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Here’s how digital word of mouth and search have converged

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For many industry practitioners, including me, the Moz Local Search Ranking Factors report serves as a useful and reference throughout the year to stay abreast of local search ranking signals (disclaimer, I’ve been a participant since 2014). One takeaway from the most recent Moz report that continues to resonate is this:

A business’s customer reviews as a ranking signal have increased in importance by 17 percent year over year and by 43 percent over the past three years.

As the survey founder David Mihm told Moz, “In mid-to-large metro areas, even industries where ranking in the 3-pack used to be possible with a handful of reviews or no reviews, now feature businesses with dozens of reviews at a minimum — and many within the last few months, which speaks to the importance of a steady stream of feedback.”

The influence of reviews on the Moz rankings underscores how word of mouth has evolved in the digital age to have even more impact a business – to affect not only reputation but also visibility.

Word of mouth goes digital

In a business context, word of mouth dates back centuries to the dawn of commerce. Who can say exactly when consumers began sharing opinions of the businesses they frequent? By the dawn of the 21st Century, businesses had figured out how to shape word of mouth in a variety of ways, such as encouraging consumers to review them or convincing people with influence to talk about their brands (as memorably discussed in Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point).

In the digital age, word of mouth exploded. The emergence of online platforms such as Amazon, Facebook and Google gave consumers a way to share their opinions of businesses in more transparent and permanent ways. A conversation between two neighbors over coffee about the quality of a plumber or a doctor no longer became a fleeting impression. Digital made those conversations scale and multiply beyond two people. If someone raved about the quality of a restaurant’s beef tenderloin entrée or torched an auto dealership for having bad service, now the whole world knew.

Something else happened as well: search engines began tracking customer ratings and reviews as a ranking signal. Google started to award businesses with a heavy volume of positive reviews by ranking them favorably over businesses that attracted only a trickle of reviews. That’s because consumers began to use search engines the same way they would consult their friends for advice about a business: as a source of word-of-mouth. Someone looking for a bike retailer nearby would want to know not only where to go (triggering a need for accurate location data published on Google) but also whether the retailer had a solid reputation (which is where customer ratings/reviews began to come into play). Google, wanting to deliver the most useful information in search results, responded. And as Moz has reported, rankings/reviews are more important than ever.

Businesses seize an opportunity

At a time when digital is often viewed as disruptive, though, the emergence of online word of mouth has created an opportunity for businesses. Smart companies have realized that they can shape their reputations and visibility simultaneously. Instead of viewing Amazon, Facebook and Google as a threat, they’ve employed these platforms to amplify their presence. For many businesses, doing so has meant asking customers to post reviews on the platforms that will give them the most visibility. Also, businesses with hundreds and thousands of locations have invested in automated tools that make it possible for them to secure, publish, and learn from reviews on a larger scale. In essence, they have automated word of mouth.

Today, automated word of mouth creates a virtuous cycle that affects a company’s reputation, visibility, and quality of service. The virtuous cycle looks something like this:

  • Optimize search. A business becomes more findable by publishing accurate location data, descriptive content and customer ratings/reviews. Doing so boosts the ranking signal in remarkable ways as discussed in the Local Search Ranking Factors survey and also builds a business’s reputation. Also, accurate and reliable content beyond ratings/reviews also boosts a brand’s reputation by creating a positive first impression.
  • Acquire customers. Consumers look for ratings and reviews across a wide range of sites beyond a company’s website. By encouraging customers to review them, businesses not only boost their search signal but also spread positive social sentiment. Let’s face it: people are more likely to proactively talk about a bad experience at a business than a good one. Companies need to take steps to ensure that people share the positives. Asking a customer face to face is one way. Doing so via online tools such as email or text is a more efficient way. This positive social sentiment encourages a more accurate representation of customer conversions.
  • Improve the experience. The real power of the virtuous cycle happens when a business relies on solicited information plus unstructured, organic text that people leave on social media to look for ways to improve themselves. Businesses that take to heart reviews and use them as a source of feedback to positively change their businesses will create happy customers who are more likely to give you a positive review when you ask them – thus improving your reputation and boosting your visibility.

The good news about digital word of mouth is that businesses will continue to have a say in this process. Brands should:

  • Manage your customer ratings/reviews on an ongoing basis. Monitor them, respond to them, learn from them and encourage them – everywhere people are talking about your business online and offline.
  • Be proactive. Accept the fact that your business is going to get some negative reviews from unhappy customers. Respond to those customers to let them know you care. And balance those experiences by following up with customers and asking them to review you online.
  • Mind your location information. I say this a lot because it’s essential: treat your location data and content as a precious asset. Follow best practices for making your business findable with accurate data and descriptive content that is optimized for search.

Digital word of mouth and search have become intertwined. There is no going back. And this evolution is good. Google can give users (and your customers) a better experience when people search for a business. And you can give them a better experience when they find you.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

Adam Dorfman is Director, Product Management at Reputation where he leads the teams responsible for the best in class local automation platform Velocity. Follow him on Twitter @phixed.



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New site Hotspot Law like ZocDoc for lawyers

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Local search is probably more visible than it has ever been since the advent of Google Maps. Yet, paradoxically, there’s almost no consumer-facing innovation taking place. There’s Google, Yelp, Facebook (somewhat) and a range of specialized vertical apps and sites, some of which have simply survived but aren’t thriving.

Little or no ‘horizontal’ innovation. Part of the lack of “horizontal” innovation in local is likely the result of venture capital not wanting to fund anything that goes up directly against Google. The company may appear to many investors now like an insurmountable juggernaut in local/mobile search.

Any new local-consumer startups, therefore, are likely to appear in specific industries or otherwise offer specialized use cases. Such is the case with Hotspot Law, a new legal search site that hopes to bring ZocDoc-style appointment scheduling to the legal profession. It also seeks to provide a more reliable and cost-effective flow of leads to consumer attorneys.

The legal vertical has a quite a few competitors, including Avvo (Internet Brands), LegalZoom, FindLaw and several others. Despite this, Hotspot Law founder Felix Shipkevich believes he’s solving two unsolved problems in the legal vertical.

“The legal market is in dire need of an upgrade,” argues Shipkevich.

Making direct connections with lawyers. “Once you’ve finished searching online, you have to start calling,” he said. “You don’t get to speak directly to attorneys, you typically talk to a gatekeeper.” He points out that this process of getting to a lawyer is time consuming for people who need legal help. “None of these [completing] platforms directly connect the consumer with an attorney.”

Shipkevich, who is an attorney and faculty member at Hofstra Law School, said he was inspired by ZocDoc and the way it enables direct connections between doctors and patients. Similarly, he wanted to remove the friction in lawyer-consumer matchmaking. Shipkevich explained that also sees Hotspot Law as a way to make “justice” more accessible to consumers.

Why you should care. Legal lead-gen is costly. Shipkevich believes that existing legal sites and ad solutions don’t serve lawyers particularly well either. “PPC advertising can be extremely expensive; in New York it can be $60 to $80 per click.” He adds that “Yelp is expensive. Sometimes it takes $2,000 to $4,000 to bring in a case.”

He wants to solve that problem with simplified reasonable pricing for lawyers who may be struggling to find clients. But he also sees Hotspot Law evolving into a platform to help attorneys manage existing clients. Currently the site only operates in New York, with plans to expand geographic coverage in the coming months.

For the time being Shipkevich will need to rely on SEO for discovery but over time he hopes to build a branded consumer destination. It will be very challenging given the current structure of local SERPs. One has to admire the ambition and chutzpah.


About The Author

Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He researches and writes about the connections between digital and offline commerce. He is also VP of Strategy and Insights for the Local Search Association. Follow him on Twitter or find him at Google+.

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Remembering the Tragedy That Made Our Community Start Talking

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About one year ago, everything changed for me and for our community.

A tragedy that struck home so hard it shook us to our core.

A suicide.

A dear friend, brilliant mind, adored father, respected colleague … the list goes on, left us in a way that hits straight to the heart and wakes you up like very few other events can.

I certainly woke up that day. That alarm screamed as loud as it could and I still hear it to this day.

I know I wasn’t alone. So many of my peers experienced similar emotions, sensations, and reactions.

We Could No Longer Ignore the Problem

Sadly, this wasn’t the first tragedy we’d encountered that year – we lost other friends and colleagues as well.

But we knew we couldn’t stand to lose any more amazing people.

We couldn’t look away. We couldn’t just carry on anymore.

So we started talking.

I have been blown away by our internet marketing community. Many of us have never even met face to face and yet the comradery, the friendship, the support among us run rampant!

Never before have I seen a group of people come together so quickly and so openly as when we were forced to face this tragedy.

Groups were formed. Calls were made. Texts were sent. Face-to-face get-togethers were had. Columns like this one were created.

And the best part of it all? It didn’t stop!

We saw the need to stay connected. We recognized that we are a family that needs to support each other. And, perhaps most of all, we saw that we were not alone in our struggles.

It has been amazing to see the openness and honesty that has become so commonplace over the past year. I have seen people that once felt they couldn’t risk being seen without their mask on break down and lay themselves out in the most vulnerable ways.

I include myself in that list. I have become more able to reveal myself to the world around me. That has only been made possible by others sharing in that journey with me.

In leading up to this piece, I knew that I wanted to really find a way to focus on the positive changes that our community has seen because of Jordan Kasteler.

I wanted to honor him in a way that really brought some form of good to this incredible loss that we all experienced due to his passing.

Where Are We Now? Thoughts from Our Community

I reached out and asked a few people in our community if they would share some words of how they have been changed for the better as well as how they have seen our community as whole making changes to support each other over the past year.

Here is what they had to say:

Alexandra Tachalova:

“Working days, nights, and weekends was normal for me a few years ago. However, at that time I couldn’t say that I was really happy. I didn’t understand at the time that my work-life balance was completely off, and I now know that that could have developed into something truly horrifying.

I eventually reached such an emotionally unstable point that I hit a time where one week I was super productive, but the following week I felt hugely demotivated and absolutely miserable. (I know this is a familiar story with many others as well, I hear people telling similar stories and sharing similar experiences regularly.)

Over the past while, I have been working diligently to save myself from this emotional trap. This new focus has led me to investing more time into things that are not related to work and putting more time into the things that help to create a happier life for myself.

I can see that more people in our community are becoming more aware of the need to make this sort of a switch to their schedules and priorities as well, which is brilliant to see!”

Melissa Fach:

“In the past year, I have noticed a massive shift in our community not being ashamed to reach out and ask for help, advice, or just a kind word. I feel like masks have been dropped, and people are not embarrassed to discuss what make them “real”; I love it!

I think many people used to feel they had to have public persona that was acceptable, and now they know we all have issues and it is OK to talk about.

I have a picture of Jordan out that I see every day. I moved past the guilt and the pain when I looked at it, and he is now a daily reminder to stay present with my friends as much as I can.

And, it is a reminder to me to stay focused on my well-being as well. I tend to overwork and do too much for everyone and end up exhausted. I take steps now to take care of me more than ever before.”

Steve Wiideman:

“Though I’ve been in the industry for years, I’m still a somewhat newer member of the SEO community. Call it fear of rejection, social anxiety, whatever, I’ve always been nervous to put myself in a position to be judged by my peers.

It really wasn’t until I was invited to an amazing Facebook group made up of a small close-knit group of industry peers focusing on supporting each other through the day-to-day struggles that I realized that nearly everyone shared the same fears, anxieties and experiences that I have.

What a relief it is to know there is a place where we share what we are feeling and have so much empathy! Finally I have a place I can turn to where people understand me.

Even if I don’t share as much as others, I have peace of mind knowing there are people there ready and willing to listen and help, where there’s no judgement, just open arms.”

Danny Goodwin:

“We’ve definitely made a lot of progress over the past year as a community. However, if I’m being completely honest, we still have a long way to go. I’m still hearing about issues of bullying. I’m seeing people piling on people they disagree with on Twitter.

While, thankfully, these are in the minority, the polarization and black-and-white thinking needs to stop. The judging and assuming needs to stop. The trolling and “mob mentality” needs to stop.

We need to stop fighting each other and start lifting each other up – treating everyone like human beings. Nobody is perfect, but I hope we will continue to see more people be able to let go of their hate and negativity to accept love and positivity into their lives. I know that will continue to be our aim with Friday Focus – to remind everyone that they are not alone in their struggles.

Ultimately, though, I am so happy to be a part of something so positive in our community – and it’s great to see so many others jumping onboard, too.”

Kim Krause Berg:

“It’s easy to assume that your peers are generally doing better than you, making more money than you, and are super successful in every way. It is only in the past few years that I realized this is baloney.

I respect people who remove their masks and show who they really are. We are people with lives and struggles, heartache, depression, and pain.

In the past year I have opened up more and made new friendships as a result. We have more in common with each other than we might think.”

Dave Davies:

“Over the past year I’ve seen an incredible shift in our community.

Social media itself breeds an environment where we see only the best of our peers and post the best of ourselves and being in marketing, needing to be on social media, needing to market ourselves on social media and seeing only the best version of those trained in presenting the best version of themselves – one can feel very alone in difficult times. Compounding that we face an often isolated profession where even sitting beside someone, we are focused on a screen and all they contain.

Sadly, we all know too well what that leads to, and over the past year we collectively recognized that we are human. That those around us are human. That others need support and perhaps most importantly, that we do too.

We finally heard the words spoken all too often after those tragic events, “If only they had asked for help.” And we took it upon ourselves to do so.

We finally knew to listen, to watch and to find out how those around us were doing, lest we face the loss of another friend who we would have dropped everything for, ‘If only they had asked for help.’

The community has grown it’s heart and soul over the past year.

There is still a lot to do. There are still many who don’t know where to turn. Many who don’t know who to talk to. But each time we reach out and each time we talk about challenges openly, share our own and listen to theirs … each time we do that, the community grows it’s heart a little more.

It has been a incredible year of change. While we will forever mourn the spark, the now burning fire keeps us all warmer.”

Jeremy Knauff:

“One thing that has changed dramatically in our industry over the last year, is that as individuals, we’ve become a lot more vocal about asking for help when we need it.

I think most people are more than willing to help each other. They just have to know that someone needs help. Now that people are starting to open up more about their personal struggles, the community is able to better support them.”

Thank You!

I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you – whether I know you in person, whether I know you online, even if I don’t know you at all –- thank you for being here.

Thank you for caring and sharing and being a part of the positive change that we are all working so hard at creating.

Keep being a force for good in our community.

Together we will make a difference.

Remembering the Tragedy That Made Our Community Start Talking  

 

This piece is written in memory, honor, recognition, and gratitude of Jordan Kasteler. For all that he gave us, shared with us, taught us and left us with. We are eternally grateful.

 


***PLEASE DO NOT STRUGGLE ALONE! Reach out, ask for help and know that you are valued.
CLICK HERE for a list of phone numbers for Suicide Hotlines around the world.***



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20190718 SEL Brief

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