Continuing on our Online Reviews Month theme… because online reviews have a big impact on local search rankings and people’s decisions, it’s a good idea to get as many online reviews as you can.
Unfortunately, some organizations have knowingly or unknowingly violating Google, Facebook, or Yelp’s terms of service regarding reviews and had their reviews removed. Ouch!
I even saw one very popular church tech blogger with thousands of followers (who will remain nameless) promote a strategy for getting online reviews that is specifically prohibited by Google. So, you’ve got to be careful about who you’re getting advice from.
Every online review site has different rules, so we took the time to scrutinize the terms of service agreement for the biggest sites – Google, Facebook and Yelp. (Note that the ratings and reviews in Bing Maps are from Yelp)
Google My Business Rules for Online Reviews
Google encourages organizations to “Remind your customers to leave reviews.” It states:
Reviews are only valuable when they are honest and unbiased. (For example, business owners shouldn’t offer incentives to customers in exchange for reviews.)
And goes on to state:
Contributions must be based on real experiences and information. Deliberately fake content, copied or stolen photos, off-topic reviews, defamatory language, personal attacks, and unnecessary or incorrect content are all in violation of our policy.
It furthermore explicitly states the following practices are conflicts of interest and not allowed:
- Reviewing your own business.
- Posting content about a current or former employment experience.
- Posting content about a competitor to manipulate their ratings.
So, for Google, you are welcome to ask people for reviews, but don’t have employees post reviews and only ask people with firsthand experience with your organization.
Facebook Rules for Online Reviews
Facebook does not explicitly encourage organizations to ask for online reviews like Google does, but there is also no place in its reviews guidelines or community standards that prohibit or discourage asking for reviews. Furthermore, Facebook has “Invite friends” functionality built into its platform, which you can use to invite some or all of your friends to like a page. So, we think it’s safe to assume asking for reviews is ok.
Facebook states that reviews:
- Should focus on the product or service offered by the business
- Should base it on personal experience
- Shouldn’t manage the Page for that business
Facebook’s rules are very similar to Google’s: you can ask for reviews but don’t review your own organization and don’t ask for reviews from people who don’t have first hand experience.
Yelp Rules for Online Reviews
Yelp’s rules are different from those of Google and Facebook:
Don’t ask for reviews and don’t offer to pay for them either: Please don’t ask your customers to review your business on Yelp. Over time, solicited reviews create bias on your business page — a bias that savvy consumers can smell from a mile away… You should also never offer compensation (discounts and freebies count too) in exchange for reviews.
Yelp has some additional rules about posting reviews which are good to know:
- Personal experience: We want to hear about your firsthand consumer experience, not what you heard from your co-worker or significant other. Try to tell your own story without resorting to broad generalizations and conclusory allegations.
- Accuracy: Make sure your review is factually correct. Feel free to air your opinions, but don’t exaggerate or misrepresent your experience. We don’t take sides when it comes to factual disputes, so we expect you to stand behind your review.
- Review updates: Review updates should reflect a new experience or interaction with the business. Don’t tell the same old story you’ve already told. If you’d like to add new insight to an old experience, just edit your review instead of creating a new update
Yelp’s rule against asking for reviews has been widely criticized, but it’s their platform, so don’t do it.
However, there could be ways to get reviews without asking. Would it be ok to email someone asking them to post a review to Google and Facebook and then say, “By the way, here’s a link to check out our Yelp profile?”
Yelps rules don’t explicitly prohibit an organization from sending out a link to its Yelp profile, but Yelp could also remove an organization’s reviews if it thinks they are violating the spirit of the law if not the letter of it. So, do so at your own risk.
US Law: No Incentives for Reviews
Regardless of what is included in terms of service documents for the individual review, U.S. Federal Law prohibits offering incentives for reviews. An organization can be fined up to $16,000 per violation.
The law prohibits not just offering incentives for positive reviews but for any reviews. And it prohibits not only direct monetary compensation but discounts, free products, entries into a drawing, or anything else of value. There’s an excellent article about all of this on here.
If you made it this far through the article, congrats! Reading about rules and policies is never fun but the alternative is even less fun.
Ignorance of the law is no excuse. –Thomas Jefferson
Getting online reviews is an part of a comprehensive SEO strategy. If you would like help with SEO for your church or Christian organization, request a free phone consultation.
Post a comment and let us know your thoughts and questions about the rules for online reviews.