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How Problematic Has Review Spam Become?

Posted on August 31, 2011

One of the most knowledgeable Local SEOs in the business, Greg Sterling, has posted and article worthy of your time: How Big A Problem Is ‘Review Spam’. Here at CopyLocal.com, we deal specifically with helping local business owners to respond in a positive and professional manner to negative reviews. Sometimes these negative reviews are honest complaints and sometimes they are spam, left by a competitor, disgruntled former employee or personal foe. All deserve a well-considered response from the business owner, but there are other types of review spam as well, as in the case of business owners, marketing firms or paid lackeys leaving phony positive reviews for the business. None of this is supposed to be allowed by the major reviews indexes, but nonetheless, lack of ability to control and filter out phony data has turned review spam into a major and growing problem.

I highly recommend a read of Greg’s article, as well as of the source articles to which he’s linking. Good topic, Mr. Sterling!

Tell Me Something Good – Making Real Value Propositions In Copy And Language

Posted on August 24, 2011

real value messaging in copy
Tell me something good.

…wrote Stevie Wonder in a classic 1970′s hit song.

And what did he say after that?

Tell me that you love me.

Where are you hearing the good somethings and feeling the love these days on the web or in the real world as that classic icon of American culture: the consumer?

I can tell you where I’m not getting meaningful messaging and that’s at Kohl’s, one of only two department stores in the city nearest me. I don’t know if you have a Kohl’s near you, but if you do, chances are, a major percentage of your local community ends up there for back-to-school shopping, Father’s Day, birthdays and general apparel acquisition. The entire time one is shopping in the store, a message is repeated ad infinitum over the speakers between music:

“The More You Know, The More You Kohl’s”.

I have to say, this statement means zippity do dah to me, and the more I hear it, the more I dislike it.

What is Kohl’s trying to do here? Is this akin to the whole ‘google it’ phenomenon, with a noun legitimately morphing into a verb due to constant usage? I can’t deny that I google something, but never in a million years am I going to kohl’s anything.

What’s going on at Kohl’s headquarters? Are they envisioning a consumer conversation like this:

Customer 1: Hey, my turtleneck sweater is all ripped and torn.
Customer 2: Just kohl’s it, man.
Customer 1: Outta sight!

I just don’t see this happening.

My point is that, unlike Stevie Wonder, Kohl’s is failing to tell us something good. Time, money and the space in our ears and brains are being wasted on messaging that doesn’t mean anything to anybody (with the possible exception of the exec who came up with this slogan).

Getting Real
If you are a local business owner and are promoting your company on the web, on radio, on TV or within your shop, you can do a better job of making meaningful statements to your audience. I don’t mean to pick on Kohl’s, but by utilizing this big business as an example, I’m hoping that you (and maybe Kohl’s) can consider the difference between language that succeeds or fails in saying something real.

What could Kohl’s in-store advertising be saying that I’d actually find worth listening to?

Suggestion 1. As I’ve mentioned above, there is only one other department store in town: Ross. I simply can’t bring myself to shop at Ross because the store is a shambles. Heaps of clothes piled everywhere, dismal dressing rooms – just a disorganized mess. By contrast, Kohl’s is clean, neat and, in my opinion, more conducive to a shopping experience I don’t walk out of feeling like a lunatic. So, a real and true message from Kohl’s might sound like this:

Shopping at Kohl’s is a heck of a lot pleasanter than shopping at Ross. Look around you and you’ll see the clean and organized difference.

Don’t know if Kohl’s could get sued for saying that, but it certainly provides more meaningful content than that stuff about ‘the more you kohl’s’.

Suggestion 2. After telling me something good, follow Stevie’s lead and tell me that you love me. I mean it. Stop talking about your store and your sales and your company. Talk about me. Invite me to come up to the customer service desk and request a song for you to play while I shop in my favorite store. Say this:

It’s so great to see you here and to make your shopping experience as perfect as it can be, let’s play your favorite shopping tune. Come to customer service and request your song.

Back up your offer with a gigantic inventory of music (hello iPod) and I can’t think of a better way to keep people in your store longer so that they can hear the tunes they love while they shop. I don’t know what the legal issues are surrounding who gets to play what music where, but a company as large as Kohl’s could figure it out. Heck, why not hire a DJ? You could even do dedications! “This one goes out to Patty with love from Jesse who is so proud to be registering for their wedding china pattern today at Kohl’s”. Awww. In one brilliant stroke, you’ve got people tuned into your in-store airwaves and feeling esteemed and loved by your business.

Suggestion 3. Now that you’ve got them listening, make your pitch. This is the type of content you’re already promoting, but it’s taking a more user-centric backseat to content about the customer’s experiences, needs and wishes. As a matter of fact, there is one thing that Kohl’s is doing very right in my book, and it stands out to me every time I shop there. Their system announces that I’m shopping at a store that is making green energy efforts by utilizing solar to power the building. I think that’s very cool, and it does make me feel positive about shopping there, but it’s okay to talk about the sales and specials, too. Once you’ve shown me that the customer comes first.

I’m sure Kohl’s already employs a team of researchers to figure out what messages to promote, so they may already be doing a good job of matching messaging to what customers really care about. This is a very important point, because preconceptions about what customers value are often wrong. You may have one idea about why people do business with you while the actual customers may be coming to you for something you haven’t ever considered or realized.

The only way to hit upon the truth is to talk to the people who shop with you. And that can be harder to do that it sounds, but it’s what large stores should aim for if they want an authentic path to the customer’s mind and wallet. For small local businesses, this can actually be a little easier, because chances are, the business owner is interacting one-on-one with his clientele and can flat-out ask why he’s their choice.

CopyLocal’s area of expertise is in web-based local copywriting, but all language is of interest to us, and while we’re out and about making transactions, our ears are open. The language on the airwaves, in stores, in parking lots between customers…all of these elements have an applicability to exactly how you choose to word what you’re marketing. Listen carefully.

Kudos to…
The local branches of CVS pharmacy who have clearly figured out that a ton of their customers in California speak Spanish as a first language. A large percentage of the in-store messaging is now in Spanish at these stores and I think that’s great!

Local Content Definition: What Makes Material Of Local Signficance?

Posted on August 21, 2011

Have you heard that your website needs more local content but need a basic definition of what that means in order to get started? Here’s our definition:

Definition of Local Content, n. (lō’kəl kŏn’tĕnt’)

Any type of material, including written text, imagery, video, charts, graphs, lists or other data that has been created for a specific geographic audience. Typically connotes geographically-oriented material published on websites.

[Middle English, from Old French, from Late Latin locālis, from Latin locus, place; Middle English, from Medieval Latin contentum, neuter past participle of Latin continēre, to contain]

Now that you understand the definition of local content, the next step is to comprehend why and how it should be implemented into your website and what the potential benefits of this strategy are. I find that clients who hire me to help them with the creation of their local content learn most effectively when I offer illustrative scenarios. To that end, let’s imagine three different business owners who serve their local communities with goods or services in three different parts of the United States.

Example 1. A Cafe Owner In Vail, Colorado
The obvious and basic content a business like this would have on its website would include complete name, address and phone number, a menu, a map, driving directions, hours of operation and some copy describing the atmosphere, offerings and history of the cafe.

Once these basics are in place, the owner has the opportunity to expand the size and usefulness of his website by writing on topics such as these that will be relevant to his industry + geography:

Local Content Definition 1, Example, Vail Colorado
- Suggestions for a high-energy breakfast, lunch or dinner served at your cafe for skiers, snowboarders and others
- Medical information about how many calories are needed and burned by snow play, dictating how much visitors should eat
- A list and descriptions of local ski resorts
- An ongoing, updated report on snow conditions
- Promotion of specials deals, such as early bird breakfasts
- Videos of great athletes who eat at and endorse your cafe. Show them on the slopes. Accompany with text descriptions of video content. If you can get Shaun White or Aksel Lund Svindal, great, but even local athletes would make a great video subject

Example 2. A Home Remodeling Contractor In Oakland, California
Basic content on a site like this would include a portfolio of past work, a set of pages devoted to the company’s complete menu of remodeling services, contact information, credentials and testimonials.

Beyond this, materials of local and industry significance might include:

Local Content Definition 2, Example, Oakland California

- A history of classic SF Bay Area architectural styles, including great photos of classic homes from different eras
- A layperson-friendly guide to local building codes that dictate what can and can’t be done in a remodel
- Announcements of upcoming Bay Area home expos, green home building events or trade shows at which interior design concepts are showcased
- Summary coverage of such events after they have taken place
- Education about weather and climate-specific considerations for home owners in the area (rain, fog, light, dampness) that can be addressed in a home remodeling project
- A list of trusted local furniture dealers, home improvement stores, interior decorators and other related businesses
- Before and after photos and videos, accompanied by text descriptions

Example 3. An Auto Body Shop in In Madison, Wisconsin
In common with the above two businesses, this website will provide contact information, driving directions, a map, hours of operation and a complete menu of pages of the services offered by the shop.

Additionally, the business could publish local materials about:

Local Content Definition 3, Example, Madison Wisconsin

- Upcoming car shows and vintage car show events
- A list of local car dealers
- A list of local towing services
- A car maintenance schedule (oil changing, checkups, part replacements, etc.)
- Opinions on best car makes and models for the local terrain
- Specific advice on auto care for the local weather and climate (snow, rain, etc.)
- Video tutorials on installing snow chains on tires
- Safety cautions about local roads, night driving, wildlife on roads in certain areas

Where Should Local Content Be Published?
The obvious answer is on your business’ website, but you have choices to make about whether some of your local content will be published as static pages that are always front-and-center on the site, or if some of it is more suited to blog posts that will be appearing in order of their freshness. For example, a list of local towing services might make a good static page for the auto body shop, but coverage of a car show that the owner attended and that is now past might be better as a blog post because it has an aspect of timeliness. Blog posts don’t ever ‘disappear’ unless you delete them, but most blogs show newest content up top with older posts being pushed down or onto older pages of the blog.

Additionally, you can publish content with of local and industry interest on your Social Media profiles such as Twitter and Facebook.

If you can discern a visual aspect to your business (scrumptious-looking meals, beautiful home remodels or cool hot rod cars) you can utilize a photo sharing site like Flickr.com to bring increased visibility to your local photographic content. *Remember, though, search engines are not very good at understanding images, so every photo you publish should be accompanied by an optimized text description.

Local video content can greatly enhance your presence on the web. You can publish it to video sharing sites like YouTube as well as embedding it within the pages of your website or blog. *Like photographic content, any video you publish should be accompanied by an optimized text description.

There may also be organizations specific to your geographic locale that would be interested in contributions from you that they would publish on their own sites. For example, a local Chamber of Commerce site might be interested in your layperson-friendly explanation of building codes and would be willing to cite and link to you as the author.

How Often Should Local Content Be Published?
Pace yourself realistically. The amount of fresh local content you publish to your website and your blog needs to be based on three factors:

1) A realistic assessment of the time you have available to write or create other types of content
2) A realistic assessment of your budget to pay a local content writer to write copy for you
3) A clear understanding of the competitiveness of your industry in your geographic locale

Factor 3 is an important one to consider. There is a huge difference between being the owner of a bakery in rural town in the Midwest and being an attorney in a metropolitan city on the East Coast. The less populous your community and less competitive your industry, the less effort will typically be required to attain high visibility on the web. The more populous and competitive the niche in which you are doing business, the greater your efforts to compete for visibility will have to be.

Once you’ve assessed these competitive specifics, you can decide if you have the time and skills to write well for your business. Commit to a publication goal, be that twice a month, once a week or daily. If you don’t have the time or don’t enjoy writing, consider hiring a copywriter who specializes in local-focused content creation and create a contract with him or her for delivery of content at a set rate and on a set schedule.

What Are The Potential Benefits Of Publishing Local Content?
In my work with local business owners, one of the most common mistakes I find being made on their websites is that they are devoting too few pages to too many topics. For example, a fence building contractor might be cramming every type of fence he builds onto a single page of his site.

The problem with this approach is that you can typically only optimize any given page for a maximum of 1-4 keyword phrases. If you’ve got wood fences, iron fences, chain link fences, industrial fences, electric fences, ornamental fences, agricultural fences, lattice fences, chicken wire fences and deer fences all one one page, the chances of search engines being able to understand the key focus of the page are very slim.

Instead, the approach that has to be taken is that any service, product or subject that you offer or choose to write about deserves its own dedicated page, optimized for just a couple of phrases so that it is a strong and focused treatment of the subject at hand.

Every new page or post you publish on your website represent a new chance to rank well for a new little set of keyword phrases. Ongoing publication of new local content increases your chances to appear in the search engine results for an ever-widening array of terms.

One of the most exciting benefits of publishing local content that moves beyond the basic informational pages of your website is the opportunity it creates of exposing a new audience to your brand.

For example, suppose I am looking for information about straw bale housing. In searching the Internet for this subject, I come across an article you have written about an amendment to local building codes that now allows this type of construction. As I am reading your article, I am being exposed to your existence – your brand – and if your home remodeling firm offers straw bale construction, your name is now linked in my mind with this subject as a resource. If your article convinces me of your knowledge and authority, there is a good chance I will come to your firm for consultation. Thus, publication of interesting content with a local focus can lead to business transactions.

Another important aspect of local content publication is its ability to win backlinks to your website. There are so many industries in which basic descriptions of products and services are unlikely to inspire readers to link to what they find on your site. Because the number and quality of links pointing to your website from outside sources typically has such a huge effect on your search engine rankings, winning links is extremely important. So, while an explanation of when to get your oil changed might not be interesting enough to win backlinks, a tutorial on how to save money with tips that improve gas mileage just might.

People link to content that educates them, inspires them, scares them and makes them laugh. Take this into consideration when creating materials of local significance: is this outstanding enough in some way that people would want to share it with friends and readers? Not all of your local content may be groundbreaking or hilarious, but even a few link-worthy articles can be a big help to your website’s rankings.

Most of all, keep in mind that the definition of local content is that it is something that should be of use and interest to your local community. The fact that you live and work in your town is your greatest asset. Becoming aware of the needs, wishes, hopes and concerns of your neighbors will guide you towards the types of content that will be of most value to them. A winning combination includes community involvement + communication with your current customers + keyword research. With this approach, you can expand your website and web presence into a meaningful and highly visible local resource that drives new business your way and keeps current customers interested and loyal.

—————————
Photo Credits: Gord McKenna,
Stephen Coles
and Alltrain43

Choosing A Good Domain Name As Your First Official Act Of Local Copywriting

Posted on August 17, 2011

how to choose a domain name

For the life of your local business on the web, words will assist and rule your visibility. There will be the words on on your service and product pages and the company information pages on your website. There will be the carefully chosen words you use to interact with the public when responding to both negative and positive reviews. There will be the messaging in your social media and email campaigns, blog posts, advertising and more.

But before you begin penning these tomes of written language, your first official act of copywriting on behalf of your business will be choosing a domain name, and this is such an important step, it deserves real thought and care. If you are just getting started on the web, I hope these tips will prevent you from making a regrettable mistake and enable you to identify the best possible domain name for your local business.

Step 1. If Your Business Is Brand New
If you have yet to develop a presence or reputation within your community and are starting from scratch with building up your business, you are in a unique position of luxury. The actual naming of your business can reflect the findings of your keyword research. There is a very good reason why plumbers, electricians and all kinds of other businesses dubbed their companies A1 Plumbing, AA Electrical back when Yellow Pages were the order of the day. With this simple tactic, your company would appear high in the listings because of their alphabetical formatting.

Local search results on the web do not hinge on alphabetical order, but there has long been evidence that having keywords in your domain name that exactly match what people are searching for can give your business a little boost.

So, in naming your new local restaurant, hair salon or landscaping company, it will be much better if you pick:

Joe’s BBQ Restaurant
Patricia’s Hair Salon
Oaks Landscaping

as your legal business name, instead of:

Joe’s
Patricia’s
Oaks

As you can see, the first set of business names contain keywords that people would actually be searching for, whereas the second set is wholly nondescript. Want to go one better? Make geographic terms part of your business name. Thus:

Boston BBQ Restaurant
Fairfax Hair Salon
Berkeley Landscaping

There’s a little tug o’ war that happens in this scenario, as such utilitarian business names may not match the wistful dreams you are having about the founding and future success of your business, but if the result of choosing a business name that matches Internet users’ searches will eventually result in you looking like the most local, most authoritative answer to those searches, abandoning poetry for the prosaic might actually turn out to be one of the most important decisions you’ve ever made for your business.

***Disclaimer
Of course, if you’ve hired one of the top chefs in the world to man your kitchen, have the money or clout to get enormous press and want to name your business Blue Ginger instead of Wellesley Asian Fusion and have your business sitting on a page within your chef’s domain name, you’ll probably succeed anyway. The above advice is meant to guide those local business owners who are not going into business under a halo of celebrity or massive marketing funding.

Step 2. If Your Business Is Already Established But You’re Just Stepping Onto The Web
So many local businesses will find themselves in this position. They may have been serving their community for decades, but only now are they realizing that they’ve got to have a website to keep current and visible. So let’s say the name of your already-well-known business is:

LouLou’s
Jumpy
Mike’s

There is a simple step you can take to make your domain name a little more helpful to searches without needing to actually change your business name. Your domain name could be:

LouLousGiftShop.com
JumpyBounceHouses.com
MikesAutoRepair.com

With a little planning you can keep a non-specific yet well-known business name and add just a little touch to it to make it more clear what the business is at the domain name level.

Step 3. If The Domain Name You Want Isn’t Available As A .Com
It’s extremely common to find that your domain name of choice has already been taken. The Asian Fusion restaurant I cited above, Blue Ginger, doesn’t own the domain name of its business. BlueGinger.com is actually owned by clothing company.

When you’re searching for available domain names at a domain registration site and what you want has already been taken, the search function will often show you that the .biz, .net, .org, .us or some other extension of the name is available. Do not jump at the chance to get one of these. You will almost always be better off looking for a domain name that you can get as a .com for your local business. You don’t want people getting FairfaxBurgers.com in Virginia mixed up with FairfaxBurgers.biz in California.

This means you sometimes have to get creative with the domain name you choose and may end up using your second, third, fourth or even fifth choice as your domain name, so that you can secure one that will really belong to you. And while you are at it once you’ve chosen your domain name, consider purchasing the less popular .biz, .net and .org extensions so that no one else can muddy your waters by buying and using these. You don’t need to purchase hosting for anything but the .com, but if you own the other extensions, no one else can use them.

***Disclaimer
There are certain instances in which a .com is not necessarily the best extension. For example, if your local business is actually an organization (such as a non profit or special interest group) you may want to use the .org as your official domain name extension. But buy the .com and other extensions too, if you can, for the reasons mentioned above.

Step 4. Considering Length
Remember, all of the above advice recommends that keyword research, using a keyword research tool like Google’s free Adwords Keyword Tool, be the basis for the decisions you make about naming your business and choosing its domain. But don’t go overboard here. I would never tell a client to pick a domain name like:

JoesFairfaxCaliforniaBestHamburgerRestaurant.com

While it certainly incorporates lots of keywords, who is going to want to type anything that long? Time and again, I have seen the question of domain name length come up in forums and people generally comment that they feel overly-long domain names look spammy.

But at the same time, unless you are Amazon.com, Flickr.com or Google.com and have millions to devote to branding your business, you don’t want to pick such a tiny domain name. You don’t want to be:

Joes.com

What you will want to do is try to find a happy medium: a domain name that contains at least one keyword, be it geographic or product/service oriented, but that doesn’t read like a novel. Something more like:

JoesFairfaxHamburgers.com

It’s 24 characters (actually 25 with the dot). I wouldn’t consider this prohibitively long and might recommend it, but you could pare it down a little more. Let say your keyword research indicates that a lot of people are searching for ‘burger’ restaurants as well as ‘hamburger’ restaurants. You might pick:

JoesFairfaxBurgers.com

You haven’t taken out a lot of characters, but it definitely looks more concise.

Some people might suggest taking ‘Joe’ out of the picture altogether, leaving you with:

FairfaxBurgers.com

I would say this depends on whether the business is established or not. If Joe’s is already well-known locally, I would leave Joe in. If you’re picking the name of your business from scratch, I’d be inclined to simply name the business ‘Fairfax Burgers’ and leave Joe out.

Will it make a huge difference in the end if you really want to name your business Joe’s Fairfax Burgers? No, it won’t. The examples here are simply given to illustrate how to hone a business name down to its shortest, most optimized possibility.

Step 4. Considering Memorability
Discussion of domain name length is often tied into the concept of memorability. Yes, it is very easy to remember Amazon.com, Google.com and Flickr.com…but I would like to suggest that the reason these domain names became so memorable was because of the marketing that made them so visible, not really because of the words used themselves. After all, I’ve memorized my 16 digit debit card number – not because it’s clever, but because I’ve been exposed to it over and over again.

I’ve never really been convinced that domain names need to be especially memorable, unless offline forms of marketing (TV, Radio, Billboards) are going to be a major component in the business’ promotion. In these cases, it is definitely good to have a short, memorable domain name, but if you’ve got a limited budget for your local business, and much of your offline fame is going to happen via word of mouth, I would suggest that such conversations will sound like:

“We ate at such a good place last night. It was called Paco’s Tacos, I think. It was delish.”

Few people are going to say:

“We ate at such a good place last night. Please, visit PacosTacos.com”

Advertisements speak that way about local businesses, but I’ve never heard a living human being do so. It’s different for totally virtual business models, but if you’ve got a brick-and-mortar shop, people are most likely to remember the name of your business, tell their friends and their friends will Google (or FB or Tweet or whatever) your business name and find you that way.

That being said, my advice for certain types of local businesses would be a little more careful about this concept of memorable domain names. If you have a go-to-client business model (carpet cleaner, chimney sweep, mobile locksmith) and you’ve got vans and trucks cruising your town emblazoned with your domain name, being memorable could definitely help. Repeat exposure to a memorable domain name may help me to recall it the next time I need your services, so if this is your business model, do take this into account.

I think the most interesting thing about the common advice of picking a memorable domain is that no generic advice will actually apply to all businesses. How your specific users (customers) behave is what counts. Do they find you on the web, hear of you from offline media or from friends, look you up by business name, by specialty or subject, look you up via domain name, do they bookmark your URL or re-look you up every time? No one can answer these questions. The answers can only be found via dedicated research into user behavior specific to your unique customer base.

But, in general, shorter domain names are easier to type and tend to look a lot better in search engine results. And, if they are memorable, so much the better.

In Sum

- Do keyword research
- Reflect your findings in your choice of business name, if possible
- Reflect your findings in your choice of domain name
- Use at least one keyword/keyword phrase in your domain name
- But try to keep it short
- Always pick a .com, unless another extension is actually more reflective of your business model (like a .org)
- Can’t get your first choice .com? Find something else
- And if it’s memorable, that’s a bonus!

Parting Advice: Really spend time considering which available domain name is the best choice for your business. You will be living with your domain name for a long, long time if your business is successful, and the effect of a good or bad choice will stick with you for the long haul.

My Latest Search Engine Guide Post On False Local Business Closures

Posted on August 15, 2011

If you run a local business and have taken the necessary steps to create and verify your Google Place Page, don’t miss this important alert. Read my most recent Search Engine Guide post: Nuking Local Competitors A Dirty, Rotten Trick. And be sure you are checking your Place Page listing on a regular basis so that if a competitor falsely claims you are closed, you will know about it as soon as possible. This is a subject you don’t want to miss reading up on!

What ever happened to an honest dollar for an honest day’s work? By the looks of things, there are a lot of local business owners out there who just don’t play by these rules.

In Praise Of Chris Silver Smith’s Post On Geocoding Images For Local SEO

Posted on August 15, 2011

Step one is definitely getting awesome local content together for the pages of your website, but can you do more? My honored colleague, Chris Silver Smith, has just published an excellent guide to geocoding your images for added Local SEO benefits over at Search Engine Land. If you’re looking for new ideas for giving your website’s local presence a little extra boost, definitely check Chris’ post out. It’s well-written, easy to understand and full of great suggestions!

Marketing Affordable Vacations Via Local Content With A Small Town Flavor

Posted on August 14, 2011

scenic byway poster

Like a sticky date rolled in coconut, so came I home coated in dust from my day trip motor tour of the American West this weekend. My neck is a little sore, but my mind is full of the places I’ve been. Some people think of vacations beginning with being launched into the sky for far flung destinations; my idea of going abroad means digging deeper into my own home state, increasing my knowledge of where I live so that I can love it better.

More and more these days, I’m finding myself in plentiful company as Americans seek recreation on tightened budgets. There’s a world of adventure waiting out there within one or two days’ drive from home and it is in the interest of every local business owner to publish the personal invitation that will bring the visitors to your town to play, stay and spend.

When I write copy for local business websites, there are two categories of website visitors that have to be considered. Some business are a match for locals only (carpet cleaners, landscapers, general contractors) as their services are confined to residential needs, but so many more types of shops and services will be needed by the daytripper and vacationer who may need to find all manner of things in a locale in which he’s never been before.

These days, you must picture the visitor with his cell phone in hand, and provided there is Internet access in your town, he will be using this device to pre-connect with the things he wants and needs, prior to walking in the door of your business. At the very least, he will likely be doing Internet research at home before hitting the road.

So The Question To Ask Yourself Is: What Will The Visitor Want Whether Passing Through Or Staying Here?

City and Chamber of Commerce websites and businesses in the lodging industry are generally tuned into this enough to make some effort at publishing content that answers this key question, but your local business website should consider attempting to offer answers, too. It doesn’t matter if you run a restaurant, a retail shop or a gas station. By promoting what’s available in your area, you can become a best answer to all kinds of searches. If you are in a small town, competition in the search engine results will likely be low and if travelers find their questions answered by your website, they have just been exposed to your brand and now know that you exist in your town and that they can come to you, should they need what you’ve got.

lumberjack illustrating local content flavor
Here is a brainstorming list of types of local content that visitors will value:

Emergency & Medical Supplies – Where can the visitor go for batteries, flashlights, first aid kits, medicines, walk-in auto garage repairs, gasoline, drinking water, the nearest emergency hospital? List the numbers of the local police and fire departments, too.

Categories of Comestibles – Sort different types of food into different categories, such as picnic supplies, take-out coffee, family restaurants, fancy restaurants, breakfast places, pizza, chinese food. Don’t forget travelers who are avidly searching for something very specific such as vegetarian restaurants, organic food, gluten-free options and other specialties.

Amusements – Sort resources into different categories such as fun for kids, fun for adults, whole family fun, etc. Point out where playgrounds are, or restaurants with video game arcades, or other options that have been built especially with little kids in mind. Family groups or adult travelers will like to know where interesting museums, galleries, farm markets, farm stands, theaters and parks are where they can spend a few fun hours.

Restrooms – This is almost universally overlooked, and it’s such a mistake because people on the road are united by a single need, no matter what type of vacation they are on – the need to know where public restrooms are located. Some small towns have only one or two facilities and they can be really hard to find. Make a mapped list of every public restroom in town and visitors to your town will be very grateful!

Natural Highlights – Work with local nature-oriented interest groups to develop birding and wildlife guides for your town. Speaking as an avid birder, I can tell you that there is no trip my family makes that does not involve hoping we will add a new bird or two to our lifelist. Give directions to spots where visitors are most likely to see birds that are significant to your region of the state – especially rare birds that can’t be easily seen elsewhere. Write about the fish and aquatic animals in your rivers, lakes and seas and the interesting wildlife in your natural areas. And, of course, highlight any state or regional parks in your region.

Rate Your Roads – Maps are great, but the one thing they seldom tell us about is the quality of roads leading off major highways. If you know that Old Mountain Road is reasonably navigable but that Iron Peak Road will blow out tires, you will be doing your town’s visitors an invaluable service by writing about this. My husband and I still talk about the most horrible road we ever unwittingly traversed on the way to the coast. It looked perfectly fine on the map but as it went on for mile after mile after winding mile, we began to feel we were having a bad dream. We finally emerged carsick, with wrecked backs and headaches and a glazed look in our eyes. Something like that could really ruin a vacation, so a rated list of offshoot roads would certainly be a courtesy to out-of-towners.

Unique Flavor – Whether you are home of the world’s largest chicken statue or Jack London was once bitten by a wolf at the corner of your 1st and Main, visitors would like to know what the one thing is that they shouldn’t miss, even if they are only passing through town. Or maybe your town is famous for a particular kind of apple, berry, food or product. Even the tiniest towns have something unique about them that will enrich the visitor’s travels and help him to feel like he’s really been there. And while he is visiting these landmarks, monuments and centers of local flavor, you can let him know he’s just two-doors down from your shop and what you offer.

Think It Over…
Once upon a time, in an era called The Great Depression, America set to work building the scenic highways and network of roads that would enable motorists to crisscross the land in search of work, new starts and high times. No one seems to agree on what we are calling The Great Something we are having right now, but the times definitely have a historic ring to them, and that crazy quilt of roads isn’t just a legacy; it’s what millions of citizens are using right now in pursuit of recreation and vacation for less dough.

What these folks are looking for is a simple good time. Forget Your Troubles, C’mon Get Happy as the old song went, and the locally-optimized content published on your website can hum just the right tune at just the right time.

To that end, I’d like to end this article with a shout out to Wheels Restaurant in Laytonville, California and the waitress there who gave me a free cup, free hot water and free ice so that I could make my own special tea in my car to keep the migraine away while we jounced over a totally insane road, saw a new bird for our lifelist (the Mountain Quail) and came down to the river full of joy! Wheels, you made my roadtrip great and I hope tons of people come eat at your cool little diner. Honorable mention goes to the gigantic lumberjack statue Willits for being a great photo op.

So, go on – what are you waiting for? C’mon, get writing!

Getting Rid Of Negative Reviews – Before They Happen

Posted on August 11, 2011

I scooped into the bin of bulk sunflower seeds only to discover it was full of worms! I quickly reported it to the grocery store cashier in a hushed but urgent tone.

Her lackluster reply, “Oh.”

I proffered my debit card to the clerk at the convenience store, only to be told,

“Can you give me cash? I’m using the Internet and I don’t want to hook up the card machine.”

I walked into the quaint and pretty tea room and bakery behind a line of elderly ladies…

only to be greeted by the guttural strains of Metallica being blasted by a group of floury teenage boys.

I trotted up to the farm stand counter with my fresh produce where I encountered the cashier rubbing lip balm all over his shiny, open mouth with his fingers.

I almost couldn’t bear to hand him my cash.

I waltzed into my vacation rental, found it decorated in dead bugs and festoons of mold and phoned the owner.

Her careless reply, “Well, the guy I hired to look after the place is really falling apart.”

And nowhere to be found, a simple apology…

Friend and colleague, Mike Blumenthal, has published a very good post today entitled Review Management: 7 Tips on Avoiding Bad Reviews. In this post, Mike states that the three elements of a review management plan are: great customer service, ask for reviews, avoid negative reviews, and I would like to take a closer look at factors one and three as they relate to a point I have been making a lot of recent efforts to get across to worthy local business owners like you.

It’s all very well to suggest avoiding negative reviews. Wouldn’t we all like to do so? But how can you do it? In my opinion, your number one ally, protection and weapon against negative reviews is:

Staff Training

Sorry, no magic wand. It may sound old-hat and unglamorous, but so many of my interactions with workers in the service industries have convinced me to the soles of my feet that busy business owners are either totally skipping this vital step towards satisfactory customer service, or they are not monitoring their staff to see if good practices are actually being implemented. Be warned, failure to train staff is almost certain to result in negative reviews just like this:

“Unbelievably surprisingly poor service when things are not going great.

First, the waitress did not bring me a salad (everyone at my table could have a complimentary salad as part of a prix fixe). She said she gave it to someone else at my table, and blamed that person for taking the salad. Not bringing me the salad – that’s ok, she’s human, but she blamed someone else, not good.

Then, there was a water leak from the ceiling that first poured water all along my left leg, then when I moved over, I had the misfortune of putting my head under another water leak. The waitress did not handle this professionally at all, and found excuses rather than at least simply saying “sorry about that”.

Then, the waitress brought me the wrong entree. I ordered the gratin. There is a big difference between how one pronounces Gratin vs Duck or Canard. No big deal, right, it’s human to make a mistake taking an order. But then the waitress blames me, and says “I will bring you YOUR duck anyway”. Really?

Unbelievable.”

The Formula For A Negative Review

Mistakes and accidents happen. Unless you hire robots, this isn’t something you can control. So let’s take a look at the telling elements that make this scenario such a predictable setup for the inevitable resultant negative review, the elements that could have been controlled with appropriate staff training:

  • The server blamed someone else
  • The server blamed the customer
  • The server did not know how to say I’m sorry even when a leak spouted right over the customer’s head

When you read as many reviews as I do, you will find that these elements are consistently cited as the cause of the negative review, and this reminds me that long ago, when the world was still young, I worked in retail and can attest that apart from training me to run a cash register, I never once had a boss offer to train me in the arts of serving the public. I was pretty much on my own, and unless your employees were raised by a mother as skilled in the teaching of Ps & Qs as mine, your business is in serious trouble. *See infographic below:

Staff Training To Combat Negative Reviews

One negative review isn’t going to put anyone out of business, but a pattern of neglect of staff training is putting your company’s reputation at certain risk for bad press, and I am positive that with all you’ve invested in your business, this isn’t what you want.

Mitigating The Risk Of Negative Reviews With Simple Training Techniques

Uno – Put out the chips and salsa and a pitcher of iced tea and be prepared to pay overtime for this if necessary.

Dos – Bring the entire existent staff together for an after-hours training session.

Tres – Role play every imaginable negative or tricky scenario that could happen in your business. Encourage staff to suggest their own scenarios and act them out – ones they’ve experienced on the job. Fly in the soup, item returned broken, unruly children at table, rude customer, intoxicated customer, shoplifter, staff shortage, etc. Make it 100% clear to every employee what your company’s acceptable methods and policies are for handling each of these situations. Don’t rely on them acting on gut instincts. Teach them how to behave in your business and strongly stress that the ability to say “I’m sorry,” when something goes wrong is a pre-requisite for keeping their job with you.

Cuatro – In the session, set expected standards for polite interactions. Make it clear that you expect eye contact, please and thank you. Encourage staff to be friendly and outgoing, but not to be overly personal or interfering during patrons’ time spent in the shop. Don’t expect that new staff members have pleasing manners. They may never have had the chance to learn them outside of this job. Set sanitary standards, too. Public grooming is not something most of us want to see, and we all feel better if we believe service employees wash their hands at appropriate times.

Cinco – Bring in the services of a medical professional for the night to give basic training in CPR and First Aid and be sure that every employee knows where emergency numbers and the first aid kit are located.

Seis – Ask employees if there is anything you can do to enable them to give more efficient or consistent customer service.

Siete – Teach every employee to say some version of this to patrons, “If there is anything that doesn’t meet with your complete satisfaction, please, just let me know. I’m here to serve you.” Make in-person complaints so easy for patrons that they are inclined to seek resolution at the time of transaction, rather than turning to the web to vent. That’s right – in addition to training your staff, you’ve got to train your customers to know that they can approach staff with problems to seek resolution.

Ocho – Repeat this training session at least once a year. If your staff turnover is accelerated at your business, these sessions will have to occur more often.

Nueve- Be IN YOUR STORE frequently enough to see if good practices are being put into place.

Diez – Be the absolute best example in your business of excellent people skills. Treat your staff and your patrons with consideration and courtesy at all times. You set the tone of your business and your employees are watching you.

The training session would also be a great time to implement a staff-wide positive review encouraging strategy, but the main point here is to make the effort to equip staff with the right words, gestures, actions and tools to handle the public well. In this way, your business will avoid much of the risk for the disappointment, shock and anger that is fueling the review world with volumes of complaints large and small right this minute.

You won’t be able to catch every customer before they walk out the door unhappy enough to write a negative review, but with a small but dedicated investment of your time put towards meaningful staff training, chances are, you will be stopping a meaningful percentage of negative reviews – before they happen.

Question For You: Already training your staff? What works for you? Other business owners will benefit if you take the time to share your tried-and-true techniques. Please share!

My Funny Reviews Collection

Posted on August 08, 2011

Over the past few years, I’ve been bookmarking reviews that have made me laugh. I’m ready to share my collection of funny reviews, excerpted verbatim, for your silly reading pleasure.

Funny Reviews 1

“The pasta wasn’t that great either. We could tell it was just thrown together with anger.”

From Yelp

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Funny Reviews 2

“Atmosphere’s a bit stuffy and everyone’s so old and dressed up.”

From Yelp

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Funny Reviews 3

“The hand-painted sandwichboard placard out front suggested a casualness which can be a very good thing or a very bad thing in a restaurant. More to the point, the one employee who was SLEEPING UNDER THE TABLE when we arrived, and had to be woken by the other employees to move so they could push together tables for our larger group…”

From Yelp

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Funny Reviews 4

“Then, I took a Sallad, which was called “sallad de luxe” and it was made by several blades of sallad (what a surprise ;D) the bottom of an artchoke, around 5 pieces of roasted pumpkin seed, half of a sparris cutted and a quarter of a sliced avocado.”

From TripAdvisor

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Funny Reviews 5

“The Lamb dish was stone cold and when we asked for it to be heated up we were told that it was the last piece of Lamb and we were lucky to get it.”

From TripAdvisor

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Funny Reviews 6

“I was both intrigued and confused by Ray’s Hot Pot before finally eating here. It was originally named something like “Ray’s Fondue,” but had a handwritten sign reading “No Cheese!” Umm, what fondue place doesn’t serve cheese? Have vegans taken over Switzerland?”

From Yelp

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Funny Reviews 7

“I was wondering why ppl think this is a gourme place – when you talk to a swede at least. Not good food, cheap but I liked the chairs. Wine? Don´t even go there…try a bear instead.”

From TripAdvisor

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Funny Reviews 8

“First off, there isn’t any good parking! You have to park on the street, which they don’t tell you, is full of Hippies! And I’m not kidding, real hippies, with dirty hair and all that.”

From TripAdvisor

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The views expressed above do not represent those of CopyLocal. These funny reviews have been excerpted in the spirit of good humor, and with the understanding that all businesses receive reviews of all kinds, be they humorous, positive or negative, while practicing the art of serving the public.

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