May 21, 2012
Bruce from Aim Marketing in Denver pointed out an article and an investigative news report that highlights a positive review only service posting positive reviews on behalf of their client’s customers . Essentially the Denver based service surveyed the clients post sale for a number of Denver businesses and posted 4 star and higher reviews to Google. The story covers the legality of the process very superficially and doesn’t note at all that the practice violates Google’s TOC. They did note that the businesses subscribing to the service were not aware that negative reviews were not being posted (I am not sure I believe that).
The story does not cover any new territory but it is interesting in that the problem of positive only review services and fake reviews from online marketplaces has risen to the level of visibility that it is being covered by the investigative news world of local television.
May 1, 2012
March 6, 2012
December 6, 2011
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.
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.
December 5, 2011
29Prime is easy to spot as a deceptive local seo company that preys on unsuspecting small business folks eager to “be on the first page of Google”. Like many low-life firms of their ilk, they have a number of “aliases” (aka 29Live, 29Maps, 29SEM, 29Search, Locallistings.com etc, etc.) they use to make tracking them a little more difficult.
Their robo calls ring into my office no less than 4 times a week with pitches like “Select one now to claim your free listing on Google”, “We are Google’s 6th largest provider of data”, “We guarantee first page placement, “We are Google Authorized to claim your listing”.
As coffee break sport, I often select 1 on the dial pad just to hear the pitch and see how befuddled I can make the salesman by asking for verification of the claims… and of course to learn that free is relative. In this case it means $399 a month.
If there is any doubt in your mind about how despicable 29Prime is you can check out some of these online resources that should quickly convince you.
* their D+ rating at Better Business Bureau and the many disputes.
* More than one independent 29Prime is a scam website or
* this article about the roving reporter in Gilbert AZ claiming to have helped a small preschool get their erroneously charged $1500 back from 29Prime.
But this article isn’t about wondering how a business like this can continue to operate in our lax regulatory/enforcement environment. It isn’t about the myth of efficiency in the markets or how SMBs could continue to be duped by them. It isn’t about how is it conceivable that a company like Google has yet to have their lawyers muzzle 29Prime’s claims to be Google or act on their behalf. Or about how a company like this could be mentioned in the SF Chronicle as a top ranked Local SEO firm.
These are all interesting stories in their own right but not the focus of this article.
This story is about comparing how Yelp and Google handle 29Prime’s star rankings and present the results to the public. This story is asking how, after 4 years in the review business, Google gets it very wrong and Yelp seems to get 29Prime’s review standing right.
August 11, 2011
In my presentation at Getlisted’s Local University seminars for SMBs, I note that there are three simple elements to a review management plan:
- Provide Great customer service
- Ask for reviews
- Avoid Negative reviews
It used to be said that an unhappy customer would tell 10 people. Today an unhappy customer can influence hundreds if not thousands of people by leaving a bad review. It is common wisdom that, in the age of the internet, providing excellent customer service is the secret to review success.
While that is certainly true it is also a bit of cliche. What business doesn’t strive to provide excellent customer service? Sooner or later something will happen, despite your every intention. Things will go wrong and you will have an unhappy customer. As Matt McGee says, we don’t live in a five star world. Your client’s business is no exception.
There are two kinds of businesses in todays world. Those that have received a negative review and those that will. Bad reviews sting. Much has been written about ways to garner reviews from your clients. Less has been written about dodging the stinkers. It is equally important in generating a review profile that reflects the mostly positive range of your customer’s experiences to AVOID BAD REVIEWS.
Sooner or later you will have an unhappy customer and you want plans in place to deal with that eventuality. If you assume that your systems will fail, you can be ready to deal with the customer, who is all too ready to trash you, in a way that doesn’t drive them to the desperate act of expressing their frustration in the public commons.
Here are some tips on how to avoid bad reviews:
1- Follow up with customers immediately after the sale with a call and/or an email to be sure that all went as planned. Identify problems early on in the cycle so that you can correct them before they become complaints.
2- Make complaining easy. Build a culture that is truly ready to receive the complaint at every level of your business from the cashier to the president. Train your staff and train them well to not be defensive and to solve most problems immediately.
3- Make a complaint form very obvious on your site, perhaps on every page. This not only allows unhappy customers to complain, it makes it clear to potential customers that you are ready to listen. If you title the page “Your company name | Complaints” it will have the added benefit of appearing high on the main search results. This not only telegraphs to your customer your willingness to deal with complaints, it pushes other perhaps less flattering chatter down the page.
4- When you do receive a complaint, follow up quickly and try to resolve it. Nothing rankles a customer stewing about your bad service like waiting for a return phone call.
5-Respond to negative reviews online. Once the issue is resolved circle back with the customer about the review. A recent survey has shown that an appropriate response to a negative review can get the negative review removed in a third of the cases. A roughly equal number of consumers posted a positive review after receiving a response to their bad review. Having a plan and responding appropriately to a negative review is critical to this process.
6-Never fake reviews or enter them on behalf of your clients. It is imperative that you not provide reviewers with any trace that you are abusing your review corpus. Getting slammed by a customer review that questions your ethics calls into question your trustworthiness and integrity. It is the most difficult type of negative review to deal with even if it is not true. Responding online to the question do you beat your wife with a stick or a club creates a no-win situation.
7- Communicate with your local competitors. Competitor spam reviews are becoming more common than ever. If you are on speaking terms with them you are much less likely to fall victim to a puerile spam review attack.The reality is that other similar local businesses are not the long term determinant of your success nor really your major competition. In Barbara Oliver’s recent case, she immediately contacted the two other jewelers affected by competitor spam and established communication and rapport to make it less likely in the future.
Please help me add to the list. Do you have any suggestions as to how to avoid that devastating negative review?
August 8, 2011
I seem to be mired in competitor spam reviews these days. The second bad review in as many weeks showed up this weekend on Barbara Oliver & Co. Jewelry’s Place Page. At first glance it appeared legit. The complaint, that it is pretentious to require appointments, is untrue and probably comes from a misreading of Barbara’s recently placed announcement on her website. She noted that during renovations and expansion construction from the 12th to 24th of this month she would be closed except by appointment.
The second review made an owner- response to both negative reviews imperative. I had not previously responded to the original bad review thinking that the reviewer might go silent. That did not happen. I think Puresheer and EarlPearl are right in that sense… the spammer is unlikely to go away and defend our honor we must.
The answer I chose to use was Kevin Baca’s (of Customer Lobby) excellent edit of my original response. I modified it slightly (per CathyR’s suggestion) and removed the words “fake review” to avoid a Google snippet disaster.
This is Barbara Oliver, owner of the company. You are right in that there are business owners out there faking reviews. I’m from the old school of small business ethics that insists on earning a good reputation over time with excellent customer service. I give my word that the reviews here on my Place Page are 100% legitimate and left by my real customers. I personally remember each of the wonderful transactions they are mentioning. As you can imagine, we really appreciate the time they took to do this. I invite you to come to our shop to see for yourself our beautiful jewelry, fair pricing and the fabulous shopping experience we provide for each of our valued customers. Barbara
The “perp” though, while trying to be sneakier and leaving a seemingly real second review, seems to have tipped their hand. I was actually “buying” their review of Barbara and Andrews Jewelers until I got to the marketing happy talk left on behalf of the third jeweler.
Responding to the appointment critique was much easier and offered the opportunity to both differentiate Barbara’s services and extol her expansion. The problem is though that it appears that the writer is developing a taste for this sort of thing, however small time.
Should we contact the other jewelers in question and initiate a dialogue? Should we just keep responding and ignore the likely source knowing that they are adding to our review count? Should we consider some third course of action? Perhaps a firm, carefully worded letter from our attorney?
August 3, 2011
On July 22, my client Barbara Oliver & Co. Jewelry’s Google Place page was hit with what appears to be a competitor spam review. The review is rather bizarre with racial innuendo and unfounded accusations. It would appear that the reviewer had not ever visited the store.
The timing of the spam review is interesting. There have previously been review complaints against other businesses in her market for having posted their own fake reviews. With Google no longer counting 3rd party reviews as of July 21st, there was a radical shift in the number of counted reviews showing for businesses that were returned in key searches in the market. Barbara fared well with the new review count totals while others in the market did not. Whether these facts are related to the spam review is unclear but I thought they added context and certainly raised suspicions.
The review is in technical violation of Google’s review guidelines although it is not at all obvious that it will be taken down by Google or if they will take it down, when. And like all reviews of this type, it points to a process failure in how Google handles review take down requests by SMBs.
Because of Barbara’s many positive reviews it had no impact on her star rating. Fortunately the best of all possible events occurred when a client responded to the bogus review directly and came to Barbara’s defense and another review was posted pushing the spam review down the page. It certainly points to the benefits of having happy clients speaking on your behalf in the on-line conversation.
I have been of two minds in regards to an owner response and have more questions than answers at this point. Would the review be somehow legitimized by any response? Would it bring unwarranted attention to it? Can a response be written, focused on future customers, that would stand the business and Barbara in good stead? Or is steady at the helm, garner new customer reviews the overall best, singular tactic? Barbara of course was calling for blood but was willing to take my advice and she recognized the power of having her customers speak on her behalf once that occurred.
The question at hand that I would like help answering: Should Barbara provide an owner response? If so why and what should the response look like? And if not why not?
P.S. a few simple Google Places Reputation management tips:
July 22, 2011
Will the change in status of 3rd party reviews affect rank? This question was asked in 3 or 4 or perhaps 5 different ways over the past 24 hrs. There is a palpable sense of worry in the questions. The short answer: Who knows but I think not. Better yet, don’t worry about it.
Here is an observation from Linda Buquet:
From what I can tell this was ONLY a front end cosmetic change NOT a backend change that affects the algo or ranking.
In some quick ranking checks I did last night, it appears the lack of 3rd party reviews showing up in the count DID NOT affect rankings. Not in the rankings I’ve checked anyway. Regardless of how many 3rd reviews were removed from the COUNT everyone’s ranking stayed the same.
Same thing holds true for the lack of visible citations.
For example: Dentists that have 200 DemandForce reviews often have 300 DemandForce citations. Even though those reviews and citations no longer show in Google, the rankings have stayed the same. (Based on just a few spot checks, not saying I’ve done a thorough analysis yet.)
Here is what the recently released Google Local Patent says that was published in September ’10 just before blended results hit the streets:
 The number of documents with reviews of a business associated with a document may be used as a factor in determining the location prominence score for the document. Reviews for businesses can appear in a number of documents, such as newspapers, magazines, web pages, and blogs. In one implementation, the number of documents with reviews of a business may be used as a factor in determining the location prominence score of a document associated with the business.
Here is what I say:
Google is looking to represent the most popular and relevant businesses to their searchers. It would seem counter intuitive for them to ignore signals from websites that have more and better information about a business than they do. Just because they are not showing the data does not mean they are not using it. And just because they are showing the data does not mean that they are using it more.
While I do think this change is a perfect way for Google to get more information about businesses and to “up their review generation” game, I can not see how favoring their reviews over all of the other historical information on the internet would improve search results. Above all Google wants to return the best results. That is where their bread is buttered.
The patent that came out last fall clearly speaks of review diversity as a factor so I don’t think that is going away. Maybe in the future but not yet.
Stop chasing the algo. Treat your customers right, encourage them to say nice things about you on the internet at a place that THEY are comfortable with and all will work out.
Google has been in a pitched tussle with Yelp for quite some time. Google introduced reviews to local in 2007 and the fun began. Yelp reviews in Google, Yelp reviews out of Google, Yelp’s anger at Google’s use of their content, Google contrition, a large offer by Google and a failed buyout, Yelp reviews out of Google and in once again, more Yelp complaints… Google couldn’t seem to win but in typical Google fashion they kept plugging away. They weren’t giving up in the review arena.
Finally with the release of Hotpot last year and Google’s subsequent success in garnering ratings and reviews things started to change on the review front. Research was indicating that Google was making strides and soon Google stepped out and into the “we have lots of reviews game”. Yelp of course rose to the bait and insisted on engaging in the my review corpus is bigger than yours type posturing.
The changes yesterday in 3rd party review handling will change this review competition once again and tilt the playing field a little further towards Google in their battle with Yelp. While I don’t think the change should affect SMBs’ review management plans, it will do just that. Companies that saw their display count drop from 250 to 5 on the front page of Google will shift their efforts to regain an advantage. They will shift their review solicitation plans to refocus their client’s attention on Google.
Google has just gained an unwitting ally in their multi year battle with Yelp on the review front.