The question often comes up whether a business can and should use their Google & Yelp reviews on their website. Leaving aside the value to the user experience for a minute, I was curious about the legal issues involved.
A small business would be foolish to use those reviews if the costs of litigation, however remote, would be onerous. So I set out to answer the question by asking on G+. It lead to a lively discussion (be sure to read the comments) and a clarification/confirmation from Google themselves.
Here is what Google says about the use of the reviews:
“Google reviews content is authored by our users. We would suggest that business owners ask for permission from the author of the content before re-using the review on a business’s website or elsewhere. Usage of the Google brand itself is covered by these permissions: http://www.google.com/permissions/.”
Bottom line, you can use the reviews legally with user permission but might get in trouble using Google trademarks without explicit permission. Although a takedown order seems more likely than litigation. On the permissions page they note:
“All of our brand features are protected by applicable trademark, copyright and other intellectual property laws. If you would like to use any of our brand features on your website…you may need to receive permission from Google first”.
I am still exploring Yelp’s formal policy but given their litigious nature I would be hesitant to use Yelp reviews until this is clarified.
If your business has an aggregate star rating of 3 or less, you need to be concerned that shoppers might reject you out of hand. If, on the other hand you have a star rating greater than 4 most shoppers will accept you on face value. However we are seeing dramatically different standards within different age groups.
If you found a [business] online with negative reviews from customers, how likely would you be to choose it?
If you found a [business] online with positive reviews from customers, how likely would you be to choose it?
The surveys, in asking the questions in a broad way, left the question of what negative and positive reviews meant to the survey taker.
To answer the question of exactly where a searcher drew the lines I asked these two follow up questions:
When searching online for a local business, at what point on a 5 star review scale would you decide to NOT consider the business?
When searching online for a local business, how many review stars on a 5 star scale do you need to consider the business?
Here are the overal results to the first question (sample size 2500 American internet adults ages 18 and up):
And the results to the second (sample size 2500 American internet adults ages 18 and up):
It’s a little easier to parse this data by consolidating some of the results. Essentially if a business is showing 3 stars or less, 82.8% would not do business with that business.
Like wise, about the same percentage, ~84.5% would need to see something greater than 4 stars before considering any given business.
And ~50% would need to see something greater than 3.5 stars to make the positive decision.
The obvious conclusion from this, in a general sense, is that if a business has a star rating greater than 3 than they will not be rejected out of hand and if they have star rating greater than 4 then most folks would consider that business favorably.
Off and on for the past few months Google has been showing reviews in the Knowledge panel for local searches. James Gibbons pointed out today that he was now seeing them more regularly. I would have to agree. This may be a more extensive test or it may be the new normal but many (not all) local listings with reviews are showing the snippets.
Interestingly while the specific review snippet comes from a single review, there are bolded/highlighted elements of the snippet that come from several reviews and the number is noted to the right. These highlighted snippets may or may not match the review summary snippets that are shown at the top of the about page.
They are, though, based on a principal word that repeats throughout the reviews. These bolded snippets are much more impactful when presented in the context of a full sentence. If the reviewer has a profile photo that will show as well. These photos add to a compelling presentation.
It is not exactly clear why some listings show the reviews and others do not. (Note:These do not seem to showing on any searches in Europe, Canada or Australia yet.) For example both of these restaurants have 9 reviews. And both have 4 or 5 reviews done by users with G+ profiles. Yet one shows and one doesn’t. For reviews to show they need to have been created in G+ but that isn’t the only factor. It might be how current the reviews are as Tasta Pizza has had a review within the last month while the most recent for Angee’s is 8 months ago. Also note that in the example below, Google is only showing two review snippets not three as is typical. Another question to be answered. If you have a theory why let me know.
It seems intuitive that a negative review corpus would severely limit a business’s online opportunities. And likewise that a positive review corpus would expand them. But these recent surveys indicate that a negative collection of reviews is much more likely to harm a business than positive reviews are going to help them.
In an effort to assist a client in quantifying the value of reviews and to help them better understand exactly what it would mean to a local business if they had negative or positive reviews, we conducted several large scale consumer surveys of 2500 US adult internet users 25 and older asking them whether they would be likely to choose or not choose a business with negative or positive review corpus.
As would be expected with a negative review corpus, ~85% of consumers indicated that they would be “not likely” or “somewhat unlikely” to choose a business with negative reviews. This response seemed independent of industry. It was heavily skewed toward the “not likely” with over 62% of all respondents indicating they would not be likely to frequent a business with negative reviews.
However when asked the same question about positive reviews, consumers were nowhere near as likely to look upon positive reviews as reason to choose a business. Between 44% and 53% indicated that they were somewhat or very likely to chose a business with positive reviews. But the vast majority of those were “somewhat likely” rather than “very likely” indicating a degree of caution even among those that were predisposed to favor the business based on positive reviews.
Greg did an interesting article on Facebook’s move into the SMB market. Whether their decision to forgo resellers is the correct one, time will tell. But has Greg points out, the real question is whether they can deliver compelling value to SMBs, in an easy to use package that drives widespread adoption.
Many have dreamed of this as the holy grail, few have succeeded. Google has been at it longer than anyone and still have not yet put the all of the pieces in place. Facebook has much less SMB baggage than Google but Google has a great deal more experience.
Rather than reproduce some of my thoughts from G+ I am embedding them here.
It’s time for the annual print Yellow Page count. And I promised last year to stop beating that dead horse… so this year I will beat several. Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. Page counts in my local print version have declined once again by over 10%. The good news for the Superpage print directory? The rate of decline seems to have slowed. The other good news is that their niche has become clear. They are still doing reasonably well and are still used (believe it or not) in rural areas, the mid-west and by older shoppers (ok very old shoppers). In my research they appear to have a mindshare that exceeds Yelp country wide.
The other good news? Well this isn’t really good news just news that means that the Yellow pages are not alone in the boat. Every other local advertising medium has seen similar declines and similar demographic shifts.
Alert reader Nico has pointed out that Google has publicly committed to the rollout of Plus features for bulk upload users on their Help Pages.
We’ve listened carefully to your feedback. In the future, you’ll be able to:
Make updates and posts to your customers using the Google+ page for your location
See Insights to help you track your business’s performance on Google
Filter to view relevant subsets of locations within your account
Google almost never publicly talks about futures which implies that this feature might be closer than we had thought. It certainly is a last, remaining brick for the foundation of Google Local being built on top of Plus. It is critical to have parity across all local pages and this would offer that missing feature to bulk users.
In other news, Google confirmed that with the most recent upgrade to the Bulk accounts, listings will be locked from being dual claimed. This means that 1)listings will be more secure and 2)bulk users will not be able to selectively upgrade specific bulk uploaded listings to Plus (which many have been doing) UNTIL the above feature is released.
Today on the Google webmaster blog Google has announced upgraded Schema support for additional phone types and detailed specific recommendations for using Schema.org on location pages. It is unfortunate but Google did not include a new schema for call tracking. Obviously this granular detail is useful for achieving more accuracy in Knowledge Graph answer boxes. From the post:
Four types of phone numbers are currently supported:
A note about mobile-optimized websites: many users access location pages using their smartphones. In addition to the specific guidelines above, make sure that your site is optimized for smartphone devices, and that the information you share on the location pages is easily consumed on smartphones.
The note to be sure that information is presented in a way easy for the bot to understand bears repeating as many corporate sites create pages that are too complex:
Update: Google has confirmed that the new bulk upload uses the same “one claim rule” as the new Places Dashboard and Plus. This means that once an account has been upgraded that the listings will not be able to be claimed into either Google Plus/Places Dashboard or another bulk account (at least not one that has been upgraded). This is one more step in making bulk listings more secure than in the past..
Google recently added new features to the bulk upload (week before last) and they are announcing another set of new features today. Hat tip to Linda Buquet for spotting and Max Minzer for pointing out.
Google Jade posted the following in the forums:
We are rolling out new features for the bulk location management tool in the coming weeks to make your experience even better. We’re upgrading accounts gradually, and once your account is upgraded, these features will be available. Please be patient if you don’t see these features right away.
Please see the attached screenshot for an example of what your will look like if you’ve got the new features.
The current set of new features include:
Status of your locations on Maps: Now, we’ll show you a column that describes the status of each location on Maps. You’ll be able to tell at a glance which locations are live, unverified, have errors or data conflicts, are duplicates, or are pending review.
Updated data conflicts interface: The updated interface will show you details on how a location page might differ on Maps/Search results versus what’s in your dashboard. We’ll show you what is live on Google, and which field is different from what’s in your dashboard. From there, you’ll be able to take action.
Improved edit timeframe: We’re working on improving the speed with which your data goes live on Google.
The rapid changes to the bulk feature are a good sign that Google is actively rolling out upgrades. The increased feedback about duplicates and data consistency will be very helpful to those managing a large number of listings. In the past, you never knew from the dashboard what the real status of a given listing was and you had to go into Maps and individually check them out. A real pain and it meant that listings that you thought were active were in reality, not.
But the faster edit timeframe is a critical upgrade. The bulk tool most likely now uses the same faster pipelines that are used by Plus, the new Places Dashboard and Mapmaker and it means that results should go live very quickly. One presumes that many of the changes will go live within hours if not minutes although some are likely to take longer. This is a necessary step before the bulk listings can be moved fully over to Plus. Who knows when but at least it is now possible as all of the primary input interfaces are accessing the same architecture.
It also raises the question of whether these listings are now falling under the claim once rule of the new Places dashboard or still are governed by the claim many times possible in the old dashboard. If the former, security of a listing will be improved. I have asked Google to clarify.
Google has in the past penalized it’s own properties five times for breaking its own SEO rules. Matt Cutts has apparently now also sanctioned Google Plus with a manual penalty. Here are the comments from the internal email that was forwarded to me:
“Forks or no forks, we believe that the Plus team has overdone their link building. Starting at 9 am tomorrow we have manually applied a penalty to the subdomain. This problem first came to light when an engineer working the PR Toolbar noticed that the Plus sub domain had achieved a page rank of 11. We decided we either had to act or change the algorithm. Neither choice was appealing but the manual penalty seemed the more appropriate path”.
He went on to say that:
“[there] are a number of violations of our linking policies that we have repeatedly pointed out to the team but its seems that we have been ignored. They include but are not limited to:
Rel Publisher – we have long ago deprecated header links in our algo but the Plus team was insistent on pushing them into the market place at such scale that they were impacting ranking.
Rel Author – We absolutely can not allow the quid pro quo of a photo that increases click throughs in return for a link. It’s not a paid link but it effectively is pay to play even if it has generated significant traffic for Plus.
In-Post Do follow Links – while we recently no followed links from profiles, all of the links inside of Plus posts are still do-follow links. Given our current policy on guest blogging, we need to hold the same standard for Google Plus.”