Friday 8 September 2017

Examples of businesses misusing reviews

Five years ago reviews in the UK were unregulated; as a result all kinds of questionable practices became commonplace. Now, we are delighted to say, reviews are regulated by the Competition and Markets Authority.

In this article we will highlight some of these practices and we strongly suggest that those yet to join HelpHound use this as a checklist (if you are a HelpHound client you will not need to concern yourself – except, perhaps, to see if a competitor is non-compliant!).


Six months ago this business had no reviews on Google, then it had two 1* reviews in succession, now it has thirteen 5* reviews - all written in the last two months. Understandable, but non-compliant with the CMA regulations which state that if you are going to invite customers to write reviews that invitation should be to all your customers

By far-and-away the most common: it’s often because the business has received a negative review and they have suddenly realized they need to engage. So what would any normal business do? It will ask its staff to ask its most reliable customers to post a glowing review. Normal? Yes. Compliant? No.

Giveaways: Few – or no - reviews over a period of years, then a negative, hotly followed by a flurry of positives.


A ‘clever’ variant of cherry-picking: the business asks all of its customers to write a review to a small independent reviews site – after that they only invite those who have posted a five star review to copy it to Google. Ouch!

Giveaways: an average score on a less well-known site and then a great score on Google, but from fewer reviews.

Mis-describing testimonials as reviews

It is simple: a 'review' must be verified by an external source. If it is not it is a testimonial, and must not be described as a review. We have seen multiple examples of such misleading misdescription - one where the testimonials in question are even being used to hoodwink Google into displaying a star rating in natural search.

Giveaways: If the 'review' is taken from an independent site and displayed on the business's site it will appear twice if pasted into Google search: once on each site; if it does not, it is not a review.

Rewarding reviewers

If you do decide to reward customers for posting a review make sure they are rewarded whatever they score or say - good or bad, five star or one star

Rewarding customers for posting a review is frowned on by most review platforms, and against the T&Cs of some. It can also backfire: we recently saw a negative review of a business mentioning the reward that had been offered – not good PR (see below). Rewards can be OK in certain circumstances, but everyone must qualify for the reward, those posting negative reviews included.

Giveaways: reviews mentioning the reward (see screenshot below)

Incentivising reviewers

Besides being against the CMA regulations, incentivising customers to post positive reviews can backfire in other ways

A sub-group of ‘rewarding’ really – how about the business that hosted a party for graduates and then asked their guests to post a review? Unfortunately multiple reviewers used their reviews as an opportunity to thank the business for its hospitality – making clear that they were not bona-fide clients of the business.

Giveaways: mentions in the review – ‘thank you for the Amazon voucher’ or ‘I look forward to receiving my reward’

Using a review site that filters reviews

These are just two of many 'reviews of review sites' on competitor sites, and they both tell the same story: that the reviewer alleges that they could not get their review posted. If this is true, and we have seen more than one example where it would appear to be, using a site like this is a) against the CMA regulations  and b) hands a big win to any business that spots that their competitor is using such a system

It’s very simple – under CMA rules, anyone must be able to post a review at any time – any system - or business using such a system - that prevents that, however well-meaning, is non-compliant. It will also drive unhappy customers to post to a site that does allow them to post as and when they want – and that site? Google, of course.

Giveaways: none – unless you read reviews on competing websites; but reviews-savvy competitors and the CMA will know

Selectively showing external reviews on the business’s own site

More common than you might think – inviting reviews to an external site and then showing only the positive ones on the business’s own site.

Giveaways: a simple cross-check shows this up

Describing testimonials as reviews

Most people will probably recognise these white/green stars by now - but, strangely, the customer comments are not taken from - or verified by - that site. In fact, the business concerned does not describe the comments shown underneath these stars as reviews or testimonials, but what might a visitor to their website reasonably assume?

Again, we see this frequently. A review is, by definition, independently verified by an outside agency, a testimonial is invited and displayed by the business alone and the business has total control over what is displayed.

Giveaways: the ‘reviews’ lack attribution


There are two messages here: the first is that whatever reviews system your business adopts it must be compliant with the CMA regulations (they have the force of law). The second is to use this article as a checklist against which to examine any system you might be tempted to use.

Alternatively you can speak to us. We have no axe to grind other than our clients' best interests - so you can be sure of receiving a reliable answer.


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