Does HTTPS Affect Search Engine Optimization

Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure

Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure, known commonly as HTTPS, is the secure version of HTTP. In order to be classified as secure, a website must procure an SSL certificate which garners the HTTPS designation. This certificate ensures a secure connection, particularly for those sites that transfer sensitive information, such as credit card info or passwords. Thanks in large part to the growing popularity of HTTPS as well as a new iteration of Chrome (56) that will more clearly differentiate between HTTP and HTTPS, a looming question on a lot of people’s minds is, “Does HTTPS affect search engine optimization?”

The answer to that question is not totally clear or decisive at the present moment.

One thing is for sure, though: HTTPS seems to be the way of the future regardless of its impact on search engine ranking.

Google’s HTTPS Plan for January 2017

Google recently announced that by the end of January 2017, Chrome will begin explicitly labeling all HTTP connections that have credit card or password fields as ‘non-secure’.

In the past, Chrome hasn’t labeled any connections as outright non-secure. Chrome 56, the latest iteration of the popular browser, might just flip that script come February. Instead of simply omitting the little green “Secure” designation (pictured below), the browser will display a red “Non-Secure” addendum that will signify to the end user that the site doesn’t have the same level of security as sites with SSL certification.  

Green SSL Certification

As with other major changes that Google has rolled out in the past, this change will come incrementally, and the standards will become more stringent over time to ease businesses and consumers through the transition as painlessly as possible. Their end goal is to make the internet a more secure place for everyone involved.

How Does HTTPS Keep Connections Secure?

In a discussion of HTTPS versus HTTP, it’s impossible not to touch on SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certification. We just briefly mentioned it in the above section, but it absolutely bears a more thorough explanation.

During a secure session, the SSL certificate enacts a sort of chain reaction that starts with an ‘SSL handshake’. This handshake establishes a unique, secure connection between the browser and the website itself. By comparison, sites that are simply HTTP communicate with the respective browsers in ‘plain text’, thus making it incredibly easy for hackers to intercept and read all communications between the site and the browser. That’s precisely how identities are compromised via HTTP sites.

Due to countless identity fraud cases and scares all around the world, secure web browsing has swept the web over the past couple of years. Today, more than half of the pages on the internet are viewed over HTTPS, and the average internet user spends upwards of 67% of their time on HTTPS pages.

Does HTTPS Affect Search Engine Ranking?

In short, yes. To elaborate on this answer, it’s important to note that the algorithms that determine search engine rankings change all the time; they are constantly evolving to keep up with the changing nature of the internet.

Because HTTPS is relatively new on the scene (first proliferated during the early 2010’s), the designation doesn’t majorly affect a site’s ranking.

There is a correlation, however, between top-ranking sites and those that are HTTPS. Among the list of page-level, keyword agnostic features, HTTPS ranks within the top ten, which includes:

  • Total number of links
  • Hreflang declaration
  • Number of internal links
  • Number of stripped chars in doc body
  • Number of external links
  • Whether or not a page uses Google Analytics
  • If the site is HTTPS

[Source: Moz]

Of course, correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation. There are several factors that go into search engine ranking. That said, at this point, it’s hard to deny that secure connection has an effect.

Is it Time to Switch to HTTPS?

Beyond the way it affects search engine ranking, HTTPS also signals to end users that their information is well taken care of on a given site.

With the implementation of the new ‘non-secure’ designations come February 2017, it will become more and more evident to online consumers which sites are to be trusted—and which aren’t so trustworthy.

If you’re wondering whether or not it’s time to switch over to HTTPs, there are a couple of crucial questions you need to be asking yourself.

First of all: do you want to be seen as a secure site? Once all of the Chrome-HTTPS changes have been rolled out, anyone who clicks on your site will instantaneously be alerted to your status one way or the other. And it’s not just Chrome that you may have to worry about. Other major browsers are likely to follow suit in the near future.

Secondly, do you want to provide that extra level of security for your customers or potential customers? Few things dissuade consumers from entering their credit card information quite like the idea that a site is ‘non-secure’.

Lastly, do you want to positively impact your site’s search engine ranking? Though the correlation is slight, it’s real and will likely increase over time as more and more sites adopt the certification. It will eventually (probably) become a basic necessity for websites to be certified secure. Search engine optimization experts tend to agree that, in the future, sites that don’t have the HTTPS certification will be perceived as broken or outdated.

A minor deterrent for some site-runners right now is the cost. In most cases, however, the cost of switching is minimal—somewhere between $500 and $1200, and those costs are on a steady decline. Looking at the bigger picture, switching to HTTPS is almost a no-brainer.

Conclusion

HTTPS does affect search engine optimization (SEO). At this moment in time, the effect is minimal (though positively correlated). That effect is poised to become greater with the changes that Chrome is planning to roll out in 2017.

Regardless, to be on the safe side—quite literally—it might just be time to switch to HTTPS, not just for the SEO benefits, but also for the added security it promises on both sides of the equation.

Especially if your site requires registration with a password or accepts sensitive information like credit card numbers, now is definitely the time to switch to HTTPS.     

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How to Write the Best Meta Descriptions

A meta description is a 150-160 character snippet that summarizes the contents of a certain webpage. Meta descriptions are coded in HTML onto the page itself, but they only display on search engine result pages (SERP). For example, when you type into Google, “How to find the right career,” this is one of the top results that pops up:

Meta Tag Example One

The short paragraph below the rating is what’s considered the meta description. This is a great example of a succinct meta description in that it hits its keyword mark, doesn’t trail off past the recommended 156 characters, and it tells end users exactly what to expect.

Why are Meta Descriptions Important?

Because Google’s algorithm doesn’t actually take the meta description of a page into account when it’s ranking pages, the real reason that it’s so critical to perfect your meta description has everything to do with your end user.

Let’s say that you’re trying to target the keyword, “HVAC systems.” It’s a fairly competitive term, but you’ve managed to get one of your pages about the basics of HVAC systems to rank on the first page. Google has deemed that you’re an authoritative source on the subject of heating and air; therefore, whatever you’ve written is more likely to be useful and meaningful to the audience that’s searching for that term and related topics.

Of course, that also means that there are several other companies (typically direct competitors) that are ranking for that term. At the end of the day, what determines which result a person will click on has to do with two factors:

  • The ranking. The top result on the first page garners 33% of clicks on average. The second result usually grabs 17% of the clicks, and it continues to drop off considerably from there.
  • The meta description. A compelling, informative, succinct meta description gives the user just enough to make an informed decision about whether or not to click, but not so much information that they don’t need to click on it to learn the entire answer to the question they’re asking.

Back to the example. You’re trying to rank for “HVAC systems.” A potential customer types into Google, “The basics of HVAC systems.” Here are two of the top choices that pop up when they hit enter:

Meta Tag Example Two

Obviously, since this result hit the first page, the content is authoritative, and they’ve done their homework SEO-wise. But where this page falls short is its meta description. As an end user, would you want to click on this result? First of all, it doesn’t really say much. It does include the keyword, but it doesn’t define it or even really hint at defining it. From this snippet, the end user gets the sense that they’d have to scavenge for the information they’re looking for. Next!

Meta Tag Example 3

This is a fantastic example of a meta description that would draw an end user in. If they’re searching for the basics of HVAC systems, they can rest assured that this article will cover them. The snippet doesn’t trail off; it clearly defines what the article will discuss and gives the impression that it will be well organized and easy to follow. Aim for this level of clarity and brevity in your meta descriptions to insure more clicks on your page.

In addition to displaying a stellar meta description, this site has also managed to garner one of Google’s top algorithmic badges of honor: Google Sitelinks. The links along the bottom of the description correspond to the top pages within that site.

What are Sitelinks and How Do You Get Them for Your Site?

As we briefly explained above, Sitelinks are a premium listing format that shows the main meta description along with at least two additional Sitelink results.

Sometimes these listings are indented, but often they present along the bottom of the meta description as they did in the HVAC systems result above. These addendums give the end user the unique ability to skip from Point A to Point B, from Google to one of your top pages, without having to click on your landing or home page first.

Having Sitelinks appear on your search result makes your site seem more enticing to the end user, and it typically garners more clicks for your individual pages, since users don’t have to search through your site or start from your landing page to find what they’re looking for.

So, how do you get Google Sitelinks for your site?

Unfortunately, Google closely guards the algorithm that determines coveted things like Sitelinks. That being said, there are some definite best practices that have been shown to increase a site’s chances of appearing with Sitelinks.

Among those best practices are:

  • Having clear, well-thought-out navigation
  • Writing unique page titles and meta descriptions
  • Creating a structured hierarchy of pages within your site

Of course, having a heavily trafficked site with high click-through rates doesn’t hurt a bit, but that takes time and a good deal of SEO knowledge and following dozens more best practices.

The point is: it’s not impossible to get Sitelinks as a part of your metadata; it just takes strategy, planning, and time.

How Do You Write the Best Meta Descriptions?

There are three major factors involved in crafting the perfect meta description that we’ve alluded to throughout this article.

The truth is that there is no single formula for writing an ideal meta description.

However, there are dozens of ways to optimize your meta description to make it the best it can possibly be.

To write a stellar meta description, you need to be able to say what you mean and mean what you say in under 156 characters. That sentence, in and of itself, sums up the three important factors that go into crafting an eye-catching meta description. Let’s break it down:

  • Say what you mean.
  • Mean what you say.
  • In under 156 characters.

Saying what you mean involves clearly defining what your article or page is about. If it’s about the basics of HVAC systems, find a way to state that as obviously as possible.

Meaning what you say means not making false promises. Don’t say that you’re going to cover all of the basics of heating and air conditioning if you’re actually talking about swimming pool installation. Obviously, the differences might be a little more subtle than that, but the point is not to make false promises in your meta description.

Finally, in order to have your full meta description displayed, it must be under 156 characters. If it exceeds that character count, you’ll incur the dreaded points of ellipsis that trail after descriptions that are too long. If you can’t explain your page in under 156 characters, you’re not boiling it down to its essence. Search engine users only spend a couple of seconds perusing the results, so if they can read your full spiel in under two seconds, they’ll be more likely to click on your link.

 


Once your website has climbed the ranks to the first page for a certain keyword, the only thing that stands between you and a potential new lead is your meta description. So you’d better make sure you say what you mean and mean what you say in under 156 characters!

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What Is Semantic Search?

What Is Semantic Search?


Semantic search is a search method utilized by Google that analyzes user intent through context and content to generate and order search results. When a term or phrase is searched on the web, Google provides (and the user expects) a result that is relevant to the search phrase. The context of the searched words combined with the content and context of a website helps the search engine decide the result that best satisfies the query.

A visual explanation is a great way to understand semantic search. If you type in the word “penguin” in a Google search bar, Google assumes (based on criteria such as trending topics, past search, browser history, geographic location) the user wants to look up the animal, but also provides more options- there is a clothing line, a book publisher and a kids’ learning program.

Google Search for Penguin

Because Google does not have the context of the term “penguin,” the search engine result page (SERP) first returns the most common sought after answer- the animal, followed by two other options in the sidebar (the clothing company and the book company).  By adding context, Google has a better idea of user intent. For example, adding the word “habitat” to “penguin” and Google knows that the search is about bird, and not a book or a shirt.

Search For Penguin Habitat in Google

This example can be further illustrated by typing in “penguin SEO.”  SEO is short for “search engine optimization,” and Google has an algorithm named penguin. As a result of semantic search, Google knows that if a search query has the words “penguin SEO” the user is not looking for the bird, book, or shirt.

Google Search for Penguin SEO

If a search query is “penguin cotton,” Google understands that the user is is looking for Penguin cotton shirts, and that “cotton” does not go with either a bird or a book.

Google Search for Penguin Shirt

Why Semantic Search is Important


Google is not just a search engine; it is the primary source for many to look up information. That information ultimately comes from websites. For a website to perform at its optimum potential, it needs to be created so that Google can easily understand the information available and the overall topic.

A study conducted by Backlinko determined “that content rated as topically relevant” significantly outperformed content that didn’t cover a topic in-depth.” The more in-depth a website and its content, the higher the SERP rankings.

With the release of the Hummingbird Algorithm in 2013, Google was able to understand a search query and the user’s intent. By designing a website that is the content leader with authority and expertise in its topic, you drastically improve your chances for higher placement on the search engine result page.

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Ten Tools For Digital Marketing Campaigns

Ten Tools For Digital Marketing Campaigns

Digital marketing is the process of using posts, landing pages, and advertising campaigns (paid and social), to target both new customers and current customers, and to then measure both the customer acquisition costs and conversion rates. Digital marketing campaigns are customer centric, and are structured around inbound marketing techniques.  Most digital marketing campaigns use a combination of search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM), content automation, drip e-mail marketing, re-marketing, and display advertising.

We use digital marketing tools for four main reasons-

  1. They give you an advantage over competitors
  2. They help create multi-channel connections to your customers
  3. They enables detailed analytics
  4. They decreases response time to execute changes

We recently gave a talk on the “Ten Tools For Digital Marketing Campaigns.” To download a pdf of the presentation, click here.

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The Most Important Person In Your Business

A prospective client recently sent me an email that began, “In the last year, our plastic surgery practice has spent significant marketing dollars in digital and social media, and yet our sales have remained the same.” With the email, he attached a PDF that summarized their SEO campaign.

I looked through the report, and the data was impressive. Bounce rates were down, user visits and time on the site were up, and so was social media traffic. I clicked on their website, and it was clean and easy to understand. The site even had a “call to action” with a weekly special and “call us now” button. Curious, I picked up the phone and called. I instantly knew the problem.

The first words out of the person answering the phone… “hold please!”

After holding for more than a minute, she picked up again, and I had just finished explaining I was interested in the web special, and I was told to hold again. Thirty seconds later, when she came back on the line, her tone was clearly one of distraction and annoyance. I asked her a few basic questions about the procedure and the costs, and all her answers were terse and blunt.

I kept waiting for her to ask me to book the initial appointment…to close the sale…but in the end, I had to ask her.

Many small businesses have the same problem. They allocate enormous resources in digital and social media to acquire a new customer, only to lose that lead because of the first human interaction with their company.

Five easy steps to closing more phone leads-

  1. Assign a specific phone number that is connected to all incoming lead calls.
  2. Use a service that tracks and records these calls. Once a week, as the business owner, take the time to listen to a sample of the conversations. I like CallRail for its extensive list of features and low cost.
  3. When choosing the employee who will answer incoming calls, select the one who is not only outgoing and energetic, but excels in a sales role. Fielding incoming calls should be their first priority.
  4. Consider compensating the person answering the phone with some part commission. If you have chosen the right person, they will embrace the idea.
  5. Make it a policy that during each call, the customer is asked for the sale and asked what day they would like to set up their initial appointment.

With these easy steps, more of your phone leads should result in a sale.

Bearpaw Partners is a digital marketing agency. We drive customers (both current and new) to our clients. If you would like to see our most recent work, click here. To read our tweets, join us on Twitter.

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Do You Love Your Dog? The One Question Litmus Test

For me, all dog owners are divided into two categories- owners that are “dog lovers,” and the owners “who love their dog.” It takes a special person to be a member of the second category of “loving their dog.”

Membership in the “loving your dog” club is limited and for the elite. You can’t just sign up or buy your way in. Some membership criteria include such as allowing your dog to sleep in your bed and lay on your pillow.

But there really is only one question that needs to be asked to determine if “you love your dog” and get to join the club.

But first, a little about my journey into the “love your dog club.” Twenty years ago, I was newly married, and my lovely bride was convinced that getting a dog was the next logical step in our lives. My retort to several of the requests was a simple, “not now honey, we are just getting use to the this marriage thing.” Apparently my reasoning was unconvincing, so one day she walked in and stated, “I am going to get a dog THIS instant.” I lived by the mantra of happy wife is a happy life, so I hoped in the car. My first question in the car was, “what should we name our new Labrador retriever puppy?” Her laser beam stare let me know immediately that my question was entirely incorrect. Remaining calm, she stated, “we are getting a Yorkie, and I will let your name her.” I had never heard of a “Yorkie,” but not wanting to appear the complete fool, I said, “awesome babe.”

Turns out a “Yorkie” is a Yorkshire Terrier, and tops out just over 7 pounds- when full grown and very well fed.

I admit that Yorkies make really cute puppies, but this was a stunning blow to my ego as a man living in the South. My second choice after a lab was a bullmastiff. Regardless, I accepted my lot in life and we came home with the Yorkie. My only redemption was that I named her “Bear.”

The first night at home was a harbinger of things to come. My bride and I had made a solemn pact that Bear would stay in a cage at night despite any sounds the dog might make. We broke around 2:15 AM the first night. By the third night, Bear had first choice of pillows, and it was always mine.

About two weeks after Bear arrived, a good friend, and a lifetime member of the “love your dog club” (Chloe, Bichon Frisé) came to stay with us for the weekend. It was suppertime for Bear and Chloe, and I grabbed the dry dog food from the pantry. The shrill scream that occurred next was life changing. Apparently no dog, and especially Chloe, was meant to eat food that came dry and from a bag. From that day on, Bear ate a hot meal- one consisting of an appropriate meat (grilled, not fried) and mixed with rice (white, not brown).

At the time, I travelled for work once a week, and it wasn’t long before Bear started flying on commercial flights with me. This entailed paying $75 per round trip ticket, and carrying Bear in an “airline approved” dog carrier. Most often I choose to buck airline rules and let Bear out of her carrying case from below my seat. She would spend the entire flight in my lap under the blanket. Over the course of two years, Bear accumulated 100,000+ Skymiles (unredeemable according to Delta).

Bear was three, when circumstances would have it that both my wife and I had to travel, and bringing her was just not feasible. Neither was a kennel. The next logical choice was my parents, who lived an hour away; and seemed capable, based solely on the fact I had not died as a teenager. I packed Bear’s essentials for the weekend (prepared meals, my pillow, and her favorite stuffed animal toys), and drove to my parents. Upon arrival, I gave my parents extensive and detailed instructions for the proper care of this particular canine. I got in the car and started to drive off, when I stopped and rolled down the window.

“Mom and Dad” I said, “just to be really, really clear… if in the off chance Bear stops breathing… I am going to want you to start CPR on her until you get to a vet.”

Suffice it to say that their answer caused me to cancel my plans for the weekend, and Bear returned home with me.

So the one question litmus test to determine if you are in the “love your dog” club- if your dog stops breathing, do you start CPR on her?

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Why Way Less is Way Better

Over the last two years, one of my digital marketing clients in the skin care industry has made a concerted effort to expand her customer base using Facebook, Google+, and Twitter. Over time, and through quality posts illustrating the advantages of her products, her social media reach had dramatically expanded and grown into loyal skin care clients.

Last I week I pulled up her business Facebook page and panicked. Why? Without warning, she had started posting her personal blog on all her social business pages. And while her blog on “Daily Adventures with a Yorkie” was incredibly entertaining, it completely diluted her business brand.

All social media marketing has one simple goal: drive sales by engaging both new and current customers.

As consumers, we are are inundated by Facebook posts, Tweets, and Google+ posts from not only our friends, but also the companies we follow. As a business, compelling content is only really worthwhile if it drives sales. What is the point of tweeting about your latest product if it gets lost in all the “digital noise” and thus overlooked?

Don’t get me wrong; I think a small business owner can greatly benefit by connecting with customers through personal stories and antidotes. But this is much better achieved via a blog on the company website, where the consumer has made a choice to engage in additional content that is not correlated to the business brand.

Here are five criteria that any social media marketing post should meet:

  1. Does it reinforce your brand?
  2. Will it create a new customer or lead?
  3. Will it retain your current customer?
  4. Will it create customers who are passionate about your brand?
  5. If you could only publish one post to sell your product, would this be it?

These days it is increasingly difficult to attract attention to your brand. Following these five steps could make the task much easier.

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A Simple Step Towards Great Customer Service

I will admit it; I am obsessed with customer service. For a small business owner, there is no better return on investment than providing outrageous customer service. As a business, it costs absolutely ZERO to provide your customers great customer service, and the return is always substantial and significant.

What is one of the fastest and most immediate ways towards happy customers? Your return policy.

I recently consulted for a small retail business that had 50,000 customers come through their single location each year to buy skin care products and services. Prices ranged from $35 for a retail product, to $1,400 for an aesthetic service package. The owner had been in business for 10 years, and had maintained a steadfast return policy- all sales were final and no returns regardless of circumstances. On the bottom of each receipt there were multiple warnings for those even contemplating a return.

The owner justified the draconian return policy with the thesis that allowing returns would cost the business dearly- but a simple analysis proved just the opposite.

On average, the business dealt with one return a week. Assuming they were all retail products with an average cost of $20, and they could not be resold (most could), the total cost to the business would be $1,040. Assuming all the returns were packages for a service, at a sale price of $1,400, the refunded revenue would be $72,800 (costs for these services was $35,000). The business had annual revenues of more than $3 million a year. In the absolute worse case scenario, returns could amount to less than 1.5% of sales.

But the intangible costs were much higher- because of the adage

the happy customer may tell no one, but the irate customer tells everyone.

And for this business, 52 customers a year proceeded to tell EVERYONE that they couldn’t return an item or service. They tweeted about their experience, they wrote posts on the company Facebook page, they wrote scathing reviews on Google+.

With each negative review, the manager and staff went into “panic mode.” Countless employee hours and resources were spent trying to refute the reviews, responding to credit card charge backs, and contacting the customers to persuade them to recant their online postings.

Presented from this perspective, the business owner eventually adopted a new return policy. Now when a customer asks for a return, the employees immediately say,

“We are more than happy to return your item…would you like the money back on the same card?”

What is the return policy of your business? Does it make financial sense, and more importantly, does result in happy customers?

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Five Ways a Business Can Improve Reviews

Reviews have become essential for one simply reason- the sequence of when the consumer reads a review. With the migration to mobile and online shopping, today’s consumer has first chosen a product or restaurant category, or type of service- then seeks reviews, and then clicks to buy.

Think about it. If you are going out to dinner in a new town, what is the process you take to select a restaurant? First you decide the type of food you are hungry for- maybe Thai. Then you go to your mobile phone or device and type, “thai restaurant reviews.” The highly rated restaurants appear at the top, so you read a few reviews, and click “call.” The sequence of first selecting “what” you want to buy, then reading reviews and making a purchase is short, and greatly benefits those businesses appearing at top of page with high reviews.


I recently finished a consulting project for a local retailer, whose business was suffering greatly as a result of their online reputation and how the business responded publicly to reviews. Over the course of their 3 years in business, they had obtained approximately 60 reviews across sites such as Yahoo, Google, Yelp and Citysearch. While the quantity of overall reviews was certainly low- given that they served almost 20,000 customers each year- it was the content of less than 15 of those 60 reviews that made for a horrible situation. As the saying goes, the happy customer tells no one, but the unhappy customer tells everyone.

When I first read through those 15 customer reviews, I started to wonder if this was the MOST horrible business to every exist; and to patronize them in any manner, would lead to certain death and humiliation. Each of those 15 reviews was clearly not just giving an opinion, but contained a tremendous amount of spite. A sample review read-

“The owner is a horrible monster. The vampire won’t return a single call. I even waited 3 hours to personally meet with her and had to take off from work. And she never showed up. This is after texting me confirming our meeting. Respect your time and stay away from this place.”

Clearly not showing up for a meeting is bad business and a different topic; but it was the ONLINE and PUBLIC response that the owner gave to this review which made a bigger mess-

“This review is perplexing. And I think its fake. I don’t miss meetings or give customers my personal cell number. Please see our other reviews (the real ones!) that represent our business.”

I have no idea if the review was real or fake- but if I was searching the Internet to learn the reputation of this business, and came across the posting, I most likely would assume it was real (glass half full person). Given that assumption, and then reading the hostile position of the owner, I am taking my business else. Who needs the hassle?

I feel certain that this business owner had pushed away many customers solely because of her public response. But that was only part of the issue, the fact that her business had a low quantity of reviews (12 total reviews on this particular site), it made any negative review really stand out.

With the mindset that a business should always be proactive in reputation management, I took these five steps-

  1. Installed software that automatically sent every customer a text message or email immediately after a purchase that read, “We value your business, and love feedback. Please let us know how we did. It takes less than 1 minute.” If the customer choose to write a review, they were asked just 3 questions- 1) select a star rating between one and five stars; 2) blank field for comments 3) an email address that was mandatory but could be publicly made anonymous.
  2. Both the owner and the manager received an instant email alert of any reviews below 3 stars, so potentially bad situations could be dealt with immediately.
  3. All reviews remained in a pending status for ten days before they were posted to the review website. This gave the owner and manager time to respond and hopefully correct any damaging reviews.
  4. If a customer wrote a review of 4 stars or higher, they were sent an email one day after their initial review. The email thanked them for the great review; and asked them to click on provided links to other review sites.
  5. Twice a year, social media was used to ask for reviews to any website or social platform. It was simple and free, and while only 10% would respond, that number dramatically increased the total reviews of the company.

Following these five steps, the company not only increased their total number of online reviews to more than 1,000 within 12 months, but they also achieved higher review ratings.

What protocol or standards do you use for the reviews at your business? Are your proactive about reviews, or are do you always feel hopeless about the content that appears online?

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Master the College Interview

This post reflects the opinions solely of the author and not necessarily those of Princeton University.

Every fall for the last few years, I have participated in the alumni interview program for my alma mater, Princeton University. Like many colleges, Princeton uses the interview process as a part of the application— in an effort to give the admissions officers a more “comprehensive picture” of each candidate. An alumni interview is not required, but encouraged for every applicant. And ultimately, an alumni interview not likely to decide if an applicant is accepted or rejected.

The interview process lasts between 30 to 45 minutes, and usually takes place in a library, coffee shop, or other public setting that will put the candidate at ease. The format is casual, with no set questions, and much of the time allocated to answering any questions an applicant may have about the school in general. The role of the alumni interviewer is very much that of a “school ambassador.”

Candidates come from a very wide range of backgrounds and all types of schools. I feel comfortable making a broad and sweeping generalization in saying that all of the applicants that I have interviewed were impressive. They had excellent grades— interviewers never ask about grades or test scores, but they are often mentioned by the candidate. And quite often they also have many extracurricular interests such as playing an instrument, working at a foundation after school, or playing on their school’s athletic teams.

So what makes an applicant stand out in the interview? Surprisingly, just a few very basics—

  1. Look at me when we first meet, and more importantly, look me in the eye when we talk (at least once in while). I know this seems like it would be a given, but many applicants never look up, or at me, during the course of a 30 minute conversation. The interview process can be extremely intimidating, especially for a 17 or 18 year old, and I expect a lot of nervousness; but the basic social skills are a must.
  2. Many applicants have talent that is very unique and best illustrated. During one interview, the applicant told me his passion was “abstract Lego art,” and that he spent all his free time with his creations. Abstract Lego art was not a term I was familiar with, and to be honest, did not seem that impressive. That was until he said, “Let me show you a piece of my work,” and pulled up a picture on his phone. I was blown away. He had created almost exact replications of famous buildings using Legos. Each building was 10,000 or more pieces and the detail was incredible. Alumni interviews are not meant to be a gallery viewing or recital, but if your talent is truly unique and hard to visualize, a picture from your phone goes a long way.
  3. Know why a particular school interests you. At some point, I tell the applicant why I was interested in Princeton, and usually ask the applicant what about the school interests him or her. Don’t say, ‘Cause it is a good school.’ There are lots of good schools. There is no “right” answer, but if you really consider Princeton one of your choices, you should be able to describe why.
  4. Almost all colleges have a student newspaper that is online. Set aside an hour before the interview and read about what is happening at the school from the perspective of current students. Not only does this give you a better idea if a particular college is a good match, but it also gives you topics to talk with me about, or possible questions to ask.
  5. Relax. Be yourself, proud of who you are, and what you have accomplished. There are no “right” answers or ideal candidates.
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