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19 Will Customer Opinion Overtake Search?

Right now showing up on page one of the organic search results is the holy grail of small business online marketing. Any business that spends significant time consistently producing keyword rich, educational content, draws links, and is active in numerous social network can eventually gain some real traction when it comes to search results.

For about five years rating a review sites like Yelp! and Insider Pages have been slowly bubbling up and impacting search results and buying decisions. More and more people are relying on search results combined with reviews. In other words, they might find you on page one and that was good, but then they find some so so reviews on CitySearch and that could kill the deal.

While ratings and opinions have dramatically impacted purchases made at hotels and restaurants, they haven’t had nearly as big an impact on other industries. After all the the searcher needed to use these rating sites and the reviews, while carrying some weight, were from strangers.

This past week Google added something they are calling Social Search. (Here’s the official Google announcement) For now Social Search is opt-in (you need to activate it in Google Labs), but when activated you will start to see the opinions, blog posts, tweets and reviews from your friends and those you follow in other social networks at the bottom of the regular Google search results.

sanfran
Search for San Francisco restaurants add these social search results

If this feature becomes standard, which I think it will, a surfer looking for a good place to get a pair running shoes on a business trip can do a search and not only get results for the stores in the area, but also opinions and recommendations from friends. Do you think those recommendation, up or down, will carry more weight than those hard earned SEO results – I think it’s highly possible they will.

Getting great search engine placement and results is still essential. Paying attention to what your customers are saying, helping them say it, participating in real time conversations good and bad, and monitoring and measuring every mention may just become the new SEO.

If you would like to see what this looks like you will need the following
1) Google account
2) Google personal profile with some elements of your social graph added – Gmail contacts, Twitter profile, Facebook profile (This is where the Google gets the content to show)
3) Social Search enabled through Google Labs

42 5 Ways to Get Your Customers Talking

word of mouthWord of mouth marketing is considered by many to be the most desired form of marketing. The trust, referrals, and overall brand building buzz that’s garnered by customers spreading the good word to prospects is worth its weight in gold. Some products, services, and experiences naturally produce chatter, but there are certainly things that any company can do to stimulate word of mouth and cash in on the buzz.

Here are five way to get your customers talking about you and your organization:

1) Ask them – the best word of mouth starts with “word of listen.” Call your customers up and ask them why they buy, why they stick around, and why they tell their friends about you. You might be a bit surprised by their answers. Hint: it’s usually not the stuff you have in your new marketing brochure. You stand a far greater chance of attracting the right customers and the right buzz if you really understand what your current customers value about doing business with you. This goes for online and social media listening as well – what are they saying in chat rooms, blog comments and on twitter?

2) Teach them – sometimes great word of mouth just happens, but sometime you’ve got to help it along. One way to do this is to make sure you are teaching your customers how to spot an ideal client, what a prospect in need might say when looking for your products, and how to properly and concisely describe how your company in different. Of course, in today’s hyper social media world you should also be teaching your happiest customers how to write reviews on Yelp, Insider Pages and CitySearch type rating sites.

3) Include them – People like to be asked what they think, it’s just human nature, but it’s also a great way to get some sound advice. Create a round table discussion group made up of select customers and charge them with advising you once a quarter or so on new marketing and business initiatives. (Reward them for this in some way as well.) This can include advising on everything from a product extension to the look and feel of your web site redesign. Members of your marketing round table will become natural ambassadors for the brand. (You can do this with simple video chat meetings – tinychat)

4) Star them – Letting a customer testimonial or success story go uncaptured or untold is downright criminal in WOM circles. Go out and get a TouchMic MityMic to record customer testimonials to your iPod or get a Flip video camera and start doing video interviews with customers to record their success stories. These “real life” bits of content are gold and turn your featured customers into talking referral billboards for your brand. Want to take this idea up a notch? Hold a customer party and film a dozen or so at one time in a great atmosphere – this alone will get your customers talking.

5) Surprise them – I like to think I saved the best for last – few things get people talking faster than surprising them. This can include doing something that was out of the blue and much appreciated to just giving them more than they bargained for. I remember a PR firm that was pitching me some business and the account rep showed up to meet with an apple pie (I’m still talking about it.) I once worked with a financial planner that hired a mobile auto detail firm to detail his customer’s cars during their annual review – that created some buzz.

Bottom line of course is that you’ve got to do good work, do something that somebody appreciates, and create an experience worth talking about, but then, prime the pump and leverage all that greatness.

Image credit: rego

17 Your Pizza Sucks And . . .

Yelp t-shirtsIn this new age of social media marketing and user generated content, marketers are learning first hand the impact of directory sites that allow visitors to rate and review the products, service and services of companies at the local level.

These sites garner a fair amount of bad feelings from small business owners as they often allow rants from disgruntled customers, but few protections for the actual small business against unfounded or competitor sponsored bad reviews.

These sites do serve a useful purpose for the consumer, are growing in popularity, and are here to stay, so now’s the time to learn how to navigate them, participate in them, and use them to your marketing advantage.

But first, here’s some interesting coverage on this issue for background.
1) One of the sites getting some of its own negative reviews when it comes to posting reviews without any recourse for the business owner is Yelp! – in this New York Times article Yelp! is criticized for its hands off policies.
2) One San Francisco Pizza hot spot took matters in their own hands and turned the tables, so to speak, on Yelp! by creating Yelp! t-shirts for their staff to wear that featured some of the most absurd one star ratings. The coverage Pizzeria Delfina received, including a national spot on NPR and a mention on American Idol may have actually led to Yelp!’s decision to change some of its policies and allow more control over reviews for business owners.
3) A New York Times follow-up story quotes Yelp’s co-founder and chief executive, Jeremy Stoppelman announcing that business owners will now have the ability to publicly respond to reviews, particularly those they feel are unfair.

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