Should Businesses Ask Customers for Reviews?

The 2018 Guide on the Dos and Dont’s of Review Generation on Yelp, Google, Tripadvisor, etc

You might think that review sites would be okay with businesses asking their customers for reviews as long as the businesses aren’t paying for the reviews.  The reviews would be genuine because they are coming from people who have used their services.  And if no incentives are involved, then the reviews would be honest, too.

But that is not the case.

In the eyes of some review sites, solicited reviews can compromise consumer trust. Their terms and conditions call out their stance on review solicitation.  Other sites don’t seem to care.  And some even encourage businesses to solicit.  And sorting this all out can be very confusing for a business.

Moreover, if businesses do not understand the policies on each review site, they could not only harm their online presence but also expose themselves to legal and financial risk.

Yelp

Yelp is vigilant about watching out for businesses that are trying to manipulate their ratings. You may have heard about Yelp setting up sting operations to catch businesses in the act of paying for reviews, whether positive or negative. The penalty was a “90-day consumer alert” on their Yelp profile page to warn potential customers.

But Yelp also does not want businesses asking their customers for reviews, even if the reviews are not positive. Yelp is deliberate about communicating their stance in their terms and conditions and business blog.  They will even flag Yelp profiles if unusual activity is detected (see image below).

consumer alert

To the team at Yelp, review solicitation can cause unnaturally higher ratings, which they believe is a disservice to consumers who are trying to evaluate businesses. Yelp warns businesses that they have an algorithm which can detect and remove suspicious reviews anyways, aggressively filtering reviews into the “Not Recommended” section.

Google

As of this date, Google’s Review Content Policy does not say that businesses cannot ask for reviews in the same manner that Yelp’s does. And they have not set up sting operations to catch businesses paying for reviews either.

But Google does specify certain circumstances that might get reviews removed: “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 generated from kiosks tend to be easy for sites like Google to detect because they all come from the same tablet/device with one identifiable IP address).

With respect to incentivized reviews, their policy states: “Don’t offer or accept money, products, or services to write reviews for a business or to write negative reviews about a competitor.”

Side note: Since our platform Reputology.com can track and analyze reviews, we have seen Google become much more aggressive filtering reviews.

TripAdvisor

On the other side of the spectrum is TripAdvisor, which not only encourages businesses to solicit their customers for reviews but provides a suite of tools for assisting businesses.

Their first tool is a printable, customized feedback card. Almost like a business card, these are meant to encourage people to write reviews. They also offer Flyers that can be printed and placed in high-visibility areas.

For online solicitation, they have a “Review Express” tool which allows owners to send email reminders to recent guests. They also offer a widget that can be installed onto a website to help visitors compose a review and an app for your Facebook page.

However, like the other review sites, TripAdvisor prohibits incentivized reviews that are driven by competitions, discounts, or preferential treatment.

On top of that, TripAdvisor has a dedicated team evaluating the reviews.  The penalties for paid reviews include: the removal of the review, losing eligibility for TripAdvisor Rewards, and getting your profile marked with a red badge that warns consumers about misbehavior.

Facebook

Facebook’s policy with regards to businesses’ soliciting reviews is laxer than Yelp, Google & TripAdvisor. In fact, there is no policy against incentivized reviews (at least as of this date, though that may change). The social network only requires that reviews are based on personal experience with the business or product that the page is about.

Reviews do need to adhere to some community guidelines, like not inciting criminal activity, being disrespectful of others, using others’ Intellectual Property, or distributing personal information about others. It appears that biased or solicited reviews are basically only removed based on community complaint.

Is Review Solicitation Ethical?

We recognize that there are good arguments for both sides, for and against review solicitation.  From the perspective of the business, it is very understandable that they want the average rating on their review site profiles to accurately reflect their businesses.  But businesses are often tempted to look as good as possible and game their ratings to be artificially high.

From the perspective of review sites, they also want to portray businesses accurately so that consumers can trust their ratings. But review sites do not always accurately portray a business.

Our opinion at Reputology.com is that the safest, long-term way to improve online ratings is to show great customer service by responding quickly to new reviewers and take advantage of those reviews by making improvements based on any constructive criticism.

Final Takeaway

Paying for reviews is a clear no-no on all the heavy hitting review sites. And the penalties can be quite high, including the loss of prospective customers.

But asking for reviews (without any incentive) depends on the review site. TripAdvisor encourages businesses to ask for reviews. Facebook seems indifferent. Google warns of reviews being removed in specific scenarios. And Yelp flat-out does not want businesses asking for reviews, either positive or negative.

Given how important review sites have become as marketing channels, soliciting for reviews is clearly tempting. But businesses must do so cautiously and with an awareness of what’s allowed and what’s not.

 

Disambiguation: “Google+ Brand” vs “Google My Business”

Have you created a Google+ Brand page but don’t see your business on Google Maps?

Most likely, what you meant to do was create a local listing by using Google My Business.  A Google+ Brand page is for any business that wants to create a presence on the web, not just for a business that performs services out of a physical storefront.  (D’oh!  But don’t feel bad.  We wouldn’t be writing this post if others haven’t run into the same issue).

Here are instructions for getting listed on Google Maps if you already have a Google+ Brand page:

  1. Sign in to Google+ using the account of the owner of the Brand page.  (It’s gotta be the owner account).
  2. If you haven’t done so yet, go to Google My Business and create a local listing.
  3. On the left-hand side, click “Pages > Manage this page” for the local listing page you had created.  (Please note that it will look very similar to the Brand page, but it will have a verification badge next to the business name).
  4. In the top left corner, click “Dashboard > Settings”.
  5. In the “Profile” section, click “Connect a different page”.
  6. Click “Confirm”.  This will connect the Google+ Brand page to Maps and disconnect the local listing page you had created through Google My Business.

Once the Google+ Brand page is showing up on Maps, you’ll see the name and verification badge of the former local listing & all the business info (hours, phone, etc).  The followers, posts and managers will be preserved.  And any management responses to reviews will show up (although it might take a few hours to populate).  Google advises you to remove ad campaigns associated with the page in case you are running some.

Reference: https://support.google.com/business/answer/6010825

Facebook Makes Another Move Into Local Search With Places Redesign

Facebook recently redesigned its Places Directory, making it more usable as a local search and discovery tool.   You may recall that Facebook Places had undergone a face-lift last month, adding cover images, discovery sections, city and category landing pages, as well as deep integration with the Location API, Graph Search queries, and user-generated content.  In other words, this latest update is yet another indicator that Facebook wants a seat at the big kids’ table with Yelp, Tripadvisor, and Google.

Meet the New Facebook Places Directory

The Facebook Places Directory allows you to search for a specific destination, browse popular places in a particular location, and select from a list of country-segmented cities around the world.

FB Places page

The city directory page has six main categories: Restaurants, Hotels, Bars, Cafes, Public Attractions and Arts & Entertainment.  The tabs make it easy to move from one section to another.  And each brings you to an interface that showcases 5 places with photos, address, price range, number of reviews, average rating, and any comments by Facebook friends.

FB Places page 2

And underneath the showcase are your favorite: REVIEWS!

FB Places page 3

And other categories like Gyms, Grocery Stores, Schools, etc. are available in a “More” section, along with an interactive map to search nearby cities.  In each section, users can visit the suggested Places page or access a Graph Search query view.

FB Places page 4

Why Facebook Places Matters to Local Businesses

A new and improved Facebook Places means you get a more powerful marketing channel for driving foot traffic to your business.  (Yay!)  And it also provides another source of customer feedback because users can write reviews.  (Yay…)  Regardless of whether that excites you or makes you wince, Facebook as a major local search directory will matter, and we recommend businesses be pro-active at managing and monitoring their pages.

To get started managing or creating your business page on Facebook Places, click here.

If you’d like to track what reviewers are saying about your business on Facebook, you can count on Reputology.  Just let us know.

How to Respond to Google+ Reviews With “Google My Business” App

Last June, Google introduced the Google My Business App – a one-stop shop to help local businesses get found online. Recently, they updated the app so that businesses can respond to reviews in real time.

How the Google My Business App Update Works

As soon as a customer writes a review for your business, the app will send you a push notification and give you the chance to respond quickly. Here is nifty little graphic of how the push notification works (courtesy of Techcrunch).

reviews_framed_whitebg

Does the Google My Business App Allow Me to Send a Private Message to a Reviewer?

No (at least not as of when this article was written). Your response is still a public post.

Need Some Tips About How to Respond to Reviews?

Google offers some pointers on their Help page. And here’s what Reputology customers have to say.

Why Is Responding to Google+ Reviews Important?

Google is a heavy-hitter, and they’ll only get more influential in local. By responding to reviews quickly, you have the chance to not only get an unhappy reviewer to change his mind but to also win over any prospective customers reading your Google+ business page. Reviews are also a valuable source of customer feedback, so even if you don’t choose to respond, you still get input that can help make your business better.

If you need help monitoring and managing online reviews for all the major review sites and you’ve got multiple locations you’re overseeing, holler!

How to Get Your Business Listed on Apple Maps with “Maps Connect”

Back in July, a post on Reddit reported that the Apple Maps team was reaching out to business owners directly to verify incorrect address data. But a couple weeks ago, Apple launched a self-service business listing portal for single location businesses called Maps Connect.

Maps Connect is meant to help small business owners add and edit their local business listings on Apple Maps since Apple’s data listing providers aren’t always in sync. For multi-location businesses, you’ll need to contact Apple directly at mapsconnect-business@apple.com.

Here’s how you can get listed on Apple Maps using Maps Connect:

  1. Go to https://mapsconnect.apple.com/ and login using your Apple ID and password.

  2. You’ll be redirected to “Add a New Business Page”, where you can select your relationship to the business. You can choose either “I’m the business owner” or “I’m authorized by the business owner”.

  3. Next, type in your basic business details such as the business name, primary phone number, address, etc.

  4. Enable Apple to call your primary business number to verify your contact details and receive a PIN code. You can also choose to “Verify Later” or verify by email.

  5. Confirm your business location by choosing any of the three categories that best fits your business. Each category has several business types, and you can suggest a category if you can’t see one that suits your business.

  6. Once done, indicate your business hours followed by adding your company URL and social media accounts.

  7. Review your business information and click “OK” when you’re done.

According to a report on Search Engine Land, listings will appear on Apple Maps within a week or less, depending on the situation and whether the company information was flagged or requires additional verification. (Not bad relative to other directories). But if you want to speed up the verification process, you can use an email address that matches your business’ URL (eg. www.apple.com and you@apple.com).

Frequently Asked Questions About Apple Maps Connect

  1. What are the rules for business names on Apple Maps?

Your name should be listed the way a customer would see it from your external sign. It must include the brand with an optional category. However, your business name cannot include promotional phrases, location details, phone numbers, or other information that are not part of your true business name.

  1. What about business like law firms with multiple practitioners?

You can create a profile for public-facing individuals if they have contact information that’s different from your business details.

  1. Can I create different business profiles using the same address?

Apple states that you should create just one profile per physical location. For business with multiple departments with distinctly different purposes, you can still create a profile—provided that each department has a unique phone number.

  1. Can I change my business’ data after claiming my listing?

According to Apple: “We receive profile information from many sources. It’s possible one of these sources believed that they had more recent information. If the information now displayed by Apple Maps is inaccurate, please resubmit an update.” This means that you need to make sure that your data is recent and accurate at various Apple Maps business listing suppliers.

  1. How can I update my business photo on Apple Maps?

Business photo on Apple Maps came from Yelp. Just update your profile image on Yelp and it will sync on Apple Maps.

  1. My submission was not approved. What should I do?

You will receive a notification from Apple in case your submission is not approved. You can reply, requesting for manual review, afterwards.

  1. Are there other types of business that Apple doesn’t accept?

Businesses can only be approved if they have physical location. Therefore, home-based businesses, businesses with temporary locations or without physical address, or businesses that are yet to open cannot be listed.

  1. Can I use a forwarded phone number?

Unfortunately, Apple doesn’t accept redirected numbers.

  1. Can I use P.O. Boxes?

Apple doesn’t accept P.O. boxes either since your customers must be able to visit your business at your declared location. This means that you can’t enter other addresses where your employees are not physically present during business hours

  1. What if my business has moved or closed?

You must be able to answer your business’ previous phone number in order to take advantage of Maps Connect. Otherwise, you have to edit your business profile to indicate that the place has moved or closed. If you can no longer answer your business’ phone number, you can use your iOS device, search your business on Apple Maps, and click “Report a Problem.”

  1. How can I close a business on Apple Maps?

Apple’s listing process requires that you still answer your business’ phone before you can close it. Otherwise, you can report a problem from your business profile on Apple Maps using your iOS device.

For now, Apple Maps Connect is only available in U.S., and for those of you managing multiple locations, you’ll need to contact Apple directly at mapsconnect-business@apple.com.

(source: applemapsmarketing.com)

 

What menus and reviews tell us

A NYTimes Article profiling Dan Jurafsky has some interesting insights into the language used by restaurants and their reviewers. Dan Jurafsky is a linguistics professor at Stanford who is particularly interested in the language of food.

From his studies:

  • In high end restaurant menus which traditionally tended to contain more french words (jus, a la mode), french words are becoming less popular and italian words are becoming more used (caprese, nicoise).
  • High end restaurants tend to use shorter sentences but longer words. A 1 letter increase in the average word length correlates to an 18 cent increase in dish price.
  • Positive reviews all tend to be very similar to each other and negative reviews vary much more widely from each other. This echoes Leo Tolstoy’s famous line about how all happy families are alike and unhappy families are unhappy in different ways.
  • Negative reviews used language similar to those used in the wake of a traumatic event (terrorist attack, death). Words using past tense, and ‘we’ are seen much more frequently.
  • Reviews of expensive restaurants used sexual metaphors, whereas cheaper restaurants used drug metaphors.

All in all a very interesting series of observations! However, does this mean that a restaurant can increase profits by using longer, italian words in their menus and charging more per dish? As we know, it is not so straightforward. Correlation does not imply causation.

Hillstone Restaurant Group’s Testimonial for Review Monitoring with Reputology

“We use Reputology to structure our day and figure out how we’re going to learn from what our guests are saying about us.”
– Jonathan Geffrard, Hillstone Restaurant Group

What’s the Best Way to Deal with a Negative Review?

Here’s what Flagship Restaurant Group – a Reputology customer – told FSR Magazine how they handle their negative reviews:

[Flagship] responds to negative comments with a public response on the review site, so anyone reading the review sees that the issue has been addressed. “We keep it short and sweet, and make a mention that we will reach out privately to the disgruntled customer,” says Longo. “We also have a lot of back and forth internal conversation. We’ll talk with the location’s general manager. If it’s about the food, we’ll also talk to the chef.”

Flagship makes sure to follow-up with the guest. “We don’t assume the issue will just disappear,” says Longo. “We always try and make it right for that guest.”

The unhappy customer is sent a gift card, and after the restaurant visit, Flagship reaches out again. “Nine out of ten will have a better experience, and will amend, edit, or delete the review.”

(Or if you do want to take our word for it, here’s how we answered a similar question on Quora).

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How to Get Positive Reviews on Tripadvisor?

Someone on Quora asked about techniques for having a successful listing on Tripadvisor, and the key is to improve your guests’ ratings.  Here’s a repost of our answer:

Here are some specific techniques that a hotelier in Miami had used to improve their reviews, search ranking, and ultimately sales in 2013:

  1. Tripadvisor Comment Cards.  They targeted happy guests and asked for their feedback using these cards [replacing their normal comment cards].
  2. Offer incentives to your staff.  Nothing extravagant.  They awarded small cash prizes to individuals who got mentioned the most in reviews and threw a pizza party for the team that totaled the most.
  3. Respond quickly to negative reviews.  A number of Reputology customers have told us that they can get unhappy reviewers to change their mind about 7 out of 10 times by responding quickly and professionally.  Showing customers that a business cares what they think goes a long way.  Go fig. [For tips on how to respond to reviews, check out this other Quora post here].

The end result?  This hotelier was able to rank from the 50th position to the mid-teens.  Not too shabby. :)

How to Remove A Negative Yelp Review?

You don’t have a delete button to get rid of a negative Yelp review, but you’ve got some options:

Respond Quickly
If you think a reviewer can be reasoned with, respond to his grievances promptly and professionally. If you take the time to make things right, you have a very good chance of getting an unhappy reviewer to change his mind.

“Nine out of ten will have a better experience, and will amend, edit, or delete the review,” according to Flagship Restaurant Group (FSR Magazine). 

Dealing with a potentially angry customer can be a delicate process, and people are far more aggressive behind the keyboard. So when you do respond, stay calm, listen, be direct and follow through. Click here for more tips on how to respond to a negative Yelp review.

Bury It
Prospective customers will have a tougher time focusing on a negative review if positive ones overshadow it.  Here are some tips on how to get positive reviews on Yelp.

UPDATE: Burying reviews by soliciting for positive ones is a big no-no.  In fact, it is against Yelp’s terms of service to ask for any reviews.

Flag It
A negative review may be in violation of Yelp’s Content Guidelines. In that case, you can flag the review to alert Yelp administrators. Such reviews may include slurs, comments on anything that is not relevant to the business, or explicit statements that their review is a second-hand experience. If the review violates Yelp’s guidelines, it will be deleted in three to five business days. But keep in mind that flagging a reviews is no guarantee that the review will be removed. Removal is Yelp’s discretion.

Sue? :|
Your final option is a lawsuit. (Cue “Law & Order” gavel). If a comment is a blatant lie that is slandering your business, you may have a case. A Yelper in 2011 was found guilty of defamation after posting a scathing review on a contractor’s Yelp page. So it can work. But of course, it’s a lawsuit, i.e. very time consuming and costly with no guarantees you’ll win.