Using Ratings and Reviews Sites as a New B2B Marketing Channel

A new mechanism has emerged to help B2B buyers who are searching online for products and solutions: Ratings and reviews sites, where searchers can find out what their peers are saying about prospective products and suppliers, and compare product features head-to-head.

A new mechanism has emerged to help B2B buyers who are searching online for products and solutions: Ratings and reviews sites, where searchers can find out what their peers are saying about prospective products and suppliers, and compare product features head-to-head. Just as consumers use Yelp and TripAdvisor, business buyers can check out G2Crowd, TrustRadius, Clutch.co, Capterra, and others.

These sites work best in fragmented markets, where it can be hard to stand out among the many competitors. No surprise, in the B2B world, it’s software where the bulk of the activity lies. But other categories are being served as well, like business services, and more are likely to come.

The value to buyers from these sites is obvious: Peer reviews are highly prized in the purchase decision process, not only for validating the claims of the seller, but for showing evidence of the product’s relevance to the buyer’s own industry.

They also point out otherwise unseen flaws. “The stakes are high in B2B,” says Vinay Bhagat, founder and CEO of TrustRadius. “Tech buyers need the whole truth before buying.”  Think of the consequences that might accrue if, despite due diligence, you install HR software that produces a critical error, he points out.

On the seller side, it’s a mixed bag. Clearly, B2B sellers want to be found, and praised publicly by their fans. Chris Jeffers, founder of VisitorTrack, says his product’s strong reviews have resulted in inquiries from prospects, saying things like “I saw you on G2Crowd, and I’m calling because your reviews are better than the others I was looking at.”

The reviews also serve as mini-case studies and testimonials covering a variety of industries and applications that would have taken sellers enormous effort to assemble on their own. Injecting the voice of the customer into the selling process is a boon.

But bad reviews can be a challenge and are the nightmare of PR people everywhere. Review site managers make extra effort to validate reviewers, to ensure that the reviewer really uses the product, and if anonymous, is a real business person.

Wondering about the business model of these comparison sites? Most offer free listings to sellers, and free viewing of the ratings and reviews to all. They make their money from enhanced listings, from advertising, and from a mixture of marketing services, like data on visitors looking at reviews in the seller’s category. Many also offer support services, to help increase the number of customer reviews.  Pricing ranges from hundreds to thousands of dollars a month.

Since their emergence in the early 2000s, these sites are becoming increasingly influential in the B2B buying and selling process. Users will write reviews whether the supplier likes it or not. So, sellers do well to jump in and proactively manage the channel to their advantage. Here’s how to get the most value from this new resource:

  1. Get in the game. Buyers are searching there. Your competitors are there. You need to be there, too. “Overcome your fear of loss of control,” says Mike Beares, founder of Clutch.
  2. Encourage your customers to leave reviews. “It’s a best practice to ask customers for a review just after a successful service call,” advises Tim Handorf, co-founder and president of G2Crowd.
  3. Test your way into the various upgrades and marketing services the site has to offer. Some are especially innovative, like offering data on companies that are reading reviews of your competitors. G2Crowd will produce an infographic for you based on pull quotes gathered from your reviews.
  4. Look into the site’s policies and practices in calculating rankings and authenticating reviews. TrustRadius, for example, rejects about 15% of reviews submitted. Also make sure you are comfortable with the methods they use to encourage users to post reviews. Site owners understand that trust is essential to their business models.
  5. “Embrace the transparency,” says G2Crowd’s Handorf. Recognize that your product may not be right for everyone. Respond to any negative comments with empathy, in an authentic voice.
  6. Consider these sites a customer service tool, which can surface unexpressed problems that you can solve proactively. Vinay Bhagat of TrustRadius suggests then asking the customer for a fresh review once the problem has been resolved.
  7. The reviews are also useful to product managers, to evaluate the popularity of various features, and uncover use cases you hadn’t thought of before. According to Bhagat, some sellers data-mine the reviews to measure sentiment, and gain insight into customer needs.
  8. Use the software reviews sites to support your own martech or business services purchasing.

This new channel is here to stay.  It’s up to us business marketers to get the benefit.

A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

The Psychology of Social Proof and Its Role in Marketing

In order to successfully master marketing in a crowded marketplace, you have to think like a customer. And in order to think like a customer, you have to tap into their psyche and understand what influences their perceptions and decision-making.

In order to successfully master marketing in a crowded marketplace, you have to think like a customer. And in order to think like a customer, you have to tap into their psyche and understand what influences their perceptions and decision-making. At the heart of this topic is social proof.

The Psychology Behind Social Proof

Have you ever spent any time around sheep? While they don’t smell great or look particularly cute, they’re fascinating animals, and their psyche and decision-making can teach us a lot.

Sheep have an incredibly strong instinct to follow other sheep – particularly the one right in front of them – regardless of where it’s going. There are many documented cases of one sheep walking off a cliff and dozens more following the same sheep toward inevitable disaster. On the flip side, there are plenty of situations where one sheep saves hundreds of lives by leading a flock to safety during a threatening blizzard.

In this sense, people are very much like sheep. Whether we do so intentionally or not, we tend to flock together and make decisions based on what others are doing. In the consumer marketplace, this idea of flocking together is closely connected with the social proof theory.

Popularized by psychologist Robert Cialdini, this theory says that people look to the actions of their peers to make decisions in situations where they’re uncertain of how to act.

Marketers who understand social proof can use it to their advantage by incorporating elements of this psychological phenomenon into their engagement and promotion strategies. It’s essentially the act of borrowing third-party influence to persuade potential customers towards your brand or products.

“As customers we buy products that make us feel good about ourselves, products that change us and make us better,” conversion expert Talia Wolf writes. “By using social proof in the form of testimonials, reviews and trust icons you’re helping customers make a decision, feel confident about their choice, and a part of something bigger.”

Leveraging Social Proof in Marketing

Social proof is a vast topic with thousands of intricacies and individual theories, but it’s helpful to boil things down to a few salient, overarching points. Sales and marketing consultant Lincoln Murphy believes there are three basic types of social proof:

  • Similar social proof. This is the most basic type of social proof. It’s the type of social proof that brands use when they integrate testimonials, reviews, and logos of other companies into their marketing materials. The goal is to show prospective customers that your products have the approval of their peers.
  • Aspirational social proof. This form of social proof is used to convince your target audience they want to be like someone else. In other words, you’re convincing people to aspire to be like your customers.
  • Endorsements. While most people think about endorsements in terms of celebrity advertisements, famous people are just part of it. Customers also rely on recommendations from authoritative third-party websites. For example, Top10.com ranks products in different categories as a way of helping customers identify their best options. This is a type of endorsement.

If you’re going to develop a social proof strategy for your marketing efforts, start with these elements. Specifically, you should try some of the following techniques:

1. Use Hard Numbers

There are plenty of ways you can go about inserting social proof into your marketing and engagement strategies, but in today’s climate, people respond best to facts and statistics. The more hard numbers you can use, the more persuasive your efforts will be.

2. Insert Visuals

The human brain is hardwired to like visuals. If you want to take your efforts to the next level, you should incorporate as much visual information into your marketing as possible. When it comes to your website, for example, including headshots of your customers next to their testimonials and reviews will pay dividends.

3. Tap Into Social Media

Social media is the perfect medium for maximizing social proof. If you can get your most satisfied customers to be organic advocates for your products – sharing, liking, promoting – you’ll see your results skyrocket. You can make it easy for your customers to share on social media by providing them with shareworthy content and chances to engage with your brand on their favorite platforms (Facebook and Instagram, in particular).

Are You Utilizing Social Proof?

Social proof isn’t something that you can control with 100 percent accuracy. There will always be some element of social proof that naturally arises in the marketplace. However, you have much more influence than you realize.

As you develop and hone your marketing strategy, be on the lookout for ways to leverage social proof and tap into the sense of collectivism that humans, like sheep, are naturally drawn to. Ultimately, this will strengthen your brand message and energize your marketing efforts.

7 Quick and Easy SEO Tips for Small Businesses

Start off simple. If you’re new to SEO, that’s the best advice I can offer. Search engine optimization is an ongoing effort with many moving parts, and the payoffs are never immediate. But you don’t need to be an SEO guru to start moving the needle on your search engine rankings. Start with some simple tips to boost your SEO — and work at them consistently — and good things will happen.

Easy SEO TipsStart off simple.

If you’re new to SEO, that’s the best advice I can offer. Search engine optimization is an ongoing effort with many moving parts, and the payoffs are never immediate. But you don’t need to be an SEO guru to start moving the needle on your search engine rankings. Start with some simple tips to boost your SEO — and work at them consistently — and good things will happen.

Here are seven easy SEO tips that any small business owner can do. You don’t need to be a Web designer or have years of experience in marketing. Of course, you’ll want to learn more about SEO and expand your efforts as time goes on. Until then, these tips are more than enough to get you on your way.

1. Start a Blog

Content is king. That’s an old SEO adage that you’ll hear repeatedly if you hadn’t heard it already. Google’s algorithm is programmed to favor websites with unique, relevant content that’s highly useful to visitors.

Starting a blog is a great way to get useful content on your site. And there’s so much you can do with a blog. You can write about new products and industry trends, or you can engage your customers by offering helpful advice. Blog posts can help to establish your business as a local authority, and they can also be shared on social media to provide backlinks and positive social media signals — both of which are helpful for your website’s SEO.

Google’s search algorithms also favor websites with regularly updated content. Maintaining a blog serves this purpose. And if shoppers like what you have to say, they’ll be more likely to bookmark your site and return for future purchases.

2. Create a Google My Business Account

Creating a Google My Business profile allows your business to be shown in the local “maps” results of Google.com. If your business has walk-in customers, then that’s a big deal. Think about how many people use their smartphones to find nearby places to eat, shop and run errands. You can get an influx of new customers from the few minutes needed to start a Google My Business profile.

3. Start Building Backlinks

Building a network of backlinks (hyperlinks to your website from other sites) can establish your business as an authority in your field, resulting in a higher search ranking. To start building backlinks, create profiles for your business on sites such as Yelp, Bing Local and Foursquare. Build a company page on LinkedIn, and create a YouTube channel if you can offer informative or instructional videos — the possibilities are endless.

As you start profiles on different sites, remember to list your business information exactly as it’s listed in Google My Business. Doing so will boost your SEO efforts.

4. Get Your Titles, Headers and Meta Description Tags in Order

Titles and headers help Google determine which search terms are relevant for pages throughout your website. For example, if you owned a formalwear shop, then the wedding dress page should have the term “wedding dresses” in the page Title and a variation of that phrase in the <h1> header. The page Title is not visible on the page so you’ll need to view the source code to review your page Titles. The <h1> header is usually the main headline above the page content, and there should only be one, unique <h1> per page.

Like the page Titles, the meta description is also not visible on the page, but it does appear with your website in the search results. You can think of your Title and Meta Description like an advertisement in Google’s search results.

5. Ask Your Customers to Write Reviews

Reviews are helpful for small business SEO especially when they’re positive. Always ask your customers if they’ll post reviews to your Google My Business page or any other online review sites you’ve joined.

And really, you should create profiles on as many of these sites as possible. Angie’s List, Yelp and TripAdvisor are three of the most popular. Remember to make sure your name, address, and phone number (aka your NAP) on these sites match exactly with your Google My Business profile. As noted above, these citations can make a sizeable impact on your local SEO. Positive reviews can be even more impactful because they can lead to more prospects turning into customers.

6. Mention Your City and State

Boost your local SEO by frequently listing your company’s city and state throughout your website. Don’t overdo it, but putting this information in your meta tags, your home page <h1> header and throughout your content is helpful.

If you have a blog — which was one of the tips listed above — then articles pertaining to how your business is relevant to your city and region are also helpful. Mentions of your city and state can influence Google to favor your website in local search results.

7. Make Sure Your Site Works on Mobile

More people search Google nowadays using smartphones and tablets than desktops and laptops. If your website isn’t optimized for mobile devices, then your mobile search engine ranking is likely to take a hit. Remember that Google’s algorithm is tuned to connect people with sites that offer good user experiences. A site that’s not optimized for mobile won’t display correctly and may not even function as intended.

WordPress and other online publishing tools offer free website templates that are ready for mobile users. So you’re probably in good shape if you use this kind of platform. However, you may need to enlist a Web developer to convert your site for mobile. While this could be expensive, it’s well worth the cost. Otherwise, you risk losing more than half of your potential online customers.

Conclusion

Getting started in SEO doesn’t have to be a big deal, and this guide proves it. Anything you can do to improve your SEO – even the small things – will pay off over time. Just be patient and don’t get overwhelmed. Keep your process simple, and learn new things when you can. Eventually, your quick-hitting efforts will snowball and your website will climb in the rankings.

Want more SEO tips?  Click here to get a copy of our Ultimate Local SEO Checklist.

Back to Basics: 5 Simple Tactics to Improve Local SEO You Can Do Right Now

The Internet offers unprecedented reach to connect with far-away customers, but shoppers often prefer to buy goods and services from local merchants. Think of it this way: If you owned a plumbing business, a shoe store or a car dealership, would you rather rank high in search results all over the country, or primarily in the area where you live?

Local information is growing in importance when it comes to ranking highly in Google results.The Internet offers unprecedented reach to connect with far-away customers, but shoppers often prefer to buy goods and services from local merchants. Think of it this way: If you owned a plumbing business, a shoe store or a car dealership, would you rather rank high in search results all over the country, or primarily in the area where you live?

That’s why local SEO is such a big deal.

A website that implements local SEO best practices will be easily found by nearby shoppers. Also, the rise of mobile search technology is making local SEO even more important considering the hyper-local searches in Google for “[product/service] near me”. Depending on how much competition you face, a poor local SEO strategy could render your business invisible to folks who are seeking your goods and services.

Want your business to appear on top of the rankings when local customers search for relevant keywords? Improving your position in the search engines doesn’t happen overnight, but these five changes to your local SEO strategy can start you in the right direction.

Tip 1: Create a Local Business Page on Google
Each of the three major search engines — Google, Bing and Yahoo — offer places to create pages specifically for your business. For example, on Google, you’ll want to create a page using the Google My Business service.

Why is this important?

Take a look at the search results for “dentist near me” and you’ll see a big map at the top of the search results, along with relevant information for local dental offices listed below. These listings are not websites!  They are Google My Business profiles.

That means if you don’t have a Google My Business profile, then your business will not rank high in Google when prospects are searching for you.

Tip 2: Add Location Pages to Your Website
More people now search for goods and services on their mobile devices — often while out and about — and Google is returning more hyper-local results to fulfill their needs. For example, if you need a nearby plumber, then you might search “plumber near 10011.” Or if you need a hardware store, then you might search “hardware store in flatiron nyc.”

Google’s goal is to rank the most relevant websites high in the results so the businesses that have specific, 100 percent relevant pages have an advantage.

What’s the key takeaway?

If you serve multiple locations, then consider creating dedicated pages for each location. These location specific pages will naturally be more relevant, so Google will be more likely to rank them high in the search results when prospects are searching keywords that include the respective location.

Tip 3: Get Reviewed
Online reviews can be a bit frightening — the last thing you want is a scathing review that turns potential customers away. However, Google gives search ranking boosts to businesses that get more reviews.

Plus, most prospective customers now want to see reviews before reaching out to a business to avoid wasting time. Think about your own shopping experience — why would you buy from an anonymous business when you could choose a merchant that’s been thoroughly reviewed?

There’s no silver bullet solution when it comes to getting online reviews. The best approach is to create a system for requesting feedback and ask every happy customer for an online review. Not everyone will do it, but as you gain more and more reviews, your rankings will start to improve.

Tip 4: Build Citations
A citation is simply a mention of your name, address and phone number, and Google uses citations in their local search engine algorithm.

Long story short, you need a lot of citations if you want to rank high in Google’s local results. Essentially, that means creating accounts on business directories. As you list your business information in these directories, you’ll gain more of Google’s trust, which translates into higher rankings.

For a quick snapshot of your citations, use the Moz Local tool. This tool will list any important citation opportunities that you are missing, as well as highlight duplicates and/or inconsistent information across existing citations. Start by fixing all the problems listed in this tool and then work on building even more citations to boost your rankings.

Tip 5: Get Social
Social media is taking over. Although Google is still the most popular search engine, Facebook has become a major source of information for many of your prospective customers.

In addition, David Mihm’s recent research about the local SEO ranking factors suggests that social media activity is one of the many signals Google uses to rank businesses.

Regardless of whether Google directly uses social media signals in their algorithm, there is no denying that social media marketing is a huge opportunity to get your business in front of your target audience. Facebook alone reaches all age brackets, all income levels, and spans urban, suburban and rural areas.

It’s no longer a question of whether or not your customers are using social media. The only question is are you using it to effectively get in front your customers?

Want More Local SEO Tips?
Click here to get the Ultimate Local SEO Checklist.  In this checklist you’ll get 79 expert tips to improve your local search rankings.

LinkedIn: If They Ask, Should You Endorse?

Having recently returned from a trip booked through Travelocity, I wasn’t surprised that they asked me to provide a review of my hotel. But also, in that same email in-basket, was a request for a personal endorsement on LinkedIn — from someone whose name I did not recognize.

OprahEndorsementsHaving recently returned from a trip booked through Travelocity, I wasn’t surprised that they asked me to provide a review of my hotel. After all, Travelocity recognizes that user-generated content is the best way to provide shoppers with product feedback and insight on their website.

But also, in that same email in-basket, was a request for a personal endorsement on LinkedIn — from someone whose name I did not recognize.

Curious, I read their profile to reacquaint myself with the individual. Funnily enough, I barely knew this person; I never actually met them, but their organization was one of our company’s clients. After chatting with my account team, none of them remembered this manager either and we concluded they were on the team, but not involved in our day-to-day activities (at least we think that’s who they were).

A little additional digging revealed that they had sent me a LinkedIn request only a few weeks earlier. I remember thinking at the time that I didn’t actually know this person, but because they worked at one of our clients companies, I wasn’t going to turn them down.

Next, they chose to endorse me for some of my skills (gee, thanks, although how did they know if we never actually worked together?).

Now, a few weeks later, they actually sent me an InMail asking me to click/endorse them on six specific skills because they are currently seeking a new leadership position. And here’s what’s really fascinating: When I looked at their LI profile, it seems the number of people who have endorsed them for the six skills they requested, has recently exploded to over 100. Some of those now endorsing don’t seem to have ever endorsed anyone else for these particular skills on LI, so is their profile really a marketing ploy for recruiters?

I know LinkedIn is an important business tool for networking and is used by many HR people to identify potential candidates. Plus, if you submit a resume for a position, the first place the hiring manager looks is to your LinkedIn profile. So by beefing up your profile with endorsement volume (possibly from people who don’t really know you), is that an authentic way to promote your personal brand?

Personally, I don’t give out recommendations lightly. If I know you and your work, I’m happy to be a reference — and can often help you find that next “right” job. I’m always networking and am thrilled when I can put somebody I’ve worked with and admired together with a similar marketing colleague who is looking to fill a slot. If I’m a personal reference, I want to be sincere and honest — because after all, it reflects my brand.

I admit that I often review dining experiences on Open Table; hotels and resorts on Travelocity, Hotels.com or other travel sites; or product reviews on Amazon; under an alias. I choose to do so because I don’t really want to mix my business brand with my personal life. But any kind of endorsement on LinkedIn is a direct reflection on me as a marketer.

Perhaps I’m the only one who feels this way; perhaps I’m being too harsh. But if I’m disingenuous with my endorsements, then what does that say about me?

I’m curious to know what other marketers think. Do you randomly endorse skill sets for colleagues/friends/associates on LinkedIn? Do those skill set endorsements really matter?

5 Interesting Things I Learned This Week

2. Been flogged online? The best way to deal with negative reviews that come along with being more visible in the blogosphere may come from an unlikely source: a section on Yelp’s Business Owner’s Guide titled “Responding to Reviews.”

My blog post this week is a culmination of a few interesting tidbits I learned this week:

1. More retailers are experimenting with social media, despite the fact that social media tactics are still experimental at best and returns are hazy. In fact, according to Fiona Swerdlow, head of research at Shop.org — who presented the opening keynote at Retail Online Integration’s Retail Marketing Virtual Conference & Expo (RMV) — 80 percent of respondents to a recent survey from Shop.org are pursuing the channel because they believe it’s a great time to experiment and learn more.

2. Been flogged online?
The best way to deal with negative reviews that come along with being more visible in the blogosphere may come from an unlikely source: a section on Yelp’s Business Owner’s Guide titled “Responding to Reviews.”

This great tip came via Eric Anderson, vice presdient of emerging media at White Horse Interactive during his RMV presentation titled “Live Retail Website Lab.”

When crafting your message to customers, Yelp advises keeping the following three things in mind:

  1. Your reviewers are your paying customers.
  2. Your reviewers are human beings with (sometimes unpredictable) feelings and sensitivities.
  3. Your reviewers are vocal and opinionated (otherwise, they wouldn’t be writing reviews).

3. The Interactive Advertising Bureau announced guidelines designed to standardize the information that ad networks and exchanges provide to advertisers and agencies. Here are the six new guidelines:

  • Transparency should exist for inventory sources, publisher relationships, content types and ad placement details.
  • Advertisers should be presented with content categories that are universally defined in the industry.
  • Categories of illegal content should be defined or labeled. For example, content that infringes a copyright should be marked as prohibited for sale.
  • Under the industry organization’s provisions, ad networks should rate content for audience segments.
  • Data disclosure terms should be outlined for offsite behavioral targeting and third-party data.
  • Companies should provide for IAB training of appointed compliance officers in each certified network or exchange.

4. Email’s influence over multichannel purchasing is powerful, according to a study from e-Dialog. The majority of consumers (58 percent) surveyed said they’ve been driven to make a purchase in a store or over the phone by a marketing email. And while websites are the preferred place for consumers to opt in, they’re also very willing to subscribe to email messages offline — e.g., when placing a catalog order (46 percent), at the point of sale (29 percent) or via SMS text message (13 percent).

5. More than 50 percent of consumers have come to expect personalized merchandising, starting with a personalized homepage. Furthermore, 77 percent of shoppers will make an additional purchase when presented with personalized recommendations.

These findings came via a report from MyBuys, a provider of personalized recommendations for multichannel retailers, titled “Consumer Insights into Multi-Channel Interactions: Practical Tools for Profitable Selling.” For the report, MyBuys commissioned the e-tailing group to survey 1,000 consumers to gain insights into how shoppers interacted with personalized merchandising and where they expected to see personalized recommendations.

Did you learn anything interesting this week that you’d like to share? Post it here.