Example of a Company Violating Google's Review Guidelines or Legit?


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Had a Sales Rep for a Review Company Approach me recently regarding Reviews.

As this is one area we help service-based businesses with, I decided to hear him out to see if it was something that would help our clients.

During the presentation, I had a bad feeling and am now posting here to see if it was unfounded.

What I Did like about the "system":

  • Encourages Reviews from All Customers (what was presented was sending out a text although email, etc may be available as well)
  • Tracks Reviews across multiple sites: Google, Yelp, and a handful of others including certain verticals

What caused the uneasiness:
  • Minor Uneasiness - Mass Text/Email is not natural and could result in Huge influx depending on List Size (Although these could be spread out over time and as long as it's ongoing, there should be a stead stream of reviews each month
  • Major Uneasiness - the reviews do not post immediately to Google, Yext, etc, but to a Dashboard where the Business Owner decides which (Positive or Negative) to Allow to be Posted (The part I'm missing here is How since I don't believe they have the Reviewer's login credentials for the Respective Review Sites)

The first bullet-point in the Google Review Content Policy states -
Advertising: Don?t use reviews for advertising, such as adding links to other websites or phone numbers. Reviews should be a genuine reflection of your experience with a place - don't post reviews just to manipulate a place's ratings.

I'm trying to figure out at what point the line is crossed to "manipulating" reviews.

Would love to hear everyone's thoughts - especially those more familiar with Review Guidelines (which when I asked the Sales Rep, he had never read Google's Review and Photo Policies, much less any other Review Site's).

Another item that may factor in - I did have a Developer create a "Reviews Plugin" 3-4 Years ago due to the importance of Reviews - This was added to WordPress sites and had direct links to the Review Sites I added to it. I added it to a Reviews Page on WordPress sites along with text that encouraged the potential reviewer to call the manager if unhappy and otherwise leave a review. I believe this plugin was less manipulative than the process outlined above, but I still scrapped the idea as I did not want anything that could potentially negatively impact my clients down the road. And my focus is still on my Clients and making sure a system like this (even if it doesn't currently) never negatively affects my clients.

Second item that may or may not factor in - Spoke with another Google Partner who very directly stated that it was a violation and minimum if found out, all reviews (positive and negative) would be removed. And maximum - Local Biz would be removed from Google Maps for at least one year...

Thanks in advance for any and all feedback!

BTW - Will be checking into Grade.us as I've uncovered a few articles in my search from people I respect in the Local SEO Arena that recommend their service...

- Scott
 
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Sounds a little like the process with get five stars, except with texts instead of emails. A customer email is entered into the system after a transaction is complete, they're sent a message asking for feedback, then if the feedback is good (either after a manual review, or if it's above a certain star criteria) the customer is then asked to leave feedback on one of the business owner's chosen review sites (Google, Yelp, etc). You're right, the system the sales rep was talking about couldn't have automatically posted a customer's reviews after a manual OK, the only way a system like that could work is if the customer has to leave two reviews, one private, then one public after being asked a second time.

Different review sites have different rules. Here are Google's guidelines. Google is fairly vague regardless of where you're looking in their guidelines, but the short version, you're not supposed to bribe someone to leave a good review, asking for reviews is okay, offering an incentive to leave a review (good or bad) isn't explicitly forbidden, and getting a bunch of reviews all at once is, in theory, not the best idea, but in practice I can't think of a case recently where someone actually got flagged for that. If it was me and I was going to go through my back customer list and ask them for reviews, I'd spread the list out over a few months, but I doubt you'd get penalized if you didn't. I've seen too many businesses cheating the system by getting a bunch of fake reviews all at once and only getting caught when someone manually flagged them for spam, I don't think the system's tuned to catch that very well right now (but that can always change). Even if someone manually pitches a fit, it can be tough to get fake reviews removed, either from your own business or from someone else's.

The 'no advertising' rule you quoted doesn't apply to business owners asking for reviews, that rule is for the person leaving reviews. You aren't supposed to leave a review for a business that's just an advertisement disguised as a review, which makes sense.

Yelp has different views on the matter, and they do enforce them. If you're going to ask a Yelp customer for a review, I'd only do it through actual one on one communication, nothing automated.

As far sending out SMS messages go, my understand is that the FCC has explicit rules requiring written consent before commercial messages are sent out to a list (think an autoresponder opt-in). I don't know how heavily the FCC enforces that, but that's honestly the only area of the above system that's questionable in my mind, and it might very well be totally above board. Grade.us is still worth checking out though, I'd always rather look at tools and make my own choice vs let myself get sold by a biased salesman.

Garrett from Grade.us started a thread with an article he wrote that's still going that's very related, if you haven't read it yet you should.
 
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Thanks for the Thorough Reply James!

Google's "vague" guidelines and the thin content responses received on the Google Small Business Community Forum is what led me back over here to Linda's awesome LSF! :D

I had not seen Garrett's Thread (as I did search here 3 days ago and it had not yet been posted), so thanks for sharing that link - Great Info!

Regarding the process outlined in your first paragraph, the BIG difference is that this 3rd party review company gets the Reviewer to provide their Login Credentials for several Review Sites upfront.

Then, the business owner makes the decision on which of their client's "Feedback" they want to post to that respective Review Site (thus eliminating the follow-up request to the Reviewer)

So, in essence, the business owner is the one actually "posting" the review to the site - this is where IMO it is applicable to business owners if it is being done to "manipulate a place's ratings".

IMO - If ALL Reviews (Positive and Negative) passed through and were posted, then Searchers would have the whole story.

I guess some business owners would post ALL, but more likely they will only post the Positive ones at which point who does the onus fall on if this is deemed as manipulating reviews? The Review Software Company? Or the business owner who is not an expert in Review Guidelines?

Even if it doesn't currently violate Guidelines (although it does Yelp's as you mentioned above), could it possibly harm unsuspecting and trusting local businesses in the future (similar to Panda and Penguin)?
 
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Woah, it asks for user's login credentials for all the review sites? That's super sketch, they have no business asking for that information. I'd steer clear and consider reporting them. Depending on how the system works on the back end, it would absolutely put business owners at risk. If the reviews weren't being posted from the actual reviewer's IP, presumably there's a pool of VPNs the company's using or something, there's no way that wouldn't leave a giant footprint that would get them flagged. If you're understanding their service correctly, then that's a giant TOS violation for multiple sites.

Also as a head's up just in case this thread picks up steam and becomes a witch hunt, I know Linda's really mindful about potential Libel suits, so don't post any identifying information here about the company in question. Though I am curious now, haha. PM me so I'll know if any clients ask about it?
 

Linda Buquet

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[*]Major Uneasiness - the reviews do not post immediately to Google, Yext, etc, but to a Dashboard where the Business Owner decides which (Positive or Negative) to Allow to be Posted (The part I'm missing here is How since I don't believe they have the Reviewer's login credentials for the Respective Review Sites)

BTW - Will be checking into Grade.us as I've uncovered a few articles in my search from people I respect in the Local SEO Arena that recommend their service...

- Scott
Hey Scott, you likely know my opinion of Grade.us. Not just because they are a sponsor - but because they are great people and other members here are really happy with their solution. Let me know if you want me to connect you directly to Jon the CEO who is awesome to work with!

"The part I'm missing here is How" - Many companies in the past just had a bunch of shill accounts and would post the reviews. That's a big violation and it's easy to spot/bust those guys. I don't see many these days so I think G blocks a lot of them.

So, in essence, the business owner is the one actually "posting" the review to the site - this is where IMO it is applicable to business owners if it is being done to "manipulate a place's ratings".
Woah, it asks for user's login credentials for all the review sites? That's super sketch, they have no business asking for that information. I'd steer clear and consider reporting them. Depending on how the system works on the back end, it would absolutely put business owners at risk. If the reviews weren't being posted from the actual reviewer's IP, presumably there's a pool of VPNs the company's using or something, there's no way that wouldn't leave a giant footprint that would get them flagged. If you're understanding their service correctly, then that's a giant TOS violation for multiple sites.
I'm with James. MAJOR violation if the owner is posting them and if from his own IP they'd get blocked or taken down.

Also as a head's up just in case this thread picks up steam and becomes a witch hunt, I know Linda's really mindful about potential Libel suits, so don't post any identifying information here about the company in question.
Thanks James for reading everything I post and being so protective of the forum, by sharing that message with Scott.

Thanks Scott - great discussion thread. So many ORM companies out there cross the line. And I think it's telling that this rep didn't even know the guidelines.
 

JoshuaMackens

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They ask the reviewer for their login credentials? I would imagine that system's conversion rate is less than 1% for getting your customers to leave reviews. That sounds crazy to me.
 
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They ask the reviewer for their login credentials? I would imagine that system's conversion rate is less than 1% for getting your customers to leave reviews. That sounds crazy to me.
Have tried several times to get confirmation on exact process. I thought the same as you Joshua!

Rep continually avoids questions, although I did find at least 10 companies that appear to be using the same platform, but marketing under different names.

No way I would provide my login info to any sites so another company could post on my behalf, but I've seen local business owners and their clients do crazier things before ;)

If the Rep ever decides to go into further detail about the process and answer questions directly, I'll update this Thread. Otherwise, moving on - have spent too much time on this already ;)
 
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Report them, sounds borderline illegal based on FTC advertising guidelines. The business owner can't post reviews posing as a customer, so that's a huge red flag. Also along the same point as Joshua, why would a business ever agree to ask for someone's Google login? That's like asking someone for their social security number if they want to give you feedback. Insane lol.

I haven't tried some of the review gathering companies mentioned above, but a typical funnel would include prompting a customer to leave a review (email, text, w/e), then when they write the review/select the star rating they're lead down one of two paths. If they leave a good review (4 or 5), they're directed to post a review on Google/Yelp/whatever other industry review site. You provide the links and make it as simple as possible to get to the correct page. The alternative is when a customer leaves a bad review, that's funneled internally so you can follow up and resolve the issue with the client away from the public.

What you explained above comes close to that, but takes a very bad turn at the end when the customer is prompted to provide their login information. That should never happen. Huge security concern. If a company ever asked me for that information so they could post a review, I would probably never give them my business again. Seems too sketchy. Let us know if you ever hear anything else from them :)
 
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You're right Tony, I did miss that. Thanks for the correction.

If someone does want to incentivise reviews and is worried about walking the gray line, Linda had a great post a while ago about another option that's definitely kosher in Google's eyes. You can read about it here. A good recent thread on the general topic is here.
 

Colan Nielsen

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This is a great post that Mike B did over at Get Five Stars recently - https://www.getfivestars.com/blog/real-reason-review-incentives-are-bad/

Well worth the read since we are on the topic of incentivizing for reviews.

My wife visited her dentist the other day and noted a sign in the lobby offering a $10 discount on her next visit if she left the dentist a review. She had heard me before talking about how a business might have their reviews taken down, have their business listing publicly shamed by the review sites or even have the business fined heavily by the NY State Attorney General
.
 

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