What is Wrong with 3rd Party Reviews

What isn’t wrong is a better question. There is a dangerous online service that retail business owners should take great care to avoid – 3rd Party Review Services.

I have since published another perhaps more accurate description of this issue hereThe Online Reviews Bait and Switch

On the surface it seems like a good idea and valuable service to have more and better reviews online. But in fact it is quite the opposite – this is a parasite business model. It is not designed to help your business long-term. It is designed to cost you a small sum per month, forever. And it can only get more and more expensive as time goes on. And once you enlist, there is no going back.

It is almost fair to call it a scam

On the surface these services seem to make sense. People do use Yelp (albeit mostly angry people). Consumers search for reviews to confirm the integrity of a reputable business, so it makes sense that you might use some help getting more and better reviews.

You know Yelp as a horizontal review “service”. (Yelp has had its share of troubles with its business model) But you may not be aware of all the smaller players in the many vertical retail niches. In the automotive business there are Dealerrater, Cars.com and SureCritic to name those I’ve looked at carefully.

Here is Why

These 3rd Party Review Services use your content to attain a place in search results next to your business listing. That means when someone searches for your business, they will also see the 3rd Party Review Service right below your listing. That person who was just about to click on your listing, will now click on the 3rd party service listing. Why would you want that?

These 3rd Party Review listings only give your prospective online shopper a reason to click on anything but your listing, and that is going to lower the number of visitors to your website. A certain percentage will be permanently lost no matter how good your reviews are. If you let that logic sink in, you can stop right here and see why 3rd Party Review Services can never help your conversion rates. Its a losing battle.

The 3rd Party Review Service is more damaging than that. They often duplicate your content which is well known (in SEO) to be bad for your search rank. Often in your “relationship” with the 3rd Party Review Service, you are giving them permission to use your website content. Read the fine print. NEVER allow your content to be duplicated anywhere, by anyone, no matter how good the intent.

Till Death do Us Part

Once the 3rd Party Review Service attains a competitive search rank (position next to your listing) on the search engine results pages (SERPs), they will then always drain a good percentage of your traffic awayforever more. It’ll be alimony either way. You will pay in lost visitors to your site or you will have to continue to pay the subscription fee just to get some of those visitors back. And that’s not all…

Attaining a competitive search presence can be done without your consent. These 3rd Party Review Services often just take your listing from some other database they got their hands on. But they can get there ten times faster if you help; by signing-up.

There can be Only One

All these 3rd Party Review Services will favor the highest bidder, or the business with the most/best reviews from day one. If you still want to sign up (for the leads presumably), you cannot arrive late to this party. The business with the most 5 star reviews will always get the lions-share of the “leads” and they will be hard to unseat from their top position.

Dance with the Devil

Should you stop using their service, you may no longer have control over the reviews that inevitably will accumulate on their site (forever more, at a faster pace than if they were not prominently displayed next your listing in search). As a consequence, you stand to compound the lost business should you end the relationship. Your competitor who continues with the 3rd Party will now get your prospective visitors. Its a dance with the devil in my opinion. Again, either way you go, you start this thing but it never stops.

What to do? (if you don’t want to go there)

A best practice when these parasites pop up in search next to your listing; call them and request they remove you business from their database. (they have plenty of sales people who want to hear from you) The call will do nothing of course, so be sure to get an email address for their legal counsel. This way you can follow up with something in writing, preferably from your lawyer, requesting to be removed from their database (and therefore the search results). This will take time, but eventually, legally, you can get this under control.

Why not take control?

Take more control of your Reputation Management sooner than later. You should already have some sort of campaign to increase your Google Reviews. But why not have the reviews on your website? Its very possible and not as expensive to implement as you might think.

The Long Game

Google will ultimately be the only reviews game in town. Google continues to develop their review business even if they say Google+ is going away – the reviews won’t. They have already removed most Yellow Page services from search results and I bet they intend to one day push Yelps out of business. (oops! they are back in the SERPs in a big way in 2015) At some juncture, Google will likely remove those 3rd Party services from search results along with Yelp. That will solve this problem for you, but when?