Doctor Digital, I have a newish business and want to get some positive reviews on Google, I’ve heard you can purchase reviews, is this kosher, coz if you can purchase good you can purchase bad right and more generally, are reviews really worth chasing or better to turn off and get on with the business? Soz long question!

Doctor Digital Says

That is one long question I don’t want to edit. There are a few big issues in there, and I want to unpack them all. So let’s start with the first one – to buy or not to buy? I think anytime you have to ask if something is kosher, you know somewhere deep down it’s not. The false review debate rages hard across not just websites, but also app downloads, app reviews, and followers and likers more generally.

Wherever there is value attached to metrics, you can guarantee that there will be willing warm bodies to game the system. No, it’s not kosher, because while you might be tricking an algorithm to make your ranking higher, you are also lying to people who, just like you, are looking for third party validation to help them make critical purchasing decisions. Moreover, as you also noted, you can buy bad reviews, which are devastating to a business and frankly just mean. Also a happy hunting ground for disgruntled employees, once a bad review is up there, it’s hard (although not impossible) to remove it.

With so many social channels for businesses to maintain, the fake reviews industry is now global and massive with all of the emerging economy players who are paid a pittance to pump out that content. Major players like Apple and Google are fighting back building sophisticated detection methods, deleting dodgy reviews, even the ACCC in Australia has this on its radar with actual slander litigation going down to dissuade the disgruntled employee from wreaking havoc and investigations ongoing into whether companies can legally provide these services in Australia.

For now, it’s legal, whether it is moral is a personal decision, but as a Digital Doctor, I would caution you to imagine the impacts on your own business or your customers if the shoe was on another foot.

Reviews, however, are kind of the innocent victim here, as when not gamed and faked, they are a great third party endorsement. Review sites like Trip Advisor wouldn’t exist without this model, infact the hallowed sharing economy has reviews and third party endorsements as its exoskeleton, affirming accommodation and drivers so we, the consumer, feel ok to purchase. Anyone who has had an exceptional or execrable customer service experience may have been tempted to smash out a review to let the world know what they loved or hated about their interactions. These reviews have power, both in the SEO and algorithm world, and in the average Jo/Ann making a choice about their next holiday resort. Reviews are good for three reasons:

  1. Reviews Build Credibility : In the era of smartphones, consumers conduct more research than ever prior to selecting where to purchase goods and services. Most of them trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Consumers turn to review sites to gain a better understanding of a business, so the more positive reviews you have, the better.
  2. Reviews Help Your SEO : Online reviews play a big role in SEO, as reviews can influence where a business falls within search rankings. Google gathers review information from many sites when determining where a business will fall in search results. Sites like Yelp and Facebook determine a business’s ranking based on overall rating and number of reviews.
  3. Reviews Help You Connect : To stand out against competitors within your local community, it’s important to find interesting ways to connect with your customers. Reviews provide an avenue for doing just that. When a customer leaves a review, you can take the time to respond and thank them for taking the time to do so. This will also provide credibility to others who read the reviews and see your responses.

Reviews also give you an incredible insight into how your customers are using your product or experiencing your service. You can connect with them – good or bad, and find a way to use their experience for deeper understanding at worst, and a full brand turn around at best. Reviews also give you an opportunity as an exemplar of your brand to show how you deal with your customers. Let me give you a true example of how this can work. I have a friend who I also do business with. Let’s call him Mr C.

He runs a boutique and niche premium business where his expertise in his boutique product sector is the key reason people purchase goods from him. It’s fair to say he doesn’t tolerate fools, and is an evangelist for his products. This has led him to have a few terrible one star Google reviews. Mr C doesn’t shy away from the negative commentary, au contraire, he goes in hard and reviews them back, which is simultaneously deeply funny, and also very clearly demonstrates his own values and brand purity.

People who have had great experiences with him also write him rave reviews with many return customers. They love to get in on the Google review mudslinging to defend him, and the outcome is that you very quickly know whether you love this guy or would be better off at Harvey Norman. By holding a strong line but not shying away from the comments, he shows who he is and weeds out the people that are unlikely to make a purchase. It’s a special kind of genius.

Now that may not be your approach, but responding to negative reviews or critical comment shows who you are as a brand, and shows how you go out of your way to make amends, or justify your position. Keep in mind that reviews, as they said in the Facebook fictional film ‘The Social Network’ are written in ink, not pencil. Leave your negative reviews un-responded to at your peril, as they will stay there, quietly but impactfully creating your brand history.

So what to do. Reviews enabled or locked down? If you ignore the fakery and cash-for-comment, let’s think about where reviews fit in your overall strategy. You want to encourage people to be raving evangelists. You want to know who is talking about your business and thank the ones that love it, and understand what went wrong if they didn’t. Driving your SEO higher, meeting the algorithm love with Google, these are good things.

Approach reviews simultaneously like a consumer and a business owner. These things have value, and you might consider writing a few yourselves for businesses you know are doing good. Pay it forward when you are feeling a brand or experience, and remember that feeling as it’s how you want your customers to feel. Ask people to review you. Be open and transparent about it, remind them on socials and in newsletters and with attention grabbing little signs in your store.

See review metrics as a loose temperature check for your business, work for genuine five star reviews because that’s how you want your customers to experience you. It won’t happen overnight, but consistent growth in your reviews should match the growth in your business – and everything about that is kosher.

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