Category Archives: Reviews

On-Line Reviews: Now Protected by Law. Are You Stuck?

Reviews Matter

On-Line Reviews have become more and more important.  Today, surfing review sites for good reviews, and then going directly to the Web site for a product or service that has good reviews, is growing in popularity.

Google now displays some reviews in the basic information it provides with search results about a company.  For example, here’s the result of a Google search on Comsource Management, a local (Maryland) condominium management company.  Just below the photos is a report that the company has 35 Google reviews, with an average of 1.1 out of five stars!  Then a little lower are actual reviews from several review sites.  This can be the first introduction that a potential customer has to a company.

comsource-google-search

It’s understood that angry customers, who have a grievance, are more likely to make an unfavorable review than happy customers, who simply got what they expected.  So what can a business do about it?

Businesses Respond–with Non-Disclosure Agreements

Some businesses have responded by including non-disclosure agreements in the terms of service on their Web sites or in their purchase contracts.  Then they’ve forced customers who write critical reviews to remove them, or have even sued for damages:

  • A pet sitter in Texas sued a customer for up to $1 million in damages over an unfavorable Yelp review.  The short version of the story is that the pet sitter sued the customer for violating the terms of a non-disparagement clause in their contract.  A judge dismissed the suit because it was intended to silence the defendant, and violated the Texas Citizens Participation Act.  The pet sitter wound up potentially liable for attorneys’ fees and, of course, subject to negative publicity.
  • The Windermere Cay apartments near Orlando, Florida included a “Social Media Addendum” in its lease.  This document prohibits negative reviews on social media, and if it is breached, provides for a $10,000 fine!  Following some publicity, the apartment’s Yelp listing overflowed with reviews, many of them negative reviews from people who didn’t live there, so weren’t covered by the policy.
  • Tesla includes a nondisclosure agreement in its purchase contract.  Recently the company ran afoul of he National Highway Traffic Safety Administration over concerns that the agreement might prevent owners from reporting safety problems.  NHTSA is now seeking information from owners about possible suspension problems, and Tesla has modified the terms of its agreement.  The problem started when an owner reported suspension problems and the company agreed to cover some repair costs if the owner signed an agreement to not discuss the issue publicly.

These methods never worked well, but today they don’t work at all because a new law prevents businesses from preventing customers from writing unfavorable reviews.

The Consumer Review Fairness Act of 2016

In December the President this into law.  The law makes a provision of a contract void if it prohibits a party to a contract in engaging in written, oral or pictorial reviews or other performance assessments a goods and services provided by another party to the contract.  The law prohibits the offering of a contract with such a restrictive provision.

If the review is not accurate, the laws of libel still apply; but with this law, if a reviewer is telling the truth, there’s now little that a business can do to force the removal of a negative review or to collect damages.

What Can You Do?

First, pay attention to your reviews.  It’s a good idea to reply to all of them that appear to be at all reasonable–the reply shows to everyone who reads the review that you care what your customers think of you.  Visit the popular review sites often and read your reviews.

Don’t panic if you get one or two unfavorable reviews in the midst of a lot of good reviews.  People who read reviews know that you can’t please everybody, and there will always be someone who’s not satisfied.  If you have an overall score of 4.5 out of five stars, a few negative reviews will just make the whole collection more credible.

Be careful about asking for reviews–the review sites don’t like this because they think it skews the results in a favorable direction.  Yelp in particular can put a very ugly warning to readers about what you’re doing if they decide that you are asking for reviews.

If you’d like to manage your reviews without having to search review sites again and again, you can use a review management service to let you be comfortable that your reviews are helping your business, without spending a lot of time doing it.  I recommend Dave’s Certified Reviews for just that purpose, since it’s my service.

The Bottom Line

Pay attention to your reviews by replying to each one and fixing the problems with unfavorable reviews.  If you want to take care of your reviews with almost none of your time, then look into Dave’s Certified Reviews.

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Online Reviews of Your Business Influence Your Search Results Position

Why Care About Customer Reviews?

We all know that online reviews are growing in importance.  In fact, a growing number of prospective customers now go to review sites to find businesses to deal with instead of using search engines!  These people find companies with lots of favorable reviews, then go directly to those companies’ sites, not even using a search search engine!  So that work you’ve put into SEO doesn’t help with these customers.

But now there’s more.  It’s become apparent that your online reviews affect your position in Google search results!  Moz reported this in their recent survey, showing that “review signals” have significant influence on position in search results.  Their survey speaks of “Review Signals”, which are:

  1. Review quantity:  having lots of reviews helps, the more the merrier.   Brightloccal’s survey tells us that you need 7 to 10 reviews for prospects to begin to trust you.  And, since a given prospect may be surfing just one review sites, you want to get 7 to 10 reviews on each important review site.
  2. Review Velocity: How often are you being reviewed?  Once every six months isn’t enough, but too often is bad also; it’s a sign that you are encouraging reviews.
  3. Review diversity:  How many different review sites have reviews for your business?
  4. Quantity of third-party reviews:  How many reviews do you have on sites not owned by Google?
  5. Authority of Third-Party Sites Where Reviews are Present:  Some review sites have more authority with Google than others.  Look at the sites, and you’ll come to similar conclusions.
  6. Product or Service Keywords in Reviews: It’s a good idea to have the key terms about your business in the reviews as long as it’s not overdone.
  7. Authority of Reviewers:  Some review sites give more authority to some reviewers.

The Bottom Line

If you weren’t doing anything about your customer reviews, now you have one more important reason to do so.  You can do it manually, by investing a lot of time, or you can use your time to advance your business and hire a service such as Dave’s Certified Reviews.

 

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How to Deal with Bad Reviews

Why Care About Reviews?

Review sites have been called the village of the twenty-first century.  Today this is where people come together to share views about what’s good and what’s not good, which businesses treat you well and which don’t.

A new kind of Web shopping is taking place–in many cases, shoppers go to Web sites to find the companies who are candidates to deal with, then the go directly to those companies’ sites.  They may go entirely through a buying cycle and never use a search engine!  Yes, search engine position still matters for those who do search, but also it’s important to pay attention to your reviews.

Dave’s Certified Reviews

I write this, and will write more, about reviews because I’ve started Dave’s Certified Reviews, which I’ll call DCR here, a comprehensive review management service.  It helps you acquire genuine, favorable reviews, it allows you to see and reply to your reviews, and it lets you put a live feed of current, favorable reviews on your own site.

In the two years I’ve spent getting DCR ready to launch I’ve been very involved with reviews, so have some advice to share on the subject.

Ten Commandments for Bad Reviews

Moses put his operating principles for life into ten commandments, so here’s a set of operating principles for bad reviews that has just ten rules.

First, don’t panic!  As long as you have a great majority of favorable reviews, an unfavorable review won’t hurt you.  In fact, if you don’t have some unfavorable reviews, you’ll lose credibility.  Sophisticated readers of reviews know that every company messes up now and then, so if they don’t see any unfavorable reviews they will discount all the reviews they see.  So it’s not the end of the world.  But it is important that you handle it right.

1. Monitor Your Reviews

If you’re going to respond to a negative review, you have to know that it’s appeared somewhere!  At least once a month, and better, once a week, look at the most important review sites:  Google, Yahoo and Yelp.  Depending on your industry, there might be other review sites that are important to you, such as Healthgrades for practitioners in the healing industry.

You can do this monitoring yourself by just looking at the sites, or use a service to tell you when there’s a new review.  DCR sends you an email when you get a review, so that you can act on it promptly.

2. Reply

Many businesses don’t reply to reviews.  Perhaps the view is that a bad review will just go away if we pretend it’s not there–but it won’t.  In fact, if you don’t reply to it, you’re letting the criticism stand unanswered.  A reader may think that you don’t care about the criticism, or that you’re implicitly acknowledging that it’s correct.

Replying to any review, favorable or not, shows that you care what your customers think.  A good opening is to thank the reviewer for taking the time to comment, and to state how important customer opinions are, and how you value the feedback you get from reviews.

Remember that your reply is for other readers of the review as much as it is for the reviewer.  The reviewer may have simply wanted to vent, and won’t care about your followup; but hundreds of people may read your reply and used that to form opinions about your business.

3. Restate the Concern

This is your opportunity to let the reviewer know that you understand the concern.  You want to make it clear that you do understand. “It sounds as though the salesman didn’t do enough to explain what foods to serve with this wine.”

This is a good technique to use when responding to positive reviews as well.

4. Explain How You Will Fix Things

Be specific.  “We are putting recommended foods on small posters on the wall near each group of similar wines, to help you with wine-food pairing, and we are encouraging our salesman to learn about pairing wine with food.”

If it’s a problem you can’t fix, say so.  “I’m sorry that the traffic noise disturbs your meal.  A good time to come is before 5 pm or after 7 pm, when the traffic is not as heavy.”

5. Complete the Story

The reviewer may not have told the whole story.  “I brought back a carton of milk that I diddnt want and the clerk would not accept my return.” You can add that you can’t accept the return of perishable goods unless they are defective, because of the danger that they may not have been stored properly since they left the store.

6. Don’t Use a Generic Response

If you don’t have time to actually compose a response for each situation, better to not reply.  A form response, that’s repeated for a bad reviews, is a loud message that you really don’t care.

If you look at a lot of reviews (as you would if you were putting together a review management service) you’d get to experience that bad impression that’s given by companies that have standard–or slightly tailored–responses that they give to reviews, particularly unfavorable reviews.

7. Don’t Respond Defensively

Being defensive tends to reinforce the criticism.  No reply is better than a defensive reply.  Don’t say something like “You can’t be correct in this.  Everyone else likes it.”

8. Don’t Dis The Critic

The reviewer has taken the time to give you feedback, for which you should be grateful.  Being ungracious to the critical reviewer is a way to show that you can’t handle criticism, that you really don’t care what your customers think.

9. Not All Reviews Are Created Equal

Some reviews have so little content that they don’t deserve a reply.  In that case, just let it stand by itself.  Other readers will have the same view and understand why you didn’t reply.

10. Forget about Lawsuits

Don’t even think about suing a reviewer.  If a review is horrible, then take steps (like those provided by Dave’s Certified Reviews) to get more favorable reviews.  As long as you have far more favorable than unfavorable reviews, you’ll be all right.  Of course, if you’re getting mostly unfavorable reviews, then you need to take action that goes beyond review management.  You need to see why your business isn’t satisfying your customers and fix the problems.

The Bottom Line

Pay attention to your reviews, and reply constructively and substantively to those that are unfavorable and the more substantive favorable reviews as well.

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How Can I Get More Reviews?

Reviews Matter.  A Lot.

Today, many shoppers on the Web start, not with a Google search of the Web, but searching a review site such as Yelp or Angie’s List.  They’ll use reviews to decide which businesses to consider, then go directly from the review site to the businesses’ sites.  That’s right, you’ve done all this work to get a high position in search engine results, and now they’re not even using the search engine and won’t see your wonderful, effective Web site unless you have good reviews.

In addition to providing a path to your site for prospects who don’t use search engines to find businesses, reviews also help your position in search engine results.  Review sites are typically sites of a lot of authority, so a link from a review site to your site will increase the authority of your site, and improve its position in search engine results.

I’ll Write Them Myself

Don’t even think about faking your reviews.  First, the people who read reviews are becoming more sophisticated about reading them, and are getting better and better at sniffing out fakes.  Even worse, the review sites depend for their success on genuine reviews, so they are investing big time at detecting fake reviews.  These are well-financed companies with lots of smart people and lots of resources (think Google, for example), working on issues that are central to the success of their companies.  Do you want to bet that you can outsmart them?  And, having outsmarted them once, do you want to bet that you’ll continue to outsmart them?

How to Get Reviews

ReviewInc has done some interesting research on when customers are likely to be willing to give feedback to a business.  And the most likely time is…when they are asked!  43% of surveyed customers said they are most likely to give feedback when asked.  That request can come through email or a text message, or directly from a person. Here are the details:

when do people write reviews

to Of course, we all want to get positive reviews, so the answer to that question expands a bit.  The best way to get good reviews is to ask someone who is happy with your business to give you a review.

The chart mentions incentives.  Don’t offer incentives for reviews–most of the review sites consider that incentives for reviews mean that they are not fully voluntary reviews, and can penalize you if they discover that you’re offering an incentive.

The Bottom Line

You need reviews.  Actually, you need good reviews.  So ask happy customers to give you reviews.  Don’t fake them and don’t reward them.

But Wait There’s More

Coming soon is Dave’s Certified Reviews, a new service that will allow you to obtain lots of genuine, good reviews, monitor your reviews and respond to them.  It’s been in work for a long, long time, but finally, it’s almost complete.

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Yelp Update Reading Time 3 min. 45 sec.

Does Yelp Manipulate Reviews for Advertisers?

The newsletter on Yelp produced feedback that Yelp is not popular with site owners, particularly those who have experienced high-pressure sales tactics or have seen perfectly good reviews from customers they recognize categorized as not recommended.  This is indeed a story “ripped from the headlines,” as they say on TV.  Here are some recent developments.

A producer has shot much of a coming documentary about Yelp, called Billion Dollar Bully.  It’s being produced in San Francisco, right in Yelp’s back yard.  A number of Yelp customers have agreed to tell their tales of woe in the movie.  There is presently a Kickstarter effort underway to fund the completion of the film.

It would not surprise anyone if some Yelp salesman, in order to make quota, told a business owner that he could influence ratings even if he couldn’t.  Since there are thousands of Yelp salesmen, this could happen many, many times throughout the organization.  It also would not be a surprise if a business owner saw such a threat, and then saw a negative review the next day.  That could be just a coincidence, but of course you’d never convince the business owner of that.  Or the unethical salesman could have written a bad review!

So how does one decide whether Yelp is what they say they are, or what their critics say they are?

The Courts

One good mechanism for deciding is the courts.  Yelp attorneys on one side, building their best case, and a plaintiff’s attorney on the other side, doing his best to build the case against Yelp.  The last such case was at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which in their ruling in Levitt v. Yelp, affirmed the dismissal of a number of extortion suits that had been brought.  Yelp cites this decision as evidence that it did not threaten to manipulate customers’ ratings if they didn’t buy advertising.

However, a reading of the court’s decision shows that it’s not completely clear-cut in Yelp’s favor.  The court found that the plaintiffs had speculated that Yelp had written bad reviews on their businesses but never provided evidence to support the speculation, and that the businesses didn’t make a claim for specific damages so they couldn’t be awarded any damages.  The decision really doesn’t clear Yelp of manipulating ratings–it just says the plaintiffs didn’t prove them.

Of course, if you have resourceful lawyers, if a company with thousands of employees is manipulating reviews to sell advertising, the smart lawyers are likely to find an unhappy ex-employee to testify about what’s happening at the company.  The several suits that were brought appear to have used co-occurrence of purchasing or not purchasing advertising and changes in how reviews appeared on the site as their evidence of manipulation.

The FTC

Yelp claims that the FTC investigated their operations, including how their software treats ratings for advertisers and non-advertisers, and informed Yelp that they did not intend to take any action.  However, no official documentation is cited.

Harvard Business School

Finally, a Harvard Business School study of Yelp was conducted.   They found that restaurants are more likely to write fake favorable reviews on themselves when they lacked a solid reputation of their own, as when they were starting, and they tended to write unfavorable reviews on their neighbors when the neighbors served similar cuisine.  More of interest to us, though, they found that “neither 1- or 5-star reviews were more or less likely to be filtered for businesses that we advertising on Yelp…”

This was an impressive study that used a very large amount of data from Yelp’s site, along with information about which companies were advertisers, from the site, and historical information about advertisers from Yelp.

The Bottom Line

Yelp advertising can be helpful–they’ll show your company name along with your competitors’ listings.  But what should you do if your Yelp salesman threatens you?  Be polite and make the business decision that you’d make without the threats.  Yes, he can personally write a fake negative review, but that one will be swamped by the positive reviews you normally get, and he will move on to his next prospect.

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Yelp, Extortion, Lawsuits and Negative Reviews–Reading time 5 minutes

Yelp is Frustrating

Yelp, the well-known review site, is the subject of complaints from all sides.

Web visitors wonder whether the reviews are genuine–have positive reviews been written or influenced by the business?  Or have negative reviews been placed there by the competition?  Can the reviews be trusted?

Similarly, businesses can be frustrated by critical reviews on Yelp.  Are they genuine, or are they from competitors or just mischief-makers?  And when Yelp chooses not to “recommend” positive reviews of a business, it can be very frustrating.  The reviews sit below the “recommended” reviews, requiring an extra click to see, with the number of stars grayed out.

Then we hear stories of Yelp advertising salespeople who offer to “fix” negative reviews if the business will buy advertising…or to accentuate negative reviews if they don’t.

This is an issue that I’ve followed closely, and here I’ll give you my considered view of Yelp and this whole issue.

Extortion

Yelp has been accused of extortion several times.  Many Yelp customers have reported that a salesman offered to help remove negative reviews if they purchased advertising, or offered to make negative reviews go away.  These reports are so numerous and so dispersed geographically that this does appear to be happening.

There have been several lawsuits over this issue, and last November a Federal Court of Appeals ruled that plaintiffs had not shown evidence that Yelp had changed ratings because of advertising payments.  This follows a pattern, where Yelp so far was won every such suit that has been filed.

It would not be sensible for Yelp to extort advertising customers.  Yelp’s product is reviews–they have nothing else to sell.  So if their reviews are dependable and of high quality, Yelp can succeed.  However, if their reviews are being manipulated and Web users learn of it, usage of Yelp won’t grow nearly as fast as it would with dependable reviews.  Because Yelp is a large organization, changing reviews for advertisers can’t stay secret very long.  We could expect to see a disgruntled employee on television, telling all about this practice, thereby becoming part of many lawsuits brought by customers.

Which is not to say that Yelp salespeople don’t offer to manipulate reviews in order to sell advertising.  It’s easy to see how a salesperson could see this method as the path to a quick sale.  And well it might be!  But an unethical salesperson–even man of them–don’t mean that the company is systematically doing what he is offering.

Given that lawsuits have never shown the company to be manipulating reviews, and given that it would be a startlingly unwise business practice, I doubt that the company manipulates results in response to advertising revenues.

“Not Recommended” Reviews

Some reviews are shown as “not recommended”, which means that an extra click is needed to see them, that their star ratings are grayed out, and their scores and not used in computing the business’s overall rating.

It’s very frustrating to a business owner who sees reviews from customers he might recognize that are classified as “not recommended”.  He’d like to respond in some way to convince Yelp to display these recommendations.

Yelp’s side of the story is that they use software that runs automatically to classify reviews, and the decision of the software is final.  They don’t provide a way for a business owner to reach out to someone who has written a review that has received the dreaded “not recommended” tag, or a way to reach out to them.

Yelp provides a general description of how they reach a decision to not recommend a review.  Mentioned several times in this material is that the confidence that Yelp places in the individual making the review is a major factor.  That is, does the person have a wide on-line presence otherwise, which tends to validate that they are a really person.  And has the person written additional reviews on Yelp that have received endorsements from readers, again providing confidence that this is a real person who writes dependable reviews.

The number of friends that a review has on Yelp is one factor that’s included in he algorithm.  So if the business owner recognizes a customer who has written a review, the business owner could search for that person in Yelp and invite that person to become a Yelp friend.  That will increase the number of Yelp friends the person has, and the chance of the review being recommended, especially if the business owner has a lot of Yelp friends.

But in the longer run the best remedy for “not recommended” reviews is to have lots of good reviews, so that a few that are not recommended will not become an issue.

Negative Reviews

We all know that the Internet is full of trolls who love to be critical, sometimes destructively so.   What should be done about a negative review that the business owner thinks is unfairly critical?

First, there’s a little gray flag below each review that lets the business owner (or anyone else) report it to Yelp as being unfair, and a menu of reasons why it’s unfair.  Will this help?  Who knows?  But the ten seconds that it takes to click the link and confirm the choice is a reasonable investment.

Second, for a recommended review, Yelp provides a way to get in touch with the reviewer.  Each negative review is an opportunity for the business to reach out to that disaffected person–who, no doubt, is telling friends the same story–and turn that person into an advocate.  A message to the disaffected customer that the company is concerned about the review and would like to set things straight, and then following up on the opportunity to take action, can both eliminate some who is hurting the business and create a new advocate who recommends the business.

The Bottom Line

1.  In order to survive and prosper in the connected age, delight your customers so that they eagerly recommend you to their friends and colleagues and on Yelp and other social networks.

2.  Respond with compassion and generosity to negative reviews, converting  detractors into advocates.

 

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Announcing!! Dave’s Review Service

A New, Important Service

I’m happy to make an announcement that’s been in the works for some time:  Dave’s Review Service.  The service will obtain for you a significant number of genuine, positive reviews from your real customers, as well as quality feedback about how your customers perceive your business.  As you know, reviews are important because review sites have become an important part of the buying process.  Today,  customers will find you on review sites before they come t your site; and if they don’t find you on the review sites they may never come to your site.

Why Do I Need This?

Yes, it’s true–prospects for what you offer may never get to your site, because first they’ll read review sites to narrow down to just a few candidates, and then they’ll visit the Web sites for only those candidates.  No matter where you appear in search results, you may be ignored if you don’t have plenty of good reviews.

As you’ve read in this newsletter and elsewhere, it’s important that review sites receive  only genuine reviews from actual your customers, and you must not incentivize your customers to write reviews.  Review sites are working hard to detect fakery, and they penalize miscreants severely when they find it.  Unfortunately, the filters they use to catch cheaters can also catch authentic reviews.

What is Provided?

The service provides you three crucial results:

  1. Genuine, positive reviews from your actual customers, on a variety of review sites that are relevant to your business
  2. Correct listings on relevant directories of local businesses
  3. Insightful feedback from your customers on their views of your business, in addition to what’s provided in the reviews

Dave’s Review Service provides you with genuine, positive reviews, on many review sites that are relevant for your business, from your real customers, using a proprietary method for obtaining those reviews.  These are real reviews from real customers, and they are all positive.  They will appear on many different review sites.  The strategy for obtaining the reviews and placing them on review sites is designed to minimize the chance that these genuine reviews will be erroneously identified as questionable by the automated filters used by review sites.

In addition, Dave’s Review Service works with over 150 sites that are directories of local services, and will work to get your site listed correctly on them.  You can expect to gain about ten of these listings per month, until you have a suitable number of listings (typically about fifty).

Whatever else you do–or don’t do–with Web marketing, Dave’s Review Service can bring you business now.

Does It Work?

The method used has been demonstrated to work with real businesses and real customers.  A psychologist’s overall rating on a healthcare site changed from a C before using the service to an A.  An apartment rental service greatly increased their tenancy rate after using the service.  This method works.

Review sites typically have a curation process that they use for reviews, so the reviews don’t appear on the review sites right away.  You won’t see the first reviews for a month or so after joining Dave’s Review Service.

Now you can use this method to expand your own business.  Starting today.

How Does It Work?

The method that’s used is a new invention, and it’s a trade secret.  It has been tested in use with real sites, and it has delivered results.  After you execute a non-disclosure agreement and become a client for this service, I can explain to you how it works.  Once you understand it, you’ll see that it’s evident that it will work.  It’s like a magic trick–the secret is simple.

There are several pieces of technology that are needed to carry out the method, and obtaining them would cost you more than the monthly price of the service.  In addition, you’d have the burden of operating it all.  I’ve made a significant investment in the service, and continue to build and refine.  So using the service saves you money and time, and delivers great results to your business.

Crazy Low Introductory Price

You can start reaping the benefits today.  There’s an introductory price of $200 per month.  You can’t do it for this price.

The Bottom Line

There’s little reason to not do this!  Get in touch for more information by clicking here.

Special Offer!

An extra special price is being offered through Yelp.  Take a look!

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