Google Places: Onsite “Review Stations” AOK with Google

Onsite “Review Stations” AOK with Google

Several weeks ago, I attended a Google GetYourBusiness online seminar and I was surprised to hear the speaker strongly encouraging SMBS to install a computer at their places of business to use as a station where clients, immediately upon completing a transaction, could easily leave a review on their Google Place’s page.

Last week, Scott Falcone sent me a link to a copy of an email from the Google Dealer Jumpstart Team endorsing the idea of review stations. Thinking that maybe the sales side of the house might not be on the same page as the Places team, when the question came up in the forums, I raised the issue with the Places support folks. Their response was that as long as there was no direct incentive involved, it would be an acceptable practice.

Clearly if training, sales and support at Google all say it is OK, then it must be OK to have on site workstations for the purpose of generating reviews. And one can infer from all of this is that the review filter would not block the review based on location (IP) alone.

Implications

Yelp and Tripadvisor long ago put in place bans on reviews generated onsite from the place of business. In the case of Yelp, the reviews get filtered. TripAdvisor goes so far as to flag/punish the business with a Red notice questioning the integrity of the hotel. Avvo will allow the practice by prior approval and an explanation as to the need. Google’s policy is clearly contrary to the industry norms. Allowing and even encouraging the behavior of using a review station is questionable at best.

While there is nothing against practice in the Google Places review guidelines it is a practice that I have discouraged in my consulting and writings.

Firstly it seems coercive. If a customer is in your store, they can’t very easily say no and more importantly, they might not feel free to leave a fully honest or negative review. It is on the business owners turf and it creates an unequal power dynamic that seems contrary to the spirit of fair, honest and useful reviews.

Secondly, the practice of allowing these reviews make abuse by business owners even easier and more likely.

Apparently, Google doesn’t agree with me. For now, at least with Google, you can solicit reviews in your place of business without worry of losing them to the filter if they are otherwise ok.

Your business

Should you gather reviews from a work station on your premises? That depends on a number of factors specific to your business. Despite Google allowing the practice, I am not comfortable with it in many situations. Because of ethical concerns and the obvious, location centric footprint I have never suggested the idea to clients.

There may be reasons why it makes sense for your business. Here are some things to consider:

-Certainly all of the ethical issues are at play and if you do encourage the use of an internal workstation you need to take them into consideration.

-There will still be logistic issues with user accounts and the likely need for the business to provide many users with help.

-I have said it before and I will say it again, DO NOT put all of your review eggs in one basket. This should not be the only way you gather reviews and Google should not be the only site you ask for reviews on. They could easily change their mind on this policy and all of the reviews gathered this way could disappear in a puff of smoke.

Conclusion

I think it an error on the part of Google to encourage reviews be captured in this way. Regardless of whether it is an intentional act on their part or an oversight in their policy, I think it will further degrade the quality of reviews in Google Places and make spamming easier and more likely to occur.

Neither you nor I have the ability to change which way the winds blow. If at the end of the day it makes sense for your business to implement the practice, do so cautiously. Recognize that any benefit may be short lived and the reviews may go more quickly than they came. Most importantly of all, respect the customer and their needs in the transaction.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Google Places: Onsite "Review Stations" AOK with Google by

40 thoughts on “Google Places: Onsite “Review Stations” AOK with Google”

  1. I have avoided onsite reviews. Instead I have placed several QR codes leading to my Google places profile and I encourage patients to review/rate on their smartphone. Several other dentists have asked if they could set up an ipad or kiosk to leave reviews. Very interesting!

  2. Getting reviews, and where for, is a prickly topic in itself.

    Having two conflicting views of acceptability makes it worse for the naive businesses out there.
    To be honest – if it was done right (privately, away from staff), I don’t see much of a problem. It would be fantastic if someone was that pleased/annoyed with a store/company that they could waltz over to a booth and file a report/review/rating then and there.
    The down side is – you would likely see a greater number of negatives – and you cannot trust some businesses not to pressure people etc.

    So with the “risk” and lack of trust in view – I’d vote against in-situ review systems.

  3. I totally agree with your assessment Mike. This will obviously skew the reviews to be more on the positive side. Google seems to be a little bit behind on filtering review spam (at least compared to Yelp) and I think this may have been a step backwards for them.

  4. @Jason

    The QR strategy also avoids “asking” which removes some of the ethical concern about pressure.

    @Autocrat
    Privacy would be one useful way to minimize some of the conflict although it is still hard to create a situation where the choice is really free and there is no anonymity at all. Although Like you point out it can be done right.

    @Zack
    I think Google is willing to do what it takes to increase their review numbers. It is not clear that this is new…. rather they are now publicly alerting folks to the possibility that is new.

  5. I disagree that reviews captured at the business are coerced–I’m just about sick of that mis-use and mis-application of that word. Its like people who know theory and those that know action; I’ve gotten plenty of reviews in a business, and its a very fulfilling action that snuffs out that theory in about a heartbeat. It makes sense to do them at the business, too: Restaurants, for example, have left comment cards on the table for you to fill out for YEARS. And a review is not like a “tip” or reward–it can be good, it can be bad, and the review you get at the business is right when the steak sizzled or the service fizzled. Google is spot on with this direction, and it only gets better with video reviews–and those are going to be a natural fit for “at-business” reviews. I wrote about this in lots of spots, and there is an archive I keep here: http://keithshetterlyauto.blogspot.com/2011/10/why-at-business-customer-reviews-make.html. Thanks!

  6. One more thing: How is this supposed skewing to the positive for doing them AT the business less of an issue for the KNOWN skewing to the negative for doing them later? It’s actually BALANCING the reviews and correcting this well-known skew.
    Handheld devices are the issue, too, as in you can review right there on the SmartPhone, anyway. Technology is going to solve this one, and Google knows it. Thanks!

  7. I said: “Firstly it seems coercive. ” I do not think it a misuse of the word.

    It can be and it might not be, it is situational. It depends on offering the customer choice, freedom and respect. If those principles are respected then it isn’t coercive. If they are not then it could become coercive.

    There is a fundamental difference between saying to the customer: “Do you have time to take a moment to leave a review?” and providing choice and the ability to say no and Saying “Please leave a review at the station over there”.

    It is not hard to imagine a salesman abusing their client relationship to garner a review and in doing so violating the principle of customer respect.

    My advice is to use the station cautiously. It may make sense some times and may not in others but regardless to always respect the fact that the person at the other end of the transaction deserves to be treated well.

  8. Hi Mike! Thanks for the discussion. I think an answer to your worry is that consumers educate pretty quickly on discerning the worth of reviews: If a business has perfect reviews all perfectly written, that’s a red flag; if a business has perfect reviews and the reviewers are obvious shills, that’s a red flag. And the sites that make money or re-purpose reviews for agendas can be gamed, as well. In other words, coerced reviews can exist anywhere, whether taken at the business or not, and they will stand out and appear false. SmartPhones, etc., are removing barriers today, and they will continue to do so. Education of the consumer, including self-education, is the only way to really have false or coerced reviews found out.

  9. That seems pretty wild to me that Google would endorse onsite review stations. This is one practice that I don’t foresee sticking around for the long haul as Google see abuses and bias increase.

  10. @Keith
    Coerced can exist anywhere and need to be avoided everywhere. I think that the power relationship in store with a review station makes it particularly susceptible to ethical issues and thus there is all the more need to be address the ethical issues. Also the issue of consumers reading reviews are distinct from them giving reviews.

    Customer education is important but as reviews on Google narrow in range (ie all businesses become 3,4 or 5), it becomes difficult for even an educated consumer to tell the difference when most of the views take place at the main page of Google.

    A case in point was my example yesterday of a company like 29Prime being shown on Google as 3.5 whereas they show on Yelp as a 1. Which is more accurate? You may call this reducing the skew… Hard to know but I do know that the way that Google presents them is providing undeserved cover for scum bags.

  11. @ Mike: I can game any review system out there, including Yelp. It takes more effort, but it can be done. One of the things that Yelp does that hurts businesses is cultivating a cadre of reviewers, and not everyone makes it their point to review everything, and sometimes real reviews of ONE business get flagged and not counted when they SHOULD count–and I’d submit that this cadre, on average, is likely full of more than its share of folks who like to complain rather than those that like to encourage. For car dealers, for example, as well there’s DealerRater which does a lot of policing, including allowing nothing at business–and yet I have hard evidence of a dealer punching reviews through on behalf of customers. Not allowing reviews on-site is not going to stop a scumbag, though it MAY cause them to up their game. Regardless of what anyone thinks, however, handheld devices are going to make this point moot. Thanks!

  12. It is interesting that the view of Google on reviews in this case differs from the established one for the industry. However, we know that Google are never very clear in their guidelines. Isn’t it possible that the exact same line that you quote in your Forum reply could be the source of the answer to if on-site reviews are allowed:

    Conflict of interest: Reviews are only valuable when they are honest and unbiased. Even if well-intentioned, a biased review can undermine its credibility. For instance, don’t offer or accept money or product to write positive reviews about a business

    I mean a review can be biased in many ways, not only when written in the exchange of an incentive.

    Whatever the guidelines, I have heard that posting reviews from the same location/IP from which you access your Google Places dashboard would result in their (almost) immediate filtering out.

  13. Loving Jason’s QR Code idea! The thing about hand held devices is that they don’t rely on the IP address of the business, they have their own juice. That’s definitely the way it’s going to go.

    I hate the idea of having to ask people to leave a review and having a machine handy for that purpose. It’s not coercion as such, but people ‘feel obliged’ rather than actively wanting to big you up and asking how they can do it.

    And you just know that there will be business owners out there (and their advisors) who will be taking advantage of this new option to leave ‘reviews’ which are really just extra advertising opportunities.

  14. We’ve kicked around the on-site review capturing, back and forth for some time. Some clients are way open to it and some feel its obligatory – as mentioned in one of the comments above.

    I don’t wholeheartedly agree however that a station is a negative thing necessarily – soon to be obsolete maybe, but not sure about negative – and yes, I know that’s not the going sentiment; it’s more if you use, use wisely…but if punishment is involved for point of origin, then that’s pretty negative.

    Is an iPad (on a public wifi) considered a station?

    How about a custom (specific to the customer) review portal from which reviews are solicited, routed to the appropriate website, and published?

    Guessing that’s a major violation of review SOP, at least as its being defined by the powers that be, rather than the SMBs that subsist off the digital word of mouth.

  15. @Nyagoslav
    Ah… you are saying that if the business claimed and access the LBC at the place of business, then the flagging is more likely to occur of customer reviews…. I would love to know for sure that is the case…

    I agree a conflict of interest is a conflict of interest and it is possible to occur on site than not.

    @Jo
    As Keith points out, handheld devices will change the game in more ways than one… QR codes are an example. But even simple IP filtering becomes more difficult for companies like Tripadvisor…as the IP no long relates back to the hotel location but to the location of the phone companies connection to the internet.

    @Chris
    Anything attached to wifi would be a station, one that would be allowed by Google but disallowed by TA and Yelp. If it were on 3g it might sneak by the TA/Yelp filters.

    I am not clear on your other question…. a review portal that drove the user to a review site would probably be fine as long as the review allowed postings from the same ip.

  16. Over the past year, many businesses have “lost” reviews on many different occasions. We get calls all the time “What happened to all my reviews!”

    I assumed one cause was IP filtering implementation. Many business owners might have computers at home or work to claim their listing. Or an agency might do it for them.

    Its a bummer when a legit business has a laptop onsite for legit reviews and gets a bunch – only to see them disappear down the road. It’s frustrating.

    If I knew this would work I’d recommend it.

  17. @ Jeffrey: I’ve had that happen before, and usually it’s an issue with Google Places itself. What most folks don’t realize about GP is that is built on the fly–it’s not a URL in any real sense of the word, but is instead assembled from information Google has. Sometimes, the “build” isn’t right. As well, they don’t put the reviews in date order but instead under some “relevance” order of which date is just one factor. Anyway, reviews can be “lost” by losing them off the front page for any of several reasons–but IP filtering isn’t one of them. I’ve done many reviews in a business, and Google has never cared–lots of non-Google review sites like to keep that one going. Thanks!

  18. Not sure I should bring my laptop to every wedding and ask them to review my work. Speaking of reviews I have been busy with my main work and just noticed that Google places has dropped all of my non-google reviews I have more than 60 reviews from Judy’s book, etc and now it is like they were never that leaving me only with 3 google reviews. It worries me since I had a great review on google from a recent client disappear after a couple of days. Have you heard about this happening to anyone else?

  19. The entire review topic is funny to me. Here we are in 2011 (almost 2012) and the major search engines are effectively saying “we can’t properly rank businesses based on algorithms alone… we need user reviews”. The entire topic of user reviews is important to the majority of your readers because each and every one of us knows that more positive reviews generally equals better placement in search results.

    Google has been taking a lot of actions recently that are degrading their “quality” in my mind; the funny thing was that yesterday I ran into a neighbor who is a non-techie and she said to me “what’s up with Google?”. She has noticed the additional, in her words, junk and wonders what they are doing. Going as far as asking me if Bing is a better alternative now!

    This policy will backfire on Google and I would not advise a client to install an in-store kiosk. Also, to whoever compared this to a restaurant review card on a table just doesn’t understand business. The restaurant review card is for internal control not external communication like Google Place pages.

  20. @Mark
    the major search engines are effectively saying “we can’t properly rank businesses based on algorithms alone… we need user reviews”. The entire topic of user reviews is important to the majority of your readers because each and every one of us knows that more positive reviews generally equals better placement in search results.

    I don’t think that Google is saying that at all… reviews are a ranking factor but not an incredible ranking factor. And as far as I can tell Google makes no distinction between good and bad reviews in their assessment of the reviews.

    Their value lies in the credibility that a potential customer finds in reading them much more so than in any ranking factors.

  21. @ Mark: It was me who compared it to a review card. And they weren’t only for internal control–I worked at restaurants in college where the owner put the reviews up on the wall when you walked in. If he had the Internet, he would’ve put them there. As for understanding, I disagree who doesn’t understand: Mobile devices are going to make any policy moot, as there is no IP monitoring, etc. Google is, as usual, ahead of the game. Clearly, they have left some folks behind, and this policy will stand because technology has made it so. And they realize it. Thanks.

  22. I can’t see what is wrong with helping people with ways of giving legitimate reviews. There will always be spammers but that should not stop Google from offering good advice to small businesses about how to use the internet to get more business.

    A video capture lap-top is a great tool for reviews, and I recommended this several months ago to my clients. It is really easy and genuine. In fact I think it is better than the written word and less likely to be left off by Google in any future review of reviews. Especially if videos go on to YouTube (with the right local info of course).

    I think Google will be better than TripAdvisor on this by giving help on how to get good reviews and clarifying their policy. Of course, all companies should look at the broad range of different reviews they get from all sorts of review sites, (as you have mentioned in your blog posts).

    Reviews help convert online as well as offline. I think Google may just be starting to see how offline and online reviews help good businesses and want to help them get more reviews. Nothing sinister in that – in fact quite refreshing.

    Thanks for the info on how Google have spoken about this. I do find this helpful and I am sure Google look at your blog for feedback too!

    Boyd from London

  23. Mike, I heard about this new way of capturing Google reviews on a webinar the other night. When I first heard about Google allowing this practice, I had mixed reviews about it myself.

    I totally agree with your assessment on this topic. I think you make a great appoint about the “ethical” concern of it all.

    I don’t see this lasting very long…but we shall see.

  24. Guys, it’s my gut feeling that this saying really applies in this case. It goes like this: “whatever Google says, do the opposite….” Just a hunch. I’ve been in SEO for 10 years, and this just seems too good to be true to me. Either that or Google has made massive improvements in detecting owner-written reviews. Either way I found it better to ask for reviews by email anyway.

    Also, as a small business owner myself, onsite reviews via an iPad or laptop are out of place in most cases anyway , and everyday customers won’t really want to do it. The only way you could make this work is if you genuinely interact with your customers and create a bit of a bond first, then say something like, “Hey John, thanks coming in and supporting us, would you mind leaving the store a review on Google in case someone’s looking for the same _____ (whatever item they bought).

  25. Kind of shocking to hear that too regarding the suggestion of stations at the office, but it gives one hope that common sense is at play with them.

    Who (the client) is really going to remember “later that day” to go home, go to Google, look for the business they did a transaction with and then apply a review??? Honestly…it’s a pretty slim chance in h*ll that happens…and I suspect Google actually wants people to use their review system…with the whole +1 they seem to be into this whole ‘user rating’ movement.

  26. I was surprised by your post because I assumed that being from the same IP address would taint Google’s perception of reviews, in our case from dental patients. Positive reviews are very influential for the dental industry, especially for phobic patients. How much do reviews affect local ranking?

    In the case of professional services, where Google allows one listing for the clinic and one for each provider, never mind that they all have the same physical address, are they better off having one Places listing to accumulate reviews or to have several Places pages?

  27. Hi Mike,

    I recently began experimenting with the TripAdvisor option of submitting third party articles ‘Link to a third-party article about your property’ under Property administration tasks, and I am worried that I have inadvertently negatively affected my score. #18 to #19 after submitting 5 articles using this TA submission form. I am now afraid that my hotel client will end up with the TA flag, because of my article submissions. Have you heard of TA punishing businesses with a lower ranking number / flagging businesses for using this article submission form?

    Any input about article submission in TA affecting the popularity index and flagging would be much appreciated.

    Thanks,
    Lauren

  28. @Kelly
    One listing is easier to manage but Google will likely import listings for practitioners over time so you if you go with a single location you need to be diligent to catch the many that might come into the index and mark them as duplicates.

  29. Mike, I’m getting reports of Google Reviews not showing up on Places listings. I tested this out today, posting a temporary review as a test. It shows for me, but the client cannot see the review on any browser. – Ooops. I just checked and now it’s gone.

    Reviews are so, um, “squirrelly” these days. Does it take 24 hours to update and show a review on the listing? Thanks.

  30. Update: I logged into a different Google account and wrote a review. It’s still up there. So maybe my other account is on the black list. Let’s see:

    Sure enough…all the other reviews I’ve posted using that other google account – are NOT showing.

    Awesome!

  31. Mike,

    If a hotel guest signs onto the internet via the “free” wireless provided by the hotel, would Google perceive this as hotel staff writing the review or the hotel guest?

    Same thing for a restaurant as many now provide free wireless service like coffee shops etc.

    Thanks for any help.

  32. Google is fully capable of understanding what IP address they are “dialing in” from. But as noted above that in and of itself is not a cause to prevent the reviews from showing.

  33. Hi Mike,

    I agree with your sentiments….

    I want to be able to give my clients the best possible advice and guidance and to be their “trusted advisor”…

    With issues like this, that are open to abuse and worse still, open to Google changing their minds and pulling the plug….how do we as business consultants do the right thing for our clients???

    Regards
    Greg

  34. @Greg

    I don’t think you can worry about what Google does in the future. If they change their minds then so be it.

    You need to 1)follow an ethical path that works for you, your client and their customers and 2)educate your customers about the vagaries of Google.

    If you follow that advice you will come to the conclusion that review stations might work in one situation and in another emails might be best. If you clients are educated then they will rely on you to suggest change when Google does and not blame you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Comments links could be nofollow free.