Google Review Stars Drop by 14%

Posted by Dr-Pete

On Monday, September 16, Google announced that they would be restricting review stars in SERPs to specific schemas and would stop displaying reviews that they deemed to be “self-serving.” It wasn’t clear at the time when this change would be happening, or if it had already happened.

Across our daily MozCast tracking set, we measured a drop the morning of September 16 (in sync with the announcement) followed by a continued drop the next day …

The purple bar shows the new “normal” in our data set (so far). This represents a two-day relative drop of nearly 14% (13.8%). It definitely appears that Google dropped review snippets from page-1 SERPs across the roughly 48-hour period around their announcement (note that measurements are only taken once per day, so we can’t pinpoint changes beyond 24-hour periods).

Review drops by category

When we broke this two-day drop out into 20 industry categories (roughly corresponding to Google Ads), the results were dramatic. Note that every industry experienced some loss of review snippets. This is not a situation with “winners” and “losers” like an algorithm update. Google’s changes only reduced review snippets. Here’s the breakdown …

Percent drops in blue are <10%, purple are 10%-25%, and red represents 25%+ drops. Finance and Real Estate were hit the hardest, both losing almost half of their SERPs with review snippets (-46%). Note that our 10K daily data set broken down 20 ways only has 500 SERPs per category, so the sample size is low, but even at the scale of 500 SERPs, some of these changes are clearly substantial.

Average reviews per SERP

If we look only at the page-1 SERPs that have review snippets, were there any changes in the average number of snippets per SERP? The short answer is “no” …

On September 18, when the dust settled on the drop, SERPs with review snippets had an average of 2.26 snippets, roughly the same as prior to the drop. Many queries seem to have been unaffected.

Review counts per SERP

How did this break down by count? Let’s look at just the three days covering the review snippet drop. Page-1 SERPs in MozCast with review snippets had between one and nine results with snippets. Here’s the breakdown …



Consistent with the stable average, there was very little shift across groups. Nearly half of all SERPs with review snippets had just one result with review snippets, with a steady drop as count increases.

Next steps and Q&A

What does this mean for you if your site has been affected? I asked my colleague and local SEO expert, Miriam Ellis, for a bit of additional advice …

(Q) Will I be penalized if I leave my review schema active on my website?

(A) No. Continuing to use review schema should have no negative impact. There will be no penalty.

(Q) Are first-party reviews “dead”?

(A) Of course not. Displaying reviews on your website can still be quite beneficial in terms of:

  • Instilling trust in visitors at multiple phases of the consumer journey
  • Creating unique content for store location landing pages
  • Helping you monitor your reputation, learn from and resolve customers’ cited complaints

(Q) Could first-party review stars return to the SERPs in future?

(A) Anything is possible with Google. Review stars were often here-today-gone-tomorrow even while Google supported them. But, Google seems to have made a fairly firm decision this time that they feel first-party reviews are “self serving”.

(Q) Is Google right to consider first-party reviews “self-serving”?

(A) Review spam and review gating are serious problems. Google is absolutely correct that efforts must be made to curb abusive consumer sentiment tactics. At the same time, Google’s increasing control of business reputation is a cause for concern, particularly when their own review corpus is inundated with spam, even for YMYL local business categories. In judging which practices are self-serving, Google may want to look closer to home to see whether their growing middle-man role between consumers and businesses is entirely altruistic. Any CTR loss attendant on Google’s new policy could rightly be seen as less traffic for brand-controlled websites and more for Google.

For more tactical advice on thriving in this new environment, there’s a good write-up on GatherUp.

Thanks, Miriam! A couple of additional comments. As someone who tracks the SERPs, I can tell you that the presence of review stars has definitely fluctuated over time, but in the past this has been more of a “volume” knob, for lack of a better word. In other words, Google is always trying to find an overall balance of usefulness for the feature. You can expect this number to vary in the future, as well, but, as Miriam said, you have to look at the philosophy underlying this change. It’s unlikely Google will reverse course on that philosophy itself.

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

New Things I&rsquo;ve Learned About Google Review Likes

Posted by MiriamEllis

Last time I counted, there were upwards of 35 components to a single Google Business Profile (GBP). Hotel panels, in and of themselves, are enough to make one squeal, but even on a more “typical” GPB, it’s easy to overlook some low-lying features. Often, you may simply ignore them until life makes you engage.

A few weeks ago, a local SEO came to me with a curious real-life anecdote, in which a client was pressuring the agency to have all their staff hit the “like” button on all of the brand’s positive Google reviews. Presumably, the client felt this would help their business in some manner. More on the nitty-gritty of this scenario later, but at first, it made me face that I’d set this whole GBP feature to one side of my brain as not terribly important.

Fast forward a bit, and I’ve now spent a couple of days looking more closely at the review like button, its uses, abuses, and industry opinions about it. I’ve done a very small study, conducted a poll, and spoken to three different Google reps. Now, I’m ready to share what I’ve learned with you.

Wait, what is the “like” button?

Crash course: Rolled out in 2016, this simple function allows anyone logged into a Google account to thumbs-up any review they like. There is no opposite thumbs-down function. From the same account, you can only thumb up a single review once. Hitting the button twice simply reverses the “liking” action. Google doesn’t prevent anyone from hitting the button, including owners of the business being reviewed.

At a glance, do Google review likes influence anything?

My teammate, Kameron Jenkins, and I plugged 20 totally random local businesses into a spreadsheet, with 60 total reviews being highlighted on the front interface of the GBP. Google highlights just three reviews on the GBP and I wanted to know two things:

  1. How many businesses out of twenty had a liked review anywhere in their corpus
  2. Did the presence of likes appear to be impacting which reviews Google was highlighting on the front of the GBP?

The study was very small, and should certainly be expanded on, but here’s what I saw:

60 percent of the brands had earned at least one like somewhere in their review corpus.

15 percent of the time, Google highlighted only reviews with zero likes, even when a business had liked reviews elsewhere in its corpus. But, 85 percent of the time, if a business had some likes, at least one liked review was making it to the front of the GBP.

At a glance, I’d say it looks like a brand’s liked reviews may have an advantage when it comes to which sentiment Google highlights. This can be either a positive or negative scenario, depending on whether the reviews that get thumbed up on your listing are your positive or negative reviews.

And that leads us to…

Google’s guidelines for the use of the review likes function

But don’t get too excited, because it turns out, no such guidelines exist. Though it’s been three years since Google debuted this potentially-influential feature, I’ve confirmed with them that nothing has actually been published about what you should and shouldn’t do with this capability. If that seems like an open invitation to spam, I hear you!

So, since there were no official rules, I had to hunt for the next best thing. I was thinking about that SEO agency with the client wanting to pay them to thumb up reviews when I decided to take a Twitter poll. I asked my followers:

Unsurprisingly, given the lack of guidelines, 15 percent of 111 respondents had no idea whether it would be fishy to employ staff or markers to thumb up brand reviews. The dominant 53 percent felt it would be totally fine, but a staunch 32 percent called it spam. The latter group added additional thoughts like these:

I want to thank Tess Voecks, Gyi Tsakalakis, and everyone else for taking the poll. And I think the disagreement in it is especially interesting when we look at what happens next.

After polling the industry, I contacted three forms of Google support: phone, chat, and Twitter. If you found it curious that SEOs might disagree about whether or not paying for review likes is spam, I’m sorry to tell you that Google’s own staff doesn’t have brand-wide consensus on this either. In three parts:

1. The Google phone rep was initially unfamiliar with what the like button is. I explained it to her. First, I asked if it was okay for the business owner to hit the like button on the brand’s reviews, she confirmed that it’s fine to do that. This didn’t surprise me. But, when I asked the question about paying people to take such actions, she replied (I paraphrase):

“If a review is being liked by people apart from the owner, it’s not considered as spam.”

“What if the business owner is paying people, like staff or marketers, to like their reviews,” I asked.

“No, it’s not considered spam.”

“Not even then?”

“No,” she said.

2. Next, here’s a screenshot of my chat with a Google rep:

The final response actually amused me (i.e. yeah, go ahead and do that if you want to, but I wouldn’t do it if I were you).

3. Finally, I spoke with Google’s Twitter support, which I always find helpful:

To sum up, we had one Google rep tell is it would be fine and dandy to pay people to thumb up reviews (uh-oh!), but the other two warned against doing this. We’ll go with majority rule here and try to cobble together our own guidelines, in the absence of public ones.

My guidelines for use of the review likes function

Going forward with what we’ve learned, here’s what I would recommend:

  1. As a business owner, if you receive a review you appreciate, definitely go ahead and thumb it up. It may have some influence on what makes it to the highly-visible “front” of your Google Business Profile, and, even if not, it’s a way of saying “thank you” to the customer when you’re also writing your owner response. So, a nice review comes in, respond with thanks and hit the like button. End of story.
  2. Don’t tell anyone in your employ to thumb up your brand’s reviews. That means staff, marketers, and dependents to whom you pay allowance. Two-thirds of Google reps agree this would be spam, and 32 percent of respondents to my poll got it right about this. Buying likes is almost as sad a strategy as buying reviews. You could get caught and damage the very reputation you are hoping to build. It’s just not worth the risk.
  3. While we’re on the subject, avoid the temptation to thumbs-up your competitors’ negative reviews in hopes of getting them to surface on GBPs. Let’s just not go there. I didn’t ask Google specifically about this, but can’t you just see some unscrupulous party deciding this is clever?
  4. If you suspect someone is artificially inflating review likes on positive or negative reviews, the Twitter Google rep suggests flagging the review. So, this is a step you can take, though my confidence in Google taking action on such measures is not high. But, you could try.

How big of a priority should review likes be for local brands?

In the grand scheme of things, I’d put this low on the scale of local search marketing initiatives. As I mentioned, I’d given only a passing glance at this function over the past few years until I was confronted with the fact that people were trying to spam their way to purchased glory with it.

If reputation is a major focus for your brand (and it should be!) I’d invest more resources into creating excellent in-store experiences, review acquisition and management, and sentiment analysis than I would in worrying too much about those little thumbs. But, if you have some time to spare on a deep rep dive, it could be interesting to see if you can analyze why some types of your brand’s reviews get likes and if there’s anything you can do to build on that. I can also see showing positive reviewers that you reward their nice feedback with likes, if for no other reason than a sign of engagement.

What’s your take? Do you know anything about review likes that I should know? Please, share in the comments, and you know what I’ll do if you share a good tip? I’ll thumb up your reply!

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 4 months ago from tracking.feedpress.it

Your 3-Step Guide to Creating a Successful Review Acquisition Strategy

Posted by McDermott

Wouldn’t it be nice if you had an easy way to learn about your competitor’s deepest and darkest secrets? An ethical way to peer inside their business — anytime you wanted?

Your competitor’s review portfolio provides you with just that. And conducting an audit of their portfolio will give you precious, must-have data that competitors are simply unwilling to share. It’s a treasure trove of secrets, pointing to your competitor’s strengths, weaknesses, goals, and objectives.

But how do you audit your competitor’s review portfolio? More importantly, how do you use this data to inform your review acquisition and marketing strategy?

I’ll show you how in three easy steps. Feel free to download this spreadsheet if you’d like to add data as we go along.

Why competitor review audits are essential

But first: What’s so special about the review audit anyway? At first glance, it might seem like more work than it’s worth. Your competitors have more (or less) reviews than you do, which means you’ll work harder — and if they add more reviews, you’ll have to put in more work to earn more reviews.  

Seems like the usual marketing arms race, right? Where you and your competitors are jockeying for first place.

Sophisticated agencies will know better. They see the competitor review audit for what it is: A chance to gain leverage, clarity, and intelligence from their most unwilling competitors. Because a competitor audit shows you:

  1. What competitor’s customers are unhappy about
  2. Your competitor’s desires, goals, fears and frustrations
  3. The core issues and challenges costing your competitors leads, sales and revenue
  4. The objections and risks that keep their prospects from buying
  5. Customer perception in the marketplace
  6. Why customers choose to work with your competitors specifically
  7. What customers want (but aren’t getting) from your competitors
  8. What needs to be done to grow your business exponentially
  9. Their customer’s knowledge/level of sophistication
  10. Changes in your competitor’s business (past, present, and future)

These details are are an exceptional opportunity in the right hands —it’s an indispensable assessment tool for local search agencies and their clients. Not to mention it’s a straightforward way to learn about your competitor’s deepest and darkest secrets: you have literal competitive intel from their customer’s perspective. 

Before you begin your audit…

You’ll want to take stock of the top three competitors in your local market. There are two ways to approach this. If you’re part of a smaller local market or you already have a list of competitors, start there. What if you’re a new business and you’re not fully established in your local market yet? Which competitors should you audit?

The businesses that are consistently listed in the local three pack or page one of the Google Maps search results, when you click ‘More Places’ on the local pack or the search results (page one) for your queries!

All set with your list of competitors? You’re ready to begin your audit!

Step #1: Assess their review profiles

You’ll want to take an inventory of your competitor’s review profiles. You’re looking for three types of review profiles:

  1. Mainstream reviews via large providers like Google, Facebook, and Yelp
  2. Industry-specific reviews via specialty sites like TripAdvisor for hotels, Avvo for attorneys or Healthgrades for doctors
  3. ‘Niche’ platforms like the BBB, Angie’s list, or Clutch.co

You also want to take note of a few cursory details.

  • Have competitors claimed each/all of their profiles?
  • How many reviews do they have?
  • Are the aggregate reviews on each platform – positive, neutral or negative?
  • What’s the overall sentiment for each profile – positive, neutral or negative?
  • How recent are their reviews?
  • How many of their reviews were received over the past one to three months?
  • Is their NAP data consistent across each of their profiles? Consistent across multiple locations?
  • Do their profile links lead to active and relevant pages? Any broken links?

You’re looking for inconsistencies. Outdated data, inaccurate details, 404 errors, etc.

Step #2: Search for their business + reviews

Let’s say you’re working with a client in the personal injury space. You’re analyzing the three competitors we mentioned earlier.

Where should you start?

First, you’ll want to gather a list of branded and unbranded keywords. You can use Moz’s Keyword Explorer or your keyword tool of choice to quickly suss out the organic keywords your competitors are using.

explorer personal injury

You can use a tool like the Permutator to rapidly expand your list of keywords. You can use this tool to identify missed opportunities or further refine the keywords in your list.

personal injury permutations

Head over to Google and run a search of the unbranded keywords in your list.

  • Best personal injury lawyer
  • Best personal injury lawyers near me
  • Best personal injury lawyers in Chicago
  • Best personal injury lawyers Chicago Loop
  • Chicagoland personal injury firm
  • Chicagoland personal injury firm in Chicago
  • Chicagoland personal injury firm near me
  • Chicagoland personal injury firms
  • Personal injury firm
  • Personal injury firm in Chicago
  • Personal injury firm near me
  • Personal injury firms

Next, run a search of the branded queries in your list

  • Staver Accident Injury Lawyers
  • Staver Accident Injury Lawyers reviews
  • Staver Accident Injury Lawyers testimonials
  • Staver Accident Injury Lawyers in Chicago
  • Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard
  • Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard reviews
  • Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard testimonials
  • Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard in Chicago

Take screenshots of the local three pack when it appears, whether it includes the competitors in your list or not.

salvi 3 pack

You also want to take screenshots of the knowledge panel and search results. There are all kinds of juicy data we can work with here! Use a descriptive file name so it’s easy to remember key details later.

rosenfeld knowledge panel + serps

Here’s a short list of the details you’re looking for:

  • Are aggregate reviews listed in the search results? Are these reviews positive, neutral or negative?
  • Are keywords used on review profiles, media (via images, videos or slides) and landing pages?
  • Citations/NAP data, is it consistent/inconsistent?
  • What types of content channels are used (e.g. keyword rich video testimonials via YouTube, on-site reviews, Facebook recommendations, etc.)?

Next, you’ll want to read through your competitor’s reviews. At this point, you’re looking to collect data. You’ll want:

  • Positive, neutral and negative reviews
  • Featured, highlighted or recommended reviews
  • To assess the general tone and quality of the reviews listed in each profile (are reviews shallow, detailed or comprehensive e.g. reviews with text, images and/or video?)
  • To gauge the ratio of positive-to-negative and neutral-to-negative reviews
  • To identify profiles that are potential outliers (e.g. unclaimed review profiles with no/poor reviews)

You’re looking for positive reviews…

rosenfeld reviews

…as well as neutral and negative reviews.

rosenfeld negative

The balanced, comprehensive inventory of each review profile gives us more data to work with later on.

You’ll want to run these audits at regular intervals. If you’re serving clients in a highly competitive market like insurance, real estate mortgage banking, you’ll want to run these audits more often.

Why is this important?

You already know the answer! You and your clients are playing a competitive game of moves and countermoves. If they’re smart, your competitors will eventually take note of the aggressive changes you’re making. They’ll quickly adapt, working to circumvent any advantage you’ve gained. If you’re using a review management tool, these details are simple to automate and easy to track on a recurring basis.

It’s not rocket science, but it does take work. Now we’ve arrived at the best part of our analysis.

Step #3: Using your audit to inform your review acquisition strategy

You’ve uncovered a significant amount of data in your competitor audit. How do we go about putting this valuable data to good use?

We ask questions!

Asking questions gives us a chance to dive deep into the data, uncovering insights that are actionable and useful. Here’s a list of sample questions you should be able to extract from your audit. Here’s what you’ll want to know.

Which competitor has:

  • The most reviews, per platform? The most reviews overall?
  • The largest amount of high-quality reviews (e.g. detailed four and five-star reviews)?
  • The largest amount of low-quality reviews (e.g. four and five-star reviews with little to no text)?
  • The largest amount of aggregate reviews listed in the search results?

These questions enable you to identify the review sites where your competitors are strongest/weakest. This is important because it helps you identify opportunities for quick wins and big gains.

Next, you’ll want to assess trends in your competitor’s reviews:

  • What motivates reviewers to share (e.g. satisfactory outcome, altruism, displeasure, etc.)?
  • Which customer objections appear repeatedly?
  • Do competitors respond to customer reviews? Do they respond more to positive, neutral, negative or all reviews?
  • How long does it take them to respond to a review?
  • How do competitors respond to negative reviews?
  • Do customers feel the business’ performance has improved or declined overall?
  • What desires, goals, fears, frustrations, and problems did customers bring into the relationship?
  • How did competitors handle these issues?
  • What risks did reviewers face in the relationship?
  • How sophisticated are their reviewers (e.g. educated and discerning buyer, experienced and unsure, clear and confident, etc.)
  • Which themes appear consistently in reviewer responses? (E.g. poor communication, open and transparent, patient and knowledgeable, etc.)

So, here’s the million-dollar question. How do you use these details to inform your review acquisition strategy? Imagine that we come across 25 to 35 reviews like these in our audit of a single competitor. Customers are consistently complaining about poor communication and poor follow-through in their reviews.

negative review personal injury

How can you help your clients capitalize on this problem? You…

  1. Brainstorm: You work with your law firm client to come up with a client “Bill of Rights.” They commit to daily and weekly communication with their clients or they take 25 percent off next month’s invoice. You interview, survey and conversion data to test the effectiveness of this risk reversal.
  2. Advertise: Your client uses their client “Bill of Rights” and their promise to communicate daily and weekly in your PPC and display campaigns. Click through rates begin to climb as the message begins to resonate with clients in the Chicagoland area.
  3. Re-target: Prospects who visit the website are added to a retargeting campaign. This campaign consists of four distinct ingredients (1.) A strong value proposition (2.) An irresistible offer (3.) Strong reviews showing your client communicates daily and weekly as promised (4.) Your clients produce extraordinary results for their clients. Using your client’s retargeting campaign, you drive prospects to relevant landing pages and review profiles.
  4. Convert: Your marketing strategy is effective. You’re able to convert a significant amount of prospects on your client’s behalf. You ensure that your client under promises and over delivers, producing extraordinary results and wowing their clients.
  5. Request: You set up a review funnel for your client. Their customers are invited to write a review via SMS and email autoresponder campaigns. Their clients are sent to a review landing page, where they’re directed to the appropriate review profile (e.g. Google My Business, Facebook recommendations, or Yelp reviews). Their clients are encouraged to share openly and honestly.
  6. Respond: You work with your client to respond to positive and negative reviews on their behalf. You work with your clients to maintain a 5:1 ratio. Five positive reviews for every negative review. You use review response protocols to provide reviewers with an appropriate, customized and empathetic response. Traffic and conversion rates skyrocket.

Can you see what’s happening? You’re using your competitor’s strategy to inform your own. Your clients continue to win whether their competitors win or lose. Here’s the significant part about competitor review audit. The possibilities are there. You can use their competitor’s success or failure to boost their marketing results. You can use this strategy with webinars, guest posts advertising, partnerships, workshops, and even events.

A chance to gain leverage, clarity, and insight

Don’t underestimate the power of conducting competitor review audits. It’s a powerful strategy, especially when combined with Review management tools as well as display and PPC intelligence tools like Moat, WordStream, and SpyFu. 

If you’re a boutique Local Search, SEO, or Marketing agency working with a variety of local clients, providing review management guidance can be an incredibly valuable supplemental service. In fact, according to Moz’s 2019 The State of Local SEO Industry Report, 91 percent of marketers believe that aspects of reviews, including ratings, quality, positive/negative sentiment, presence of keywords, and/or recency can impact local pack rankings. So if you’re providing local digital services and not touching on reviews, you’re probably doing your clients a disservice. 

Wrapping up

A competitor review audit gives you actionable data on your competitor’s strengths, weaknesses, goals, and objectives. With the right approach and consistent effort, your competitors will supply you with everything you need to inform and improve your client’s review acquisition strategy.

What other tips or tricks do you use to inform your review acquisition strategy?

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 7 months ago from tracking.feedpress.it

Time to Act: Review Responses Just Evolved from &quot;Extra&quot; to &quot;Expected&quot;

Posted by MiriamEllis

I’ve advocated the use of Google’s owner response review feature since it first rolled out in 2010. This vital vehicle defends brand reputation and revenue, offering companies a means of transforming dissatisfied consumers into satisfied ones, supporting retention so that less has to be spent on new customer acquisition. I consider review responses to be a core customer service responsibility. Yet, eight years into the existence of this feature, marketing forums are still filled with entry-level questions like:

  • Should I respond to reviews?
  • Should I respond to positive reviews?
  • How should I respond to negative reviews?

Over the years, I’ve seen different local SEO consultants reply in differing degrees to these common threads, but as of May 11, 2018, both agencies and brands woke to a new day: the day on which Google announced it would be emailing notifications like this to consumers when a business responds to their reviews, prompting them to view the reply.

Surveys indicate that well over 50% of consumers already expect responses within days of reviewing a business. With Google’s rollout, we can assume that this number is about to rise.

Why is this noteworthy news? I’ll explain exactly that in this post, plus demo how Moz Local can be a significant help to owners and marketers in succeeding in this new environment.

When “extra” becomes “expected”

In the past, owner responses may have felt like something extra a business could do to improve management of its reputation. Perhaps a company you’re marketing has been making the effort to respond to negative reviews, at the very least, but you’ve let replying to positive reviews slide. Or maybe you respond to reviews when you can get around to it, with days or weeks transpiring between consumer feedback and brand reaction.

Google’s announcement is important for two key reasons:

1) It signals that Google is turning reviews into a truly interactive feature, in keeping with so much else they’ve rolled out to the Knowledge Panel in recent times. Like booking buttons and Google Questions & Answers, notifications of owner responses are Google’s latest step towards making Knowledge Panels transactional platforms instead of static data entities. Every new feature brings us that much closer to Google positioning itself between providers and patrons for as many transactional moments as possible.

2) It signals a major turning point in consumer expectations. In the past, reviewers have left responses from motives of “having their say,” whether that’s to praise a business, warn fellow consumers, or simply document their experiences.

Now, imagine a patron who writes a negative review of two different restaurants he dined at for Sunday lunch and dinner. On Monday, he opens his email to find a Google notification that Restaurant A has left an owner response sincerely apologizing and reasonably explaining why service was unusually slow that weekend, but that Restaurant B is meeting his complaint about a rude waiter with dead air.

“So, Restaurant A cares about me, and Restaurant B couldn’t care less,” the consumer is left to conclude, creating an emotional memory that could inform whether he’s ever willing to give either business a second chance in the future.

Just one experience of receiving an owner response notification will set the rules of the game from here on out, making all future businesses that fail to respond seem inaccessible, neglectful, and even uncaring. It’s the difference between reviewers narrating their experiences from random motives, and leaving feedback with the expectation of being heard and answered.

I will go so far as to predict that Google’s announcement ups the game for all review platforms, because it will make owner responses to consumer sentiment an expected, rather than extra, effort.

The burden is on brands

Because no intelligent business would believe it can succeed in modern commerce while appearing unreachable or unconcerned, Google’s announcement calls for a priority shift. For brands large and small, it may not be an easy one, but it should look something like this:

  • Negative reviews are now direct cries for help to our business; we will respond with whatever help we can give within X number of hours or days upon receipt
  • Positive reviews are now thank-you notes directly to our company; we will respond with gratitude within X number of hours or days upon receipt

Defining X is going to have to depend on the resources of your organization, but in an environment in which consumers expect your reply, the task of responding must now be moved from the back burner to a hotter spot on the stovetop. Statistics differ in past assessments of consumer expectations of response times:

  • In 2016, GetFiveStars found that 15.6% of consumers expected a reply with 1–3 hours, and 68.3% expected a reply within 1–3 days of leaving a review.
  • In 2017, RevLocal found that 52% of consumers expected responses within 7 days.
  • Overall, 30% of survey respondents told BrightLocal in 2017 that owner responses were a factor they looked at in judging a business.

My own expectation is that all of these numbers will now rise as a result of Google’s new function, meaning that the safest bet will be the fastest possible response. If resources are limited, I recommend prioritizing negative sentiment, aiming for a reply within hours rather than days as the best hope of winning back a customer. “Thank yous” for positive sentiment can likely wait for a couple of days, if absolutely necessary.

It’s inspiring to know that a recent Location3 study found that brands which do a good job of responding to reviews saw an average conversion rate of 13.9%, versus lackluster responders whose conversion rate was 10.4%. Depending on what you sell, those 3.5 points could be financially significant! But it’s not always easy to be optimally responsive.

If your business is small, accelerating response times can feel like a burden because of lack of people resources. If your business is a large, multi-location enterprise, the burden may lie in organizing awareness of hundreds of incoming reviews in a day, as well as keeping track of which reviews have been responded to and which haven’t.

The good news is…

Moz Local can help

The screenshot, above, is taken from the Moz Local dashboard. If you’re a customer, just log into your Moz Local account and go to your review section. From the “sources” section, choose “Google” — you’ll see the option to filter your reviews by “replied” and “not replied.” You’ll instantly be able to see which reviews you haven’t yet responded to. From there, simply use the in-dashboard feature that enables you to respond to your (or your clients’) reviews, without having to head over to your GMB dashboard or log into a variety of different clients’ GMB dashboards. So easy!

I highly recommend that all our awesome customers do this today and be sure you’ve responded to all of your most recent reviews. And, in the future, if you’re working your way through a stack of new, incoming Google reviews, this function should make it a great deal easier to keep organized about which ones you’ve checked off and which ones are still awaiting your response. I sincerely hope this function makes your work more efficient!

Need some help setting the right review response tone?

Please check out Mastering the Owner Response to the Quintet of Google My Business Reviews, which I published in 2016 to advocate responsiveness. It will walk you through these typical types of reviews you’ll be receiving:

  • “I love you!”
  • “I haven’t made up my mind yet.”
  • “There was hair in my taco…”
  • “I’m actually your competitor!”
  • “I’m citing illegal stuff.”

The one update I’d make to the advice in the above piece, given Google’s rollout of the new notification function, would be to increase the number of positive reviews to which you’re responding. In 2016, I suggested that enterprises managing hundreds of locations should aim to express gratitude for at least 10% of favorable reviews. In 2018, I’d say reply with thanks to as many of these as you possibly can. Why? Because reviews are now becoming more transactional than ever, and if a customer says, “I like you,” it’s only polite to say, “Thanks!”. As more customers begin to expect responsiveness, failure to acknowledge praise could feel uncaring.

I would also suggest that responses to negative reviews more strongly feature a plea to the customer to contact the business so that things can be “made right.” GetFiveStars co-founder, Mike Blumenthal, is hoping that Google might one day create a private channel for brands and consumers to resolve complaints, but until that happens, definitely keep in mind that:

  1. The new email alerts will ensure that more customers realize you’ve responded to their negative sentiment.
  2. If, while “making things right” in the public response, you also urge the unhappy customer to let you make things “more right” in person, you will enhance your chances of retaining him.
  3. If you are able to publicly or privately resolve a complaint, the customer may feel inspired to amend his review and raise your star rating; over time, more customers doing this could significantly improve your conversions and, possibly, your local search rankings.
  4. All potential customers who see your active responses to complaints will understand that your policies are consumer-friendly, which should increase the likelihood of them choosing your business for transactions.

Looking ahead

One of the most interesting aspects I’m considering as of the rollout of response notifications is whether it may ultimately impact the tone of reviews themselves. In the past, some reviewers have given way to excesses in their sentiment, writing about companies in the ugliest possible language… language I’ve always wanted to hope they wouldn’t use face-to-face with other human beings at the place of business. I’m wondering now if knowing there’s a very good chance that companies are responding to feedback could lessen the instances of consumers taking wild, often anonymous potshots at brands and create a more real-world, conversational environment.

In other words, instead of: “You overcharged me $3 for a soda and I know it’s because you’re [expletive] scammers, liars, crooks!!! Everyone beware of this company!!!”

We might see: “Hey guys, I just noticed a $3 overcharge on my receipt. I’m not too happy about this.”

The former scenario is honestly embarrassing. Trying to make someone feel better when they’ve just called you a thief feels a bit ridiculous and depressing. But the latter scenario is, at least, situation-appropriate instead of blown out of all proportion, creating an opening for you and your company to respond well and foster loyalty.

I can’t guarantee that reviewers will tone it down a bit if they feel more certain of being heard, but I’m hoping it will go that way in more and more cases.

What do you think? How will Google’s new function impact the businesses you market and the reviewers you serve? Please share your take and your tips with our community!

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 1 year 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.

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 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it

The Magento Xcelerate program: A positive sum game

As an open source ecommerce platform, Magento is flexible and accessible for developers to work with and as a result, an active community of developers emerged on online forums and at offline meetups all over the world. Many of these were happily plugging away independently of Magento until the split from eBay in early 2015.

Free from the reins of eBay, Magento has decisively been reaching out to, promoting and rewarding the individuals, agencies and technology providers that make up its ecosystem. Last February they announced the Magento Masters Program, empowering the top platform advocates, frequent forum contributors and the innovative solution implementers. Then at April‘s Magento Imagine conference (the largest yet) the theme emerged as ‘We are Magento”, in celebration of the community.

The new Xcelerate Technology Partner Program focuses not on individuals but on business partnerships formed with the technology companies that offer tools for Magento merchants to implement.

 Sharing ideas, opportunities and successes:

This is the Xcelerate Program tagline, which acts as a sort of mission statement to get the technology partners involved moving with regards to continuously considering Magento in their own technology roadmap and jointly communicating successes and learnings from working on implementations with merchants.

“In turn, the program offers members the tools to get moving, through events, resources and contacts. Our goal is to enable you to be an integral part of the Magento ecosystem” Jon Carmody, Head of Technology Partners

The program in practice:

The new program is accompanied by the new Marketplace from which the extensions can be purchased and downloaded. The program splits the extensions into 3 partnership levels:

Registered Partners – these are technology extensions that the new Magento Marketplace team test for code quality. Extensions must now pass this initial level to be eligible for the Marketplace. With each merchant having on average 15 extensions for their site, this is a win for merchants when it comes to extension trustworthiness.

Select Partners – extensions can enter this second tier if the technology falls into one of the strategic categories identified by Magento and if they pass an in-depth technical review. These will be marked as being ‘Select’ in the Marketplace.

Premier Partners – this level is by invitation only, chosen as providing crucial technology to Magento merchants (such as payments, marketing, tax software). The Magento team’s Extension Quality Program looks at coding structure, performance, scalability, security and compatibility but influence in the Community is also a consideration. dotmailer is proud to be the first Premier Technology Partner in the marketing space for Magento.

All in all, the latest move from Magento in illuminating its ecosystem should be positive for all; the merchants who can now choose from a vetted list of extensions and know when to expect tight integration, the technology partners building extensions now with clearer merchant needs/extension gaps in mind and guidance from Magento, and of course the solution implementers recommending the best extension for the merchant now knowing it will be maintained.

Reblogged 3 years ago from blog.dotmailer.com

From Editorial Calendars to SEO: Setting Yourself Up to Create Fabulous Content

Posted by Isla_McKetta

Quick note: This article is meant to apply to teams of all sizes, from the sole proprietor who spends all night writing their copy (because they’re doing business during the day) to the copy team who occupies an entire floor and produces thousands of pieces of content per week. So if you run into a section that you feel requires more resources than you can devote just now, that’s okay. Bookmark it and revisit when you can, or scale the step down to a more appropriate size for your team. We believe all the information here is important, but that does not mean you have to do everything right now.

If you thought ideation was fun, get ready for content creation. Sure, we’ve all written some things before, but the creation phase of content marketing is where you get to watch that beloved idea start to take shape.

Before you start creating, though, you want to get (at least a little) organized, and an editorial calendar is the perfect first step.

Editorial calendars

Creativity and organization are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they can feed each other. A solid schedule gives you and your writers the time and space to be wild and creative. If you’re just starting out, this document may be sparse, but it’s no less important. Starting early with your editorial calendar also saves you from creating content willy-nilly and then finding out months later that no one ever finished that pesky (but crucial) “About” page.

There’s no wrong way to set up your editorial calendar, as long as it’s meeting your needs. Remember that an editorial calendar is a living document, and it will need to change as a hot topic comes up or an author drops out.

There are a lot of different types of documents that pass for editorial calendars. You get to pick the one that’s right for your team. The simplest version is a straight-up calendar with post titles written out on each day. You could even use a wall calendar and a Sharpie.

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Title
The Five Colors of Oscar Fashion 12 Fabrics We’re Watching for Fall Is Charmeuse the New Corduroy? Hot Right Now: Matching Your Handbag to Your Hatpin Tea-length and Other Fab Vocab You Need to Know
Author Ellie James Marta Laila Alex

Teams who are balancing content for different brands at agencies or other more complex content environments will want to add categories, author information, content type, social promo, and more to their calendars.

Truly complex editorial calendars are more like hybrid content creation/editorial calendars, where each of the steps to create and publish the content are indicated and someone has planned for how long all of that takes. These can be very helpful if the content you’re responsible for crosses a lot of teams and can take a long time to complete. It doesn’t matter if you’re using Excel or a Google Doc, as long as the people who need the calendar can easily access it. Gantt charts can be excellent for this. Here’s a favorite template for creating a Gantt chart in Google Docs (and they only get more sophisticated).

Complex calendars can encompass everything from ideation through writing, legal review, and publishing. You might even add content localization if your empire spans more than one continent to make sure you have the currency, date formatting, and even slang right.

Content governance

Governance outlines who is taking responsibility for your content. Who evaluates your content performance? What about freshness? Who decides to update (or kill) an older post? Who designs and optimizes workflows for your team or chooses and manages your CMS?

All these individual concerns fall into two overarching components to governance: daily maintenance and overall strategy. In the long run it helps if one person has oversight of the whole process, but the smaller steps can easily be split among many team members. Read this to take your governance to the next level.

Finding authors

The scale of your writing enterprise doesn’t have to be limited to the number of authors you have on your team. It’s also important to consider the possibility of working with freelancers and guest authors. Here’s a look at the pros and cons of outsourced versus in-house talent.

In-house authors

Guest authors and freelancers

Responsible to

You

Themselves

Paid by

You (as part of their salary)

You (on a per-piece basis)

Subject matter expertise

Broad but shallow

Deep but narrow

Capacity for extra work

As you wish

Show me the Benjamins

Turnaround time

On a dime

Varies

Communication investment

Less

More

Devoted audience

Smaller

Potentially huge

From that table, it might look like in-house authors have a lot more advantages. That’s somewhat true, but do not underestimate the value of occasionally working with a true industry expert who has name recognition and a huge following. Whichever route you take (and there are plenty of hybrid options), it’s always okay to ask that the writers you are working with be professional about communication, payment, and deadlines. In some industries, guest writers will write for links. Consider yourself lucky if that’s true. Remember, though, that the final paycheck can be great leverage for getting a writer to do exactly what you need them to (such as making their deadlines).

Tools to help with content creation

So those are some things you need to have in place before you create content. Now’s the fun part: getting started. One of the beautiful things about the Internet is that new and exciting tools crop up every day to help make our jobs easier and more efficient. Here are a few of our favorites.

Calendars

You can always use Excel or a Google Doc to set up your editorial calendar, but we really like Trello for the ability to gather a lot of information in one card and then drag and drop it into place. Once there are actual dates attached to your content, you might be happier with something like a Google Calendar.

Ideation and research

If you need a quick fix for ideation, turn your keywords into wacky ideas with Portent’s Title Maker. You probably won’t want to write to the exact title you’re given (although “True Facts about Justin Bieber’s Love of Pickles” does sound pretty fascinating…), but it’s a good way to get loose and look at your topic from a new angle.

Once you’ve got that idea solidified, find out what your audience thinks about it by gathering information with Survey Monkey or your favorite survey tool. Or, use Storify to listen to what people are saying about your topic across a wide variety of platforms. You can also use Storify to save those references and turn them into a piece of content or an illustration for one. Don’t forget that a simple social ask can also do wonders.

Format

Content doesn’t have to be all about the words. Screencasts, Google+ Hangouts, and presentations are all interesting ways to approach content. Remember that not everyone’s a reader. Some of your audience will be more interested in visual or interactive content. Make something for everyone.

Illustration

Don’t forget to make your content pretty. It’s not that hard to find free stock images online (just make sure you aren’t violating someone’s copyright). We like Morgue File, Free Images, and Flickr’s Creative Commons. If you aren’t into stock images and don’t have access to in-house graphic design, it’s still relatively easy to add images to your content. Pull a screenshot with Skitch or dress up an existing image with Pixlr. You can also use something like Canva to create custom graphics.

Don’t stop with static graphics, though. There are so many tools out there to help you create gifs, quizzes and polls, maps, and even interactive timelines. Dream it, then search for it. Chances are whatever you’re thinking of is doable.

Quality, not quantity

Mediocre content will hurt your cause

Less is more. That’s not an excuse to pare your blog down to one post per month (check out our publishing cadence experiment), but it is an important reminder that if you’re writing “How to Properly Install a Toilet Seat” two days after publishing “Toilet Seat Installation for Dummies,” you might want to rethink your strategy.

The thing is, and I’m going to use another cliché here to drive home the point, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Potential customers are roving the Internet right now looking for exactly what you’re selling. And if what they find is an only somewhat informative article stuffed with keywords and awful spelling and grammar mistakes… well, you don’t want that. Oh, and search engines think it’s spammy too…

A word about copyright

We’re not copyright lawyers, so we can’t give you the ins and outs on all the technicalities. What we can tell you (and you already know this) is that it’s not okay to steal someone else’s work. You wouldn’t want them to do it to you. This includes images. So whenever you can, make your own images or find images that you can either purchase the rights to (stock imagery) or license under Creative Commons.

It’s usually okay to quote short portions of text, as long as you attribute the original source (and a link is nice). In general, titles and ideas can’t be copyrighted (though they might be trademarked or patented). When in doubt, asking for permission is smart.

That said, part of the fun of the Internet is the remixing culture which includes using things like memes and gifs. Just know that if you go that route, there is a certain amount of risk involved.

Editing

Your content needs to go through at least one editing cycle by someone other than the original author. There are two types of editing, developmental (which looks at the underlying structure of a piece that happens earlier in the writing cycle) and copy editing (which makes sure all the words are there and spelled right in the final draft).

If you have a very small team or are in a rush (and are working with writers that have some skill), you can often skip the developmental editing phase. But know that an investment in that close read of an early draft is often beneficial to the piece and to the writer’s overall growth.

Many content teams peer-edit work, which can be great. Other organizations prefer to run their work by a dedicated editor. There’s no wrong answer, as long as the work gets edited.

Ensuring proper basic SEO

The good news is that search engines are doing their best to get closer and closer to understanding and processing natural language. So good writing (including the natural use of synonyms rather than repeating those keywords over and over and…) will take you a long way towards SEO mastery.

For that reason (and because it’s easy to get trapped in keyword thinking and veer into keyword stuffing), it’s often nice to think of your SEO check as a further edit of the post rather than something you should think about as you’re writing.

But there are still a few things you can do to help cover those SEO bets. Once you have that draft, do a pass for SEO to make sure you’ve covered the following:

  • Use your keyword in your title
  • Use your keyword (or long-tail keyword phrase) in an H2
  • Make sure the keyword appears at least once (though not more than four times, especially if it’s a phrase) in the body of the post
  • Use image alt text (including the keyword when appropriate)

Finding time to write when you don’t have any

Writing (assuming you’re the one doing the writing) can require a lot of energy—especially if you want to do it well. The best way to find time to write is to break each project down into little tasks. For example, writing a blog post actually breaks down into these steps (though not always in this order):

  • Research
  • Outline
  • Fill in outline
  • Rewrite and finish post
  • Write headline
  • SEO check
  • Final edit
  • Select hero image (optional)

So if you only have random chunks of time, set aside 15-30 minutes one day (when your research is complete) to write a really great outline. Then find an hour the next to fill that outline in. After an additional hour the following day, (unless you’re dealing with a research-heavy post) you should have a solid draft by the end of day three.

The magic of working this way is that you engage your brain and then give it time to work in the background while you accomplish other tasks. Hemingway used to stop mid-sentence at the end of his writing days for the same reason.

Once you have that draft nailed, the rest of the steps are relatively easy (even the headline, which often takes longer to write than any other sentence, is easier after you’ve immersed yourself in the post over a few days).

Working with design/development

Every designer and developer is a little different, so we can’t give you any blanket cure-alls for inter-departmental workarounds (aka “smashing silos”). But here are some suggestions to help you convey your vision while capitalizing on the expertise of your coworkers to make your content truly excellent.

Ask for feedback

From the initial brainstorm to general questions about how to work together, asking your team members what they think and prefer can go a long way. Communicate all the details you have (especially the unspoken expectations) and then listen.

If your designer tells you up front that your color scheme is years out of date, you’re saving time. And if your developer tells you that the interactive version of that timeline will require four times the resources, you have the info you need to fight for more budget (or reassess the project).

Check in

Things change in the design and development process. If you have interim check-ins already set up with everyone who’s working on the project, you’ll avoid the potential for nasty surprises at the end. Like finding out that no one has experience working with that hot new coding language you just read about and they’re trying to do a workaround that isn’t working.

Proofread

Your job isn’t done when you hand over the copy to your designer or developer. Not only might they need help rewriting some of your text so that it fits in certain areas, they will also need you to proofread the final version. Accidents happen in the copy-and-paste process and there’s nothing sadder than a really beautiful (and expensive) piece of content that wraps up with a typo:

Know when to fight for an idea

Conflict isn’t fun, but sometimes it’s necessary. The more people involved in your content, the more watered down the original idea can get and the more roadblocks and conflicting ideas you’ll run into. Some of that is very useful. But sometimes you’ll get pulled off track. Always remember who owns the final product (this may not be you) and be ready to stand up for the idea if it’s starting to get off track.

We’re confident this list will set you on the right path to creating some really awesome content, but is there more you’d like to know? Ask us your questions 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 4 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it