White, Grey & Black Hat PPC/SEO Reviews Manipulation

ratings87The importance of reviews in Google and Bing can’t be underestimated in both the paid advertising areas of the SERP and organic results. A good review manifests itself as a set of gold stars and increases the CTR, allowing advertisers and online marketers to capture a greater share of the highly valuable, limited supply of click volume out there.

On eBay (which really is a commerce search engine), ratings and reviews have a big impact on the relative visibility of one merchant’s listings over another. And while Google may no longer count the lift in CTR derived from the existence of reviews toward your Quality Score (they seem to have started normalizing the CTR lift from ad extensions in general), it’s still great to be able to use reviews to capture additional click volume.

Reviews are challenging to get for nearly every online marketer or business with an online presence. There are White Hat and Black Hat ways of getting reviews and of skewing these reviews in your favor, and you’ll have to make the call as to which kind of method you’ll use.

White Hat, Grey Hat, or Black Hat?

At the same time, it’s not quite clear whether certain review-generating methods are black hat, white, or grey. For example, my wife recently received a complimentary “thank you” bracelet with an order of apparel from an online merchant. Attached to the bracelet was a set of instructions on how to leave feedback/ratings and a request to leave a positive rating.

Black hat, white hat or grey? It probably depends who you ask. The letter didn’t say you couldn’t leave a bad review, but it simultaneously created an incentive (guilt) to leave a rating as well as a positive vibe about the company, creating a situation where the odds of getting a favorable rating go up.

Here are some other white, grey and black hat ways that business owners and online marketers are increasing the number of reviews they have and improving their ratings.

Rules for reviews are similar to rules for SEO links, so you’ll notice some very similar tactics.

  1. Paying For Reviews: Clearly, the black hat method of paying for reviews is against the TOS of every place you can leave reviews on , including Google, Amazon, eBay, and Yelp.com. That said, it is likely that some of your competition are engaged in the purchase of reviews.
  2. Trading Reviews For Discounts: This method is really the same as buying reviews, although no cash changes hands.
  3. Guilt-Based Gifting: (see example above): Clearly not pure black hat but an effective way to both incentivize reviews and probably tilt them positively which puts the tactic in the grey hat area. 
  4. Friends and Family: I think you can probably guess that this is considered a black hat area.
  5. Asking Customers For Reviews Via Email: Email remains a great way to communicate. Your email list is a powerful way to generate repeat business and drive reviews.
  6. Asking Customers For Reviews Via Social Media: Social media users are used to commenting. You may not always know who are your customers in social media environments, which is one reason to add social CRM to your current CRM database. 
  7. Live Review Opportunities Within Your Point of Service Location: I’ve seen iPads out in mounts or computers in lobbies with signage that encourages reviews or positive reviews.
  8. Printed Leaflets or Call to Action on Business Cards: print communication is far from dead. Use it. 

Choose Your Method with Care

Whichever method you choose, be aware that black-hat methods, even if they’re not detected immediately, may come back to haunt you in the long run. This past week, a case in Virginia held that the identity of anonymous Yelp.com reviewers can be outed in certain circumstances. You need to keep in mind the TOS of the sites on which reviews can be left (and beware that these TOS can change at the whim of the review site).

Also be aware that some professions do not allow for the licensed professional to ask for a positive review, and may further require that if reviews are solicited, they are solicited in exactly the same way to every customer or client.

Related reading

Screenshot shows a Google search for outdoor grills, the shopping ads shows images with “in store” showing the product is available nearby.