Yelp and the challenges of reputation management

Online reputation management

One of the business goals of any online marketing efforts should be to improve the business’ online reputation. Some of my clients are in health-related fields like dentistry and allergy, so it is important to be familiar with the main players in online reputation management for their respective fields. An informative survey by SoftwareAdvice indicates that:

online-reviews-patients

  • HealthGrades is the most popular online review site, but Yelp is the most trusted.
  • Patients are most likely to use online reviews as a first step in finding a new doctor.
  • Patients using online reviews are primarily seeking information related to the accuracy of diagnoses, physicians’ years of experience and wait times.

Since Yelp is so important, having a progressively positive collection of Yelp reviews becomes very important. The challenge is when a business has only a few reviews and one of them happens to be negative but written by an established Yelp user.  The second challenge is when the positive reviews are by new Yelp accounts and for some mysterious reason are flagged as not trustworthy.

That is exactly the challenge we are dealing with so I wanted to outline some of the steps to address what could potentially damage the business.

How to improve our Yelp reviews

1. Move positive reviews out of the Yelp filter:

Our problematic experience with Yelp reviews is not unique to us. This Time article provides a good summary:

The trustworthiness of Yelp, Angie’s List, and other “unbiased” ratings services is called into question in a new study by Consumer Reports. And the consumer advocacy publication is hardly the only one taking issue with user-review sites lately.

Many Yelp customers indicate that legitimate reviews are filtered out by Yelp. Many people suspect it is a way to force business to pay for their listings, making Yelp a nightmare to deal with, yet the reality is the influence of Yelp is too significant to ignore.

LocalVox has a very specific article on how to avoid the Yelp review filter and so does Go Fish Digital.

Based on them a specific recommendation for the Yelp business account holders is to reach out to the clients whose reviews have been filtered out and:

– Ask them to add a profile picture. Images make a user look more engaged with the site and less likely to get filtered out.
– Ask them to “check in” on their mobile phones from a few local places. Again, this indicates to the Yelp algorithm that they are human beings who engage with the app consistently.
– Ask them to be active. Although your end goal is to get the review for your business out of the filter, it helps if the Yelper is a frequent user. If they write a handful of reviews, it is more likely to get the review of your business up onto the main page.

Based on an article summarizing these strategies for avoiding the filter review, the most specific recommendation to us as Yelp users is to to make it a habit to:

– Write a bunch of Yelp reviews.

– If possible, link our Yelp accounts with our Facebook accounts.
– Make Yelp friends and like their reviews. Follow Yelpers with positive reviews.

– Turn to friends and families (and that should include friends and families of the staff) and ask them for Yelp (and other online review sites) reviews.

– Turn to loyal patients — in the office with the wifi easily accessible and after the office with emails.

– Reach out to vendors with whom are in already constant interactions and it would be helpful to ask them to consider giving us a good Yelp

Last but not least — Yelp alternatives

While Yelp is the biggest company in online reviews, it is by no means the only one. We should continue working on improving our reviews and rankings on Google +, Facebook, and other sites. PCWorld provides a good list of Yelp alternatives.

For many product categories Google + might turn out to be the top review site.

In conclusion, we need to continue investing time and effort in growing the Google + and Facebook audience in addition to specific review sites like HealthGrades, Vitals, ZocDoc, because of these reviews’ placement on the Google search results pages.

What is your experience with Yelp and how have you dealt with online reputation management challenges?

New website for Slow Food DC

Today, after a very fruitful collaboration with a talented team of volunteers, I launched the newly redesigned website for Slow Food DC, which is the Washington, DC metropolitan area chapter of Slow Food. It’s mission is very worthwhile, “Supporting Good, Clean, and Fair Food”, and I was delighted to assist them.

Slow Food DC

I got involved with this project after an old friend of mine, Alexandra Greeley, suggested my services to the chair woman of Slow Food DC, Kati Gimes. Before you know it, I was consulting with a group of young dedicated volunteers, many of whom have done wonderful work in website redesign or social media management for other DC-based non-profits, themselves.

During our meetings, we discussed the content strategy, the target audiences, the information architecture, and the technological platform. A young Photoshop aficionado took upon herself to design the banner incorporating the new Slow Food DC logo.

The site uses the new WordPress theme twentyone which is extremely powerful. It utilizes plug-ins for Google Analytics, Twitter and RSS feeds. It truly is a marvelous content management system which will burden of needing a webmaster any time a new content update is needed.

Congratulations, Slow Food DC! Cheers!

Building a comprehensive social media strategy

Last week I attended a wonderfully informative meeting of the Web Managers Roundtable organized by Julie Perlmutter and hosted by the World Bank. The two presenters were:

  • Pierre Guillaume Wielezynski, Communications Officer at the External Affairs office of the World Bank
  • John H. Bell, Managing Director and Executive Creative Director at the 360° Digital Influence division of Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide

Here are several of the ideas on developing a social media strategy, adopted from the Ogilvy presentation by John Bell (who also blogs about the World Bank’s take on social media):

Ideas for using online visibility and search

  • Search Visibility – Increase the probability that people who research your company or related issues find what you want them to find, including helping your target audience to make the connection between risk factors/symptoms and your company’s public health campaign.
  • Multimedia Visibility – Use existing visual or audio assets to promote word of mouth, mobilize allies and improve search engine results
  • Content Syndication – Distribute your content via trusted web sites to improve search engine results

Ideas on information sharing

  • Internal Blog – Share information between offices for to allow for a quick response when a crisis arises. Share information and materials among and between stakeholders.
  • Wiki – Engage a coalition or a community to work toward a common goal.

Ideas for building an Engagement Toolbox

  • How to monitor cgm
  • How to create an influencer audit
  • How to do an online visibility audit
  • How to create an engagement plan
  • How to create commenting guidelines
  • How to create corporate blogging guidelines
  • How to reach out to bloggers
  • How to manage a crisis
  • How to launch a blog
  • How to use del.icio.us
  • How to publish & publicize multimedia

Ranking the world’s top corporate websites

The Financial Times today posted in their Digital Business section an article summarizing the findings of a new comparative study of how the websites of the 60 biggest corporations — 20 from North America, 20 from Europe, and 20 from the rest of the world — rank in terms of serving its main constituents and overall accomplishing what a website is supposed to accomplish. The surprise is in the composition of the winning list, the FT Bowen Craggs Index:

“Of the top ten companies in the rankings, eight are European based; just two come from the US.”

As a European living in the U.S., I welcome such studies which should encourage us all to learn from each other, regardless of where we come from. The Silicon Valley is not the whole world, and that is a good thing.

Email marketing problems start with the links

I just received an email inviting me to participate in a self-evaluation of my email marketing savvy.  The problem with the message was that the links that was supposed to lead me to the online questionnaire was disabled by my Outlook email client:

Disabled links in emails reduce email’s impact and usability

Whose fault it was? My Outlook was being proactive in creating a safe environment by disabling links that might lead to an unsafe site (whatever the criteria for this is). Outlook did give me the option of enabling the embedded links by clicking on the top of the tool bar. I enabled the embedded link by making that extra click simply because I decided to use this annoyance for a topic of this post. However, it is very unlikely that I would do that otherwise for a message from a sender I am not familiar with.

Which brings me to the point of email marketing effectiveness and its link with web usability. An email is effective only if it engages the reader and sends them to a website for an action. If I am not compelled to go visit the website, the email did not achieve its goal. If the design of the email prevents me from visiting the target website, it has nobody else to blame for its failure. The email should make it not only compelling for me to click on that link but easy as well. Adding a simple text/HTML link would have solved the problem easily.

I am sure Alterian are very experienced marketers. But everybody can learn and we never stop learning. Taking the time to test their own email campaigns would probably teach Alterian a lesson or two about email marketing effectivenes.

Online marketing: what works and what doesn’t

eMarketer posted results from a survey conducted by MarketingSherpa among attendees of the ad:tech asking them what online marketing approaches worked for them the best and the worst. The top three among the most successful online marketing tools were:

  • Pay-per-click marketing
  • Email lists compiled by the web site
  • Search engine optimization

Studio Lotus SEO traffic growthThis is consistent with the results of a client of mine, Studio Lotus, who saw their organic search engine traffic increase 68% from September 2006 to January 2007, based on a successful, well-planned web redesign. A small but very targeted Google AdWords campaign seems to be producing good results for them, and where I see a lot of untapped potential is fully utilizing the contact list accumulated through the web site’s contact form. It is heartening to see that best practices indeed produce good results.

How much is search engine marketing worth to you?

Nielsen/NetRatings updated its report on the search engines’ market share in the U.S. [PDF]:

  • Google – 48.2% (in January 2006) vs. 47.1% (in January 2005)
  • Yahoo! – 22.2% (in January 2006) vs. 21.2% (in January 2005)
  • MSN Search – 12.8% (in January 2006) vs. 12.8% (in January 2005)

comScore Networks, on the other hand, measured lower but growing market share for Google in January 2006:

  • Google – 41.4% (in January 2006) vs. 35.1% (in January 2005)
  • Yahoo! – 28.7% (in January 2006) vs. 31.8% (in January 2005)
  • MSN Search – 13.7% (in January 2006) vs. 16.0% (in January 2005)
  • AOL – 7.9% (in January 2006) vs. 9.6% (in January 2005)
  • Ask.com – 5.6% (in January 2006) vs. 5.1% (in January 2005)

These percentages are based on an estimate that 85% of the total U.S. internet user base, or 146 million people, visited a search engine at least once in January 2006.

While the shares of the main search engines haven’t changed much since last year, the total search traffic in January 2006 has grown by 39% (according to Nielsen/Netratings) or by 11% (according to comScore) since a year ago. Whether you use the Nielsen/Netratings’ numbers (5.7 billion searches) or the comScore’s ones (5.48 billion searches in a single month), an average of 3 searches per user on a typical day (based on the 60 million daily search engine users in the U.S., estimate by the Pew Internet & American Life Project) begs the question: do search engine marketers overpay for their traffic, and if so, what is there to do?

The growing importance of search engines as a marketing channel would explain the growth of search engine marketing (SEM) spending only partially. When you compare the SEM annual spending growth, estimated at 277% by MarketingSherpa at a recent web seminar, to the 39% growth of search engine traffic, it becomes obvious that as many as the search engine users are they are not enough — too many of the search engine marketers are competing, and overpaying, for too few eyeballs.

While the fear of the competition might be a big factor for the keyword bidding craze, my guess is that the biggest reason why marketers so willingly part with their dollars is because they do not measure the return on their marketing investments. This is where the importance of web analytics and organic search engine optimization come. One enables the other. Unless you grow (organically), you cannot sustain your business. Unless you measure, you cannot manage. Unless you manage, you spend your online marketing budget at your own risk.

America, the Land of Cyber-selling

About 1 in 6 internet-using adults in the U.S. have sold something online, reported the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

The move to online transactions has enormous implications for one of the major revenue streams for newspapers: classified ads. This also indicates how timely is Google’s move into classified ads, with its Google Base initiative.

Data from comScore Media Metrix show that the number of Americans using online classifieds has shot up 80% in the past year, led by the rapid growth of the sites organized by Craigslist.org.

The Pew Internet Project found that:

  • 30% of those with broadband internet access at home and work have sold something online
  • 26% of Gen-Xers (29-40) have sold something online;
  • 17% of Gen Y (18-28) have done so, as have 13% of internet users over 40
  • 20% of online men and 14% of online women have sold something online
  • 32 million American adults have used online classified ads for selling or buying
  • 35 million American adults have ever participated in an online auction

The top five classified sites recorded by comScore Media Metrix in October 2005 were:

  • Craigslist.org 8,236,000 unique visitors
  • Trader Publishing Company 7,468,000 unique visitors
  • Cars.com 4,298,000 unique visitors
  • Apartments.com 1,555,000 unique visitors
  • Abracat Property 924,000 unique visitors

Click here to call Google

Google posted on their help FAQ pages hints for a new service to be called “click-to-call”. “We’re testing a new product that gives you a free and fast way to speak directly to the advertiser you found on a Google search results page – over the phone.”

As the Financial Times commended, Click-to-Call “appears to be aimed at the many small businesses that cannot use Google’s existing online advertising service because they have no web presence of their own”. This will go in direct competition to the Pay Per Call service provided by Ingenio which are rumored to be courted by Yahoo. According to the Kelsey Group, which has vested interest in the growth of local search, linking web users to advertisers by means of a voice call, though still in its infancy, could become a market worth between $1.4bn and $4bn by 2009. Other possible competing services would the the one offered by eBay after their Skype purchase and AOL’s own version, to be linked through its AIM service.

The FT article goes further to quote the CMO of Ingenio in his comment that the Pey per Call approach warrants higher advertising fees because the service gives better chances for turning the call into a sale. According to Ingenio, the average price paid for a call by the 5,000 advertisers on their network is $9-$10.

Yahoo! Shopping Kicks Off Holiday Season

Yahoo! launched a new version of its Shopping site bringing comparison tools to content and product search. In addition to its new Holiday Gift Center which officially kicks off the online holiday season, Yahoo! Shopping launched the so-called precision browsing concept — a combination of category browsing and keyword-based searching — which, Yahoo! claims, will bring better quality to product searching by narrowing results based on product attributes.

This announcement follows our recent call for optimizing e-commerce sites in time for an early holiday season, projected by eMarketer to reach $16.7 billion of online purchases.