|The Times back in 2011 – not a lot has changed|
- Selling advertising: this would be alright if good old-fashioned ads simply appeared as they do in print journalism; but what about when a company can pay to come top of search results for a particular service? Google make this pretty clear, but is every Yelp user aware that the first result in almost every search is paid for?
- Selling leads: How many consumers realise that the fact that they need a ‘plumber’ is being sold (as a lead) to the plumber(s) in question?
- Commission: Again: how many guests realise that they are generating commission and fees for websites like TripAdvisor and Booking.com every time they book through them? It wouldn’t be allowed if they were providing financial advice, but hotels are paying these sites anything up to 30% commission – straight out of the money consumers are paying for their rooms.
Now: why would anyone want to write a fake review of their business?
Because great reviews drive business, it’s as simple as that. Let’s mine down a little further:
- Because it’s a lot easier than getting a genuine review. Great genuine reviews are predicated on building great customer relationships, otherwise all the review will do is expose the business’s weaknesses. Only businesses which provide consistently great service and have top-notch CRM find it easy to get great reviews
- It’s also a lot lower-risk: the fake review is guaranteed to be complimentary (and rate the business 5*). In addition, the fake review can be tailor-made to highlight aspects of the business that the business wants to promote. Sophisticated fake review management becomes part-and-parcel of the business’s marketing and PR
- But is it (lower risk)? Yes, until Google and their peers decide (like Amazon) to crack down on fake reviews (and the companies who are the subject of those fake reviews). Anyone who doubts Google’s ability to discover fake reviews (given the will) should bear in mind that Google knows every user’s search history, keystroke by keystroke!
- Because their competitor has stolen a march: we see this all the time: a business loses out to a competitor and then notices that the competitor has great reviews; they panic and decide to tale a ‘short cut’
- By over-eager members of staff (‘I was only trying to help/please my boss’)
- By staff ‘testing the system’ (‘I just wanted to see what a review looked like’)
- By colleagues, friends and relations of staff (‘trying to be helpful’)
You might be surprised to hear the justification that we hear: “But we are a great business, I only wrote the review because none of my customers had.”; “Why shouldn’t I review my own business? I truly mean every word of what I wrote.” and the list goes on.
|The dreaded TripAdvisor ‘Red Flag’. How long before Google introduce something similar?|
- First and foremost: remember that your reputation is your most valuable business asset:
it is highly unlikely that you built that reputation overnight in the
real world, so be patient in the online world. Get a review a week to
your own website and a review a month to Google and in two years you
will look great on both.
- Resist the temptation to cut corners and game the system: we have an ever growing list of businesses where we have concrete evidence that they are ‘up to no good’ and Google cannot be far behind us! What do we mean by ‘up to no good’? Examples include: employees of different branches of the same business writing reviews of their sister branch; management openly encouraging staff to write bogus reviews from their home computers; staff being asked to encourage friends and family to write bogus reviews, and the list goes on. One day Google will catch these businesses, and when they do the consequences will be dire (just ask any hotel that has been ‘red flagged’ on TripAdvisor – mind you, you will be hard-pressed to find one: they’ve mostly had to close).
- If you know you have fake reviews – anywhere: have them removed by the people who posted them and warn them not to repeat their action
- Do everything possible to redress the positive/negative imbalance: by this, we mean the disconnect between theory and reality: in an ideal (?) world everyone would write reviews, positive or negative, whenever they used a business; in practice a negative experience provides hugely more motivation for the average consumer to write a review. This skews results against (especially SME) businesses. We often meet businesses with thousands of customers whose only reviews on Google are a solitary 1*. TripAdvisor has gone a long way towards resolving this issue by actively encouraging hotels to invite their guests to post reviews; Google should do the same.
- Insist on proper authentication: make it as near as impossible as you can for anyone to write a review using anything but their true identity. We have examples of malicious reviewers setting up multiple G+ accounts to harm businesses. You have the power, just use it.
- Weed out anonymous reviews: up until recently people could post as ‘A Google User’. It was a hangover from the old Google Places. Delete them all (maybe give the reviewer the option to add their identity before you do!).
- Understand the difference between businesses that incentivise reviewers to write reviews and businesses that incentivise reviewers to write positive reviews: you should view the former as laudable and helpful to Google users, the latter should quite rightly continue to contravene your T&C’s. Unless you do this SMEs (which lack the volume of customers) will always struggle against the big corporates. And it’s the SMEs your users need to know most about (after all, who needs to read yet another review of McDonald’s or Sainsbury’s?