Research shows that online reviews and recommendations play a critical role in decision making for both consumers and search engines. This is even more true for local businesses, where competition is at its fiercest.
Why then, can it be so hard to convince local business marketers to take reputation management seriously enough to invest in it?
If you’re facing blockers when trying to sell in reputation management to local businesses, this is the webinar for you.
On Wednesday, 21st August, InsideLocal host, Myles Anderson, was joined by Dana DiTomaso (Kick Point) and Krystal Taing (Rio SEO) to hear their tips and processes to help you or your agency to start closing more deals.
If you missed it, the webinar recording is available to watch below. We’ve also written up a summary of our favorite insights from the discussion.
The panel started by discussing their approaches to reputation management.
Dana said, “Reputation management is usually part of a solution. People will come to us, and won’t necessarily say, my reviews are terrible. They usually say, ‘I want to rank better in local’. Then, as part of the discovery process when we start working with the lead we see that they do have a reputation management problem, or maybe they have bad reviews, or they don’t have any reviews, or only reviews scattered in one platform.
“So then we roll it in and say, ‘I know we didn’t talk about this, but it’s important, and here’s why’. We’ll explain the benefits of having solid reputation management, then talk to them about the resources that are involved internally at their organization to make sure this continues beyond their engagement with us. Then, if all those buttons come together, we can make sure that reputation management is folded into that proposal.”
She went on to discuss the challenges Kick Point face when working with large multinational businesses. “They often don’t know who’s going to manage it for each location. Sometimes it’s like, ‘This is really important, but you don’t have a strategy to make it happen, so we’ll have to put a pin it in until we’ve dealt with the things that are on fire.”
Myles then asked Krystal how she’d seen demand for reputation management change among multi-location businesses in recent years.
She said, “I’ve definitely seen demand growing, and I think enterprise businesses typically were more afraid of dipping their toes into reputation management because they’re overwhelmed and didn’t know where to start, and there’s all this corporate compliance. Now, it’s non-negotiable. Your competitors are doing it.
“If you want to be a part of that local conversation, you have to start. We show our clients how to start in small stages, and training them is key. We give them the tools to take the small steps and get started, because if you haven’t responded to Google and you’re starting now, it can be overwhelming.”
“Part of this is understanding the business’s goal from the get-go,” said Dana. “At the beginning of the project we set a goal charter, where we outline what their goals are. Their goal at the time might be ranking better in local, which means that getting more and better reviews is part of that, but it may not be something they have the resources for right now. Or, their goal might be to improve their ratings, or to implement a reputation management strategy, and in that case they have the resources to make that happen.”
For further reading, Kick Point has a great guide on creating marketing dashboards.
Krystal talked about the link between reviews and listing management. “Typically when we’re approaching reputation management, we’re already engaged in listing management. One of the challenges for multi-location businesses if you don’t have all of your locations claimed, or they’re claimed by different groups, it’s hard to give them control to respond. But it can be a standalone product. Within there, there are different sites that are interesting to different industries.”
Myles queried how agencies sell reputation management.
Dana responded, “I don’t think I’ve ever sold reputation management separately, as no one just has this problem. If they haven’t handled their reputation well, that’s a sign there’s probably other stuff that hasn’t been managed.
“This could be things like Google My Business optimization – if they’ve been ignoring their reviews, they’ve probably been ignoring their Q&A as well. Or, their pages probably aren’t optimized, or they need listings management. Some franchise organizations are usually terrible because every franchisee has claimed their own GMB and no one knows the login, or, surprise there’s another Analytics somewhere.
“You end up with all these layers of the onion you need to peel back – it’s never been just reputation management, they can come to you in the beginning wanting it, but that’s not where you’d end up when you do the proposal. Part of that proposal stage is thinking about pushing them along the path of why they want to work on this, how they want to get there, and positioning it as part of a larger plan that is executed over a period of time.
“You have to explain how reputation management fits into the total ecosystem of digital marketing, why it’s important, and how it will have bigger benefits beyond star rating changes.”
She continued to discuss an issue one client faced. “We were working with a camera store with several locations in the province they were based in. But, if you Googled them, their main location would come up as the single listing on the right-hand side, and would never show a pack with all of their locations.
“This meant this one location was getting all of the bad reviews for all of the locations. They approached us for reputation management, that’s all we need, but then it turned out the issue was actually listings management and then being able to create a locations page.”
— BrightLocal (@bright_local) August 21, 2019
Managing bigger businesses’ reputation can often fall outside the realm of marketers, meaning that agencies need to build relationships around the business. Krystal said, “It definitely depends the relationship with our clients. We often find that the team we work with for listings management or location pages is seldom the team that is managing the reputation management solution.
“It’s quite often customer service, or a team in corporate compliance that’s responsible for responding. It’s an additional pipe that you have into the business, and it’s harder to remove you once you have that connection. Learn those teams, and make sure you’re guiding them and making them successful.”
Myles agreed, “Once you’ve got those touchpoints and relationships with multiple departments you’re much more ingrained. You’re much more involved with the business.”
Dana followed, “This is where it’s a trust factor. Depending on the size of the organization, you often have separate departments, so we try to go as far up the chain as possible as soon as we get that trust from the department we’re working with, and keep working your way up. Ideally, you’d want to have the CMO call you from the very beginning.
“But, as soon as you get between 10 and 200 locations, it seems like no one really knows what’s going on and it’s really disorganized. Once you get above 200, that’s when it gets organized again. In that awkward spot, it’s easiest to go up the chain as fast as possible because they probably haven’t thought about it before. There’s a lot of management in getting them organized, whereas with the smaller organizations, you can come in right away and they know where everything is. It’s way faster for the smaller, or way larger organization-perspective.”
Done-For-You vs Self-Managed
Dana discussed Kick Point’s approach to reputation management for clients. “Unless we know the customer really well and have been working with them for a long time, you should do it yourself. To be frank, part of it is a resourcing thing – we’re a small agency that wants to stay small, and you can’t stay small if you’re selling more and more monthly retainers where we do everything for clients. If our lead wants that, we’ll refer them to an agency that does that as it’s not a good fit for us. It’s a great model, but it’s not the model that we’ve chosen to embrace.
“In the beginning, we’ll set up a Slack channel where reviews are pushed to so we’re aware of what’s going on – this is our coaching period where we’re keeping an eye on absolutely everything that’s going on. When we think they’ve got better control of it, then we feel like we can slowly step back and eventually have them take it over.” She said that the majority of Kick Point’s new leads used to ask for the done-for-you model, before they became known for self-management.
For Rio SEO, the majority of customers are expecting to self-manage. “If you train them how to respond to reviews, they can then take that and apply it to Q&A and other elements of their local program.
“In my opinion, it’s more powerful to train them and invest the time in the beginning how to view and respond to reviews, then communication success upwards within the organization. Doing it for them is less powerful, with less information for them,” explained Krystal.
Myles queried the pricing models and efficient resourcing for reputation management. Dana said, “A lot of it is automation actually, thinking about where we’re going to receive reviews, and making sure these don’t languish in someone’s inbox.
“We use Zapier and Slack – when we’re managing reviews or coaching new clients with reviews, these will be pushed to Slack or a common mailbox so we can jump on stuff right away. That’s the biggest thing, is making sure you’re not relying on one person to be ‘on it’ all the time, so whoever’s most available can deal with it right away, including on weekends. You know how it is, you get the bad review on the Saturday of a long weekend, or someone’s complaining on social media, and you don’t deal with it until Monday. You need to set the plans in place so someone’s always paying attention at all times.”
She continued with a client example, “We worked with a symphony orchestra, and their people were working 9-5, Monday to Friday, but symphony performances weren’t happening then. Think about when your social person should be working, as it should match when the commentary is coming in on social media and when they’re leaving reviews. That helped them realize it’s not a 9-5 job for the person managing your reputation for you.”
— BrightLocal (@bright_local) August 21, 2019
Dana went on to discuss what a typical reputation management project looks like for Kick Point’s clients. “We’ll say, here’s the project plan over the X number of weeks and months. Here’s the total cost with some variables, then we typically ask clients how they’d prefer to be billed.”
“We first want to know what they’re already paying for, because often not using it to its fullest potential. If they do need to buy software, we buy it for them and introduce them to the company. They know which software they’re using, and are helping them manage it, but it’s their software, and they’re paying for it,” she said.
Client Understanding and Expectations of Reputation Management
Krystal discussed whether all businesses need reputation management. “We do have quite a lot of clients that are doing well, with lots of reviews and a high star rating, but we focus on the opportunity and how they can take a proactive approach in the conversation they have with clients.
“If they don’t have the resources to participate, we’ve typically seen most still wanting to be aware of what’s being said. Maybe there are scenarios where it’s a healthcare organization where they find out there are issues with the reception – they’re able to see and identify and proactively solve some of those issues that wouldn’t have made it to the right teams in the same amount of time if they weren’t paying attention to the reviews.”
Dana explained which indicators to watch out for to know if a potential client needs reputation management: “Looking at reviews, are they ever responded to? Are they on multiple platforms? Are they in the industry’s niche? Look at which companies have the worst reviews, and which have the best reviews, and start somewhere in the middle.
“The companies with all 1-stars and scam reviews won’t pay you – pick those with a 3-star or low-4 star rating – the people who don’t have spectacular reviews, haven’t been responding, and have unanswered Q&As, and don’t really manage Facebook. Those would be the types of people that would be happy to have some help because they don’t necessarily understand.”
She shared her tips on finding new clients. “Our best leads don’t necessarily come from industry events, but instead from events from that vertical. Have a booth or do a talk about reputation management, because that’s where your customers will really be. We don’t get our best leads from conferences like Mozcon, we get them from some podcast in Australia that’s about running a business.”
— BrightLocal (@bright_local) August 21, 2019
Krystal explained the importance of competitor benchmarking, “It’s really helpful to show clients markets where they’re not performing well locally, and then show them their competitors in those markets and their engagement. Point out the opportunities, look at the language in the reviews, and show them which reviews are highlighted on their GMB listing. Showing them how they can lead the conversation is really eye-opening, and then they start understanding how big and important this task is, and how critical it is to take the first step.”
She shared her experiences selling to multi-location businesses: “It’s incredible to show them the markets where there are just small mom and pop shops that are killing it when it comes to reputation management. At that point, resource isn’t really thought about. For a multi-location business, they have to consider what it takes to compete at that level. Quite honestly, it’s a hard conversation to have, and a different thing for them to consider that they hadn’t thought about.”
Dana discussed how it’s different selling to smaller businesses. “I honestly think that single location businesses ‘get it’ almost immediately. I’ve rarely had to sell them on the idea that they’d manage their reputation, they want to know why they’re not in the local pack, and how others get so many reviews.”
Making a Convincing Argument and Handling Objections
Myles asked the panel how they convince clients that they need reputation management. Krystal said, “It often starts with a ranking conversation. When they come to us asking what the next step is to improve rankings, and to take a look at reviews and reputation management. When they say that, it opens the doors for how powerful it can be.
“Sit out and talk through the KPIs in advance to show them what can be delivered on a weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis to show them all of the opportunities that come alongside a reputation management program.”
Dana shared her experiences working with smaller businesses. “Let’s say you’re in the three-pack, and someone has a rating of 4.8, and you’re in number two with 3.4, and the person below has 4.6 – who do you think the person is going to call? Particularly when no one visits your website, they call or make an appointment directly from Google-world, these no click searches means it’s really important to have a good-looking listing in search results.
“I think that’s something people don’t think about, they’re ranking number one, but they’re ranking something that looks horrible so no one’s going to call you. That’s truly reputation management, we can SEO the crap out of this and you can rank so much better, but you’re just ranking something bad. Make it better, then try to rank it, rather than ranking crap.”
— Jason Brown (@keyserholiday) August 21, 2019
Myles asked which review sites the panel’s clients requested. “It depends on the industry, and often the location”, said Dana. “If you’re in home services, I’ll mention AngiesList or HomeStars. In Canada, YellowPages is still a thing, and different countries all have their own review sites. Google is the monster in the room, but Yahoo is super popular in Japan, for example.
“It really depends where the client is. There’s even super-hyper regional stuff, in the US there’s Craiglist, in Canada we have Kjiji, but then if you’re in Victoria, BC, which is a small town of 250,000 they have used Victoria.com. If you don’t sell to clients that aren’t physically located where you are, you have to do your homework and see which sites matter for you.
“You often get, ‘I don’t use it, so therefore no one does.’ That’s where I wish we could use tracking numbers in citations to prove that people are calling you from these sites, but that’s where it’s good to have good Analytics to show which sites you’re getting clicks from. Houzz, for example, often has people calling directly from but they won’t mention it. Ask, how did you find me? If even one person mentions it, it probably means others are looking even if it isn’t on your radar. You’re not your target market, you’re not your target customer.”
Krystal discussed the differences between the key industries she works with. “In retail, your goals have to be a lot lower than they are in restaurants and hotels, and more service-based businesses where it’s going to be easier to get good and bad reviews. Hotels and restaurants you’ll be looking at niche sites like TripAdvisor, while Yelp is way more critical for restaurants than it is for retail, for example.
“For financial businesses, their average review score is the lowest across any industry, so telling them they can go from a 1 to a 2-star rating would be immense for them. If you’re dealing with financial and wealth advisors, you have a challenge because they can’t technically ask for reviews.”
The panel went on to discuss how the type of business, and the personalities within it can make a difference to reviews. Dana shared Kick Point’s successes with pet-related businesses, where asking those who had a positive experience led to glowing reviews.
Myles said, “There’s an emotional aspect to what you’re buying. If the emotional aspect is something that’s pleasing to you, and solved a major problem, they’re delighted. But, if someone is having to part money with a financial services business, they’re not so happy about it!”
Dana discussed how many reviews they aim for. “It really depends on the competitors showing in the pack for their most important terms. How many reviews do they have? Let’s get 20% more than that. It’s also a moving target, because over that 6 months the competitors will get more reviews as well, so you have to keep moving the needle on how many reviews you need.
“The other function is to find out what proportion of your clients are going to leave a review. When we start a review management program where we’re asking for reviews using a platform, we see which percentage of those come back and make it onto your review sites. If 5% of your clients are leaving a review, this means you need to sell to X people per month – can you actually hit this number? If they can’t, it might take 12 months instead to compete.”
Myles asked which offline tactics work best for physical businesses. Dana said, “Have a sign, as sometimes that’s all you need. If you’re handing stuff to people, put a receipt in their bag saying to leave a review. I know QR codes aren’t very attractive, but they work on most phones now. Some places now have a text option and we’ll respond back with a link to the review site, that totally works. Remind people to leave a review in as many ways as possible without getting annoying.”
“Oftentimes we see in the financial sector, they don’t want to take on the ‘liability’ of respond to reviews, because they have to consider compliance guidelines. But restaurants and retailers are much more likely to consider reputation management.” – @krystal_taing #InsideLocal
— BrightLocal (@bright_local) August 21, 2019
Dana shared her final thoughts: “Be honest about your expectations. If people are saying that they’d heard that getting more reviews help you rank higher in Google – yes, they will, but it’s not going to suddenly elevate you from position 1,000 to position 1.
“I find that the math is really important to cover. If you have a review rating that is 3.2, you need X number of 5-star reviews to hit your target. And, make sure that you look good as an agency, and provide the solid numbers in your proposal sets the tone that you’re someone you can trust.”
Krystal concluded: “Really listen to the challenges that the brand or agency has today with reputation management. Be honest about what’s realistic in their goals, whether that’s short-term or long-term goals. Show them how you can expand that and roll that out.
“For multi-location brands, really showing them the power of reputation management, and that it extends a lot farther than increasing your rank. There’s likely a lot of other people in your organization that can benefit from a reputation management solution.”
Thank you to both panelists for sharing their expertise.
- Kick Point: Focused Reporting for Better Working Relationships
- Get Found Local: Cost of Lost Opportunities Calculator
- BrightLocal: 40 Online Review Statistics
- BrightLocal: Online Reputation Management Survey
- BrightLocal: Reputation Manager
Below are some of the highlights from the live Q&A. Thank you to BrightLocal’s Head of Business Development, Matt Coghlan, and Reputation Consultant, Ernest Olaseinde, for their answers below.
Q. Which tasks belong to reputation management? Is it just review and listing management? Or are there other parts?
A. “Reputation management is a blanket term for everything related to your reputation. This can be the simplest form of simply replying to reviews but can involve asking customers to leave a review which can be done by staff or sotfware. You need to have your listings managed in order to respond to reviews which is why the two work very closely. But listings management is a service in its own right by all accounts.” – Matt Coghlan, BrightLocal
Q. How do you determine what to charge for reputation management?
A. “It depends on the overall SEO objective of the client and your agency’s hourly rates. Additionally, it will also depend if the client wants to self manage or the agency fully manages.” – Ernest Olaseinde, Reputation Consultant. [This led to an interesting discussion in the chat, where attendees shared how much they charge. Answers generally ranged between $200 and $500 per month – but of course, it depends on your own agency, offering, and location.]
Q. How can a “teach you” model in reputation management can be profitable for agencies?
A. “It positions your agency as a trusted advisor, reputation management doesn’t necessarily require super technical knowhow so you can train your clients to self manage whilst they lean on your agency for more technical tasks such as link building or on page optimization. Your client will then have more trust in you for the other services you provide and appreciate the transparency. You can also provide them with reporting and charge a smaller fee for this. This is just one option, you can also offer them a done for you service at a higher price point of course.” – Matt
Q. If you have software for requesting reviews that you provide to your clients as an added value, how do you encourage them to use it? How do you encourage them to use it regularly? How much training/follow up do you recommend in beginning stages and then on?
A. “I think you need to get the business to fully buy in to the concept of online reviews and typically the businesses that get the most/best reviews get their staff to ask for the review personally then follow up on email or through software. This is super important as the staff member has the relationship with the customer. So in the onboarding meeting of whichever tool you choose, you should work out the buying proccess for their customers, and then train their team to ask for the review after they’ve delivered the service. Getting buy in to add this to their proccess will make any software so much more effective. Some companies have success by making targets for their team members to get reviews from their customers – that’s a good way to get buy in across the company.” – Ernest
Q. So clients come to you if they have bad reviews and want better reviews. But of they have a lot of bad reviews there is obviously something wrong there. What do you do in that case?
A. “First, take a closer look at the service levels, and customer services etc at that particular location to get a better understanding as to why the reviews are bad. If there are a significant number, this could indicate a fundamental operational issue. Watch out for common themes, and make sure to share these with staff – both positive and negative!” – Ernest
Q. I heard something about pitching leads by showing them the reviews of their local competitors. Does Brightlocal have a “competitor spy” feature of some sort?
A. “Absolutely our Google My Business and Local Search Audit can do this, we can return the top 10 local competitors and show their reviews (alongside other crucial metrics) vs the prospects/clients. Here’s a quick screenshot so you can see what this looks like.” – Ernest
Q. Knowing that Yelp doesn’t want businesses to ask for reviews, what is a good way to get reviews there?
A. “Yelp have some pretty strict guidelines on what they want. If you want to follow Yelp’s guidelines then you shouldn’t ask for reviews – period. You can add a sticker saying “we’re on yelp” at the business, but that’s it. But, that’s not to say your client’s competition are asking for reviews for Yelp! We have more advice here.”
Q. Does BrightLocal offer an option that works with QR Codes?
A. “We looked at QR codes but felt that they never really took off with consumers and are tough to include on every medium – email, print, SMS etc. Instead, we have a link that you can send to customers instead to start the feedback process. Find out more on Link Mode here.” – Ernest
Thanks to everyone who attended live and contributed to the excellent chat.
Krystal leads Local Product Strategy at Rio SEO for global enterprise brands across hundreds of thousands of locations in finance and insurance, retail, hospitality, healthcare, and more. Her extensive experience informing and crafting local strategy aids multi-location brands in solving their most persistent local marketing challenges to improve organic visibility, search rankings, and online-to-offline traffic. Krystal is a respected local search authority and a resource for marketers and businesses of all types and sizes.
Dana is President and Partner at Kick Point, where she applies marketing strategies to grow clients’ businesses, ensuring that digital and traditional play well together. With her deep experience in digital, Dana can separate real solutions from wastes of time (and budget). In her spare time, Dana is the past-president of the Advertising Club of Edmonton and is the weekly technology columnist on CBC Edmonton AM.
Myles is Founder and CEO of BrightLocal. He has worked in the local search industry since 2009 and has been a major contributor to the Local Search Ranking Factors Study. Myles has also written a regular column for Search Engine Land and has spoken at SEO conferences such as BrightonSEO and Inboundcon (Toronto).