Whether you should purchase Google Places reviews is tough issue to consider when contemplating your law firm marketing strategy. On the one hand, reviews currently display prominently in Google results, and may impact a listing’s rankings. Five stars are a strong indicator of how popular and successful a law firm is at representing and/or defending clients. On the other hand, Google is a relatively underused review platform, therefore the presence of numerous reviews can appear spammy and artificial. Furthermore, purchased reviews can be easily identified when you know what to look for.
Is Buying Reviews Against Google’s Terms & Conditions?
Buying reviews is clearly against Google’s T&Cs. From their quality guidelines:
Advertising and spam: Don’t use reviews for advertising or post the same or similar reviews across multiple places, don’t post fake reviews intended to boost or lower ratings, and don’t include links to other websites.
However, it may be appropriate for you to establish “review stations” within your office and encourage clients and partners to write reviews. Blumenthal’s highly respected Google Places blog sheds light on this topic with tremendous insight. Basically, you may encourage people to leave reviews while in your office for Google Places, but do not pay for the review, write the content, or otherwise influence the review. Additionally, other review sites such as Yelp do not permit on-site review stations so make sure your clients and partners stick with Google Places.
Do Reviews Influence Ranking?
Google encourages users to establish “a strong, accurate presence on the web.” A strong presence is evidenced in part by how many reviews you obtain. Therefore, it makes sense that obtaining reviews from satisfied customers is an indication to Google that you’re good at what you do, and should be rewarded with an elevated ranking. How much reviews actually influences ranking is still speculative.
A Real World Example of Google Places Reviews and Ranking
Here are the top Places results for the search term “San Diego Personal Injury Attorneys:”
Here are a few things you should notice:
- The firm with the most reviews is not #1
- A firm with ZERO reviews is ranked in the top four
- Only Google reviews are counted on this page
- Listings with star ratings clearly stand out due to their orange color
- Reviews don’t automatically mean stars will appear. You will need at least five Google reviews to make this happen.
How to Identify Purchased or Faked Reviews
Google allows you to click on a reviewer’s image to see what other businesses that person has reviewed. You can open multiple reviewers into tabs and cross reference their respective reviews. What you’ll notice is that some reviewers have reviewed the same business, use similar language, and keyword bloat their content. While this isn’t determinative of a faked review, it’s at the very least suspicious. Here’s an example:
A reviewer “Stan” left the following review for a San Diego personal injury attorney:
Here’s a review Stan left for a Houston, TX Lasik surgical center:
A different reviewer “Jennifer” left this review for the same personal injury attorney:
Here’s Jennifer’s review for the same Lasik surgical center that Stan reviewed:
A few observations about the above reviews:
- All the reviews are keyword stuffed with both the type of business and location
- Both law firm reviews mention the attorney by first name
- Stan left a different Lasik review for a Denver based center a mere week after he left the Houston review (I guess he gets around?)
The rub here is that this firm ranks extremely well for their key terms, despite the use of suspicious reviews. They also get the additional advantage of having 5 star reviews displaying prominently on their Places Page. Firms who choose to grow their reviews organically are thus penalized by their compliance with Google’s quality guidelines. While it’s not clear the firm above pays for the reviews, or even knows of the suspicious individuals on the Page, it is clear the firm is the direct beneficiary of behavior that would violate Google’s quality guidelines.
Finally, Should You Pay for Reviews?
After reviewing countless Places results, it’s shocking to find that many top ranked listings have reviews that display suspicious characteristics similar to those found above. Although Google insists you do not pay for reviews or risk their wraith, it does not appear they have done anything to punish infringers up to this point. With that said, although we can’t make a recommendation you should break Google’s T&Cs, your competition is and they’re currently getting away with it…for now. Keep in mind, Google’s reaction to those scamming their algorithms has been to blacklist sites completely from search results.
If you’d like to get reviews but don’t want to pay, you can always enlist the help of your staff, family and friends. While these individuals may not have used your legal services, they do know you personally and can provide reviews of you as a person, your work ethic, and your experiences. These serve the purpose of being genuine, and can provide legitimate insight into your services.