Earlier this week when I reported that Review Contests Violate Google’s Guidelines, Dave Squires, Contractor’s Online Access asked this question
HI Mike, In Seattle last year I was in local U when I asked Joel Headley during his presentation about indirect incentives. We have a system that provides an incentive to customers by offering to make a monetary donation to 1 of 5 local charities the company owner selected, if the customer would donate some of their time to leave a review–good or bad.
We did this so that the customer had no direct gain from it and it fit within the Google “do no evil” mission statement. We wrote the program that managed and tracked this for our customers because we liked the idea that it could potentially generate thousands of dollars to worthwhile charities around the country. At local U Joel specifically said that Google would never have a problem with a program that donates to charity to ‘incentivize’ a customer to take the time to leave a review. I am curious if this is still true.
Personally, I would love to see Google endorse this concept since we learned it does very well as an incentive for customers to take the time to leave a review without any direct reward to them… and it would generate a lot of money to many great local charities if others ran with our idea as well.
Google’s response: “Any incentive offered in return for a review of a specific business is against our policy.”
I guess that you can conclude that any incentive of any sort for a review on Google is not allowed.
There had long been some ambiguity & contradictions around whether the Google Review guidelines prevented a business from having a contest or raffle to encourage customers to leave reviews. No more. Google has finally stated that drawings that involve incentives are not allowed.
In response to a report in the forums of a contest that had a drawing for the chance of a refund for the value of work done in return for a review (either positive or negative), Googler Jade said: Just clarifying that it is against our reviews guidelines to trade money for reviews, so, yes, this sort of solicitation would be against the reviews guidelines. You can see the rules for the contest in question here & here.
Given that Google themselves have had these sorts of contests in the past it was often thought that as long as a given review was not incented AND there was no pressure for a positive review that a business could have a monthly drawing. Even after Google rewrote the guidelines in February of 2011 to include the phrasing: For instance, do not offer or accept money or product to write positive reviews about a business, or to write negative reviews about a competitor, it was unclear whether a drawing that did not have a quid pro quo for a positive review might pass muster. Matt McGee felt that there was additional clarification needed. And Nyagoslav, after reviewing newly minted Places guidelines on promotions in May of 2012, noted that while there was ambiguity, it was probably ok to have a drawing as long as you didn’t ask for positive reviews. I agreed with his interpretation.
Somewhere along the line the word positive was removed and they now say: Don’t offer money or product to others to write reviews for your business or write negative reviews about a competitor. A subtle change yes but it appears that Google finally has made clear that these sorts of contests and drawings are verboten. Whether the new written guideline is still clear enough is another matter. I would suggest that while the rules are getting clearer, like in February 2011 and May 2012, there is still room for clarification vis a vis these sorts of activities so that there is no mistake. This is particularly true given the long back story.
Here is a history or the guideline as it changed over time (relevant sentence in bold italics). Continue reading Google: Review Contests Violate Guidelines
Google has just updated the review content guidelines to explicitly prohibit review stations AND employee reviews.
The changes to the policy are noted in italics:
For instance, as a business owner or employee you should not review your own business or current place of work. Don’t offer money or product to others to write reviews for your business or write negative reviews about a competitor. We also discourage specialized review stations or kiosks set up at your place of business for the sole purpose of soliciting reviews.
Actively engaging your customers in the review process and management of that process has its own sets of concerns. This is particularly true if you are too focused on certain areas of the process rather than others.
Take this simple quiz to see what your Review Management Stress levels are and to measure where you are on the Review Management Stress Scale (RMSS):
Did your reviews get reduced by more than 20% of the total by the new Google review filters?
Are you asking questions like: Why is this happening to me? Doesn’t Google care?
Did (or does) your listing have 100% or more reviews than your nearest competitor on Google?
Does your “More Reviews” section on Google show less than four review sites?
Do your clients often complain that their reviews are not showing at Google?
Have you thought: I should focus my review efforts on Yelp instead?
Are you handing users an iPad or directing them to an onsite workstation?
Are you sending out more than 20 emails a week requesting reviews at Google?
Are your following up only with happy customers and not every customer to ask them to leave reviews?
Scoring. Add 1 point for each yes answer.
What your score means… Continue reading 9 Questions To Assess Your Review Management Stress Levels
Some things should just be left unsaid. This Gainsville auto detailing business obviously had troubles keeping their Groupon customers happy. It is unclear exactly who was to blame the business or the customers.
It doesn’t really matter as the customers left a number of bad reviews. This business couldn’t leave well enough alone and decided to respond to the bad reviews anyway.
Of course it was the customers fault. What would you have done in this situation?
Here is an example of many:
The moral(s) here are clear. Continue reading The Customer (Or Was it Groupon?) Made Me Do It – Owner Review Responses at Google+ Local
Update: Google not only changed the output of the review content but they changed the interface at the time of review creation to have users select from the descriptive phrases as well. See photo below.
Last week at Getlisted Local U Advanced in NYC, Googler Joel Headley noted that “descriptive terms (poor, good, very good excellent) are going to be integrated into Zagat review interface more going forward”.
Reader Kerry Fager just pointed out to me that they are now doing just that on the overall annotation on each review on the G+ Local page.
Will the descriptive terms make it to the front page? Certainly the descriptors are more meaningful and if we take Joel’s comment at face value, then we might see this elsewhere.
Why the change? One assumes that “it improves the search experience”. It makes the otherwise obtuse Zagat numbering system into something understandable by mere mortals. :)?
Note: As noted in the comments, there appears to be a concurrent problem with displaying owner comments on the reviews. Most, perhaps all owner comments, are missing in action. Search teams are being dispatched.
Update (10/12/2012 9:00AM): Reports of missing owner responses came in via Twitter within minutes of the release of the product on 10/10. These reports were funneled to Google who fixed this bug by mid afternoon yesterday (10/11/12).
When more granular detail is available (ie Quality, appeal & service or Food, service, decor) Google is now breaking those out individually as well:
Continue reading Google+ Local Reviews Now Showing Descriptive and Not Numerical Scores
When Google rolled out G+ Local with Zagat reviews they changed the ordering of review content from time based to most helpful. As part of that ordering they added a new category of reviewer known as a Top Reviewers. These were folks that had reviewed a large number of locations. Google also added the ability for a business (and I presume its many managers) to leave reviews of other businesses.
Like all things Google the Most Helpful ordering of reviews is algo based and includes elements like the quality of the reviewer (in terms of followers on G+ and number of reviews), the language of the review, the recency of the review and who knows what else. One of the attributes of reviewer quality is the Top Reviewer assignation. According to this post to become a Top Reviewer one needs lots of reviews, a significant number of followers and a reviews that have been found helpful by others. It is not clear whether being reviewed by a Top Reviewer increases rank but there is every reason to assume that a review from a Top Reviewer is carefully watched by Google for other signals and content.
What never occurred to me until this morning was that one way to become a Top Reviewer was to do so as a Google+ Page for your business rather than an individual. A business page can have as many as 50 managers so reviews would aggregate more quickly and ease the burden of any individual reviewer. Obviously this business recognized the opportunity and has leveraged it.
This afternoon Rocky Agrawal tweeted out about this plaque he had noticed hanging in a restaurant. He (and I ) were completely fooled by the plaque and were convinced that it was really from Google. I even thought that perhaps it was an experiment on Google’s part to migrate away from Zagat signage.
It didn’t take Rocky but a few minutes to figure out that the SMB had paid $300 for this plaque. And you (or your customers) can buy one too from InTheSpotLight.com.
I am not sure who I think less of in this situation, the restaurant that was trying to appear more than they really are by leveraging Google’s name and their review product or the company that soaked them $300 for the “privilege”. A restaurant or hotel can order a sign that touts their good standing with just about any review company including Yelp, TripAdvisor, Zagat, Frommers and many more.
When businesses that are looking for a quick fix deal with companies that are willing to accommodate them, the customer inevitably loses. And in this case so does Google, Yelp, all the other companies whose name can be put on the plaque and every one else in the local space.
Since Google started clamping down on review solicitation, particularly in the dental and auto dealer worlds, many businesses have expressed fear, dismay and discouragement about reviews in general and Google’s review policies in particular.
Comments like “At this point I am ready to give up and ask my customers to avoid Google and go to Yelp. it is not worth all of the brain damage. does anyone at Google care enough to help? or should I just move on?” or “I’m completely moving away from encouraging customers to leave reviews on Google.” were all too common in my post on Google’s newest “guidance” in the arena.
My suggestion? Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Google may be frustrating and they may be opaque but they are still generating 60-90% of your leads. Endorsements on the front page of a search result are still very valuable. The issue is finding a way to continue to get reviews around the internet, including Google. You may need to test a few tactics until you find one that works but it is worth the effort.
But you say: How can I possibly ask a customer to leave a review there if Google is going to throw it away and waste their time. I say: Tell you customers what to expect, give them choices and let them decide.
The reality is that you don’t need 10 reviews a week at Google. In fact you don’t need 10 reviews a month or a quarter there to succeed. Most businesses need to accrue one review every month or two so that at the end of 3 years you will have 30. You need to ultimately get more than 10 so you get Zagat rated and you need to stop fretting about how many you have there and how many you have lost. You need to keep putting one foot in front of another, keep gaining endorsements across the internet. In the end if you run a good business and have loyal customers you will get your share of reviews at Google and elsewhere.
If you have had massive review take downs at Google you need to review your processes and procedures and acknowledge that what you were doing was not working and will not work. If you are a car dealer you need to stop spiffing your salesmen to hustle a customer over to an on-sight review work station. If you are a high volume dentist you may need to simply hand out a piece of paper explaining the review process rather than actively soliciting reviews of 20 clients a day via email. And if you were buying reviews or using a review service to enter comment cards well DUH!, time to stop. If you were helping folks sign up for a Google account, that probably needs to end as well.
So what is left for a business to do that wants to gather reviews? The same as has always been the case. Put in place a review process that gives customers lots of choice, generates reviews at a wide range of sites in addition to Google and is easy for your staff to implement. Keep it ethical, keep it simple and you will find that you get the enough reviews at Google and lots of reviews elsewhere.
Here is a sample email/letter that I have crafted for a client. It was written for a legal client but the logic of it can be used for any business. Continue reading Asking for Reviews (Post Google Apocalypse)
I am sure that Google will take this review down quickly but is there not more than a little irony that this one made it through the filter when so many other reviews land on the cutting room floor?
(click to view larger?