Online reviews are a fundamental part of business marketing in the 21st century. Review sites such as Yelp, Google, and Facebook support consumer decision-making in industries as diverse as hospitality, auto maintenance, and healthcare. One of the first things people do before buying a product or paying for a service is check its online reviews.

These reviews are frequently averaged into a star rating or a score on a five-point scale. Businesses generally aim for a score higher than four. Perfect scores are usually not ideal because it’s almost inconceivable that a business has never had a dissatisfied customer or visitor.

In fact, perfect scores on review sites are sometimes cause for concern that a business is paying for reviews. Offering customers or third parties money for quality written reviews is a practice fraught with ethical and legal problems. Some shady businesses might employ this tactic, but it’s advisable to avoid paying for reviews entirely.

Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman has gone on record¹ about fake reviews, saying that “maintaining the trust of the consumer is critical to our business. We live and breathe only one thing, which is wanting to connect customers with great local businesses, and I don’t feel we can do that if we don’t have effective ways to prevent gaming of the system.”

It’s important to remember that these review sites, while they can be an invaluable tool for businesses, are dedicated to getting consumers the information they need to make smart choices. They are not afraid to take action against organizations attempting to manipulate their rankings and reviews by paying for inauthentic reviews.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the reasons paying for online reviews is a bad idea. After addressing these reasons, we will consider ways to ethically gather positive reviews and how Weave optimizes the efforts of small businesses to collect online reviews.

Paid Reviews Get Caught

If you’re tempted to pay for reviews to boost your business’s presence on popular review sites, you may want to reconsider. The companies running these sites are some of the biggest and wealthiest in the world, and their programmers are incredibly capable. They are always at work developing algorithms that identify fake reviews on their site.

There are a couple ways for these algorithms to pick up on reviews that were bought, not earned. They have the sophistication to pick up linguistic similarities in reviews across the site, so if an author is publishing paid-for reviews in various locations, site administrators can find them. If lots of reviews are coming from one IP address, these algorithms also take note of this user.

Sites have coders and administrators whose role is to ensure that reviews are only posted by legitimate customers. Hoping that bought reviews will go undetected is a major gamble. It could end up with your business being penalized or banned from key search engines and directories.

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Paid Reviews Damage Reputations

Even if your business avoids getting penalized or prosecuted for posting fake reviews, it could still deal with serious reputation damage. Although review platforms are meant to promote local businesses, they’re also capable of punishing those that break the ethical standards set forth by their site runners.

In the case of Yelp, their administrators create a Consumer Alert banner and feature it prominently on your business’s page on its site if it finds an infraction such as soliciting reviews. This banner remains in place for ninety days, discouraging consumers from considering your business and advertising unethical behavior.

Google’s approach to paid reviews isn’t quite as overtly damaging to your reputation, but it does remove businesses suspected of falsifying or paying for reviews from its search engine results. Because a massive number of consumers use Google’s search engine to discover and research new businesses, losing your status even temporarily prevents your business from using this popular platform to build its customer base.

Paid Reviews Are a Legal Liability

The two reasons we’ve mentioned thus far have to do with negative incentives within the online community and the companies running review platforms. A third reason is that there is potential for your business to be legally prosecuted and fined for putting fake reviews into the public. This legal liability is why review sites are so vigilant in keeping false consumer reviews off of their platforms.

The Federal Trade Commission, or FTC, is a consumer watchdog. One of its roles is to rid the marketplace of unfair or deceptive marketing. If it identifies your business as one that actively pays for reviews, it has the capacity to take you to court and issue fines.

Your business should never reach the point of having to deal with the FTC for publishing inauthentic consumer reviews. It’s legally questionable whether or not you’d ever face federal investigation for this type of behavior, but it’s best not to find out. The obvious course of action is to stay away from online obstacles, reputation damage, and legal complications by never paying for consumer reviews.

Alternatives to Paying for Reviews

The clear alternative to paying for reviews is, well, not paying. There are a number of ways to collect and share positive reviews without resorting to dubious practices. Consumers want to get their opinions out there. In fact, they do it all the time!

Ask for Reviews

Lots of consumers are already sharing their opinions online without anyone asking for their thoughts.There’s no reason to be afraid to ask for reviews from customers, especially when they’re happy with your business’s service. Businesses miss out on easy opportunities to gather online reviews by not specifically asking for reviews. Studies show that the best time to request reviews from clients is after a satisfactory appointment.

Your business can approach review requests in a few different ways. Having a practitioner or other staff verbally ask for a review is one way. Your website is another place where your business can ask for reviews. A third approach is sending out review requests by text, which is often the most convenient option for customers.

Engage with Customers Online

Another great way to get positive reviews is by engaging with customers on review platforms. Some businesses are hesitant to get out there and communicate with clients and potential clients online. However, chatting with people in a friendly, professional manner can lead to conversations that turn into reviews for your business.

When customers post reviews about your business, it’s effective to get into the practice of thanking them, especially for positive reviews. This small gesture can generate excitement and loyalty, as well as additional reviews. If customers say negative things about your business, it’s okay to apologize for mistakes and find out what went wrong.

Apply Customer Feedback

By paying attention to the conversations being had about your business on websites and consumer forums, you and your team can learn about your strengths and weaknesses. Reviews give you the chance to double down on the things you’re doing well and eliminate what customers see as problems with your business. When they see how your business is addressing the issues they’ve mentioned online, clients are likely to respond with loyalty and praise.

Essentially, the alternative to paying for reviews here is listening to customers and doing what you can to implement the changes they’re suggesting. Rather than throwing money toward review collection, focus on improving your customer service. Clients that notice how your business is responding to their ideas can then be approached for new reviews.

Weave Lets You Earn Positive Reviews

Now that it’s abundantly clear how bad an idea it is to pay for online reviews, let’s quickly consider how Weave’s software helps businesses request, monitor, and learn from reviews.

Request Reviews

As mentioned above, a simple alternative to paying for reviews is straightforwardly asking for them. Weave allows you and your staff to send review requests by text message, a format that’s incredibly convenient for both customers and employees. Your team can customize these review requests and direct clients to the review sites that most benefit your business.

This method of asking for reviews saves customers from having to sit around and write their thoughts in your waiting room after appointments. Instead, they can use their smartphone to post a review whenever it’s convenient. Your employees don’t have to worry about transferring reviews to online platforms and can focus on other essential tasks around the office.

Monitor Reviews

It’s important for businesses to keep up with the conversations and reviews being shared about them online. Weave provides businesses with the ability to monitor review platforms from one easy-to-use dashboard. You and your team will be notified about new reviews on sites like Google and Facebook.

Knowing about online review activity empowers your business to discover exceptional reviews that might be shared on your website or social media. It also lets you respond immediately to negative reviews and report those that seem fake or unnecessarily derogatory.

Learn from Reviews

Weave gives business the ability to analyze both qualitative and quantitative data. You’ll be able to keep track of how many reviews are being shared and where these reviews come from. You’ll also be able to read the comments of actual customers.

Reviews provide you with insight you can’t get through face-to-face conversations. Some customers keep their thoughts to themselves while in your office, so you never get the opportunity to find out what your business is getting right or what flaws bother your clients. Listening to reviews is a way for business to grow and develop organically.

Contact Weave Today

There’s no need for successful businesses to pay for online reviews. The best approach to gathering positive reviews is to earn them. Weave’s review software is a powerful tool for requesting, monitoring, and learning from online reviews.

Schedule your free demo of Weave’s complete toolbox, including its review software, today.