Respond to reviews directly from Reputology or Hootsuite

In addition to aggregating your Google and Facebook reviews into one place, Reputology also lets you reply to reviews directly from our interface.  No more clicking in and out, from site to site.

Screenshot #1: Monitor reviews and track replies from Reputology.

Screenshot #2: Post replies to Facebook and Google reviews directly the dashboard.

Our review monitoring app for Hootsuite also lets Hootsuite users to respond to reviews directly from the Hootsuite dashboard.

Screenshot 3: Monitor reviews along with all of your social channels from Hootsuite.

Screenshot #4: Reply to reviews from Hootsuite.

If you’d like to learn more about how Reputology’s technology can help your organization monitor and reply to reviews, contact us.

Will Google Make Local Review Sites Obsolete?

According to a recent study by Brightlocal, Google is acquiring new reviews much faster than Yelp, Tripadvisor, Facebook and Foursquare.  And as of July 2017, businesses were receiving more than double the amount of new Google reviews they were just a year before.  

Since releasing Google Maps in 2005, the search engine behemoth has made inroads into the local review space.  But this data shows more than progress. Google seems to have hit an inflection point and is now blowing away the competition.  Could this be a sign that Google will make other local review sites extinct?

The answer depends on the unique drivers of its growth and the sustainability of those drivers.  The rise of Google reviews seems linked to 3 massive distribution channels: Google’s Android phones, Google Maps and Google Search.  According to the Pew Research Center, 77% of all Americans now own a smartphone. Google has been able to tap into mobile users with both their Android phones and dominant Google Maps.  So anytime a mobile user searches for or needs directions to a local business, they are looking at business profiles and reviews courtesy of the Google Maps app.

Furthermore, Google Maps has made a simple but important product enhancement: it can identify users’ recently searched for and visited locales and automatically trigger a prompt asking users to leave a review.

The prompt makes writing a review easy for consumers, and it allows Google to get a review from someone who might never have bothered to leave one.  This is a big difference from other review sites, which have been critiqued for only capturing the very positive or very negative experiences because of how much effort it takes someone to write a review: open and/or install a separate review site app, find the business, and write a review with enough detail that it will not be filtered.  Google, on the other hand, can capture a broader range of reviewers – less motivated but perhaps more reflective of the average consumer’s experience.

This last point touches on an additional benefit for Google: the prompt lets Google qualify authentic reviewers more easily than other review platforms.  Due to businesses trying to game their ratings, other review sites expend significant effort evaluating the legitimacy of reviews by analyzing the user’s behavior and content of the review comments.  Some of the filtering can be automated through AI and natural language processing technology. But since the state of the art is not where it needs to be, many review sites err on the side of caution and over-filter reviews, screening genuine ones alongside the fakes.  (Yelp, for example, screens 25% of their reviews).  Google, however, can qualify reviewers based on their search intent and GPS coordinates.

Finally, Google has their ubiquitous search engine, which in recent years has prioritized Google Maps and placed it at or near the top of their search results.  This means links to other review sites end up being pushed beneath Google Maps, further down the page, where they inevitably receive less traffic. When it comes to search, these sites are at the mercy of Google.

But incumbents do have their advantages which may not be easy to overcome.  User-generated content – comments and photos – tend to be much richer on other platforms and thus more helpful to other consumers.  At Reputology, an analysis on character length in the body of the review comment found that Google reviews are about 150 characters in length – the size of a Tweet.  In comparison, Facebook averages closer to 300 characters and TripAdvisor comes in at 450. (That’s roughly double and triple the number of characters, respectively).  In other words, visitors of those other websites get more information about what reviewers liked and disliked.

Another impediment to Google’s dominance may be their reliance on the Local Guides program, which has also helped drive new reviews.  The Local Guides program rewards members with perks in exchange for creating/editing content for businesses on Google Maps, and this includes leaving reviews.  Those incentives may make those users feel more warm and fuzzy when writing a review, which would create a bias that an un-incentivized reviewer would not have.  A lack in authenticity in reviews could compromise consumer trust in Google reviews.

Also, other review sites can be much more focused on being review sites, whereas Google has other initiatives: self-driving cars, virtual reality, drones, etc.  Google may not be as successful at providing consumers with high quality reviews simply because they have have other priorities.

Even within the review site industry, vertical specific sites for autodealers like Cars.com and Edmunds.com or healthcare like Vitals.com and Healthgrades.com exist because they can offer many more details and features to visitors than a general local search directory.  

Moreover, some industries have evolved alongside Google Maps rather than become obsolete, like travel and hospitality.  When you search for hotels on Google Maps, reviews sourced from Orbtiz and Expedia may populate the results.  

So even if Google gains poll position, it could partner with other players.  But if Google continues leveraging its large distribution channels & counters the advantages of its competitors, the search engine giant may just take all the traffic for itself.

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.

UPDATE 4/13/2018: In addition to the rules listed above, Google has changed their policy to prohibit 1) “review gating”, i.e. selectively asking for reviews from happy customers only and 2) asking for reviews in bulk.

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.