Two weeks ago, I attended a local Google Partners Connect gathering and watched three Google product-themed presentations. Overall, it was clear that this was Google providing a service to agencies in an attempt to get more small and medium businesses interested in using their’s tools and services – namely AdWords.
Fred Vallaeys, Co-Founder of Optmyzr and early Google employee, was the second speaker. His talk was supposed to be geared towards Google AdWords (he was labeled as a Google AdWords Evangelist after all), but half of his talk was actually about SEO, social, and Google ranking factors. It appeared as though Fred was just giving a high level overview of how to get your content/products/services in Google search results organically.
A short while later, while talking about Google+ For Business, Fred suggested that small business owners ask their customers for positive reviews. See for yourself.
If you don’t want to watch the whole video, you can skip to the 6:58 mark.
While listening to this presentation, my ears perked up when I heard Fred suggest that business owners should be soliciting reviews. The concept isn’t new, people have been asking for positive reviews for a long time. The problem is, it’s widely known to be a “black hat” tactic. When asked later in his presentation if reviews impact search engine results page rankings, Fred skirts around the idea that reviews themselves impact rankings, but makes comments that suggest that they do.
Host – “You talked about reviews before. Robert Edwards wants to know, are the reviews connected to search engine rankings?”
Fred – “Yea, I mean, so…and that was sort of the point, right? As Google, we’re not going to tell you exactly what is connected to what, but certainly if you have lots of people engaging, lots of positive reviews, than that probably indicates that you have a pretty solid business, and so Google may be using that as a signal or they could be using different things, but at the end of the day Google’s purpose and Google’s mission is really to connect users to really great results – and if you have great rankings then you’re probably a pretty good business for Google to connect you with. So I would say yeah, have really good [reviews].”
I don’t fault Fred for not giving a straight answer to this question. SEOs and marketers have long assumed that reviews played a pivotal role in local search engine rankings, but Google has never come out and verified that to be true.
He then goes on to cite a Search Engine Journal article that saw a correlation in positive reviews and a business’ inclusion in the local search carousel.
Fred also talks about the concept of getting more reviews to improve search rankings, regardless of whether the reviews were positive or negative. He told a story of a gentleman that was convinced that the sheer number of reviews impacted his search rankings in a positive way. This gentleman was boasting about his tactics, and got the attention of the police, and ended up going to jail for unrelated seedy activities.
“It’s not about quantity, right? It’s about quality.”
Alright, I thought. Fred is starting to speak some truth. I saw him start to redeem himself. A moment later, he took two giant steps back. The next question asked is about small businesses and how they can acquire more reviews. Fred’s answer expands on his “ask your customers for reviews” idea earlier in his presentation:
“Yeah, I mean as far as acquiring more reviews, it’s about asking your customers”
In my mind, this directly contradicts his previous statement of “It’s not about quantity…it’s about quality”. If Google is so concerned with quality of reviews, then wouldn’t they frown upon soliciting reviews, as Fred suggests?
Does this mean Google is more concerned with quantity of reviews than they are with quality at this point in time? Is Google willing to overlook soliciting reviews for the time being, until the Google+ For Business platform has taken off more?
Yelp, another business discovery engine, has taken a stance against soliciting reviews. Why, might you ask?
Why does Yelp discourage businesses from asking for reviews?
- Would-be customers might not trust you. Let’s face it, most business owners are only going to ask for reviews from their happy customers, not the unhappy ones. Over time, these self-selected reviews create bias in the business listing — a bias that savvy consumers can smell from a mile away. No business is perfect, and it’s impossible to please 100% of your customers 100% of the time.
- Solicited reviews are less likely to be recommended by our automated software, and that will drive you crazy. Why aren’t these reviews recommended? Well, we have the unfortunate task of trying to help our users distinguish between real and fake reviews, and while we think we do a pretty good job at it with our fancy computer algorithms, the harsh reality is that solicited reviews often fall somewhere in between. Imagine, for example, the business owner who “asks” for a review by sticking a laptop in front of a customer and smilingly invites her to write a review while he looks over her shoulder. We don’t need these kinds of reviews, so it shouldn’t be a surprise when they aren’t recommended.
I strongly believe that Google will someday adopt a similar stance towards solicited reviews. Google has shown in the past that anything that SEOs and marketers can do to game their algorithm will eventually be squashed and considered “spam”. Google is constantly fighting spam, so why wouldn’t they spend some time fighting review spam?
Another suggestion that Fred made shortly there after stood out to me.
“Do not duplicate your reviews from Google+ onto your own website. So you might think ‘well I get these great reviews on Google+ so let me just copy and paste them over to my own website and showcase them there.’ That’s a big no-no. Google hates duplicate content, and what you’re doing in that case you’re creating duplicate content. So rather than doubling your exposure and doubling the number of reviews, you’re actually getting rid of all the reviews because the moment Google see’s duplicate content, those reviews will no longer be featured on Google+, and you will lose some of the benefits that you could have gotten from there.”
This makes it clear that Google values reviews; so much so that if you dare to duplicate review content, they will penalize a site that is copying the review content, and punishing the Google+ page that the reviews are for!
Exact Match Domains = Good?
Another poor suggestion that Fred made, was to buy Exact Match Domains. Skip to 28:58 to see this.
Fred suggests that a Realtor who wants to improve search rankings for a property purchase a domain name that matches the property address (where content, images, and videos can be showcased). This is another well known “grey hat” tactic that most SEOs stay far away from. It’s also been shown in various correlation studies that EMDs don’t necessarily correlate to increased search exposure for your target keywords.
What do you think of Fred’s comments regarding soliciting Google+ reviews, and the other poor SEO advice that was given? Fred did make a lot of valid points and dished out some solid advice (I wanted to make that clear), but did his few slip-ups ruin his presentation? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!