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There has been a recent update to Google’s Content Guidelines surrounding contributed local reviews which specifically outlaws the discouragement or prohibition of negative reviews as well as the selective soliciting of positive reviews.
While local SEO experts are pointing out that this update actually says nothing new, and that this has always Google’s policy, the new addition to the guidelines has stated Google’s position even more clearly so that there can be no confusion in the matter.
When it comes to businesses that use customer reviews on their websites, this update means that taking care with the approach to obtaining those reviews is even more important. Businesses must be extra carefully about how they discourage or solicit customers about either not leaving or leaving reviews for their local company.
Crossing the line could lead to the removal of the reviews, or worse, the business being ultimately suspended from Google’s search results.
Local SEO experts have pointed out that in April 2018, Google's content guidelines regarding Prohibited Content contained a vital new rule which was to avoid discouraging or prohibiting negative reviews or soliciting selectively positive customer reviews.
However, the rule was generally and broadly stated which made it hard to work out precisely what was intended by Google. Therefore, the more recent update has clarified this rule and has stated without any possibility for confusion that businesses will be penalised if they make any attempt at all to permit only positive customer reviews to be shown.
If you’re requesting customer reviews of your business on Google, you must, at an absolute minimum, request all customers to leave a review within the review request process, and avoid engaging in any practices to filter customers out who may leave a negative review. But it’s also important to note that the prohibition is only applicable to Google Reviews and not other review sites.
Google is certainly taking action to look into its business users’ review requesting practices, so it’s important to review your practices to ensure that you aren’t going to fall foul of the rules. It isn’t clear, though, what kind of remedial actions or punishments Google may take if a party is deemed to have engaged in requesting reviews selectively.
Evidence exists that action has been taken by Google in the past against those who have broken similar rules, with their reviews having been eradicated in bulk.
Although the prohibition may only apply to Google Reviews and not other review sites, that doesn’t mean that you should actively seek out only positive reviews from customers in any circumstances. In fact, it is becoming clear that requesting a review from every customer represents the best way of obtaining an unbiased and complete customer experience overview.
In fact, regulatory agencies are now beginning to confirm that requesting only reviews from happy customers is often anti-competitive. The CMA (Competition and Markets Authority), for example, has now given formal guidance to advise against only collecting reviews from customers that are known to be satisfied with the service they’ve received, and pointed out that these practices may be deemed to be deceptive or anti-competitive practices under UK laws.
While a number of businesses hold onto the misconception that reviews should be selectively requested to improve their online reputations, this is certainly not best practice. It’s true that building up a strong reputation online is vital for businesses to achieve success, but consumers are typically suspicious if they only see five and four-star reviews being left for any business.
After all, no company is perfect. A business can actually enhance its credibility if it has an occasional miss or two. Negative reviews can even give a business the opportunity to publicly demonstrate its ability to rapidly respond and help customers out.
Requesting a review from every customer can actually generate a higher score for online reputation. The reason for this is that if you begin with a survey that qualifies whether a customer has a negative or positive view of your company before you request a review, you risk “survey fatigue” being induced, leading to a lower click-through rate for leaving reviews and, thus, a lower overall volume of reviews.
As higher numbers of reviews can improve your brand’s reputation, it makes sense to just go ahead with requesting a review from every customer, regardless of whether they’re happy with your services or not.
Furthermore, getting reviews from both happy and unhappy customers is a great way to obtain an unbiased and complete overview of your customers’ experiences. You can then use this feedback to improve your operations and serve your customers better, thus building greater customer loyalty in the long run.
If customers are unhappy, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t request their reviews. The best course of action, though, is to direct them towards a brief survey that will help to diagnose more precisely where the problem lies. After gathering this information, you can then point your unhappy customer to Google reviews (or other sites) where they can share their own experience, even if it isn’t a positive one.
You will then be leaving the choice of whether or not to leave a review in the customer’s hands, what the review will express, and the star rating that they are prepared to give your business. As a result, the customer experience that your company offers will be reflected fully and fairly in your overall reviews, and you’ll have the chance to address the issues that arise, improve the service experience you offer, and over time, retain and attract more customers.
If you selectively solicit reviews from only happy customers, the result is likely to be abuses that encourage other review websites as well as Google to severely limit or forbid review solicitation in the long run.