Yelp and Google Change Up Their Online Review Policies
Online review platforms, where consumers can go to post about their experiences with a particular brand, like to switch things up from time to time. In recent months, Google and Yelp have imposed rules on how businesses generate much-needed reviews. Their argument is that the rules weed out nefarious activities in the online reputation management arena. However, businesses unafraid of negative feedback, knowing it could help them improve their processes, end up limited in their tools to request reviews and to manage the digital conversation about their brand.
In some industries, consumers are quick to post reviews. According to Yelp's numbers, the shopping industry gets most of the reviews, 21% to be exact. Restaurants are next at 17%, followed by home and local services at 14%, while the auto category attracts only 5% of reviews.
Before the Internet, your neighborhood plumber got most of their business by word of mouth. Today, online reviews have become the modern-day referral. It's customers posting about their experiences (ideally positive ones) on review sites such as Yelp, Google, and Thumbtack as well as on hyperlocal platforms such as Nextdoor, that allow users to recommend a business.
One way businesses get reviews is by asking their customers to review them on their choice sites. However, last year Yelp started penalizing businesses for requesting that feedback. They're trying to weed out organizations offering incentives such as vacation packages, in-store credit, and flat-out cash in exchange for positive comments.
That makes sense, but not every business is offering a reward in exchange for positive reviews. Some may offer rewards for any and all reviews, while others are simply asking them to take a few minutes to provide some feedback and spread the word (again, ideally positive).
Unfortunately, as things sometimes go, one bad review can spoil the bunch. Yelp's sweeping policy lumps all businesses into one: No business can request reviews from customers. If they are caught doing so, they will be warned and can be penalized so far that they'll issue "search ranking penalties" that will demote a business's Yelp rankings and hurt their overall online reputation on the site. Yelp will also post a consumer alert badge on a suspected business's profile page.
At the same time, Yelp may not even be a site businesses want to focus on when deciding on an online reputation management strategy, seeing as they garner more negative reviews than just about any other review site. There are plenty of other platforms that champion the business, such as Thumbtack and Angie's List.
In April, Google, a site that claims more Internet traffic than any other, quietly changed its terms and conditions to stop allowing "review gating." Review gating is when a firm sends their customers (or their clients' customers, if they are an online reputation management company) a private survey to get a snapshot of whether or not they approve of their experience with a brand.
Often customers who rate their experience as positive ("promoters" in the Net Promoter Score world) will be asked to write the brand a public, online review. Customers who mark their experience negatively ("detractors" and "passives") go through a different process. They're asked to provide additional feedback so the business owner can learn what went wrong with their experience, reach out, and try to fix the problem. Once the customer is happy, they are asked to write a review publicly, which would be positive by this point.
With Google's latest change, businesses and reputation management companies will need to treat all private customer feedback the same: promoter, detractor, or passive, all customers must get a review request.
There is a way, however, to abide by the terms and conditions while still having the opportunity to convert a detractor into a promoter. Companies should still take time to work with the detractor (or passive) to fix whatever it is they are unhappy about. After a set period, maybe two weeks, the brand or reputation management firm can ask the customer to review the business, whether or not their issue has been resolved. This method increases the chance of getting a positive online review, while still adhering to Google's latest terms and conditions.
While these two changes may seem minor, they are exactly the kinds of changes online review platforms like to implement - and they have the potential to put a business's online reputation at risk. As consumers continue to put their faith in online reviews, review platforms are most likely to also continue making changes to how businesses can solicit public feedback.
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