Friday, 2 March 2018

Compliance matters: Don't play 'games' with Google reviews

This article has been prompted by our ever burgeoning file of the tricks some businesses resort to when trying to game their images in Google reviews. We have anonymised the screenshots that follow to protect the guilty, but please bear in mind that if we have such a file of wrongdoers you can be sure that the regulators do as well.



Apart from contravening Google's own T&Cs and the UK Competition & Markets Authority's regulations, what was the business thinking? Did they really believe that no-one would ever reference their Amazon vouchers? And did no-one think "This could really damage our credibility when our competitors understand what we have done to get our reviews"?


Again: in contravention of the CMAs regulations, which clearly and unequivocally state that any business that invites reviews must allow all its customers to write a review at a time of their own choosing. Why do some businesses persist in telegraphing the fact that they only invite 'happy' customers to post reviews by scoring 5.0 out of five, but with low absolute numbers of reviews, usually written over a protracted period, but sometimes all at once (see the example under 'Advanced cherry-picking' below)?

Advanced cherry-picking

A good (not great) score. And a significant number of reviews. But mine down into the pattern of the reviews themselves and what do we see? Eight out of only nine reviews written in the last twelve months score 1* and two years ago the business had less than thirty Google reviews, acquired over the previous five years, averaging just over 3.0. Over 140 reviews were written in a six week period in 2016. Questionable? surely. Obvious? Definitely.

This is a 'clever' one; it involves inviting customers to write a review to an independent reviews site that, by definition, will have far less visibility in search than Google and then inviting only those customers that have posted a five star review to that site to copy it across to Google. It can be done all at once (as we have strong suspicions in the case of the example above) or as a matter of ongoing policy.

Contracted-out cherry-picking

This one involves contracting someone else to do your dirty work; it sounds so plausible: 'We'll conduct a customer survey for you, then, when the customer has told us they think you are great (or words to that effect) we will invite them to post a review to Google (or any other reviews site of your choice). Another dark side of a pretty dark art: reputation management. This article was written five years ago, it is surprising just how current its main themes still are. And the central one? If you need reputation management your business needs to look at itself and make some pretty fundamental changes to its CRM before adopting review management.

Why do businesses do this?

Often it's out of sheer laziness, or management ignorance of the CMA regulations, but whatever the reasoning that leads to using such a broken strategy (we repeat: do the businesses involved think their competitors will never notice?) it leaves a highly visible paper trail for the regulators to follow (how much more visible than a pattern of Google reviews could a paper trail be?).

But most of all we think it's about fear. The reason online retailers have adopted reviews with such alacrity but their fellows in service businesses have done the opposite is the recognition that whereas we all expect to see shoes and shirts scoring 4 out of 5 on a shopping site (and will then go on to buy those shoes and shirts) a single well-written negative Google review of a service business has the capacity to deflect significant business, even to stop the phone ringing altogether (if you have any doubts about this, please read this story, which made the national press).

There's no need!

This is the crazy thing: if you are actually run a customer focused-business you can adopt a proper professional review management strategy that will get you the results you deserve whist addressing the 'fear factor'.

And that strategy has a name? HelpHound, of course. 

Further reading:

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