"Very carefully," it appears.
A number of small businesses -- home performance businesses included -- have been having trouble with disappearing Google reviews lately. Apparently, this isn't a bug, but is actually a result of a new review spam algorithm that Google has incorporated into its review system. (Some of the disappearing reviews, of course, may be the result of a bug or bugs, but the majority are intentionally being thrown out.)
Why? Who knows. Google hasn't been super transparent about their new spam filter for reviews, but the takeaway for businesses in our industry is: don't ask for reviews in such a way that might suggest to Google that they're not legit. As local search expert Mike Blumenthal put it, "Asking for reviews is okay, soliciting them is bad."
What does this mean for you?
- Ask for reviews one at a time.
- Don't send mass emails to multiple recipients asking for reviews.
- In person is good, and right after the job is complete is ideal. (Slow and steady wins the race; a bunch of reviews at once may trigger the spam filter.)
- Customers should leave reviews on their own device - mobile or computer - as there is some evidence that multiple reviews from the same IP address may trigger the spam filter.
Wisdom From Google's Comment Thread
In a consolidated thread on Google Plus, a very large number of small business owners have chimed in discussing their specific problems, and some experts have chimed in -- creating a pretty good discussion. If you've had issues with reviews being removed, its not a bad idea to chime in there as you may get some attention from Google. Plus, there are some pretty specific insights that you can glean straight from Google representatives responding to comments:
- "Mobile reviewing can only be done through: Google Maps or Google+ for Android, or, Google+ Local app on iOS. (Visiting the page on a browser on mobile does not work!)"
- "It's fine if you reach out to customers to ask them to review, but I do not recommend that you do this in waves. If you want to reach out to legit customers and ask them to review, I recommend you contact them immediately after you have done business with them."
- "We only allow one review per person per business."
- "Well, think about it this way -- in our ideas, the "ideal" review is by a customer who writes a review of a place completely by his or her own accord, on mobile during the experience or at home after. This would mimic the regular flow of the business. On the other hand, some SEO companies that resort to spam reviews to deliver "results" would exhibit different behavior. It's a system that we are constantly trying to improve, but for now, this is what I can say to try and help. I really don't want legit businesses with legit reviews to get caught, so this is our effort. I can't provide specific numbers (and in fact don't know them)."
... As well as from small business owners who have had bad luck with certain practices (which, we can assume, you should avoid):
- One user sends out a regular newsletter with a link to the business's Google+ Local page, suggesting that happy customers go over and leave a review. Since this leads to a "wave" of reviews all at once, they all get flagged and none of the reviews get posted.
- One user has a dedicated "review station" in their office for customers to leave a review on their way out the door. These reviews have been flagged and removed, most likely because they're all coming from the same IP address. (Hence, the suggestion that your customers leave reviews on their own devices rather than yours.)
Keep in Mind...
Bear in mind that the worst that can happen if you ask a customer for a review is either a) they don't post a review, or b) they post a review and it doesn't show up. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, so we would say: don't let this stuff freak you out. While it appears as if there is a fine line between "asking for reviews" (which is okay), and "soliciting reviews" (which is not okay), we think that asking is still better than not asking. Err on the side of adventure.
From the archives, here's how you can deal with a negative review on Google, why Google's business directory is a good place to market your Home Performance business, and what you need to know about the new Google Places -> Google+ Local merge.