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 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).
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.
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.
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’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.
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.