hat again to Joy Hawkins for helping me understand why that last example hasn’t vanished from the packs — it’s unclaimed. Honestly, this blip tempts me to unclaim an SAB listing and “manage” it via community edits instead of the GMB dashboard to see if I could maintain its local finder visibility… but this might be an overreaction!

If you’re marketing an SAB, have been relegated to the bottom of the HSA ad unit, and have vanished from the local pack/finder view, please share with our community how this has impacted your traffic and conversions. My guess would be that things are not so good.

So, what can SABs do in this new landscape?

I don’t have all of the answers to this question, but I do have these suggestions:

  1. Obviously, if you can budget for it, opt into HSA.
  2. But, bizarrely, understand that in some ways, Google has just made your GMB listing less important. If you have to hide your address and won’t be shown in HSA-impacted local packs and finder views because of this guideline compliance, your GMB listing is likely to become a less important source of visibility for your business.
  3. Be sure, then, that all of your other local business listings are in apple-pie order. If you’re okay with your address being published, you can automate this necessary work with software like Moz Local. If you need to keep your address private, put in the time to manually get listed everywhere you can. A converted lead from CitySearch or Foursquare may even feel like more of a victory than one from Google.
  4. Because diversification has just become a great deal more important, alternatives like those offered by visibility on Facebook are now more appealing than ever. And ramp up your word-of-mouth marketing and review management strategies like never before. If I were marketing an SAB, I’d be taking a serious new look at companies like ZipSprout, which helps establish real-world local relationships via sponsorships, and GetFiveStars, which helps with multiple aspects of managing reviews.
  5. Know that organic visibility is now more of a prize than previously. If you’re not in the packs, you’ve got to show up below them. This means clearly defining local SEO and traditional SEO as inextricably linked, and doing the customary work of keyword research, content development, and link management that have fueled organic SEO from the beginning. I’m personally committing to becoming more intimately familiar with Moz Pro so that I can better integrate into my skill set what software like this can do for local businesses, especially SABs.
  6. Expect change. HSA is still a test, and Google continues to experiment with how it’s displaying its paying customers in relationship to the traditional free packs and organic results. Who knows what’s next? If you’re marketing SABs, an empathetic and realistic approach to both historic and emerging limitations will help you create a strategy designed to ensure brand survival, independent of Google’s developments.

Why is Google doing this?

monopoly.jpg

I need to get some window blinds replaced in my home this fall. When I turned to Google’s (non-HSA) results and began calling local window treatment shops, imagine my annoyance in discovering that fully ½ of the listings in the local finder were for companies not located anywhere near my town. These brands had set up spam listings for a ton of different cities to which they apparently can send a representative, but where they definitely don’t have physical locations. I wasted a great deal of time calling each of them, and only felt better after reporting the listings to Google and seeing them subsequently removed.

I’m sharing this daily-life anecdote because it encapsulates the very best reason for Google rolling out Home Service Ads. Google’s program is meant to ensure that when I use their platform to access service companies, I’m finding vetted, legitimate enterprises with accurate location data and money-back satisfaction guarantees, instead of finding the mess of spam listings Google’s shifting policies and inadequate moderation have created. The HSA ad units can improve results quality while also protecting consumers from spurious providers.

The other evident purpose of HSA is the less civic-minded but no less brilliant one: there’s money to be made and Google’s profit motives are no different than those of any other enterprise. For the same reason that Amazon has gotten into the SAB lead gen business, Google wants a piece of this action. So, okay, no surprise there, and if the Google leads wind up growing the revenue of my wonderful German handyman, more power to them both.

But I hope my plumber, and yours, and your clients in the service markets, will take a step back from the Monopoly board and see this as a moment to reevaluate a game in which Google and Amazon are setting up big red hotels on Boardwalk and Park Place. I do advocate getting qualified for HSA, but I don’t advise a stance of unquestioning loyalty to or dependence on Google, particularly if you haven’t felt especially well-served by their SAB policies over the years. If Google can drive lucrative leads your way, take them, but remember you have one advantage Google, Amazon and other lead generation agencies lack: you are still the one who meets the customer face-to-face.

Opportunity is knocking in having a giant of visibility like Google selling you customers, because those customers, if amazed by your service, have grandmothers, and brothers and co-workers who can be directly referred to your company, completely outside the lead-gen loop. In fact, you might even come up with an incentivization program of your own to be sure that every customer you shake hands with is convinced of your appreciation for every referral they may send your way.

Don’t leave it all up to Google to make your local SAB brand a household word. Strategize for maximum independence via the real-world relationships you build, in the home of every neighbor where the door of welcome is opened in anticipation of the very best service you know how to give.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

Reblogged 2 weeks ago from tracking.feedpress.it

SearchCap: Google & Walmart, Yandex’s Korolyov & Local SEO

Below is what happened in search today, as reported on and from other places across the web.

The post SearchCap: Google & Walmart, Yandex’s Korolyov & Local SEO appeared first on Search Engine Land.

Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.

Reblogged 1 month ago from feeds.searchengineland.com

4 local SEO tips for restaurants

While general SEO wisdom is applicable if you’re running a restaurant website, contributor Dave Davies digs into the details of the options available especially for this business category.

The post 4 local SEO tips for restaurants appeared first on Search Engine Land.

Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.

Reblogged 1 month ago from feeds.searchengineland.com

How to Perform a Basic Local Business Competitive Audit

Posted by MiriamEllis

“Why are those folks outranking me in Google’s local pack?”

If you or a client is asking this question, the answer lies in competitive analysis. You’ve got to stack Business A up against Business B to identify the strengths and weaknesses of both competitors, and then make an educated guess as to which factors Google is weighting most in the results for a specific search term.

Today, I’d like to share a real-world example of a random competitive audit, including a chart that depicts which factors I’ve investigated and explanatory tips and tools for how I came up with the numbers and facts. Also included: a downloadable version of the spreadsheet that you can use for your own company or clients. Your goal with this audit is to identify exactly how one player is winning the game so that you can create a to-do list for any company trying to move up in the rankings. Alternatively, some competitive audits can be defensive, identifying a dominant player’s weaknesses so that they can be corrected to ensure continued high rankings.

It’s my hope that seeing this audit in action will help you better answer the question of why “this person is outranking that person,” and that you may share with our community some analytical tips of your own!

The scenario:

Search term: Chinese Restaurant San Rafael

Statistics about San Rafael: A large town of approximately 22 square miles in the San Francisco Bay Area with a population of 58,954 and 15+ Chinese restaurants.

Consistency of results: From 20 miles away to 2000+ miles away, Ping’s Chinese Cuisine outranks Yet Wah Restaurant in Google’s local pack for the search term. We don’t look closer than 20 miles, or proximity of the searcher creates too much diversity.

The challenge: Why is Ping’s Chinese Cuisine outranking Yet Wah Restaurant in Google’s Local Pack for the search term?

The comparison chart

*Where there’s a clear winner, it’s noted in bolded, italicized text.

Basic business information

NAP

Ping’s Chinese Cuisine

248 Northgate Dr.

San Rafael, CA 94903

(415) 492-8808

Yet Wah Restaurant

1238 4th St.

San Rafael, CA 94901

(415) 460-9883

GMB landing page URL

http://pingsnorthgate.com/

http://www.yetwahchinese.com/

Local Pack rank

1

2

Organic rank

17

5

Organic rank among business-owned sites


*Remove directories and review platforms from the equation, as they typically shouldn’t be viewed as direct competitors

8

1

Business model eligible for GMB listing at this address?


*Check Google’s Guidelines if unsure: https://support.google.com/business/answer/3038177…

Yes

Yes

Oddities

Note that Ping’s has redirected pingschinesecuisine.com to pingsnorthgate.com. Ping’s also has a www and non-www version of pingsnorthgate.com.

A 2nd website for same business at same location with same phone number: http://yetwahsanrafael.com/. This website is ranking directly below the authoritative (GMB-linked) website for this business in organic SERP for the search in question.

Business listings

GMB review count

32

38

GMB review rating

4.1

3.8

Most recent GMB review


*Sort GMB reviews by “most recent” filter

1 week ago

1 month ago

Proper GMB categories?

Yes

Yes

Estimated age of GMB listing


*Estimated by date of oldest reviews and photos, but can only be seen as an estimate

At least 2 years old

At least 6 years old

Moz Local score (completeness + accuracy + lack of duplicates)


*Tool: https://moz.com/local/search

49%

75%

Moz Local duplicate findings


*Tool: https://moz.com/local/search

0

1 (Facebook)

Keywords in GMB name

chinese

restaurant

Keywords in GMB website landing page title tag

Nothing at all. Just “home page”

Yes

Spam in GMB title


*Look at GMB photos, Google Streetview, and the website to check for inconsistencies

No

Yes: “restaurant” not in website logo or street level signage

Hours and photos on GMB?

Yes

Yes

Proximity to city centroid


*Look up city by name in Google Maps and see where it places the name of the city on the map. That’s the city “centroid.” Get driving directions from the business to an address located in the centroid.

3.5 miles

410.1 feet

Proximity to nearest competitor


*Zoom in on Google map to surface as many adjacent competitors as possible. Can be a Possum factor in some cases.

1.1 mile

0.2 miles

Within Google Maps boundaries?


*Look up city by name in Google Maps and note the pink border via which Google designates that city’s boundaries

Yes

Yes

Website

Age of domain


*Tool: http://smallseotools.com/domain-age-checker/

March 2013

August 2011

Domain Authority


*Tool: https://moz.com/products/pro/seo-toolbar

16

8

GMB Landing Page Authority


*Tool: https://moz.com/products/pro/seo-toolbar

30

21

Links to domain

*Tool: https://moz.com/researchtools/ose/

53

2

DA/PA of most authoritative link earned


*Tool: https://moz.com/researchtools/ose/

72/32

38/16

Evaluation of website content

*This is a first-pass, visual gut check, just reading through the top-level pages of the website to see how they strike you in terms of quality.

Extremely thin, just adequate to identify restaurant. At least has menu on own site. Of the 2 sites, this one has the most total text, by virtue of a sentence on the homepage and menus in real text.

Extremely thin, almost zero text on homepage, menu link goes to another website.

Evaluation of website design

Outdated

Outdated, mostly images

Evaluation of website UX

Can be navigated, but few directives or CTAs

Can be navigated, but few directives or CTAs

Mobile-friendly


*Tool: https://search.google.com/test/mobile-friendly

Basic mobile design, but Google’s mobile-friendly test tool says both www and non-www cannot be reached because it’s unavailable or blocked by robots txt. They have disallowed scripts, photos, Flash, images, and plugins. This needs to be further investigated and resolved. Mobile site URL is http://pingsnorthgate.com/#2962. Both this URL and the other domains are failing Google’s test.

Basic mobile design passes Google’s mobile-friendly test

Evaluation of overall onsite SEO


*A first-pass visual look at the page code of top level pages, checking for titles, descriptions, header tags, schema, + the presence of problems like Flash.

Pretty much no optimization

Minimal, indeed, but a little bit of effort made. Some title tags, some schema, some header tags.

HTML NAP on website?

Yes

Yes

Website NAP matches GMB NAP?

No (Northgate One instead of Northgate Drive)

Yes

Total number of wins: Ping’s 7, Yet Wah 9.

Download your own version of my competitive audit spreadsheet by making a copy of the file.

Takeaways from the comparison chart

Yet Wah significantly outranks Ping’s in the organic results, but is being beaten by them in the Local Pack. Looking at the organic factors, we see evidence that, despite the fact that Ping’s has greater DA, greater PA of the GMB landing page, more links, and stronger links, they are not outranking Yet Wah organically. This is something of a surprise that leads us to look at their content and on-page SEO.

While Ping’s has slightly better text content on their website, they have almost done almost zero optimization work, their URLs have canonical issues, and their robots.txt isn’t properly configured. Yet Wah has almost no on-site content, but they have modestly optimized their title tags, implemented H tags and some schema, and their site passes Google’s mobile-friendly test.

So, our theory regarding Yet Wah’s superior organic ranking is that, in this particular case, Yet Wah’s moderate efforts with on-page SEO have managed to beat out Ping’s superior DA/PA/link metrics. Yet Wah’s website is also a couple of years older than Ping’s.

All that being said, Yet Wah’s organic win is failing to translate into a local win for them. How can we explain Ping’s local win? Ping’s has a slightly higher overall review rating, higher DA and GMB landing page PA, more total links, and higher authority links. They also have slightly more text content on their website, even if it’s not optimized.

So, our theory regarding Ping’s superior local rank is that, in this particular case, website authority/links appear to be winning the day for Ping’s. And the basic website text they have could possibly be contributing, despite lack of optimization.

In sum, basic on-page SEO appears to be contributing to Yet Wah’s organic win, while DA/PA/links appear to be contributing to Ping’s local win.

Things that bother me

I chose this competitive scenario at random, because when I took an initial look at the local and organic rankings, they bothered me a little. I would have expected Yet Wah to be first in the local pack if they were first in organic. I see local and organic rankings correlate strongly so much of the time, that this case seemed odd to me.

By the end of the audit, I’ve come up with a working theory, but I’m not 100% satisfied with it. It makes me ask questions like:

  • Is Ping’s better local rank stemming from some hidden factor no one knows about?
  • In this particular case, why is Google appearing to value Ping’s links more that Yet Wah’s on-page SEO in determining local rank? Would I see this same trend across the board if I analyzed 1,000 restaurants? The industry says links are huge in local SEO right now. I guess we’re seeing proof of that here.
  • Why isn’t Google weighting Yet Wah’s superior citation set more than they apparently are? Ping’s citations are in bad shape. I’ve seen citation health play a much greater apparent role in other audits, but something feels weird here.
  • Why isn’t Google “punishing” Yet Wah in the organic results for that second website with duplicate NAP on it? That seems like it should matter.
  • Why isn’t age factoring in more here? My inspection shows that Yet Wah’s domain and GMB listing are significantly older. This could be moving the organic needle for them, but it’s not moving the local one.
  • Could user behavior be making Ping’s the local winner? This is a huge open question at the end of my basic audit.* See below.

*I don’t have access to either restaurant’s Google Analytics, GMB Insights, or Google Search Console accounts, so perhaps that would turn up penalties, traffic patterns, or things like superior clicks-to-call, clicks-for-directions, or clicks-to-website that would make Ping’s local win easier to explain. If one of these restaurants were your client, you’d want to add chart rows for these things based on full access to the brand’s accounts and tools, and whatever data your tools can access about the competitor. For example, using a tool like SimilarWeb, I see that between May and June of this year, YetWah’s traffic rose from an average 150 monthly visits up to a peak of 500, while Ping’s saw a drop from 700 to 350 visits in that same period. Also, in a scenario in which one or both parties have a large or complex link profile, you might want additional rows for link metrics, taken from tools like Moz Pro, Ahrefs, or Majestic.

In this case, Ping’s has 7 total wins in my chart and Yet Wah has 9. The best I can do is look at which factors each business is winning at to try to identify a pattern of what Google is weighting most, both organically and locally. With both restaurants being so basic in their marketing, and with neither one absolutely running away with the game, what we have here is a close race. While I’d love to be able to declare a totally obvious winner, the best I could do as a consultant, in this case, would be to draw up a plan of defense or offense.

If my client were Ping’s:

Ping’s needs to defend its #1 local ranking if it doesn’t want to lose it. Its greatest weaknesses which must be resolved are:

  • The absence of on-page SEO
  • Thin content
  • Robots.txt issues

To remain strong, Ping’s should also work on:

  • Improving citation health
  • Directing the non-www version of their site to the www one
  • A professional site redesign could possibly improve conversions

Ping’s should accomplish these things to defend its current local rank and to try to move up organically.

If my client were Yet Wah:

Yet Wah needs to try to achieve victory over Ping’s in the local packs, as it has done in the organic results. To do that, Yet Wah should:

  • Earn links to the GMB landing page URL and the domain
  • Create strong text content on its high-level pages, including putting a complete dining menu in real text on the website
  • Deal with the second website featuring duplicate NAP

Yet Wah should also:

  • Complete work on its citation health
  • Work hard to get some new 5-star reviews by delighting customers with something special
  • Consider adding the word “Restaurant” to their signage, so that they can’t be reported for spamming the GMB name field.
  • Consider a professional redesign of the website to improve conversions

Yet Wah should accomplish these things in an effort to surpass Ping’s.

And, with either client being mine, I’d then be taking a second pass to further investigate anything problematic that came up in the initial audit, so that I could make further technical or creative suggestions.

Big geo-industry picture analysis

Given that no competitor for this particular search term has been able to beat out Ping’s or Yet Wah in the local pack, and given the minimal efforts these two brands have thus far made, there’s a tremendous chance for any Chinese restaurant in San Rafael to become the dominant player. Any competitor that dedicates itself to running on all cylinders (professional, optimized website with great content, a healthy link profile, a competitive number of high-star reviews, healthy citations, etc.) could definitely surpass all other contestants. This is not a tough market and there are no players who can’t be bested.

My sample case has been, as I’ve said, a close race. You may be facing an audit where there are deeply entrenched dominant players whose statistics far surpass those of a business you’re hoping to assist. But the basic process is the same:

  1. Look at the top-ranking business.
  2. Fill out the chart (adding any other fields you feel are important).
  3. Then discover the strengths of the dominant company, as well as its potential weaknesses.
  4. Contrast these findings with those you’ve charted for the company you’re helping and you’ll be able to form a plan for improvement.

And don’t forget the user proximity factor. Any company’s most adjacent customers will see pack results that vary either slightly or significantly from what a user sees from 20, 50, or 1,000 miles away. In my specific study, it happened to be the third result in the pack that went haywire once a user got 50 miles away, while the top two remained dominant and statically ranked for searchers as far away as the East Coast.

Because of this phenomenon of distance, it’s vital for business owners to be educated about the fact that they are serving two user groups: one that is located in the neighborhood or city of the business, and another that could be anywhere in the country or the world. This doesn’t just matter for destinations like hotels or public amusements. In California (a big state), Internet users on a road trip from Palm Springs may be looking to end their 500-mile drive at a Chinese restaurant in San Rafael, so you can’t just think hyper-locally; you’ve got to see the bigger local picture. And you’ve got to do the analysis to find ways of winning as often as you can with both consumer groups.

You take it from here, auditor!

My local competitive audit chart is a basic one, looking at 30+ factors. What would you add? How would you improve it? Did I miss a GMB duplicate listing, or review spam? What’s working best for your agency in doing local audits these days? Do you use a chart, or just provide a high-level text summary of your internal findings? And, if you have any further theories as to how Ping’s is winning the local pack, I’d love for you to share them in the comments.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

Reblogged 2 months ago from tracking.feedpress.it

5 Tips to Help Show ROI from Local SEO

Posted by JoyHawkins

Earlier this year, when I was first writing my advanced local SEO training, I reached out to some users who work for local SEO agencies and asked them what they’d like more training on. The biggest topic I got as a result was related to tracking and reporting value to small business owners.

My clients will often forward me reports from their prior SEO company, expressing that they have no idea what they were getting for their money. Some of the most common complaints I see with these reports are:

  • Too much use of marketing lingo (“Bounce Rate,” “CTR,” etc.)
  • Way too much data
  • No representation of what impact the work done had on the business itself (did it get them more customers?)

If a small business owner is giving you hundreds or thousands of dollars every month, how do you prove to them they’re getting value from it? There’s a lot to dig into with this topic — I included a full six pages on it in my training. Today I wanted to share some of the most successful tips that I use with my own clients.


1. Stop sending automated Google Analytics reports

If the goal is to show the customer what they’re getting from their investment, you probably won’t achieve it by simply sending them an Analytics report each month. Google Analytics is a powerful tool, but it only looks awesome to you because you’re a marketer. Over the past year, I’ve looked at many monthly reports that made my head spin — it’s just too much data. The average SMB isn’t going to be able to look at those reports and figure out how their bounce rate decreasing somehow means you’re doing a great job at SEO.

2. Make conversions the focus of your report

What does the business owner care about? Hint: it’s not how you increased the ranking for one of their 50 tracked keywords this month. No, what they care about is how much additional business you drove to their business. This should be the focus of the report you send them.

3. Use dynamic number insertion to track calls

If you’re not already doing this, you’re really killing your ability to show value. I don’t have a single SEO or SEM client that isn’t using call tracking. I use Call Tracking Metrics, but CallRail is another one that works well, too. This allows you to see the sources of incoming calls. Unlike slapping a call tracking number on your website, dynamic number insertion won’t mess up NAP consistency.

The bonus here is that you can set up these calls as goals in Google Analytics. Using the Landing Page report, you can see which pages on the site were responsible for getting that call. Instead of saying, “Hey customer, a few months ago I created this awesome page of content for you,” you can say “Hey customer, a few months ago, I added this page to your site and as a result, it’s got you 5 more calls.”
Conversion goal completion in Google Analytics

4. Estimate revenue

I remember sitting in a session a couple years ago when Dev Basu from Powered by Search told me about this tactic. I had a lightbulb moment, wondering why the heck I didn’t think to do this before.

The concept is simple: Ask the client what the average lifetime value of their customer is. Next, ask them what their average closing ratio is on Internet leads. Take those numbers and, based on the number of conversions, you can calculate their estimated revenue.

Formula: Lifetime Value of a Customer x Closing Ratio (%) x Number of Conversions = Estimated Revenue

Bonus tip: Take this a step further and show them that for every dollar they pay you, you make them $X. Obviously, if the lifetime value of the customer is high, these numbers look a lot better. For example, an attorney could look like this:Example monthly ROI for an attorneyWhereas an insurance agent would look like this:
Example monthly ROI for an insurance agent

5. Show before/after screenshots, not a ranking tracker.

I seriously love ranking trackers. I spend a ton of time every week looking at reports in Bright Local for my clients. However, I really believe ranking trackers are best used for marketers, not business owners. How many times have you had a client call you freaking out because they noticed a drop in ranking for one keyword? I chose to help stop this trend by not including ranking reports in my monthly reporting and have never regretted that decision.

Instead, if I want to highlight a significant ranking increase that happened as a result of SEO, I can do that by showing the business owner a visual — something they will actually understand. This is where I use Bright Local’s screenshots; I can see historically how a SERP used to look versus how it looks now.


At the end of the day, to show ROI you need to think like a business owner, not a marketer. If your goals match the goals of the business owner (which is usually to increase calls), make sure that’s what you’re conveying in your monthly reporting.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

Reblogged 2 months ago from tracking.feedpress.it

UK local SEO firm Movette shut down by regulators for deceptive sales practices

Firm falsely implied it was affiliated with Google and signed SMBs up to recurring annual contracts worth from $250 to more than $300.

The post UK local SEO firm Movette shut down by regulators for deceptive sales practices appeared first on Search Engine Land.

Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.

Reblogged 2 months ago from feeds.searchengineland.com

45 Local SEO Pitfalls & How to Avoid Them

Posted by MiriamEllis

The classic 1982 Activision game, Pitfall!, was so challenging that most players believed you could only win by running out the 20-minute clock. The real point of this adventure, however, was to gather up all of the treasures before the clock ran out on you.

Isn’t that just like business?

You’ve opened the doors of your local enterprise in hopes of gathering up enough revenue before it’s time to retire, and you’re determined to make enough of a success to secure some dignity in your golden years.

I’m not a professional economist, but I’ve read their statistics on how half of US businesses don’t make it past their 5th year. I’m a local SEO, and what I’ve learned is that to be agile enough to beat the odds, local business owners have to swing over the obvious pitfalls that less savvy competitors are doomed to become mired in. A plumbing company fakes a string of locations by using their siblings’ houses to build citations, a dentist hires a notorious marketing agency to pay global workers for fictitious reviews, an auto dealership takes a quick link building shortcut and ends up with a long-term search engine penalty. Missteps like these can force a local business to bog down, coping with cleaning up mess instead of making a beeline towards lasting success.

I’m a local business fan, and I don’t want to see you fail. So hang on tight to that vine in your local jungle. This is your guide to riding high, right over those bottomless pits.


Business plan

This is all about starting out on the right foot, long before opening day. Avoid these common mistakes before they become deep-seated liabilities.

1. Indistinct name

Consumers need to be able find you via a branded search, looking your business up by name after they hear it mentioned. If you name your men’s clothing shop “Yacht Club,” don’t be surprised if Google shows searchers local marinas instead of a branded result for your business. You can plan to build the kind of authority that lets Google know that people looking up “Banana Republic” are searching for clothing and not a political science lesson, but in your early days, a vague name could slow the growth of your brand recognition and rankings.

2. Limiting name

If your business plan includes growth into other service offerings or other geographic markets, don’t tie yourself to a name that limits you. For example, a new lawn care business in Plano hopes to one day offer full landscaping services and open a second office in Dallas. They’ll find this harder to do if they’ve named their business “Plano Lawn Care.” Be sure your name can encompass future growth. While it’s very smart to use core keywords in your business name, be sure they won’t hold you back in the future.

3. Ineligible location

Don’t make the mistake of believing you can fully market a local business with a PO box or unstaffed virtual office as your public address. Both of these will render your company ineligible to create local business listings, severely limiting your Internet visibility. If you don’t yet have a real office, use your home address and list yourself on only those directories that allow you to hide your address if you have privacy concerns.

4. Undesirable location

You will likely only rank in Google’s local packs for the city in which you’re physically located. If you’re opening a location beyond the borders of a big city you’re hoping to serve, don’t expect to rank locally for big-city searchers. If the success of your business depends on serving a major nearby city, then having an office in that locale is a must. To see Google’s concept of any city’s borders, look it up in Google Maps. Anything outside the red boundary is likely to be out of the running.

5. Filter-sensitive location

In the past, it was considered a best practice to locate your business next to other businesses in the same industry (think of doctors parks and auto rows). Being near this “industry centroid” was believed to be beneficial for rankings. However, since Google’s Possum update rolled out in 2016, a new business located within the same building or block as its competitors may find itself filtered out of the local results. Because of this, you may want to base your business some distance from others in your geo-industry, if possible. Depending on your city or town’s layout, this may or may not be possible to do.

6. Lack of policies

Without clear staff training documentation or customer service policies, you’re likely to earn more negative reviews. A lack of a user-generated content policy for your website may end up in spammy or abusive use of your blog/forum comments or onsite testimonials.

7. Unrealistic expectations

Don’t expect to open your doors on day one and unseat all of your established online competitors on day two. Don’t let any agency persuade you that it will be easy to dominate the local or local-organic results. Your competitors have likely worked long and hard to get where they are, and you’ll need to do the same. Have a realistic plan for financial survival until you reach the point where a good portion of your traffic and transactions are stemming from your web presence. Be prepared to invest in PPC if you want early traffic.

8. Lack of demand

Even the best local SEO in the world isn’t going to be able to make up for a business idea that’s a non-starter. Does your city have need for another laundromat with 5 already available in your neighborhood, another book store with Amazon in the mix, a vegan restaurant when less than 1% of the local population dines that way? Maybe yes, maybe no. Maybe you’ll be able to create the demand with exceptional service and marketing, but don’t expect your local SEO marketer to be able to do it for you. Business research comes first, SEO second.

9. Lack of clarity

If you can’t clearly communicate the value proposition of your business in a few powerful words, you can’t expect your customers or marketers to. Every day, agencies hear from business owners who are unable to verbalize what their business offers that’s valuable to the public. While good marketers can often help a company hone its message for maximum impact, the local business owner must first research their own geo-industry to hit on the realization of what makes their company a desirable community resource. Maybe their service is the fastest in town, their clients’ white teeth cost less, their rooms are the only pet-friendly stays in the city. Whatever the unique selling point is, the business owner needs to be able to say what it is before the consumer or marketer can interpret it for further use.


Website


If you can get your website right the first time around, you’ll avoid the hassle of having to undergo a complete overhaul of your most valuable online asset a year or two down the road.

10. Limiting URL

As with the business name, don’t limit yourself with a domain name that only features one facet of your business if you have plans for future expansion of services or geography. For example, don’t choose a URL like sugarlandmuffler.com if you hope one day to open full-service auto repair garages in Dallas and Houston as well. Choose your domain name with an eye to the future.

11. Strange URL

Know that .com extensions are still the most recognized type of domain name. If you want consumers to easily remember and easily find your website, get a .com whenever possible. When not possible, watch this Whiteboard Friday on choosing domain names for other options.

12. Long URL

Long domain names are harder to type, harder to speak out loud, and may get shortened on social media. Local businesses should aim for a delicate balance between brevity, branding, and keyword usage in choosing a domain name, weighing which factors will ultimately have the most positive impact on the business.

13. Limiting provider

Don’t sign up for any hosting or marketing service that a) limits the size or SEO opportunities of the website you build, or b) results in your business assets being held hostage by a particular provider. For example, a website-builder-type offer that restricts you to having a 10-page website or only 300 words on a page will stifle growth. Similarly, an agency that threatens to undo any work you’ve paid for if you choose to end your contract in future is an undesirable choice. Be sure you are in direct control of your domain, hosting, and website, and that no service you sign up for limits your growth.

14. Limiting technology

Any website development technology that prevents your website from being discovered, crawled or indexed by Google represents a waste of investment. For example, websites built entirely in Flash present technical problems to both search engines and users and should be avoided. Similarly, any website development approach that fails to serve users on all devices (laptop, tablet, mobile, ambient) guarantees a loss of marketing opportunity.

On another note, should you choose to use unusual or unpopular technology to develop your website, future agencies you want to hire may not want to work with you. For example, a site built on Wix might be difficult to fully optimize, and an SEO agency may require you to switch to something like WordPress in order to accept you as a client. Read more about the basics of SEO friendly design.

15. Multi-site approach

The practice of building multiple websites to represent different locations or different services of a business is particularly prevalent in local commerce. This approach often stems from a desire to rank more broadly on the basis of exact match domains, but there are many reasons why this strategy isn’t commonly endorsed by experts, including:

  1. Marketing efforts being spread too thin, divided up across multiple sites instead of concentrated into building a single brand.
  2. Thin or duplicate content resulting from lack of resources needed to manage more than one site.
  3. Possible NAP confusion leading to local ranking problems if the same name, address, or phone number appear on more than one website.
  4. A fundamental dishonesty in which a single business attempts to fool consumers into thinking it’s multiple companies


With rare exceptions, it’s better to pour all your efforts into building a single, powerful local brand on a single, powerful website.

16. Poor content strategy

Local businesses don’t benefit by publishing website content that is insufficient, cursory, unedited, duplicative, or developed solely for the purpose of feeding keywords to search engine bots. At a minimum, each local business should create the basic pages (home, about, contact, testimonials) + a page for each main service they offer and each of their physical locations. Service-area businesses (like plumbers) should develop a page for each of their main service cities. Each page that is built should feature original, thorough, intelligently optimized copy that serves a specific goal.

Beyond the basic pages, each local business should have a plan for ongoing content publication that’s proportional to its level of local/industry competition and consumer demand. This could include on-site blogging, off-site social sharing, and other strategies.

For more on local content development, read:

17. Poor architecture

If the size, complexity, or navigational options of your website are preventing consumers from getting to the pages you’ve built for their use, you’re actively losing opportunities. The larger your site, the more likely it is that you’ll have to research solutions like siloing to maximize discovery of your content by the right users and resultant conversions.

18. Lack of contact info

At minimum, your name, address, and phone number (NAP) should be published on every page of your website, either in its masthead or footer, and you should have a “Contact Us” page highly featured in your main navigation menu. Be sure your complete NAP are the first things presented on the contact page. Phone numbers should be click-to-call enabled for mobile users. Don’t forget thorough driving directions and a map. For larger enterprises, contact information should include options for live chat and after-hours support.


Finally, beware of inconsistencies and typos. Audit the entire text of your website and all of its design elements to catch NAP irregularities. Don’t be “Green Tree Consulting” in your logo and “Green Tree Consultants” on your About page. Your website remains the most authoritative source of information about your business, both in the eyes of consumers and search engines.

19. Lack of CTAs

A page without a call-to-action is a page without a point. A website exists to support the desires of consumers, while simultaneously supporting the objectives of the business. Don’t leave it up to chance that people will intuit which actions you’re hoping they’ll take; tell them in plain, bold language that you’d like them to click for further reading, to make a call, to fill out a form, to attend an event, or to take advantage of a special. Every page of your website, from homepage to landing page to contact page, should feature a totally obvious call to action.

20. Link building shortcuts

Every local business wants to earn links that boost their visibility and ranking strength, but because of the extreme value search engines continue to place on links as a measure of relevance, the temptation to take shortcuts is irresistible to some business owners. A local business might intentionally or accidentally get mixed up in a link farm or get caught buying links. Before you take a risky step that might result in a horrendously costly Google penalty, read our beginner’s guide to good and bad linking practices.

21. Mishandling changes

When fundamental business changes occur, like a rebrand or a move to a new website, failure to adhere to specific best practices can result in a massive loss of rankings, traffic, and transactions. For example, a chiropractor hopes to maintain as much of their Internet visibility as possible while transitioning from their old domain, mychiro.net, to a new one, joneschiropractic.com, but they fail to set up permanent 301 redirects between the two sites and lose all of the former authority they’d built up. When a foundational aspect of your business changes, research proper technical procedures for managing the transition in a way that helps (instead of hurts) your SEO and marketing. Our Moz Q&A forum is an excellent place to search for current best practices, or to ask your own question if you’re a Moz Pro member.


Local business listings


They’re highly visible, highly interactive, and can drive major traffic to your website and your business, but if managed incorrectly, local business listings can end up undermining your entire operation. Take maximum control of your citations to avoid these prevalent problems.

22. Guideline non-compliance

Failure to adhere to a local business platform’s guidelines can result in suspensions and/or public shaming. Guideline violations can be detected both algorithmically and manually, and can be reported to platforms by the public, competitors, and marketers. Google can read street-level signage and can tell if your businesses are located in a series of legitimate commercial offices or in a string of your friends’ houses. Before you list yourself on any platform, know its policies and be sure you stick to them to avoid negative outcomes.

23. NAP inconsistency

Consistency of your listings on the primary data sources is considered the fifth most important local search ranking factor. This means that your name, address, phone number, and website must be accurate and consistent on the majors (Acxiom, Factual, Localeze, and Ingroup) as well as on powerful platforms like Google My Business, Facebook, Apple Maps, Foursquare, Yelp, and Bing. Inconsistencies not only weaken search engines’ trust in the validity of your data, but also misdirect your potential customers. While Google doesn’t look at suite numbers and doesn’t care about differences of abbreviation (st. vs. street), conflicting versions of your NAP must be discovered and corrected ASAP. Try our free Check Listing tool for an instant consistency check.

24. Listing incompleteness

A complete local business listing can feature your name, address, phone number, website, email address, hours of operation, driving directions, images, social media links, videos or video links, additional phone numbers, fax number, attributes, reviews, owner responses, and links to other media like menus. Whether you manage your listings manually or use software like Moz Local to automate distribution of your location data at scale, make sure you fill out as many available fields as possible. This ensures that a customer is given every chance to connect with your business in a variety of ways. Missing data = missed opportunities.

25. Duplicate listings

At their worst, duplicate listings can misdirect consumers, violate guidelines, and divide your ranking strength and reviews among multiple entities. For each physical location you operate, you should have just one listing per platform, unless you qualify for multi-practitioner or multi-department listings. Discovering and resolving duplicates is one of the core tasks of local SEO, and because duplicates can originate from a variety of scenarios (accidental creation, automated creation, business moves, mergers/acquisitions, rebrands, etc.) every business must be on the lookout. Not sure if you have duplicates? Enter your name and zip in the Moz Check Listing tool to begin your search.

26. Wrong focus

Local business listings are critical infrastructure for nearly every local enterprise, but it’s possible to overdo it or to put focus on the wrong platforms. Rule of thumb: Get accurately listed on the major sites that serve all industries and then hand-select a few additional platforms that are authoritative for your industry and geography. Don’t waste effort getting listed on dozens or hundreds of low-level directories that receive little human use or don’t rank for your core terms.


Once you’ve built your core set of listings, have a plan for monitoring them on an ongoing basis, make edits to them as needed, post updates to them where appropriate, and respond to your reviews. Once that’s done, attend to other tasks. If you and your direct competitors each have about 50 citations, you getting another 25 of them from low-quality directories isn’t going to move the ranking, traffic, or conversion needle. Shift focus to something that will.

27. Poor photos

It’s been reported that good photos on your GMB listing will earn you 35% more clicks-to-website and 42% more clicks-for-driving directions. Given that it’s increasingly speculated that user actions influence local rankings, these statistics alone encourage you to select high-quality local business listing photos. Moreover, because many platforms take a crowd-sourcing approach to the imagery that represents your business, it’s important to monitor your listing photos to catch anything that’s inappropriate.

You might choose to hire a Google Trusted Photographer, or, you can use some pro tips like these to go solo in creating the best possible imagery for your business.

28. Map marker misplaced

Google has been known to place map markers in the middle of oceans. If something this peculiar happens to you, your best bet is to report it in their support forum as it could stem from a bug. However, strange map marker locations can also stem from an error on your part, or the placement of your marker in the center of a bunch of zip codes you’ve entered in the GMB dashboard. If the normal process of moving the pin inside your GMB dashboard doesn’t result in a fix, definitely reach out to the forum for support, fully documenting your issue. A misplaced pin can equal totally lost customers.

29. Driving directions wrong

If your map marker is misplaced, your driving directions will be inaccurate, but bad driving directions can result from other scenarios, too. Bad or incomplete mapping on Google’s part has lead to tragic accidents and litigation, but even where no physical peril is involved, incorrect directions should be reported to Google’s forum or via this process to prevent customer inconvenience and loss.

30. Lack of monitoring

Because of the way local data flows across the ecosystem and the way in which many listings are subject to public editing, citations aren’t a one-and-done task. Ongoing monitoring is essential to catch inaccurate data appearing, as well as the appearance of new duplicate listings and the ongoing influx of consumer sentiment in the form of reviews.


The need for ongoing monitoring has led to the development of automated programs like Moz Local which will alert you if core NAP on your Google My Business listing changes, if a new duplicate arises, or if you receive a new review. For larger enterprises and multi-location businesses, the ability to scale monitoring is a major time-saver.

31. Mishandling changes

Rebrands, mergers/acquisitions, moves, change of phone number or website, opening or closing branches, bringing new practitioners aboard… there are many changes the average local business may face, and for each one, there’s a set of correct steps to follow to defend your local rankings. Mishandling changes can result in lost visibility, lost transactions, lost reviews, and more. When your business goes through a transition, big or small, be sure you’ve researched best practices for handling the technical side of it well. Here’s a good place to get started when it comes to your Google My Business listing.


Reviews


Reviews aren’t opt-in. Your customers are telling the story of your business whether you create a profile or not. Reviews impact rankings and can have an incredible effect on the success or failure of your local business… so choose success, with the right strategy.

32. Too few

A business without reviews is like a job applicant without references. 84% of people trust reviews as much as a personal recommendation, and if too few people are recommending your business, a critical piece of your marketing is missing. This looks particularly unappealing when your competitors have earned a good body of positive sentiment. At the same time, Google-based reviews are believed to impact local pack rankings, mainly by sheer numbers but also with a growing emphasis on sentiment. Again, a shortage of reviews = a missing piece of your ranking strategy.

33. Too fast

You need a review acquisition plan, but avoid any tactic that results in a large number of reviews coming in all at once on a single platform — they may be filtered out due to suspicious velocity. Aim for a steady trickle of incoming sentiment instead of a flood.

34. Guideline non-compliance

Each review platform has its own guidelines, and knowing them can make the difference between a healthy online reputation and public shaming. It’s important to know the unique guidelines of the various sites, as some are more stringent than others. Yelp, for example, forbids business owners from asking for reviews, while Google allows it. Across the board, review sites prohibit paying for reviews and conflicts of interest, but if you’re about to launch a new campaign requesting reviews on specific platforms, be sure your strategy won’t lead to review takedowns or being called out by the public or the platform.

35. Lack of acquisition plan

Studies show that 91% of consumers read online reviews, that 82% of people visit a review site because they intend to make a purchase, and that 7/10 customers will leave a review if asked to. And yet, it’s startlingly clear looking at the neglected review profiles of countless local businesses that no plan has been put into place to earn these highly influential assets. While Yelp specifically forbids direct asks for Yelp reviews, most other platforms are fine with it, and each company should try a variety of techniques (time-of-service, email, print, social, etc) for acquiring reviews to find out what works best for them. Without an acquisition plan, the business is opting to forego all of the traffic and transactions that reviews could yield.

36. Lack of monitoring

No big brand would want to face a 33% decline in revenue or the closure of 13% of its stores, but outcomes like these can arise when a business ignores trending consumer sentiment citing problems that require urgent fixes. Reviews provide free quality control data to businesses large and small, and it’s only by monitoring this sentiment on an ongoing basis you can quickly identify emerging problems and step in with solutions that could save the brand. For example, a restaurant chain could notice from reviews that a particular location is suddenly being cited for broken fixtures or long wait times, signaling a need for intervention at that branch.


At minimum, brands large and small must either manually monitor their profiles on a schedule proportional to the daily or weekly volume of reviews they typically receive, or automate the process with software like Moz Local that tracks incoming reviews on the majors.

37. Lack of owner responses

The owner response function offered by many review platforms signifies direct reputation management, free marketing, free advertising, damage control, and quality control all in one feature. And yet, countless local businesses forego the immense power of this capability, allowing the public to have a totally one-sided conversation about their brands with zero company input. It would be impossible to count the number of review profiles out there heaping praise and blame on brands that sit unanswered, without thanks, without apologies or rectification. If your local business prides itself on customer service, it’s essential to integrate reviews and owner responses in your concept of what modern consumer relations look like.


You’d never advocate ignoring an in-store customer who congratulated you or voiced a complaint, but if your business is overlooking owner responses, this is precisely what you’re doing.

38. Poor owner responses

Kudos to every business owner who actively engages with their customer base via owner responses… unless those responses make things worse. Hallmarks of a poor response include lack of apology, lack of accountability, rude language, blame shifting and dishonesty. Here’s a real-world example of an unfortunate owner response that made a bad situation worse, with tips for how a better reply could have saved the day.

One of the most helpful things to remember in crafting owner responses is that as few as 4% of customers may take the time to complain about a problem they encountered with your business. Complaints give you the chance to act, but silence leaves you in the dark about your company’s true satisfaction rating. Complaints, including negative reviews, are invaluable. Treat complainers very, very well.

39. Poor staff training

One revealing survey discovered that 57% of customer complaints relate to poor/absent service and poor employee behavior. The fault here is obvious and lies squarely on the shoulders of the any owner who hasn’t done their due diligence in creating clear customer support documentation, detailed employee guidelines, and regular staff training sessions. Owners must hire people who can be taught to represent the brand well to the public. The viability of your business is in the hands of your staff — hire, train, and support them with this in mind.

40. Review kiosks

Whether it’s okay to set up a device in your shop to ask customers for reviews at the time of service continues to be a local marketing forum FAQ. Google is partly to blame for this, because they’ve changed their position on this practice radically over time. Their current guidelines specifically prohibit review kiosks, and sentiment received in this manner is likely to be filtered out. In fact, there’s anecdotal evidence to support reviews getting removed when left by customers using in-store Wi-Fi, even on their own devices. While you can’t prevent that scenario, formal kiosks shouldn’t be part of your marketing plan. Better to collect emails at the time of service and write to the customer within a few days.


Social media


Consumers expect to be able to contact you via social media with their requests for help, their complaints, and their suggestions. Modern customer service must include social media listening and responsiveness, but take notes from the mistakes other brands have made so that you can avoid them.

41. Poor social skills

Anyone tasked with representing your brand on Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, etc. should be familiar with infamous social media “fails” and have the skills to avoid them. Sadly, there have been numerous cases like that of a major auto brand whose marketing agency insulted the city of Detroit with a profane tweet suggesting that locals don’t know how to drive. Your social media expert must constantly guard against typos, poor wording that can be misconstrued, poor timing, and anything that reveals any type of insensitivity to any audience.

42. Guideline non-compliance

Each social platform has its own rules which, if broken, can result in removal of specific content or suspension of your profile. For example, if your local business decides to run a promotion, Facebook forbids the use of personal timelines and friend connections for the event. Failure to familiarize your company and social staff with each platform’s guidelines can result in wasted investments and public embarrassment.

43. Wrong platform

Different social media platforms tend to serve different demographics, and while it’s good to experiment with a variety of communities, knowing usage statistics can be helpful in picking the best places to connect with the most relevant audience. For example, if your business want to publicize a senior discount day it hosts once a week, you’ll likely reach more interested customers on Facebook (used by 36% of US citizens 65+) than on Instagram (used by only 5% of this age group). Similarly, certain industries tend to be natural matches for different platforms, like Twitter for tech-related companies, or Pinterest for businesses with a strong visual component. Be prepared to explore your options so that you’re not wasting efforts on the wrong platform for your specific geo-industry.

44. Neglect

Social media platforms have become a component of customer service, as they are viewed by consumers as a convenient way to contact your business. If you set up a profile on a site where your local community is active, don’t neglect it. Regularly monitor the account for questions and complaints and respond quickly.

45. Selling vs. sharing

If you’re new to social media, the first lesson to learn is that while being helpful, generous, entertaining, and empathetic can win your brand a loyal following, the hard sell is better placed elsewhere. Yes, you can promote your products and specials as part of your social media campaigns, but a business that does nothing but “sell” isn’t going to engage any social community.


Social media, managed properly, can be an immensely powerful environment for local businesses to connect with customers, to learn about their preferences, to become household words in local consumers’ daily lives because of the way the business integrates itself as a go-to resource for a particular type of experience on Facebook, Snapchat, Google Posts, or Twitter. Experimentation and regular practice can point the way to a winning mix of sharing vs. selling over time.


Success ahead!

Marketers know that one of the most important things they teach clients is what not to do. Local search marketing, with its mirror connection to the real world and its real-time pace, is particularly riddled with potential pitfalls. Being human, business owners are entitled to make a few mistakes. It’s okay! Particularly if you recover from them with some grace, good humor, and a determination not to repeat them. But it’s my hope that this article is one you’ll share with clients and team members so that no one gets tangled up in errors that are easy to avoid with a little quiet thought and a great deal of good planning.


By knowing what not to do, your adventure is more than half-won. Wishing you all the treasures and success ahead!

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Reblogged 2 months ago from tracking.feedpress.it

Fighting Review Spam: The Complete Guide for the Local Enterprise

Posted by MiriamEllis

It’s 105 degrees outside my office right now, and the only thing hotter in this summer of 2017 is the local SEO industry’s discussion of review spam. It’s become increasingly clear that major review sites represent an irresistible temptation to spammers, highlighting systemic platform weaknesses and the critical need for review monitoring that scales.

Just as every local brand, large and small, has had to adjust to the reality of reviews’ substantial impact on modern consumer behavior, competitive businesses must now prepare themselves to manage the facts of fraudulent sentiment. Equip your team and clients with this article, which will cover every aspect of review spam and includes a handy list for reporting fake reviews to major platforms.

What is review spam?

A false review is one that misrepresents either the relationship of the reviewer to the business, misrepresents the nature of the interaction the reviewer had with the business, or breaks a guideline. Examples:

  • The reviewer is actually a competitor of the business he is reviewing; he’s writing the review to hurt a competitor and help himself
  • The reviewer is actually the owner, an employee, or a marketer of the business he is reviewing; he’s falsifying a review to manipulate public opinion via fictitious positive sentiment
  • The reviewer never had a transaction with the business he is reviewing; he’s pretending he’s a customer in order to help/hurt the business
  • The reviewer had a transaction, but is lying about the details of it; he’s trying to hurt the company by misrepresenting facts for some gain of his own
  • The reviewer received an incentive to write the review, monetary or otherwise; his sentiment stems from a form of reward and is therefore biased
  • The reviewer violates any of the guidelines on the platform on which he’s writing his review; this could include personal attacks, hate speech or advertising

All of the above practices are forbidden by the major review platforms and should result in the review being reported and removed.

What isn’t review spam?

A review is not spam if:

  • It’s left directly by a genuine customer who experienced a transaction
  • It represents the facts of a transaction with reasonable, though subjective, accuracy
  • It adheres to the policies of the platform on which it’s published

Reviews that contain negative (but accurate) consumer sentiment shouldn’t be viewed as spam. For example, it may be embarrassing to a brand to see a consumer complain that an order was filled incorrectly, that an item was cold, that a tab was miscalculated or that a table was dirty, but if the customer is correctly cataloging his negative experience, then his review isn’t a misrepresentation.

There’s some inherent complexity here, as the brand and the consumer can differ widely in their beliefs about how satisfying a transaction may have been. A restaurant franchise may believe that its meals are priced fairly, but a consumer can label them as too expensive. Negative sentiment can be subjective, so unless the reviewer is deliberately misrepresenting facts and the business can prove it, it’s not useful to report this type of review as spam as it’s unlikely to be removed.

Why do individuals and businesses write spam reviews?

Unfortunately, the motives can be as unpleasant as they are multitudinous:

Blackmail/extortion

There’s the case of the diner who was filmed putting her own hair in her food in hopes of extorting a free meal under threat of negative reviews as a form of blackmail. And then there’s blackmail as a business model, as this unfortunate business reported to the GMB forum after being bulk-spammed with 1-star reviews and then contacted by the spammer with a demand for money to raise the ratings to 5-stars.

Revenge

The classic case is the former employee of a business venting his frustrations by posing as a customer to leave a highly negative review. There are also numerous instances of unhappy personal relationships leading to fake negative reviews of businesses.

Protest or punishment

Consumer sentiment may sometimes appear en masse as a form of protest against an individual or institution, as the US recently witnessed following the election of President Trump and the ensuing avalanche of spam reviews his various businesses received.

It should be noted here that attempting to shame a business with fake negative reviews can have the (likely undesirable) effect of rewarding it with high local rankings, based on the sheer number of reviews it receives. We saw this outcome in the infamous case of the dentist who made national news and received an onslaught of shaming reviews for killing a lion.

Finally, there is the toxic reviewer, a form of Internet troll who may be an actual customer but whose personality leads them to write abusive or libelous reviews as a matter of course. While these reviews should definitely be reported and removed if they fail to meet guidelines, discussion is open and ongoing in the local SEO industry as to how to manage the reality of consumers of this type.

Ranking manipulation

The total review count of a business (regardless of the sentiment the reviews contain) can positively impact Google’s local pack rankings or the internal rankings of certain review platforms. For the sake of boosting rankings, some businesses owners review themselves, tell their employees to review their employer, offer incentives to others in exchange for reviews, or even engage marketers to hook them up to a network of review spammers.

Public perception manipulation

This is a two-sided coin. A business can either positively review itself or negatively review its competitors in an effort to sway consumer perception. The latter is a particularly prevalent form of review spam, with the GMB forum overflowing with at least 10,000 discussions of this topic. Given that respected surveys indicate that 91% of consumers now read online reviews, 84% trust them as much as personal recommendations and 86% will hesitate to patronize a business with negative reviews, the motives for gaming online sentiment, either positively or negatively, are exceedingly strong.

Wages

Expert local SEO, Mike Blumenthal, is currently doing groundbreaking work uncovering a global review spam network that’s responsible for tens or hundreds of thousands of fake reviews. In this scenario, spammers are apparently employed to write reviews of businesses around the world depicting sets of transactions that not even the most jet-setting globetrotter could possibly have experienced. As Mike describes one such reviewer:

“She will, of course, be educated at the mortuary school in Illinois and will have visited a dentist in Austin after having reviewed four other dentists … Oh, and then she will have bought her engagement ring in Israel, and then searched out a private investigator in Kuru, Philippines eight months later to find her missing husband. And all of this has taken place in the period of a year, right?”

The scale of this network makes it clear that review spam has become big business.

Lack of awareness

Not all review spammers are dastardly characters. Some small-timers are only guilty of a lack of awareness of guidelines or a lack of foresight about the potential negative outcomes of fake reviews to their brand. I’ve sometimes heard small local business owners state they had their family review their newly-opened business to “get the ball rolling,” not realizing that they were breaking a guideline and not considering how embarrassing and costly it could prove if consumers or the platform catch on. In this scenario, I try to teach that faking success is not a viable business model — you have to earn it.

Lack of consequences

Unfortunately, some of the most visible and powerful review platforms have become enablers of the review spam industry due to a lack of guideline enforcement. When a platform fails to identify and remove fake reviews, either because of algorithmic weaknesses or insufficient support staffing, spammers are encouraged to run amok in an environment devoid of consequences. For unethical parties, no further justification for manipulating online sentiment is needed than that they can “get away with it.” Ironically, there are consequences to bear for lack of adequate policing, and until they fall on the spammer, they will fall on any platform whose content becomes labeled as untrustworthy in the eyes of consumers.

What is the scope of review spam?

No one knows for sure, but as we’ve seen, the playing field ranges from the single business owner having his family write a couple of reviews on Yelp to the global network employing staff to inundate Google with hundreds of thousands of fake reviews. And, we’ve see two sides to the review spam environment:

  1. People who write reviews to help themselves (in terms of positive rankings, perception, and earnings for themselves either directly from increased visibility or indirectly via extortion, and/or in terms of negative outcomes for competitors).
  2. People who write reviews to hurt others (for the sake of revenge with little or no consequence).

The unifying motive of all forms of review spam is manipulation, creating an unfair and untrustworthy playing field for consumers, enterprises and platforms alike. One Harvard study suggests that 20% of Yelp reviews are fake, but it would be up to the major review platforms to transparently publicize the total number of spam reviews they receive. Just the segment I’ve seen as an individual local SEO has convinced me that review spam has now become an industry, just like “black hat” SEO once did.

How to spot spam reviews

Here are some basic tips:

Strange patterns:

A reviewer’s profile indicates that they’ve been in too many geographic locations at once. Or, they have a habit of giving 1-star reviews to one business and 5-star reviews to its direct competitor. While neither is proof positive of spam, think of these as possible red flags.

Strange language:

Numerous 5-star reviews that fawn on the business owner by name (e.g. “Bill is the greatest man ever to walk the earth”) may be fishy. If adulation seems to be going overboard, pay attention.

Strange timing:

Over the course of a few weeks, a business skyrockets from zero reviews to 30, 50, or 100 of them. Unless an onslaught of sentiment stems from something major happening in the national news, chances are good the company has launched some kind of program. If you suspect spam, you’ll need to research whether the reviews seem natural or could be stemming from some form of compensation.

Strange numbers:

The sheer number of reviews a business has earned seems inconsistent with its geography or industry. Some business models (restaurants) legitimately earn hundreds of reviews each year on a given platform, but others (mortuaries) are unlikely to have the same pattern. If a competitor of yours has 5x as many reviews as seems normal for your geo-industry, it could be a first indicator of spam.

Strange “facts”:

None of your staff can recall that a transaction matching the description in a negative review ever took place, or a transaction can be remembered but the way the reviewer is presenting it is demonstrably false. Example: a guest claims you rudely refused to seat him, but your in-store cam proves that he simply chose not to wait in line like other patrons.

Obvious threats:

If any individual or entity threatens your company with a negative review to extort freebies or money from you, take it seriously and document everything you can.

Obvious guideline violations:

Virtually every major review platform prohibits profane, obscene, and hateful content. If your brand is victimized by this type of attack, definitely report it.

In a nutshell, the first step to spotting review spam is review monitoring. You’ll want to manually check direct competitors for peculiar patterns, and, more importantly, all local businesses must have a schedule for regularly checking their own incoming sentiment. For larger enterprises and multi-location business models, this process must be scaled to minimize manual workloads and cover all bases.

Scaling review management

On an average day, one Moz Local customer with 100 retail locations in the U.S. receives 20 reviews across the various platforms we track. Some are just ratings, but many feature text. Many are very positive. A few contain concerns or complaints that must be quickly addressed to protect reputation/budget by taking action to satisfy and retain an existing customer while proving responsiveness to the general consumer public. Some could turn out to be spam.

Over the course of an average week for this national brand, 100–120 such reviews will come in, totaling up to more than 400 pieces of customer feedback in a month that must be assessed for signs of success at specific locations or emerging quality control issues at others. Parse this out to a year’s time, and this company must be prepared to receive and manage close to 5,000 consumer inputs in the form of reviews and ratings, not just for positive and negative sentiment, but for the purposes of detecting spam.

Spam detection starts with awareness, which can only come from the ability to track and audit a large volume of reviews to identify some of the suspicious hallmarks we’ve covered above. At the multi-location or enterprise level, the solution to this lies in acquiring review monitoring software and putting it in the hands of a designated department or staffer. Using a product like Moz Local, monitoring and detection of questionable reviews can be scaled to meet the needs of even the largest brands.

What should your business do if it has been victimized by review spam?

Once you’ve become reasonably certain that a review or a body of reviews violates the guidelines of a specific platform, it’s time to act. The following list contains links to the policies of 7 dominant review platforms that are applicable to all industries, and also contains tips and links outlining reporting options:

Google

Policy: https://support.google.com/business/answer/2622994?hl=en

Review reporting tips

Flag the review by mousing over it, clicking the flag symbol that appears and then entering your email address and choosing a radio button. If you’re the owner, use the owner response function to mention that you’ve reported the review to Google for guideline violations. Then, contact GMB support via their Twitter account and/or post your case in the GMB forum to ask for additional help. Cross your fingers!

Yelp

Policy: https://www.yelp.com/guidelines

Review reporting tips

Yelp offers these guidelines for reporting reviews and also advises owners to respond to reviews that violate guidelines. Yelp takes review quality seriously and has set high standards other platforms might do well to follow, in terms of catching spammers and warning the public against bad actors.

Facebook

Policy: https://www.facebook.com/communitystandards

Review reporting tips

Here are Facebook’s instructions for reporting reviews that fail to meet community standards. Note that you can only report reviews with text — you can’t report solo ratings. Interestingly, you can turn off reviews on Facebook, but to do so out of fear would be to forego the considerable benefits they can provide.

Yellow Pages

Policy: https://www.yellowpages.com/about/legal/terms-conditions#user-generated-content

Review reporting tips

In 2016, YP.com began showing TripAdvisor reviews alongside internal reviews. If review spam stems from a YP review, click the “Flag” link in the lower right corner of the review and fill out the form to report your reasons for flagging. If the review spam stems from TripAdvisor, you’ll need to deal with them directly and read their extensive guidelines, TripAdvisor states that they screen reviews for quality purposes, but that fake reviews can slip through. If you’re the owner, you can report fraudulent reviews from the Management Center of your TripAdvisor dashboard. Click the “concerned about a review” link and fill out the form. If you’re simply a member of the public, you’ll need to sign into TripAdvisor and click the flag link next to the review to report a concern.

SuperPages

Policy: https://my.dexmedia.com/spportal/jsp/popups/businessprofile/reviewGuidelines.jsp

Review reporting tips

The policy I’ve linked to (from Dex Media, which owns SuperPages) is the best I can find. It’s reasonably thorough but somewhat broken. To report a fake review to SuperPages, you’ll need either a SuperPages or Facebook account. Then, click the “flag abuse” link associated with the review and fill out a short form.

CitySearch

Policy: http://www.citysearch.com/aboutcitysearch/about_us

Review reporting tips

If you receive a fake review on CitySearch, email customerservice@citygrid.com. In your email, link to the business that has received the spam review, include the date of the review and the name of the reviewer and then cite the guidelines you feel the review violates.

FourSquare

Policy: https://foursquare.com/legal/terms

Review reporting tips

The “Rules and Conduct” section I’ve linked to in Foursquare’s TOS outlines their content policy. Foursquare is a bit different in the language they use to describe tips/reviews. They offer these suggestions for reporting abusive tips.

*If you need to find the guidelines and reporting options for an industry-specific review platform like FindLaw or HealthGrades, Phil Rozek’s definitive list will be a good starting point for further research.

Review spam can feel like being stuck between a rock and a hard place

I feel a lot of empathy in this regard. Google, Facebook, Yelp, and other major review platforms have the visibility to drive massive traffic and revenue to your enterprise. That’s the positive side of this equation. But there’s another side — the uneasy side that I believe has its roots in entities like Google originating their local business index via aggregation from third party sources, rather than as a print YellowPages-style, opt-in program, and subsequently failing to adequately support the millions of brands it was then representing to the Internet public.

To this day, there are companies that are stunned to discover that their business is listed on 35 different websites, and being actively reviewed on 5 or 10 of them when the company took no action to initiate this. There’s an understandable feeling of a loss of control that can be particularly difficult for large brands, with their carefully planned quality structures, to adjust to.

This sense of powerlessness is further compounded when the business isn’t just being listed and discussed on platforms it doesn’t control, but is being spammed. I’ve seen business owners on Facebook declaring they’ve decided to disable reviews because they feel so victimized and unsupported after being inundated with suspicious 1-star ratings which Facebook won’t investigate or remove. By doing so, these companies are choosing to forego the considerable benefits reviews drive because meaningful processes for protecting the business aren’t yet available.

These troubling aspects of the highly visible world of reviews can leave owners feeling like they’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. Their companies will be listed, will be reviewed, and may be spammed whether the brand actively participates or not, and they may or may not be able to get spam removed.

It’s not a reality from which any competitive enterprise can opt-out, so my best advice is to realize that it’s better to opt-in fully, with the understanding that some control is better than none. There are avenues for getting many spam reviews taken down, with the right information and a healthy dose of perseverance. Know, too, that every one of your competitors is in the same boat, riding a rising tide that will hopefully grow to the point of offering real-world support for managing consumer sentiment that impacts bottom-line revenue in such a very real way.

There ought to be a law

While legitimate negative reviews have legal protection under the Consumer Review Fairness Act of 2016, fraudulent reviews are another matter.

Section 5(a) of the Federal Trade Communication Act states:

Unfair methods of competition in or affecting commerce, and unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce, are hereby declared unlawful.”

Provisions like these are what allowed the FTC to successfully sue Sage Automotive Group for $3.6 million dollars for deceptive advertising practices and deceptive online reviews, but it’s important to note that this appears to be the first instance in which the FTC has involved themselves in bringing charges on the basis of fraudulent reviews. At this point, it’s simply not reasonable to expect the FTC to step in if your enterprise receives some suspicious reviews, unless your research should uncover a truly major case.

Lawsuits amongst platforms, brands, and consumers, however, are proliferating. Yelp has sued agencies and local businesses over the publication of fake reviews. Companies have sued their competitors over malicious, false sentiment, and they’ve sued their customers with allegations of the same.

Should your enterprise be targeted with spam reviews, some cases may be egregious enough to warrant legal action. In such instances, definitely don’t attempt to have the spam reviews removed by the host platform, as they could provide important evidence. Contact a lawyer before you take a step in any direction, and avoid using the owner response function to take verbal revenge on the person you believe has spammed you, as we now have a precedent in Dietz v. Perez for such cases being declared a draw.

In many scenarios, however, the business may not wish to become involved in a noisy court battle, and seeking removal can be a quieter way to address the problem.

Local enterprises, consumers, and marketers must advocate for themselves

According to one survey, 90% of consumers read less than 10 reviews before forming an opinion about a business. If some of those 10 reviews are the result of negative spam, the cost to the business is simply too high to ignore, and it’s imperative that owners hold not just spammers, but review platforms, accountable.

Local businesses, consumers, and marketers don’t own review sites, but they do have the power to advocate. A single business could persistently blog about spam it has documented. Multiple businesses could partner up to request a meeting with a specific platform to present pain points. Legitimate consumers could email or call their favorite platforms to explain that they don’t want their volunteer hours writing reviews to be wasted on a website that is failing to police its content. Marketers can thoughtfully raise these issues repeatedly at conferences attended by review platform reps. There is no cause to take an adversarial tone in this, but there is every need for squeaky wheels to highlight the costliness of spam to all parties, advocating for platforms to devote all possible resources to:

  • Increasing the sophistication of algorithmic spam detection
  • Increasing staffing for manual detection
  • Providing real-time support to businesses so that spam can be reported, evaluated and removed as quickly as possible

All of the above could begin to better address the reality of review spam. In the meantime, if your business is being targeted right now, I would suggest using every possible avenue to go public with the problem. Blog, use social media, report the issue on the platform’s forum if it has one. Do anything you can to bring maximum attention to the attack on your brand. I can’t promise results from persistence and publicity, but I’ve seen this method work enough times to recommend it.

Why review platforms must act aggressively to minimize spam

I’ve mentioned the empathy I feel for owners when it comes to review platforms, and I also feel empathy for the platforms, themselves. I’ve gotten the sense, sometimes, that different entities jumped into the review game and have been struggling to handle its emerging complexities as they’ve rolled out in real time. What is a fair and just policy? How can you best automate spam detection? How deeply should a platform be expected to wade into disputes between customers and brands?

With sincere respect for the big job review sites have on their hands, I think it’s important to state:

  • If brands and consumers didn’t exist, neither would review platforms. Businesses and reviewers should be viewed and treated as MVPs.
  • Platforms which fail to offer meaningful support options to business owners are not earning goodwill or a good reputation.
  • The relationship between local businesses and review platforms isn’t an entirely comfortable one. Increasing comfort could turn wary brands into beneficial advocates.
  • Platforms that allow themselves to become inundated with spam will lose consumers’ trust, and then advertisers’ trust. They won’t survive.

Every review platform has a major stake in this game, but, to be perfectly honest, some of them don’t act like it.

Google My Business Forum Top Contributor and expert Local SEO, Joy Hawkins, recently wrote an open letter to Google offering them four actionable tips for improving their handling of their massive review spam problem. It’s a great example of a marketer advocating for her industry, and, of interest, some of Joy’s best advice to Google is taken from Yelp’s own playbook. Yelp may be doing the best of all platforms in combating spam, in that they have very strong filters and place public warnings on the profiles of suspicious reviewers and brands.

What Joy Hawkins, Mike Blumenthal, other industry experts, and local business owners seem to be saying to review platforms could be summed up like this:

“We recognize the power of reviews and appreciate the benefits they provide, but a responsibility comes with setting your platform up as a hub of reputation for millions of businesses. Don’t see spammed reputations as acceptable losses — they represent the livelihoods of real people. If you’re going to trade responsibly in representing us, you’ve got to back your product up with adequate quality controls and adequate support. A fair and trustworthy environment is better for us, better for consumers and better for you.”

Key takeaways for taking control of review spam

  • All local enterprises need to know that review spam is a real problem
  • Its scope ranges from individual spammers to global networks
  • Enterprises must monitor all incoming reviews, and scale this with software where necessary
  • Designated staff must be on the lookout for suspicious patterns
  • All major review platforms have some form of support for reporting spam reviews, but its not always adequate and may not lead to removal
  • Because of this, brands must advocate for better support from review platforms
  • Review platforms need to listen and act, because their stake in game is real

Being the subject of a review spam attack can be a stressful event that I wish no brand ever had to face, but it’s my hope that this article has empowered you to meet a possible challenge with complete information and a smart plan of action.

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Reblogged 3 months ago from tracking.feedpress.it