Let’s make 2017 the year of honest reviews!

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It’s another month, so it’s time for another installment of Greg’s Soapbox. This time, we’re talking about reviews.

Is it just me, or does it seem like we’re seeing more and more fake reviews out there lately? Sure, reviews are an important piece of the Local SEO puzzle, but they’re nowhere near a silver bullet.

Why is it that so many companies are cheating when it comes to reviews? I’d at least understand if they had a problem with bad reviews that they were trying to bury, but it makes zero sense when it’s a company that gets great reviews anyway.

Even worse, it seems that the vast majority of fake reviews are happening on Google. After this fall’s Possum update, it’s more important than ever before to spread your reviews around to third-party reviews sites.

I was doing a mini-audit for a potential client last month (using the same template and system I shared in my Local SEO mini audit post here on Search Engine Land a few years ago). When I got to the reviews section, I found appalling results — it was painfully obvious that they were faking reviews. I brought it up on the call, and it turned out that the owner had no idea that his team was faking reviews.

So for this month’s post, I thought it would be prudent to share six important tips to help everyone make their reviews (or their clients’ reviews) more honest in 2017. They’ll be better for potential customers, and they’ll avoid potential problems from filters or penalties.

1. It’s not normal behavior to mention staff members by name

Sure, if you’re offering really amazing customer service and your sales process is longer or more drawn out, you might get a few reviews that mention staff members by their first names. People will never leave reviews that mention your staff by first and last name, though — and they definitely never leave reviews that mention multiple staff members by first and last name.

If you see this in reviews, one of two things is happening: the reviews are fake, or the review content is being influenced by staff members — both of which are either illegal or against the rules of review sites. Google’s review guidelines even state that reviews should be “honest representations of the customer experience. Those that aren’t may be removed.”

2. Too many reviews can be a bad thing

Yep, we all want to have a higher review count than other local competitors — but if you get significantly more reviews, it starts to look fake. When you get exponentially more reviews than competitors, it’s human nature to assume that something fishy is going on, even if your reviews are all legitimate.

Facebook breaks down the numbers of your different star ratings, so if you’re faking reviews, the huge discrepancy is even more obvious. Suddenly your play to get reviews is backfiring and scaring potential customers away.

too many reviews can look fake

3. Don’t collect reviews on site

Google has done some flip-flopping over the years when it comes to review stations, but they’re currently in the “don’t do it” camp. Official review guidelines state:

If you’re a business owner, don’t set up review stations or kiosks at your place of business just to ask for reviews written at your place of business.

Reviews are supposed to be left after the purchase/service is completed and the customer has left. Reviews that come from a single location run a risk of, at minimum, getting filtered out — or at worst, getting penalized.

Yelp even covers your review content with an interstitial warning if they’ve detected too many reviews coming from your IP address — does it really matter what your review score is at this point if this is all people see when they come to your site?

yelp-review-warning

4. Don’t let employees leave reviews

This one should be common sense, but your employees shouldn’t leave reviews for your business. Google’s guidelines state, “If you own or work at a place, please don’t review your own business or employer.” Not only is it risking a filter or penalty, it’s simply a bad idea because it makes you look desperate.

employees shouldn't review their own company

5. Don’t limit replies to negative reviews

Leaving responses to positive reviews shows that you care about your customers. It’s a warm fuzzy that helps build trust with potential customers. Most businesses respond only to negative reviews, even though the vast majority of their reviews are positive.

Yelp has started to advise against leaving public replies to positive reviews, so be prepared to receive a warning message if you’re replying to positive reviews there. For any other site, go for it — leave some thanks and praise to your happy customers.

6. Bad replies make bad reviews worse

You’re not really replying to bad reviews to respond to the person who left the review — you’re responding so that everyone else can see how you deal with customer complaints. Your responses should be short, to the point, and well-thought-out.

Long, rambling responses or responses that don’t really address the complaint can actually do more harm than good. The worst thing you can do is leave canned responses. Typically, we only see this when businesses are using a reputation management provider to handle review responses. They’ll simply paste in a generic response to every bad review.

Check out the example below. This dealership was using a third party to respond to reviews, and that company simply pasted the same response to every single review, only changing the name of the person they’re responding to. Clearly, this makes you look like you don’t care about your customers.
canned review responses will hurt you

If you’ve got a problem with bad reviews, take a close look at your processes and figure out how to improve your customer service. If you already get great reviews, let them come in naturally — don’t cheat the system to try to get ahead in Google. It won’t help, and you’ll do more harm than good with potential customers.

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