Friday 19 March 2021

Reviews - you are all breaking the law!

Got your attention*? Good. For years now we have been tactfully explaining the law as it currently stands - in the UK and the EU - to businesses, but still we see the epidemic grow. So please excuse us if this article is a little blunt.

*If you're already a HelpHound client you can relax, you aren't breaking the law. This article is for those yet to join.

This business's Google score and the reviews underlying it look impressive; until you realise that they have been acquired illegally.

First: the law

In simple terms, you (businesses) are not allowed to...

  1. select customers to invite to post a review - anywhere, to Google, to your own website, to Trustpilot, or anywhere else
  2. control the timing of when your customer is invited to write a review
  3. delete or otherwise filter out reviews you 'don't like'
  4. incentivise customers to write [positive] reviews

Let's see what most businesses are doing currently...

1.  They are hand-picking customers to invite to write reviews

...which is against the law

2.  They are controlling the timing - by only inviting/allowing reviews when they think the customer is most likely to rate them 5* (it is fine to email a customer to invite them to write a review, just not using a system that prevents them writing a review at another time of their own choosing)

...which is against the law

3.  They are filtering out unhappy customers by 'gating': using a feedback mechanism to pre-qualify customers and then only inviting those that have previously indicated their satisfaction with the business to write a review

...which is against the law

4.  Offering cash, discounts, rewards or vouchers for positive reviews.

...which is against the law and Google's terms of service

Now, what do we hear when we speak to some of the businesses engaged in these illegal - yes, illegal - practices?

  • 'Everyone else does it'
No! 'Every other business' is not dishonest. But some business people appear to see this form of cheating - sorry law-breaking - as a badge of honour. It is somehow seen as 'macho' to break the law. 

The CMA have announced a crack-down and the press are hot on the trail of businesses that manipulate reviews

  • 'We would be swamped with bad reviews if we allowed anyone to write one'
This bears thorough examination. Would the bad reviews come because you are running a substandard business? Or because you don't trust your customers to write reviews that accurately reflect their experience of your business? 

If the former, then - respectfully - you need to address the issues within your business before you engage further with reviews. If the latter - a more reasonable objection - you need a moderated review management system, of which more later

  • 'One 'unfair' review could do untold damage to our business'
And so it could, but law-breaking is not the answer; stories like this one make businesses extremely wary of opening themselves up to reviews without some form of illegal filtering. 

Again the answer is moderation; independent moderation allows you to invite all your customers to write a review whilst minimising the chances of inaccurate or potentially misleading comments appearing in print

  • We won't get caught
That's as maybe - although the CMA has reviews and their abuse right in its sights, and it has teeth (remember the estate agents fined £600,000 for price-fixing? that was the CMA). 

What is certain is that your competitors will notice, and they won't be backwards in letting your potential customers know the you are decieveing them. And who wants to entrust their life savings/home sale/health/legal affairs to a business that breaks the law to look good?

  • 'It's expensive to comply'
This is referring to the reaction to the idea of adopting a professional review management strategy. The short answer? You don't have an option. The long one: professional review management, which incorporates moderation to minimise the likelihood of inaccurate or misleading reviews ever seeing the light of day, invariably earns a business money

How so? Because hosting independently verified reviews on a business's website is proven to drive clicks and calls and therefore new business (there are many more benefits - see 'Our pitch to you' below)

How about these stars? They light a business up in local search - and drive calls and clicks. And no wonder: every survey ever conducted has proven that a great rating and a significant amount of reviews does just that. Put it this way: if we were to tell the business above that they were going to lose those stars and that score - and revert to looking like their four other competitors in this search - and lose0 this on their own website, what do you think their reaction would be?

We rest our case.

Further reading...

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