More businesses, especially eCommerce stores, are incentivizing customers to leave reviews. It is a sound marketing strategy, considering 95 percent of consumers read reviews. Moreover, 58 percent said they would pay more for brands or products with good reviews.
It is easy to see why some companies pay customers to write a review on Google or other sites. Good reviews result in higher sales and revenues. But incentivizing reviews may also come with some downsides. Depending on the circumstances, it may lead to a penalty on the platform. In worse cases, it may even violate Federal trade Commission (FTC) regulations.
So, companies must understand the possible ramifications before they pay for Google reviews.
Does the FTC Allow Businesses To Incentivize Reviews?
In the past, the FTC has taken action against companies that incentivize reviews. Because of that, some brands worry about the legality of asking customers to write a review on Google.
Procuring fake Google reviews or paying to remove negative reviews is illegal. Likewise, it is also unlawful to manipulate the review system to show only high ratings. These deceptive practices abuse trust, harming both consumers and honest businesses.
Consumers must get a true and accurate picture of how others think about a brand, product, or service. It is why the FTC is against any form of manipulating feedback to influence customers. Even so, they did not explicitly prohibit incentivizing reviews.
So when it comes to how businesses buy Google reviews or how customers get paid to write reviews, what matters is the conduct or manner of procurement and intention.
Here are some tips for companies that intend to buy Google reviews:
- Review sites, eCommerce platforms, marketplaces and other websites have rules. Find out if they allow soliciting or offering people to get paid to write reviews.
- Companies that provide an incentive for reviews must disclose that to the consumers. But do note that some platforms may still not allow incentivized reviews even if disclosure exists.
- Provide an incentive to write reviews, not to write only good reviews. In other words, do not manipulate customers to dissuade them from leaving bad reviews.
- Do not ask people who have never used or experienced the product or service for reviews. Fake reviews on Google, Facebook and other sites are deceptive and illegal.
- One technique to increase reviews is asking employees, family, friends, or customers to write good reviews. But avoid this practice as it is deceptive. Also, some platforms may not allow individuals connected to a brand to leave feedback.
Generally, there must be no condition when soliciting or incentivizing reviews. In other words, reviewers must be free to write about their experience however they want it – be it good or bad.
Is It Okay To Buy Google Maps Reviews?
Positive reviews on Google enhance brand reputation, increase leads and enhance conversions. One study from ReviewTrackers, for instance, showed 63.6 percent of consumers checked Google reviews before visiting a physical location, more than other review sites. So, without a doubt, it impacts businesses the most compared to other sites.
One reason for the importance of Google Maps reviews is that it appears in search results. Besides displaying contact information, online reviews influence consumers, especially positive ones.
The problem, though, is that some companies buy fake Google reviews. So while it may work to a certain degree, it would be difficult to recover from reputation damage if detected by discerning consumers.
Generally, Google considers the following as deceptive:
- Encouraging, incentivizing or paying people to write a review that does not represent an authentic experience.
- Fake reviews on Google, as is the case when people get paid to write reviews.
- Writing positive reviews, modifying, or removing bad reviews in exchange for discounts, free goods or services.
Google is very clear about its policy on incentivizing customers. However, to stay on the safe side, review the guidelines they published for Google Maps reviews.
What Are the Consequences of Incentivizing Customer Reviews?
“Generating online reviews is illegal if it is not real customers or the company is paying just for good scores,” said Tim Clarke, Rize’s senior reputation manager.
So, companies that pay for Google reviews are procuring fake reviews. While it does increase reviews, there are also risks.
- Reputation Damage. No one wants to be manipulated. So when consumers smell even a tiny whiff of deception, their brand perception will be very negative. As a result, they are unlikely to do business with brands that use fake reviews on Google and other sites.
- Removal From Review Site or Listing Directory. Google, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Amazon and other platforms have their terms and conditions. So companies that buy Google reviews may be violating their policy on incentivizing reviews. As a result, they may suspend or remove a business from their listing, leading to a loss of opportunities.
Why Not All Incentivized Reviews Are Bad
Incentivizing reviews, for sure, bring businesses close to the thin line separating what an acceptable marketing strategy and outright violation of platform policies or FTC regulations is. Still, there are circumstances in which it remains a strategy.
Review the guidelines of each review site. If offering something in exchange for reviews is acceptable, follow the conditions carefully. Usually, these include:
- Emphasize that the incentive is only valid for honest reviews and ratings, regardless of whether they are good or bad.
- Disclose to the public that the reviews were incentivized.
On the one hand, some marketers may feel that disclosures are counterproductive. But the reality is that consumers value honesty. One survey, for instance, shows that 62 percent of consumers say they are attracted to businesses that exhibit ethical values and authenticity.
Why Some Companies Buy Negative Google Reviews
One might think that businesses are more likely to pay to remove negative reviews, but some may actually buy negative Google reviews.
Consider this scenario:
A product has a perfect rating or only positive reviews. But many consumers do not view them as trustworthy. So mixing some negative ratings balances the mix, making them believable.
But the above scenario is far-fetched. Most likely, entities that buy negative Google reviews have malicious intent – that is, to harm the reputation of a competitor. This is why many organizations use reputation management services to protect themselves.
One of the jobs of a reputation manager is to monitor brand mentions for negative reviews. Upon seeing one, they coordinate with the customer service staff to help the complainant resolve an issue. Another thing they take note of is spam, fake, or malicious attacks, in which the response is to contact the platform and initiate their removal.
Do Reputation Management Agencies Incentivize Reviews?
One of the services provided by reputation management companies is to help their clients generate reviews. While every agency claims to use white-hat techniques, some may be running a Pay to Play Provision.
As discussed, paying people to write a review on Google comes with risks. Therefore, it is best to avoid these agencies as the consequences are too severe.
Some red flags to watch out for when researching an online reputation management agency are the following:
- Unnatural links from dubious referring domains
- Black-hat SEO techniques like keyword stuffing, content scraping, or using hidden texts and links
- Click-through rate (CTR) manipulation, such as using bots to generate high click-through rates
A reputable reputation management company would use ethical techniques in collecting reviews from real customers. One thing they will refuse to do is to promise “only” positive reviews. They would also refuse to help remove negative reviews. Instead, they help in resolving issues raised by dissatisfied customers.
Above all, a reliable reputation management agency would have a proven track record. More importantly, they can provide contact information of brands they worked with, who can vouch for their high-quality service.
Best Way To Incentivize Customer Reviews
As a general rule, offering incentives in exchange for reviews is acceptable. But customers should not feel compelled to write positive reviews. Instead, they should have the freedom to share their honest opinion. Depending on the review site or platform, some may need businesses to state if customers received compensation for writing a review.
If you are still confused, contact our reputational specialists at 866.325.0303. They can discuss review generation strategies that do not break the law nor violate the policies of review sites.
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