Illustration of a navigator and map, via Ouch.pics

Alexa, Is My Local Business Listing Easy to Find?

“Hey, Google—give me directions to [insert local business listing here].”

At some point, you’ve probably grabbed your phone and performed a voice search similar to this one.

Maybe you directed Siri to search for a new chiropractor near you. Could be, you asked Alexa to play a favorite radio station. Or you’re learning how to use the new Google Home device.

The point is, voice search is becoming a thing. Is your business ready?

What Voice Search Means for Local Business Listings

By now, you should already have a local business listing on Google My Business. Ditto for listings on other search engines and on your social media pages.

But with voice search coming into play, there’s still more you can do to be findable online.

Jan Antonin Kolar via Unsplash, photo of an Alexa echo device

Image Source: Jan Antonin Kolar

First, a little history.

Before Alexa and Siri

A decade ago, hungry consumers might have typed “restaurants San Francisco” in the search bar. (Many still do this).

Even five years ago, Google’s search bar dominated the online index scene with searches that delivered more literal than contextual results.

Google’s algorithm was also busy evolving during this time, especially after its Hummingbird update.

After Hummingbird, Google’s algorithm began to search searchers’ intended meaning, not just the words they typed into Google’s search bar.

As intelligent personal assistants like Siri arrived on the scene, not too many users were interested—at first.

In fact, according to Neil Patel, in 2013 a full 85 percent of iOS users reported that they didn’t use digital assistants like Siri when searching online.

Google search bar from 2012

Image Source: UIG/Getty Images

Flash forward to today.

According to HubSpot, today this same restaurant query might look like, “Where is the best place to eat near me right now?”

Notice that the search phrase is now a question, and it doesn’t need to include the name of the city to get results.

It’s the perfect example of how voice search is changing the game online.

Today’s Search for Your Local Business Listing

Back in 2014, Google conducted a mobile voice study which revealed that some 55 percent of teens and 41 percent of adults use voice search more than once daily.

And that was 2014.

Just a year later, a MindMeld study reported the number of voice search users climbed towards 60 percent, with experts like Patel expecting voice search to grow “exponentially.”

So what is voice search like now?

Today, someone searching for Mark Zuckerberg could type his name into a search bar—but it’s a lot easier to ask via voice search:

Google search, local business listing, feature box on Mark Zuckerberg

Image Source: Google

With voice search, it’s natural to use conversational words (e.g., who/what/where/when/how) to access information.

Today’s smartphone user also uses voice search primarily for local searches.

“It’s no wonder that mobile voice search is three times more likely to be local based than text search.” – Neil Patel

It’s clear that voice search may be an untapped opportunity for your local business listing. Here’s how to take advantage of voice search trends.

How to Optimize for Voice Search

Although not everyone is using voice search (yet), you can still benefit from paying attention now.

To begin, take a look at the following voice search optimization strategies. Even if you implement one or two, you’ll be on the right track.

Add Structured Markup for Local Business Data

What does your Google My Business listing show?  When we said “show me intermountain healthcare,” here’s what we got:

Search results screenshot in Google for IHC, local business listing via Google My Business

Image Source: Google

As shown in the box on the right, Google provides a ‘knowledge graph’ for this particular provider.

What’s the significance of a knowledge graph? It’s an example of structured data (or structured markup).

Moz defines structured data this way:

“‘Structured data’ as a general term simply refers to any data which is organized (i.e., given ‘structure’). In an SEO context, (this term) refers to … some type of markup on a webpage, in order to provide additional detail around the page’s content.” – Bridget Randolph, Moz

Google’s knowledge graph box is just one example of structured markup that helps consumers better understand what your business is about.

First things first: Make sure you’ve claimed your Google My Business listing. Then you can add structured data.

How to add structured (schema) markup to your website

  1. Get started with Google’s structured data markup helper.
  2. Need another viewpoint? Read this.
  3. If you have a WordPress site, try the Schema App Structured Data plugin.
  4. For extra help, talk to your webmaster.
Google structured data markup helper

Image Source: Google

Think adding structured data is too challenging? Don’t give up. The payoff can be immense (and not just with voice search).

Answer more questions

“Alexa, does my business have a FAQ page?”

Answering customer questions is another great way to optimize your local business listing for voice search.

But what questions are your customers asking?

We used a tool called Answer the Public to find out. Here’s how it works:

  1. Using the dental industry as our model, we entered “dental cleaning” in the search bar.
  2. Answer the Public pulled up the following top results:
Ask the Public, keyword search, commonly asked questions, dental cleaning

Image Source: Ask the Public

Questions ranged from “are dental cleanings safe during pregnancy” to “how much dental cleaning costs without insurance” and “will dental cleaning hurt.”

In nearly every instance, people used how/why/where/which/what/who/when phraseology for their queries.

Also, most questions were long, suggesting a higher incidence of voice search.

How to answer your customers’ questions

By now, the implication should be obvious.

If you know the most popular questions in your industry—including local questions—you can answer them on your website, on Google My Business, and on social media.

Try these ideas:

  1. Get a feel for the results Siri, Cortana, Alexa, and other digital personal assistants are pulling up.
  2. Incorporate keywords like “near me” or “store hours” into your title tags, internal links, and anchor text.
  3. Mention landmarks near your location and other descriptions of your neighborhood.
  4. Always share your business information in simple text format on your site (usually in the footer).
  5. Make sure your NAP (name, address, phone number) are always up to date on all business listings.
  6. Ensure that your website is mobile friendly with responsive design and quick loading time.
  7. Create a FAQ page that lists common industry-specific questions and clearly answers them.
  8. If you have a blog, create an entire blog post that answers more common questions.
  9. Answer other questions within GMB or on your social channels.
  10. In general, incorporate more long-tail keywords on your website (see the ‘Ask the Public’ graphic above).
Example of FAQ page, via Kayako

Image Source: Kayako

Think More Like a Customer

You know the phrase: the more things change, the more they stay the same?

It’s that way with voice search, too.

Which is to say, you gotta think the way your customers do. For example, do your own voice searches include:

  • Natural speech patterns (e.g., “what does teeth whitening cost?” vs. “teeth whitening costs”)
  • Long-tail keyword searches (e.g., “find size large red angora sweaters near me”)
  • Searcher intent and consumer demographics (e.g., “what laptops are least expensive for college students?”)
  • Local searches (e.g., “where is the nearest veterinary clinic?”)

In all of this, empathy can take you at least part way.

For everything else, expect to pay due diligence and implement some of the strategies we’ve discussed in this post.

Customer service illustration by Ouch.pics

Illustration by Ouch.pics

What are you doing to optimize your local business listing for voice search? Reach us at @banyansocial and share your thoughts.

 

Beyond the Stars: How to Get Effective Reviews from Customers

Beyond the Stars: How to Get Effective Reviews from Customers

You’ve heard it said that consumers are the new marketing channel. When they talk, others listen. You should listen, too, so you know how to get effective reviews from customers.

Here’s what we mean.

There are 5-star reviews and there are effective reviews. Unfortunately, getting the former doesn’t guarantee the latter.

” ‘Good’ is not always positive. Remember, a ‘good’ review is the type of review that’s useful to the people who come along behind you.” – Alan Henry

Put another way, most businesses see 5-star reviews as the ticket to success, while most customers just want the insights that come along with those stars.

Of course, star ratings do matter. But if there’s no substance to the actual reviews, customers may look elsewhere.

The following example is instructive:

vague online review

Image Source: TrustPilot

If most of your five-star reviews look like this one, don’t expect prospective customers to be overly wowed.

It’s About Quality, Not Just Stars

We’re betting when you research service providers or products online, you pay more attention to detailed reviews and recommendations than the generic star ratings.

In fact, the more detailed the review, the more likely you are to visit a business’s website and enter the conversion funnel.

What Effective Reviews Look Like

You probably already encourage customers to review your business. But how can you nudge them to leave truly effective reviews?

Mad Dog Cycles review, Yelp

Image Source: Yelp Reviews

Before we talk strategy, let’s look closer at the benefits of effective reviews:

  • Effective reviews motivate businesses to continually refine their products and services.
  • An effective review also helps prospective customers make good decisions
  • This kind of authentic feedback restores consumer trust in online reviews as a whole.

Now, take a look at these tips from Trustpilot:

Customer Reviews tips

Image Source: Trustpilot

In a perfect world, every customer would follow these tips. But real-world customers require a little encouragement.

Attributes that Drive Action

No surprises; there are lots of review platforms are out there—with Yelp, Facebook, and Google firmly in the lead. And don’t forget niche reviewing sites like Healthgrades, TripAdvisor, Zillow, SeniorAdvisor, and … well, you get the idea.

If customers are reviewing you, they can do so on virtually any review platform. Why not guide them to the most helpful review options?

First off, a few basic rules:

  1. Determine which niche review sites are most critical to your industry.
  2. Direct customers towards a specific (non-Yelp) review platform where you want to see more reviews.
  3. With help from Banyan, customize your review invitation message to make the process easy.
  4. Carefully follow review policies to ensure your reviews stay secure and visible.
  5. Respond promptly to all incoming reviews.

Banyan reviews, customized review request mockup

Unsurprisingly, it takes consistent, daily effort to get effective reviews. So, get in the habit of asking.

How to Get Effective Reviews, Not Just Stars

What else can you do to get effective reviews?

Bottom line, incredible customer service is the most important key. And when things don’t go well, a prompt response is also critical.

“Although it can be difficult to swallow at times, you want your customers to leave honest reviews of their experience. If you do your part in providing what you promise, (rest) assured that the majority of your reviews (will be) positive.” – Fresh Lime

One more thing. Every positive experience can be turned into an effective review if you remember to ask while customers are with you.

Be Realistic

Of course, no one business has a perfect track record. And that’s okay.

According to Amy Osmond Cook (Forbes contributor), when online reviews average an A-minus, conversion rates tend to be higher.

Studies appear to support Cook’s claim. On average, star ratings between 4.2 and 4.5 hit the sweet spot and help customers convert. Such reviews also look more authentic and build trust.

So you don’t need all five-star reviews to win new customers. But you do need effective reviews and responses:

TripAdvisor review

Image Source: TripAdvisor

Be Respectful

As the above example shows, it pays to be respectful and responsive to every review. Your goodwill and prompt response will go a long way toward protecting your online reputation.

As needed, take conversations offline for customers who appear to be in attack mode.

In short, keep it classy.

How to Get Effective Reviews, SeniorAdvisor review

Image Source: SeniorAdvisor

Specific vs. Generic Information

So, what is it that makes some customers go into detail in their reviews while other reviewers say next to nothing?

Here’s exhibit A, a review from EMI Health:

Patient review for EMI Health

Image Source: Google Reviews

Not only did the reviewer share specific details about her experience, but she also strengthened a B2B relationship.

Even better, EMI responded promptly and respectfully.

Now, for exhibit B, a dermatology review:

Example of patient review, generic comments

Image Source: Vitals.com

While both examples are positive, the first includes more meaningful details about the reviewer’s experience.

Why the differences?

Some of it has to do with customer personality (not something you can change). But time crunches and vague requests can also lead to ineffective reviews.

Ask On Site

You can safely assume that most customers are in a hurry. If so, they’ll probably leave a star rating but not make specific comments.

To counter this tendency, ask customers for a review while they’re still with you. As needed, walk them through the basics and give them time to complete the review.

Here’s another easy idea you can try:

 

Rephrase Your Request

What do you ask customers before you text or email them the review link?

More often than not, comments like, “We’d love to know how your experience was today. Would you be willing to write a review and share the specifics with us?” are most effective.

The word “specifics” basically plants a seed in your customer’s mind that may blossom into a more detailed review.

You could also lead with, “You are one of our favorite customers. Would you be willing to share a little of your history with us in an online review? We know that would be valuable to other customers.”

The trick is to ask for reviews in a way that motivates customers to get specific.

Post Helpful Reviews

To encourage more insightful reviews, it also helps to post some of the best on your website in the form of testimonials.

This strategy puts effective reviews front and center for your website visitors.

Testimonial page from Marschall Road Animal Hospital

Image Source: marschallroadvet.com

Also, when customers get specific, don’t be short on the praise! Tell them how much their words mean to you and how helpful their comments will be to others.

Customized Review Requests

As mentioned above, it matters how you ask customers to review you.

Generally, a simple “How was your experience?” will prompt a more detailed response than “Can you rate us?”

If you’re a Banyan reviews customer, you can also customize the invitation you text to customers.

Let’s say you’d like more helpful reviews on Google and Healthgrades. After connecting to your Google My Business page and Healthgrades in the Banyan app, you pull up a review template similar to this one:

Customized review invitation message, BirdEye

With a flexible template, you can customize your message to motivate effective reviews.

For example, you can change your default image and adjust your message to something like, “Hi Garrett, we’d love you to share the details of your visit today! Just click this link.”

Likewise, you can enable Facebook Recommendations on your Facebook Page so that customers can use specific tags to describe their experience.

Read more about Facebook Recommendations

Where to Go from Here

The world of online reviews grows every day, fed by the average consumer’s appetite for information:

“Today’s consumers consult an average of 10.4 sources of information before making a purchase. Voracious information seeking has become deeply ingrained … and we can envision no scenario in which they will see traditional marketing as a better provider of product information.” – Harvard Business Review

Well, there you have it. Online reviews are here to stay, and they’re much more than just star ratings.

As you work to provide your customers with a great experience, they’ll want to tell others. The easier you make the process, the more effective those reviews will be.

 

Need help with your reviews strategy? Check out our Banyan Reviews page.

 

2018OCT_Blog_Shining-1440x721

Scary Review Policies Straight Out of ‘The Shining’

Just in time for Halloween, a tale of review policies gone amok. What could be scarier?

Picture this: It’s late October at the imposing Overlook Hotel in Colorado. Enter Jack Torrance (off-season caretaker), his wife Wendy, and their young son Danny. As an aspiring writer, Jack plans to devote all his downtime to writing a novel in the empty hotel.

But the hotel has other plans.

So begins Stanley Kubrick’s cult classic film adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining. As viewers discover, Jack and Co. will face a lot more problems than just writer’s block.

The Ghosts of Past Reviews

Like the hotel in The Shining, online reputation management can sometimes look intimidating, if not plain scary.

Are negative reviews hiding in the shadows, never to be completely banished? What about all the conflicting review policies trotted out by Google, Facebook, and Yelp?

When it comes to customer reviews, you’re told to do this, but never that. And erratic policy updates can leave you as confused as a bat-wielding Wendy Torrance.

Never fear. Like Danny Torrance, we’re ‘shining’ a light on the hidden hazards of online review policies. All while keeping your business safe and reputable.

The A-maze-ing World of Online Reputation Management

Yes, the Overlook Hotel is big and creepy. But what about the maze—a labyrinth of tall hedges that leads to dead ends at virtually every turn?

(You’re thinking of Jack chasing Danny right now, aren’t you. Yeah—we are too).

Jack Torrance and the maze in 'The Shining' (graphic by Gavin Gunther for Banyan), Oct. 2018

Well, that gigantic maze is the perfect metaphor for the world of online reputation management, which also has more than its share of twists and turns.

Let’s go back in time to illustrate this.

The Wild West, aka the Beginnings of Online Reviews

Way, wayy back in 1999, online reviews started to be a thing. Remember rateitall.com? As Matt Jones of WebPunch puts it, this was also a time for bashing competitors.

Think of this era as the Wild West where official review policies were slim and none.

Back then, positive reviews came quid pro quo from partner businesses. And you better believe that many businesses hacked their competitors’ reputations just like Jack with his axe.

Luckily, Amazon arrived on the scene and set the gold standard for authenticity and reliability in reviews. Sadly, that trend lasted about as long as Jack’s sanity.

"Here's Johnny" illustration by Gavin Gunther for Banyan blog, The Shining

Flash forward to a day when online reviews—and review policies—are as plentiful as skeletons in the Overlook Hotel ballroom.

Online Review Policies and Dick Hallorann

Yep, online reviews platforms are everywhere now. Think of the big players: Google, Bing, Yelp, and social platforms like Facebook. These are supplemented by multiple niche review sites like TripAdvisor or Doctor.com.

For every reviews site, there are dozens of review policies that pop out of doorways without warning: The no-gating policy. The no-bulk-solicitation policy. And a host of others.

In theory, these policies are designed to protect both businesses and customers. Much like the Overlook’s head cook, Dick Hallorann, tries to protect Wendy and Danny.

But sometimes, review policies unwittingly make things worse.

Fans of The Shining know that Hallorann warns Danny against entering Room 237 and later tries to warn Wendy after he sees a horrific psychic vision.

The forest rangers also try to check in via radio transmission, but to no avail.

Why do all these warnings go unheeded? In a phrase: communication failure, something that also afflicts a lot of review policies.

When Review Policies Interrupt Your Message

In the case of The Shining, a massive snowstorm knocks out phone lines while Jack purposely disables the radio.

And in the case of online review policies, complex algorithms often knock out reviews that don’t comply with the rules.

Take Yelp, the reviews platform whose policies sometimes penalize even innocent businesses. Or Google, whose policies now forbid review gating (i.e., approaching only customers who will give positive feedback).

The fact is, multiple review policies contain loopholes and restrictions that may appear more foe than friend to local businesses.

Let’s consider a few of the top platforms’ policies.

Google Review Policies That Live in the Dark

Not long after viewers suspect Jack Torrance is off his rocker, a mysterious character named Delbert Grady shows up. It’s Delbert, of course, who went similarly nuts in an earlier decade at the Overlook Hotel.

Whenever Delbert Grady appears, he’s sharing advice—couched as sly innuendo—with Jack. Basically, Delbert fuels Jack’s madness and murderous tendencies.

The Google/Delbert analogy may seem like a stretch—but there are a few similarities.

Delbert Grady ('The Shining'), illustration by Gavin Gunther for Banyan blog

First, Google hides its review policies so deeply in its support pages that most humans have a tough time seeing them (at least, not quickly or easily). Delbert also stays hidden most of the time.

Protecting Your Reviews from Google’s Algorithm

Like Delbert Grady, Google is a powerful motivator. If Google deletes customer reviews and you don’t know why, ask yourself:

  1. Are you soliciting only positive reviews? That’s considered “gating” your review for positive sentiment. Instead, use Banyan Reviews to ask customers a neutral question: “Would you leave a Google review?”
  2. Too many reviews showing up within a short period? Google’s algorithm may flag them—and possibly delete them. Luckily, Banyan can help keep reviews consistent.
  3. Do legitimate reviews get deleted because they look ‘spammy’? Google usually deletes reviews from the same IP address, so turn off your free WiFi and let your customers use their own data plan.
  4. Are employee reviews flagged by Google? Encourage employees to review your business via Glassdoor, Indeed, or another appropriate platform—not Google.
  5. Google taking down anonymous reviews of your business? Concentrate on providing such great service that your customers are willing to log into Google and use their real name when reviewing you.
  6. Getting more than one review by a customer? Google may flag these reviews. Instead, limit how often you ask the same customers for reviews.
  7. Can’t see any reviews after your address changes? You probably forgot to update your Google My Business page. Let Banyan Listings help update your NAP so you don’t lose valuable reviews.

Jack's typewriter from 'The Shining,' illustration by Gavin Gunther for Banyan blog

Too many review policies may make Google a dull platform, but—like the thoughts in Jack’s head—those policies are persuasive and powerful. Best pay attention.

The Two Faces of Yelp Review Policies

Ah, Yelp. Customers trust you, but you can be a tough taskmaster.

Back in 2004, the creators of Yelp recognized the need for an online review platform that sorted out the trustworthy businesses from the shady ones. The rest is history.

Still, for most businesses, Yelp’s review policies can seem pretty daunting.

Remember the lovely lady in Room 237 who tries to seduce Jack, only to turn into a hideous hag that laughs maniacally as she chases Jack down the hotel corridor?

What a nightmare!

Room 237, succubus in bathtub, 'The Shining,' illustration by Gavin Gunther for Banyan blog

We get it—Yelp is a useful platform that many businesses still rely on. But its review policies are plenty tough.

As Yelp itself says:

  • First, don’t ask others to review your business.
  • Likewise, don’t ask staff members to collect reviews.
  • Don’t run surveys or contests that ask for positive reviews.

Gulp. So, is there an ‘indirect’ way to encourage customer reviews on Yelp without violating these policies?

The Only Safe Yelp Strategy

According to marketing and SEO expert Jayson DeMers, your safest bet is to display Yelp’s free marketing materials at your business and refer to Yelp on your website.

True, this method takes longer than directly asking customers for reviews. But do you really want Yelp to chase you down the corridor?

Forbes contributor Ryan Erskine offers a different view:

It’s not clear how Yelp hopes to catch business owners who solicit reviews. If the main goal is to improve review credibility, then why not make it harder to leave an anonymous review by requiring some sort of verification? Or why not follow in Google’s footsteps and fight spammers with a more sophisticated filter algorithm?Yelp’s algorithm already takes a hard stance on suspicious reviews, filtering out 25% of reviews (often including real ones) and preventing them from affecting businesses’ scores. Not only is Yelp’s Don’t Ask policy bad for consumers and business owners, but it’s also bad for Yelp. – Ryan Erskine for Forbes

If your business still relies on Yelp reviews, make sure to display Yelp badges and stickers prominently on all your materials. It’s the safest bet.

Even better—treat your customers so well that they’ll automatically want to rave about you on every review platform.

Playing With Facebook Recommendations

Fans of The Shining can’t get enough of Jack and Wendy’s psychic son, Danny, and his alter-ego Tony.

In fact, it’s Danny (via Tony) who immediately senses that something is wrong in the Overlook Hotel. Later, it’s Tony who reveals just how bad things really are.

REDRUM, door in 'The Shining,' Danny Torrance, illustration by Gavin Gunther for Banyan Blog

Like Danny, Facebook knows what it’s like to be in a tough, even dangerous, spot (Cambridge Analytica, anyone?). The good news is, both Danny and Facebook are determined to overcome their problems.

So, why did Facebook recently roll out Facebook Recommendations? Were Facebook reviews a problem?

The answer is, probably not. But as Facebook continues its quest for greater privacy (along with less fake news and more user-friendly content), its review policies also face scrutiny.

“People use Recommendations to ask their communities where to go, where to eat, or where to shop. We’re making those Recommendations more prominent on Pages.” – Facebook

The Rules of the Game

According to Facebook, only Pages that allow for Recommendations will show a rating. Also, Recommendations have to be shared publicly in order to be included.

Some businesses feel nervous about Facebook’s decision to kill off reviews, partly because Recommendations uses a scoring system that looks different from the familiar star ratings. Here’s how it works:

In a nutshell, Facebook assigns businesses a five-point score based on how many people recommend their Facebook Page. Happily, past reviews and ratings also factor into the total score.

Not half bad. In this way, the new score looks a lot like the old star ratings.

Most social marketers are optimistic about the benefits of Facebook Recommendations, which encourages more user-generated content while increasing a business’s overall reach.

Like the ghostly Grady twins who appear to Danny, Facebook clearly wants to ‘play’ with its users ‘forever and ever and ever.’

Danny Torrance from 'The Shining,' Grady Twins in hallway, illustration by Gavin Gunther for Banyan blog

Just make sure you educate yourself about Facebook Recommendations so your business can stay ahead of the game.

The Last Word in Niche Review Policies

We mentioned some niche reviewing platforms earlier. Could any of these platforms’ policies come back to haunt you?

In The Shining, viewers learn that Jack’s history goes back more than a few years at the Overlook Hotel. In a similar way, your reviews can stay online for ages. Maybe even forever.

What’s more, reviews can show up on niche review sites unexpectedly.

By paying exclusive attention to Facebook Recommendations or Google and Yelp reviews, you might miss an outlier review on another platform.

Be a Good Caretaker

Let’s say you’re a healthcare provider who regularly encourages patient reviews on Google and Facebook. What if someone reviews you on Healthgrades, Vitals, or ZocDoc?

Luckily, Banyan Reviews makes it easy to include industry-specific reviews in your overall strategy.

You can also automate your choice of reviews platforms in your reviews requests and consolidate all your incoming reviews to one dashboard so it’s easy to respond.

With a little help from Banyan, you can handle just about any reviews policy you come across.

And remember: when it comes to online reviews, “YOU are the caretaker. You’ve always been the caretaker.”

 

Need help with online reviews? Stop the horror show and contact Banyan today.