Reviews can be a fundamental part of your business’s success. Here’s what you need to know about them.
Tricia: I think this kind of had a little bit of push back from agencies, but this is something for you and Tim to take note of and anyone else. But the whole FTC and reviews, that’s something that I’ll be doing myself and recommending that other agencies do, is to include something about it in your contract. Because the FTC has basically said that they have all these new guidelines, and if you violate one of these guidelines, they’re not only coming after the business with the website but also the marketing company that’s doing any work for them on their website, and any review platforms that they use to get reviews. So, the thing is, most of our customers are going to be small and probably aren’t going to be impacted. But I don’t want to take that risk that probably they’re not going to be impacted if I can just do a waiver in my contract. And basically, the waiver would be like, this is your website when I finished it and turned it over to you. It was compliant with the FTC guidelines at this time, which stated blah, blah, blah. Because if you have a monthly maintenance agreement with them, you’re making sure the plugins are working and stuff, and a lot of times, you will… If there’s a review widget on the website, you will pretty much set that up. A client doesn’t typically set that up. Normally, it’s the website designer who makes sure it’s set up properly and not review gating. That was their big thing on this $4.2 million claim, where they fined a company. And the other thing is, you know, while, if you set it up, the business could go in and change it, someone in the business could. You don’t want to be on the hook. You want to say, this is how I set it up. If you change it, that’s you, and I didn’t make that change. That’s kind of where I’m coming from, and I think some people think that it’s being a little bit too conservative. But you know, I’m a small business. I’d rather put a statement in than have to deal with something later. And again, I think from the way things are looking that the main businesses that are going to be impacted are the large ones. I think there are like seven hundred businesses that the FTC sent a letter out saying, hey, we’ve looked at your size. They are bigger companies or anyone using certain review platforms. I think there were ten of those that got the notice. So, if you’re using one of those ten platforms, I want to say… No, I don’t want to say anything if I can’t remember. But there’s a list of them on the FTC site. There are ten of them. If you’re using one of them, your site will probably get more scrutiny because their customers were sent a letter saying your platform can violate our guidelines, and you’re put on warning.
Tricia: So, if you’re using one of those ten, I would say you definitely need to be careful. But again, it’s the FTC, and I don’t think that they have the resources to go after all of these small businesses, but I don’t want to be the one that they pick up and look at. And the other thing is what if you know you have a client that for whatever reason is not happy and, you know, how some not happy clients kind of go after you, and what if they report you? They see that you review gated on your widget, and they… Who knows? I just don’t want my client to be the example.
David: Yeah. I mean, when I hear you say this, my mind goes to a hypothetical locally based but very competitive, let’s say plumbers or HVAC. And let’s say there’s one very large company in the metropolitan area in which you live that dominates everybody. And they have reviews, and they incentivize their employees to ask for reviews while they’re on site. And so, they have a ton of Google reviews, so they’re all very flattering because when you ask someone in person, they’re never going to tell you you’re a jerk to your face. So, then let’s say you’re an up-and-coming competitor of theirs. And you’re obsessed with rank because that’s what someone told you SEO is all about. And you see all these reviews and all these great reasons, and you say to yourself, I need reviews too. And so, your marketing person, because you’re a mid-major, and your marketing person may not be very experienced at telling clients no or saying to clients, hey, that’s a bad idea. And so, you respond with, hey, mid-major HVAC company, let’s use one of these systems and get these reviews. And I can just see you getting into big trouble that way because your people will fixate on one thing rather than try the long road of let’s start asking for reviews. Like, one of the things I do with all clients is I prepare a .pdf that they can literally just email to anybody with links to places to fill out reviews.
David: And hey, you just have to ask for reviews, you know? And it’s a good idea to ask for them ahead of time. Right? You know this. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. Because every once in a while, some crazy will come by and just give you a one-star review and won’t explain it. Like I had a client that got a bad review because they didn’t have pencils. They’re a school, but it’s like their response was, bring your own dang pencil. Like, we’re not an office supply, you know? I don’t blame that, but you can’t say that. But there’s no arguing with the person who’s giving you one star because she didn’t have pencils.
Tricia: Yeah. And most people reading that are going to be like, whatever. Right? And bypass that review and ignore it.
David: Right. But that’s why you need to make sure you have good reviews that are real.
David: You’re not stacking the deck. These are not lie reviews; these are actual reviews. But you have to do it before the crazies come and give you a one-star because you didn’t part your hair on the proper side or something.
Tricia: And a big part of this, which I do suspect a lot of businesses that have review widgets on their site that pop up at the bottom with reviews, those are typically coming directly from Google, or Facebook, or whatever. The FTC basically says you can’t review gate that. Meaning that you cannot say, show only four- and five-star reviews. You have to show every single review.
Tricia: So, a lot of businesses don’t like that because they’re like, what if I have a one-star review pull in there? I don’t want a one-star review on my website. And I get that, but that’s the FTC’s standing. And while I don’t agree with it, the FTC made their guidelines.
David: Technically against Google’s guidelines, too. If Google catches you review gating, you will get a nasty gram from Google, but how Google knows you’re review gating is another story. They’re not investigating, nor is it illegal to break Google’s rules.
Tricia: Yes. Exactly. And I think with Google previously, it was focused on review gating when getting reviews.
Tricia: And the FTC focused on how you display reviews.
David: Oh, interesting.
Tricia: Because honestly, when I, in the past, talked about review gating, it really hadn’t dawned on me that there was review gating in displaying reviews. And to me, it was always when you ask for reviews, you can’t review gate. And the FTC says that as well, but that was something because… Google has removed a ton of reviews that were review gating, plus ones that were gotten before they started review gating on getting reviews. So, Google will take them down if they find out. The way they find out is that their algorithm can catch things where all you see is a ton of five-star reviews, and it’s like something’s going on here. My assumption is that it’s probably on ones that have a lot of reviews in general. So, if you’ve got like ten or fifteen, it may not catch it. But I think there was one several years back where it was like three or four hundred reviews, and they removed almost sixty or seventy percent of them. I can’t remember the exact numbers. And that was Google that took them down. So, they have taken reviews down because of that.
David: I mean, there are all kinds of statistical sample models where you can look at large data and say, oh, this is weird. Right? Clearly, it’s weird if you have three hundred reviews, and they’re all five-star. Nobody’s that perfect.
Tricia: Yeah. Yeah.
David: Right? Now, if you have five reviews, and they’re all five stars, and you just got started, well, clearly, you’re stacking the deck. Yeah, you’re asking for it. Like once, I caught, it wasn’t a competitor but sort of a competitor, reviewing his own business.
Tricia: I’ve seen that a lot.
David: “Oh, I think this guy’s the best person.” Well, yeah, I bet you do, because it’s you.
Tricia: I think I’m wonderful. Yeah. Leave yourself reviews. I’ve seen that in people, it’s like they don’t understand it’s like, you have to explain to them, you can’t leave yourself a review. You can’t ask your family to leave you reviews, it’s got to be your actual clients or customers.
David: Yeah. So, you know, even today, I was looking at a product with a lot of reviews, and I’m looking through it for the bad reviews. They sorted them by five-stars, so they have a lot of five-star reviews, but I kept going down because I wanted to see the bad reviews.
David: Because I use the bad reviews to say, okay, is there something that’s really a problem? Or is it the crazies? And so, you could kind of tell. So, this guy is really frustrated, he had a bad day, and he just didn’t follow the directions. Okay, that’s fine. Or sometimes people are just really critical, and they’re like, this is a real problem. Well, that might not be a huge problem for me. I might not have given one star for that, but I’m glad to know that, and that’s helping me. My clients don’t quite get this, but you get it. The idea that no one trusts a five-star review.
Tricia: Yeah. I had to ruin that for myself. I’ve gotten a ton of five-star reviews. I’ve got one four-star. And it’s like, I don’t want to ask for four-star reviews, but it’s like I got a lot of five-star reviews.
Tricia: And I think that this is almost something kind of like how privacy started out. You know, in the beginning, when we were thinking about adding the privacy stuff on the website. It was like, oh, do we really need to do that? And I think that this is something the FTC just came out with this stuff at the beginning of this year. They’ve been gradually doing things up until now. And this was just a big one, and I think that the reason they had the, was it $4.2 million fine, is that they wanted to make a big impact, because it was a pretty big deal, what the business was doing how they were handling things. And I kind of think that it was just like, hey look, these are issues. They even have guidelines, some .pdfs for agencies and businesses on what they need to do. So, while I think that probably most of us will be okay, I think it’s better to be on the safe side.
David: Right. Right. So, I happen to be reading a book that is very libertarian, and it’s leaning. And so, the argument there would be don’t regulate it, let the market deal with it. But I don’t want to get into that. But the interesting thing is I think most consumers understand that if all the reviews are perfect, it’s not trustworthy, and that reflects clearly on your company as a whole.
David: You know, if it’s too good to be true, it’s too good to be true. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be regulated. I’m just saying, I think most consumers trust a little less than perfect for reviews. But I’m with you; I’m not going to ask for a four-star review. Yeah. No. That would be just as wrong as asking for a five-star review.
Tricia: Exactly. Yeah. And this was one of the things I meant to mention. Mike Blumenthal was the one that spoke on this specific topic. I’ve seen him speak several times, and he’s really gotten into the details of everything that the FTC has said, and I really trust his judgment. You’ve probably heard of him?
David: The name is familiar.
Tricia: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. He actually was one of the original, I think, founders of Gather Up. And listening to him how he said things progress. That’s a platform that I like and use, and the way he talks is like, years ago when they started, it was kind of like the wild west, and everybody would just do whatever. And then, over the years, they’ve updated when they see things coming down the pipelines that are like, oh, this isn’t the way it really should be, so let’s tighten things up. Because a lot of review platforms will let you have your review widget, review gate, and not show all of your reviews. And they’re now going in and changing that – even ones it didn’t get letters from the FTC, which is good. I would say if you’re using a review platform that allows you to review gate in your widget, to reach out to them and ask them is that something that they’re going to keep, and if they do, I would say they’re probably not a platform to stick with. If they’re doing it right now, kind of in the middle of this all happening, and they need time to adjust, I get that completely. But if they don’t have a process to quickly change that, I would get away from them simply because the FTC will probably come looking at them next.