Google has a new policy on reviews in Google Maps, and the policy could cause trouble for some business owners who may find Google’s own help pages confusing at best, if not somewhat contradictory.
Google’s New Reviews Policy
A couple weeks ago, Google announced an update to its policies on writing reviews. This is a set of guidelines that are directed to consumers who review businesses, but it has new implications for the business owners themselves. The new policy includes this line:
“…we do not accept reviews written for money or other incentives.”
So, things like this offer from a dentist are a no-no:
Where It Gets Confusing
This is all fine and good, except elsewhere in Google’s help pages, Google specifically tells small/local business owners that they should “encourage customers to review or blog about your business. Google uses reviews and feedback to improve search results.” That’s from the Help users find your business page, and here’s a screenshot in case the wording changes at a later date:
What’s a Small Business Owner to Do?
Google’s new policy comes out against incentives for reviews, which is technically not the same as encouraging reviews. Yes, an incentive is an encouragement, but it’s possible to encourage without including an incentive. That’s where Google is coming from — ask customers to leave reviews, but don’t offer them cash, coupons, or other reasons to do it.
It may not be contradictory, but it is splitting hairs. The new policy creates a gray area and asks small business owners to figure out where Google will draw its line on what’s okay and what’s not.
The answer to “what’s a business owner to do?” is this: Be careful. Let your customers know that you welcome their reviews on Google Maps. Show off your Favorite Places decal if you have one. Just don’t offer anything in return for a review.
Or, considering how poor Google is at acting on reviews that violate its guidelines, you could just not worry about it at all and carry on as you were. Can’t say I’d blame you.