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The Risky Review Schemes That Could Sink Your Business

The Risky Review Schemes That Could Sink Your Business
Considering paying for reviews, getting friends and family to leave reviews, or even a ‘review swap’? Snap out of it! Google Gold Product Expert Jason Brown is here to explain how these schemes could ending up tanking your reviews, and offers some legitimate and proven tactics to generate reviews as alternatives.

Every business wants to increase the number of online reviews that they have. Whether the goal is to have more reviews than the competition, to repair your overall rating or simply to rank in or higher in the map pack, every business is looking into ways to get reviews. But you need to be smart about your strategy or you may find yourself renting reviews.

If Google catches you running an illegal review scheme, and they will, they will delete all of your reviews connected to the review scheme. The FTC also regulates online reviews. Google follows suit and has made review contests a violation of their Terms of Service. Before you stop reading this and say “I won’t get caught,” you need to know that Google receives multiple reports of review schemes every day. Your business could be next.

As a Google My Business Gold Product Expert (formerly the Top Contributor program), I answer business owner’s questions and advise individuals on how to navigate Google My Business issues. On a daily basis, I watch as business after business gets reported for ill-gotten reviews. I’ve seen reports made by marketing professionals, competitors, disgruntled employees, and upset customers.

There is more potential to get caught than there is to hide forever. If you’re like me, and spy on your competition to see what they’re up to, the chances are that one of your many competitors or their marketing company is spying on or monitoring your business.

Review Schemes to Avoid

Review Contests

Review contests are very popular and extremely illegal. The premise of this scheme is to enter the reviewer into a giveaway once they leave a review. I see this a lot with dentists and orthodontists. One dentist ran their review contest twice and both times they were reported to Google.

It doesn’t matter if you say any reviewer can qualify to enter (rather than just positive reviews), the fact that you are offering an incentive for the review violates Google’s TOS and so they will negate the contest.

Get Reviews on Google

The dentist in question more than likely received an email from Google advising them to stop the practice, which says “Please note that it is against Google My Business policies to offer or accept money, products, or services to write reviews for a business or to write negative reviews about a competitor.”

Google Review Email

I would bet that this email was in the process of being sent as the dentist set up the second review contest.

Discounted or Free Services

You cannot offer a reviewer any discount on services or products in exchange for reviews. One business I’m aware of offered all of their customers a 10% savings on their next purchase for leaving a review, so Google went and deleted two years’ worth of reviews.

I’ve also seen a thread where a business thanked everyone with a free drink after leaving a review. Google deleted over 400 reviews. Those 400 individuals still kept their free drink after their reviews were deleted by Google.

Review Swaps

I see review swaps the most in the legal niche. A review swap is basically where “you review me” and “I’ll review you”. I see it a lot when looking at a GMB listings for lawyers. One reviewer, who is also a lawyer, left reviews for several lawyers in different states.

Google’s TOS states, “Your content should reflect your genuine experience at the location and should not be posted just to manipulate a place’s ratings.”

Prohibited and Restricted Content

Review swaps:

a) don’t reflect a genuine experience

b) are posted to manipulate the ratings

When Google sees reports of these types of reviews, they delete them.

Asking Your Friends and Family for Reviews

This is the worst advice out there and it needs to be stopped. As I stated in ‘review swaps’ above, your friends and family reviews are posted to manipulate your ratings.

I see this a lot: a GMB listing has 7 reviews, all posted 8 months ago, and new reviews ever get posted. Potential customers want to see fresh and relevant reviews. Customers want to know how the business currently is and not how they were a year ago.

In their most recent Local Consumer Review Survey, BrightLocal found that 77% of consumers think that online reviews older than 3 months aren’t relevant.

Review-gating

Review-gating is not a new policy, but Google has just reiterated their stance on this practice. Review-gating is when a customer fills out a survey and, if they score high enough, they are asked to post a review online, but if the customer scores the business too low, they are asked to provide private feedback only.

When Google receives reports of businesses review-gating, they delete all of their reviews (not just the ones deemed to violate TOS). Your reputation management tool provider doesn’t get dinged, the business’ GMB listing does. They keep your money while all of your reviews are deleted and gone forever.

Remember that you can’t stop an upset customer from posting negative feedback online. They will find a way to share their experience online. You also need negative feedback so that you can grow and improve your business, and also to make your review profile more believable. (100+ 5-star reviews? Something’s up there.).

Receiving reviews is like going to the doctor for a check-up. The doctor will tell you all the positives and the areas you need to improve upon. If your doctor doesn’t inform you that you need to lower your cholesterol, they are doing you a disservice. You also can’t completely stop an upset customer from sharing their feedback. If they are upset enough, they might report you to Google.

What to Do Instead

All of the above review schemes simply don’t work long-term. While they may have quick results, they merely open up your business to a possible fine from the FTC and review deletion from Google.

Google will and does email businesses involved in illegal review schemes. This is not the attention you want from Google. If you give away a television or an iPad to solicit reviews and Google deletes all of your reviews, you’ll realize you just rented reviews for a short time. It would have been cheaper to sign up for BrightLocal’s new Reputation Management tool.

If an iPad costs $329 USD and BrightLocal’s reputation tool costs $8 USD, a business could safely request reviews for 41 months. That is almost 2 years’ worth of legitimate Google My Business reviews that will remain and won’t be deleted by Google.

When it comes to reviews, I tell all new brick and mortar businesses that they should be getting 5 to 10 new reviews per month. This really isn’t that hard if you train your staff to listen to your customers. If a customer says how great the service is, ask them to share that feedback online and leave your business a Google review.

If a business gets 10 customers a day, that’s 50 to 70 people per week. The odds are in your favor to get at least one of those customers to leave you a review online. It’s the law of averages and it will work out in your favor. You and your staff just need to ask.

You can run a contest among your employees to see who can get the most reviews. This can also get your employees to start focusing more on their customer service skills and the level of service they provide. After all, how are you going to get a review if you don’t ask for it?

Don’t Be Afraid of Negative Reviews

Reviews are about the customer experience. They should never be looked at as “I need X amount of reviews to rank higher, have more reviews than my competitor or to repair my reputation”. That’s the incorrect thinking businesses have when it comes to reviews and that thinking is a recipe for disaster.

If you have a “5 stars or bust” mentality, then when your business gets that one negative review (and it will) it will really upset you. I often see business owners get very distraught over one negative review. They plead their case on the Google My Business forum on how:

  • it’s not fair
  • we have nothing but 5-star reviews
  • it’s not a customer
  • we have no record of the person
  • it has to be a competitor

…and so they respond in a rude and unprofessional manner to the review publicly.

A negative review is an opportunity to plead your case and get the customer to contact you to resolve the complaint. Google notifies the reviewer of your reply too.

The goal of your reply is to persuade the user to contact you and work out a resolution. As consumers are reading more reviews, they are also reading the replies to reviews.  If you sound angry in your reply, it will do more harm than good, and that reviewer will not contact you to resolve the issue.

Conclusion

The bottom line is that your business needs customers to stay in business. If you’re not monitoring your reviews and replying in a polite and professional manner, your potential customers will go elsewhere.

You need to take a deep and serious look at your reviews and address any areas customers are not happy with. One business I have been monitoring for two years officially closed in October 2018. They never addressed the underlying causes of their negative reviews. Instead, they focused on a review scheme to combat the negative reviews. It didn’t work the restaurant wasn’t saved.

Review schemes will not work for your business either. To quote my favorite line from the movie Shawshank Redemption,

“get busy living, or get busy dying.”

Only you can save your business. Will you?

Jason Brown is SEO Manager at Over The Top Marketing and a Top Contributor on the Google My Business forum. He spends his free time battling fake online business reviews. He can be found on Twitter @keyserholiday.

4 Ideas for Your Holiday Marketing Campaign

End of season Christmas sale tags hanging with half price text and with origami paper style for holiday discount promotion.

Depending on your business, there are a number of different campaigns you could run during the holiday season.

The type of campaign you decide to run will depend on the products and services you offer, and the audience you’re trying to reach. You will also need to consider the type of results you’re looking for, and your overall goals for the upcoming season. Constant Contact email marketing and the new Facebook Ads have been most successful.

To help you get started, we’ve compiled a list of possible campaigns you can try out.

Offer a coupon

The key to a great offer is that it’s compelling enough to get people to act. You can add a coupon to any email and let customers redeem in-store or online.

Learn more: Create the Perfect Offer: 4 Questions You Need to Ask First

Plan an event

Hosting a holiday event is the perfect way to thank customers for their continued support. It’s also a great opportunity to interact with your audience face-to-face.

Learn more: How to Make Sure Your Holiday Event Doesn’t Fall Flat

Run a contest

Contests are a great way to engage your audience and can help generate buzz during the holiday season. Come up with a prize that your customers will love, and encourage them to enter by providing their email address.

Learn more: Let Spearhead Multimedia Create Your Holiday-Themed Facebook Promotion

Add value

If running a promotion doesn’t fit your business, you can still do something special for your customers by sending them a thank you email or offering something of value.

Learn more: How to Add Value this Holiday Season without offering a Discount

Internet Facts to Blow Your Mind

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Internet Facts to Blow Your Mind

by Guest Blogger, Louise Harris

 

As quickly as one technology trend arrives, there is another one right behind it, so it is getting increasingly difficult to keep up with all this digital innovation that is readily available at our fingertips.

In the last twenty years, we have gone from the very early stages of mobile phone usage to a world where we can do our grocery shopping with a few clicks on a smartphone. The capabilities of the Internet seem endless and the stats show us just how much impact the Internet has had over the last few years.

This infographic reveals some very interesting digital information that might surprise you. For example, did you know that across the world there are over 4 billion Internet users? A massive 2 billion of that population is located in Asia and there are now 3.2 billion social media users (as of Jan 1st, 2018).

It is hard to imagine a world without the Internet now that it has become so integral to our daily routines. Social media is not just a way for people to connect with friends; it is also a strong business marketing channel with 90% of businesses now actively using social media.

Watching videos on YouTube has become a regular hobby for all generations and particularly the younger generations. There are now more than 1.5 billion YouTube users worldwide and anyone can quickly record a video using their smartphone or create their own tutorial on a webcam.

52.2% of website traffic is now via mobile phones and we have seen changes in website development to reflect this by making websites more mobile friendly. In 2018 over a billion voice search queries per month were recorded and this is a trend that is expected to continue through 2019.

Mobile-First Indexing: Your Guide to Google’s Big Shift

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Mobile-First Indexing: Your Guide to Google’s Big Shift

 By 

As Google makes the big change to mobile-first indexing, it’s important that your site is ready for the shift. Are you fully prepared?

Let’s start at the beginning.

What Is Mobile-First Indexing?

The mobile-first initiative is an effort to address the growing percentage of mobile-users in today’s search landscape.

Back in March, on their Webmaster Central Blog, Google announced that they are rolling out their mobile-first indexing initiative more broadly which is a big change to how Google crawls and indexes your site. The push is on now and Mobile Indexing is being fully implemented.

What’s Changing about Google’s Rankings?

Per Google, “Mobile-first indexing means Google will predominantly use the mobile version of your websites content for indexing and ranking.”

But what does that mean?

Currently, Google crawls and indexes your site based on the desktop version of your site and the content that exists there.  With this change, Google will be looking at your mobile site first and the content on that version to determine how your site is ranked.

For example:

Desktop vs. mobile versions of your site; Google will now index the mobile version of your site.

Over the course of the last year, Google has been slowly experimenting with a small percentage of sites to make the switch to crawling, indexing, and ultimately ranking sites based on their mobile experience, not their desktop as they always have.

This doesn’t mean your desktop site isn’t important anymore, it just means that they will be looking at it as a secondary source, not the primary one for crawling, indexing, and ranking as it has been in the past.  But even if your site is doing well organically, if it’s not responsive (mobile friendly), your ranking will drop substantially.  Don’t lose those years of building your search engine position, contact us today.

How Mobile-First Indexing May Impact Your Site

Depending on how you handle mobile, this change may or may not directly affect your site.

  • If your site is built in responsive design, you will see no impact, as your site adapts to all devices.
  • If you have a separate m. site (or something similar) and your primary content does not exist on it, then you are at risk of seeing a negative impact as Google will no longer be looking at your desktop version.
  • If you do not have a mobile site/experience then this change will negatively impact you.  Also, it’s 2018: if you don’t have a mobile-friendly site then you have much larger issues that this change.

What Mobile-First Best Practices Can I Follow To Ensure I Maximize My Opportunity?

Google has published an entire list of best practices for mobile-first indexing on their developers’ blog.

While there are many things to consider and you should read through the entire list above, two major points are ensuring you have mobile-friendly content and that your site loads as fast as possible.  Site speed is becoming an increasingly important ranking factor, which coincides with users’ needs to get everything as quickly and seamlessly as possible.  With the rapid adoption of AMP (accelerated mobile pages) and the popularity of Progressive Web Apps (PWA’s) growing, it’s not surprising to see Google pushing site owners in this direction.

How Do I Know If Google is Using Mobile-First Indexing for My Site?

Google will be notifying site owners that their sites are migrating to mobile-first indexing through Search Console.  The message will look like this:

Example of Google's notification of mobile first indexation

So you need to make sure that if you have an m. version of your site, it is verified in Search Console.

You will also see a significant increase in the Smartphone Googlebot crawl rate and Google will show the mobile version of pages in search results and cached pages.

What Do We Think About This?

This is a major change in how Google interacts with our websites and makes sense as more and more traffic continues to move to mobile.  While your desktop site will certainly remain important and Google will not be ignoring it, users have been trending towards mobile usage for years and this is the natural progression of our industry.

Companies need to take notice of this change.  Thinking mobile-first should not be something that is kicked down the road and moved down on priority lists, from a search perspective this should be top of mind for all organizations large and small.

Should you be concerned?  If you haven’t been paying attention to how your site functions on a mobile device, this probably isn’t going to pan out for you.  The good news is that all websites are living documents and can be changed and updated.  If you are coming in a little late to the game on mobile, then now is the time to improve that experience and ensure your site is set up to provide value to mobile users.

This is yet another banner that Google is waving to signal the importance of your mobile experience.  If you have been neglecting it, now is the time to rectify that and putting people and resources behind it.

If you think your site is not mobile friendly or have tested it and know, contact us for advice to bring your website up to speed with the current technologies.