Google Joins the Fight Against Review Solicitation
In Q4 of 2017, 25% of Google’s business reviews had no actual review content and only gave a star rating. Contrast that with Yelp, in which 99% of reviews had valuable content longer than 50 characters. While Google tops the leaderboard in terms of the sheer number of reviews collected, the quality of those reviews has been a cause for concern as of late.
Reviews with only a star rating miss the point for what a customer’s review is actually meant to accomplish: provide honest feedback about their experience for both the business and future customers. Attempting to prevent this type of influx in high volume, low-quality reviews was one of the core reasons behind Yelp’s firm stance against review solicitation – a stance Chatmeter fully supports.
Google’s Stance Against Review Solicitation
On December 14, 2017, Google made a change to its review guidelines (along with a number of other changes) that prohibits businesses from soliciting Google reviews from customers in bulk. We can speculate that Google’s new policy is a result of them learning the negative impact that review solicitation has on local businesses and the local search industry as a whole.
Google directly states “Reviews are only valuable when they are honest and unbiased. (For example, business owners shouldn’t offer incentives to customers in exchange for reviews.)” Bulk review solicitation is prohibited. Now, what Google considers ‘bulk’ is still a little vague, but our guess is that this is done intentionally to allow them room for interpretation. In general, you should consider bulk review solicitation to be sending review requests via email or SMS, either automatically after a sale or to mass import contact lists, asking them to leave a review on a third-party website.
[tweet_box design=”default” float=”none”]Reviews are only valuable when they are honest and unbiased. (For example, business owners shouldn’t offer incentives to customers in exchange for reviews.)[/tweet_box]
Many of the bulk review solicitation tools will ask customers to review their business. Then, only if the review is positive, will the customer be asked to post it on third-party sites like Google, Yelp, and Facebook. This unevenly tips the scale towards more positive reviews.
Why quality over quantity?
Reviews are a valuable asset, both to the customers who read them and the businesses who receive them. 97% of people read online reviews for local businesses and 85% trust them just as much as a personal recommendation. In today’s world of searching online and shopping in-store, the quality of a businesses reviews is often the deciding factor that determines whether or not a customer visits a business.
When reviews occur organically (the way Yelp and Chatmeter believe they should), without any prompting or promises from the search engines, business owners, managers, and employees, they deliver honest and unbiased feedback about a customer’s experience with a business. However, automated review solicitation and generation often diminish both the value and authenticity of the reviews; resulting in low-value reviews with little to no text or biased and untrue comments.
While Google may have more reviews, Yelp’s reviews consistently provide businesses and future customers with in-depth feedback about their experiences. Even though some of Yelp’s reviews may get a little long-winded, the quality and detail they contain help businesses improve their service and customers make a more confident decision.
Other major updates to the Google Review Guidelines
- The review guidelines are now a part of the Maps User section of the Help Center, not Google My Business.
- The policies now apply to all types of Google content – not just reviews. This includes ratings, images, videos, Q&A, captions, tags, links, and metadata.
- They added examples of illegal content including:
- Things that infringe on copyright
- Content on dangerous or illegal acts (rape, human trafficking etc)
- Illegal products and services
- Graphic images that promote violence
- Google removed the section under offensive content that used to say “We’ll also remove reviews that represent personal attacks on others”
- There is a new section on harassment and bullying: “We don’t allow individuals to use Google Maps to harass, bully, or attack other individuals”.
- They added a section under Impersonation that says “Google reserves the right to remove content, suspend accounts, or pursue other legal action against contributors who falsely claim that they represent or are employed by Google”.
- They added a line under “Conflict of Interest” clarifying that it’s against guidelines for ex-employees to leave negative reviews. It now says “posting negative content about a current or former employment experience” is not allowed.
- Clarified that you are not supposed to post links to social media profiles in reviews (previously it just said “other websites”).
- They removed the section at the top of the review section that said “Make sure that the reviews on your business listing, or those that you leave at a business you’ve visited, are honest representations of the customer experience. Those that aren’t may be removed”.
- Previously it mentioned that you weren’t supposed to offer or accept money, products, or services for a review. Currently, it only says money. However, they did clarify that offering incentives is still against the guidelines and they mention it in a different Help Center article.
- Google removed the section that said, “If you’re a business owner, don’t set up review stations or kiosks at your place of business just to ask for reviews written at your place of business”.
With two of the most influential local search and review sites on the internet now taking a stance against review solicitation, we are hopeful that the industry as a whole will begin to see the negative impact that biased and solicited reviews have on local businesses and customers alike.
Please reach out to us here at Chatmeter If you have experienced ranking decreases or lost access to any of your review content due to unauthorized review management practices. Chatmeter is an authorized partner with each of the major online directories, including Yelp. We have taken every action necessary to ensure the authenticity and validity of our review management tools for the success of our clients.