Make Google Work For You

Google has more tools than handyman’s toolbox. Most people know about the big ones, like Search, Gmail, Drive, Docs, and Maps, but there are many more. One of the ways in which Google innovates is by putting out numerous beta products for free, just to see which ones are picked up and used by large numbers of people. The most popular ones receive more focus and resources, and eventually become full-fledged products (Gmail was technically a beta product until mid-2009, five years after it was first released). However, there are loads more that many people haven’t heard of. For a (mostly) comprehensive list, go here. However, one of the most useful tools isn’t even on the official list of products: Google Alerts.

Google Alerts is a terrific way to make Google Search work for you and on your timeframe – think of it as customized search results delivered to your email inbox. To set up an alert, go to the starting page. There are pre-built suggestions listed there, but to customize alerts for your needs just enter your search terms in the box at the top of the page. Sample results will appear below to give you an idea of the kind of information that will be delivered by the alert. Next to the “Create Alert” button is a drop-down list of options allowing you to control how often you receive an email from the alert, what kind of sources the email will include, and several other factors. Pick the options you want and click the create button. You’ll start receiving emails with the information of your choice right away. It’s that simple.

Now that you know how to set up alerts, let’s explore why you might want to. One of the biggest challenges for a small business is reputation management. The reality of 2015 is that more and more people are looking online for answers to their questions, meaning anything that’s posted online about your company could be seen by current or potential customers. Whether it’s checking reviews on Yelp or monitoring hashtags on Twitter, you need to be wherever your customers are looking so you can make sure false information doesn’t go unchecked or requests for help don’t languish. Unfortunately, most small businesses don’t even have a marketing department let alone a PR department, so anything that can be done to simplify these critical responsibilities can be a life saver. Setting up Google Alerts for keywords like your business name or top product lines can help keep you informed of what’s being said about you online, thus giving you a chance to respond. There are other reasons, too, though. You can keep up with general news and trends on your industry, saving a lot of time by having the applicable information sent directly to you. You can do a little virtual stalking of your competitors, if you’re into that sort of thing. You can keep track of who is linking to your site by using “link:www.yourdomain.com” as your keywords. If you want to get fancy, you can use operators to nail down some specifics. For example, let’s say you want to be notified if someone hacks your site and posts racy pictures on it.  You can set up an alert with the following search terms:

Nude OR naked OR porn OR sex site:www.yoursite.com

That should run along happily invisible until such time as a hack-and-post occurs, and then it will notify you right away.  It’s a nice little bit of extra reassurance on top of your normal online security procedures.  Feel free to set up as many alerts as you’d like – Google will allow you up to 1,000 of them. It’s just a single click to edit or delete your alerts, so anyone can do it.  More tips and details about customizing your alerts can be found here.

But it’s not just for businesses. Individuals can use alerts to help discover potential identity theft or content theft, follow sports teams or Hollywood celebrities, or stay on top of new products and technologies. You can set up an alert to perform the written digital equivalent of a selfie to find out what other people are saying about you. If you’re a traveler, you can use alerts to keep you posted on what’s happening back home. If you crave savings, you can keep an eye out for coupons, discount codes, or free goodies. You can even use an alert to send you notices about a particular job title you’re interested in.

Google Alerts is a very versatile tool for just about anyone who wants to get customized search results on just about any topic. Alerts take almost no time to set up, they function with very little maintenance once created, and can be an extremely powerful way to keep tabs on the information that matters most to you. Give it a shot, and feel free to come back and leave us comments about what works (or doesn’t) best for you.

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Reputation Management: TripAdvisor, Google Places, and Yelp

Traditional social media provides us with our own bullhorn.  We can share information with current clients, engage with potential new ones, and develop colleagues and resources in our own respective industries.  Three specific sites turn this situation around and hand the bullhorn over to your clients in a way that is less in your control than the medium of facebook, twitter, etc. is.

Perhaps you don’t know about these sites, namely TripAdvisor, Google Places, or Yelp.  You think you may not acquire customers from there.  And perhaps you are right.  But you need to at least claim and manage your pages so that you are in a position to answer whatever may be said about you on those sites.  Potential customers, for better or worse, will read these reviews; remember that the conversation about your business is already going on in social media.  You just have to decide if you want to be part of that discussion.

Step 1: Claim your page

Each website will be different.  For Google Places, you will likely be able to simply type in your business name and city and watch your business pop up on the right side.

petit villiers shotFor my example I’ve chosen my favorite French restaurant in my arrondissement in Paris.  At the very bottom of my screen shot you will see “People also search for” and some pictures.  Below that you will a very small line of text that asks, “Are you the business owner?”  Click on that and work through the registration process.

To make it easy for yourself remember to use the same email address for all of these sites, use the same pictures, and make sure you are putting out the same message.

If you already see ratings – and some that you don’t like – don’t get distracted!  Get registered first and then we will have time to go back and address some of those disgruntled customers.

For Yelp you can click here to start by registering for a business account and then you’ll be guided through to search for your business.

Now – do you need a TripAdvisor account?  Only if your business is travel related – or you are a restaurant.  Restaurants even in cities that are not “tourist stops” get reviewed on TripAdvisor so make sure you have one.  If you are a salon in the middle of nowhere, then you can probably skip TripAdvisor.  Otherwise click here to get started.

Step 2: Encourage customers to review, in order to get you “started”

All of the review sites have additional features to allow you promote your business more.  Because some of them have been accused of “extorting” owners they take a very abstract approach of the idea of asking for reviews.  Yelp has more than once blogged about “not asking for reviews.”  This is, of course, ridiculous.  This is like saying, “well, if you like the wine, just downplay it like you’ve had better before and be hipster-ish about it.”  I’m sorry, Yelp, business owners have been asking customers for referrals since Medieval times and your website’s existence doesn’t change the rules.  There’s no harm in telling a customer, “Hey, if you liked your experience, please review us online – we would really appreciate it.”  The aforementioned blog article mentions business owners whipping out a laptop and putting it in front of a customer with the Yelp page pulled up or talk of “bribing for reviews.”  Look, there are unethical people out there and sure people do this stuff, but to paint it as normative, and then write a blog article explaining why you shouldn’t ask for reviews because of it?  It just doesn’t make any sense.

If you have particularly loyal customers, encourage them to go on there and leave you a review.  Don’t tell them what to say, don’t let them do the, “you write it up and I’ll sign it” move.  Tell them they have to write it because it’s gotta come from them.  Ask once or twice and then leave it be.  That’s as organic as it gets.  Think of it as “priming,” because after that you’ll just be dealing with reviews, good and bad, as they come.

Step 3: Maintain and communicate

Look, not everyone is going to be happy.  That’s part of life on this beautiful planet.  But potential customers care about how YOU respond to the complaint, not just about the complaint itself.  Take a look at this response from a comic book store owner.

pop culture comixInstead of letting himself get angry he explained his position clearly and thoughtfully.  He made it clear that he wanted to earn any business given to him and made it clear that he really doesn’t know who had left the review.  Was this a perfect response?  No, but we aren’t always perfect.  What was great about it was that he took the time to respond so now it’s on the customer to decide what he/she wants to believe or do with the information given.

If you have specials or coupons you want to share – these pages are great places to do it.  All the websites give you mechanisms to share “specials.”  Also upload photos – the more people can “see” you and your business the more they will trust you and be comfortable.

Step 4: Relax and make maintenance of these pages part of your social media routine

Remember that 50% of social media is just showing up consistently.  If you don’t have a social media strategy, we need to talk.  If you do – great – just fold maintenance of these pages into your daily social media routine – and find ways to put “find us on Yelp” etc, like this business does right at the top of its home page.

Good luck, and don’t put this off.  Chances are there are already comments on these pages – for good or ill – that you haven’t responded to…yet!