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The Fine Art of Handling Negative Reviews

July 16th, 2014

Not all reviews are negative. The negative reviews are simply the ones that most deserve your attention. Some negative reviews are worse than others, but the worst negative review is the one that was left unanswered.

In most instances, I find that small business owners cannot be objective when handling criticisms of the businesses which are often extensions of themselves. That is understandable, but it is important to put subjectivity aside and recognize that, in the vast majority of instances, a negative review is providing valuable input regarding improvements that you should consider making.

In other instances, a negative review might provide insight into a situation that requires urgent action; however, if you are unaware of the review, the situation is likely to continue and the viral power of the online review will only multiply. Let me share an example.

I recently did a search of Google for the name of a business, hoping to find its correct mailing address. At the absolute top of the search results (#1 on page #1) was the following review that has been online since January of 2012. I have changed the names and any other identifying information, but the point is clear.

“While driving on Eastern Avenue (near Spring Street) today (01-11-12) at 2:05 PM I was tailgated by someone driving a truck (license plate RVJ-524) from Acme Enterprises. I was forced to pull over because the driver was driving too close. When I pulled over I was given the finger and when I continued driving the driver doubled-back to actually chase me! I’m a member of the [a local business association] and I will certainly be sending an email blast to my fellow members to ensure they avoid this organization. I took a picture of the driver and have it on file.”

Wow! Can you imagine this being at the top of the search results for your business for 2½ years, and not knowing about it? Can you imagine having an employee acting in this manner while driving a clearly identified company vehicle? I presume that any business owner would take immediate corrective measures if he knew about this situation. Without any such knowledge, this type of behavior on the part of an employee is only likely to continue.

Yes, this is an extreme example, but it is totally true. How about the employee who is short with one of your guests, or the employee who did not perform a maintenance task up to the expected standards? Those are often the foundation of a negative review. Even if a review site does not give you, as the business owner, an opportunity to directly respond online, it is still providing you with valuable information that should probably be incorporated into your next company meeting, job description, or employee performance review. The reputation of your business is at stake.

When you do have the opportunity to respond to a negative review, here are a few suggestions:

  1. Listen to what the reviewer has to say. Try to be as subjective as possible, putting your ego aside. The review is not a personal attack upon your reputation (even if you think that it is.)
  2. Empathize, introduce a positive factor into the conversation, and apologize if necessary. An apology is not an admission of guilt but simply a polite acknowledgement that the reviewer had less than a perfect experience involving your business.
  3. Try to take the conversation offline. I recently posted on Facebook how dissatisfied I was when an energy audit contractor failed to show up for a scheduled appointment. The organization saw that it had been mentioned on Facebook, responding by asking me to contact them privately with my telephone number. Offline, they apologized and re-scheduled the appointment for the following day. Any damage was under control.
  4. Despite the urgency of responding quickly, before posting a response to an online review, always run it by another set of eyes. Too often, in the absence of body language and tone of voice, a response with the best of intentions might sound condescending or even sarcastic. Remember that you are trying to rectify a situation, not make it worse.

There are literally dozens of online review sites, the most important which impact the travel and tourism industry being TripAdvisor, Yelp, and Foursquare. Other types of businesses are reviewed on sites like Angie’s List, MerchantCircle, Manta, Buzzillions, Epinions, and Insider Pages. Then don’t forget the BBB (Better Business Bureau) Online, where any consumer can file a complaint against a business.

Just as important, any comment on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+ is a de-facto review within the writer’s network. In fact, those can often do the most harm because they come from somebody whose opinion is trusted within his or her network of friends.

There are also more than a dozen of which are specific to the campground industry. These include RV Park Reviews, CampRate, Campground Report, Campsite Reports, RVparking.com, RVcampReviews.com, RV Park Finder, and of course GuestRated. Some of these sites get much more traffic than others, but keep in mind that only one person reading one negative review can translate into lost business. Do your best to try to keep that from happening.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Some Common Sense Thoughts on SEO

May 29th, 2014

In the business world today, there seems to be no greater obsession than SEO – Search Engine Optimization. If website traffic falls short of an owner’s ever-increasing expectations, it is an all-too-common practice to blame SEO that is somehow not up to snuff. It amazes me how many people think that the same three letters can be either the reason for their success of the reason for their failure. In reality, people have far less control over SEO than most of us would be led to believe.

Because of that common misperception, there is an entire industry that thrives on exploiting small business owners and their belief in a silver bullet. Have you ever gotten an e-mail from a self-proclaimed SEO expert? I got spammed just this morning by somebody with the message, “Want more clients and customers? We will help them find you by putting you on the 1st page of Google.” There are no listings on the “first page of Google”, a page that only contains a stylized Google logo and a search box!

In addition to those e-mails, you have probably also gotten telemarketing calls from people who claim to hold the key to the pot of gold at the end of the Google rainbow. Sometimes the caller ID even says that the call is from “Google” … something that is easy for anybody to spoof. Trust me when I tell you that Google is never going to call you and they are never going to call me. Think about it. Have you ever been able to call Google and even speak with a receptionist?

The people who claim that they can get you that elusive prime search engine placement are – almost without exception – skilled con artists who will put the average used car salesman to shame. I recently met with the owner of a small campground who had been spending $300.00 per month for alleged SEO services with a company that was accomplishing nothing on his behalf. When he tried to cancel the service, the salesperson tried to convert him to the company’s $75.00 monthly plan. When he told me the name of the company, I did a Google search for the company name followed by the word “complaints”, and there were 755,000 results!

Search today is localized to the computer performing the search and is based upon a user’s previous usage patterns. It is relatively easy to make it look like your site is appearing near the top of broad search results, but this does not mean that your site is going to appear anywhere for somebody doing a search in Peoria or Wichita. Google has built its reputation upon providing the most highly relevant search results for any particular term and any particular user, and no self-proclaimed SEO expert can outsmart Google at its own game.

I have a friend who likes to say that his website comes up in the # 1 search position on Google for long, convoluted phrases that would never be used in an actual search. If his business was a campground, his website would appear at the top of the search results for the search phrase, “full hookup pull-thru campsites with free wi-fi on Lake Winnipesaukee in Meredith, New Hampshire”. See what I mean? Unless a business holds an international monopoly or trademark on a certain product or service, it is not going to appear at the top of the search results – on its own merits – for either a broad or highly specific search term. If you search for “iPhone”, you will be taken to Apple Computer; if you search for “2014 Mustang”, you will be taken to Ford; and if you search for “Cheerios”, you will be taken to the General Mills Cheerios website.

On the other hand, if I search for “oat cereal”, at least based upon my browsing history, Cheerios does not appear anywhere on at least the first 10 pages of search results, except for the paid “sponsored search” ad at the top of each page. Do you see my point? If I was not already familiar with “Cheerios” and specifically searching for that well-known product, it would not appear in my search results. In the case of your campground, the total number of websites in the world is expected to exceed 1 Billion by the end of June 2014, according to InternetLiveStats.com, and there are over 13,000 private campgrounds in the United States alone. Can you understand how easy it is to get lost in those numbers?

A person searching for the broad term “family camping” is unlikely to be looking for your specific campground. If your campground’s website appeared at the top of the list – outside of localized content and the user’s established usage patterns – Google would lose its credibility and its dominance in the search market. Beyond localized content and usage patterns, search results are based upon relevance (primarily found in the text on pages), a site’s relative importance, timeliness of content, and a site’s general volume of traffic. Yes, the odds are stacked against the website of a small business, particularly if that Web presence is either relatively new or if it is old and static.

The old days of keyword lists have long been replaced by today’s intuitive and content-based search results. Content is king. Most importantly, it is essential that your website delivers the type of quality experience that will ensure that, once people find you, they will be more likely to stay than leave.

With a better understanding of how search results are delivered these days, you are now better prepared to ignore those phone calls and spam e-mails from people who are in the business of selling false promises and victimizing the uninformed.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Google Places for Business: Make the Most of Your Listing

October 16th, 2013

You may have noticed that the search results on Google have continued to evolve over time. While many people labor endlessly over their position in organic search results, they miss other opportunities to maximize their overall exposure. One of the most important tools, often overlooked, is Google Places for Business.

When you perform a Google Search, results appear in a variety of manners. As an example, I just performed a search for “campgrounds near Gatlinburg, TN”. The organic search results (which are localized for my search location and which may appear differently in your search) start with the campground page at the Gatlinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau website, followed by the Great Smoky Mountain Jellystone Camp-Resort, Smoky Bear Campground, Good Sam Club listings for the area, and the Pigeon Forge / Gatlinburg KOA. Above these organic search results (which are SEO-based) appear three Sponsored Search results (paid search engine placement) for the Adventure Bound property in Gatlinburg, Riveredge RV Park, and Bear Cove RV Village.

To the right of the organic and sponsored search results is a small Google Map, with markers showing all of the campgrounds that match the search terms that I have entered. Above all of this, there is a black strip that contains 20 search results listings that include a thumbnail photo, review ranking, page title, and street address. These listings correspond to the markers on the small Google Map. If you zoom into the map, showing a more localized area, the number of thumbnails will adjust to match the markers that remain in view.

By default, the thumbnails start with Twin Creek RV Resort, Elkmont Campground, Camping In the Smokies, Greenbrier Island Campground, Camp LeConte Luxury Outdoor Resort, and Riveredge RV Park – from left to right. Users can also filter the search results by user rating, limiting the results to parks with 2-star, 3-star, or 4-star and higher user ratings. You may be wondering where these listings originate. If you click on a listing, the bottom of the detailed listing will ask, “Are you the business owner?” If you click on that link, it will take you to the Google Places portal, where you may then “claim” your business where these listing reside.

Get Listed

If you cannot locate your business in that type of search for campgrounds in your local area, you can also get started by going to the Google Places entry page: http://www.google.com/local/add/. If you do not have a Google Account, you will be prompted to create one (a quick and easy, free process). Google gathers data about businesses from a variety of sources, but the most accurate source will be the information that you – as the business owner – will provide. Check the accuracy of your address, phone number, website URL, and the location of your marker on Google Maps. By default, your listing may include photos that your guests may have taken or that reviewers may have submitted. (If there are no photos available, Google will substitute a view of your marker on Google Maps, and that doesn’t do you much good.) The photos that appear will not always be the most flattering or best quality, but you will be able to upload up to 10 photos and 5 videos to enhance your listing. Choose those wisely, ensuring that they enhance rather than detract from the quality of your listing. You may also include payment types, showing which credit cards or other forms of payment are accepted by your business.

Having an incomplete listing will not impact whether or not your business appears in the local search results; however, a more complete listing will make it more likely that a viewer will click through to learn more. When everything has been updated to your satisfaction, click the submit link, choose to validate your listing by phone, enter the PIN number that will immediately arrive by phone, then click “finish”. The changes may take up to a week to take effect. If major changes are requested, your updates will be pending editorial review, a process that may take up to 4 weeks.

Once your listing information has been updated, you can then check your listing, as it appears on both Google Search and Google Maps. You might search for your business name, or you might perform a more generic search, such as my “campgrounds near Gatlinburg, TN”. In the latter instance, you may wonder about your ranking position in the search results. According to Google, rankings are based upon three factors: relevance, distance, and prominence. For that reason, your business will not necessarily appear first in the list. The important thing is that your business appears in the list.

There are a number of ways that people may search for – and find – your business online. This article covers only one of the ways to help your business to stand out on Google. Take advantage of every tool available in order to maximize your competitive edge!

This post was written by Peter Pelland

There’s A New Kid on the Block

June 20th, 2009

Just when most of us thought that search couldn’t get better than Google, Microsoft has introduced its own new search engine, calling Bing. Didn’t Microsoft already have Live Search? Well, yes, but we all know that it never gained any traction in the market that was dominated by Google and Yahoo!. Type in http://www.live.com, and the URL redirects to http://www.bing.com. No surprise there. Is this actually Microsoft’s response to Google’s development of the Chrome browser. Two of the biggest forces in the industry fighting fire with fire? Maybe.

For you, the bottom line is to be certain that your website is indexed on Bing. It’s simple enough. Go to http://www.bing.com, and enter the name of your business into the search box. Hopefully, your site is already indexed and will come up at the top of the list. If not, submitting your site is as easy as entering a captcha and your URL at:
http://www.bing.com/docs/submit.aspx.

Remember, every link to your site counts, particularly one from a site that, in theory at least, could become the next big search engine. On the other hand, it has been pointed out that Bing is also an acronym for “But It’s Not Google”.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

The Basics of PageRank: What Does It Measure & How Does It Work?

February 14th, 2009

There is a great deal of confusion about Google PageRank, one of the key – but optional – components of the Google Toolbar that you should have installed on each of your Web browsers. Pared down to the basics, PageRank is a numerical value, on a scale from 0 to 10, that indicates the importance of any page of content on the Web, based upon the concept that one page linking to another is essentially casting a “vote” for the importance of the second page. Not a truly democratic process, more “important” pages, based upon their own PageRank, carry more weight than pages that have been deemed to be less important, but the bottom line is that Google calculates each page’s relative importance from the “votes” that it has received. Certainly, anybody with even a rudimentary understanding of SEO (search engine optimization) can understand the importance of inbound links to a site.

You might ask, “Who cares?” You should! Those websites that you need to provide links to yours will often make their decisions based upon your the PageRank of your site’s Home page (or other linking page). Every webmaster would like to exchange links with a site with a PageRank of 7 or 8, but nobody wants to waste their time linking to a site with a PageRank of 1 or 2 (or even zero). More importantly, PageRank is an important factor in helping to determine a site’s ranking in the overall organic search results.

On the same token, you (or your webmaster) will want to take PageRank into consideration when you consider linking to other sites. Again, this is not a truly democratic process, and not all links are treated equally. For example, Google will filter out links from known link farms. Because incoming links from link farms are beyond any webmaster’s control (and link farms are more likely to try to capitalize upon a link to you if your site has a higher PageRank), Google will not penalize you for inbound links; however, you will be penalized for any outbound links to link farms or other penalized sites (often represented by a PageRank of zero).

What other factors come into play in determining the relative importance of one link versus another? For one, the number of links on a page. All else being equal, a link to your site from a page with only that one link is far more valuable than a link to your site from a page with 50 links. Basically, the more links on a page, the less PageRank value your page will receive from a link.

A few other points:

  • PageRank values are not arithmetic. Nobody outside of Google’s upper echelons knows the formulae, but it is generally agreed that the scale is logarithmic. In other words, it takes a lot more to advance from PR4 to PR5 than it takes to advance from PR1 to PR2.
  • A site’s total PageRank (the combined PageRanks of each of its component pages) is also an important measurement. More than anything else, this is determined by the number of unique pages within a site, clearly benefiting larger sites. New pages (“orphans”) should be directly linked to existing pages in order to yield any benefit for the PageRank of the overall site.
  • Links to pages with no outbound links of their own (or pages that Google has not indexed) are known as “dangling” links and have little or no value.
  • There are many experts who agree that outbound links that are not reciprocated can be a drain on a site’s total PageRank.

Because the Internet is constantly growing, the logarithmic scales that determine PageRank, by definition, must be continually evolving. This results in frequent changes in a page’s PageRank, where the measure will either increase or (more likely) decrease by a numerical value of 1 for no apparent reason, typically on a three-month basis. This phenomenon is referred to as the “Google dance” and is one more reason why it is important to continually build a site (by adding to its content) and to continually work on building the site’s number of inbound links from other highly-ranked sites.

Interesting tidbits:

  • According to Wikipedia, the name “PageRank” is a trademark of Google, and the PageRank process has been patented; however, the patent is assigned to Stanford University and not to Google. Google has exclusive license rights on the patent from Stanford University. The university received 1.8 million shares in Google in exchange for use of the patent – shares that were sold in 2005 for $336 million.
  • The name “PageRank” is derived from the name of its developer, Larry Page, one of the two founders, along with Sergey Brin, of what would become Google in 1998. The original search engine that Page and Brin developed as part of their research project at Stanford University in 1995 was called “Backrub”.

Learn more. The following references are listed in order of increasing complexity, ending with Page and Brin’s original research paper:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PageRank
http://www.webworkshop.net/pagerank.html
http://www.ianrogers.net/google-page-rank/
http://infolab.stanford.edu/~backrub/google.html

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Use Google Alerts to Your Advantage

April 3rd, 2008

Are you using Google Alerts? If not, read on, then get started! Those of us who have been around long enough remember the days of newspaper “clipping services”, programs where readers actually pored through newspapers and periodicals looking for references to any particular business or subject, clipping out the articles (yes, with scissors) and forwarding them to subscribers. As you might imagine, this process was as far from instantaneous as it was from inexpensive.

Well, along comes the 21st century and Google Alerts. With Google Alerts, you can monitor the Web, news, blogs, groups – essentially a comprehensive range of online media – for references to your business or industry. Just as importantly, you can also monitor references to any of your competitors. Simply sign up for a free account with this Beta program, enter a search term (within quotes seems to be the most effective), and indicate how frequently (weekly, daily or immediately) you would like to receive lists of any new references to that search term (or phrase) which are found by Google’s spiders. You can setup an unlimited number of alerts.

The advantages to keeping informed in this manner are enormous. Particularly with the growth of social networking websites, you might discover new linking opportunities … or less than flattering reviews of your company, product or service that you might want to counter with alternate opinions. Quite honestly, until you subscribe to this service, you cannot really know what kind of buzz might be circulating, right behind your company’s back.

This post was written by Peter Pelland