Pardon the pun, but yes, these days, your reputation truly does rule, and Google’s rules regarding your online reputation and review generation has recently changed. There have been some significant changes you may not be aware of, so please read on.
With the release of Apple’s privacy update to their operating system, both Facebook and Google have been severely hamstrung. Both Facebook and Google rely on accessing your browser history and following your online viewing activities. Apple’s latest operating system update effectively blocked Google and Facebook from your website viewing data resulting in their inability to track and thus sell data and targeted ads to advertisers. Both Google and Facebook were severely impacted and had to react to make up for a loss of fifty percent of tracking data.
Facebook was first to react, being a closed system, they simply added code into the pages their servers served to generate trackable data of their user base once again (a simple but effective change).
Google though, had a much more difficult time because they do not control the hundreds of billions of web pages they track. And with the rise of importance in near to the user proximity searches (A.K.A. ‘Local Search results) Google was impacted the most by the IOS privacy update. Google had already committed to modifying its ‘Google My Business’ service, extending its integration into Google Maps, Google Places and Google Reviews. Google changed its page ranking system to place an extreme importance on a business’ reviews left by customers and users. These reviews became an extremely important social signal that Google used to determine organic search results, Snack pack or three pack search results and the now hyper immediate location or local search results.
Along with the change to Google’s ranking algorithm, Google began to crack down on dubious and questionable review generation practices by updating the rules regarding what a reviewer could and could not do, and what and how a business could or could not ask for a review or testimonial. As with any policy, it’s an ever-changing landscape with boundaries and field markers always in a state of change, so some of the practices you’ve engaged in in the past, may now no longer be condoned, or allowed.
Google has made a policy change in their review platform terms of service to now BAN the practice of asking a customer to change, modify, or delete their review. Google wants to enable a customer to leave whatever feedback they want, including bad, negative, or even scathing review, And, should you not like what the customer said, you are expressly forbidden to ask the customer to change what they left. Nope, absolutely no asking folks: ‘Would you mind reconsidering and changing the review you left?’ That’s now a serious NO-NO!
Also expressly forbidden is offering the customer any form of compensation to change, amend, or delete a review. Offering a free pair of pants, or five dollars in free cleaning, or an ice cream cone down at the local ice cream shop to make yourself look better is also strictly forbidden.
Google is also suppressing actively asking customers to leave a ‘good’ or positive review. This is somewhat a slippery slope as I feel Google is cutting close to constitutional rights of Freedom of Expression (the business’ freedom of expression) by telling the business owner what they can and cannot say and how to say it, but at the same time, I can also understand that it could be construed as leading a customer into saying exactly what the business wants said and creating false, misleading, or improperly influenced reviews that could mislead or improperly influence others. Basically, Google is seeking a more organic review structure to reviews left by customers about a business, and that includes enforcing policies to enable customers to speak entirely in their own voice, in their own words, without any influence, direction and coaching. Google wants the unadulterated customer experience to come through.
Well, Google certainly has set a lofty goal and many business owners certainly are not going to like it. Many of us in the reputation management and review generation industry are not happy with the changes in the rules either. (Disclosure, online reputation management, restoration and review generation is a service I offer). But these rule and policy changes are certainly going to create work for some time to come. If anything, these rule changes are leveling the playing field and adding a new level of professional conduct to the process. For those that embrace the changes, you will be rewarded for playing by the rules. For those who insist on breaking the rules, or simply chose to ignore them, the repercussions are going to be hard hitting.
If you are engaged in review solicitation or have been working on your online reputation for a while, you will notice a bump in your search engine standings, which may result in you being ‘found’ ahead of your competitors. If you are not actively soliciting reviews, or you have never even asked customers for feedback, you might want to consider starting to do so now because you are falling if not fallen behind.
You should claim your Yelp profile, your Google My business page (now Google Business Pages) and download the kits both Google and Yelp offer to you to start asking for reviews. DO NOT deviate from who Google and Yelp advise you to use the tools they give you to generate reviews. If you can, you can set aside a small budget to hire a professional online reputation consultant to help assist you in generating reviews. It’s always a good practice to engage your customers to provide you feedback. A good reputation manager can provide you with multiple tools to make it much easier for a customer to complain directly to you. That is ultimately the goal, to get customers complaining to you so you can fix whatever problem customers have with you BEFORE they have to resort to trashing your reputation on Yelp, Facebook and Google reviews. After all, isn’t that what we want? A customer quick to complain to use so we can fix problems and go to Yelp, Facebook, Google and others to tell the world how good we are at listening, correcting, fixing, satisfying and listening to our customers? And that my friends is really what Google wants, to make it easy for cream of the crop good businesses that satisfy customers to rise to the top.