Tevya Washburn: We ran it for about six months, and I think he increased his reviews by like 100 reviews on Google, and he increased his overall rating, which was already fairly high. But he moved it up even higher, so he looks really good on Google, and it helped his website rank better too as he did all this. So that’s when we started to see those results on his site, where I was like, “I should sell this to my other clients.”
Joe Casabona: Tevya Washburn reached out to me over the summer and asked if I might be interested in having him on the show. It turns out his timing was great. See, Tevya creates a WordPress plugin to help him gather and display social proof like reviews and things like that, and I had just finished reading a book that talks about the importance of social proof. So I have him on, and we chat about how he came up with the idea and why he built it, and of course, how he built it. There’s a lot of really good advice about getting reviews, and getting that really important social proof that you need to sell your product or service. This is a pretty traditional episode of the show, so sit back and relax. I hope you enjoy it. We’ll get onto it right after a word from our sponsors.
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Joe: Hey, everybody. Welcome to another episode of How I Built It, the podcast that asks, “How did you build that?” Today my guest is Tevya Washburn. He is the creator of Starfish Reviews, which is a social proof plugin for WordPress. Tevya, how are you?
Tevya: I’m great, Joe. How are you?
Joe: I am doing fantastic, thanks very much. For those listening, at the time we are recording I just got back from Orlando where I got to try out– I got to preview Star Wars: Galaxies Edge at Walt Disney World before it opens, and I’m a big Star Wars fan, so I’m in a fantastic mood.
Tevya: I’m jealous. That’s awesome.
Joe: My brother works at Disney World.
Joe: It was great. The stars aligned, and I happened to be there anyway for a conference, so it was a fantastic experience. You could see it up on my Instagram story, which I’ll link in the show notes. But that’s not why we’re here today, and we’re here to talk about building social proof. Tevya, why don’t you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do?
Tevya: Sure. I’ve been building WordPress websites for about a decade now, and recently– I say “Recently,” but a few years ago, it came to my attention how all these SaaS services were helping people do their review marketing or social proof, as you mentioned, through their services. Where they could help encourage the positive reviews and maybe capture the negative ones for internal review, and the more I started looking at it, the more I realized there was no affordable option on the low end. Especially, specifically, there was none that ran on WordPress as a plugin or whatever, so that’s how it started. That’s a brief vision of how Starfish Reviews is born, and that’s what I do at least part of the time now, is to help build and market the Starfish Reviews plugin.
Joe: Great. So you noticed that there wasn’t something out there that was specifically on WordPress, what did you find as far as looking at other tools? Is there a popular social proof plugin that a lot of people use, or is it industry-based?
Tevya: There’s a number of popular SaaS, software as a service, solutions out there. There’s a ton of them. If you tried to compile a list, it would be quite long, but in case any listeners are a little unfamiliar, social proof is just anytime you can use your user’s or customer’s input or feedback to show other people how they feel about your business. In this case, what we do is we encourage online reviews. That is a big part of social proof, and it also plays into SEO and things like that. Most of the platforms out there are fairly broad, and they’ll cover everything from Google to some very niche ones that have to do just a specific industry, or whatever. Most of them are– We’ll cover all those, but most of them if they have a WordPress integration, it’s just a little bridge or something that pulls in some of your data from their platform. None of them run on WordPress.
Joe: Gotcha. I see. So there are plugins that will sit on their server, and through some connector WordPress plugin, it’ll pull all of the data from their server, etc.
Tevya: Yeah, and usually, it’s just to display the reviews. There are a few reviews plugins that will pull in your reviews and display them, but there’s none that are helping you manage and encourage getting new reviews or “Generating reviews,” as we sometimes call it.
Joe: Gotcha. That makes sense. So, what made you want to create Starfish Reviews? Which is maybe the opposite, you have a plugin sitting on your WordPress site where– Can people fill out reviews through the WordPress site, or does it pull–? Exactly how does that plugin work?
Tevya: Sure, that’s a great question. At its most basic, and right now, our plugin is basic, and I’ll be the first to admit it, but it’s getting better all the time. It just creates these little landing pages that we call “Funnels.” The funnel is essentially a form stepper where people can– It asks them right up front, “How do you feel about this product or service?” And people can decide how they want to word it, so they can totally customize it. That’s another great feature of ours is we made it totally customizable, so they can put in whatever wording they want, whatever audience they’re trying to go after. They know their audience better than we do, and so they can totally customize it to fit that audience. But it basically, the idea is it just says, “How do you feel about this product or service or business?” However, they’re using it, and then they can give it a thumbs up or a thumbs down or a smiley face or frowny face. Then if it’s the thumbs up, for example, then it encourages them, “Go leave us a review.” And then it takes them to Google reviews or wherever the user wants them to go, or the I should say the “Website owner” wants them to go. Or it can give them options too, so they can choose between say, Google and Facebook, and TripAdvisor and wherever else they want to offer to their clients. Then if they give negative feedback, if they say thumbs down or whatever, then it will offer them to submit the feedback internally. It’s trying to counterbalance that tendency that a lot of us have to go leave a review when we’re ticked off and we’re unhappy about it, and instead capture that for internal review. Then the website owner can review with their team and say “OK. We need to do better in this area. Here’s how we can get better.”
Joe: That’s fantastic. There’s a couple of things at play here, and the first is that if it is negative feedback, you can immediately open up that dialogue without having to stumble upon it.
Tevya: Yes, exactly.
Joe: I want to say Amazon. Somebody reviewed my book, my most recent– My last book, and it’s not very recent anymore. They gave it zero stars, and they said “It doesn’t teach the things that they wanted to learn.” But it’s because she didn’t read the description of the book, she’s like “It was too developer heavy,” and it’s called Building Themes. But there was nothing I could do about that. Especially Amazon, they really won’t let you refute reviews from what I’ve seen, or at least the little guy won’t. But the other thing that I like about this is if they click the thumbs up, now you’re giving them the option to review where you want. That plays into this like psychological technique for people wanting to complete the task they start.
Tevya: Sure. And it’s so easy too because all they have to do is click thumbs up or thumbs down. That’s all it is. But then they’ve started, and then like you say, they want to finish. So they’re much more likely to go through and leave a review and do all that stuff.
Joe: That’s fantastic. Because aside from actually getting people to review products and services, which can be hard, you’re also getting that immediate feedback from them by making it as easy as possible. Especially on a podcast, I try to make my calls to action as easy as possible because I know that people are probably on their phone listening or they’re doing something else, and I want them to remember– I don’t want it to be a multi-step process.
Tevya: Yeah, exactly. Ours is easy as just sending them a link in an email or a text message. They just hit it and then decide thumbs up or thumbs down. We even have added a feature where you can construct a link in such a way that the thumbs up or thumbs down is pre-selected, so if you want to put the thumbs up/thumbs down, indicator right in your email, you can do that. Then when they hit it there, you’re even eliminating one more step there and one more click there and shoot them straight into the funnel with one or the other already selected. If that makes sense.
Joe: Yeah, that’s perfect. It’s funny you mention that because we’re going to go on a little bit of a tangent right now.
Joe: Today, as we record this, about two hours ago, I was looking for a solution just like that because I am trying a new format. By the time this episode comes out, I will have tested this format a couple of times here on How I Built It. I want people to either say, “Yes, they like it” or “No, they don’t.” And I couldn’t find anything really good that was just like, “This link is ‘Yes,’ and it logs yes, and this link is ‘No’ and it logs no.” It sounds like your solution will do that, so my follow up question now– And this is completely for me, when a user hits thumbs up or thumbs down, is that logged somewhere? Or is the second step the one that’s logged?
Tevya: No. Each step is logged as it occurs, so if they abandon at any point, you have whatever data you got up to that point. It’s designed to send them to a review platform, but the destination is just an open URL field. If you want to send them to another page on your site and say, “Thanks so much. That’s the feedback we needed to have.” Then yes, it will do exactly what you want to do.
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Joe: To bring it back, you have a lot of amazing– A lot of features that I guess I would expect to be here as part of a plugin that also curates reviews. What kind of research did you do to get to this point? You said it was simple, but it does a lot already. I know you looked at competitors, and there’s tons of SaaS services, but how did you determine what features would be in it? Did you talk to users, things like that?
Tevya: That’s a great question. I gave the brief overview of how it started before, and I’m going to go into a little bit more detail here to explain some of that. What originally happened was I had one of these SaaS platforms that contacted me, it was one of their sales guys who I assumed was commission only. He contacted me because I also run a website maintenance business, so we maintain and manage WordPress websites, and he’d found that and contacted me and wanted to sit down. So I went to lunch with him, or whatever. We’re talking, and he’s telling me about their product and how it works, and he basically described the funnel similarly to how I just described it, but it was running on their funnel or their platform. They wanted to charge, and the base price was $300 bucks a month for this. Now they had a nice analytics dashboard, and there was a lot of value there, but for my clients who were paying me maybe $200 bucks a month tops for managing and maintaining their website, another $300 dollars was a pretty big upsell. It was more than what I was already charging them. And so I was like, “That’s cool, but I don’t know. We could talk some more, but I’m not terribly interested unless one of my clients expresses a lot of interest here.” And then, as I left, I started thinking about it, and I’m like, “I could probably build something like that runs on WordPress. Now before you assume, “I’m just going to go code it,” a little new information for you. I don’t code. I’m not a developer unless you count CSS and HTML. What I was thinking in my head is I could probably build this on GravityForms. Fast forward about nine months later, one of my clients came to me– Actually, he texted me, he forwarded me a text message that just had a link to one of these funnels in it that one of his vendors had sent him to get a review from him. He’s like, “Could you do this for me on my website?” And I was like, “I think I can because I’ve already thought about this a bunch.” That’s how the very first version of Starfish was done, the “Early alpha,” you might call it, is I just built it all in GravityForms. It didn’t have a lot of the features it has now, but it did the very basic functionality, and it worked, and we could run it on his website. We ran it for about six months, and I think he increased his reviews by like 100 reviews on Google, and he increased his overall rating, which was already fairly high. But he moved it up even higher, so he looks really good on Google, and it helped his website rank better too as he did all this. So that’s when we started to see those results on his site, where I was like, “I should sell this to my other clients.” And then the obvious and logical next step was, “I don’t want to have to reproduce this on every single site in GravityForms, we should build a plugin.” And then it was like, “Duh. We should sell a plugin.”
Joe: That’s so– Actually, I’m going to stop you right there because I want this point to land. You don’t write code, but you did build this out. You prototyped it in GravityForms. I think that’s really interesting because as a coder myself, when I have an idea I always think “Here we go, I’m going to start laying down some code,” without really thinking about what’s it going to look like and how it’s going to get laid out, I make all of those– For an idea I have, all those decisions in the shotgun, we’ll say.
Joe: But the fact that you laid it out in GravityForms first meant that you had zero technical debt, you got to see how it worked, and you got to see if GravityForms was sufficient enough for this before moving on to coding a solution yourself. I think that’s a really good takeaway.
Tevya: Cool. Yeah, it made me a big believer in prototyping and testing just the “Minimum viable product,” as they often say. That’s basically what I did. I just built in the very minimum, and it just worked, it just barely did exactly what we needed it to. Then we saw how well it worked, and I was like, “This is an idea that I think could have some legs if we wanted to build a real plugin and add some features to it.”
Joe: Yeah, that’s fantastic. First of all, I interrupted you, so I just wanted to make sure you completed the thought you were trying to complete. I’m very sorry about that.
Tevya: No worries at all. The next step was to find a developer, and I had a developer I’d worked with for some time and was able to do a profit-sharing arrangement with them, so I didn’t have to come up with a bunch of funding upfront to get it built. Then after a while, we seemed to hit the limits of his technical knowledge, so I gave him a big payment buyout and then made a similar arrangement with another developer who has a lot more experience and has been doing this stuff for a long time. His name’s Matt, and Matt’s my business partner now on all this, and he has helped rebuild the foundation of it. So it’s much more reliable, much more consistent, and much quicker action, too.
Joe: Again, that’s cool. Because I feel like profit sharing is always something that’s proposed when somebody has an idea, it’s been proposed to me a few times. I’ve never taken the risk of doing the profit-sharing model, but it sounds like, in both instances, it’s worked out for your developers. Can you talk about how you pitched the profit-sharing model and how you persuaded these developers to do it?
Tevya: Sure. The first step, at least in my mind, was I had a great relationship with both of them already. I’d hired them to do other work for me and stuff like that, so they knew that we worked well together. Matt’s a great guy, and we were like-minded on a lot of things that are important, but I think different enough too that we’re not too locked in. That we’re able to explore new ideas and bounce ideas off each other and stuff. I think just that, and then all the stuff that I realized. I was able to go to him and say, “OK. Look what I already did with the prototype for this one client. I think I can sell it as a significant upgrade to my other clients, but more importantly, I think we can sell it just as a WordPress plugin to any website owners or marketers or whatever out there.” And then showed them the market that was out there and showed them how many other of these SaaS products out there, that were doing the same thing but weren’t doing it on WordPress, and how we could very likely come in, much cheaper than them because we didn’t have all the overhead of the servers and the hosting, and all that stuff. But also give people control, it’s their data, and it runs on WordPress on their website, etc. I think just all that, it was pretty clear that there was some real potential there, and they were able and willing to get excited about it. Plus, I didn’t ask either one of them to leave their day job to do it. It was like, “Can you put some time into this on the side? Then if it starts paying you, maybe you’ll drop some of your other freelance projects that you were already doing on the side.”
Joe: OK, so there’s a lot of great advice there. The first, and I think this is the most important one, is that you already had a great relationship with both of them. You’ve hired them before, so they know you’re not just out to make a quick buck off of them. To the business owners out there who are looking for a profit-sharing model, I think this is important because I’ve had basically people who have proposed this thing to me and wanting me to sign an NDA first. Then they wanted me to say, “Do profit sharing.” And I’m like, “I already don’t– You clearly don’t trust me. Why should I trust you at all?” So I think that’s important, you built that trust, and you had a working prototype, so you’re showing that you’ve already put hours and thought into this. I like that.
Tevya: In both cases, too, I was able to say, “Look. I’m a decent marketer. I know how to do SEO and that kind of stuff, so I can get this in front of people, but I can’t build it. So I need you to build it, and I think you need me to market it.” And so that makes a really good relationship that way.
Joe: Yeah, that’s absolutely right. You’re playing off of each other’s strengths, and again, since you had that working relationship, you both knew what the strengths were. Now when it comes to marketing, this is a social proof plugin, how important–? I’ve got courses, I’ve got the podcast. I know people listening probably have their own plugins or maybe even their freelancers, how important is social proof, and is it more important in certain industries than others?
Tevya: It’s extremely important. Yes, I do think it does vary somewhat from industry to industry. I’m trying to order my thoughts here real quick. So, it’s very important in that it affects your SEO, at least as far as we are applying social proof to online reviews. Online reviews can affect your SEO, so it’s really important there. We’ve got a bunch of stats and stuff on our website, but there’s been a bunch of studies done, and most people these days read reviews. Not only that, but they’re increasingly savvy about those reviews. They know that if product or service or a plugin or whatever it might be that’s being reviewed has 100% five-star reviews and there’s 50 of them or more, they know right off the bat that there’s something going on. They’re like, “Nobody’s perfect. Nobody gets it right all the time.” There’s always somebody, like in your example, Joe. There’s always somebody who didn’t read the description before they bought it. It’s not that the product’s not amazing, it’s just that there’s always some situation that can’t fit perfection. So they’re very savvy about that, and it becomes very important because people do spend time on that and start reading through those reviews and looking at it. But it does depend on the industry as well, because if something is wildly popular, and all their friends are telling them “You’ve got to try this thing,” then it’s really not that big a deal that you have a million reviews or whatever telling them the same thing that their friends are already telling them. On the other hand, if they’re hiring a local contractor or they’re buying a newer product, then it’s really important what other people have said about it because that’s going to determine how they feel about it and whether or not they’re likely to buy it or not.
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Joe: I’m sure we’ve all done this, where something has a lot of really good reviews, but you have the one bad review, that has made me not want to buy a product. Because everyone’s like “This is great,” and then one is like “This was broken in the box the day it arrived,” and I’m like, “I don’t know if I want to buy this now.” But to your point, first of all, it informs people about a product that they’re not seeing in real life. You can’t just go to the store, or when you’re online shopping in most cases, you’re not going to the store first to look at it. But the other thing you mentioned is that it can affect your SEO. So, is that to say that search engines like Google are crawling not only like the Google reviews, but Yelp or other ones to surface that and effect the page rank at all?
Tevya: Yeah, exactly. The old adage is “Content is king,” right? Every review constitutes content, it’s additional content about your business or product or whatever it might be, and that includes your replies as well. You can even go in and reply and make sure you’re using relevant keywords as you reply to those reviews, positive or negative. We encourage people to reply to all reviews, positive or negative, and make sure you talk about your business as you’re replying. Or talk about what you did well, or whatever they mentioned in their review. That’s going to have relevant keywords in it, and that’s more content that’s related to your site and your business, whatever, and can help you rank.
Joe: I never really thought of that. I know it’s important to have reviews for the social proof if people happen to come, or I’ve got the testimonials. But I guess I’ve never really thought of it in that sense, that every review constitutes content. My last question in this line of questioning is, are there certain review sites that digital businesses or online entrepreneurs– Are there review sites that those folks should focus their time on?
Tevya: Again, it can be somewhat industry-specific. So depending on what industry that is, Google obviously always loves Google’s stuff. However, Google reviews are made more for local businesses. You can say, “I don’t have an actual physical location, and so I want it everywhere.” You can do stuff, but that’s probably not going to help you as much as if maybe you get them on Trustpilot. I’m not a big fan of Facebook personally, but Facebook is still huge. If you can get reviews on Facebook, that’s always very helpful and then anything industry-specific. Like I said, if you’re selling an e-book on Amazon, then you want Amazon reviews.
Joe: Yeah, gotcha. That’s fantastic information, so thank you for that. Now moving back to Starfish Reviews, this is running right on your WordPress site. Is it something that encourages reviews at other places? Does it curate those reviews on the site itself, or does it just basically say, “Check out my reviews in the places where I’m sending people?”
Tevya: At this time, it doesn’t pull in reviews from other websites, but we are hard at work on that, and that’s going to be releasing very soon. In the near future, you’ll be able to have a dashboard telling you when you get new reviews, and this will probably be– We’ll release of a few features at a time. It’s not going to all come in one big update, but you’ll be able to see your new reviews from various sources on your WordPress dashboard. You’ll be able to see some analytics and stuff like that, you’ll also be able to use a short code or a Gutenberg block or whatever to display your latest reviews on the front end, and all that stuff is coming. We intend it to be a full-featured review marketing plugin by the time– Well, I won’t set any dates. But it’s going to be awesome, and we’re hard at work on the next big features there.
Joe: Yeah, that’s fantastic. I usually ask what your plans for the future are, and it sounds like you’ve laid them out, but I think this is a good strategy. First of all, you got your minimum viable product out. You’ve got the important part out, which is encouraging people to leave those reviews. Then once somebody like me has reviews to display, this new feature will roll out, and I can go ahead and display them. I think that’s a good plan.
Tevya: Yeah, exactly. There were already some plugins that would display them, as I mentioned before, and there are some great ones out there. But we intend ours to be the most full-package, once we get all those features added on.
Joe: Awesome. As we wrap up here, you have those “Funnels” is the term that you mentioned. What kind of wording should I use on a final page to encourage people to get reviews? Is there some magic language I could use, or is it just the constant ask?
Tevya: I would say something that’s personal. You know your audience better than maybe anybody else, and they have certain expectations of you, like how you talk to them. I would say customize it to you, make it sound like you when you ask them, and they’ll feel like it’s more personal that way. I think that’s the best thing you can do. Now, if you try to encourage reviews on Yelp or certain other platforms that have restrictive rules about what you can ask, then you can’t necessarily outright ask. You have to be sneaky about it, or not really sneaky, but don’t ask. Just let them know that you appreciate reviews and leave it at that. I would say the specific wording is only when you’re trying to be compliant with the terms of service or something like that, but other than that, make it personal. Make it sound like you. People love doing business with other people, not faceless corporations and stuff like that.
Joe: Gotcha. That’s a really good point, and we should parse that out a bit. Because if I’m asking for reviews on my own site or if I’ m– For a while, I had a call to action at the end of this, “Leave a rating and review on iTunes. It helps.” But if it’s something like Amazon, Amazon’s the one I keep going back to because that’s what I’m most familiar with. There are certain restrictions like I can’t send you a product for you to then review. You have to buy it through Amazon to review it. Is that right? Something like that.
Tevya: I believe so, but I’m not real clear on all Amazon’s review rules there. But I believe that’s correct.
Joe: I’ll link to an episode of Smart Passive Income where he has an Amazon guy on talking specifically about that.
Joe: Because I know it’s different for books because it’s just you’ve always been able to send out review copies. But other physical products, I’ve seen people reach out to me and say “We want you to review our product, can you buy it through Amazon and then we’ll PayPal you the money?” And I’m like, “No. Just send me the product. That’s weird.” But they never explained why, and it’s probably because of that.
Tevya: Yeah, I think they want you to be a verified buyer is the thing, because those things get more weight than the ones that aren’t.
Joe: Gotcha. Because that’s another thing, if I’m sending– If I’m giving people access to my course or whatever, or sending a copy of my book to somebody, they might be more inclined to say something nice about it because they got it for free.
Tevya: Sure, yeah.
Joe: Awesome. This has been great, Tevya. I do need to ask my favorite question, though, which is, do you have any trade secrets for us?
Tevya: Trade secrets. I think we’ve covered several of them throughout this, some of them maybe I didn’t mention, or I didn’t emphasize as well as I could have. One is replying to positive reviews, and the reason is that as I mentioned before, it’s content, and it can help with SEO but it can also– Another form of social proof, in that you’re showing that even the people that love you already, you’re still willing to follow up with them and have that conversation and show them how much you appreciate what they said about you. You’re not just saying, “They’re already in our camp, so I’m not going to waste any time on them. That shows another that you’re willing to go to another level of service there, and makes you look all that much better. So that was one we mentioned, but I think it is a well-kept secret. It shouldn’t be a secret, but it’s a pretty good one.
Joe: I think that’s great because you’re right. I see the good reviews, and I’m like, “I don’t need to convince them. They’re already convinced. I’d rather–” and maybe incorrectly, “I’d rather spend my time on the one-star review figuring out why they gave me a one-star review,” when maybe there’s just no convincing them that my product is good.
Tevya: Yeah, and there’s nothing wrong with replying to negative reviews as long as you’re always kind and positive and trying to encourage them to reach out to you so you can make it right. But everybody wants to reply to the negative reviews because that’s the one that gets to you.
Joe: Right. Yeah, absolutely. That makes perfect sense. Tevya, thanks so much for your time today. I appreciate it. Where can people find you?
Tevya: Starfish.reviews is our main website, that’s the best place. You can follow me on Twitter @tevyaw. Feel free to contact me through the Starfish Reviews contact form, or whatever works best for you.
Joe: Fantastic. I will link to those and everything we talked about in the show notes over at HowIBuilt.it. Tevya, thanks again. I appreciate you taking the time.
Tevya: You’re welcome, Joe. I appreciate you and your awesome podcast. Thanks for having me on.
Joe: Thanks so much to Tevya for joining me today. I loved his trade secret about replying to positive reviews and being kind with the negative reviews, that’s something that I need to work on. I always feel the need to defend myself when I get a negative review when I should be killing them with kindness. That’s always the best way to flip the script and other colloquialisms, at least here in the United States. Thanks also to our sponsors Pantheon, Gusto, and Ahoy! Without their support, this show would not happen. For everything that we talked about and to learn more about our sponsors, you can head over to HowIBuilt.it/144. There you will find links to subscribe as well, so be sure to subscribe if you like this. You’ll also find a link to my latest resource, and it’s the podcast workbook. I’m working on a new course called Podcast Liftoff, where I will show you how you can get in front of the mic and get over that stage fright, get over the fear of pressing record and start your own podcast. If you’re interested in doing that, head over to HowIBuilt.it/144 for the link to a free podcast workbook. Thanks so much for listening. Until next time, get out there and build something.