Online reviews are an extremely important component of an effective web presence for small, local businesses these days, and none more so than independent home energy professionals. (After all, as they say, you wouldn’t let just anyone into your wife’s closet with a $10K military-grade infrared camera, would you?)
But it’s also important that you’re careful about how you go about acquiring those reviews. There are some best practices, and there are some avenues that you should avoid. It’s becoming clearer and clearer that those best-left-avoided avenues are even more best-left-avoided than we thought: a recent sting operation on the part of the major review site Yelp revealed companies that were trying to purchase positive reviews. Yelp responded by posting a conspicuous consumer alert on those companies’ business pages informing potential customers of their mischief. Criminal? No. Embarrassing? Yes. Damaging to your business? Most definitely.
And not only that, but ever since the change from Google Places to Google+ Local, small business owners have been complaining of reviews disappearing or being removed or not displaying even though the reviewer can see it. And despite hundreds and even thousands of complaints logged on Google’s message boards and help/support pages Google has not reinstated many or even any of these reviews. The culprit? An “improved” anti-spam review algorithm that systematically removes or disables reviews that they believe are not genuine for any number of known or unknown reasons. We’re sure they will work on and tweak the algorithm over time, but the message is clear - Google would rather hurt some businesses with legitimate reviews than allow spam or fake reviews into their ecosystem.
The Bottom Line
Long story short: Reviews are important, but not worth faking or buying. Bigger picture: remember that internet marketing for small local businesses is increasingly based on a network of trust, and that whatever you can do to increase your level of trust across the web (legitimate links, good reviews, a positive presence in social media) is good. Whatever is done to damage that trust (manipulated reviews, shady SEO practices) is likely to do more harm than good in the long term.
Have you had success getting reviews online? Or are you feeling frustrated about the constant changes? Let us know in the comments.