by Ali Naqi Shaheen, Chief Product Officer of eKomi – The Feedback Company.
Recently, Google updated its rules regarding the display of Rich Snippets. The goal is to make the results more helpful and meaningful for the users. There’s been a lot of discussion around it, especially in the reviews & ratings space. Rich snippets are great for generating click-throughs on the search pages, and not having any ratings in organic results essentially makes all results pretty much the same, as seen below.
This update does not affect the Google Seller Ratings program, which shows ratings in Google AdWords.
It doesn’t have any effect on the Product Ratings either.
It also has no effect on the third party (like us: eKomi) hosted reviews.
Before I get into what are the implications of the changes, I think it’s important to know why we are at this point. Why did Google finally decided to pull the plug on these rich snippets. The simplest possible answer is that different businesses and review providers have been misusing these ratings. There are several open platforms (our competitor: TrustPilot) being one of them, that allow anyone to post a review on their website. These reviews are not authentic (while they may be posted by real people) in the sense that they are not linked to a specific transaction. This has been talked about a number of times:
Fake reviews being bought and sold online reported by BBC
So whether it’s TrustPilot, TripAdvisor or Yelp or even other platforms — as long there are going to be “open portals”, there will always be a problem of fake reviews (in the sense of reviews not being attached to any specific experience/transaction). Fake reviews are very damaging — in my opinion, they are like fake doctors, and in fact, can be far more dangerous. This is why, for Google, it’s super important to make sure that anything that can promote fake reviews or ratings, is handled in the best possible way.
This means if businesses use open platforms like TrustPilot, they are running a risk. The non-transaction / experience model is very very risky and it will always be up for scrutiny.
For businesses, there is another big issue. Platforms like TrustPilot, even though they generate reviews through their clients, display reviews on their own portals and essentially get stronger with every review they collect from their customers. In fact, TrustPilot even says it in their explanation “On branded Google searches, give your Trustpilot profile page as much visibility as possible” essentially hand over traffic to TrustPilot, have even less control over your own reputation.
So what are my recommendations:
- Non-transaction-based platforms. It’s bad for the business and bad for the industry. Generating reviews quickly is risky from a legal perspective.
- Paying for feedback or giving incentives for customer reviews. This ranks only second to the above. Reviews are a primary building block of trust, when a business pays for a review, that trust is damaged and we all suffer. I think, from an entrepreneurial perspective, it’s probably okay to give incentive but it should be clearly mentioned.
- “Review gating” — there is no need to filter positive and negative reviewers out. A few review providers first ask for customer’s experience and if it’s positive, they sent them to a review site (e.g. Apple App Store) to post a review
- Think beyond short term reputation — collect feedback across all possible touchpoints and user journeys. It’s a good practice, helps business in general and helps improve reputation too while increasing visibility and generating lots of good user-generated content.
- As much as possible, specify what the feedback is collected on. This is also a very obvious and very simple requirement and also this is what Google now requires too. On our (eKomi) part we have been pushing for this for years now, that reviews should not only be authentic but also specify clearly what is being reviewed and against what experience.
As long as businesses avoid the donts and push the dos, there is nothing to worry about. Google’s changes are good changes aimed at increasing transparency. We are strong believers of transparency and we believe most businesses want to be transparent and fair so they have absolutely nothing to fear.