Barnacle Reviews on Google+ Local
Posted by David Mihm
Since Google+ Local was released last May, it’s safe to say that everyone in the local search community — business owners and agencies alike — has been waiting with bated breath for the launch of Google’s rumored “Business Builder” dashboard. For whatever reason, it still isn’t out yet, but while you’re waiting, there’s no reason you can’t take advantage of the most underrated feature of Google+: the ability to interact on Google+ as a business page. And in particular, to leave reviews of other businesses as your business page.
Why leave reviews as a page?
Business owners, if this concept doesn’t immediately make sense to you, think of it like this: you probably go to networking events with your local chamber of commerce, Rotary club, or your industry trade group all the time. When you go to these events, you’re likely wearing your “business owner” hat, rather than your "weekend warrior" or "soccer mom" hat.
That’s essentially what this feature allows you to do: network socially with your “business owner” hat on, rather than your personal hat. Just like you would refer business to other business owners you trust and admire in these networking environments, the idea behind page-to-page recommendations on social networking sites works the same way.
Facebook gave its page users this functionality years ago, and many of you are likely accustomed to leaving comments on other Facebook pages and generally interacting with their community as their page rather than an individual profile. You may not have known, though, that you can do the same thing on Google+.
Why "Barnacle" reviews?
"Attaching oneself to a large fixed object and waiting for the customers to float by in the current."
As most of you would probably admit, it's hard work to optimize a local business website/Plus page/etc. So why not leverage pages that are already visible in your markets for your own visibility? That's the idea behind Barnacle SEO.
Will's original concept applied to link building to prominent Internet Yellow Pages profiles like Yelp business pages or Yahoo Local listings to increase the rankings of those profiles. As Facebook became more popular, he also applied the idea to Facebook conversations on popular pages in a given community (such as the home of your local newspaper or major/minor league sports team).
The problem is that with's Facebook's Timeline interface, comments and conversations drop "below the fold" awfully quickly, especially on popular pages with lots of conversations.
The results on Google+ Local pages, when done well, can yield much "stickier" results.
Getting started: using Google+ as your page
This part is pretty easy. Simply go to http://plus.google.com and log in with the Google Account under which you claimed your page. At the top righthand side, you'll see a dropdown that shows the pages on which you're an admin. Simply select the name of your page. Google will then take you to that page, and when it does, you should see the icon of the page show up at the top righthand side (rather than your personal profile photo).
You're now using Google+ as your business!
Getting your feet wet: reviewing friendly businesses
Going back to the Rotary club analogy, you probably already have a network of existing businesses that you refer friends and clients to in the offline world — pay it forward and put your speech about why you would refer people to them out there for the entire Internet to see.
Chances are, when they Google themselves, they'll see your business' review right at the top of the list and might even leave YOU a review once they notice it.
Here's an example of this in action with my friend Mike Ramsey's business. You'll see, because he doesn't have that many reviews for his newspaper site, my face-for-radio shows up publicly right at the top of his list.
Kicking it up a notch: finding popular businesses
OK, that was simple enough. But most of your friends aren't likely to run tremendously popular businesses that are getting a lot of traffic from search, let alone organic activity on Google+. You want to identify who the most popular businesses are in your market. You probably have some idea of what they are already, but here are some algorithmically-influenced ways to find them.
1) Perform a search for "things to do" in your market
Google is showing more and more of these carousel-style results for these searches every day. The businesses and points of interest shown in this carousel tend to be the ones that get the most visibility on Google+.
2) See what businesses Google recommends at maps.google.com
Visit http://maps.google.com and see who Google shows to the left of the map — both in text and image format. Again, these are likely to be popular businesses with lots of visibility on Google's local products.
3) See where top reviewers are going
Hat tip to my previously-mentioned friend Mike Ramsey of Nifty Marketing whose team authored this excellent piece earlier this week about how to find top reviewers on Google+ Local. Just follow the instructions in that post, and you'll get a screen like this. Chances are, most of the places visited by top reviewers are pretty popular.
4) See what places are popular on Foursquare
Visit foursquare.com and see what businesses are mentioned when you search for "best nearby." These places are going to have a lot of visibility among techies–good for a variety of reasons that I won't go into in this post.
Finishing things off: reviewing those businesses
So, the final step in the process is to leave a review of those top businesses. I don't have any earth-shattering tips for best practices when it comes to actually leaving a review, but I will point out that the more effort you put into leaving a killer review, the more likely it is that effort will be rewarded.
Why is that? Google+ sorts reviews by "Most Helpful" by default. This means that the better your review is, the more likely it is to have staying power over time — which is the whole point of this exercise. You want people to gain real value from your review and have a positive experience when they see your brand for the first time.
Just like no one wants to talk to an incessant glad-hander or self-promoter at a networking event, no one wants to read reviews that talk about how great their own business is. Just imagine that you're talking to people face-to-face at one of these events, except instead of a 1:1 interaction, it's more like a 1:100 or a 1:1000 interaction.
Note that my business' review, though I left it over two weeks ago and haven't asked anyone to mark it as helpful, is still ranking second out of all reviews. Imagine the permanent "stickiness" of a review marked as helpful by even a handful of Google+ users.
Obviously, this technique works best for retail- or hospitality industry businesses, who are probably referring their guests to top attractions anyway, and are most likely to get traffic from out-of-town guests in the process of planning their trips.
But my guess is that (especially) in larger markets, even in-town residents are likely to do "recovery" searches on popular destinations — where Google is increasingly pushing searchers towards Knowledge Graph results and popular reviews from prominent Google+ users. Make sure your business (or your clients' businesses) have a chance to gain this "barnacle" visibility.
In the comments, I'd love to hear if anyone has used this technique on their own, or on behalf of their clients, and what the results have been!
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