Saturday 11 February 2023

'Invitation only' review sites - seriously? still?

We first highlighted the fundamental flaws in this kind of site back in October of 2016 - nearly seven years ago. Flaws from the point of view of businesses and consumers. We also made the legal position clear.

With a heavy heart, we repeat - and update - those arguments again at the beginning of 2023.

First: what exactly is a closed review site? 

Closed, or 'invitation only' sites       

These sites only allow reviews to be written at the express invitation of the business that is under review.  At first sight this seems like a thorougly good idea - what's not to like about a site that only allows reviews to be written by customers that have been expressly invited to do so by the business?

Our regular readers will already have spotted the immediate advantage this gives the member businesses of these sites. But there are disadvantages too - and worse: regulatory issues. 

Now: what are these disadvantages and issues inherent in closed review sites? We'll deal with them one at a time.



Just read this review of a 'closed' review site (on an 'open' site)...

We understand why a business may be attracted to a solution that allows it to select which customers to invite to write reviews of its service, but, once potential consumers understand that is how their chosen system operates, what credibity does it have? And what credibilty will the business have?



Another issue with review sites - as opposed to Google - is that their reach is so much less than Google. Every time anyone searches for a business they see that business's Google reviews - even if they are not looking for them.  Review sites simply don't feature in search by comparison. So that means paying for Google ads - and that means charging monthly fees to their business members. Monthly fees that would be far better spent on a Google focussd moderated system (see 'Solution' below).



This time from 2018: 'What is deflection?' It is the unintended consequence of focussing a business's review efforts on a review site rather than Google. It results, almost universally, in the business looking good on their retained review site - which could be an open or a closed site - and less good, with considerably reduced numbers of reviews, on Google.

Why 'less good'? Because those not invited to write a review increasingly find their way to Google and will write a review there anyway, especially if they are motivated by dissatisfaction, percieved or otherwise. If your business offers an 'open' review system to customers - here's one:


...where anyone can click on 'Write a review' - then they will use it. Once the review is published on the business's own website every reviewer is then asked to copy their review to Google, where the business shown above looks like this:


 Legal and regulatory position

This is the clincher. We suppose we could/should have led with this paragraph, but we wanted you to understand the logic for not using a closed site before we slammed the door.

It is illegal - in the UK at least - to use a review mechanism that allows the business under review to select a) the customer who is to be invited to write the review - whilst denying such a right to another customer or stakeholder and b) the timing of that invitation. 

In plain English: your review system should allow anyone to write a review. There should be no barriers and no 'selection'. Please feel free to read the following extracts from the CMA's report on 'Online reviews and endorsements', but the conclusion remains the same: avoid using any closed review site.


The solution

There are two, practically speaking. The first is to simply invite your customers to write a Google review. This will be adequate for retailers and suchlike businesses that are straightforward and involve little or no complex service element. And, unlike the closed sites, it will be free. And as Google is 'open' for anyone to write a review you will be CMA compliant.

The second is to adopt a moderated review management system. What will this do? It will enable you to allow any customer or other stakeholder to post a review to your website at a time of their own choosing.   

How does moderation add value?

The first thing to say is that it won't prevent anyone from writing a negative review. But then neither will Google. What it will do is enable your reviewer to have a chance to correct their review - if it contains a factual inaccuracy or a statement likely to mislead a reader who may be likely to rely on that statement when making their choice of business based on the firm's reviews. 

Our moderation process makes clear to the reviewer that they have the right to post whatever final review they wish - that's what keeps it compliant. But long experince has taught us that in over 97 percent of cases over many years the original review is corrected pre-publication.

So, you only really have one question to answer: does your business provide a complex - legal, financial, medical, for example - service and therefore need a moderated review system? Or are people buying a simple - often visual - product from you, in which case inviting reviews direct to Google will suit you just fine.

Speak to us and we'll help you decide. And, hopefully, enable you to look like the business shown above.

Historical note

We are proud to say that we were the first to use the term 'moderation' as it is applied to reviews (it's an industry-wide standard now - even used by the CMA). It seemed logical at the time - moderators kept online forums free from spam, factual inaccuracies and abuse, so why wouldn't our moderators do the same for reviews?


No comments:

Post a Comment

HelpHound is all about feedback, so please feel free to comment here...