Avoid These Shady Online Review Schemes

Every business owner wants to increase the number of online reviews they have, but it’s critical for your reviews to be genuine. Reviews matter. Reviews create traction and buzz. Reviews raise your ranking on search engines whether it’s Google, Yelp, Trip Advisor, or others. You need to craft a strategy for getting reviews; otherwise, you may find yourself in the middle of shady review collecting practices.

Why Are Reviews Important?

A boost in search engine rankings is excellent, but more than that, reviews influence customers buying and visiting patterns. What customers read in a review could be the decider on a visit to your restaurant or not. According to a survey by Dimensional Research, 90% of respondents who recalled reading online reviews said that positive online reviews influenced buying decisions, while 86 percent reported negative online reviews influenced buying decisions.

Frequently, businesses feel that to create momentum for their company, their online presence must appear to be more robust than it is. This is understandable for new companies or those without a large online following, but buying reviews, creating fake accounts, and running review contests only creates an illusion of a successful business and these actions could hurt your rankings in the long run.

Common Review Schemes That Hurt Your Business

  • Review Swaps
  • Asking Friends and Family for Reviews
  • Review Contests
  • Discounted or Free Services

Google’s terms of service clearly say, “Your content should reflect your genuine experience at the location and should not be posted just to manipulate a place’s ratings. Don’t post fake content, don’t post the same content multiple times, and don’t post content for the same place from multiple accounts.” You also cannot offer incentives to generate more reviews.

Review contests and offering discounted services or freebies for reviews is illegal. These practices are widespread, so it may be news to you. However, you simply cannot offer an incentive for customer reviews. If a business offers one lucky customer a chance to win a $100 gift card after leaving a review, not only could that business be flagged by Google and all the reviews be deleted, but that business also gifted money, which they cannot get back.

This rule goes for freebies too. Again, offering an incentive to gain reviews is illegal. Just imagine if your business offered a free manicure to every returning customer after they left a review. If your competition reports you to Google and your business ran this promotion for years, every single review during that time will be deleted, and you have already gifted hundreds of manicures. Ouch.

Review swaps are similar to like-for-like schemes on social media. I review you, and you review me. This tactic is illegal because the reviews likely do not reflect genuine experiences. The same is true for family and friend reviews. Likely these reviews are biased and only written to manipulate your ratings. When Google sees reports of these types of reviews, they delete them.

Who Catches Online Review Schemes?

Google has made review contests a violation of their Terms of Service. If Google catches your business running an illegal review scheme, they will delete all of your reviews connected to the review scheme. The FTC also regulates online reviews.

Google receives multiple reports of review schemes every day. If you’re using shady tactics, your business could be next. Reports are made by upset customers, competitors, and even annoyed employees.

How To Receive Genuine Reviews

  • Ask your customers for feedback.
  • Incentivize employees to ask customers for reviews.
  • Make the review process painless.

Ask Customers

Potential customers want to see fresh and relevant reviews. Your customers are smart and savvy. They can spot spammy reviews and a wave of reviews made by friends and family all within the first month of your grand opening. In short, shady review schemes do not work long-term. They open up your business to scrutiny by Google and the FTC. Here are ten legal ways to request reviews for your business.

You will not receive reviews from every single customer, but it is easy to identify the customers who are willing or likely to leave feedback. Train yourself and your staff to listen to your customers. If an individual feels strongly, is outspoken and opinionated, or continues to offer praise, reach out and ask them to share their feedback online.

Incentivize Employees to Ask

Offering incentives to customers for reviews is illegal, but rewarding your staff for collecting reviews is fine. Run a contest, offer a bonus, or simply relay the importance of reviews to your team. Tell your staff that more reviews mean more business means more success all around. Letting your staff know just how important reviews are, helps them focus on how they present to customers and how they follow up after the service or product is purchased.

Make the Review Process Painless

If you’re asking customers to spend their time leaving reviews, you need to make the process as painless as possible. Let them know that it’s quick and easy to leave business reviews on cellphones or desktop computers. Bridge that gap by providing your customers a link that they can click to leave a review. Maybe this appears in a follow-up thank you email, or an email timed a few days after their product order, so they have a moment to test it. Don’t send the email two minutes after the service, that’s like when a waiter asks how your food is before you even took a bite. Your customers will notice that your business values their input, and possibly leave more reviews in the future.

Run the numbers. How many customers do you see each week? Aim to get reviews from five or ten percent for starters. After a month, check your progress. Talk to your employees, congratulate them on their efforts and regroup if necessary.

Negative Reviews Are Still Reviews

Okay, no one wants one star, but it does happen. Don’t fret. Negative reviews present an opportunity to plead your case and get the customer to contact you to resolve the complaint. A negative review also shows other customers the level of honesty you have about your business and your level of customer service. The goal is to work out a resolution. Replying in an upbeat, open, and heartfelt way tells other customers you genuinely want the best for them. Adding a comedic tone where appropriate is a plus. This lets your customers know that we don’t have to take everything so seriously. We talk a lot about handling negative reviews in this post.


When it comes down to it, your business needs customers to stay in business. Positive reviews help future customers find you. Positive reviews also help form a trusting relationship before customers even enter your place of business. Negative reviews inform customers, but they also help you, the business owner, to be better.

It’s important to get reviews, but also to respond to them promptly and politely, whether they are positive or negative. Honestly is a trait many people appreciate, honest responses to negative reviews help your potential customers see how you react to adversity. Better yet, addressing underlying causes of negative reviews help your business overall and will inevitably result in better reviews since you are bettering your business.

In closing: don’t shy away from reviews, good or bad, they can only help your business in the long run, as long as you are willing to improve your business. Do you need help requesting and responding to reviews? Call us at 919-256-3793.

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