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5-star reviews

Great Reviews Provide Proof That You Keep Your Promises

 

Marketing Podcast with John Jantsch

In this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, I would like to discuss online reviews.

You know those Google and Facebook first star reviews we all know and love. It’s become a crucial part of marketing these days. Let’s face it when we go to make a purchase, the presence of a lot of 4 or 5-star reviews provides us with a level of trust that this is someone we want to do business with. Something that is sometimes overlooked is the actual words that the reviewer uses above and beyond the stars.

What you’ll learn if you give a listen:

  • How to get more ideal clients like the ones that are already leaving you 5-star reviews
  • How you don’t provide a service your clients had a problem and you solved it wonderfully while providing a good experience
  • How to use reviews to update your core messaging
  • How to use reviews to inspire brilliant marketing from email subject lines to Facebook ads

Like this show? Click on over and give us a review on iTunes, please!

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Less Annoying CRM AwardThis episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is brought to you by Less Annoying CRM.

Less Annoying CRM is a simple contact and lead manager built from the ground up for small businesses. Manage your contacts, leads, notes, calendar, to-do’s and more, all from one simple web app. Less Annoying CRM is founded on three core principles: simplicity, affordability, and outstanding customer service.

Less Annoying CRM has a special offer just for listeners of Duct Tape Marketing Podcast.  All users get an unlimited 60-day free trial to exhaustively test every aspect of the CRM. There is no prepayment or obligation to try it out. https://www.lessannoyingcrm.com/hello/ducttapemarketing

John Jantsch: This episode of the Duct Tape Marketing podcast is brought to you by Less Annoying CRM. It's a simple contact and lead manager built from the ground up for small business. Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing podcast. This is John Jantsch and I'm going to do a solo show. It's been a little while since I've done that. I hear from lots of you that you enjoy the solo shows so let's do one today. I'm going to talk about online reviews. Those little Google five-star and Facebook five-star reviews that we all covered. I mean, it's become a crucial part of marketing these days. I mean, let's face it. When we go to make a purchase, the presence of a lot of great reviews, I think provides a layer of proof that maybe that business is somebody we want to do business with.

But often overlooked in my opinion, and the obsession for the five star reviews is the actual words used by the reviewer. See a five-star review often implies that this is an ideal customer. I mean, they had the right problem, you solved it wonderfully. They had a great experience. Then they voluntarily turned to a third party review site like Google or Facebook or Yelp, and told the world how great you were. And frankly, some of those sites aren't that easy to navigate. So they had to put in a little work and I think that to me, that's like referring your business to anyone who cares to read the reviews. And of course, total strangers now are reading those reviews and putting a lot of stock in them.

Now, you want more ideal clients, don't you? Well, here's the real point I want to make today. If you want more customers like the ones that are leaving great reviews, pay very close attention to how those reviewers talk about your business, the words and phrases that show up repeatedly. If you've got 30 or 40 five-star reviews, I can almost guarantee you that there are going to be some phrases and words that show up repeatedly. And there's gold in those phrases. I mean, it's essentially your best customers telling you over and over again, exactly what it is that you do that solves the real problem they have. And I've said this numerous times, I mean, nobody cares what we sell or the benefits or features, they want their problem solved. And that's what they end up talking about when they have a great experience.

Let me give you a couple of real life examples. This is from a local business, and frankly, I just grabbed the first five reviews that showed up. And these are some of the things that repeated. They came and worked as scheduled and cleaned up nicely after it was done. The guys showed up on time and did a wonderful job. In the past, we have dealt with people who don't show up or do a professional job. Everything was cleaned up very well. Did you hear a pattern in any of that? I mean, frankly, it's probably not even clear to you. In fact, I know it's not clear to you what service that business actually provides, but I think the clues to how they provide it are obvious.

If I were working with that business, the core message for that business, as something they should put up above the fold on their website, first thing you see is we promise to show up when we say and we will clean up everything before we leave. So it turns out this is this business is a tree service. But do you see the real problem they're solving for their ideal customers, those ones that leave reviews had a great experience? Is that so few people in the home services industry are organized enough to offer appointment times and often leave a mess behind. Maybe you've had that experience yourself.

But for this business and so many others that I've worked with over the years, reviews now can be seen as a strategic marketing asset, as much as a vehicle for social proof. If you start mining those reviews for core message, that can become a tool to help you attract even more ideal clients. I mean, it just goes to reason that people who really want somebody to show up on time and clean up the job site are people that are going to be your ideal clients. They might pay more for those. So imagine if you're actually saying that, screaming that at the top of your lungs and everywhere you go, you're going to attract people who that's more important maybe than saving a few hundred bucks here or there.

So turn your reviews on Google or Facebook or really any industry specific review site. Every industry now has them. We all know about Google and Facebook and Yelp, but pretty much every industry has some sort of grading sites, and just start carefully reading your positive reviews. Now, if you have a few negative reviews, they can tell you a lot as well, but that's not what we're looking for right now but don't ignore them. Now, as you read the reviews, start noticing words, phrases, themes, patterns that are repeated. Again, this is your customer explaining the problems that your company actually solves for them. The things that you do that others don't. I mean, these are the words, phrases, and themes that you need to start using in your marketing message right now. I mean, sometimes you'll discover that your happy customers simply love your people or your approach, and that's great. Don't discount how powerful this can be as a message.

Now, in some cases you'll uncover a complete and creative core message hidden inside of a review. Let me give you an example. A few years ago, we were working with a subscription based lawn mowing service, and actually they were in the Southern United States. And so it was kind of a year round thing. I mean they mow year round. So it's all weekly, we're going to show up, that's a subscription based thing. So this company, by the way, you think a lawn mowing services maybe not the most professional type of outfit but no, they were very professional, did a great job, they could be relied on to do what they promised. But we kept finding that their ideal customer expressed this as experiencing a moment of joy in an otherwise hectic world. I mean, that's kind of magic, right? When you're thinking of this commodity based, low profile kind of service, that's actually providing joy. So you won't find this all the time and this may sound a little goofy to some of you depending on what your business is.
But we read this over and over again, their reviews. These were word for word coming out and after calling through their reviews, we saw this three times, "I just love coming home on mowing day." So these were busy professionals. Everybody in the house worked would come home and voila the grass, the yard just looked lovely. So in addition to being very prompt and being reliable and being trustworthy and professional and communicating what they were doing, we changed their message, their entire message or their entire promise to you'll love coming home on mowing day. So again, I think the idea there was that this promise was kind of begging other prospects to wonder, "Well, gosh, how come that's not true of my current service?" So it's not always... I mean, in some cases it's just very to the point, we do this and you'll love it, this solves this problem. We show up when we say we're going to, that solves that problem.
But in other times, there can be creative elements to this as well. So don't discount something. If your customers are saying it over and over again, here probably is something very much to that. And that let's hear from our sponsor, Less Annoying CRM. It's a simple contacted lead manager built from the ground up for small business. You can manage your contacts, leads, notes, calendar, to-do's and more, all from one simple web app. Less Annoying CRM is focused on three core principles, simplicity, affordability, and outstanding customer service. And as a benefit, you're going to get 60 days of unlimited free trial. So you can test it out, every aspect of it. Check out the link in the show notes at lessannoyingcrm.com/hello/ducttapemarketing.
So think in terms of using your reviews to develop a core message of difference. One that really offers precisely what your ideal customer value, and that's how you turn a review into a powerful marketing strategy, but you can also use, and often we do this, we may find a handful of recurring themes. They might not make a great core message, but they actually might make a great topic for a blog post. You might start working them into your FAQs. I mean, if people are experiencing some sort of surprise or something they didn't expect, that's what they're often putting into their reviews. When they're talking about problems, many cases, email subject lines, you can imagine, do you enjoy coming home on mowing day as the subject line. I mean, that's certainly fair game for that so don't just think of this as only one purpose.
I think calling over your reviews and pulling out themes and words and phrases, it's great for ad copy. It's great for your Google ads. If you're running Google ads, there's probably a good chance that you should be calling through your reviews to find good and bad things that you might actually put into your ads. So it's all about using the words of your ideal customers to attract more of the same. And sometimes those words, they're describing your service or they're describing what you do, maybe in different ways than you would, because after all you're in the industry, you use industry jargon. So just go through those spend some time, every time you get one and analyze them or certainly if you've not done that in the past, make it a project that you do to start thinking about your core strategic message. Again, I've said it about five times that using the words that your ideal clients use is a great way to attract more ideal clients.
Now, one last thing, how did you got this review thing down? I'm going to expand it a bit. Studying reviews is also amazing for competitive research because your competitors, good reviews, bad reviews, both their negative and positive reviews, you can kind of find themes in them as well. So these can provide a sales advantage. So if a competitor is getting repeatedly kind of negative reviews about some aspect of their business, that can be something that you would sell against. If they're getting great reviews, you might also think, "Wow, all their customers are talking about their timeliness or some little thing, maybe we should either do a better job of that or maybe that's something we could communicate as well." So reviews and the words that contain are much more than social proof, they're amazing content and a path to better messaging in your marketing in general.
So that is it for day. You know that I love those reviews. If you want to turn to iTunes or Spotify or any of those places that you happen to listen to this podcast, I would love it if you tell me what you think. If you've been a long time listener, I would love it if you tell me that. Always feel free to write to me at [email protected] if you ever wanted to discuss marketing or anything I talk about on this show. All right. That's all. Be well.

local business marketing

Why Reviews Are More Important Than Ever for Local Search

Most local business owners are aware that positive online reviews are good for business, but over the years, I’ve realized many aren’t aware of just how much they can impact it. Today’s consumers are increasingly relying on reviews to make decisions about the products and services they purchase, in fact:

  • 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations
  • 92% of buyers regularly or occasionally rely on reviews when making a local buying decision

Building up reviews of your business is a great way to offer third-party proof that your company does what it says it does and that your customers are happy and willing to talk about it. In fact, reviews have become even more important now that local search directories like Google and Yelp! have made them a foundational element for ranking well in local search.

And, it’s only going to more important – according to MOZ annual survey of local ranking factors for search, links and reviews are now receiving increased emphasis. Bonus points for reviews with keywords.

Getting reviews on a regular basis takes a proactive and committed approach if you are going to generate them authentically and consistently.

Why reviews are important

With all the scams out there these days, people want to be reassured when they’re searching for products and services online that they’re getting the value they’re looking for. They’re looking for a reason to choose you over the competition, so you need to give them one.

Traditional SEO tactics can get you to the top of search engine results pages, but online reviews will help you seal the deal.

In essence, online reviews are modern day referrals, so having a plethora of them readily available for your audience to see is a great way to stand out from your competitors. No matter what you do for marketing, people will always trust what is said about you more than what is said by you.

How to get reviews

Reviews are harder to get than they should be, even if you have raving fans. The key to getting reviews for your business is to be proactive and to make it easy to build a review funnel. Below is a pretty simple process that I follow and recommend for clients who are trying to get reviews.

  • Create a template email to ask for reviews.
    • Review websites sometimes filter reviews submitted by customers on the spot (based on IP address), so you need to diversify your review solicitation strategy. A great way to follow up and reach out to customers is via email.
  • Use a tool like Grade.us or GetFiveStars
    • Grade.us or GetFiveStars.com allow you to set up a review page for your customers to visit. You can also manage the review earning process from the platforms.
  • Add links to your Google My Business and Yelp profiles on the sidebar of your website to make it easy for people to find you on those sites and leave a review.
  • Put a link leading to a review site in your email signature, business cards, and invoices (again, making it as easy as possible for them to leave a review for you).

Lastly, as a good rule of thumb, consider writing reviews to get reviews. What I mean is that you can actually build your brand online by giving reviews to companies within your partner and referral networks because what helps them will, in turn, help you. I’d recommend starting with Google and Linkedin, as I’ve found those are great places for getting reciprocal reviews.

Where to build your online review presence

While you need positive reviews for social proof, you also need them for your local SEO efforts. Google factors review activity as one of the elements that help determine what businesses show up in the 3-pack, which is something you shouldn’t ignore.

To really make an impact I recommend getting reviews on Google My Business, Facebook, and Yelp. In fact, for Google My Business, you must have at least 5 reviews for Google to display the review stars as a highlighting feature of local results. In addition, if there are any local review sites for your industry, be sure to build them up there as well. For example, if you’re a remodeling contractor in the Kansas City area, you’d want to get good reviews on HomeAdvisor. If you’re a lawyer, Avvo would probably be a good bet.

Additionally, anytime someone writes a “top 10” post or something similar for your type of business in your area, you want to be on it.

Managing your reputation

It’s not enough to simply set up your review funnel and let it work for you in the background. You must be mindful of what people are saying about you and you must be present. Below are a few good rules of thumb to follow:

1. Never write, buy, or encourage fake reviews! Unfortunately, there are businesses out there that do this, but it is important that you aren’t one of them.

2. Always engage with the people who review you, whether their comments are positive or negative. For positive comments, be sure to thank them as it may encourage them to leave additional reviews in the future. For negative comments, address the issue in a professional manner and recommend the person gives you a call to work everything out. This shows your audience that you care and are respectful even with negative reviews, but you can take the rest of the conversation offline.

3. Don’t panic over negative reviews. They happen. Just remember to take the high road.

4. Detailed reviews containing keywords that are relevant to your business are more valuable than one-liners. See if you can get your customers to leave detailed reviews as to why their experience was so great.

Hidden benefits of reviews

You don’t hear about these a lot but I’ve found these two benefits to be extremely important for businesses.

Messaging

Reviews are a great way to come up with your company’s messaging. Within reviews, people often include what they really appreciate about your business, which can be a great way to find themes. Once themes are identified, be sure to include them in your messaging. 

One of my clients consistently saw “showed up on time and cleaned up job site” in their reviews, so we made it one of their core messages.

Problem solving

In addition to messaging, reviews can be great for problems solving. If you’re stuck in a rut or aren’t hitting the goals you’d like to be hitting, see if you can identify the reason in user reviews. If they are unhappy with something, perhaps fixing the complaint will help solve your problem.

Bottom line, if you want your business to be successful in today’s world, you can’t ignore the numerous benefits of receiving online reviews. If this isn’t something you’ve started giving a lot of attention to, it’s time you start.

Need more local marketing tips? Check out our entire Guide to Local Marketing

 

2 How to Outrank Your Bad Reviews

reviews

You know the old saying – “the best defense is a good offense” – well, turns out that’s true when it comes to your online reputation as well.

Hopefully, this has never happened to you, but all it takes is one unfortunate situation with a customer or one disgruntled employee to wreak havoc on your business. See, today when someone wants to check you out, they ask their friends and then turn to Google – even when their friend says you’re the best.

So what happens when they type your name into a search engine and sure enough listing number one is your website, but somewhere down around listing four or five there’s a nasty review or a blog post dedicated to your suckiness.

Pretty much anyone, for any reason, can publish indexable information about your business and, while I’m not suggesting you hide your flaws, I am suggesting you not let them define your good work.

I’ve been suggesting this very tactic since about 2006 and it’s still just as valid. When someone goes and searches for your company why not work to make the first ten or twenty listings they find real estate that you control?

And the good news is that it’s not really that hard. Sure, you have to put in a little work, but the rewards and potential risk you avert are well worth it.

Here’s the deal – Google loves social networks. They love some over others, but claiming, linking to and promoting your company social media profiles is a great start to your reputation offense.

I have a number of websites that I use for my business and also have other branded assets such as a podcast and books, but still a search on Google for the term Duct Tape Marketing turns up my company Facebook page, Twitter page, LinkedIn page, Wikipedia page, Instagram page, YouTube channel, Google+ page and even a CrunchBase profile – all on the first two pages.

Even a search on my name turns up half a dozen properties that I control, including personal profiles on many of the networks mentioned above.

When someone asks me if they really need to be on all of these networks, or if they need to guest blog and create Tumblr pages and submit their podcast to Stitchter I say, maybe you don’t need to be in all of these places to survive, but your reputation may need you to build brand assets in all of these places in order to thrive.

Again, the point is not to mask shoddy work, it’s to make sure that one bad experience or unreasonable customer doesn’t control what the world gets to see.

5 5 Relatively Simple Steps to Dominate Local Search

local search

If you do business mostly in your town, your marketing efforts must be hyper focused. You’re only targeting a very select group of people so, when those people go out there looking for a business in their community, you want to show up, right? But, not just show up – dominate – be seen as the obvious choice in the sea of wanna-be competitors!

The world of buying continues to evolve and that is certainly as true for local purchases as it is for global purchases. Would be buyers turn to search engines on laptops and mobile devices before they look anywhere else. They not only expect to find businesses that can meet their needs, they also expect to find educational content, reviews and other signals that help them make quick decisions about what to buy and who to buy it from.

No category of business is immune – B2B, B2C, large ticket services and low dollar commodities are sourced this way today.

If you want to stand out and dominate for your category of business there are a handful of fundamentally local practices that you must embrace and invest time and energy in mastering.

Create local content

You knew I was going to tell you to create more content didn’t you. Sorry, I know this is hard, but this is how the game is played today.

Creating content, however, does not mean writing more about your products and services. If you want to use content as a tool to drive local traffic then you have to make your content both useful and local.

Yes you need to add local maps, local directions, address data using Schema format, but none of that will matter in terms of engagement if you’re not writing about things that local people want to know about. For example, if you’re a plumber you need to write about fixing leaky faucets, not about your awesome 12-point inspection system.

In addition, you’ve got to think about ways to embrace the community beyond what you sell – Talk about neighborhood block parties, cover local charities and get behind the local sports teams.  Some might argue how useful this kind of content seems, but remember relevance is, well, relevant.

Getting involved in the community where your customers live and work has always made sense from a business standpoint and it makes sense from a content and local search standpoint as well.

Get serious about reviews

I did a quick search for a florist in my town. Take a look at the image below and tell me which florist stands out.

Local Search

Now, the fact that this florist ranks first might be one reason they stand out, but it’s hard to deny all those reviews paint a pretty compelling picture for choosing them. So, you’ve got to ask did they get reviews because they rank so highly or did they rank so highly because they have so many reviews?

There is little denying that reviews play a role in local search ranking, but I think it goes beyond that. They also send a pretty heavy trust signal. I mean, would you eat a pizza joint with a bunch of whopping two star reviews?

A number of the review sites, like Yelp, have also become pretty significant traffic generators because Yelp pages rank very highly in search. I did a search for Blue Bouquet, the florist in the number one position in the local search above, and their Yelp profile is in the number two position, right after their own website. (Followed closely by social profiles and industry related directories.)

Getting reviews for your business is no easy feat. Even raving fans don’t seem to make the time to login and write reviews and most of the review engines don’t want you to do anything to stimulate reviews. (Unless of course you buy advertising from them, but that’s another post.)

The key is to make getting reviews a primary objective at the outset. Use reviews in the sales process and point out how thrilled customers were with the results they received. Put reviews online and in the store. Put a big fat “review us” button on your website and consider using a tool like GetFiveStars or Grade.us to manage the review process and make it easier for customers to post to places like Google+. (In fact, make a special effort to get Google+ reviews.)

Finally, take reviews seriously as they might be one of your most important local assets. Respond to them good or bad – particularly bad. Thank your customers for providing them – send them a thank you card offline! Build them into everything you do and you just might find the mindset forces you to provide an even more review worthy experience.

Work the directories

You’re certainly familiar with the local search directories produced by Google, Yahoo and Bing. And, we’ve already mentioned some review directories like Yelp. But, you may not be aware of the fact that there are hundreds of generic, industry-specific and local directories out there providing data points for the big search engines.

Local directories

Here’s a list of some of the top directories and local citation sources for the United States.

Getting your business listed, accurately, in these directories is a great way to add data points for local search. Using a handful of these directories to expand your search real estate can really pay off. When, for example, you enhance your Yelp listing and combine that with working more reviews this can become a lot like another website working for you.

Additionally, if you don’t claim you listing in many of these directories you do risk the chance that someone else might. Start with GoogleMyBusiness and then move to a tool like MOZLocal to see where you stand today in terms of the major directories.

Take a NAP

Really, I love a power nap right after lunch and recommend you consider putting one in your workday, but in this case NAP stands for Name, Address, Phone. All of these directory sites I talked about above build profiles on companies by gathering data from lots of places.

The problem is that if you’ve been in business for while, maybe you’ve moved once or twice, maybe you changed your phone number, there’s a good chance some of that data is wrong and that’s a problem. Search engines get nervous providing local search results that might not be accurate. Imagine how bad Google would feel if they sent you to a business location that was no longer valid. Well, I’m actually not too sure they would feel that bad for you, but they do know that bad search results mean less ad revenue, so it’s a big deal to them.

The key is consistency. Whatever you have as your address on your Google+ page, replicate that across all of your directory listings as mentioned above.

schema code

Don’t forget the format you use to list your NAP info on your own site too. The industry is heading towards a standard for listing certain types of data called Schema. Don’t worry too much about the technical aspects of this, just head over this Schema creator tool to produce the HTML to properly format your NAP data for your site. (If you’re nervous about code things you can validate the code using Google’s Testing Tool)

Network for links

Finally, social media, online and offline networking play a big role in making all of this come together.

The more you can acquire local links the better. Spend some time making sure you’ve claimed listing in places like your local chamber, non-profit boards and alumni directories. These are often pretty high profile links that certainly send the search engines a local message.

One strategy I’ve preached for years is that of building a team of local strategic partners that you can refer your customers to when they are in need of something you don’t provide. Well, one of the ways to supplement this activity is to make sure that you and your local team are linking to and sharing each other’s local content.

Don’t forget the power of local social groups. Participating in locally focused groups on networks such as LinkedIn can be another great way to find other people’s content and make mutually beneficial local connections that might start with links and sharing and blossom into something much bigger.

The bottom line in all of this is that ranking highly for local search takes consistent work, but it’s not that hard or technical for the majority of small local business out there.

3 Earning Referrals Takes More Than Luck

With the madness of the annual NCAA tournament upon us and St. Patrick’s Day behind us, there’s a lot of talk about luck. The luck of the Irish or that team was lucky to pull off the upset. Some of you may be thinking you could use some of that luck in your business for turning your current customer base into a steady stream of referrals.

The bad news is that whether or not you believe in it, luck it is hard to create. You also can’t just go to a store and buy a bottle of luck or a program to make yourself and your business lucky.

The good news is that you don’t need luck to get more referrals, what you need is just a bit of hard work and focus on your customers.

Referrals are the culmination of your customer’s experience with your business. They are the reward for completing the customer journey, and doing it in a way that surprises and impresses them to the point that they recommend that experience to their family and friends.

But here’s what is most important about referrals: people want to refer you. They want to be wowed by your company, and they can’t wait to tell everyone about it. It is your job to take advantage of this by meeting and exceeding their expectations.

Here are some ways you can increase referrals for your business:

1) Take Time to Educate Potential Customers

In order to meet and exceed your customers’ expectations, you must first make sure they are reasonable. Take the time to educate your customers about your product or service, and don’t rush them into buying it. If your customer knows exactly what they are buying, their expectations of what you will deliver are realistic.

2) Surprise Your Customers and Show Gratitude

Now that your customers have a clear expectation of your product or service, you can now take an opportunity to surprise them. Give them something extra, whether it be a promotion or a gift, which they aren’t expecting. It can be something as simple as a short personal letter to your customers or, as Sara describes here, you can send them a loaded new customer kit.

It is also important to make sure your customers know you appreciate their patronage. Go out of your way to thank your customers, and try to add as much of a personal touch as possible. The “Thank you!” at the end of an invoice is expected, but a Holiday card from you or your whole team still carries a lot of weight.

3) Resolve Issues and Welcome Feedback

In college, I spent a fair amount of time waiting tables, as I’m sure many of us have. One of the main lessons I will take away from that time is that people are willing to recognize that things don’t always go as planned. Whenever there was an issue with food or the environment or the wait times, I worked hard to resolve those issues as quickly as possible. Customers in those situations often tipped better than most, because they recognized and rewarded those efforts.

To bring that same principle to business, work with your customers to resolve any issues that may arise during the customer journey, and ask for feedback on how to improve. If you take their feedback seriously, they are more likely to refer your business. Just because something goes wrong doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve lost their referral.

4) Ask for a Referral

Too few businesses ask for referrals at the end of their customer journey. I don’t know if businesses feel like they are asking too much, or if asking somehow cheapens the referral. But because we know people want to refer your business, you should give them an opportunity to do so. Digital media has made this so much easier because your customers no longer need to be in the same room as their friends and family to refer you.

You’ll want to make this as easy as possible, or even give them an added benefit. Offer a gift or discount for a positive Yelp review or Facebook post, or use a tool like Get Five Stars to increase your reviews.

Just remember: you have to be constantly working to earn referrals. Luck has nothing to do with it.

Alex-Boyer-Photo-150x150-e1420769709443Alex Boyer is a Community Manager and Content Ninja for Duct Tape Marketing. You can connect with him on Twitter @AlexBoyerKC

22 5 Things Your Business Should Never Pay For

This post originally appeared on American Express OPENForum.

There is a never-ending list of things businesses must purchase in order to grow. It’s just a fact, and that fact is exploited by plenty of folks that want to sell you things that may or may not actually propel you towards growth.

In the building of your brand, both online and off, there will come a time when a company approaches you with an offer for a service that seems to address a need, but in fact, is so detrimental it may actually do more harm than good.

These offers often address our inherent desire to shortcut the real work required to produce sustainable business and marketing results—but, of course, that’s the appeal.

Below are five things you must do the right way—and that usually means you should never pay for them.

Advertising you can’t account for

I’m not against paying for advertising, in fact, quite the opposite; I think advertising is an essential part of small business lead generation. What I am opposed to is buying any advertising that you can’t or don’t track.

Advertising only works if it’s the right message, presented at the exact right time, to the exact right audience. There are so many variables at play here that the only way to get your bang for the buck is to measure real results, in almost real time. Advertising without accountability is like playing roulette with your money.

Referrals

Lots of companies offer incentives for referrals, and in some instances a little cash for the act of a referral can motivate, but is it the right motivation?

Referral generation is an important aspect of marketing, but when you pay for referrals you change the relationship from social to financial and that changes the dynamic in ways that won’t last long-term.

The proper motivation for a referral is the lending of trust in an effort to help either the company receiving the referral or the individual being referred. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t use creative incentives to keep referrals top of mind, it’s just that if you provide something of value, you shouldn’t have to bribe people to share.

Reviews of your business

Online reviews carry increasing weight in the information gathering routine of prospects, as well as in the ranking factors that contribute to high search engine results. Because of that, smart marketers are paying more attention to reviews and even getting more proactive about stimulating written reviews from happy customers.

So, it should come as no surprise that enterprising snake oil types are offering reviews for fee services that can get your business favorably reviewed by professional Yelp and Google Places review accounts located right there in your town.

On top of being dishonest, my guess is that paying for these reviews may actually get some businesses banned from review participation. Put the work in and make reviews an authentic arm of your message.

Links to your site

This one has faded from the mainstream for the most part, mainly because the search engines police it so heavily, but there are still lots of SEO types willing to sell you links from high quality sites leading back to your site.

Back links to your site are extremely important, but its become extremely easy for search engines to recognize abnormal linking behavior, and even easier to penalize sites that participate in it.

Write good content, point to good content and participate in social networks—that’s how you create organic links to your site.

Opt-in e-mail lists

Every list company, including the largest, most respected names, will sell you a list of targeted opt-in e-mails. The thing is, no matter how many hoops they jump through to make sure these e-mails are CAN-SPAM compliant, they aren’t opt-in, because they did not opt-in to get your e-mails.

Some companies get around this by not actually selling you the list, but instead renting you the ability to send an e-mail from their servers to a list. No matter how tempting this may sound, it’s still spam and not something you should even consider.

It can be difficult to navigate the various offers of help that show up at your door, but some things just simply can’t be bought.