Category Archives: Reviews

FTC to Amerifreight – Failure to Disclose Review Incentives Against the Law

Update: it would appear that Amerifreight’s Google listing has been taken down. 

The FTC has, for the first time, successfully sued a company for incenting on line reviews and not declaring this material connection.

According to Google reviewer mb2970s:




7 months ago
I was moving from Nashville to Albuquerque. This is the third time that I have ever transported a vehicle (previously with two other companies).

1. Vehicle arrived safely without any damage or items stolen (although that is more of a comment re: the carrier).
2. Vehicle was picked up within the 1-15 day window agreed to.
3. Vehicle was delivered in a timely fashion.

1. Prior to choosing this company, I called twice, left a voicemail message, and emailed the customer service rep without a response. I was once told that the customer service rep was at lunch and would call me back in an hour. I called back over two hours later, and the rep did not know that I had called. Based on the reviews, I went ahead and used them anyway.
2. The quoted price was based on giving a “fair review” on two websites. If you don’t leave a review, they’ll add $50 to your quote, which would be $50 more than any other company quoted me (including several that had a carrier immediately available when I spoke to them … however, I kept with Amerifreight based on their online reviews).
3. The customer service rep gave me very little information up front, and after we got off the phone sent me an email with multiple items that I had to fill out before they would start looking for a carrier. I was not told about the need to fill out these forms before they would start looking, so I’m glad I read through the forms immediately.
4. One of the forms states that your chances of getting a carrier quickly is greatly increased if you say that they can charge you up to $200 more to book a carrier without calling you first. They state that they will try to keep from doing this.
5. When I was called with a carrier available, it was for $250 more than quoted (after the $50 discount for writing a review).
6. I’m having to write this review in order to get a discount that brings my costs to the same as other carriers offered. The other carriers were quoting me based on immediately available carriers (not estimates/quotes).
7. When I asked about the student discount, I was told not to bother because it basically just drops the amount that they’ll list your vehicle for (hence less likely to ship … and will likely have to raise the price anyway). I think this is deceptive advertising.
8. When I received an email reminding me about this review, there was a long paragraph about how I should leave a 5-star review if at all possible because it would effect how the customer service rep was compensated.

While this company transported my car safely and in the window requested, I’ve had better experiences with other companies that cost less (even during high auto transport seasons). I will not use Amerifreight again.

Today The FTC announced an agreement with Amerifreight that they will cease the practice:

AmeriFreight, an automobile shipment broker based in Peachtree City, Georgia, has agreed to a settlement with the Federal Trade Commissionthat will halt the company’s allegedly deceptive practice of touting online customer reviews, while failing to disclose that the reviewers were compensated with discounts and incentives.

The FTC’s complaint marks the first time the agency has charged a company with misrepresenting online reviews by failing to disclose that it gave cash discounts to customers to post the reviews.

“Companies must make it clear when they have paid their customers to write online reviews,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “If they fail to do that – as AmeriFreight did – then they’re deceiving consumers, plain and simple.”

AmeriFreight is an automobile shipment broker that arranges the shipment of consumers’ cars through third-party freight carriers. Its website touted that the company had “more highly ranked ratings and reviews than any other company in the automotive transportation business.” As part of its advertising, it encouraged consumers to “Google us ‘bbb top rated car shipping.’ You don’t have to believe us, our consumers say it all.”

Amerifreight currently
 has 540 reviews at Google and 21 at Yelp. 

The settlement is significant in being the first time that the FTC has inserted itself into the local review space. While there was no monetary settlement, Amerifreight did agree to cease and desist and agree to 20 years of oversight to prevent future abuses.

This action was a long time coming but makes it clear that incentives are inappropriate country wide.

It is though amazing to me what so many folks are willing to do for $50. Hardly reinforces my faith in humanity.


Facebook Reviews Should Be a Part of Every SMB Review Plan

If you had any doubts as to whether Facebook has a place in your review strategy, news this past week from Bill Bean that Facebook reviews were now showing in the Google “Reviews from Around the Web” should put them to rest.

I was curious how widespread this was and whether it was just a one off or if Google had started including links to Facebook reviews on a widespread basis. A number of folks noted to me that they had seen links on their reviews from around the web .
This search at Google ( “verified local business” AND “” AND “Reviews From Around the Web”) indicates that Google has indexed a large number of Facebook review pages and is including them on the business’ G+ Page for Local.

Facebook has snuck up on us in the local review space over the past 12 months to become a significant player. Facebook rolled out reviews across all of their business pages last November but earlier this year limited reviews to just pages that were for local businesses.

My research clearly indicates that Facebook has become a strong contender as a favorite amongst users as a place to leave local reviews.Screen Shot 2014-09-28 at 8.37.24 AM Continue reading Facebook Reviews Should Be a Part of Every SMB Review Plan

Google Dropping Review Shadow Box in Serp and Going Directly to Plus?

Yesterday while doing training I noticed that Google was dropping the review shadow box from the main search results and taking users directly to the business Plus page.  Today others are noticing this as well. Nicolai Helling pointed the new behavior out on G+.

As Nicolai mentioned and I agree this change “seems to be preparatory to release a new way to insert the Google+ Local results into the main Google-SERPs” that I wrote about early in the week with the total absence of review links in the new mini pack results. 

Currently the review shadow box STILL shows for brand searches on both the link under the One Pack and in the Knowledge panel.  But on Pack results users are directed to the Plus About page. On the current Carousel a click takes the searcher to a brand search.

While it is possible that the 7-pack will survive the carousel transition to newly seen Mini Pack, all of this behavior would be consistent with changing all local results to the new mini pack as well.

Brand Search still directs to the Review Shadow Box
Brand Search & resultant knowledge panel still directs to the Review Shadow Box
click to view larger
click to view larger


Yelp Coming Under Fire For Review Take Downs From Its Reviewers

Yelp is caught in the middle of the shit storm surrounding the hotel that recently was outed for fining wedding parties if they left bad reviews. Thousands of reviews have been posted there and thousands removed.

Now though, many reviewers are targeting Yelp for their squelching of dissent and their ability to properly vet reviews. Yelp gave reviewers the power to publicly provide feedback and now they really want to publicly provide negative feedback about Yelp. Interesting turn of the screw.

l.jpgI spent a considerable amount of time researching their claim that it was a joke and posted my findings only to have yelp remove it along with 900+ other reviews. In my post, I provided a timeline from that clearly laid out when they posted the policy (december 2012) on their site, each (multiple times in 2013) revision to the page that contained the policy as well as the final revision (two edits  yesterday) where they removed the verbiage.

It clearly was not a joke and was absolutely intentional. Damn shame I didn’t copy the post as it would have been a helluva lot easier to post again. For shits and giggles, I’ll attach the email I received from yelp.

Censorship at its best… Douche’s

Dear Yelp,

For removing my review and sending a message I could not reply to I’ve decided to break up with you. I was $500 in hand ready to put our deposit down for our wedding at USH! Why?!?!?

I am so over your over-controlling, abusive ways. You never listen to me even when I try to add a post or sometimes help you update restaurant. You are so insensitive to the feelings of others.

Also I want you to know I met someone on this website. Urban spoon and I are going to try it out for a while to see how things go. Who knows if  lucky I’ll get a little on google places too?

Bye, it was fun while it lasted!

Your policies are outrageous. You should definitely think long and hard if this is how you want to treat your customers as very soon you will have none. 

For Yelp to remove the negative reviews shows that the whole idea of reviews is controlled. Good or Bad reviews are subject to removal? 

Then why write a review at all?

The removal of so many negative “reviews” – opinions from teh internetz more correctly – calls into question’s ability to actually field reviews good or bad in any fashion at all.  Surely the system would reject “reviews” unless the stay date was indicated – oh, I guess not.  Gee, I guess anyone could pad the profile of any business any way they like….hmmm…..

No wonder puts so much effort into arguing for their credibility.

Yelp removed my review yesterday, as far as i know, i can post my review free of limitations and express my opinion.

I disagree this place for charging $500 dollars if you post a bad review. And I will disagree if Yelp remove my post again.


Yelp Reviewers – They May be Weird But Andrew Shotland Appreciates their Humor

By now most everyone has heard about the Union Street Guest House, recently outed for threatening a $500 fine if anyone in your wedding party left a bad review.

The pile on has started. As of yesterday there were 161 reviews on their page there and most (146) were in response to the news article that was published yesterday. As the news hit social media the reviews came hot and heavy and there are now 872 reviews. The wait is on to see how long and how many of these reviews survive the various filters and manual removals that are likely to come.

Obviously trying to muzzle customers post sale is not a great strategy and unlike the battle at Big Earl’s is unlikely to find any support on the other side of the argument (just to show what a weird society we live in.. it should be the other way around).

That being said before the reviews were removed from Yelp I wanted to bring some of the more colorful ones to your attention:

Adolf H.
Hudson, NY
0 friends
1 review

5.0 star rating 8/5/2014
Mein stay here vas actually very nice. I kame here vis a open mind it vas actually really quite nice. Ze owners ver lovely. I love to meet people who sink ze same as I do. Zey agreed with me on all my ideas! Overall it vas a nice stay and I loved ze decorations; ze red and black vurked so well, I sink I might use it for a project I have planned!

I just vish I’d not brought mein Gestapo buddies. Zey were up all night partying and marching vis ze owners all night! It vas a crazy time, ja!

Noj S.
La Mesa, CA
0 friends
1 review

1.0 star rating 8/5/2014
I reserved my suite online. When I arrived around 9pm, I was informed that the two room suite I had prepaid for was no longer available because they had assumed I wasn’t coming, and they were going to place me in a “deluxe” room with one queen bed. With my family of 7, I asked about either a second room or a refund so I could stay elsewhere. They refused stating that because I had paid Expedia, that any refund would have to be between me and them. Also, they didn’t have any other rooms available.

Not having much choice, I decided to just stay the night and try to talk some sense into the day manager. On the check-in form, I had to initial that they would charge an additional $500 if I gave them a negative review. I shrugged since I don’t usually review places anyways.

The staff was nice enough to provide extra blankets and pillows so that the kids could “camp” out on the floor. Hell, it’s a fun experience, right?
My daughter (3) woke up around 1am complaining of itching. We told her to go back to bed. Little did we know that she was getting bit by insects which we now know to be bedbugs. BEDBUGS? Seriously? Is this 1800s London?

I took plenty of photos and moved my family out the next morning. Thankfully with my receipt and photos, Citi allowed me to charge back my stay to Expedia, which charged it back to Unioin Street Guest House.
And, since my experience really happened, BRING IT ON! FIRST AMENDMENT BITCHES!

Joe D.
Bayside, NY
0 friends
25 reviews

2.0 star rating 8/5/2014
I got married here in 2013 but I didn’t read the fine print carefully. Apparently the Hotel Manager had the right of “Prima Nocta” and was legally allowed to sleep with the bride on the first night. Needless to say this lead to serious issues with the marriage. I’m fairly sure he impregnated my wife- the DNA test says the baby isn’t mine.

On the other hand they did leave a chocolate on the pillow, so it wasn’t all bad- they deserve an extra star for that.

Mal V.
Malvern, PA
2 friends
18 reviews

5.0 star rating 8/5/2014
PLEASE NOTE! You must rate Union Street Guest House SIX stars in order to avoid the $500 fine. How is that possible Yelp’s rating only goes up to 5 stars, you ask?

Tough titty said the kitty. Now pay up.

And a few more for good luck:

Continue reading Yelp Reviewers – They May be Weird But Andrew Shotland Appreciates their Humor

A Plug-in for Adding Google Reviews to Your WordPress Blog

Update: I just heard from David Deering about the plug-in’s use of Schema. Firstly the schema is not done correctly. More importantly however (which I suspected but didn’t investigate as I thought the schema was reserved for the paid version… mea culpa) marking up reviews and ratings that were created on another site actually goes against Google’s guidelines for rich snippets (ed note: I am looking for that guideline).  It would be a much better plugin if it didn’t create schema markups, although the data sent through the API could still be considered duplicate/scraped content, since it does end up in the page’s HTML code.  But I don’t think/hope that Google is too strict about that, although they’ve never really come out with something definite on that subject.

Here is the relevant guideline from Google: Be of original content that you and your users have generated and is fully contained on your page.

Many have asked for a way to post their Google reviews on their site. This plug-in seems to solve many of the problems associated with doing that and seems to provide a useful solution.

Google Places Reviews, installed at the right, allows a WordPress site to relatively easily embed up to the 3 most recent Google reviews in a sidebar as a widget or if you purchase the pro version, up to 5 reviews on any page using short codes. With the pro version you can filter by star rating as well.

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 6.12.27 PMFrom their WordPress page:

Plugin Features

  • Google Business Reviews – Display up to 3 business reviews per location.
  • Detailed Business Information – Show the business name, website, Google+ page and more.
  • Versatile Widget Themes – Choose from a selection of stunning widget themes that fit light and dark color schemes that make integration with your website design effortless.
  • Google Places Autocomplete – Easily lookup businesses in your area through the widget interface using the power of Google search.
  • Actively Supported and Developed – We are a team of expert developers based in San Diego, California and we stand by our work. Got a problem? Hit us up.

Google Places Reviews Pro Version Features

Google Places Reviews Pro is a significant upgrade to Google Places Reviews that adds many features to the core plugin:

  • More Reviews – Display up to 5 reviews using the Google Places API
  • Powerful Shortcode – Display reviews in your post and page content
  • Tags for SEO – Help search engines find the information quickly and display reviews of a company’s product and services on search engine results pages
  • Review concatenation – Some reviews returned by Google may be very long which could result in a very long widget. The Pro version includes a customizable feature for collapsing and expanding long reviews with “Read more” and “Close” links.
  • Fast loading – Optimized widget caching included within the plugin ensure you save on load time and API calls

Setup requires that you obtain a Google API Free for up to 1000 uses per day) and configure the widget.  Set up was relatively straight forward and took about 10 minutes once I understood exactly what needed to be done.

My assessment? Since it uses the Google api I assume (but am not positive) that it avoids duplicate content issues. It is free for showing three reviews and only $20 if you want the pro version to allow more reviews and filtering options.

Set up was relatively painless and the free version seems to work well. I find the idea that the pro version would support schema for this use somewhat strange and I doubt that Google would see the content as part of the page but it might. Someone needs to test and let me know.

Update: David pointed out to me that the basic version in fact does use schema both improperly and in violation of Google guidelines. Until that is fixed this is not a plug in that I would recommend.

All in all what appears to be a slick solution to a question that is often raised.

Here is the screen shot for the widget configuration: Continue reading A Plug-in for Adding Google Reviews to Your WordPress Blog