Why Paying for Google Reviews Is a No-Go (+ What To Do Instead)

Paige Bennett

Published:

Perhaps you're starting a new business and want to solicit some positive reviews to draw in new customers. Or maybe your business was hit with a few bad reviews, and you're hoping to improve your Google reviews with more 5-star ratings than 1-star ratings. You might start to wonder — is paying for Google reviews worth it?

frustrated customer leaving an honest Google review

As it turns out, paying for Google reviews is a huge no-go, and there are some serious and costly consequences if you try it. But aside from potential fines, your business could face other long-lasting issues as a result of trying to buy positive Google reviews.

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In this article, we'll review why paying for Google reviews is a bad idea along with some strategies you can use to boost your reviews the right way.

Jump ahead:

What are Google reviews?

Google reviews are a way for customers to rank businesses. Customers can rank a business from one to five stars and may add comments in addition to their star review. These reviews will then appear in the search results for that business.

Reviews are more than just a way for clients to share their experiences with your business. Google reviews are also a main SEO factor for local markets.

Let's say you have a diner in a small- to medium-sized city. Your customers are happy, and you have dozens of 5-star reviews. When an out-of-towner searches Google for local restaurants in your location, your diner will be among the top restaurants to appear in the search. This makes it more likely for the person to see your restaurant and ultimately stop by for a bite to eat.

Can you buy Google reviews?

Buying Google reviews is against Google's policy and is illegal according to rules set by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

According to Google Support, "Business owners shouldn't offer incentives to customers to leave reviews." That means you cannot coerce customers to leave positive reviews in exchange for money or free products or services either. If Google finds that you had undisclosed, paid reviews, it will remove those reviews immediately.

Not only that, but the FTC has strict guidelines regarding fake and/or paid reviews. If you pay for a review or offer promotional deals or free products in exchange for reviews, those must be disclosed.

Some businesses hire third-party review companies to handle reviews for them, and you must be diligent in working with companies that do not pay for reviews. Otherwise, the consequences may fall on you.

Misleading Reviews Aren't Always Paid

Google and the FTC have additional guidelines to be aware of, even if you don't plan to pay for reviews. You also should not offer free products and services or other promotions in exchange for undisclosed reviews.

You've probably had a friend or family member praise your business to people they know via word-of-mouth, but the FTC discourages asking loved ones or even staff to leave positive reviews online for your business without disclosing their connections to you. According to the FTC guidelines for online reviews:

  • "Don't ask for reviews from people who haven't used or experienced the product or service.
  • Don't ask your staff to write reviews of your business, at least not without ensuring that they disclose in their review that you employ them and asked them to write it.
  • Don't ask for reviews only from customers you think will leave positive ones.
  • Don't ask family and friends for reviews, at least not without ensuring that they disclose their personal connection in the reviews.
  • If you offer an incentive for a review, don't condition it, explicitly or implicitly, on the review being positive. Even without that condition, the review should disclose the incentive, because its offer may introduce bias or change the weight and credibility that readers give the review."

So before you ask your marketing manager or your great-aunt to review your business on Google, make sure they disclose their relationships to you or the business first. Better yet, set out a plan for encouraging honest, organic reviews from your customers.

Consequences of Paying for Google Reviews

As shown in the image below, you can face serious consequences if your business is paying for Google reviews.

Consequences of Paying for Google Reviews

In a recent crackdown of businesses paying for undisclosed Google reviews, the FTC sent Notices of Penalty Offenses to hundreds of businesses. These notices warned companies that undisclosed, paid reviews could incur fines of up to $43,792 per violation.

Google will remove fake reviews, but its algorithm will also bump your business down in the search results for going against Google's policies against fake and paid reviews. That means you may have a long-term decrease in traffic as your SEO takes a hit.

The other long-lasting problem is your company's reputation. Customers are going to be wary of a business that feels the need to pay for positive online reviews rather than earning them outright.

And while it's not always easy to spot fake reviews, discerning customers may gather suspicions. This is especially true for new businesses that garner several positive reviews on Google before they even open their doors.

By providing an excellent customer experience, you can obtain many five-star Google reviews without misleading clients via fake reviews.

How to Boost Your Google Reviews

As highlighted in the image above, let's review five great ways to boost your Google reviews — without ever paying for them.

1. Link to your Google Business Profile.

One way to encourage legitimate reviews is to make reviewing easy and convenient for customers. Include a link to your Google Business Profile on your website's check-out page, in emails, in customer service chats, and on receipts.

That way, customers know exactly how to leave you a review after they've interacted with your business or purchased a product or service.

2. Verify your business on Google.

Google recommends verifying your business in order for your Google Business Profile to show up in search results and on maps. Plus, verifying your business means you can respond to reviews, which helps build customer trust.

To verify your business, you'll need to add or claim it in Google Maps, then verify it by email, mail, or phone.

3. Honor all honest reviews.

It can sting to receive a bad review, but you should honor and value all reviews equally. For one, you can use the negative reviews as constructive criticism to improve your business. You can also reach out to disgruntled customers to try to make things right.

A few negative reviews amidst dozens or even hundreds of positive reviews isn't going to scare away most potential customers. Instead, it can help them make a more informed decision of which businesses to patronize.

Customers might even be wary of a business that has hundreds of positive reviews and no negative reviews at all.

4. Engage with reviews (both positive and negative).

With a verified business profile on Google, you can respond to customer reviews. For positive reviews, thank customers for supporting your business and welcome them back in the future.

Your engagement with customer reviews can show potential clients that you care about feedback and provide great customer service.

For neutral or negative reviews, thank the customer for sharing their experience and offer to help solve any issues they had with your business.

Don't offer to smooth things out in exchange for a better review — just offer to improve their experience, and they might update their review on their own later on.

If you happen to receive some spammy negative reviews, it is possible to delete Google reviews. Don't delete negative reviews unless they are irrelevant, inappropriate, or spammy in honor of transparency and honesty.

5. Provide a great customer experience.

They say that customers will only leave reviews if they feel really passionate — for better or for worse — about a business or its products and services.

Don't let customers walk out of your doors or end a call feeling luke-warm. Instead, give them personalized experiences, listen to their concerns and offer solutions, and be warm and friendly in your interactions.

Hold your customer service team to a high standard, and try to always go above and beyond for your clients. This will give them all the more reason to leave positive Google reviews for your business.

Let Your Service Speak For Itself

Paying for Google reviews isn't just unethical — it's illegal, and it can hurt your business in both the short- and long-term. You could incur thousands of dollars in fines for asking for undisclosed paid reviews, plus search algorithms could penalize you and ultimately lead to lower website traffic.

If that's not enough, fake reviews and fines can hurt your brand reputation, encouraging potential customers to seek goods and services elsewhere.

Instead of trying to buy Google reviews, take an organic approach. Offer customers the best experience possible and sell high-quality products or services.

Your hard work will pay off as satisfied customers choose to leave you five-star reviews and share their positive experience with other potential leads.

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