Review Platform Guidelines
As a local business owner, the number of review platforms that you need to consider is large and growing, encompassing both general sites such as Google, Yelp, and Facebook to more niche review sites that spring up around a particular industry.
Reviews are known to be intrinsically linked to local business success. This relates to how prominently your business appears in the local search results alongside what consumers think of your business and whether they decide to give you their custom. Because of this, lots of companies have started to think more creatively about how to request reviews.
Where an email might once have been the standard, today a variety of methods are used. This includes postcards, SMS messages, in-store and point-of-sale displays, giveaways, and, of course, email.
However, what you can and can’t do to obtain reviews, and what those reviews can and can’t say, differs between platforms. If you get it wrong, then the punishment meted out to your business can be harsh. That means it’s important to always be aware of Google’s review guidelines, Yelp’s review guidelines, and all other platforms that matter to your business.
Google Review Guidelines
Google offers a fairly detailed list of what it does and doesn’t accept from both businesses and reviewers. Most fall under the ‘Prohibited and Restricted Content’ guidelines, but Google has also introduced key elements to its ‘Format Specific Criteria’ rules to outlaw practices such as review gating.
No Review Gating
Prohibiting review gating means that local businesses can’t use a third-party tool to filter out negative reviews. Nor can they ask for reviews from customers known to be happy with their products or services. In the past, brands have been able to cherry-pick positive reviews by using software to funnel customers who say they have had a negative experience towards private feedback, and those indicating a positive experience to a public review platform like Google. This, of course, creates a false impression of the business and skews reviews, making them less useful to other customers.
Don’t Review Your Own Business
Reviews are intended to be honest and unbiased accounts of genuine customer experiences, therefore reviewing your own business (or asking staff to review your business by posing as a customer) is against Google review guidelines.
Related: Free Online Video Course – ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Generating and Managing Reviews‘
Don’t Review Competitors
Google states that “Content that has been posted by a competitor to undermine a business or product’s reputation” is deceptive. It’s also a means of black hat SEO and is unethical — Google says content which violates this rule will be removed.
At the more severe end of the scale, if you’re found to be a repeat offender, then it’s possible that your website may be subjected to a Google penalty. This will undoubtedly have a detrimental impact on your online visibility and, by extension, your website traffic and overall sales figures.
Don’t Offer or Accept Money in Exchange for Reviews
You can’t incentivize customers to leave a review for your business by offering to pay them to do so. This obviously creates an environment where the reviewer is more likely to leave a glowing review, undermining the entire concept of fair and honest feedback.
Again, Google doesn’t spell out what the penalty for repeatedly violating this rule is, besides the standard warning that content in breach of these guidelines will be removed. However, penalties and even banishment from Google Business Profile (formerly known as Google My Business) aren’t out of the question, depending on the seriousness of the infringement.
Don’t Solicit Reviews from Customers in Bulk
Unlike some platforms, there isn’t a Google reviews solicitation policy prohibiting businesses from requesting reviews (but this should be done equally with all customers requested to leave a review). Requesting reviews in bulk isn’t against Google guidelines, but it is bad practice. This is because a local business needs to have a steady stream of genuine, recent reviews rather than a bulk influx every so often.
To abide by this rule, you shouldn’t send a mass email to your entire mailing list requesting a review. Again, Google’s focus here is on ensuring reviews are accurate and genuine. A mass mailout can’t guarantee accuracy given that some recipients may have purchased from you years ago.
While it might be tempting to try and bolster your review count in one swift move, being consistent about requesting reviews when a transaction is completed ensures they’re more authentic, useful, and accurate.
You can read more about this in our guide.
Yelp Review Guidelines
Yelp’s review guidelines are very similar to Google’s in that they outlaw inappropriate content, promotional content, conflicts of interest, and payment for or solicitation of reviews. One key area of difference with Google’s rules is that Yelp’s guidelines for business owners state that businesses shouldn’t ask for reviews.
Don’t Solicit Reviews or Offer to Pay for Them
Solicitation is a big deal for Yelp. It has two dedicated pages to explian why this is a no-no, with an overview in its support centre and a full blog post dedicated to the topic in its newsroom.
It says that Yelp reviews are “designed to highlight reviews from people who want to share their genuine experiences — without being asked or tempted. Proactively asking for reviews may hurt your Yelp rating because our automated software may not recommend reviews that seem to be prompted or encouraged by the business. Also, many businesses only ask happy customers for reviews, which leads to biased ratings. Yelp’s software tries to identify any reviews that appear to have been requested, and not recommend them.”
Yelp says that payment can encourage a reviewer to leave a false or misleading review when such praise may not be genuinely deserved, thereby skewering the perceptions of consumers.
On the flip side, you also can’t offer incentives for reviewers to remove a review they’ve left for your business.
No Review Gating
While you shouldn’t be asking for reviews at all, review gating also isn’t permitted by Yelp. The Yelp review guidelines say that you can’t “ask for reviews after requesting customer feedback in other places like surveys or contact forms. While it can be tempting to ask this of customers, it is against Yelp’s policy and unfair to other businesses.”
What happens if you contravene this guideline?
If you do specifically request that your customers leave a review on Yelp, the platform may take action against you. Yelp says its software can recognize where a review has been solicited and will treat those reviews as less trustworthy. They will be removed to the ‘not recommended’ portion of your Yelp page and won’t count towards your Yelp star rating.
What’s more, if Yelp has evidence that a review has been compensated, a Compensated Activity Alert will appear on the business profile, overtly telling viewers that cash or other incentives have been offered to the reviewer.
Conflicts of Interest
It’s against Yelp guidelines to write a review of your own business, ask an employee to review you, or leave a poor review for a competitor. It also says that you shouldn’t review a business belonging to a relative or a friend, or within a networking group, as this doesn’t lend itself to fairness or objectivity. Yelp’s recommendation software has been further developed to help it better spot reviews that could have a conflict of interest.
Facebook Review Guidelines
Facebook now refers to reviews as Recommendations. They’re a simple yes/no answer rather than the traditional star and comment format. Consumers can leave rich endorsements with their recommendations, which includes text and images as well as the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ choice.
Facebook’s Community Standards include a ‘no spam’ rule. The company says it works hard to limit any content that is designed to deceive or mislead users. This means that you shouldn’t incentivise others to leave lots of positive reviews about your business (or spam competitors’ profiles with negative reviews).
Facebook has a specific Integrity policy which sets out requirements for users to only create a Facebook account with their true identity. Your Facebook account must be “the name you go by in real life”. Likewise, this policy prohibits users from creating multiple accounts, giving a false date of birth, creating an inauthentic profile, or impersonating others.
This policy, among other things, effectively prohibits you from creating multiple accounts under various aliases to give fake recommendations to your business. Likewise, you can’t ask other people to create a second account to give you an additional recommendation. Those found to be in continual breach of this policy will have their account disabled.
Under its Pages, Groups and Events policy, Facebook states “Pages, groups and events must not incentivize people to misuse Facebook features or functionality.” This means that you shouldn’t offer consumers an incentive to leave a positive Facebook Recommendation, such as a cash payment, a discount, or free product or service.
Tripadvisor Review Guidelines
Unlike Yelp, Tripadvisor doesn’t penalize businesses for asking customers to review their experience. In fact, it encourages businesses to ask for Tripadvisor reviews and says that recent reviews are more beneficial in its calculations to rank popularity.
The platform goes as far as to provide a number of free tools to help businesses reach out to guests for a Tripadvisor review. These tools include pre-designed custom reminder cards, flyers, a review collection tool called Review Express, a widget, and a Facebook app.
However, it has strict policies against incentivized reviews and a dedicated team of fraud investigators that tackles paid review fraud (a crime that can result in jail time), which includes the buying and selling of fake reviews.
Paid Review Fraud
The buying or selling of fake reviews — known as paid review fraud — is not only dishonest, but also illegal in many countries. Fortunately, because of our highly evolved detection and deterrent techniques, the amount of fraud attempted on TripAdvisor is extremely small. We take any attempts at review fraud very seriously, and with over 15 years’ experience, we are the industry leaders at catching it.
It can be tempting to buy a few fake reviews in order to bolster your Tripadvisor rating, especially as newer reviews count more towards your popularity score. A number of companies do offer paid reviews, but as Tripadvisor notes, this is an illegal practice in several countries and can result in a prison sentence.
If you do feel tempted to break the rules and buy reviews for your hotel or hospitality business, Tripadvisor says that it can distinguish between a genuine submission and a purchased review, and can automatically trigger an investigation from this.
The platform works with third-party sites and advertising services to track down companies selling reviews and will even go undercover, pretending to be a hotel owner, for example, to gather evidence. If the fraud team detects paid reviews on your listing or detects suspicious activity, it will approach you to gather more information.
The paid reviewer’s account will be blacklisted from Tripadvisor and your own account and business profile may be marked with a red badge. This is the most severe form of punishment and warns Tripadvisor users that a pattern of suspicious review behavior has been detected. This warning can seriously negatively impact your reputation and business.
If you’re found to be offering incentives for reviews, those reviews will be removed.
Other punishments include a loss of rankings in Tripadvisor searches and disqualifications from TripAdvisor awards.
Offering a reward or preferential treatment to a guest in order to secure a review will land you in hot water. This policy also prevents you from rewarding customers for reviews by entering them into a draw or any kind of raffle, offering a reduced rate or discount on a future stay, or promising an upgrade or free use of any paid-for facilities.
Tripadvisor monitors for incentivized reviews in a number of ways, including direct reports from the community, investigations by a dedicated review fraud team, and screening technology.
If you’re found to be in breach of these guidelines, the reviews in question will be removed from your Tripadvisor profile.
Biased Reviews and Blackmail
Paid and incentivized reviews also fall under Tripadvisor’s biased reviews policy. Any action on the part of a guest to blackmail a business with the threat of a bad review is also considered to be biased. This also applies to reviews posted by someone affiliated with the business (such as a family member, friend, or employee). Tripadvisor calls this practice ‘review boosting’.
If the tracking system spots a biased review, it will not be published and an investigation will be opened.
Tripadvisor prohibits anyone associated with a business from reviewing similar businesses nearby. It says businesses or individuals submitting false reviews about competitors are committing Review Vandalism and will be subject to harsh penalties if proven.
Better Business Bureau Review Guidelines
Research indicates that the Better Business Bureau (BBB) is one of the most trusted review platforms. Like other review platforms, the BBB has its own guidelines to govern business reviews.
BBB vets all reviews before they’re published online. When a review is submitted, it will validate the email address or phone number of the reviewer.
As a second step, the business concerned is also asked to confirm that the interaction took place and respond to comments.
No Anonymous Reviews
BBB won’t allow reviews to be posted from anonymous users, although it won’t publish any identifying details pertaining to the reviewer when reviews are accepted.
No Paid Reviews
BBB doesn’t allow incentivized reviews, so you can’t compensate customers in any way.
The BBB website doesn’t specify if any additional punishments are given to businesses who breach the review rules, but it’s clear that reviews which are fake or paid for won’t be published. This means that you’ll be wasting time and money if you go down that route.
Yellow Pages Review Guidelines
Yellow Pages says that it doesn’t monitor or censor reviews, but expects both businesses and reviewers to abide by its review guidelines and policy. These regulations prohibit business owners from paying for reviews, reviewing their own business, reviewing a competitor’s business, or astroturfing.
While Yellow Pages doesn’t monitor reviews or censor them, business owners can report reviews if they’re defamatory or fake. Abusing this by trying to have all negative reviews removed and leaving only positive ones is known as astroturfing. The platform says doing so misleads customers and can be damaging to your online reputation.
The platform doesn’t outline specific punishments for businesses caught astroturfing but it does note that suspicious reviews will be removed. As a Yellow Pages business rating is based on star ratings, it’s probable that having reviews removed will result in a lower rating.
Paying for Reviews
Business owners are prohibited from paying for reviews or offering incentives for reviews. This applies to offering payment for reviews for their own profile, as well as paying or incentivizing reviewers to leave reviews for competitors. Again, the platform doesn’t get specific on any subsequent punishment, but it’s worth noting that paid, untrue reviews are a form of fraud and this is illegal in many countries.
No Friends or Family
Yellow Pages doesn’t allow business owners to request reviews from their friends or family. If a review is found to be unsubstantiated, it’ll be removed from the platform.
Angi (formerly ‘Angie’s List’) Review Guidelines
You’ll be in breach of Angi guidelines if reviews are found to be fake. This includes if they come from yourself or any other person who works for you or has an interest in the business (such as a shareholder), or is a friend or family member.
In cases of reviews contravening any of these policies, the review may be redacted, deleted, or rejected.
No Anonymous Reviews
The site says that it doesn’t accept anonymous reviews from users and that the reviewer’s name and address are visible to the business being reviewed to ensure fairness.
No Reviewing Competitor Sites
Angi’s no anonymous reviews rule means that you can’t fraudulently review a competitor site, as the business in question will be able to identify you. This is also covered by the requirement to only review businesses you have first-hand experience of, and you surely won’t be giving custom to your competitors.
No Incentivized Reviews
Like most other review sites, Angi also doesn’t permit businesses to offer compensation or incentives for reviews. Reviews must be genuine and speak to the actual experience delivered by the business, so buying them isn’t permitted.
Links are also not allowed.