Above: The 'Holy Grail' of review management - a great Google score, a great score on the business's own website and stars in organic search, all achieved in compliance with the CMA regulations and Google's own T&Cs.
Over the years we have encountered just about every strategy known to man or woman to achieve one single objective: a great Google score. Here we list all that we can recall.
- Get happy customers to write a review to Google
- Get all customers to write a review to an independent reviews site, then invite only those that post a 5* review there to copy it to Google
- Use a system that allows the business to nominate those allowed to write a review
- Use a system that is closed to members of the public not specifically invited to post a review by the business
- use a system that allows the business to choose the timing of the invitation to write a review
- Get all customers to email you with a report of their experience with your business and then invite those that respond positively to write a review to Google
- Do the above, but then go the extra mile and set up a new Google account on behalf of the customer and then copy and paste their complimentary remarks there, adding a 5* rating
- Send an email to the customer telling them they will be rewarded with cash/Amazon vouchers/M&S vouchers if the post a 5* review
- Encouraging employees to leave a review
- Inviting friends and family to leave a review
- Inviting business connections to write a review
Let's examine them one by one...
- 'Happy' customers
Illegal - the CMA regulations specifically prohibit what they call cherry-picking. If you invite a single customer to post a review you must be able to demonstrate to the CMA that all your customers are invited - and no, saying 'anyone can write a review to Google at any time' will not wash.
- All customers invited to post to a reviews site and then those that score the business 5* asked to post to Google
Illegal - this is a practice known as 'gating' and it is self-evidently going to skew the impression any prospective customer is given when they look at the business's Google score and individual reviews.
- Only nominated customers allowed to write a review
Illegal - the CMA regulations state that all customers should be able to write a review
- Using a 'closed' system (often called 'invitation only')
Illegal - customers must be able write a review whenever the want
- Inviting the initial comment by email (or even verbally)
Illegal - gating again.
- Setting up a new Google account
Illegal - and, on top of that, strictly against Google's terms of service.
- Incentivising customers
Illegal - and against Google's terms of service.
Just don't - no matter what.
- Friends and family
Not a problem, but they should declare their connection (and have first-hand experience of your service)
- Business connections
As for friends and family
The CMA regulations have the force of law. If a business is found to be in breach then they may be liable to...
- an unlimited fine
- being barred from acting as a director of a limited company in the UK
Google, on the other hand, will simply delete all of the business's reviews and flag all future reviews for special attention.
The overarching principle
The principle that the government, in the person of the Competition and Markets Authority, will apply in any investigation is as follows...
"Has any action or activity by the business engaged in the gathering of reviews the potential to mislead any consumer when reading the business's reviews and, furthermore, relying on those reviews when making a purchasing decision."
Put bluntly: Has the business done anything to make it look better than it otherwise would or should?
- The CMA regulations - and an analysis