As maps, apps, search engines, and smart devices enhance the experience they deliver to users, consumers increasingly expect to find rich, deep, up-to-the-minute information when they search. We're no longer just looking for "pizza near me" — we're asking Google, Siri, and Alexa, "What's the best pizza place that's open now?"
While each site and service uses its own algorithm to determine the best answers to questions like these, they all consult reviews to inform their results — and they're giving priority real estate to star ratings.
But in the race to get more reviews, some businesses have been found selling fake reviews, padding ratings of their own business with fraudulent content, or hand-selecting only happy customers to ask for feedback. These practices erode users' confidence in online reviews, and they've unfortunately led to real consequences:Amazon is suing sellers for buying fake reviews, and in the U.S.A., theFTC even fined an auto dealership group $3.6 million for bad practices that included deceptive online reviews.
Here are some guidelines to keep in mind as you build your reviews strategy:
- Don't copy reviews from another site to your website. If you want to add stars to your organic search results, Google now explicitly requires you to generate your own, fresh reviews directly from your customers. It may be tempting to copy and mark up 5-star reviews from sites like Facebook or Yelp so they display in the search engine results page (SERP), but this violates Google'sguidelines.
- Don't request reviews from happy customers only. Asking for reviews from only those customers who you know had a good experience can lead to biased ratings. Instead, if you want to gather first-party reviews to use on your own website, the best approach is not to pre-screen your customers before asking for a review.70% of them will leave a review if you just ask! And feedback from unhappy customers can aid your business in the long run, because it can point you to areas where you can improve (plus, customers tend not to trust a perfect 5-star rating — customers' purchase likelihood actually peaks when your average rating is between 4.2 and 4.5 stars(https://spiegel.medill.northwestern.edu/_pdf/Online Reviews Whitepaper.pdf)).
- Don't incentivize customers to leave a review. While offering customers a coupon or service in exchange for a review can seem compelling, people see through this practice. A car dealership in New Zealand recentlylearned the hard way that this practice does more harm than good.
- Don't use canned review responses. Businesses risk doing more harm than good if their responses are all alike. And in some cases, according to Jay Baer at Convince & Convert, "scripted, tone-deaf responses are as bad as no response at all." Your customers are individuals — and they deserve to be treated as such.