Why I Still Find Google's Review Guidelines As Clear As Mud


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Yesterday, our Leading Local Lady Linda ;) broke the story here about the New Google Review Guidelines - No Review Stations or Self Reviews

Prior to that, I had not looked at the review guidelines in a few months, but reading them again today just reinforced for me how unclear I find Google's policy on review incentives to be. The language I'm referring to is this:

Don’t offer money or product to others to write reviews for your business or write negative reviews about a competitor....As a reviewer, you should not accept money or product from a business to write a review about them.

So, okay, at first read, that seems pretty clear. No money or product is supposed to change hands in return for reviews.

But there is a pretty long, documented history (for example, see: Google's Review Policy) relating to contests and other giveaways in which reviews were written and products changed hands.

I've read many opinions on this. Some Local SEOs think that so long as a business owner doesn't stipulate that a solicited review be positive in tone, then it's okay. This is logical, but, in fact, it appears to violate the guidelines if any type of gifts change hands. So, that explanation isn't really 'doing it' for me anymore.

Mike Blumenthal wisely pointed out to me that with Google's current review filters, a slew of contest-generated reviews are unlikely to make it into + anyway, but it's the principle of this thing that matters to me.

If Google has apparently endorsed incentives in the past, despite the guideline language, how is anyone to know what the actual rules are? How can we explain them to clients if we don't really understand them ourselves?

What do you 'think' the rules are, behind the scenes? Is it okay to run contests with prizes? Offer discounts on products, etc? I'd love to talk with you more about this.
 

Linda Buquet

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LOL Miriam.

You linked to that older Portland Google review issues. You may have missed one of my recent posts. Google Offers Free Drink Incentive for Placing 5 Reviews :)

But aside from that my views on Google guidelines are pretty purist (when they are spelled out somewhat clearly). No incentives allowed is what I've always said and I think it's pretty clear in the current reading of the guidelines.

But that's my 2 cents and I can afford to be purist because I don't work with clients any more, so don't have them trying to convince me that their special contest or whatever idea will fly.

What do you guys think???
 
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That's right, Linda. I had seen the free drink post. It just didn't come to mind when I was reaching around for examples. I remembered Matt writing about this issue several times in the past.

You can so see why LBO's say, "But my competitor is doing it. Why shouldn't I?"
 
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LOL Miriam.

You linked to that older Portland Google review issues. You may have missed one of my recent posts. Google Offers Free Drink Incentive for Placing 5 Reviews :)

But aside from that my views on Google guidelines are pretty purist (when they are spelled out somewhat clearly). No incentives allowed is what I've always said and I think it's pretty clear in the current reading of the guidelines.

But that's my 2 cents and I can afford to be purist because I don't work with clients any more, so don't have them trying to convince me that their special contest or whatever idea will fly.

What do you guys think???
I think its a matter of rule setting by Google. They know business owners are going to game the system, so they say "Hey, don't do this." But Google also wants to encourage reviews, so they just tell people, "Go review 5 places and you'll get a free drink. Which means Google is paying people to conduct reviews." In the end its Google paying for 5 reviews, whereas if a business was doing it the implication is that people should reward the business they're getting free stuff from in return for free drinks.

Unfortunately in NH the Liquor Commission would likely never let them do such a thing.
 
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As I've stated before, my personal views are that offering incentives is totally o.k. so long as you aren't pressuring the customer to leave a positive review. Having said that, I don't see how incentives would really work. If you tell a customer you'll give them something for leaving you a review - any kind of review - what kind of review do you think you'll get? Depending on the incentive, you're probably going to get a favorable review regardless of what the customer really thinks. If I was a business owner, I wouldn't want my reviews to be skewed because I was "throwing them a bone." I would want an honest review. I don't see how you could get an honest review with an incentive dangling out there.

Travis Van Slooten
 
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Hi Travis,
You write:

I don't see how you could get an honest review with an incentive dangling out there.
That's true, and there's always the chance that this method could backfire and end up in a customer reporting that the business tried to bribe them.

Can you clarify your definition of an incentive, though, Travis? If it's not money or a product (clearly against the guidelines) what is it?
 

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