Sean overviews several concepts about online interactions with customers: from their entry to your website, to getting them on your mailing list, and finally to harvesting great reviews from them.

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Hello there, friends. Sean Corbett here with websites.ca marketing. We’re going to do something a little bit special this month. I don’t have anybody to interview for you today, but I did want to tell you that we have a lot of folks that we talk to behind the scenes, a lot of various experts who are working on different projects. So websites.ca, obviously, as you know, has one of the fastest growing website directories in all of Canada. We also host, build, design and maintain websites. But then some of us have various private clients. Some of us talk to SEO experts. We dip into a lot of different pools, and so we can draw from lots of different sources. And so today I just kind of wanted to give you a mash-up, a montage of a couple of different ideas of things that we’ve learned along the way and things that some other experts have taught us along the way.

We’ll talk today about the customer journey. We’ll talk about opt-in forms and building an email list very briefly. And we’re also going to talk about online reputation management, which is a service that I see a lot of people have been asking us about, and a lot of small business owners are looking into and there’s more and more people providing it. Let’s jump right in.

So customer journey, basically what that means is the path that a customer goes through when they first become aware of your business and they come into your website. A lot of people kind of get lost when they’re building a website and they think the homepage is basically the first page that everybody sees. And a lot of folks will picture that as saying, “Okay, well, somebody searched for me on Google, and then they came to my homepage, and now they’re going to decide to do business with me.”

That’s certainly one way that people come into your website. For a lot of local businesses, especially if there’s low competition in your area, that might be the primary way and almost the entire driver of traffic. So I’m not saying that it’s an illegitimate way of looking at your website. But the customer journey could take a lot of different paths. Somebody could refer their friend, in which case the friend doesn’t really even care about the website. They just get a story. They get a phone number, they call you. So that’s an entirely different type of journey. And then maybe after you talk on the phone to them, then you say, “Well, why don’t you check out our website?” If they’re not a hundred percent on booking your service or buying your product, you follow up by saying, “Check out my site.” And in that case, you might want to even send them a link to a specific page on your site that explains something that fixes their problem, blah, blah, blah.

So that would be an easy example of how someone does not come through the homepage. Another example of somebody, a customer who the journey doesn’t come through the homepage, is maybe you have a blog on your site and you have various blog articles, and the articles are related to specific questions the customers ask. So somebody goes on Google and they’re looking for an answer to their question, and they may come to your website through that blog post. Which by the way is a reason why a lot of people for a long time suggested that businesses have blog posts so they could get that traffic. I don’t think that it’s essential for a business, but it’s an interesting strategy to think of.

But again, when somebody comes to you and says, “Let’s do a blog. It’ll be great for SEO and you’ll make tons of money and get all this traffic,” it’s good to not have those rosy colored glasses. And just to be able to sit back and go, “Okay, well hold on, how does that actually work?” So that would be the benefit, what I said a couple seconds ago. But you can’t just throw up text on your website in different blog articles and expect to suddenly get more business. It doesn’t really work like that. If it did, everybody would do it, obviously. But that’s one particular way somebody could come through the website, if there’s sort of a niche answer to a niche question and they’re searching for it and they come in. It’s not essential. But then even if they do come into your website from that niche answer to a niche question, are they going to become a customer? Because if they’re not going to become a customer, the whole exercise is kind of pointless.

And I’ve told the story before, but it’s worth rehashing again that once upon a time I set up an article for websites.ca about something to do with Google, and I outranked Google on that topic. So on the topic about their own company, of which they are the biggest search engine on earth, they decided, their algorithm decided that my answer was more valid than their own answer. And so for many, many months, couple years, in both the US and Canada, we enjoyed top position in Google and thousands upon thousands upon thousands of people trafficking that page on our website. But we didn’t really have a clear plan.

And again, shame on me, we didn’t have a clear plan on how to convert that traffic into a customer. Because frankly, the question we were answering didn’t really tie into something that as a business… It didn’t really bridge between there was a pain those people were having that we could solve. And then also, oh, websites.ca can sell you a service that will help you. It just didn’t exist. It was a topic that came up. It was about robo calls, fraud calls. And we had a bunch of our customers asking us about it, so we wanted to do a blog post to answer that question. And then all of a sudden we’re getting all this traffic, and we didn’t monetize one of those people. And I’m talking like 5, 6, 7, 8,000 people visiting every month for months and months and months from both countries, didn’t convert it into a customer.

So first of all, the journey itself wasn’t thought through very well in that case. We’d get somebody on the page, but then what do you do with them? Did you get them to opt in? Did you get them to call you? But what are they going to call you about? I just answered a question about other people calling them for fraud calls. So it just kind of makes you think a little bit. But they were not ever seeing our homepage. They didn’t even know who websites.ca was. They really just wanted to get an answer to their question.

So that’s an interesting thought about this whole customer journey thing. You’re going to be looking to hire people that can get you to the next level online. A lot of people listen to this are going to be doing that. Now, one thing that you might explore is you might explore setting up ad campaigns on social media sites. You might explore setting up ad campaigns on Google to pay per click to show up for keywords that you’re having trouble organically showing up for. So with this idea of customer journey in mind, think about that. This is kind of interesting for a second.

If a provider comes to you, somebody who sells Google AdWords, let’s say, help with Google AdWords, pardon me. They come to you and they suggest an ad campaign, but then they’re funneling the traffic to your homepage, and they don’t really do any revamps of your homepage or they don’t suggest creating a unique landing page that just relates to that ad campaign. Then that’s a big red flag. We’ve talked to a lot of clients. I don’t know how accurate the information is, but there was a point in time where the Yellow Pages was telling their customers… And I heard this from multiple customers, so again, I didn’t confirm it from the Yellow Pages, but I heard it from multiple people who were paying the Yellow Pages. Then they said to me essentially that the rep told them, “Oh, well, we’ll make sure you come up first for this keyword and this keyword and this keyword. You’ll come up in the top three,” or whatever.

And it turned out they weren’t doing any SEO for them. They weren’t optimizing their website for the search engines. What they were doing is just using a portion of their monthly budget and they were bidding on Google… It was called Google AdWords at the time. Now it’s just Google Ads. So they were paying per click. And that was kind of the end of the campaign. They just put in a monthly budget. They said, “This client wants to come up for XYZ keyword.” And then that traffic, that cold traffic was being dumped on their homepage. So they were getting slightly more cold traffic, and none of it was converting because there was no thought behind the campaign. No one ever looked at the homepage and said, “Well, okay, well, what does the customer do next now that they end up on the homepage?”

And no one even particularly thought, is this even a potential customer? So they were just bidding on really generic keywords, throwing that money away, obviously charging it to the client. And then the client would say, “Well, I thought I was paying to show up higher in Google, but not really sure why I’m getting billed a thousand dollars a month.” So that’s why, as confusing as the stuff can be, and it does take time, obviously even for a good provider, when someone makes you a promise, you kind of have to ask yourself, “Okay, well what are they really promising and what’s my goal?” Because if my goal is just more traffic, anybody can get you that, right? Call me tomorrow, I’ll get you more traffic. As long as I don’t have to promise you more sales or more qualified traffic or anything with any thought behind it, you tell me a budget, I’ll get you more traffic.

But if you start to think about that concept of customer journey, well, are they a potential customer? What questions do they have? What are they seeing first? What am I asking them to do next? You’re going to spend money. You’re going to say that you’re doing something serious and you’re not going to consider these things. My friends, you have to consider these things. You can’t just slough it off on the provider. If you do that, you’re going to get fly by night providers who are going to bilk you and who are going to take your money and then three, six months, however long they can string you along, and then you’ll fire them and you’ll move on to the next. And they’ll be very happy because they can kind of go down the list and do this over and over and over again.

So another interesting thought about this whole customer journey thing, what happens on your homepage? Just to let you know, for private clients, these are non-websites.ca clients; these are my private marketing consultation clients. If they ever need a website set up, I only set up websites that essentially function as opt-in forms for their email list. I don’t really care about other pages. I don’t care about video backgrounds. I don’t care about headers. I don’t care about the design that much even. And this leads to some initial fights and arguments with people, but the whole point is just to drive folks to that website and get people to opt into their email list. And then from there… This isn’t crazy. This isn’t like a weird ideology that I have. For a lot of these people, they’re not necessarily brick and mortar small local businesses and things like that, but these people rely on a list and their relationship with that list.

And we sent out one email in 2022, one simple email about one simple offer, and we got a reply in a couple minutes that just said, “1 million.” And that was that person okaying that they were going to give that business $1 million. So that’s no joke, you know what I mean? We have a small email list with this one client I’m thinking of. We can generate $4+ million dollars worth of investments from the small email list. And it all started because every single person we talk to, every single person who visits the website, the first, second and last thing that we ask them is join our email list. Join our email list, and here’s what we’ll do for you if you do join our email list.

Now again, this is just to get you thinking. It doesn’t really translate exactly one to one to a brick and mortar small business. It’s just worth thinking about. So I mean, if you’re a local small business like a pizzeria or a plumber or something, and you’re serving a certain area, it might not make immediate sense if somebody’s hungry or if somebody’s pipes are broken, they come to your website and you say, “Nope, first you have to join our email list.” Obviously that’s not going to work, right? You have to tailor it a little bit to what these people are all about. But I’m going to come back to that point later.

I just wanted to say on this right now, if you’re wondering why an email list is so important and you sort of tried to create a newsletter and you put a little pop-up or you put a little form on your website and said, “Join our newsletter,” and then almost no one does and then almost no one reads the email when you bother to send an email once a month or once every three months or whatever it is you do, you kind of have to ask yourself, did you make it really obvious? Did you make it really simple that joining your newsletter is one of the most important things someone can do? Do you have an attractive bribe attached to it?

And so that would bring us to the second topic I wanted to talk about, which is online opt-ins and list building and so on. When we say a bribe in this industry, we essentially mean a good reason for joining your email list. So again, sometimes with a brick and mortar shop, it’s just as simple as you’ll want to find out what’s going to be in the shop next month instead of having to come down and see yourself. So join our list. In a wine shop for instance, that’s an easy one. When I go to the counter with a bottle of wine, they’ll say, “Well, if you want to know what’s coming in next month, you should just join our email list.” So that one’s obvious. If you have a business where information flows like that, then you’re going to want to put your ask right after that sale point, like I said, right after the customer goes with their bottle to the cashier. You don’t have to worry too much on your website about driving everybody to your email list.

Well, let’s take for a second, the example of e-commerce. So there’s pet food stores all across Canada, and they sell to local customers, but a lot of pet food stores are starting to convert to e-com catalogs and shipping and selling online. And they’ll sell outside their city, they’ll sell outside their province, what have you. So I’ll tell you a specific story. We had run out of our cat’s favorite food. I went online, and I found a pet store in a neighboring province. And when I got onto their website… And again, remember that journey. I don’t care about their homepage — I don’t care, whatever. I searched on Google, I want this specific type of cat food. So then I land on a bunch of different websites and I start looking. And the first thing I’m looking for in my journey is is this in stock? The second thing I’m looking for is will they ship to BC where I live?

So I didn’t look at the price. It wouldn’t have mattered at that point if the price was double or whatever. I didn’t look at their About page. I didn’t want to read anything. I didn’t want to look at any blog articles. I don’t care about pictures, all that kind of stuff. In my particular example, that was my journey. So I get to the website, I find a place that has the kind of food that I want in stock. And then when I’m on their website, I get a little pop-up, they got a bribe and it says, “First time customers, if you sign up to our newsletter, we’ll give you X percentage off.” Okay, perfect. So I sign up because I know I’m going to be making a purchase.

Now again, it’s a good reason why they have this on there because a lot of people are just window shoppers. They’re not like me. They’re not coming on to make a specific purchase that day regardless of the price. So the customer journey thing isn’t, “oh, there’s only one customer journey”. You kind of try to think through all of the different customer journeys. And so it was smart of their web team to set up, or their marketing team or both, whoever did it, it was smart of them to set up this “if you’re a first time buyer, get a percentage off”. Because it kind of pushes people who are on the fence. It pushes them over the edge to buy.

So that was a good thing that they did. Now, I purchased. They also, a couple days later, send me a coupon after the purchase. Thanks for buying, and if you want to buy again, here’s a discount. Again, not a bad thing to do because there’s a lot of work out there that shows once somebody’s bought two or three times, they kind of become a customer for life. So that’s playing the numbers a little bit. It’s not a bad idea. But I’m looking at my interaction with these people and I’m thinking, okay, everything is discounting. Every time I talk to them, they’re trying to offer me a discount. So I kind of took a look at their coupons that they’re sending me because I’m not going to need to buy the same cat food again before this coupon they sent me expires.

And I look at it, and I sort of reverse engineer how the coupon is programmed and set up, and I tested it in the future, and I kind of cracked the code. So basically now I can get a 20% discount whenever I want. So even though they gave me a coupon that’s supposed to expire, I figured out how to renew it every month. And again, someone just set it up in a sloppy way. This doesn’t mean you’re going to do it like that, but that’s the way it goes. So now whenever I want to order from these people, I can get a 20% discount. Now, I don’t know the margins of the pet food business, but once you add free shipping into the mix, me buying at 20% off every time, plus the free shipping, it doesn’t really seem like a winning proposition.

And the other thing to consider is now I just look at these people as a low-cost option. So when all my other options are out of the cat food that my cat likes, I’ll maybe look at these people and then I’ll only order from them if I get the discount. Now, thinking about building an email list, having a reputation, building comfort with people, in contrast to this online discount pet food store, I’ll go to the local boutique. I’ll buy the exact same food that I was looking for from the online store. I’ll buy the exact same food for way more money. I won’t even sweat it because they provide me with a ton of other benefits. They give me great customer service. They remember who I am, we have nice conversations. They show me new products tailored to my pet. So they have positioned themselves as experts and trusted friends. And really, I just view this other place as the discounter.

If you’re building an email list… Again, if it makes sense for your industry, giving discounts, especially to first time signups is not a bad idea. It’s not a bad idea. I’m not saying it’s a bad idea. But you don’t want to be lazy about this type of thing and that’s kind of your only offer, your only ask, your only pitch. So all the stuff that I said, becoming the expert, becoming the trusted friend, learning more about me, recommending me stuff, blah, blah, blah. You can do it all with email. The trick isn’t, oh, it has to be local. It has to be a brick and mortar shop. I know a lot of people listening to this really lean on that local rah, rah, rah thing. Customers are mercenary. We don’t care.

Put on your customer hat for a second. You might say you shop local. I don’t think that you’re listening to this podcast on a device that was built at a factory that’s five minutes away from you. You know what I mean? I think a lot of the clothes that you buy, I don’t think they were made 10 miles within your radius. So get off your high horse about how you buy local all the time, because you don’t buy local. Nobody really does in this day and age, especially in North America. And throw that away. I know it’s a painful and emotional thing to think about, but when you’re constructing a marketing plan, when you’re building a website for your business, you got to not do this from an emotional point of view. You can think about the emotions of the customers. That’s what we’re talking about. Get in the heads of the customers, go through their emotions.

But sometimes emotions are super mercenary. I just want a discount, I want to buy today, whatever. That might help you in the short term. But you might want to think about, okay, how can I guide this to create a lifetime customer who trusts me and loves me in the long term? And then the last thing I promise that we’d talk about is something called online reputation management. So that’s a big thing these days. A lot of it ties into Google reviews. Are you getting good reviews? Are you throwing away bad reviews? Are you showing up on Google Maps when people search? A lot of it ties into SEO. What comes up when people look for your business name?

Sometimes in the past there were a lot of these internet directories. As you know, websites.ca runs a directory. They were all these kind of fly-by-night directories and they were throwing businesses on their website, and then the business would change their hours, they’d change their phone number, but the directory would never update it. Person searching Google would find these bad hours, bad phone number. They’d go to the business, it’d be closed. They’d call the business, nobody would answer. They’d blame the business. They would never think, oh, it’s the internet repository’s information that’s wrong.

So out of all this confusion and out of the fact that Google’s really pushed towards what they call sort of local signals… And again these are things like being listed on the map, having your hours the same across the board, getting reviews, all this kind of stuff. Then services have cropped up, and they say, “Well, we’ll do online reputation management.” Great. Okay, so maybe that’s a valid thing. Now, I’ve been asked by a couple different small business owners, “Should I do this, or do you guys do online reputation management, blah blah blah?”

And I’ve even been approached, and I’m not going to name names here, but I’ve been approached by people and say, “I got these bad Google reviews, and it’s not fair, and I want them to go away.” Or, “I got bad Yelp reviews,” or whatever. If you’re sitting here and you’re worried and you’re tearing your hair out about how you got some bad reviews, either it’s one or two bad reviews, and you got to get over it. That happens. Or if you’re getting consistently bad reviews, you’re probably doing bad things. Stop doing the bad things. Don’t put all your effort into the online reputation management. Okay?

So a couple notes on this. One or two bad reviews are normal. They happen. And again, if you put on your customer cap, if you’re looking at a business, if you’re looking at a restaurant or something to go out to eat and you’re reading some of the reviews, you got to think, most of the time you discount the most bad reviews. Almost everybody, when they read a bad review, especially if there’s a mix, if there’s mostly good, some mediocre, and then one or two bad reviews, we’ll look at the bad reviews and our response is usually like, “Wow, that reviewer is a real psychopath.”

So people are not as insane and robotic as you might think. They read the reviews, they don’t just look at the stars. They read the reviews sometimes and they go, “The person leaving this review, they were a little bit weird.” And they’ll do the same thing, by the way, with the top five-star reviews. Because everybody now knows there’s a whole industry out that you can buy fake reviews and how cheesy and weird that is. And again, I really wouldn’t recommend that, all these hacks and tricks and so on. You give good service and then you have an effective review system in place, which I will end this podcast with giving you one of the best review automation workflows you can ever have… And big name big marketers that you spend a lot of money with or automation companies like when somebody sets up HubSpot or sets up Keap, which used to be called Infusionsoft, they set up these CRM softwares with the email list and so on. They’ll all recommend this referral system. So I’ll tell that to end the podcast.

But basically, there’s no tricks. There’s no hacks. Give good service, ask people for reviews rather than not asking them, ask in a timely manner, direct them how to do it, the best place to do it, what you’d like to get out of the review and so on. And you just got to suffer sometimes a few bad reviews. So before I wrap it up and tell you that automation, just a funny little story. In our local town, we live in a tourist part of British Columbia, and in the summertime a lot of people swell here. So our population probably doubles in size in the summertime. And we have a couple local restaurants that have been around for seemingly forever.

And one restaurant is a Greek place, really beloved in our area. And the same family that’s been running it since they immigrated to Canada from Greece, they finally wanted to retire, and their kids didn’t want to take it over, so they sold to their longest-term employee. And that employee, there’s no doubt about it, I’ve met him personally, he definitely loves the business. He’s passionate about the business. But he’s not doing himself any favors when it comes to online reputation management because his M.O. is if somebody leaves a bad review on Yelp or Google or Facebook or TripAdvisor, he goes on and he answers them personally. And now, he doesn’t say, “Sorry you had a bad time, call me and we’ll try to work it out or whatever.” He personally insults them, picks apart their review, tries to go back and remember who it was that night because he responds right away. And sometimes he’s even called them out on the way they look, the way they dress, the way they act.

Now again, we’re all business owners listening to this podcast. I get it. Sometimes if you have a bad client, you’d want to tell your friends and you want to call them out. But here, we make it sort of a weekend activity to crack a bottle of wine, sit down and read the latest responses that this guy’s given to the reviews. And I just can’t bring myself to go back to this business, even though I’ve enjoyed it several times. Because this thin skin about getting 20 reviews a night and one of them’s bad. I mean, it’s a restaurant, it’s bound to happen. You’re going to mess up, your server’s going to mess up, your chef’s going to mess up, the timing’s going to be off, the person’s maybe going to be overly critical, whatever the case may be. But this guy’s skin is so thin, his consideration of online reputation is so needy that he’s on there every day arguing with, castigating, insulting and generally making a fool of himself. So that’s a cautionary tale. And it’s obviously a really extreme example, but you don’t want to become that person.

So I promised you that I’d wrap up with a simple workflow automation of how you can harvest more positive reviews in your business. It’s really, really nice and easy. You can do it manually, by the way. You can instruct your staff, or as a business owner, you can just swoop in and do it if you don’t have the budget or time or care to automate it. So I’m going to speak about it in automated terms, but it really doesn’t have to be that, right? You figure out milestones in your business. So there’s milestones along the way. The simplest one is a sale. When a sale happens or a service happens, so if you have a large break between the sale and the service happening, you might want to consider doing this once the service is done.

But essentially, everybody already knows it, right? Once the service is provided or the product is given or the sale happens, whatever, you ask people not to leave a review. You ask them, “Were you satisfied?” And everybody does this a different way. Most people, when they automate it, they send out an email, right? “We saw that you recently launched your website.” We’ll do this at websites.ca. So if you want to see it in action, you can sign up and become a customer. You can actually learn how we do it. I wouldn’t recommend that being the principal reason that you sign up for websites.ca. If you need help with your website, that’s what you should do. But it’s an interesting thing to study.

So once the service is provided, and once somebody can actually give you some tangible realistic feedback, then you follow up with an automated email in our case, and the email goes out from the rep and it says, “We noticed that your website is now launched. We just wanted to make sure you were happy with the process and you’re pleased with your new website and blah blah, blah.”

Some people just send an email. Some people say, “Would you mind filling out a quick one or two-question survey?” And the survey says, “Rate your experience from 1 to 10,” or however you want to do it. It actually really doesn’t matter that much. But if you just ask for their feedback, some people will say “good.” Most people will just say good or fine or whatever. Some people will say, “I hate you, this was the worst thing ever.” And a few people will say, “Great, I love it.” And they’ll be gushing and they’ll be emotional and they’ll be super fans. And then same thing with the survey. If somebody marks it as one, two, or three, you can consider that terrible. And then between four to seven, you can consider that fine. And then eight to 10, you can consider that they probably are super fans.

So obviously, with this automation, if someone says they’re not happy with the process, you ain’t going to ask them for a review. You’re going to get your best customer service agent to call them and figure out the problem immediately. If somebody says fine or good, a lot of people have differing opinions on this. If it’s fine, some people will automate an extra email to go and say like, “Oh, you don’t seem wowed by our service, can I ask you for more feedback? Blah, blah, blah.” This is up to you. If you want to keep it really simple, I would just say, “Are you happy or unhappy?” Okay, let’s drill down to the easiest possible thing. If they say unhappy, you obviously automate… a task is created for somebody on your customer service team or their rep to follow up with them. If they say they’re happy, then a next automated email goes out maybe a day or a couple days later that just says, “We’re so pleased that you’re happy with our service. And would you mind, a lot of our business is by referrals, would you mind leaving us a quick review?”

And again, in a lot of cases, the email itself will just say, “Click reply and tell us what you think about us, blah, blah, blah.” But that’s often leaving in people’s hands. So sometimes you might want to have a template. A lot of people who do this have a template set up. And finally, what a lot of people will do to tie it back into what we’ve been talking about, reputation management and Google and SEO and all this kind of stuff, they’ll say, “Since you’re happy, please leave a quick review on Google.” And they’ll put a link right to it. “Click this link.” You got to tell people very clearly and specifically, “Click this link below to go on Google and leave a Google review. To do this, you need a Google account.”

And we had instituted this a couple years ago, and immediately we started getting way more positive reviews. So you think to yourself, again, once you just institute a simple system, a simple automation, and of course you do a good job and you treat people fairly and you have a fair price and all these kind of things, it doesn’t matter if you get one bad review here and there. And obviously you want to address it right away if you can, if that person’s being reasonable and you messed up and it’s your fault. But the big thing is just kind of taking that larger picture view and automating a system around it. And then you wouldn’t have to go running off and finding an online reputation management company. And nine out of 10 cases… There’s some good ones, don’t get me wrong, but nine out of 10 cases, they’re just a shyster who’s looking to bleed some money out of you because you’re feeling nervous about how do these online reviews work.


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