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Are you making these innocent mistakes with your dealership reviews?

Reputation ManagementAre you unknowingly asking Google to delete your hard earned reviews? Are you possibly telling Yelp it’s OK to filter your 5 star reviews? Believe it or not, what was once considered forward-thinking when it came to automotive review generation could now be construed as downright fraudulent thanks to new and harsher review restrictions. Read on to find out how major review sites are cracking down on consumer reviews.

According to a Google forum, here are a few of the reasons why a dealership may have their reviews removed: too many review posts in a single day or even in a single month; reviews that are generated from the same IP address (think ‘review stations’); or even reviews that appear on multiple 3rd party listings.

A Google administrator attempted to elaborate in the forum, saying: “Soliciting reviews is suspect behavior for our systems. What I mean by this is — it’s fine if you reach out to customers to ask them to review, but I do not recommend that you do this in waves. If you want to reach out to legit customers and ask them to review, I recommend you contact them immediately after you have done business with them.”

When questioned about the difference between “asking” and “soliciting,” they went on to say: “Well, think about it this way — in our ideas, the “ideal” review is by a customer who writes a review of a place completely by his or her own accord, on mobile during the experience or at home after. This would mimic the regular flow of the business. It’s a system that we are constantly trying to improve, but for now, this is what I can say to try and help. I really don’t want legit businesses with legit reviews to get caught, so this is our effort.”

If this policy sounds confusing, it’s because it is. Additionally, not only are 3rd party algorithms and filters much more of a gray area, but the steps a consumer must take in order to even write a review have become much more complicated. You may remember that it was less than a year ago that Google publicly announced and supported the use of “review stations” in dealerships and other small businesses. And no doubt, prior to the introduction of Google + Local, you were simply asking customers to leave a review on what used to be known as Google Places with only their Gmail address or by simply creating a user name and password. Today, one MUST plan to manage and monitor an entirely new social media tool if they wish to leave a review as Google only allows reviews to be written by active Google Plus users.

Yelp too is cracking down. Just this month Yelp announced that it took part in a sting operation to out business, on their own Yelp listing, who were caught purchasing reviews. While progress is being made to stop both consumers and business that perhaps profited from ‘gaming the system,’ these developments are also sure to make it more difficult for you and your real/happy customers to leave legitimate reviews.

While this is certainly frustrating, don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Reviews are still incredibly important, and you shouldn’t let these restrictions discourage you from making a positive impact on your business. For example, a recent Cobalt study found that an increase from a 2 to a 4 star rating can increase website traffic by as much as 64%. It is worth it to find a way to continue generating reviews, even as the automotive reputation management landscape continues to shift under our feet.

So what’s the key to generating consumer sentiment online when it comes to these ever-changing 3rd party review sites? The first step is to capture your own customer reviews in a “testimonial spotlight” page on your website. While third-party reviews are still important, relying solely on 3rd party review sites is like buying a house on rented land. If Yelp decides to filter all of your reviews tomorrow or Google + Local aims to tighten their algorithm any further – you’ll want to be sure you have an alternative option that is not only search engine friendly, but user friendly, to showcase all of your hard earned reviews in a reliable location.

A managed review site is no longer a nicety; it’s a necessity. Algorithms will continue to change and some of your hard-won reviews will continue to be deleted; capture and consolidate customer reviews on your dealership website in order to benefit from these well-deserved reviews today, tomorrow and always.

Mary Kelly Gaebel is a Reputation Management Specialist at ADP Digital Marketing Cobalt. She works with dealers to increase dealership awareness and branding via social media outlets. She has a B.A. in Communications from the University of Washington.

Ryan Leslie
Mary Kelly, First let me say that this was a very well written post, but I strongly disagree with your conclusion. "So what’s the key to generating consumer sentiment online when it comes to these ever-changing 3rd party review sites?" It is a HUGE stretch to say that a dealer owned and branded "testimonial spotlight" page is equivalent in the eyes of the consumer to a third party review site. Nielsen shows a marked difference between third party content and marketing material in their trust factors study from Q3 2011. I know that study is a little dated, but I think it is fair to say that gap is likely widening, not closing. Google doesn't include stars on these pages in the SERP because it recognizes them as marketing, not a third party review site. Why would a consumer looking for objective reviews trust a "Managed" review site? Secondly, setting up review stations in the showroom was hardly cutting edge and I'm not sure it was an "innocent mistake" in all cases. Many advised against that strategy. Let's call a spade a spade here, that was very shortsighted and it was stated as such as early as Dec. 2011 by well respected Local authority Mike Blumenthal. On Review stations, "Recognize that any benefit may be short lived and the reviews may go more quickly than they came. Most importantly of all, respect the customer and their needs in the transaction." In some cases, Review Stations embodied a "what was good for marketing" mentality. Last thought, not EVERYTHING changed in the last year. Dealers that resisted the newest, greatest, "cutting edge" strategy by a Vendor or Consultant didn't find the sands to be shifting. I've spoken to lots of dealers that didn't lose any Google reviews through August. Excuse me if this is pitchy, but the most influential and longstanding third party review site for automotive changed nothing. You don't have to look hard to find a review from 2006 or older on DealerRater and at 900,000+ indexed reviews and climbing every minute we are more confident than ever in what we teach our dealer partners about online review collection and leveraging their reputation to win business. "So what’s the key to generating consumer sentiment online...?" Our advice is simple and unchanged over our 10 yr history. Provide such GREAT service that your customers WANT to tell their story when asked. Empower your sales and service professionals to benefit from the reviews that are written about them to create a cycle of success. Recognize that a review strategy isn't just about marketing reviews. Sorry for the long response but I look forward to your reply, Ryan
Mary-Kelly Gaebel
Thank you Ryan for your time and for providing your thoughts. I’d like to take a moment to address some of them. I feel it is in a dealership’s best interest to have a customer voice on both their own website as well as on trusted third party reviews sites in order to reach consumers throughout the entire cycle of their car purchase experience. I believe dealerships who set out to be transparent and show prospects the good, the bad and the ugly on their dealer owned site, as well as third party reviews sites will win consumer trust. Dealers have a chance to show consumers before they even walk through the door, that they are working with a business that is open, honest and takes responsibility when they’ve made a mistake. In regards to review stations, I was simply pointing out that back in the Google Places era, leaving a review was easier and kiosks aided in that. In the last year there have been several changes to the Google Platform that have caused issues across all industries, including the loss of reviews. I believe a well-rounded reputation management strategy includes third party review sites that can ebb and flow in importance, in the mind of consumers as well as business owned assets. I couldn’t agree with you more that it’s great customer service that leads to reviews, however as is the case with many things, it’s not always beneficial to put “all your eggs in one basket." A comprehensive approach works best. Thank you for your comments, Mary-Kelly

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