Another month, another slew of review site updates that attempt to bring the internet ever closer to truth. From where we eat to who we get to pull out those pesky wisdom teeth we’ve been avoid for years, review websites have yielded a power in directing the masses to and from businesses making your online reputation and social media management all the more important.
But in a world where review exchanges and review bating run rampant, major review websites like Facebook, Google, and Yelp have changed the rules yet again. It makes sense – set stricter rules in how you get reviews will mean better overall ratings that the naïve end user can blindly trust. Right?
Yelp adds Health Department Scores to Restaurants
Having your cousin’s uncle’s girlfriend’s bestie review give you pizza joint a 5-star review won’t cut it if the Health Department just stuck you with a big fat C. Yelp quietly rolled out an update at the end of July 2018 that rolled out it’s 2013 LIVES program – an acronym for “Local Inspector Value-Entry Specification” – to the Yelp-listed restaurants in New York, California, Texas, Illinois, and Washington DC with the rest of the nation undergoing the update in the upcoming months. Yelp has partnered with the website, HDScores, that claims to have 6 million restaurant reports covering 1.16 million American restaurants gathered through internet scrapes.
And restaurant owners aren’t happy. According to the Washington Post, “Yelp is calling it a win for consumer food safety. Some restaurateurs are calling it a misleading ploy to draw more people to Yelp.” The inspiration for the update hails from a 2005 LA law requiring restaurants to post signage in their window indicating their Health Department Scores. The newly-imposed law brought food-born illnesses in LA down to the average of the rest of the state of California proving it was a success – and now Yelp wants in on it. Before you ever set foot outside of your home, you can see exactly what your supposed date night dinner spot will have been rated.
So why the pushback to what seems like a win-win for consumers and restaurants that follow the rules? The Golden Gate Restaurant Association in San Francisco makes a valid point when they say Health Department Scores aren’t changed until a full-inspection is redone, meaning even if the restaurant fixes food violations, their score won’t change until the Health Department runs a complete inspection, not just a follow-up visit. Full inspection can take between six to a staggering eighteen months leaving restaurants fighting with below average grades until then.
Google Says NO to Review-Gating and Bulk Solicitation
What was the wild, wild west of reviews, Google is cracking down on what it is and isn’t allowing on its growing local business platform. From beefing up its local guides program to review gating, here’s a quick look into what you can and cannot do on the number one search engine in the world.
In a guideline update out in April 2018, review gating - the act of asking a customer for a review, then fielding that review from being posted to Google’s platform should it be less than a certain star rating – has now been banned from Google’s platform. This means companies must face the music whether positive or negative when it comes to client feedback.
Additionally, Google says sending bulk solicitation requests for customer reviews also falls into the “no-no” territory leaving sites like BirdEye – a website the sends mass emails to client lists and screens out bad sentiments before they become reviews – scrambling to abide by the new guidelines.
Think you’ll take on the powers that be at Google and solicit for reviews in bulk? Google’s ever-changing and rather secretive review filter has been bulk-filtering as fast as you can bulk-ask, and unlike Yelp’s filter which moves filtered reviews into a “Not Recommended” link on a profile page, you never see which reviews suddenly vanish.
Facebook Incorporates Recommendation into Ratings
Facebook wants in on the review website goldmine. As of this week, industries like real estate agencies to service based businesses like remodelers have started seeing recommendations rolled into their reviews. We assume this is just the beginning of a major switch towards focusing on recommendations, but for now you’re greeted with a convoluted mix of star ratings, reviews, and recommendations that look something like “4 out of 5 people recommend ABC business which has a 5-star rating.”
Facebook’s big push towards recommendations has been apparent in Facebook Groups for months now with any group question being met with a request to members to provide recommendation for businesses and to even ask for recommendations themselves. To correctly recommend a company, the commenter must tag the company’s page using the @ tag or by typing in the company’s Facebook page URL.
Even in closed or secret groups, recommendations are tallied towards the company’s recommendation total. If you’re friends with someone who recommended a company and you’re in the same private group, you can see all recommendations made by that person within shared groups.
When you click on the information icon next to the new recommendation rating, you’re greeted with “What goes into this score? This score is based on how many people recommend or don't recommend your Page on Facebook, as well as any past ratings and reviews it may have,” leaving us to wonder if the star rating on Facebook will go the way of the dodo.
While the internet steps towards a more realistic painting of businesses and client experiences, it’s only a matter of time before companies and reputation managers find loopholes to circumvent the latest slew of rules and guidelines; however, it’s interesting to not only witness the battle of the review websites, but also how the internet is tending towards a more honest picture of companies.