Google’s Confusing Change on Reviews

Filed in Featured, Google, Local Search by Matt McGee on September 10, 2010 11 Comments

googleGoogle 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:

review us on Google

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.

Comments (11)

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  1. Cortney says:

    Was JUST having this conversation with a client. There is no good way to ask your customers to leave reviews and actually GET many without offering SOMETHING in return. We actually have one client calling former clients of HIS practically begging for reviews, but it starts to get a little silly when you are asking them to review you on 2 or 3 places–and get nothing in return. He is an event planner so he was able to say “lets grab drinks and I will buy your first round” since his business is social already, but it would be so much simpler if we could allow a coupon or discount as incentive. I mean WHO CARES GOOGLE?

    Anyhow, I would like to highlight this post on my blog with a few bullet points and a link back here for the full post. What is your policy on that?

  2. Frank Lewis says:

    When is Google going to be proactive and penalize companies that charge SMB’s for posting fake 5 Star reviews? One company out of California is writing thousands of reviews for hundreds of different SMB’s, each and everyone a 5 start fictitious review. Giving some SMB’s in the 7 pac as many as 50, 100 or more. It’s a joke and certainly doesn’t serve users in any way.

  3. Dave says:

    The new catch-22 that is occurring with local. A lot of local business owners are waking up to all the aspects of online marketing strategies for their business, including reviews.

    If you are going to be playing by the “rules”, meaning no incentives, then you may get some people leaving reviews (likely your most loyal customers/friends), the others are a crapshoot.

    Best way to approach the “no incentives” rule would be making sure your employees (or yourself) are flat out asking each customer to simply please leave a review about their experience, stating this helps your business with feedback on making better products/services, etc… Maybe have a small sheet/postcard attached to each receipt with a link to your profile on the review sites, or a link to your website for further information. Even asking for the customers email during the sale, then send them this information. Some will bite, most will not.

    On the other hand, I was in a big box/corporate retail store the other day and on my receipt it directly stated to come to their website and basically review my experience for a 15% off coupon. Well there goes the incentive “rule”, committed by a large, national brand. So if they are doing it, is it really bending the “rules” if your small local business does it? I’d take my chance if you want a much better conversion rate.

    Such a gray area right now. I can see the problem with the blatant fake reviews (from internal employees or competitors) which clutter all the review sites (including google), but is it so bad to offer a free soda or little coupon for their next visit in exchange for a review? Risk vs. Reward

  4. Damian Smith says:

    Why have Google done this? It makes no sense what is wrong with asking someone a favour and offering them something in return, I wouldn’t expect someone to do something for me without me offering them something back. It’s simply polite!

    I can’t see how Google will pick up on this anyway even if people still leave offers for reviews, if they place the text into an image how can Google detect it?

    Surely what the company does is completely up to them, not Google? As someone has already said, they should be clamping down on the fake reviews out there not small businesses offering discounts for their clients in return of a review.

  5. Cortney says:

    Ok, couldn’t find a trackback url so I just linked to this post a few times, gave you credit, etc. Feel free to check it out here:

    Also realized there was a typo in my url in the previous comment. Sorry about that. You probably thought I was nuts.

  6. Gareth says:

    I think its pretty clear between asking people to review you if they liked you or handing them money so they don’t forget to review you.

    its the same as getting people to link to you, if they link to you because they remember and want to, thats great, but google frown upon paying people to put your links up

  7. Leif Hurst says:

    Funny and coincidently that I found this today. We’re an insurance agency out of Dallas (not trying to keyword pad here… just new and trying to make this relevant) and I was talking to the sales reps about getting reviews. What we’re asking our sales people to do is to notify me so the request is coming from a 3rd party. It’s very non-chalant and very “grateful if you could take the time to.” The last thing I want to do is to put out a client but so far the response has been mind blowingly positive.

    I asked for 4 today and got 4 today which brings us up for a total of 6 in 2 years. LOL You’ve got to start somewhere!

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