How Not To Ask For Reviews: A True Story About Local SEO


I have a story to tell you.

It’s a true story. And it happened recently.

Once upon a time there was a little hotel in upstate New York. It was a pretty nice place. No, it wasn’t part of a chain. In fact, it called itself a “boutique hotel.”

The area was upscale and charming, with an oldish nostalgia that makes you just want to stroll down the tree-lined avenues. Being in the vicinity of the Vanderbilt and Rockefeller estates, the hotel had some serious cachet and upscale appeal.

The hotel’s food was good enough to get it featured in publications like Bon Appétit magazine. The decor of the rooms was tasteful and elegant.

It did a brisk business as a wedding venue. Couples would get hitched at the hotel, then honeymoon in the nearby Catskill mountains.

Like other local businesses, the hotel wanted good online reviews. So it was determined to get them in any way possible.

Good Reviews In Any Way Possible?

That’s where things went downhill. In an attempt to discourage bad reviews and get good ones, the hotel had the following policy, reported by PRDaily.

If you have booked the Inn for a wedding or other type of event anywhere in the region and given us a deposit of any kind for guests to stay at USGH there will be a $500 fine that will be deducted from your deposit for every negative review of USGH placed on any internet site by anyone in your party and/or attending your wedding or event. If you stay here to attend a wedding anywhere in the area and leave us a negative review on any internet site you agree to a $500. fine for each negative review.

Pretty rough, right?

This is a bad policy in general, but what makes it even worse is that it’s vague enough to encompass a lot of different scenarios. Consider the following:

  • “Every negative review.” This hotel gets to decide what’s negative.
  • “Any internet site.” Could be Yelp. Could be Yep, that’ll cost you $500.
  • “Anyone in your party.” Groomsman, bridesmaid, minister or guest book attendant. One and all, thou art forbidden from leaving negative reviews upon penalty of exorbitant fees.
  • “Anyone… attending your wedding or event.” Even if it’s a not-so-savory review left by Great Aunt Humbug who hates you anyway, you still get fined.
  • “Anywhere in the area.” And the hotel defines what “the area” is. New York is a big state.

So, to summarize: Each bad review, on any internet site, left by anyone, anywhere in the area, and they’ll start fleecing you to the tune of five hundred bucks a pop.

Oh, and congratulations on your wedding!

If you think that the hotel was able to build a reputation as a peerless establishment, unspoiled by a single negative review, then think again. The hotel has paid dearly for its mistake. It has been blasted in the reviews, and smothered with negative PR.


One-and-a-half stars. Ouch.

And the reviews are scathing.




The internet steamroller has flattened the online reputation of this little boutique in the Catskill mountains, leaving us with a few lessons about asking (or not) for online reviews.

The Moral Of The Story

We all know that positive online reviews are crucial for local businesses. Google’s algorithm selects carousel results with high reviews. With the intensification of the local algorithm (Pigeon), it’s more important than ever for a local business to establish a good local identity. Great reviews are the lifeblood of local SEO.

But there are right ways and wrong ways to get reviews.

The Wrong Way To Get Reviews

  • Threatening. I told you the story about the New York hotel as an extreme example. There’s no need to threaten. That’s going to backfire in a big way.
  • Asking At All. Yelp has stated in several places: Don’t ask for reviews. Yelp’s algorithm may even filter out the frothy artificial-sounding reviews. There’s a specific style of review that is sometimes solicited by the overeager business owner willing to do just about anything for the five-star rating – that’s the style of reviews that Yelp disallows. Google+ also has policies warning against offering money or services in return for a positive review. Sometimes, the places begging for reviews are doing it because they suck.

The Right Way To Get Reviews

There is only one legitimate way to get reviews: you deliver the best possible level of customer service that a human being is capable of delivering.

Let’s face it — someone isn’t going to leave a positive review just because you ask for it. They will leave a positive review because you deserve it.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re at a party. You spent some money on your wardrobe and a lot of time on your makeup, and you want compliments. You meet some new people, chat for a while, and as you’re parting ways, you ask politely, “Oh, by the way, could you make sure to say something nice about my dress to the next people you meet?” Or, “I’d appreciate a kind word about my necklace and earring pairings if you get a chance.”

That would be really weird. And no one would do that.

Getting awesome reviews has nothing to do with asking for them. It has everything to do with earning them.

I know it’s a bit different when it comes to asking for online reviews, but there are some parallels. If you want reviews, it may be perceived as tacky to ask for them. Customers have the mindset that the establishment is there to provide them with goods or services in exchange for money. Positive online reviews aren’t part of that exchange.

The best, most unbiased, and most persuasive reviews come from raving fans that were blown away by your killer service. If you want to avoid negative reviews, don’t do anything negative. If you want positive reviews, do everything positive.

Getting awesome reviews has nothing to do with asking for them. It has everything to do with earning them.


Online reviews are a fixture in today’s local business world. They aren’t going away. In fact, they’re getting bigger and more influential. The positivity or negativity of an online review affects algorithms and customers alike.

Your business will simply not be able to weather a storm of negative reviews. Your only survival mechanism is the good old-fashioned recipe of hard work, amazing service and commitment to excellence.

Do that, and the five-star reviews will start flooding in.

If you’re ever looking for a nice place to stay in Hudson, New York, you can try the Union Street Guest House. And if you have an opinion on the service, I’m sure it will welcome your five-star review.

The post How Not To Ask For Reviews: A True Story About Local SEO appeared first on Search Engine Land.