WON Marketing Blog

3rd Local SEO Pillar for Attorneys and Law Firm – Client Engagement and Reviews

Considering reviews, we’re going to be looking at the benefits of reviews, quantity versus quality, establishing profile Authority and social and review ranking, review filters, review creation, review acquisition strategies and patterns, Rich snippets, review coding and finally an overview of review sites their impact industry perception.

What is a Review?

A review is a personal evaluation of a movie, publication, game, music , book; a piece of hardware like a car, home appliance, or computer; or an event, such as a live music concert, a play, and finally we’re here to talk about reviews for businesses, such as Restaurants, dry cleaners, apartment management companies, mechanics, doctors, day spas, limousine services, law firms, and other brick and mortar businesses who lose and gain customers daily based on their past and current customers’ opinions.

There are 1000s of local business review sites and directories, but as a business owner, you should first pay attention to the truly important ones already showing up in Google, Yahoo!, and Bing for your keywords. You can list your business on the sites I’m going to talk about later where past and current customers can review for free, although some have paid versions in order to “expand your page” like  MerchantCircle and CitySearch, it’s not always necessary because they will take reviews all day (more content for them).

Review Benefits

There are many reasons that benefit a local business in terms of reviews. While considering online marketing principles, reviews accomplish three things.  Ranking, conversion, and service area. There are many misconceptions about how reviews influence ranking, many don’t consider the importance of conversion and finally reviews solve a very common problem among many types of businesses.

Directly from one of Google’s own pages when discussing complex code for micro data formatting to convey ratings they have the following text “This section describes how you can mark up your rating information to use images (for example, an image of four stars) to convey ranking information. “

This is yet theonly public information from Google that explicitly says reviews influence rank, but this is enough proof for me.

Getting customer reviews is an important step in improving your rankings in the Google Local Business Results. Ask for a review anytime someone compliments your services. Implementing a customer review policy in your company could dramatically improve your rankings.

Ranking

There are several factors that can be measured for particular review by a search engine. For example, quantity of reviews, quality of reviews, review acquisition, location or review, review acquisition patterns among sources, data of sources and of course source politics.  We are going to be taking a look at all of these factors and what influence they might have on your ranking.

Conversion

When a prospect lands on a particular places page, we already know that reviews are a high influence towards the consumer’s perception of the business. We’re going to be considering why only a small number reviews are shown and discussed the social review ranking within these places profiles and how each of these reviews influences the consumers conversion towards a call to action on that business.

We’re going to be considering which review sites have high influence within Google places and how to influence the activity in a positive manner for each of those sites. By driving a high quality review system into a local business insurers that properties like Google places only shows reviews that provide the highest conversion to a call to action. While some businesses are focusing on Internet marketing efforts of driving traffic, few go to the length of improving their conversion ratio and therefore there is a massive opportunity to drive a call to action for your clients. Make sure you make this an important part of your strategy for your clients to ensure a high quality service provided to them and to help keep your clients for long-term.

Service Area

Most service-based businesses face a significant problem when marketing themselves on the Internet. For a variety of reasons, different businesses in different geographical areas clearly different service areas. Service area is defined by the area in which the business will provide its services or the geographical reach in which customers will travel in order to do business with that company.

Reviews are a very important part of establishing trust towards establishing your service area in the eyes of online websites like Google places. Let’s face it, a business’ service area essentially is where their customers reside. Whether it’s a business that travels to a consumer’s home or business or the company that tracks clientele to its storefront, its service area defined by a web of its customers. We know the search engines know exactly location of where these reviews are being left based on GPS, IP address information, cellular triangulation or user input. When users leave reviews that are trusted more than less authoritative reviewers, those particular reviews provide further trust to a search engines on establishing a web of your reviews.

Local Search Review Profiles

Reviewers, Trust and Authority

A reviewer can either be a guest or a registered user, typically on a review site. We already know that reviews can be left on any website, but trust is assigned to that particular website and review. We are going to be taking a look at a list of sites that we know of high trusted authorities within the major search engines. Within these sites is a community of registered users. When a registered user leaves a review, that user could have a review that offers tremendous value or could be a bogus review from a competitor. Both the search engine and the review sites and an algorithm are in place to rank reviews

Review Profile Usage Patters

The usage patterns of a particular user within a review site can potentially have many factors that are measured. For example, a reviewer might consistently have reviews that are three stars or less, but we know published by yelp that 85% of all reviews across their site and the web of three stars or more. Therefore the user that consistently has lower score reviews, will be assigned less trust for their reviews because they do not follow the norm of the general population.

Another example is the reviewer that has multiple profiles on multiple sites and leaves multiple negative reviews for one business when this goes against their typical review submission pattern. This would raise a red flag for search engine of less trust within that particular review.

There are likely dozens and dozens of scenarios that we can come up with where consumers try and harm a local business in the search engines but because of filters and an algorithm in place, the review sites and search engines are getting much better at being  able to sniff out these people. In other words don’t fret from a few negative reviews and focus on pushing your happy customers to leave reviews. When I say pushing, I mean giving them the right tools so they can go ahead and say all those nice things that they are to have been saying.

Establish Profile Authority & Social Review Ranking

Establishing profile Authority can be a little bit of a challenge because you are attempting to influence the customers of your client. You need to work with your client to ensure that they are doing everything they can to help influence acquisitions in a positive manner and in turn focusing on those profiles that have high authority.

It is common sense that a search engine’s goal is to provide the best user experience for their own users. It makes sense that the best user experience would be to have the most democratic unbiased information for consumers to make decisions about that business. So, this is what the filters and the algorithms are consistently trying to accomplish. As much as we can try and learn everything we can about all of those factors and give the search engines exactly what we think they want, it is obvious to focus on our clients customers rather than the search engines provide the best user experience.

Profile Authority is established by users who have a common typical review pattern. There are certain norms and thresholds that dictate what a common typical review pattern is, but the easiest way to ensure that your customers are reviewers with high authority are reviewers that essentially engage in a community and a natural organic form. The best way to ensure that are reviewers are natural and organic, is for us to provide the education and the tools to leave these reviews on sites that have high influence and to ensure that these reviewers are consistently engaging in their community and reviewing multiple other businesses in their area.

Drive Education to Build Profile Authority

You have many options available to you on how to drive the appropriate education to your customers’ customers.

We are going to take a look at a review acquisition strategy. There is a document that is included in The Accelerated Program for Local Online Marketers course and is intended to help educate our customers’ on the process to leave reviews. This is an excellent piece to drive education to your customers to encourage them to encourage their customers to continually leave reviews. I will cover this further in another video.

As you might know, e-mail marketing is a critical strategy for local business to market themselves in my opinion. You can drive short education pieces through e-mail marketing to your customers’ customers.  This will give you an opportunity to potentially earn the right to providing you know marketing as a service.

With all SEO campaigns now, we install a WordPress blog for our clients. This is another great place to continually drive content about reviews to educate our customers community.

Creating and sending content to be published by local networking groups and theme related sites is a great way to drive education and acquire a citation on your client’s behalf.

Obviously, social media campaign with links that drive to content sources that add value to the end-user is a strategy that works well when you have qualified followers or friends.

We can discuss different strategies that you can provide education to the end-user about the value of reviews for both of them and their vendor. The point here is that we have to drive this education to the end-users or our system reviews might fail.

Testimonials and Check-Ins

Testimonials, reviews and check ins are channels of communication from the customer to the business. In essence, this is exactly what business is, communication from a business to a customer and vice versa.

You have a lot of choices on how to market your clients online, but I assure you if you focus your efforts on the one item that is most important to every single business then you will get success for your client. In other words, focus on the customer. Pretty simple, huh?

Testimonials are intermediated word-of-mouth marketing, and they do work when credible. In fact they work very well indeed if you work hard to get the right kind of testimonial. They can provide the much-needed social proofthat tips a wavering prospect into a paying customer.

A researcher named Mehrabian was particularly interested in how certain listeners received  their information about a speaker’s general attitude in situations where the facial expression, tone, and words are sending conflicting signals.

The results are impressive.

  • 55% from the visual component
  • 38% from the auditory component
  • 7% from language

This means that the words we choose influence human behavior with only a weight of 7%, our tonality represents 38% and our physiology represents 55%!

If this is true, then I want video testimonials of people saying great things about my company!

Social Check-Ins

Many social networking services, such as Foursquare, Facebook, Yelp and Gowalla allow users to “check in” to a physical place and share their location with their friends.

Users can check in to a specific location by text messaging or by using a mobile app on a smartphone–the application will use the phone’s GPS to find the current location.

Many apps have a “Places” button where a user can see a list of nearby places into which the user can check in. If a location is not on the nearby places list, the user can add the location directly from the phone. Once a user has checked in, they have the option of sharing their location with friends in services such as Twitter or Facebook.

Check-in and Location Based Marketing

Check-ins, badges, Mayors, stamps on passports, rewards, and other new concepts from the past are popping up everywhere on the Internet as the latest trend in location based services are applied to marketing purposes.   It’s a blast from the past, isn’t it?  This is just a loyalty program.  No different than my coffee punch card, but on steroids.  Now I get the 8thcup for free, and all my friends know about it. What about flying?  I check-in at the counter.  If I give them my information, I get rewards with ‘air miles’ now when I check in.  I do something, exchange some value and then get rewarded if we exchange information. Same model here folks, maybe this will tell us something about how these check-ins might work for a business.

Volume and Velocity

But let’s slow down for a moment,  there is a big difference between some of the old check-ins the new ones.  We know that checking out at a supermarket or checking-in in an airplane typically means an exchange in value.  They paid someone.  Take Foursquare check-ins….the rewards, on the other hand, are offered to individuals that just showed up.  I’m not quite sure yet on this.  Rewarding someone for showing up makes little sense.  Arguably the reward gets them in the door, and they need to be in the door to buy.

The real value of Check-ins should reward more than just physical presence. But shouldn’t the real question be is how you get the customer to the door from the beginning.

Local Search Reviews, Rich Snippets and Ratings

Sometimes I have to do something in this business that isn’t so much fun.  HTML is one of those.  Coding in fact is it.  Like accounting, I wish I never have to deal with it but you do.

I’m no coder.  But I have to have some knowledge of it, at least from a practical standpoint.

Rich Snippets are a fancy way of saying “I want a review to be on my website and I want Google to count it as a review”.

Or I frequently hear that people have a hard time getting a great customer to leave a review.  I think of one student of mine, another Scott, who struggled with this because, his client base, as a handy man, were generally much older and hated the computer.  They loved him, loved his work and wanted to help him grow, even though they agreed to leave a review, no one did.  This is a solution for Scott to get handwritten testimonials, scan the images, attached the images to his website along with some special code so the search engines count those reviews.  When done properly, these reviews have significant impact.

Rich Snippets for Local Search

Reviews and testimonials don’t have to be on a review site. They can be on your own website.

When review information is marked up in the body of a web page, a search engine can identify it and use it to understand and present the information on your places pages. For example, it can be used to create rich snippets to be displayed on a search results page, or on a Place Page. Review information such as ratings and descriptions can help users to better identify pages with good content.

Beyond improving the presentation of your pages in search results, rich snippetsalso help users find your website when it references a local place. By using structured markupHTML to describe a business or organization mentioned on your page, you not only improve the Web by making it easier to recognize references to specific places but also help the search engines  surface your site in local search results.

Use structured markupto help search engines identify the places mentioned on your site. If your site contains reviewsor other information about businesses and organizations, then the structured markup helps precisely correlate your pages with the place mentioned.

With structured markup, such as Microdata or RDF, you can label each piece of text to make it clear that it represents a certain type of data like a business name, an address, or a review rating. This is done by adding HTML tags that help computers understand the data. These tags don’t affect the appearance of your pages, but Google and any other services that look at the HTML can use the tags for a more precise understanding of the items referenced on the page.

Review Ratings

Most ratings systems use a 5-point scale

By default, Google assumes that your site uses a 5-point scale, where 5 is the best possible rating and 1 is the worst.

Many reviews sites show ratings on a different scale-for example a rating that ranges from 1-10 points or from 0-100%.

Buyers who complete a Google Checkout transaction will receive an email asking them to review their experience.   This doesn’t apply for most business, but interesting they are promoting solicitation of reviews, where Yelp is hard against soliciting reviews.  I don’t promote review solicitation, unless the customer has already verbally expressed a positive experience, in which time you can ask to have those words ‘digitized’.

Buyers reviews include a star rating on a scale of one-to-five as well as an optional comment field to discuss delivery time, their customer service experience, and overall satisfaction.

With the introduction of the open social graph at F8 by Facebook, I suspect soon we’ll see and open business graph, and using Facebook’s comment fields, it’s likely and possible we’ll see the rating system imposed on their status fields.

Your overall rating score is the average number of stars awarded by all buyers who have posted ratings for you.

Response

If you’re unhappy with a buyer’s comments, search engines encourage you to contact the buyerdirectly to resolve any disputes or issues that may have led to a low rating.  This is discussed under the topic “Online Reputation Management’.

You may also respond to a review by clicking Respond publiclybelow the buyer’s review, which will append your comments on the Review Detail. You can use this field to explain a situation that may have led to the low rating. For example, if the business was closed due to bad weather, you could respond publicly with the note with that reason.  The buyer will then have one more opportunity to respond to your statement. These comments will appear beneath your response.

Crawling & Coding

As mentioned, with structured markup you can label each piece of text to make it clear that it represents a certain type of data. This is done by adding HTML tags that help computers understand the data.

You can mark up either individual reviews or aggregate review information—for example, the average rating for a local business or the total number of user reviews submitted.

Review Properties

Google recognizes the following Review properties, derived from the hReviewmicroformat. In general, you can use the same property name for microdata, microformats, and RDFa; where the microdata/RDFa and microformats property names differ.

Here is the HTML code marked up with microdata:

<div>

<div itemscope itemtype=”http://data-vocabulary.org/Review”>

<span itemprop=”itemreviewed”>NAPAREX</span>

Reviewed by <span itemprop=”reviewer”>Ronco</span> on

<time itemprop=”dtreviewed” datetime=”2009-01-06″>Jan 6</time>.

<span itemprop=”summary”>We Recommend Naparex!</span>

<span itemprop=”description”>I work for an international telecommunictons company and NAPAREX has proven time and time again to make sure all of our shipping needs are taken care of.  In the face paced industry that we in, it is imperative that our shipments get to their destination on time and NAAPREX has always stuck to their delivery dates.</span>

Rating: <span itemprop=”rating”>5</span>

</div>

</div>

 

There is something I want you to notice here. According to the recommendations, we’re not linking to the user’s profiles.

Add the following code to the markup that links their name to their professional profile.

<a href=http://ca.linkedin.com/pub/franco-raso/6/423/13b>Ronco</a>so it

looks like this now

<div>

<div itemscope itemtype=”http://data-vocabulary.org/Review”>

<span itemprop=”itemreviewed”>NAPAREX</span>

Reviewed by <span itemprop=”reviewer”><a href=http://ca.linkedin.com/pub/franco-raso/6/423/13b>Ronco</a> </span> on

<time itemprop=”dtreviewed” datetime=”2009-01-06″>Jan 6</time>.

<span itemprop=”summary”>We Recommend Naparex!</span>

<span itemprop=”description”>I work for an international telecommunictons company and NAPAREX has proven time and time again to make sure all of our shipping needs are taken care of.  In the face paced industry that we in, it is imperative that our shipments get to their destination on time and NAAPREX has always stuck to their delivery dates.</span>

Rating: <span itemprop=”rating”>5</span>

</div>

</div>

 

Once you link to their profile, if the customer is willing, this is the BIG kahuna for trust.  Ask them to spread the word of their testimonial on their social media profiles.  This closes the link and will assign significant trust to the review directly on the website and will show high in the SERPs.

Local Review Acquisition Strategies

Sometimes you just to do something in life that isn’t that much work but has a major impact. This is my review acquisition strategy.

Testimonials and reviews are very important for a variety of different reasons. This is a system that is intended to be implemented into any small business to continually encourage reviews. Motivational systems can also be added to the system to further motivate employees and partners that help encourage reviews. I have no problem giving hundred dollar bonus on a monthly basis to employees who get the most reviews, even for our customers.

I have developed a review acquisition strategy that you can drop into your client’s business to help acquire several reviews from reviewers that have high authority.

This is a document that our agency gives to every one of our search marketing customers. Our goal is to give them the education that they need and the management tools in order to continually encourage reviews on their business. They should not solicit reviews ever, but recognize when a customer says something nice about their business that they encourage the customer to make the effort to digitize their complements and leave a review online.

This education is accomplished with this document. In a document provides education on an

  • overview of reviews
  • what are reviews
  • the value of receiving reviews in the online marketing game
  • different review sites
  • implications to the search engines
  • good versus bad reviews and finally
  • customer e-mail template for encouraging customer reviews.

The challenge here is that you are relying on your customer to encourage activity inside of their business that demonstrates results that you are measured on. You obviously cannot force your customer to do anything and they are paying you for results. This is where you have to over deliver.

The education in this document provides supportive evidence that reviews are extremely important for their business without the implications of ranking in the search engines. In other words, if the search engines didn’t exist this document would still exist.

We provide a little bit of education on conversion and how reviews with a positive rating have increased customer spend by over 20%, provided by a leading web research organization, Comscore.

We also provide some education that your customers will get ahead of the game by establishing trust towards their service area.

Sometimes customers get a little bit scared or concerned about negative reviews online.  The fact is that no matter what anybody does they are eventually going to get negative reviews. By introducing the concept of Online Reputation Management, which is another section and topic included in this course, we introduce a new service to the customer and the importance of having the systems in place to measure their online reputation.

We also discussed the importance of and sending your employees and contractors to encourage these reviews. A delivery service person may want to keep their business card with them to hand out to happy customers. The more they hand out the greater their reward.

If a customer ever tells you how much they value your service or asks what they can do for you, ask them for a testimonial. In fact, even if they don’t, ask anyway if they’ve said they like your service! Testimonials are thatvaluable.

Local Review Sites

A review site is a websitewhere reviews can be posted about businesses, products, or services. In some cases, even people.  These days, these websites are using  Web 2.0techniques to gather reviews from customers. Sometimes they may employ professional writers to author reviews on the topic of concern for the site.

Review sites are typically also portal sites and data aggregators. However, not all review sites are portal site and not all portal sites are review sites. For this reason we have to classify certain sites as review sites.

Industry Perception

Many, in fact most review sites make little attempt to control postings, or to verify the reviews. Faultfinders claim that positive reviews are sometimes written by the businesses or individuals being reviewed, while negative reviews might be written by competitors, disgruntled employees, or anyone with a grudge against the business being reviewed. In addition, studies of research methodology have shown that in forums where people are able to post opinions publicly, group polarization often occurs, and the result is very positive comments, very negative comments, and little in between, meaning that those who would have been in the middle are either silent or pulled to one extreme or the other.  This is critical to understand.  As you implement a review acquisition strategy for your customers it is imperative that you identify and focus on your clients top customers immediately to leave reviews.  This will initially establish a positive should group polarization occur in your clients profile page.   Another criticism against sites that rely on income from businesses is that they are reluctant to post negative since that undermines their business model. This leads to a conflict of interest.

The fact is that the review sites, like Google, want to filter all the garbage.  Sometimes they don’t get it right, but they are always looking to improve their algorithms. We have to assume they are getting better daily, like Google with their algorithm for search. With this assumption it makes no sense to me to game the review filters.  It’s like chasing the algorithm.  We shouldn’t be focusing on either quantity or quality of reviews, but focus on the natural organic adoption or reviews with existing customers. I feel if this is our objective we will always meet the needs set forth by the review sites.

Forget those Critics!

Most review sites admit that reviews may not be objective, and that ratings may not be statistically valid.  I know this will work itself out over time.  Most consumers are yet trained to leave reviews. Many businesses have yet adopted a acquisition strategy.  If the trends continue, like a 100% increase in reviews for Yelp in 2010, then this is likely the year that’ll curb much of this critics.  It’s for this reason that we tested profile review authority and sure enough, different profiles are assigned different levels of trust.  Just focus on quality and you’ll clear those filters.  Let’s talk more about filters now.

Review Filters

As we have been talking about all of the review sites have review filters. Here’s some information about those filters.

Reviews that reflect perfectly legitimate experiences are sometimes filtered out by the review filter’s algorithmic processes.  Don’t worry about this.  To solve this, have the reviewer leave additional, unbiased reviews for other local businesses.  Within a few weeks, that reviewers profile filter should be lifted.

Reviews are never deleted by the review filter; they are always shown on users’ profile pages but not the business that is being reviewed unless you dig deep. The review filter simply groups established users’ reviews from their user pages onto business pages. This automated process sometimes creates the perception that reviews are being deleted and re-added over time; what’s actually happening is users are becoming more-or-less established over time.

The best word of mouth is organic and unsolicited. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, Yelp discourages business owners from asking people to write reviews about their businesses. It’s tough for an algorithm to tell the difference between a business owner aggressively putting a laptop in front of a client and saying, “Give me 5 stars!” and that same business owner flipping the laptop around and manufacturing a fake 5-star review about themselves.  Follow my review acquisition process to avoid violating the T & C’s of Yelp and others, yet still have the systems to drive unsolicited, organic reviews.

Both positive and negative reviews can be affected. This is to protect Dentist A from  Dentist B’s writing of malicious 1-star reviews about his competitor.

SEO helps here too.  Identifying relevant, authoritative sites to have links going to a user’s profile will increase the trust and authority for that profile, as long as it’s relevant sites and not just link building.

Local Reviews Website List

This should not be confused as the data provider list to acquire citations.  The list is very similar, but these reviews sites are listed in order of review preference. Please be aware as these companies grow and change, some might be better, others might get worse.  Use this list priority with a grain of salt and do your due diligence to uncover other sites.

  • Google
  • Yelp
  • City Search
  • Yahoo Local
  • InsiderPages
  • Angie’s List
  • Judy’s Book
  • Superpages
  • Merchant Circle
  • Insider Pages
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