Is Buying Reviews an Ethical Business Practice?

As soon as you throw around words like “Ethical”, I get ready for a lecture on morality and religion. That is not the intent of this article. However I will provide you with a sliding scale and you can impose your own sense of ethics and morality to determine which end of that scale you are comfortable with. I am quite convinced that ethics is a sliding scale affected by Risk, Reward and Motivation.

· Risk = Likelihood of punishment

· Reward = Size of the prize

· Motivation = Emotional drive derived from positive or negative circumstances.

As an example, if you ask most people if they would eat food from a dumpster, most would say “Hell No”. However, as your hunger grows and your options for something better recede, your willingness to partake of the dumpster dining experience will grow.

When it comes to reviews there is the obvious question of what will reviews do for me. I believe there are four primary benefits for reviews:

1. Ego boost for the business owner. “They like me!, They really like me!”

2. Social signals to the search engines that people are engaging with your company. This tends to effect ranking to a small degree.

3. A visual indicator that makes your business listing stand out. In the instance of a Google listing, the 5 yellow stars show up after you get 5 reviews and that makes your maps listing more noticeable and more likely to get clicks or calls.

4. Positive affirmations to your new potential customers that others have found what you provide to be of value.

Obviously, the fourth is the primary factor of interest. 60% of online shoppers look at reviews before making a decision. Refer to link at the bottom.

Most business owners already know this. So, reviews are something that business owners want. However, I’ve seen a lot of confusion about where the reviews should be placed and how much value and weight they carry. The primary value is based on credibility from potential customers and possibly search engines. Here are where most of the reviews end up and the value that they carry.

· Company Website: Written Review – This type of review carries no weight with search engines and very little credibility with potential customers because everyone knows you control the website and you can put anything you want on their regardless of the truth of the statement or if the customer is a real person or not.

· Company Website: Video Review – This carries more weight with your potential customers because people can see that it is a real person and not just a creation of your imagination. They still don’t know if this person is actually a customer of yours or just a good friend that owes you a favor, but it looks more realistic. Many times these types of reviews are great for a specific product page or the page that discusses a service you provide.

· Google Plus: This tends to carry more weight with potential customers because they know you can’t delete a bad review and it is slightly difficult to fake the reviews.

· Yelp: This tends to carry more weight than Google reviews because it is even harder to fake these reviews and you cannot delete bad reviews from this forum. This review platform carries a lot of credibility with Google as well. Yelp has a loyal following and there are a lot of people who use that instead of a search engine.

· Facebook: It is good to have the stars and a written review on Facebook because there are loyal Facebook followers that give this platform credibility. Although you can’t delete bad reviews from Facebook, it is not a well-known fact.

· Yellow Page or Dex: It is good to have at least one review on this platform because it tends to influence that group of people who like to use this search tool.

· Other places that you may want to have reviews include: Citysearch, Manta, Superpages, Kudzu, Best of the Web, and Better Business Bureau. If you can get reviews on Angie’s list those are pretty solid because they are nearly impossible to fake.

Now that you know the value of reviews and where to put them it’s time to address the original question of should you “pay” for them?

As you may know, it is against Google’s terms of service to pay for reviews: “Conflict of interest: Reviews are most valuable when they are honest and unbiased. If you own or work at a place, please don’t review your own business or employer. Don’t offer or accept money, products, or services to write reviews for a business or to write negative reviews about a competitor. If you’re a business owner, don’t set up review stations or kiosks at your place of business just to ask for reviews written at your place of business. “

Yelp doesn’t even want you to ask customers for reviews!

Those are some of the more strict rules for reviews. Most of the other business listing sites where you can put reviews are much more liberal in their policies.

To keep this simple, let’s just use these categories regarding ethical standards.

1. Morally Ambiguous – You bribe, cheat, steal and take blackmail photo’s to get any and every review you can squeeze out of people that are not even your customers.

2. You “encourage” clients to give you a review on the part of the web that will benefit you the most.

3. You just let karma take care of you by allowing whatever happens to happen.

Option 1 might work for most areas on the web, but not Google, Yelp or Angies list. Those three review areas will either not let it happen to begin with, or they will delete your reviews or your business listing completely.

If you think nobody will find out, try putting your offer in print and find out how quickly your competition sends it to Google or Yelp.

Option 2 is the grey area that should be looked at in more depth.

Option 3 will most likely result in not much happening at all, because people are busy and more often than not can’t be bothered. The exception to this rule is foot and drink. For some reason everyone wants to tell you what they had to eat. The other thing to consider is that when a customer is happy with you they will tell nobody and when they are mad at you they will tell everybody. So, negative reviews will take care of themselves.

Regarding option 2, there are a few things that people have done to get reviews.

· Offer a discount for services if the customer does a positive review before they leave. This is an effective process, but nothing will stop them from deleting the review after they leave. As for the ethics of this, I’ll leave that up to you.

· Ask the customer for a review via email. It is fairly common for a business to email their list of clients requesting a review and offering instructions on how to do it.

· Asking for reviews through social media. Same as above, just different delivery.

· Getting a customer to give a review on their cell phone before they leave. Very effective.

· Having a drawing for a gift if the customer can prove they did a review. Although this is in violation of the terms of service, you can decide for yourself if it is ethical.

· Offering a gift if the customer gives you a good review before they walk out. Same as above.

· Asking the customer how they feel about your service before they leave and getting them excited about the result before they leave. Then ask them to help you out by giving you a review on the platform of your choice.

The most useful thing a business owner told me about reviews is, “Excited customers give reviews, and satisfied customers do not”.

So, whatever ethical course of action you choose, I would recommend a high level of excellent service and don’t be afraid to encourage your customers to share their experience online. It doesn’t hurt to ask and most people are way too busy to just do it on their own. Some will ask you for help because they don’t know how, in which case, you should have a written walk through you can give them that illustrates the process.

Just a brief warning: Do not have a person use your internet connection to give you a review on Google. They will see multiple reviews coming from your IP address and will delete them. Also, do not get 10 reviews in 1 day. Google will also delete those as well.

Steve Tamulewicz 7-21-15


9 Things That a New Small Business Owner Should Avoid Doing

When you are new small business owner, you are often uncertain about what to do and what not to do. Here is a list of nine things that you should avoid doing when you are first stating out: 

  1. Let Your Passion Override Your Reason – It’s good to be in love with your business but even the greatest passion and the grandest ideas have to have a firm foundation in sound business and marketing principles. Define your business and create a brand – so that everyone else can understand what you are so passionate about. Develop a business plan so you know where you are going. Develop an ongoing marketing plan so that your target market is reminded on a regular basis that you are out there ready to serve them. 
  2. Think Small – Even though you are a small business owner, you don’t have to think small. Does this mean you have to have a multi-million dollar business in order to be considered successful? No, that’s not what I mean. Allow yourself to dream big in your business. Really let yourself see just how big you can build your particular piece of the marketplace. If you want to generate a business that will support you and your family for the long haul…great! Dream about that. If you want a business that makes a lot of money, doesn’t require your constant presence and gives you the lifestyle you want…great! Dream about that. Then think big – what can you do to take these dreams and implement them? What are the steps you will have to take to have the business you want? Then play big – make efforts daily that shape your business into the one you want. 
  3. Spend Too Much Time and Money on Creating Your Website – The goal of creating a website is to create an online presence for you. It is a marketing tool and in many cases an e-commerce tool. But it is often treated like the end goal rather than as a means to a goal and far too much money is spent in the process. You do not need an expensive website to get started; you do not need lots of flash and bells and whistles. Start minimally – e.g. with a multi-page blog or a one brochure-style page site with a blog attached to it. You can always add on later.
  4. Put Your Website Up and Then Forget about It – Just putting your website out in cyberspace is not enough – you need to get the search engines to find you on an ongoing basis so that your target audience can find you. There is plenty of great free information out there on what are the basics of a search-engine friendly website. Come up with a plan and have your webmaster implement the strategies for you. If you have an e-commerce site, you may want to invest in getting a website and search engine optimization audit to find out the best way to drive traffic to your site. 
  5. Market Your Business Inconsistently or Ineffectively – Marketing is getting your message about your business out to the world. Marketing has to be a continuous process, not intermittent or sporadic. When you first start your small business, you are so busy doing the tasks of your business that you forget you have to make time to market your business. But even before you begin doing this, you have to determine which marketing strategies are right for your business – which will give you the biggest return on your investment. If you don’t hire a coach for anything else, hire a coach to help you develop a marketing plan. It will keep you from making expensive or ineffective missteps. 
  6. Look at What Others Charge and Then Decide to Charge a Lower Fee So You Can Get Business – Knowing how much to charge for your services is often a stumbling point for new business owners, especially when you provide a service rather than a physical product. Many service providers will research what others are charging, then decide to set their fee just below that price. The rationale is that people will compare and choose you because you are more affordable. Resist the temptation to under-price your services. Though price may be a determining factor, it is not the only one. Most people buy based on the benefits they will receive from buying a product or service. When you are starting out, look at industry standards. Then look at how you can increase the value of the services you offer so that clients and customers see the value, not the price. As you become more experienced in business, you will find that if the value is truly there, people will be willing to pay even more than industry standards. 
  7. Go It Alone – Just because you are in business for yourself does not mean you should be in business by yourself. As a new small business owner, you will need ongoing advice, guidance and support. Having a coach on an ongoing basis is vital to your success. No one coach can fulfill all your needs over time, so expect to change coaches as you grow. Get into a master mind group with like-minded people to keep being challenged on a regular basis. Join an organization that serves the needs of small business owners and attend their events. Network with other small business owners. 
  8. Try to Do It All Yourself – One of the problems of being a new small business owner is that you may not have the money to hire people to help you or buy services that support your business. To start, look at all the tasks in your business. See which ones help you generate income but take too much time to do. For example, good bookkeeping will help you make money and save money. But not everyone is cut out to be their own bookkeeper, so this may be a service to which you commit early one to support your business. Eventually, you will want to outsource all the work that is administrative. Even if you are good at clerical or administrative tasks, this doesn’t mean you should be doing them. The point here is to free up enough of your time to create products and services and market your business.
  9. Work to the Point You Exclude Everything Else – A small business can consume all your time if you let it. Having boundaries around how much time you spend in your business each day is important. You will have to plan this just as you do your business tasks. Make sure to allot time in every day for downtime. Make time for self-care. Plan time for recreation and even for an interest outside of your business. Exercise. Relax. Have fun.