Reviews can make or break a small business. Even before the internet, people trusted what their friends and family told them about experiences with products and services. Positive comments can earn a company more business while negative experiences can cause them to lose multiple customers. Today, there is an even stronger emphasis on reviews thanks to the accessibility of the internet. That’s good news for legit businesses. The first step in harnessing the power of customer feedback is making sure that you understand the rules of the top local review platforms.


Why Should I Care About Local Reviews?

A neutral or bad review isn’t the end of the world. As long as you handle the situation professionally and continue to build up a good reputation, you can overcome the occasional negative comment. That being said, you should still consider local reviews a significant part of your business and its reputation.

Review surveys have found that as much as 85% of consumers trust the reviews they read online just as much as they trust a personal recommendation. That statistic has grown over the past decade, showing a steady trend in favor of local reviews.The Small Business Guide to Top Local Review Sites

The feedback provided by a review is invaluable to any business. It can help owners and managers figure out what they are doing right and what needs improvement to earn more business from their communities. Companies are taking a proactive approach to getting reviews. If you haven’t already, now is the time to learn more about the most popular platforms and how to navigate them.


Getting Reviews That Don’t Break the Rules

The following will provide a basic outline of each top review site and what they allow or do not allow. While this is a great start, you should also check out the current terms of service as well as guides or FAQs the site provides for more details or to watch for changes in policy.


The Rules of BBB Reviews

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is the second oldest platform on this list. The non-profit organization was founded in 1912. Its goal is to advance marketplace trust. Today, it provides users with a wealth of online information about consumer experiences with businesses. It may not be the trendiest review site, but it is certainly one that is trusted by many and has serious staying power. What do you need to know about your BBB reviews?

  • Reviews Are Vetted & Fakes Are Rejected – New reviews require a follow-up with the reviewer to verify that their email address is real and active. Once the reviewer’s identity is confirmed, the business is contacted to verify that the interaction or transaction took place. The business then has 3 to 10 days to respond to the review. Additional information may be requested.
  • Anonymous Reviews Are Not Permitted – In an effort to keep all reviews honest, the BBB does not allow anyone to post anonymously. Reviewers must provide identifying information in order for their reviews to be accepted.
  • Absolutely No Paid Reviews Allowed – The BBB does not permit incentivized reviews. That means the business cannot offer goods, services, or compensation in exchange for a review. If the organization suspects that someone is trying to post an incentivized review, they will not add it to the site.


The Rules of Google Reviews

Google is easily one of the biggest names on the internet. It ranks among the fastest-growing platforms when it comes to reviews. The number posted increased by 80% between 2013 and 2014. Google reviews expanded by 114% the following year and then saw a 278% jump between 2015 and 2016. Even if Google reviews aren’t your main focus, it’s something every business should still keep an eye on just because of the sheer size and reach of the platform. What do you need to know about your Google reviews?

  • No Review Gating Allowed – This is a newer guideline added by Google. In the past, some businesses would utilize a third-party app to filter out negative feedback. The positive feedback would go to a public platform like Google while the negative would stay private. This process is called gating and skews the results of feedback in favor of the business. It is not permitted any longer.
  • No Self-Reviews – Businesses are not allowed to review themselves. That includes asking employees to post reviews for their employer. Only genuine customers are permitted to share their experiences.
  • No Reviewing Competitors – You are also not permitted to review your competitors because this creates a conflict of interest. Chances are the review will be removed. Google doesn’t specifically mention any other backlash for reviewing competitors, but it is possible that they could decide to penalize your website which could hurt traffic and other stats.
  • No Incentivized Reviews – Just like other platforms, Google does not allow incentivized reviews. That means you cannot offer money or products in exchange for positive feedback.
  • No Bulk Review Solicitations – Businesses are not permitted to request reviews from customers in bulk. Mass mailing of this type is annoying to customers and considered a bad practice. It also makes it more difficult to get relevant reviews from recent customers since some may have purchased a long time ago.


The Rules of Facebook Reviews

Facebook recently switched from its star-rating system to a recommendation system. Customers still have the opportunity to post written feedback for your business. Many consumers use Facebook daily, making it a good source for local business information. It is the second fastest growing platform, falling right behind Google. What do you need to know about your Facebook recommendations?

  • No Fake Recommendations – Facebook has cracked down on its no spam policy. That also means not using spammy practices to get good reviews. Businesses should never encourage family members or employees to leave dishonest feedback for them. No “buying” feedback, either.
  • Real Identities Must Be Used – Facebook requires users to create accounts using their real identity. This is part of the site’s authenticity policy. Reviews can only be posted by real people. This prevents companies from creating fake accounts to post reviews.
  • No Incentivized Recommendations – Incentivized reviews are not permitted. Companies cannot supply monetary compensation or offer products or services in exchange for a good review.


The Rules of TripAdvisor Reviews

TripAdvisor focuses on travel and hospitality. They list profiles for restaurants, cafes, hotels, activities, and much more. It is the biggest site of its kind, reaching approximately 340 visitors on a monthly basis. What do you need to know about your TripAdvisor reviews?

  • No Buying or Selling of Fake Reviews – TripAdvisor continues to fight against users buying and selling favorable reviews. While buying dishonest reviews may sound like an easy way to boost your business, it can land you in serious trouble. This practice is illegal in some countries.
  • No Incentivized Reviews – No incentivized reviews are permitted to ensure that all comments posted are honest and genuine. That also means no offering a product, service, or discount in exchange for positive feedback.
  • No Biased Reviews or Blackmail – TripAdvisor also discourages reviews that are biased or intended for blackmail purposes. Biased reviews would include feedback posted by family members, friends, or employees.


The Rules of Yelp Reviews

Yelp is a local search platform. While Yelp has faced some legal push-back in the past for its review practices, it is still used by many consumers. The local focus makes it beneficial for businesses that operate within smaller communities or cities. Despite the controversy, consumers still turn to Yelp for ratings. What do you need to know about Yelp reviews?

  • No Review Solicitations Allowed – Yelp specifically states that it does not want companies asking customers to post reviews for them. Solicitation is not permitted and is closely monitored. This is one of the biggest rules on the site. If a solicited review is identified, it doesn’t count toward the user’s rating and will be added to the not recommended part of the profile page.
  • No Incentivized Reviews – No incentivized reviews is a pretty common rule across most sites. Businesses are not permitted to offer something in exchange for good ratings. That includes discounts, special deals, or free products as well as cash.
  • No Biased Reviews – Businesses are not permitted to ask friends, family, employees or others to leave biased reviews. Feedback is supposed to be objective and fair. Having someone you know post a good review for you is considered a conflict of interest.


The Rules of Angie’s List Reviews

Angie’s List is an online directory that was founded in 1995. It uses crowd-sourced reviews to provide consumers with information on home services. This includes contractors and local businesses. The site removed its subscription requirement in 2016, expanding its user base with a free membership option. What do you need to know about Angie’s List reviews?

  • No Conflict of Interest Reviews – Angie’s List does not permit biased reviews. That includes friends, family, and employees as well as posting reviews to hurt competitors.
  • No Anonymous Reviews – Angie’s List requires reviewers to include their name and address, which is visible to the company being reviewed. This helps catch competitors that might try to hurt a business’ rating.
  • Language Limitations for Review Solicitations – Companies can ask for reviews, but only by using certain language. This can be found in the Business Center Brand Guidelines on Angie’s List.


The Rules of Yellow Pages Reviews

The origins of Yellow Pages dates back just a little further than the BBB, starting in 1883 when a printer used yellow pages instead of white to print a telephone directory. Today, Yellow Pages is another source of information for consumers. It may appeal to an older crowd, but it’s still a resource that shouldn’t be overlooked. What do you need to know about your Yellow Pages reviews?

  • No Fake or Defamatory Reviews – Yellow Pages doesn’t actively monitor or censor review content. The site has a system in place that allows businesses to report fake or defamatory content. Using this feature to remove all honest negative reviews is called astroturfing and is not permitted.
  • No Paying for Reviews – Paid reviews are not allowed, either. That includes paying for positive reviews to be posted on a business profile as well as negative reviews to be posted on a competitor’s profile.
  • No Biased Reviews – All reviews should come from real customers. No biased feedback is permitted, including positive reviews left by friends, family, shareholders, or employees.


Know the Site Before You Ask for Reviews

Make sure you understand the rules of each local review site before directing customers to post there. It’s also helpful to build a profile on each site that includes all of your up-to-date information. Not only are these resources great for local reviews, but they can also serve as information and communication hubs that help new customers find you. Reviews are a powerful tool, so make sure obtain them honestly and use them wisely. Contact Click Now Marketing to learn more about earning reviews and strengthening your online reputation.