It may be tempting to buy reviews on Google to boost your business, but it's a bad idea. We look at why, and also reveal smarter ways to get more reviews.
Remember the kid who cheated on every test in middle school?
Maybe it was you - don't worry, we won't tell (no judgement here). But in middle school, the consequences of cheating really weren't all that serious in the grand scheme. There also weren't robots checking and keeping you honest...
But times have changed. This isn't middle school, and yes in the digital world of your business (and the reviews you get for it), there are actual bots there monitoring things to make sure that no one games the system.
So while it may be tempting to boost your online reputation by using unethical means, buying reviews often backfires spectacularly.
Don't risk your company's reputation and future by taking that shortcut. There's a better way.
Why Reviews Matter
If you're an avid review reader, you already know that reading about other people's experiences helps to shape your opinion of a business.
Even if you're not in the habit of reading reviews, there's no denying that reviews play a significant role in consumers' decision making.
And if you're not a review reader, you're in the minority. According to a recent survey, a staggering 91 percent of American consumers read online reviews at least occasionally.
The survey also found that 84 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as they trust personal recommendations from friends and family.
And 87 percent only want to shop at businesses that have a minimum rating of three out of five stars.
No matter who your target audience is or how old your customers are, most of them rely on online reviews when making decisions. They're looking to see what other people have said about you, and they won't spend their money with you if your ratings are subpar.
How Businesses Buy Reviews
When we talk about "buying" reviews, we're talking about a few things...
Sometimes companies pay shady businesses to flood their pages with completely fake reviews. But many times, companies offer their real customers coupons, discounts and other incentives (like free merchandise) in exchange for writing positive reviews.
To those businesses, this strategy may feel ethical; after all, those reviews are written by real customers, right? What could be wrong with that?
A lot, as it turns out.
And What Happens Next?
Buying reviews can backfire in so many ways.
For one thing, it may not yield the intended results. Some honest customers will mention the incentives in their reviews. If you were researching a new restaurant and half the reviews on Google included phrases like, "I was given 25 percent off my bill in exchange for this review," wouldn't you be a little suspicious of the overall sentiments? Even if those customers write raves, readers aren't inclined to believe them.
The review sites themselves can also levy serious punishments against companies that they find to be buying reviews. They use sophisticated algorithms to help them identify businesses using those tactics.
Yelp is especially strict about this, even posting obtrusive pop-ups on the pages of businesses it determines to be using unethical means to get reviews. Those pop-ups guarantee that every potential customer who visits that page sees that the business was attempting something shady.
Google doesn't have such a system yet (although we've heard recent rumblings), but Google will remove reviews that violate its policies, and writing a review in exchange for services or discounts is a violation.
All that money you sacrifice by buying those reviews, whether through discounts or some other means, is wasted when those reviews aren't even visible on your page.
Another thing to consider is that your standings with Google affect more than just your Google reviews. The web giant is notoriously secretive about its inner workings, but if you violate the site's review policies, it can affect how you rank in Google results. If you drop in the rankings, customers who are looking for a business like yours just aren't going to find you.
And one more thing: buying reviews can land you in legal trouble. The Federal Trade Commission tells consumers to publicly state that they've received some incentive in exchange for writing reviews. The agency has charged business owners for dishonest sales practices that include using phony reviews.
Is it worth risking your reputation, your ability to rank highly in search engine results and your entire business just to get positive reviews that customers won't even take seriously?
Perhaps the biggest downside to using fake reviews is that you never get to improve on your product or service. Coming across a negative review can be difficult, but it helps you better understand the problems your customers are facing and how you can improve.
Tons of fake reviews might attract customers in the beginning, but when they use your product or service and don't get the results as described in your reviews, they'll never buy from you again.
Moreover, if there's a stark difference between your actual product and the review, customers might get a sniff of how you used fake reviews – this will severely hamper your reputation. Once a customer develops negative notions about a brand, it's really difficult to come back from that.
So What Should You Do To Get Reviews?
People value online reviews of course, and they like sharing their opinions with the world. So your customers are going to write reviews about you, whether you like it or not. You might as well maximize the opportunity.
Get reviews the ethical way: by providing good service and treating your customers well. Then, maximize the number of real, positive reviews that you earn by using an automated system like ReputationStacker.
By sending out a single-question survey question to your customers, it identifies the people who have had a positive experience with you and directs them to the review site of your choice. Dissatisfied customers are directed back to you.
It's an automated system that makes it incredibly easy to rack up positive reviews the right way.
Other Ways to Get Google Reviews
1. Ask Your Customer to Review You Directly
Customers are smart, and they deserve your respect. Be honest and direct with them, and kindly ask them to review your service or product.
2. Follow Up With Your Customers
Going the extra mile to ensure that your customers are happy with your product and service will automatically help you earn more positive reviews.
If you want to increase the response rate, make sure you follow up with your customers and resolve any problem that they might be facing.
Once you're done with your routine follow-up, gently ask them to leave a review. Make sure you don't pressure them into reviewing your product though – that might increase your review count, but you might also spoil your customer’s image of you.
3. Reward Your Customers
Customers love a little surprise every now and then! Rewarding your loyal customers will not only give them more reasons to leave a positive review, but it'll improve your relationship with them and increase their chances of recommending your service.
An extra discount on their birthdays or freebies on multiple or expensive purchases is a great way to boost your sales and encourage positive reviews.
How to Deal With Negative Google Reviews
Negative reviews can be hurtful, but you cannot simply ignore them. After all, when potential buyers check your reviews, the negative ones often leave a larger impact than the positive ones.
The first thing you need to do is reply to the negative review on the review site itself. This way, potential customers can see that you care about them and you're trying to work on your shortcomings.
Next, contact the reviewer directly and inquire about the problem. Once the problem is identified, fix it.
Finally, ask them if they'd like to switch the review to a positive one. If a company goes to this extent to make up for their mistake, the customer may change their review and might even share this wonderful experience.
Earn, Don't Buy
Exchanging money, discounts and other financial incentives in exchange for positive Google reviews is always a bad idea. It can backfire in several ways, and you most likely won't get the results you're expecting anyway.
Focus on obtaining reviews the right way: by providing great service and making it easy for your satisfied customers to write positive reviews about you.
Use an automated system like ReputationStacker to get those Google reviews you need without crossing any ethical lines and causing yourself a major headache.
Ian Kirby has been working in digital marketing for over 15 years. Having worked both with and for digital marketing agencies and in-house with multiple companies, he has a specific interest and expertise in online reputation management, online reviews, and the implementation of business systems. Ian’s writing, videos, and interviews have garnered millions of reads, views, and listens.