Google+ Local – Encouraging Fake Reviews?

Recently, Google Places became Google+ Local, and at first glance very little changed other than the name. You’ve all seen these pages come up in Google’s search results – typically you search for a business type plus a location – in the example to the right I searched for ‘Dentist Shifnal’ – and you see a ‘pin’ and a link to a Google+ page. Google wants to assign all businesses to a geographical location or locations, and generates these pages automatically, but they can (and should) also be created by the business owners themselves. If you happen to be targeting a local term such as ‘Dentist Shifnal’ then having a good Google+ Local page will really help you – and one of the key things you should be doing is trying to get clients – genuine, real customers! – to write a review on your page. Do a search for something competitive like ‘Hotel London’ and you’ll see that the hotels that come to the top have lots of (generally positive) Google reviews:

So – how do you encourage real customers to review you, especially if you are something less ‘fun’ than a hotel – let’s come back to our dentist example. I’m sure lots of dentists are in fact great fun, but most of us don’t come out of the dentist thinking ‘I must zoom back to my computer and post a review of this dentist on Google+ Local’, do we? One advantage that dentists have other some other businesses is that they have a captive audience sitting in their waiting room fiddling with their mobile phones. Assuming you’ve got a waiting room full of happy clients who have lots of positive things to say about the dentist before they even get in the chair, wouldn’t it be nice if we could gently encourage them to post a review while they’re sitting there? Just think, we could even drop them a subtle hint with a QR code on the notice board that takes them straight to the ‘post a review’ section. Or – we could have done that a few weeks ago. Since the advent of Google+Local, if you navigate to your dentist’s Google+ Local page you aren’t actually able to see a ‘Write a review’ button on your mobile device, let alone go straight to it with a handy QR code. Google’s solution is to provide us with a handy mobile app we can install to allow us to post reviews from our mobile phone. Not only do we (‘we’ being the dental patient here) need to download an app to post a review on the move, we also need to sign up for a Google+ account before we can do so. So – our dentist would now need to ask clients – “While you’re sitting in my waiting room, why don’t you download an app you didn’t really want and sign up for a social network that you didn’t really want to join, just so you can post a review of my business?” Who is going to go to that amount of trouble? Well, a really unhappy customer might go to that degree (great!), but how many happy customers would be bothered? Worst of all as I see it, the harder that Google makes it for genuine happy customers to post reviews, the more fake reviews they will get. If you’re a spammer by trade, you have a strong motivation to jump through the hoops that Google has created – the motivation of earning money for the fake reviews you manage to get past Google’s checks and balances. A far stronger motivation, I would suggest, than the patient who’s happy with the service they’ve received from their dentist but would prefer to play Solitaire on their phone in the waiting room than sign up for things they don’t want. And if Mr or Mrs Dentist is having trouble getting genuine clients to post reviews, should we condemn them for paying A.N.O. Spammer a few pounds to magically whip a few reviews up? (Note, I’m not actually suggesting they do that, you understand!) One of our clients has managed to get some of their customers to review them on Google+ Local – several weeks ago – and the reviews are still not publicly visible. Could it be that they’re so inundated with spam that it’s taking months to approve reviews….? Google – I understand you’re actually trying to eliminate spam, thinking that by associating reviews with a person’s social media account you make it harder for people to spam the reviews – but this only works if people actually USE your social network and already have an account. How many of my (non-webby) friends have a Google+ account just because they actually want one? Dare I suggest you might get better results if people could post reviews via their Facebook account….? No, didn’t think you’d like that idea.

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