I may be a little too close to the review world, but each time I hear a radio ad come on that talks about how many five-star reviews they have, it makes me cringe.  For one thing, there is no mention of how many 1-star reviews they have or even 2 stars.  There is no mention of their average review score. There is no mention of where the reviews reside.  I started this sentence with “We all know” and then rewrote it because I think that unfortunately, we don’t all know that everything that helps with marketing or is a Google ranking factor has entire industries spring up around cheating at it.

Sadly yes, there are still companies you can hire to simply give you hundreds of 5-star reviews.  Or probably 4-star reviews if you were so inclined. Even more disappointing is there are companies you can hire to give your competitors 1-star reviews. The good news is that though it is progressing much more slowly than us good guys would hope, Google and others are getting better at finding and weeding out the fake reviews, and punishing those that engage in these tactics.

Still, any time I hear an ad that leads with how many 5-star reviews they have, my first reaction is to run away.

Real Reviews Matter a Whole Bunch

Fake ReviewsReviews definitely matter, and not just for ranking on Google. People read reviews to try to understand a product or service before making that decision to buy.  When I travel, I am often going through hotel reviews, seeking out reviews about their wifi, to make sure I can work effectively while away.  That is just one small example.  People, and Google, tend to believe what other people say about a business more than what the business says about itself. That makes sense. A business is going to try to always show the best version of itself. Reviews show what other people think of the business. The frightening part for business owners is the perception that most often happy people move on with their day after being satisfied with the business. It is usually the angry person that is more inclined to find a way to voice their displeasure. As review culture continues to grow online, this is definitely a part of it, but people are more likely these days to leave a good one too if you just ask.

Bake Reviews into Your Business Process

That being said, if you bake reviews into your business process and ask everyone, many will begin to balance out the occasional angry person with great reviews.  And if you respond professionally to the negative reviews when they do come up, people will typically get on board, as long as your business generally shows good reviews.

I’ve written in the past about how an average score below 5 often performs better than a 5.0 average. People tend to believe no blemish on your record means you are fake. Often it does. Many companies hire these review businesses that post hundreds of fake 5-star reviews for them.

I don’t bother to even read the 5-star reviews unless they pop up in large numbers when I’m searching for a certain word like wifi.  Even then, I think we all try to make that judgment of whether it is a real person or not. Does it sound like human speech or a real situation?

Where are the Reviews?

Though no site is perfect, Google, Amazon, Yelp, and other sites tend to have processes or algorithms that try to weed out fake reviews.  There are clear red flags. For example, with Google they are tied to your Google account. Accounts that have one review and no other activity, or accounts that seem to have all 5-star reviews scattered all around the world. Things that can signal to Google or others that these aren’t real experiences.

Some are even moving to try to prove you were physically at a location to leave a review there.  If the reviews are curated by the business itself, that is clearly less reliable than reviews on an “unbiased” place like Google. Check where reviews are from when researching your purchase decisions. If the reviews are on the business website, see if the site then links back to Google or another site where you can see they actually reside.

For SEO purposes, it is a good idea to try to get reviews on Google. That will help your ranking in addition to the purchase decision weight they carry that we have already discussed. Make sure you make wise decisions in regards to where the reviews are and if they can be trusted. If you rely on Google for business, then Google is going to trust its own review process more than other sites.

Reviews Can Be Very Helpful

Review Granularity: Future of ReviewsReviews can be great for your business and for the consumer. Search engines are getting better at presenting them and even letting you search through reviews by the subject of the reviews.  Want to know about the lattes only at that bakery and coffee shop? You can just look at reviews that have the word latte in them. Maybe that tells a different story. Maybe the high scores are because of their pastries but the coffee leaves a bit to be desired.

For a business owner, encouraging reviews can get you even more exposure. Getting detailed reviews is growing in importance every year.  Try to encourage the customer to say what they were happy with. If it was that latte and they mention it, it will also make your business more relevant and more likely to show up for that “best latte near me” search, even though latte is not a business category. The more you ask, the more you will consistently bring them in, and the more different products and services will be mentioned, making you relevant for those searches.