This past week, marketers the world over watched the “Decor My Eyes fiasco” unfold with horrified fascination. A ruthless online marketer gleefully mistreating customers in order to achieve higher rankings was a story we didn’t want to be true, but Google’s subsequent penalization action verified it was. The fiasco underscored the importance of reviews, particularly for local businesses — read on and see some tactics that can help you.

Many marketers have been highlighting the importance of online reviews and ratings for local businesses for some time now, but developing reviews for local ranking advantage is an elusive goal that has perplexed many small businesses. In addition, all variety of companies have experienced significant difficulties due to getting terrible reviews in the complaint/rant sites that Decor My Eyes actively courted.

Due to the potential influence on rankings combined with the need to have a trustworthy name for the sake of public relations, marketers particularly harp upon the need for businesses to “manage their online reputation” or to practice good ”reputation management”.

As I noted in my recently local SEO primer, ratings and reviews may be important for improving rankings, particularly in Google Place Search results, as well as in Google Maps. I’ve stated at numerous conferences that I believe ratings and reviews seem to influence search results, even though Google Maps representatives have repeatedly stated that they have not incorporated rating values nor used sentiment analysis of reviews as a ranking factor. The Decor My Eyes fiasco seems to prove that this was indeed the case. Having some of the utterly worst reviews a business could ever have did not impair Decor My Eyes from ranking highly. The unethical owner declared that having all the people writing about him and linking to him seemed to give him higher rankings.

So, there could be a few takeaways from this. Sentiment and rating value didn’t help with rankings, while some combination of links and perhaps citations did (citations are instances where your business and its contact information may be mentioned). I’ve often advised artist friends that for them virtually “any PR is good PR”, and there is something to this concept — in some ways, it’s better to be noticed at times, even for negative reasons, rather than to be completely ignored. Notoriety can be a form of popularity.

The tactic of courting controversy or “trolling” in order to attract attention is nothing new to marketers, and some have leveraged in the past as a variety of linkbait. Matt Cutts has also written or spoken of it a few times, although he’s always suggested some degree of self-moderation for those attempting to use it. As he’s stated before, one should be cautious with it or else you damage your reputation.

What should we make of it all, though, now that Google subsequently stated that they’d adjusted their algorithms to penalize evil merchants like Decor My Eyes? I really wish Google had not made a public statement about the issue at all, because they not only rewarded Decor My Eyes a bit by validating that his stratagem had indeed been working, but now many other unethical businessmen must be imagining that they could post false reviews to damage their competition in the rankings! (For a detailed analysis, read Danny Sullivan’s “Google’s ‘Gold Standard’ Search Results Take Big Hit In New York Times Story“.)

For those of you out there who are attempting to feel your way through all the conflicting information out there regarding the effect of online reviews and ratings upon your rankings in local search and regular keyword search results, let me lay out for you some tips that will be profitable for the long-term.

Tips For Improving Rankings Through Reviews & Ratings:

Do not piss off customers to increase your reviews! This perhaps should go without saying, but it’s never a good, longterm business plan to irritate and victimize your customer base. The Decor My Eyes company is actually a good case in point for proving this point. Businesses have enough to worry about without also trying to fight wars with attorneys-general, small claims court suits, local police, and myriads of customers with valid grudges. In addition, while inflating references to your company with negative reviews, you’re also creating a lot of negative content about your company — and this could seriously turn away as many customers as your coincidentally attract. See also Lisa Barone’s post, “Sorry, ‘Crazy Bully’ Isn’t a Long-Term Business Strategy” for further elaboration on this point.

Do not post fake positive reviews about your company! Shill reviews are illegal. In addition, those of us who’ve been reading search engine patents and research papers for some time now are aware that the methods are becoming rapidly more sophisticated for detecting when a review may be false, and it’s clear that Google is removing reviews algorithmically which have been flagged. Converging rapidly with reviews and ratings, search engines are working on figuring out who individuals are in social media. People who interact with an online forum (such as a review/rating site) community, post frequent reviews, are friended by other reviewers, who have an authoritative/trustworthy presence online, and who write more detailed and specific reviews — those people’s reviews may be treated as more influential than fly-by-night reviewers. And, these are just some of the signals that help them define whether to trust a reviewer! If your agency offers to post fake reviews or urges you to do them, too, you should run the other way — by advising this they are now proving they don’t know what they’re doing and could harm you more than help.

Do not attempt to post negative reviews about your competitor. For the above reasons outlined, it’s a bad idea to try to take your competition down a peg by doing this. This is one of the top complaints around Google Places, and Google is devoting energy to make sure these sorts of tactics do not benefit you! Significantly, the tactics could harm you as well — by posting a false review, you may not only burn the account you’ve set up to post reviews, but you might also get your Google Places account flagged for special attention.

Do not bribe people or buy positive reviews. Do not attempt to pay people or incentivize them to post positive reviews about your company. This practice is also against the terms and conditions of a number of review/rating website services out there, and if they catch you doing it they may opt to delete or discount all of your reviews.

Do not put a computer in your lobby or waiting room to “help” customers review you. For local businesses, it may seem helpful in encouraging consumer reviews, but if the computer’s IP address is too close to your business location or if too many reviews come from the same IP address, it could cause all of those reviews to get filtered out as possibly false.

Do not trade reviews. I ran across an online marketer who recommended that small businesses could review one another in order to bypass the rules in search engines and rating sites such as Yelp. This sort of collusion smacks of the concept of “Nader trader” where people once suggested trading votes in political elections — and it’s wrong for much the same reasons.

DO ask customers to review you. Many small business owners are fearful of asking customers to review them, because it seems a little pushy. However, if you have a customer who’s expressed particular appreciation for your work, asking them right then and there to be sure to rate your company in a specific online site may result in you getting some positive attention. By focusing your personal requests on your happiest customers, you may be able to influence your reviews and ratings in your favor.

DO elicit reviews from multiple sources. When asking your customers to review you, ask each one to review you on a different site. Some sites are great for a variety of businesses, such as the internet yellow pages, and others are specific to particular industries. Many different ones are feeding into Google Place results, so a variety is very advantageous. Just a few include: Superpages.com, Yelp, InsiderPages, OpenTable, CitySearch, UrbanSpoon, Yahoo, Google Hotpot, Yellowbook, and YP.com.

DO encourage frequent reviews. Incorporate requests for online reviews as part of your ongoing practice, not just once or twice a year. There’s some evidence that “velocity” of reviews may be helpful, and freshness of content is sometimes considered a ranking factor. In general, fresh and ongoing buzz about a business is good for promotion as well.

DO give incentives when requesting reviews. While you may not pay or incentivize people to post positive reviews about your company, you can hand pleased customers a discount coupon or a gift and ask them kindly to review you. Obviously, you’re trying to predispose them to be positive towards you when they rate you, but you haven’t necessarily attempted to bribe anyone if you don’t ask for a particular outcome.

DO respond to reviews. Some sites allow owners to comment back to reviewers and respond to things said about them. This is your opportunity to engage with your customers and to show your involvement. Show customers that you take their comments and suggestions seriously. It’s free surveying feedback!

DO make lemons into lemonade. You will sometimes get negative reviews and ratings. Where possible, respond to those and you can often turn a bad situation around. I’ve had clients who would contact negative reviewers and offer to make good for some bad experience, and the reviewer later went back and posted a glowing followup! That sort of story is an even better positive review than a review with no context. Positive customer service can be more valuable to you in the long run than what it may cost you to make good sometimes, as demonstrated by the famous Zappos customer service story. See also: “My Business Got A Bad Review – Now What?”

Finally, Don’t obsess too much on negative reviews. As I mentioned earlier, there is a bit of a positive, even with negative publicity at times. When I view 400 positive reviews about a company and see no negative comments or bad ratings, I’m suspicious that it’s a con-job. Having too much positive reviews makes people skeptical, since reviews have been gamed so much — everyone starts to wonder if all the reviews are shills posted by some marketing agency you hired. Also, even if Google is damping down some of the advantage that evil characters like Decor My Eyes get out of negative attention, having someone mention you is still attention and may result in just a dribble of citation value. Learn from negative reviews and plan to make better customer experiences and get better reviews tomorrow.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Local | Local Search Column

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About The Author: is President of Argent Media, and serves on advisory boards for Universal Business Listing and FindLaw. Follow him @si1very on Twitter.

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  • http://www.michael-martinez.com/ Michael Martinez

    “but Google’s subsequent penalization action verified it was”

    BZZT! Terrible article that gets its facts wrong from the start.

    Danny Sullivan, Byrne Hobart, Google, and other people (including me) have already pointed out that his tactic DID NOT WORK. How could you possibly miss all those memos and write this atrocious article?

    The last thing we need is for someone to use Search Engine Land to perpetuate the latest SEO myth.

  • http://silvery.com Chris Silver Smith

    Hi, Michael -

    Perhaps you skimmed my article above? I don’t believe I got any facts wrong, but I can see that you might’ve read the first paragraph and skimmed or skipped the rest and come to this conclusion..

    First, in Google’s blog post on the matter, they stated it was an “edge case”, indicating that there was apparently something to Vitaly’s claim. They further said they “…couldn’t be sure no one would find a hole in their ranking algorithms in the future…”, further indicating that he had. Not to mention, they apparently felt it worthwhile to acknowledge the story and act upon it in the first place.

    As I outlined above, it seemed clear that negative ratings/reviews didn’t impair the site from ranking, so what was the explanation? Naturally Vitaly could have fallen into a logical trap that many fall into — namely attributing coincidental facts as causation. However, Danny Sullivan, Byrne Hobart and I all suggested that links might have provided Decor My Eyes with ranking value in some way.

    Danny and others also have said that they’d found his site ranking on some longtail terms, and no longer see him getting the same rank, following Google’s action.

    Further, if you read above I took some care to point out that Citations found in the articles about him might have also helped him to some degree. While Citations are a concept that are familiar primarily to SEOs specialized in Local Search, some of us have posited that they could potentially be applied to general web search results as well — a theory which could explain precisely what sort of influence that the reviews that do not include followed links — or reviews with no links at all — might have provided to Decor My Eyes. Check out:

    http://getlisted.org/resources/why-citations-are-important.aspx

  • http://www.michael-martinez.com/ Michael Martinez

    They didn’t just say it was an “edge case” — they said the links were NOT passing value. “First off, the terrible merchant in the story wasn’t really ranking because of links from customer complaint websites.” So why did you say they verified Borker’s claim that the links were helping him when, in fact, they completely shot the claim down?

    I can’t speak for Google, but I don’t see where they imply that “edge case” has anything to do with link value.

    Further on, you wrote: “Sentiment and rating value didn’t help with rankings, while some combination of links and perhaps citations did (citations are instances where your business and its contact information may be mentioned).”

    Actually, I think Byrne made it pretty clear that spam links were the engine that powered Borker’s rise to the top of the SERPs.

    Perhaps if you omit all references to Borker’s ridiculous SEO delusions and just focus on the meat of your advice — what NOT to do with ratings — that might make the article more presentable.

    Unfortunately, I lobbed a verbal jab at you because I keep coming across people doing exactly what you did — giving credence to Borker’s unparalleled B.S. hypothesis. This SEO myth is going to hang around in blogs and forums for a long time to come, I fear, despite the fact that Danny keeps dismissing it, as he did again today.

  • http://silvery.com Chris Silver Smith

    There are multiple reasons to consider that Google has not provided the complete detail in this matter. In the same paragraph you cite where Google states the merchant didn’t get link value from customer complaint sites, they speak of how links from some of those forums do not pass link value because they are nofollowed. What some of us are aware of, however, is that Google representatives have stated a number of times that they may still choose to use a site’s links for PageRank assessment — indeed, some SEOs have suggested that a number of authoritative sites such as Wikipedia might still be passing PageRank, despite propaganda about the nofollow protocol.

    Indeed, heretofore, the search engines might have considered links from consumer complaint sites as less prone to being a desirable target of link spammers, and the subsequent action Google actually took behind the scenes could’ve easily been to merely begin honoring the nofollows.

    If you read again above, you’ll see that I didn’t state what type of links were providing Decor My Eyes with value — indeed I knew what Google and others had said, theorizing that it was actually other links which gave his site any dribble of lift.

    Byrne’s theory is that it’s due to spam links — which, if you’re taking Google’s word for everything, you’d need to consider that Google has been increasingly adept at discounting PageRank from passing through paid links on sites of low value, and there’s little way for SEOs to know precisely whether a link is passing value or not. Byrne also did not at all consider the possibility in that article that non-link citations could’ve provided value as well.

    I’ll point out: Google gave Borker attention and some level of credibility by reacting to it and talking about it. Where there’s smoke, there’s often fire. Googlers themselves have spoken of how controversy and negative attention can result in some sorts of promotion value with online rankings, and it’s clear that Borker derived some level of promotional value from his evil antics, regardless of what mechanism specifically was at play in the background.

  • http://www.blogpestcontrol.com Thomas Ballantyne

    What about the advantages of providing good service period? What marketers need understand that providing good service is the first step in getting reviews. Let’s not work this backwards and start going for online reviews as a reaction to a bad review caused by poor service. Kill the poor service, provide good service, then be proactive in getting reviews. What’s really amazing is that if you already provide a good service and you are proactive with your customers to get reviews, the perception of your good service in the eyes of that customer just went up. The math may seem a little funny but if quality were an equation…

    Increase of quality by 1 + Increase of customer awareness of quality by 1 = Increase of quality perception by 5

    Or let’s drop the increase of quality…

    Same good quality score + increase of customer awareness of quality by 1 = Increase of quality perception by 2

    Why the increase of quality perception? Because your customers are the greatest marketing tool you will ever have. What they tell others about your service weighs more than any other marketing push will.

  • http://silvery.com Chris Silver Smith

    Very good points, Thomas.

  • http://www.addurbusiness.com/ maheshkumar

    Very awesome ! But buddy from last 1 month i’m in search the tips to get better performance in local listing. But yet i can’t get proper solution. Can you help me?
    If it possible please suggest me some tips.

  • techron

    Customer feedback is the life blood any business, it can make you or break a business. Obviously, not every customer will leave your business a positive glowing review every time, no matter how hard you try to please him or her. Nevertheless, you should never stop trying and do the best that you can, that’s customer service.
    Get the best deal on iPad

 

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