You’re getting reviews from past clients, but are you getting enough reviews? And are you using the reviews you get to their full potential?
There’s a lot you can do with reviews to make your real estate business better and bigger. For example, here’s one tip you’ll hear today: How you reply to reviews can have a huge impact on attracting new clients.
In this week’s episode of The Walkthrough, GatherUp co-founder Mike Blumenthal will help you get more reviews, use those reviews to grow your business, and do it all within the guidelines that cover online reviews. (Yes, there are guidelines!) Because what others say about you might be more important than what you say.
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Links and Show Notes
- GatherUp, the review management platform Mike Blumenthal co-founded
- Mike Blumenthal: Blog | Twitter | Last Week in Local podcast
- Episode 3 with David Mihm — Google Yourself: How to Use Local SEO and Google My Business to Attract New Leads
- HomeLight article: How to Get More Client Reviews (Without Breaking Any Rules!)
- HomeLight article: 20 Review Management Platforms for Real Estate
- NEW: Join our Facebook community for The Walkthrough listeners
- HomeLight’s Agent Resource Center
- Subscribe and listen to The Walkthrough: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google Podcasts | YouTube
(SPEAKER: Matt McGee, Host)
Every real estate agent has a story. You tell it in the marketing you do, in what you say on social media and what you say when you answer the phone or reply to a text message.
That’s the part of your story that you control, but you have to understand it’s only part of your story.
The rest of the story is what other people say about you. Hopefully it’s a lot of this. [sound of crowd cheering] And only a little bit or better none of this. [sound of crowd booing]
The leads and clients you work with talk to their friends and family. They write reviews about you on Google, Zillow, HomeLight, and countless other sites. And what they say about you might matter even more than what you say about you.
There’s a lot to learn about online reviews: how they impact your Google rankings, how to reply to reviews in a way that gets you more business, how to ask for reviews without running afoul of Google’s guidelines and the FTC’s guidelines. And yes the FTC has guidelines about online reviews.
Today, one of the top experts in the world on online reviews has answers to those questions and more. You can’t control what others say about you online, but there’s a lot you can do to influence it and use it to make your business bigger and better. This is “The Walkthrough.”
Matt: Hi, everyone. I’m Matt McGee, editor of HomeLight’s Agent Resource Center, and your host every week on “The Walkthrough.” On this show, you’ll learn what’s working right now from the best real estate agents and industry experts in the country. At HomeLight, we believe in real estate agents. That’s why we created “The Walkthrough.” We’re on a journey to find out how great real estate agents grow their business, stand out from the crowd, and become irreplaceable.
You can get involved in the show in two different ways. Leave a voicemail for me at 415-322-3328 or you can send an email to walkthrough [at] homelight.com. I do read and hear all the messages that come in.
Today, we are talking about online reviews.
Mike: I love reviews.
Matt: That’s the voice of Mike Blumenthal, co-founder of an online review management platform called GatherUp. And quick disclaimer, it’s the platform my wife uses for her real estate business. Another disclaimer, Mike is also an old friend of mine, going back probably 15 years now. And I can tell you, you will never meet anyone who is more passionate or knowledgeable about online reviews. I really, really believe that.
You know reviews and testimonials are important in real estate, but are you getting enough online reviews? And are you using the ones you get to their full potential?
I asked Mike to come on “The Walkthrough” to help you with that — get more reviews, get better reviews, use those reviews to your benefit, and do it all within the guidelines that cover online reviews. In our conversation today, I asked Mike things like:
- Do reviews help you rank better? Are they good for SEO?
- How do you get more reviews? And how do you do it without harassing your clients into writing them?
- Why is it risky to run a contest to get more reviews?
- And there’s some secret sauce in this next one. How can you reply to reviews in a way that helps attract more clients down the road?
All that and more is coming up.
At the very end of the show, I’m going to tell you about a special Facebook community that we are starting just for Walkthrough listeners like you. So stay tuned for that.
But first, let’s walk through the world of real estate agent reviews. Mike is a big believer that reviews can make every part of your business better. And that’s where our conversation begins.
Mike: Reviews take on a life that is so amazing to me because they can inform a business’s process to improve, for example. They can inform the content decisions of a business, the advertising decisions of a business, the marketing decisions of a business. So reviews can play such a bigger role in not just, you know, asking one customer, getting one Google review, but taking that review and sharing it five different ways from a marketing point of view. Or taking the intelligence from it and using it to improve your departments, improve your front desk, improve your whole business so that you go from getting reviews to earning reviews, which is where, I think, every business wants to be.
Matt: Yeah. And I can expand on that a bit with a story about my wife. Cari is a real estate agent, as you know, Mike. And she had a review that came in, I think it was about a year ago from a client. It was right before I joined HomeLight. It was a four-star review, which is nice, of course, but the review itself was revealing. I’m trying to remember the exact wording and situation but it was something along the lines of, and this is the client speaking, “When we went into the walkthrough, the agent who showed up wasn’t able to answer some of my questions.” It was something like that.
Now, that’s part and parcel of running a real estate team. If the main agent isn’t available, then you have other agents on the team that can fill in. And so what we determined, what Cari determined was that she had not done a good enough job of communicating that to the client in advance, that there would be the possibility of someone stepping in. So that gave Cari the opportunity to sort of rethink that, that part of the communication process. And that’s the kind of thing that you’re talking about here.
Mike: Absolutely. And possibly retrain the employee or give additional training to the employee to help them understand why the customer didn’t think they were quite prepared. So, absolutely. And I think that can be done in aggregate as well. So you can look at multiple locations or multiple agents to get trends about the business. You can look at reviews about specific agents to get to understand where their strengths are. You can look at the two, three, and four-star reviews that they gather to understand what things you might improve to help them be a four and five-star review.
Those sorts of things on a strategic level, business improvement level. But then on the marketing level, it’s also incredible…as you demonstrated and we sort of pull your idea, you know, why not use your reviews for social sharing? And why not use your reviews for content on your website? Why not use it for a basis for formulating your ad campaigns? Those are all incredibly valuable uses beyond the management issues that, I think, are intrinsic in reviews.
Matt: Yes, exactly. Use them for social sharing content on your website. We even… And this goes back a couple of years, I think. But we made a word cloud of Cari’s reviews. We took the most commonly mentioned words and printed out, you know, one of those word search games or puzzles or whatever you want to call it, for the kids. Because a lot of times in real estate you’ll meet with a new lead and it can be a long conversation and the kids get bored. “Well, here you go, youngster. Have fun with this word search.” And then when they’re done with it and mom and dad look at it, here’s all the great things that past clients have said. There’s so many ways to use your reviews.
Let me switch gears a bit and ask you about how reviews impact search rankings. Our mutual friend, David Mihm, was on “The Walkthrough,” back in March, I think it was. And he talked about it then, but for anyone who missed that conversation, can you give an overview of the role that reviews play in local SEO?
Mike: Sure. So David used the metaphor that I helped sort of popularize, which is “Google as your home page.” And if we extend that to the housing sort of market reviews … in that context, there’s sort of the scaffolding, the two by fours, the walls, the windows, the siding of that homepage. They sort of help build it out in a number of different ways.
One is, they do have some impact on rank. Beyond that, though, there’s a number of patents from Google and other indicators that they impact the reach of a business. Like, Google learns about what your business does by reading your reviews. So if you have, like in the case of my pet client, Barbara Oliver, who sells engagement rings, Google finds a lot of reviews about engagement rings, they know that she specializes in engagement rings. And when those reviews are positive about her engagement rings, that relationship between her business and the concept of engagement ring grows stronger. So it’s not just about rank, it’s about reach. In other words, she’s going to get more visibility in the area of engagement rings because Google fully understands it. So there’s that reach issue.
Then certainly the consumer trust issue. And this goes across that whole view of your business as your homepage, where Google collates all the information about your business from around the web. They’re living being a scraping company. And what we’ve seen over the last three or four years is any page around the web that has reviews around your business is likely to get elevated in that search to that front page. So the cohesive story that the reviews tell from across multiple sites is effectively the brand story you’re co-telling with your customers.
So in aggregate, all of those reviews sort of contribute to the perception of your business as a quality business. And one of the things I tell people is, “You don’t want, you know, five-star reviews on your website and five-star reviews at Google and a 2.5 at Yelp.” It creates what psychologists call cognitive dissonance, where there’s this sense that, “Gee, something isn’t right here.” And what is it? So it really should be driving a business to quality everywhere.
Matt: That’s great. Let me just recap that real quick to make sure agents caught what you just said. You’re saying reviews do have an impact on rankings in Google but they also impact reach. So with your client Barbara Oliver, because so many of her reviews talk about engagement rings, she gets more visibility when someone searches for engagement rings.
Mike: Right. Yes.
Matt: Let’s talk about asking for reviews. In my experience, a lot of agents are kind of reluctant to do that because, you know … A, the client might be too busy. Buying or selling is a really hectic process. So the agent is like, “You know, the house just sold, I don’t want to bother them.” Totally get it. Or maybe the agent just doesn’t like asking for praise. I wonder, is there any data that supports my belief — and I think it’s your belief as well, Mike, that agents should be proactive about asking for reviews?
Mike: So when you asked me this question the other day, I went and actually dug some real data out. I looked at a large cohort of insurance agents. Insurance agents, unlike in housing business, customers usually like it at the end because they end up with something they really are proud about, and thus they’re willing to share reviews. In the insurance industry, it’s totally the opposite. You end up with a piece of paper, and the futile hope that in the future, the insurance company doesn’t screw you. So it’s very hard to get reviews in the insurance business.
And yet it’s important. What we found was that those agents that were asking versus those that weren’t, and what we saw was that they got 17 times more reviews, the ones that had asked than the ones that didn’t. Now, this isn’t a hard ask. You know, this isn’t even best practice. All they did was put the person’s email address into the system and they asked twice, “We know you’re busy. Would you please consider giving us feedback and review?” It’s all they did. You know, you have to realize that customers are adults too. They can choose to opt out of your mail list. They can choose to not open your email. They can choose not to give you feedback, and a large percentage of them don’t give you feedback. But those that do are doing so willingly.
And I think the important thing is to not nag. You know, I once went on a trip to Alaska with my wife for her 60th birthday, and we took a couple of tours. And literally, on the tour, we got asked five times to be sure to mention that particular person’s name in reviews. Gag me with a spoon. Way over the top, right? Offensive. It’s all in how you ask, not whether you ask. I think you should ask, the question becomes, how do you ask in a way that doesn’t drive your customers crazy?
Matt: So answer that question for me, how does a real estate agent do that? How do they ask for reviews in a way — and at a time, I would say — that is not going to drive the client crazy as you said?
Mike: Your wife is a good example of an agent who does this very well. She educates people during the sales process. Right when they first meet or soon after, when she’s comfortable with them, she asks if it’s okay, she educates that she’s going to ask. The reason she’s asking is so that, you know, she can improve her business and share the news with other potential customers about the experience. She educates them, you know, suddenly early on, and then she automates it. She basically doesn’t stress about it. She puts their emails into a system and the ask goes out.
I think that automation is critical because it sort of distances the business owner from the emotion of it. It just sort of happens, which, I think, is an incredibly valuable piece of any processes to literally just make it happen. If it happens, then whatever the percentage of people who are willing to give you a review, will, even if it’s only 10% or 5%. But if you put 100 people through, that’s 5 reviews. That’s 5 reviews you didn’t have last month.
Matt: Exactly. And let me expand a bit on that, Mike, so that listeners understand what you were just talking about with Cari and her process. When she meets with a new client, whether it’s a buyer or seller, like a lot of agents, she has, you know, various booklets and documents and marketing pieces that she gives out. Well, right in the beginning of these documents, gosh, I wish I had it with me. I think it’s on page one or page three, something like that. It says that her goal as an agent is to provide such a great level of service that when she’s done, you will want to tell everyone you know about what it’s like to work with the Cari McGee team. Something like that. I mean, it specifically says that the goal isn’t to sell the home for X amount of money or in X amount of time. The goal is to be so great that the client can’t help but review and refer her to others.
Mike: Yes. And that she is open to any criticisms. I think one of the problems with small businesses is you have to have a lot of ego involved to keep doing this day in and day out. But unfortunately, sometimes that ego prevents you from really being ready to listen. So one of the things, I’d say, in starting a review program is to try as much as you can to check your ego at the door so that you are open to both the good and the occasional bad that comes out of this. Because that bad can be used positively as well.
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Matt: We need to talk about the rules of the road here, Mike. Zillow says it doesn’t want agents to offer compensation in exchange for reviews. So I think they all say that to some degree. Yelp has an even more restrictive policy, probably the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. They don’t even want a small business to ask for reviews. Crazy, but that’s the rule.
Agents have to be aware of the rules and make the decision to go along with them or not. You know, it’s not our job to sit here and judge but I think we can…let’s explain what’s going on because it’s not just Zillow and Yelp. Google has certain guidelines. The FTC even has guidelines about gathering reviews and using reviews. Can you give us sort of a high-level summary, I guess, of what’s going on there and what those rules or guidelines look like?
Mike: And while they all have rules and guidelines, I would say that the ultimate rule giver in this is your customers and respect for them, and understanding that you need to be asking for reviews and getting reviews in a way that respects your relationship with your customer. Because if they get wind of you doing something untoward in the review space and leave you a review to that effect, I’ve seen this happen, that review will last long beyond a Yelp penalty or some bad publicity from the FTC. So I think you really have to be respectful of your customers, first and foremost.
The broad rules, though, to get specific are, and this is generally across the FTC and Yelp and Google, is that you shouldn’t use incentives to generate reviews. In Google, it’s against the platform rules that Yelp puts against the platform rules. At the FTC, they say you can do it but only if you include the proviso that there was incentives, which is impossible to do at Yelp or Google. So the general rule is don’t use incentives. That’s going to get you in trouble, going to have you lose your reviews, and it’s not needed. If you have a good automated system, you will get plenty of reviews.
The second is, don’t use anybody who has a vested interest in your company to give you reviews. No employees, no relatives, no Aunt Tillies, no employees’ friends shouldn’t be asked to leave you reviews. It’s against all the terms of service and it’s against FTC, but it’s also, again, deceptive to the end-user. Those are the big ones, no incentives.
Oh, and then, finally, you shouldn’t try to skew the results. The FTC requires that if you use ratings and reviews in your marketing, they should reflect the actual consumer experience. Google says… their’s is more specific. They say, “Don’t just ask the happy people for reviews.” They call it gating. And they say, “You know, if you’re going to ask for reviews, ask everybody for reviews.” But they’re essentially the same thing, is that your review average should reflect your typical customer experience. If you claim you’re 4.8, then a typical customer coming to you, you know, should find that’s the case. If you make claims you’re a five and you’re really a three, it’s when you get in trouble.
Matt: And I want to go back to the first of those three things you just explained. This is really important in real estate. There’s a lot of agents, Mike, who will run contests and they might be giving away…like I’ve seen contests where the prize is, you know, like a $250 Amazon gift card or all the way up to, you know, a cruise to Alaska or something like that. And the way that the consumer gets entered in the contest is, you know, “Leave us a review on Google or on Facebook or Zillow or whatever, and you’ll get five entries.” Whatever it might be. So you’re saying that kind of thing is against the guidelines, right?
Mike: Correct. We’ve even seen situations where it was a much more neutral offer, you know, “Get $5 off your next purchase whether it’s a good or bad review.” Even those are perceived as incentives. Anything that is likely to tip the scales in your favor should be avoided. Part of the problem with businesses is they think that every customer should want to give them a review. That’s not true. The other problem with businesses, they think they should get every review now. Review plan is a five-year plan. It’s a 10-year plan. It’s the life of your business plan. You should care about what the customers think forever and always.
And so if you look at it over the 5-year, if the natural rate of reviewing in your industry is 15% or 20%, that’s okay because you’re looking at this over the 5-year period, you’ll get plenty without incentives. But by all means, avoid incentives because it’s sooner or later going to get you in trouble. And like I said before, I’ve seen customers complain on Yelp about businesses providing incentives, thus creating this long-term perception on the part of the consumers that a business is sleazy, and you want to avoid that at all costs.
Matt: Yes, you do. Amen to that. Now, one other thing, Mike, that you have been very passionate in talking about over the years, I mean, you’ve educated me, you’ve educated many others in the local SEO space, educated a lot of small business owners about, is the value of replying to reviews. I’m a believer that an agent should reply to every review that comes in. Do you agree?
Mike: Oh, absolutely agree. And I think that it’s critical that you respond to everyone. I’ve been experimenting with responding to reviews because when they’re positive you sometimes feel like, “Oh, how many times can I say thank you? And/or, am I glad-handing if I’m, you know, responding to all these positive reviews instead of being sincere?” And I think there are some techniques you can use to make the reviews’ responses original, but it’s a critical customer touchpoint.
If somebody gave you a compliment directly to your face, you’d say thank you. If somebody wrote you a little note and next time you saw him, you’d say thank you. And so I don’t see reviews as anything different than a classic human communication where they’re complimenting you and your business. And I think that the social standard, as you know, originally, this was only on Facebook, but it’s really drifted across the whole review world. The social standard is that you should respond. Now, from a technical point of view, we see there’s some research that indicates that businesses get about a quarter-point higher star rating when they respond to reviews because consumers realize that the business owner is watching it. So there’s that.
I’ve also done some consumer surveys. And what we found was that 30% of your clients, which is a pretty big number, expected you to respond because they took the trouble of giving you a review. So they expect you to respond. And bottom line, it’s a great customer touchpoint, that both future customers and those existing clients know that you’re paying attention to them. And it’s one way to do that. And I think you can develop some tricks — not tricks, techniques — to respond to every review so you don’t sound like an idiot.
Matt: And one of the things you’ve said over the years that I love and have stolen from you is to keep in mind that when you reply to reviews, it’s not just for the person who wrote the review.
Mike: The person who left the review is one person. The people who are going to be reading your reviews are thousands of people. And they want to see that you’re a reasonable, caring business. You’ve often said and one thing I’ve stolen from you, we don’t live in a five-star world and people understand that. What they do want to see is not that you’re perfection incarnate, but that you are a reasonable human being who owned up to the good and the bad and takes responsibility for it. So I believe wholeheartedly that the next 100, 500 people who read their review is who your audience is in addition to the person who left it.
Matt: Absolutely. And let me insert a tip here for listeners if I can. This is something I worked on years ago with my wife, and she’s really, really great at it now. Sometimes a client will leave a great review but, you know, it’s kind of generic. They might say, “We had a great experience working with Cari and her team. We were moving out of town and everything was perfect. We highly recommend them.” Etc., etc. Like, that’s a great review, but it doesn’t tell, you know, what you were just saying, it doesn’t tell the next 100 or 500 people, really, anything about what happened.
So as an agent, I think it’s your job, when you get a review like that, to throw in some extra details when you reply. So with that kind of example, like Cari might say something like, “Hey, Sally, it was wonderful to work with you. I’m so glad we were able to sell your house in just 10 days and that we had a bidding war and, you know, we sold it for $3,000 over asking price. Thanks for putting your trust in us.” Etc., etc. So that adds, I think, some extra flavor to what the client said, and it’s for people that will read the reviews later.
Mike: Yeah. I think getting that nuance helps future readers. There is some, you know, rumors in the industry that somehow responding to reviews increases rank. There is no indication that’s the case. But I do believe there’s a lot of value in it because, like you just mentioned before, you were writing this for your next 100 or 500. And if they have a better sense of what you do and how you do it and that you pay attention to those details, they’re more likely to want to do business with you. You’re looking to be a reasonable, educated professional, and that’s one way of demonstrating it really clearly. And it also gives you a way to tailor your review response so it’s different for each person. So you start by addressing them by name, that personalizes it, and then you speak a little bit about their experience and what you did for them.
I think there might be some caution called for in not divulging too private of information.
Mike: I mean, you may not have the legal obligation like a lawyer or a doctor does in that regard. But I think you want to be a little cautious about divulging too much information that might be inappropriate. But beyond that, I agree with you wholeheartedly that you should add that color. It’s like a color commentator in a football game. You don’t need them to have the football game. You know, you only need the announcer in the football game, but the color commentator helps a lot. And I think it’s true here as well.
(Speaker: Matt McGee, Host)
Mike Blumenthal, thank you for walking us through online reviews and how an agent can get more reviews and use them to build a bigger and better real estate business.
Listeners, earlier this year, we ran a couple of articles in our Agent Resource Center with advice from agents Raylene Lewis and Andrea Swetland about getting more reviews. We also did a separate article listing, I think it was about 20 review management platforms that you can use to make all of this easier. I will link to those articles in today’s show notes so that you can check them out.
Now, we covered a lot in that conversation with Mike. I shared some of my own tips and experiences. I hope those were helpful. But here are my takeaways from what Mike told us.
Number one, reviews help both your rank and reach in Google’s search results. Getting more reviews helps. And then what the reviews say also matters. Listen back to when Mike talked about his jewelry store client getting a lot of engagement ring reviews.
Takeaway number two, you’ve got to ask for reviews. Be proactive about it. Mike shared data that insurance agents who asked for reviews got 17 times more than agents who didn’t ask.
Takeaway number three, all the review sites have rules and guidelines. Even the FTC has them. One of the big ones is that you shouldn’t use incentives or compensation to get more reviews. That would cover things like contests, for example. Now, you have to decide your risk tolerance, but I want you to at least be aware that those guidelines exist.
And then takeaway number four, make sure you reply to all the reviews you get. And remember that what you say is more for future customers to see. So thank your client. And then if you need to, add some extra detail about the transaction for anyone reading your reviews later.
Remember, stay tuned to the very end of today’s episode. I’m going to talk a bit about a Facebook community that we’re launching for you and other listeners. In the meantime, if you have questions for Mike or questions or feedback for me, you can leave a voicemail anytime. The number, again, 415-322-3328. You can also send me an email, walkthrough [at] homelight.com.
That’s all for this week. Thanks so much to Mike Blumenthal for joining us. Thank you for listening.
My name is Matt McGee. Remember, at HomeLight we believe in real estate agents. That’s why we created “The Walkthrough.” We’re on a journey to find out how great real estate agents grow their business, stand out from the crowd, and become irreplaceable.
Go out and safely sell some homes. We’ll talk to you again next week. Bye-bye.
Hi again, everyone. Thanks for sticking around. I want to tell you about and invite you to a special Facebook community that we are launching for Walkthrough listeners like you. We want to create a space for listeners to come together, to talk to one another, and learn from one another, to talk to me and to talk to the agents that you hear every week on this show. In fact, depending upon when you hear this, it might already be launched. If you do a Facebook search for groups, you might find HomeLight Agent Press Room. That is not the one I’m talking about. That is an older group, totally different.
The new group will have a different name, still to be determined, but it will specifically mention “The Walkthrough.” So look for that one and come join us. If you can’t find it, send me an email and I’ll let you know how and where to join. Super excited to connect with you soon in our new Facebook community.
Now, I am really finished. Thanks again for listening, everyone. Bye-bye.
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