Don’t Buy Google Reviews! (How to Get Real Reviews for Free)

It’s illegal to buy Google reviews

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) forbids “undisclosed paid endorsements.”

When someone writes a Google review about your business, the FTC considers that an “endorsement.”

If you paid for the person to write the Google review, then the FTC considers that a “paid endorsement.”

And if the reviewer doesn’t tell the world that you paid for the review, then the FTC considers that an “undisclosed paid endorsement.”

You risk tens of thousands of dollars in FTC fines (or more) if you pay to buy Google reviews.

Nine California-based car dealerships paid $3.6 million in FTC fines after posting fake online reviews on Google, Yelp and Facebook.

Nashville-based Legacy Learning Systems, which sells guitar lesson DVDs, was forced to pay $250,000 in fines in an FTC settlement for paying for reviews and not disclosing that the reviews were paid for.

When Aura Labs created fake reviews of its app, they soon found themselves paying $100,000 in FTC fines.

Don’t become the next cautionary tale…especially since there’s so little to gain from buying Google reviews and it’s so easy to get perfectly legitimate reviews from real customers.

It’s against Google’s policy to buy Google reviews

As if it weren’t bad enough that it’s illegal to buy Google reviews and you could get hit with thousands of dollars in fines… buying reviews also violates Google’s policies. And that includes any kind of “incentives,” not just direct payment for reviews. Here it is in Google’s own words:

Google may not have the FTC’s power to fine your business thousands of dollars, but Google does have the power to remove the any reviews it deems questionable.

And the chances of Google deleting your paid-for reviews is much greater than the chances of the FTC suing you for damages.

So, although Google may not have teeth as sharp as the FTC’s teeth, you’re far more likely to get bitten by Google than by the FTC.

And when Google removes your paid-for reviews, you’ll get no return on all the money you spent to buy Google reviews in the first place.

So, it’s a bad business investment to buy Google reviews, on top of being illegal.

Don’t buy Google reviews—even from real customers

It’s one thing to buy Google reviews from some sketchy guy from the third world wearing a trench coat in an alleyway. It’s quite another thing to simply incentivize your legitimate customers to write a legitimate, unbiased Google review.

Unfortunately, as reasonable as this might seem to you, don’t do it!

We often get the question, “Should I offer my customers an incentive to leave a review?”

The answer is simple: “No.”

Any incentive you give a customer can be construed by the FTC as an “undisclosed paid endorsement,” leaving you exposed to the risk of many thousands of dollars in fines.

And Google’s policies expressly state, “business owners shouldn’t offer incentives to customers in exchange for reviews.” Not much ambiguity in a statement like that.

So if you incentivize your customers to leave reviews, you run the same risks of Google deleting the reviews and the FTC’s hammer coming down on you—no matter how real the customers are or unbiased the reviews are.

There is a happy exception to this, though!

You can give your customers a reward for giving you a review AFTER they leave the review. Just be careful not to give the customer the expectation of a reward BEFORE they leave the review.

If you don’t give a customer any expectation of getting a reward, but then surprise them with a nice reward after they give you a positive review, then you didn’t actually pay for their endorsement. They would have given you the endorsement with or without the reward.

Google will remove your bought reviews

Google has conquered over 90% of the desktop market share for search engines for a reason.

Google routinely goes to Pittsburg, backs up a bus, and loads it up full of Carnegie Mellon computer science PhDs. Then it loads another bus with MIT PhDs… and Caltech PhDs… and… well you get the point.

Google has built a world-class engineering team with the brightest minds in the world working on building ever-better search engine algorithms.

And all of those algorithms are focused on a single goal: Help searchers get the best possible answers to their searches.

When you buy Google reviews, those reviews are essentially “spam” in Google’s eyes. And they’re on a mission to build algorithms that detect and eliminate that spam.

Even if you buy Google reviews and manage to get away with it, you should never stop looking over your shoulder. It’s just a matter of time before some bright CMU PhD figures out how to improve an algorithm to detect your biased reviews and delete them.

Buying Google reviews could hurt your SEO

Speaking of Google’s algorithm updates, when you buy Google reviews, you run the risk of losing much of your website traffic overnight.

Many practitioners of black hat SEO are all too familiar with this experience.

Google’s “Panda” algorithm update had an enormous impact on many businesses, as demonstrated by Moz:

And the “Penguin” update had just as big an impact on many other businesses, again illustrated by Moz:

But Panda and Penguin aren’t the only examples. Google now has many algorithm updates on a regular basis.

Every time Google has a “broad core algorithm update,” some businesses get hurt.

For local businesses engaged in local SEO, customer reviews are now the #3 most important ranking signal.

If you buy Google reviews, you’re running the very real risk that a future algorithm update will not just wipe out your paid-for reviews, but also instantly impact the ability of your business to show up in search results.

The best way to protect yourself from a future Google algorithm update is simply to avoid black hat tactics like buying Google reviews.

Stick with a white-hat-only SEO strategy and you minimize the risk of being on the wrong side of Google’s future algorithm updates.

How to get more real Google reviews for free

Fortunately, it’s easy to get plenty of perfectly legitimate reviews from your happy customers without paying a cent.

First, timing is key. Reach out to each customer immediately after concluding business with them.

If you reach out before concluding business, you’re asking the customer to review an unfinished job.

Once you’ve concluded business, don’t wait! Reach out while the customer’s memory is still fresh and emotions are still strong. This is when you’ll get the best response rates and the most passionate positive reviews.

When you ask for a review in person, and you give the customer a computer or tablet to enter their review, this puts undue social pressure on the customer, which they often resent.

And if you ask a customer for a review in person, but you don’t give them a computer or tablet to enter their review, then you’re relying on them to remember to give you a review later when it’s more convenient for them.

So we recommend sending either an email or text message (whichever your customer prefers) instead of asking for reviews in person. This has the added advantage that you can include a link directly to the page where they can write a review, making it quick and easy for them… boosting your conversion rates.

Give the customer about 1 week to respond to your email or text. If you don’t get a response in that time, send a second email to follow up.

Wait another week and then send a third follow-up if you don’t hear back.

By sending a couple follow-ups, many businesses double their conversion rates and the number of reviews they get.

If you’d like a tool that automatically sends emails and text messages (including follow-ups) check out the free trial of our web app. It’s designed to save you time so you can contact many more customers (and get many more reviews) than you could using a time-consuming manual process.

Keep your email short, concise, and in the first person. Make it feel like a personal email from you (not from your entire company) to just that one customer (not to a bulk email list).

Don’t make the email about you. Make it about them. Let them know how much you value their opinion. And be as polite and understanding as possible of their needs (not yours) when asking for a review.

For more detailed tips on getting more 5-star Google reviews, check out our Ultimate Guide on How to Get Google Reviews. Specifically, check out Chapter 4 on the 3 keys to success with Google reviews.

How to avoid negative Google reviews

For every 1-star review you get, you need 7 new 5-star reviews just to offset that single 1-star review and get back to a 4.5-star average.

So it pays to avoid negative reviews if at all possible. Here’s how….

Pre-screen each customer before asking for a review.

When you send emails and text messages to customers, first ask them privately how they would rate you.

When customers privately give you a 5-star rating (or any rating better than your current average star rating) then ask them if they would be so kind as to leave you a review on the public review website that is most important to your business.

But when customers privately give you a lower-than-average star rating, don’t ask them for a review. Instead, ask them for improvement ideas. Ask them how you might be able to earn a 5-star rating from them in the future? Then implement any great ideas you get from your customers.

Keep your email short, simple and to the point. Don’t force the customer to read too much, or you’ll risk the customer skipping your email altogether.

Here’s an example of a short, simple email template we have found to be highly effective for a wide range of different businesses:

When customers click a high star rating in this email, they get sent to a web page that asks them to write a review.

But the customers who click a low star rating in the email get sent to a web page that asks for private feedback on how the business could earn a better review in the future.

To automate this pre-screening technique so you don’t have to do it manually, check out our web app’s free trial.

For more details on how to pre-screen customers for positive Google reviews, check out the “How to Get Google Reviews with High Star Ratings” section in Chapter 4 of our Ultimate Guide on How to Get Google Reviews.

What to do when you don’t have enough happy customers

So now you know the secret to getting lots of legitimate Google reviews for free instead of buying Google reviews: Reach out to more customers with the right timing, follow up when customers don’t respond, and pre-screen to avoid negative reviews.

But what if you don’t have happy customers? What if you pre-screen all your customers and they all give you a 1-star rating?

Well, it’s time for some tough love: If all your customers are unhappy, you’re not ready to get Google reviews yet, and buying Google reviews won’t address the real problem you need to solve.

In this situation, your best course of action is this: Use the pre-screening technique to get feedback from unhappy customers. Find out how you can improve your business to earn 5-star ratings from your customers. Then implement any good ideas your customers give you. Keep improving your business until you actually do earn legitimate 5-star reviews.

If you keep improving, it’s just a matter of time before your pre-screening starts yielding more and more legitimate 5-star reviews from truly happy customers.

You may just find that some of the feedback you get from unhappy customers will pay bigger dividends over time than any single 5-star Google review from a happy customer.