‘Review & Win’ — or Not

Ever since the discussion during “Ask the Search Engines” this week at SMX West there’s been an ongoing debate about solicited or incentivized reviews. There are two sides here: the SMB who wants customers to post favorable reviews (Tweets and updates) and the publisher that is seeking content for its site. 

A couple of people pointed out to me the new Yellowbook contest that seeks to boost reviews:

The “big prize” approach is probably more effective than the per-review approach that was taken by Tribe.net and Insiderpages, among others (“five reviews for a Starbucks coffee card”). Superpages has done this type of thing, as have many others. It’s common on the publisher side. 

Someone pointed out that, given this contest, Yellowbook couldn’t turn around and do what Yelp is doing: frowning on incentivized reviews. Here’s the official Yelp discussion of this issue:

While we understand that there is a temptation to solicit reviews from your customers, it is not something we encourage. The most successful businesses on Yelp have had their reviews come organically. This is for a couple of reasons:

  1. Potential customers can sometimes have an adverse reaction to a business that looks like it has solicited reviews.
  2. Quite often those solicited reviews will be screened out (see above) based on the activity level of those users within the Yelp community.

And about screening of reviews:

Some reviewers are more credible than others. For the most part, users decide for themselves which reviewers they trust the most. We remove some of the guesswork by screening out reviews that are written by less established users. The process is entirely automated to avoid human bias, and it affects both positive and negative reviews. Since users can become more or less established over time, their reviews can disappear and reappear over time, as well. Either way, we never actually delete these reviews, and they can still be found on the reviewer’s personal profile page.

This system proves frustrating for some because it sometimes affects perfectly legitimate reviews. The flip side is that it helps protect against fake reviews from malicious competitors and disgruntled former employees. . . .

Local businesses will undoubtedly do the sort of thing that Yellowbook is doing on a smaller scale: “post a review on Yelp or Google or  become a fan on Facebook for a chance to win a free haircut.” This is exactly what Yelp wants to avoid — and if the reviews come from people who don’t normally post reviews — they’ll be removed or suppressed in all likelihood. 

But you can certainly understanding the thinking.

3 Responses to “‘Review & Win’ — or Not”

  1. Perry Says:

    It feels a little disingenuous for Yelp to be talking smack on incentives.

    Yelp seeded the market with pros who “worked the crowd” in many many ways, instituted volume-based rewards/badges and hosted party events to get it’s momentum in place – to the hipster audience this ego-centric reward system is every bit as much an incentive as a chance to win $10K on YellowBook. Gimme a break, Yelp.

  2. Mike Ramsey Says:

    Im going to go against Yelp on this one. Things can be “gamed” regardless of the system that is set up and because of this, I don’t consider it bad practice to promote getting feedback in the forms of online reviews. I would compare it to google saying that you shouldn’t promote people to link to your good content because there are people that link spam.

    I would have an issue if businesses were choosing the reviews that would show and not, but If a company lets every single person know about their review process and has a wide promotion (not necessarily a prize) you are going to get a wide range of postive and negative feedback. It sure beats having a testimonial page on a website with hand picked reviews that issues zero trust for a business.

    Also, in the current state of local…most businesses have 5 or 6 reviews. 1 from a friend, another from the spouse, and two from different employees. They might not be fake, they might just be saying “i know the company and they’re good people”. And that’s the only reviews some companies are going to get if they don’t promote the system. If you can promote the review process and bump up the number of reviews to more like 50-100, the fake or biased reviews get lost in the matter. People need to leave more reviews for a better rounded and semantic approach to Local Search, that isn’t going to happen with Yelp’s mind frame, it’s going to happen by businesses asking, asking, and asking again.

    I’m interested in your opinion on this Greg.

  3. Greg Sterling Says:

    At SMX West Google’s Carter Maslan said that reviews on a testimonials page would be crawled as well as those on third party sites — as an aside.

    As a personal matter I don’t think it’s wrong for a local business to expose the fact that they’re on this or that site and encourage customers to write a review. I understand what Yelp is trying to do — protect the “integrity” of its content — but the logic of the market now almost requires these SMBs to make an effort to get more positive WoM online.

    It’s certainly much better to ask customers to write reviews than to fabricate them and pretend to be customers, when you’re the sister of the owner, etc.

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