The Internet runs rampant with Business Review opportunities. Every site on which you can list your business online offers users the convenience of adding a review, regardless of whether you have paid a fee to list your business or have chosen their free listing option. And while the universal need for positive reviews has generated plenty of illicit review services which, for a time, were posting fake content everywhere, many such enterprises have since been squelched by the dominant listing sites whose algorithms detect such prohibited activity and prevent inclusion.
Looking at Google’s stance on reviews, it is clear that certain decisions we make may provoke less than desirable results. For instance, Google frowns upon offering anyone an incentive to post a good review about your business. And, they emphasize that they will remove reviews that “include plagiarism or are copied from other sites.” Their goal is to provide the most truthful and trustworthy information they can, because their content reflects back on them, and their aim is to be viewed as the leading authority on everything. Here is what they say:
“Reviews are only valuable when they are honest and unbiased. For instance, as a business owner or employee you should not review your own business or current place of work. Don’t offer money or product to others to write reviews for your business or write negative reviews about a competitor. We also discourage specialized review stations or kiosks set up at your place of business for the sole purpose of soliciting reviews. As a reviewer, you should not accept money or product from a business to write a review about them. Additionally, don’t feel compelled to review a certain way just because an employee of that business asked you to do so. Finally, don’t post reviews on behalf of others or misrepresent your identity or affiliation with the place you are reviewing…Sometimes our algorithms may flag and remove legitimate reviews in our effort to combat abuse. We know this is frustrating when it happens but believe that overall, these measures are helping everyone by ensuring that the reviews appearing…are authentic, relevant, and useful.”
Getting your business reviewed online can be intimidating in other ways as well. First of all, if you invite reviews from customers or clients, your goal of course is to get positive reviews. And whether you want reviews or not, once you have a business website on the Internet, eventually you will be listed on a variety of sites that encourage reviews. And you will have no control over what those reviews say.
While every type of business can be reviewed, certain types of businesses are more popular to reviewers than others. For instance, if you have a culinary or auto repair business, you are more likely to be reviewed on a popular site like Yelp!, while hospitality businesses or travel destinations are typically reviewed on Trip Advisor. These reviews are posted by ordinary people who have had the pleasure… or misfortune… of experiencing your business offerings. If they found satisfaction with your operation, chances are good that the review will reflect that positive sentiment. If they were disappointed with your performance, your hopes for a good review are in serious jeopardy.
And what happens if you are the victim of a bad, or worse, scathing review? Whether it is justified or totally inaccurate, there is very little you can do about its availability online. Google suggests that the best way to handle it is to reply to the reviewer and try to come to some kind of resolution. However, the most realistic solution to rectifying such a disturbing occurrence is to work toward adding newer, more complimentary content everywhere you can, and hopefully more positive reviews to balance out the bad review’s negative impact. Eventually, simply with the passage of time, the significance of the offensive review will be reduced, if not obliterated altogether. However, any attempts you make to have a bad review removed, which will never happen, can backfire terribly, so it is advised that you not resort to that strategy.
In addition to such sites as the many online listing services, your business can be reviewed on sites such as eBay or Amazon if you are selling from their platforms. One of my own clients recently was approached by a person who had posted a glowing review of a product he had purchased from my client’s store on Amazon, offering to post additional reviews of my client’s many products elsewhere. I think Google would regard this as forbidden behavior and could land both the reviewer and the seller in hot water. When I questioned my client about the status of that offer, he told me the “reviewer” was never to be heard from again.
Plenty of sites allow the posting of reviews and urge you to solicit them. This includes LinkedIn which even has a composed e-mail you can send to your connections to ask for a “recommendation,” if you are not capable of creating your own custom message. Since there is no promise of compensation or reward for accommodating your request, this approach to getting reviews is probably regarded as legitimate and tasteful. My own pursuit of such LinkedIn reviews several years ago using my own individually written e-mails to each candidate resulted in an overwhelmingly positive number of reviews I am proud to share with the world. Unfortunately, although LinkedIn has stellar rankings in search results, its reviews are not instrumental in elevating my own search rankings and sadly, are not referenced at all by Google. Furthermore, as per Google’s statement above, I cannot use any of these great reviews verbatim on other websites because of the “duplicate content” issue which Google so vehemently detests.
LinkedIn has recently initiated another ranking system for its participants called “Endorsements,” which do not require any lengthy writing or personal investment of time. Much like the act of “liking” something on Facebook, a mere click of the mouse can endorse someone and send them a message to notify them of your gracious gesture. I always thank my endorsers. However, having seen the huge number of people who have received endorsements on LinkedIn, I have come to value this vote of confidence as far less relevant than I once did. In fact, I see it more as a way for LinkedIn to generate some activity between connections which may result in business for the social site, judging from its skyrocketing share price which is up an incredible 73 percent to date.
To try to appraise which review sites command most superiority in search results, I search businesses by name (and location, if needed) along with the term “reviews” but conduct such searches on a browser which is not influenced by historic online activity or cookies in any way. One such browser is Google’s own Chrome which provides the option of choosing an “Incognito Window.” This window is accessible by clicking on Chrome’s upper right corner symbol of three horizontal lines found at the end of the URL address bar. A drop-down menu of options is then deployed from which you can select the Incognito Window. True to its name, this window carries no record of previous searches I may have done and always starts with a fresh slate, so to speak. It’s the perfect way to check your own SEO.
If a business has been reviewed, the organic search results will include appropriate listings in order of site strength and popularity, and then by seniority. However, more impressively and prominently, appearing to the upper right of these results will be a large display of visuals from the firm’s Google Places page (now known as Google+), particularly if it is a local business. What is noteworthy, however, is that along with its map location, this display includes links to its Google+ reviews, featuring them exclusively above all others.
Because I have reviews on my website, search results for my own business are begun with my website listing, with specific links to my Google+ reviews again prominently displayed beneath this listing.
Popular review sites that lead the way for my own business are first and foremost, Google+, then Angie’s List, Yahoo Local, Merchant Circle, Yellow Pages and Superpages.com. For a landscaping client of mine whose results are also topped by Google+, Yelp! follows with BBB.com (Better Business Bureau) a close runner-up. When I examine the BBB review, it clearly states that businesses must request to be accredited (which requires a steep annual fee). Search results for law firms or individual lawyer reviews are led by Avvo.com, while those for medical practices or individual doctors are dominated by HealthGrades.com.
Since Google+ reviews are clearly the most predominant and meaningful content Google chooses to target in search results, playing a key role in your search ranking when using Google search, you need to know how to solicit and post such reviews. And, unfortunately, it can be quite difficult.
First of all, you must ask your customers or clients to write and post their own reviews. You cannot do it for them because Google knows everyone’s IP address. Secondly, your reviewers cannot post their review on your Google+ page unless they have a Google account, which is accomplished by setting up a Gmail account. This may sound like child’s play until you realize what a lengthy process it can be, filling out detailed personal information, security safeguards, birthday, alternate notification e-mail addresses, etc., etc. A busy client or customer hardly has time to do this, especially just as a gesture of appreciation to you, their vendor, service professional or entrepreneurial partner, for lack of a better description. Even if you are their lawyer, or other esteemed business expert, time is still of the essence. Finally, if they have conquered all of those parameters, you need to give them the link to your Google+ page where they can click on the “Write a Review” link. Once they complete that step, it sometimes takes a period of time (an hour or more) before the review becomes “live” so you can read it. If there are errors, like a typo-laden review one of my lawyer clients so generously wrote for me, you may as well just resign yourself to living with them. I could not bring myself to ask him to revise it, if that is even allowed, and was just terribly grateful for his kindness in posting such a long, complimentary review. With aging eyesight and limited computer literacy as his personal challenges, I am lucky to have received his review at all. And…Google published it verbatim, without any questions asked. That’s a miracle in itself!
Marilyn Bontempo, president of Mid-Hudson Marketing, based in Holmes, New York, has been developing strategies for business success for more than 37 years. A professional writer and graduate of Bard College, she has won numerous awards for excellence in marketing, photography, graphics, writing and Web design. As a specialist in branding, she assists many of her clients with management of their social media and public relations initiatives. In addition, she handles eCommerce for a number of online merchants not only on their own websites but through eBay, Amazon and others. View her work at www.midhudsonmarketing.com.