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Google Reviews’ Importance Increasing

While Google and Yelp have their own set of loyal users, you may favor one platform over the other for your business strategy. Despite Yelp’s reputation as a powerhouse review forum for a range of businesses, Google is taking measures to claim first place.

Google recently announced that Promoted Pins will now be available on Google Maps, and therefore seen on the maps app, Google Maps on desktop/mobile, and Google.com. This means that businesses can pay to have their company featured in maps results. Now that Google is trying to monetize maps, the leading map app for both iOS and Android operating devices, businesses need to realize that Google Reviews importance is increasing. After all, Google will need users to engage with these Promoted Pins in order to make money. And because the percentage of local searches is growing, these maps results will become more frequent especially among mobile users.

In order to compete organically with these paid results, the number of Google Reviews as well as the rating will be a clear factor. Typically, in a Google search, the first three listings (known as the local 3 pack) will be displayed. After all, some users may immediately discredit paid ads in Maps, and lean toward the best-rated organic listing. Components in this algorithm include relevancy, location and reviews.

As Google works toward building their local listings, and thus Google Reviews, your business should consider a review forum optimization strategy. And if you’re already seeing website clicks, calls and directions from your Google my Business account, you can invest resources into optimizing your local listings with confidence. Talk to a specialist today at Frost Media Solutions so you can outrank unpaid listings, and eventually compete with paid listings.

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eCommerce SEO: 5 Quick, Effective Tips

ecommerce seoCommerce SEO is crucial for any digital storefront. After all, eCommerce search engine optimization is required in order to outrank competitors and outperform paid ads. While the eCommerce SEO strategies for Google, Amazon and Etsy may seem to have different requirements, they ultimately evaluate your product listing for relevancy. By following site-specific guidelines as well as on-site optimizations, your eCommerce store or listing can begin ranking.

 

5 Quick, Effective Tips for eCommerce SEO:

  1. Product Descriptions

Whether your own site or an eCommerce platform’s, utilize every opportunity for product information. Product descriptions will be the most influential in your ranking. Keep these detailed, with the most important information mentioned first. However, filling out product information about size, ingredients, quantities, and other factors will offer supplemental support. Every time there is an information box, find the answer and include it.

 

  1. Selective Tagging

There will always be an opportunity for tags, whether the title tag, meta tag, or product tag. First, do your own search and see what competitors are trying. If certain key phrases or tags seem to be oversaturated, refine your tags. While your tags should use keywords with high volume searches, your listing shouldn’t be lost in the noise. Find some niche keywords where your product has limited competition, but relevancy toward your listing.

 

  1. Photo Enhancement

For every product, upload a minimum of three photos. This can include different angles, backgrounds, and zooming. Your customers do not have the chance to pick up and inspect your product like they could in a physical store. Choose from high quality photos that are consistent with your brand (you would hate to lose a customer from photos that look suspicious or low quality). Then, include photo tags when possible (often mentioned as an alt tag).

 

  1. Customer Service

Many eCommerce platforms will consider product likes, reviews and visits into their algorithm. Therefore, deliver what your customers want. Find a trend among the most-loved products. Reevaluate your keyword strategy based on the best selling products. Encourage people to leave reviews, whether in email marketing or a note in your delivery package.

 

5. Consider Paid Ads

Paid placements can improve your organic efforts. After all, conversions from these ads can help you learn about your keywords, increase the number of reviews, and increase page visits. Determine a budget then test social media advertising and search engine marketing options.

 

Learn more ways to improve your eCommerce web presence. Talk to a representative at Frost Media Solutions today!

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Why Your Company Should Value Tripadvisor

There are plenty of review forums for every industry, from the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) to Zocdoc. And when these sites matter to consumers, they should matter to businesses. New and experienced travelers check TripAdvisor for reviews on hotels, restaurants, and even expeditions. Here is why vacation-goers trust TripAdvisor:

1. Verified Reviews

Verified reviews add legitimacy to vacation rentals and hotel stays. Approved by the TA staff, these reviews are guaranteed to provide unaltered details about a business.

 

2. Honesty Policy

The TripAdvisor community is dedicated to its mission. You will find a variety of reviews, from fair to favorable, as the website has a big user base. Additionally, points are awarded to reviewers that share photos, adding another step of verification and truth to the reviews. When searching for hotels, room tips are especially helpful to readers. The best-reviewed destinations will have a certificate of excellence and other marks of high status from TripAdvisor.

 

3. Filter Capabilities

TripAdvisor has advanced filter options, so users never have “review fatigue” from reading too much feedback. These filters can include anything from time of year to type of trip (family, business, couples, solo, friends). Language filters will also help people looking at trip-related reviews abroad.

 

4. Review-focused Industry

It goes without saying that people spend a lot of money on vacations. Therefore, people want to plan the best experience possible. TripAdvisor, while not always prioritized in Search Engines, has a lot of direct visitors that consult the site. Before spending hundreds or thousands on a getaway, TripAdvisor will be one of the first websites searched.

 

5. Conversion Friendly

Now that people have finished their review process, they may be ready to book. TripAdvisor is conversion friendly, with call to action buttons to confirm reservations, flights, or vacation rentals. The browse nearby options helps people plan their trip according to location and convenience. Truly every step of a trip can be planned thanks to the TripAdviser site.

 

While you may not think of your locality as a travel destination, it very well could be to foreign visitors, travel enthusiasts, or business travelers. Now that you can see why travelers love TripAdvisor, business owners should consider their own profile. Do you have a TripAdvisor strategy in place for review forum optimization? Contact Frost Media Solutions for a free assessment to get started.

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Review Forum Chaos after Deadpool Earns High IMDB Movie Rating


Deadpool’s movie release was as bold as its star character. Deadpool broke 8 records its opening weekend, including largest winter season opening weekend and largest R-rated opening weekend, and movie buff discussion has hardly slowed down. With loud marketing tactics and an R-rated script, Deadpool has changed conversation around super hero movies.

With an opening box office gross of $132.75M, you can expect that someone in your circle of friends has seen the movie. And those involved in movie-related review forums can expect to argue the true cinematic worth of the movie. With an astonishing 8.6/10 on IMDB and 84% on Rotten Tomatoes, Deadpool has earned great praise. Yet many commenters are fighting the Deadpoo imdb reviews. Is Deadpool undeserving of its high movie reviews?

As one review put it, “I’m just a guy, watching a superhero movie, asking it to entertain him.” In a thread Why I gave it(and many others) a 10, viewers explain that movies like Deadpool should earn high ratings because of their ability to entertain audiences, not necessarily to compete against timeless movies. Others argue that a perfect movie is idealistic, therefore impossible, but movies that fascinate audiences from start to finish deserve the highest rating.

However, some movie buffs truly believe that 10 ratings should be reserved for movies with classic potential. They criticize the “teenagers and man-children” that skew movie ratings with their amateur IMBD accounts. These review forum opinions ask for unbiased ratings, in which yes, personal entertainment evaluation should not affect ratings. Instead, a movie should be determined by its entire cinematic performance including its artistic value.

Reviewers believe that Ryan Reynolds held up the film. He successfully edged Deadpool into “gotta see it” territory. The action scenes are solid, the pacing is rough, the cast is serviceable, but the Deadpool-caliber gags truly shine when delivered by Reynolds. He is the reason why you’ll remember this film’s funniest, most intense moments.

Many of these message boards stem from Deadpool earning a ranking in the IMDB top 50 movies. With spot #49, Deadpool is among movies like Gladiator, Back to the Future, The Lion King, and Sunset Blvd. For comparison, the top five movies include: The Shawshank Redemption (9.2), The Godfather (9.2), The Godfather: Part 2 (9), The Dark Knight (8.9), and Pulp Fiction (8.9). So yes, Deadpool’s current pop appeal is just .3 away from all-time favorites.

Do you think Deadpool is deserving of a 8.6 movie rating? Do you think that comedic superhero movies deserve a place in the top 50 movies of all time? What do you think will happen to Deadpool’s rating in the coming months, and once available for DVD and streaming?

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Who Reviews Your Company? Yelp and Google Review Demographics

Worrying about your online business reviews? Wondering who leaves those complimentary reviews, and who leaves the unfair ones? Review forums are a valuable place to build brand awareness and reputation. And in this case, it’s power to the people. The opportunity to review small businesses and franchises gives every consumer a voice. If you’ve ever wondered who reviews your company, here’s a demographics review of Yelp and Google Reviews.

Yelp

Potentially the most notable for businesses, Yelp has tilted the Internet average in many categories. The average Yelp viewer, according to Quantcast, is more likely to be female than male. Yelp reviewers are also more likely to have higher education, including both college and grad school. Yelp reviewers and viewers are typically between the ages of 18 and 44, with the most significant age group between 25-34. Yelp interests all ethnicities, with a higher than average engagement from the Asian population.

When looking at Yelp’s marketing, these demographics are unsurprising. Yelp has many strategies, like Yelp Elite, to target dedicated reviewers. Yelp Elite caters to reviewers with regular postings and engagement, and entices these users to apply to Yelp Elite with free parties and promos (ideal for that age range). Yelp ranks as the 35th highest-traffic website in the United States. Therefore, if you’re a company that appeals to young adults, definitely consider Yelp a part of your business plan.

Google My Business

In order to leave a Google review, a person must have a Google Account. A Google account can access Gmail, YouTube, Maps,  Google+, and other Google products. Therefore, people that leave Google reviews tend to be huge Google advocates.

Both women and men leave Google reviews. Additionally, the same young demographics as Yelp (ages 25-34) applies to Google. After all, online behavior and engagement still favors the young. However, everyone can see Google reviews now that they appear in local search. While a business will typically have more Yelp reviews than Google, Google reviews will have more visibility thanks to the powerhouse search engine’s algorithm.

Looking for more information about review forums? Read our article on online review management or contact professionals at Frost Media Solutions today.

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Should Companies Incentivize Online Business Reviews?

Consumers question businesses’ reputations every day of the year. However, the holiday season brings a rising interest in learning about other shoppers’ experiences. People invest a lot of time, energy and money into buying the perfect present for Christmas, Hanukkah and other gift-giving holidays. Because shoppers buy presents for family members, friends and coworkers, their research period may be lengthened compared to personal shopping. After all, consumers are shopping for other people, visiting their favorite stores for their favorite things. Holiday shoppers are especially interested in customer service, return policies, and overall business reputations. Therefore, review forums will be a first place to start.

soliciting and rewarding online business reviews

Experiences shared on Yelp, Google Places and forums can directly influence purchasing behavior. But what is a company’s role in collecting online business reviews? Of course businesses want their trusted, loyal consumers writing reviews about their positive experiences. However, it’s usually the annoyed shoppers that retreat to review forms with harsh words and low stars. To boost online business reviews, what if you gave shoppers an incentive to write reviews? Consider both scenarios.

 

Strategy 1: Rewarding Customer Reviews

Some businesses offer their customers a coupon, like 5-10% off their next purchase, for a review. While businesses don’t specify that it has to be positive, if a customer has to show their review to management for a discount, it will more likely be a high review. How many people would return to a store they disliked, show a store employee their low review, and then redeem the coupon to buy something? It’s an unlikely case, so it may be worth exploring in order to gain more reviews. While Yelp has condemned soliciting reviews, they obviously have their own business motives. Consider the pros and cons for your business. Maybe test rewarding online customer reviews for a short period of time before making it an longterm marketing effort.

Strategy 2: Not Rewarding Customer Reviews

Many managers choose not to solicit online business reviews. By relying on organic reviews, businesses can honor their reviews for honest, thoughtful reviews. The review page will be populated with thorough input, rather than hastily written reviews from people looking for a deal. This option also avoids any conversations about what’s considered a review. For example, do people that write “nice employees, clean place” earn the same discount as reviewers with helpful input and verbose experience descriptions? Choosing not to reward reviews may be low maintenance, but would an aggressive marketing push be more helpful?

 

Ultimately, it’s a decision unique to each business. Incentivizing online business reviews depends on each company’s marketing strategy and reputation management standing. But one thing is sure, despite the stress around the holiday season, make sure everyone at your business is on their best behavior. You never know when a Yelp or Google review addict is around the corner!

 

Happy Holidays from Frost Media Solutions! 

 

 

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Why Businesses and Consumers Shouldn’t Trust Yelp

If you are running your own business and need to build an online presence, Yelp can be a useful tool. Launched in 2004 to help consumers find, review and bookmark businesses, Yelp has been key for consumers’ online experience and business owners’ web optimization.

Yelp reports 168 million monthly visitors, from both the website and mobile apps. Yelp reviews rank high in search and have become a natural part of consumers’ business decisions. Nevertheless, many visitors and business owners feel hesitant about Yelp. The company has been involved in lawsuits and tied to business horror stories. So what’s true about these rumors?

The Biased Reviews

Businesses can be competitive, and the virtual world is no exception. When it comes to reviews, it is very difficult to identify if posts reflect real consumer experiences or if companies manipulate the content. For example, some of the reviews can be based on speculation or a conflict of interest. Yelp does not require people to identify affiliation or use location based check-ins. And because the accounts are free, it’s easy to create multiple profiles and pull the strings on consumer perception.

The Bought Reviews

Companies spend lots of time, money and resources into discrediting their competitors. Yelp reviews are actually sold online, a practice undetected by consumers. Whether brands buy reviews to boost their own ratings or sabotage competitors, it’s a reality of Yelp people can’t deny.

The Lawsuit

In January 2015, the Federal Trade Commission determined that Yelp does not reward businesses that advertised with inflated reviews or penalize those that do not purchase ads.

However, Yelp can legally withhold positive reviews, a practice that could be used by sales departments to increase ad revenue.

Therefore, perpetuating this idea of Yelp as a reliable source for unbiased reviews is tainted. Especially when businesses compare Yelp to the Mafia or a bully. Yelp maintains that they have never done this tactic, but when it comes to small businesses across the United States versus the review company, it’s difficult to trust Yelp.

 

A business owner encouraged bad reviews after trouble with the Yelp Sales Department's unethical practices.

Where to look next?

Yelp may be your number one source for reviews, but have you considered the alternatives? “Local Guides” by Google, which was recently revamped, fits the interests of both consumers and business. However, right now, Local Guide’s biggest obstacle is that it doesn’t have as many reviews as Yelp. But as more and more business and consumers distrust Yelp, they may turn to Google instead. Additionally, to build company profiles and foster attentive user reviews, Local Guides offers unique bonuses.

Similar to Yelp, accounts are free. Unlike Yelp, there are tangible incentives to build up a reviewer’s profile. Points can be accumulated through thoughtful reviews, helpful pictures, information fixes, question responses and new business uploads. In turn, points can be used to attend summits or try new Google devices.

And as for the monitoring of unethical behavior, Google can use the same powerhouse technology on black hat SEO methods as they do with bad review practices. Google has been trusted in a variety of brands and products, and doesn’t have a single, self-serving business practice like Yelp.

While nothing replaces word-of-mouth, review apps and tools have become a popular habit for online research. Whether you’re a Yelp lover or hater, every business needs a online review management strategy. To get started on yours, contact Frost Media Solutions.

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Non-Disparagement Clauses and Your Right to Review Negatively

Last month, the U.S. took a big step toward safeguarding consumers’ right to leave honest online reviews without fear of retribution. Senators John Thune (R-S.D.), Brian Schatz (D-HI), and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) introduced S. 2044, which will be better known as the Consumer Review Freedom Act, to outlaw non-disparagement clauses in consumer contracts.

While the Consumer Review Freedom Act has yet to be passed, if, or when, it does, it will serve to bolster a long-standing tenet of the U.S. Constitution. The First Amendment states [emphasis ours]:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Although non-disparagement clauses have been shown to be effectively worthless in the eyes of the law, given the prominence of free speech rights, the Act signals a push to protect consumers from intimidation or threats by companies that shoehorn spurious paragraphs into contracts.

The Unhappy Customer

The concept of the “unhappy customer” is nothing new, but the rise of social media has heralded a power shift such that the consumer firmly holds the trump card. This power can be abused, of course, but an individual’s ability to leave honest online feedback is generally accepted as something positive and worth protecting.

“Reviews on where to shop, eat, or stay on websites like Yelp or TripAdvisor help guide where consumers do business every day,” said Senator Schatz. “Honest reviews from real people have made these sites successful and are the reason why so many of us have come to rely on them. Every consumer has the right to share their experiences and opinions of any business. Our bill would protect that right and ensure consumers are free to share their views, free from intimidation.”

The rise of Facebook, Twitter, TripAdvisor, Yelp, and other social platforms has led to an almost tangible tension between businesses, consumers, and old-world regulations, as lawmakers struggle to keep pace with the fast-changing online revolution.

In August 2014, a New York hotel faced backlash for its threat to charge guests $500 for each online negative review it received. The policy stated [emphasis ours]:

If your guests are looking for a Marriott type hotel they may not like it here. Therefore: If you have booked the Inn for a wedding or other type of event anywhere in the region and given us a deposit of any kind for guests to stay at USGH there will be a $500 fine that will be deducted from your deposit for every negative review of USGH placed on any internet site by anyone in your party and/or attending your wedding or event.

That may seem extreme, but it is just one of many such recent instances.

Perhaps the most high-profile court case was Palmer v. Kleargear.com, which saw a Utah couple on the receiving end of a $3,500 fine for a bad review they posted against etailer Kleargear on Ripoff Report.

While there were many ins and outs to the case, the gist was that the couple didn’t pay the fine and Kleargear reported them to a debt-collection agency, which adversely impacted their credit rating. Eventually, the company was taken to court and ordered to pay John and Jennifer Palmer more than $300,000 in damages.

“Non-disparagement clauses stifle consumer speech by silencing fair criticism in public forums, particularly on websites,” said Schatz. “The Consumer Review Freedom Act would prohibit business practices like [Palmer v. Kleargear.com], while still allowing business owners to sue reviewers who make dishonest misrepresentations about their business.”

The Streisand Effect

Non-disparagement clauses nearly always end up hurting any company that tries to enforce them. The usual analogy here is to entertainer Barbra Streisand, who once attempted to suppress photos of her Californian residence, thereby generating publicity and attracting even further public attention. The “Streisand Effect” is now used to describe any situation in which an attempt to censor information has the opposite result.

America’s push to protect consumers has been well-documented in the media, but what about elsewhere in the world? What about Europe?

Last year, a British couple visiting a hotel in Blackpool, England, were charged an extra £100 to their credit card after describing the place as a “rotten, stinking hovel” in an online review. Little did they know that the hotel had this policy:

Despite the fact that repeat customers and couples love our hotel, your friends and family may not. For every bad review left on any website, the group organiser will be charged a maximum £100 per review.

Yet again, the Streisand Effect came to the fore, and the widespread negative publicity forced the hotel owners into swiftly backing down and refunding the couple’s money. No court action was necessary.

Consumer Protection in U.K. / Europe

Last week, the U.K.’s all-new Consumer Rights Act took effect, in a move to simplify U.K. consumer law by pulling eight separate pieces of legislation into one. This legislation covers such things as consumer contracts for goods, digital content and services, and unfair (contract) terms. It bears similarity to existing laws, but strives to update and unify them, making them easier for both consumers and merchants to understand.

There are no specific laws against non-disparagement clauses in the U.K., but that’s not to say there aren’t regulations protecting consumers from such clauses. Even if a consumer has unwittingly signed a contract relinquishing their right to complain about a company in a public forum, they may still be protected under “unfair terms” regulation.

For contracts signed prior to the new Consumer Rights Act taking effect yesterday, consumers can refer to the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contract Regulations (1999). This older legislation and the new Consumer Rights Act share this paragraph:

A contractual term which has not been individually negotiated shall be regarded as unfair if, contrary to the requirement of good faith, it causes a significant imbalance in the parties’ rights and obligations arising under the contract, to the detriment of the consumer.

Technically, a non-disparagement clause in a consumer contract could override this regulation. For the clause to stick, however, it’s likely that the company would have to demonstrate that the terms have been specifically negotiated, or at the very least, that the consumer’s attention has been directed to the clause. “If you have a clause like that, it has to be in big red letters with a big red hand pointing to it,” said Jonathan Armstrong, a technology and compliance lawyer with Cordery Compliance. “I think that’s the sort of attitude you’ll need to hold a clause like that up. You’re going to have to direct someone’s specific attention to it.”

However, based on personal experience, the only way to have such a clause ruled on or “officiated” is to take the company to court, because as of yet, there is no real legal precedent to fall back on.

Tweet justice

Earlier this year, I had building work carried out on my house, and was unhappy with a wide range of things. So I posted some photos to the company’s Twitter account showing a couple of examples.

The company informed me of a non-disparagement clause in my contract stipulating that negative comments made in a public forum would result in a fine of £5,000 ($7,500). I checked the small print only to find that, yes, there was such a clause in there.

Unsure of my rights at the time, I naturally deleted the “offending” tweets until I could explore things a little further. The threat of the fine was removed once I deleted the tweets, but I’m still not 100 percent clear as to what my rights are as a European or U.K. resident in such a case.

In fact, I followed the official complaint procedures involving the Ombudsmanand other regulators, but nobody was prepared to make any kind of intermediary judgment. I even spoke with my local member of parliament (M.P.), who advised that the practice of preventing consumers from giving an honest opinion of their experience may be considered an “unfair trading practice.” All advice has pointed towards the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), a network of charities that provide consumer and legal advice. Problem is, CAB have said it cannot become involved or refer such cases to Trading Standards, a local government body with the power to investigate unethical organizations.

While all signs suggest that the weight of the law does fall on the consumer’s side in terms, it’s a messy situation to navigate, which is why America’s Consumer Review Freedom Act could be groundbreaking — it removes the muddiness by focusing on the core of the problem: non-disparagement clauses.

Unfair terms

In an age when companies and consumers are often at loggerheads, social media and review sites have become key battlegrounds. I spoke with Oliver Fetiveau, a partner at U.K.-based media law firm M Law, to get his thoughts on clauses that impinge on freedom of speech in U.K and European law. It’s worth noting here that the business-to-business (B2B) realm is likely a different story — this relates specifically to B2C.

“[non-disparagement clauses are] just another example of an unfair contract term,” said Fetiveau. “In the same way as there might be an exclusion clause, or a limitation of liability clause, which are the more usual ones for the contract terms we’re used to dealing with.”

Essentially, ridiculous or unfair items could feasibly be squeezed into a contract, but that doesn’t mean that a court will make you honor it. When a company tries to impose an obligation on someone that contravenes what they’d normally expect to be able to do in real life — “Hey, don’t go to that restaurant, buddy, the burgers are awful!” — there is a good chance the court will view things favorably for the consumer.

“It’s all about deterring from doing it [leaving a negative review] in the first place, and then scaremongering to get them to delete the review,” said Fetiveau. “If they were actually called to account, and made to put their money where their mouth was and issue proceedings — I just can’t ever see it happening.”

Everyone I’ve spoken to has said that it’s unlikely a company would actively take a consumer to court to obtain money from them — in the U.K., at least — because the Streisand Effect is now well understood. But until non-disparagement clauses are ruled unlawful, there’s nothing to stop companies from trying anyway.

So as a consumer, in most markets, you basically have two choices when faced with a non-disparagement clause. You can go ahead and blab away on Yelp, assuming that the company won’t enforce the clause. Or you can proactively chase a court ruling to decide whether the clause is “unfair.” Fetiveau referred to what is known as a “Part 8 claim” in the U.K., which is when you want a court’s decision on a question “which is unlikely to involve a substantial dispute of fact.” In other words, the facts of the case should be clear, after which it’s simply a case of deciding whether or not the non-disparagement clause is deemed “unfair.”

However, before you go all gung-ho on TripAdvisor and make all kinds of wild accusations against that rude waiter who shot you a dirty look, it’s worth remembering that the law will likely only smile on you if what you say is opinion-based and doesn’t defame. You can’t just invent stories to make an establishment look bad. “If it’s an expression of honest opinion, then it’s safe,” added Fetiveau.

There is some precedent here. The Irish Times was sued by a Belfast restaurant owner over a scathing review it published — amazingly, the restaurant ownerinitially won the defamation case and was awarded £25,000; however, this was later overturned on appeal.

“The court granted incredible latitude to someone giving a review and found that all you needed to be able to prove if you’re giving a review is that you’d actually been to the restaurant and had the meal in question,” said Fetiveau. “If you can evidence malice, that may be different, but that’s difficult to do.”

U.S. vs. E.U.: Free speech

Much is made of the U.S.’s First Amendment right to free speech. But surely Europe has free speech at its core, even if it isn’t part of a so-called constitution?

The U.K. has the Human Rights Act (1998), which is based on the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Article 10 of the ECHR states:

 Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.

While individual laws and regulations may vary from country to country, the fundamental tenets of “free speech” remain across the European Union. There is a limitation that seeks to protect companies or individuals from defamation, but it does not prevent people from publishing honest opinions.

The Citizens Advice Bureau in the U.K. also pointed out that unfair terms’ regulations in consumer contracts is widely similar across the whole E.U. It said:

If you buy goods or services from a trader in the European Union (EU), your rights around unfair contract terms will be very similar to those you have with a UK seller. If you believe a seller or supplier in another EU country has used an unfair term in their contract, you can complain.

You may also be able to refer your complaint to the relevant European Consumer Centre.

Arbitrary fines

Another element of non-disparagement clauses that may work in a consumer’s favor in any lawsuit is the amount of money being asked for. In my case, it was $7,500 — how the company arrived at that figure, I’ve no idea. And in the case of Palmer v. Kleargear in the U.S., $3,500 seems equally arbitrary in relation to any perceived “losses.”

“When (non-disparagement) clauses creep into consumer contracts, I would suggest that the motive is there to deter customers from leaving negative feedback in the first place, not because the companies in question genuinely expect to be able to rely upon them in a court of law,” said Fetiveau.

A few years back, London law firm Davenport Lyons hit the headlines for the way it was bullying thousands of people suspected of illegal peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing. Lawyers wrote letters to people requesting £300 ($450) to avoid a date in court, but following complaints about the company’s behavior, it was fined £20,000 ($30,000) and accused of being “too concerned about making the scheme profitable for themselves and their firm.”

“The problem was, it [the requested money] wasn’t a reflection of what the actual damage was,” explained Fetiveau. “If you’re downloading a song, and it’s only one song, then what is your damage as the copyright holder? Your damage is how much it would’ve cost that person to buy that song — that’s the economic depletion, really.”

Hypothetically, if a judge were to rule that a non-disparagement clause was “fair” in principle, if the merchant was requesting a crazy amount of money in return, this would likely count against it.

The other side of the story

It’s all too easy to take the side of a consumer in a David and Goliath case where a corporation’s financial might pummels an irate consumer with threats and fines. But it’s worth acknowledging that consumer reviews play a huge part in buying decisions, so it’s understandable that a company would seek to protect its reputation.

Lawyer Jonathan Armstrong offered a degree of sympathy for firms fighting negative feedback. “I appreciate that some businesses have real issues with (for example) TripAdvisor — the issue is that in the past, if you had a bad meal on a Friday night, you might put it on TripAdvisor on Saturday, but then again you might not,” he said. “Even if you did do it on the Saturday, you’d probably have calmed down a bit.”

The point is, the always-on connected society we now live in means anyone can leave a review there and then, on the spot. You can be standing there with your finger on the trigger, so to speak, threatening a waiter with a negative review if you don’t get a discount or some other form of compensation.

“If you go out on a Friday night now, you might have drunk a bottle of wine, and the waiter sniffs at you because you didn’t leave a tip, so you go straight to your iPhone and tell the world never to visit the place,” he added. “I have some sympathy, particularly with small restaurants, where it can only take one or two reviews for their business to drop off the cliff. But I don’t think the way to combat that is by fining people.”

Armstrong said that while he hasn’t seen a great number of non-disparagement clause cases land on his desk, what he is seeing is businesses looking to avert social media disasters. “If it’s not the death of a company, then it can accelerate the company’s demise,” he said. “We’re seeing more businesses ask us to train their employees in how to engage with people on social media.” 

The case against non-disparagement clauses

Though the U.S. Consumer Review Freedom Act is not yet law, individual states, such as California, have already outlawed punitive non-disparagement clauses, so there is a clear sign of where things are going. And the U.S.’s position on such clauses could lead the way for other countries to follow.

I spoke with Paul Miloseski-Reid, U.K. Trading Standards’ ecommerce lead, to see whether such legislation is likely to arrive in the U.K. It turns out that something similar has already been proposed by the Trading Standards Institute (TSI), though there is no guarantee it will be adopted.

The U.K. is about to take on the presidency of the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network (ICPEN), which is a global network of consumer protection authorities spanning more than 50 countries. The U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) will focus on the online reviews and endorsements sector. “I have raised my concerns about the need for action on anti-disparagement clauses with their working group, which plan to develop enforcement best practice in this area,” said Miloseski-Reid.

He also makes a good point about who decides what construes negative feedback. “So much feedback is mixed and two-sided — ‘it’s a great product, but slow delivery’ — and you can’t have that environment online where consumers are scared to give honest feedback,” he said.

Perhaps the biggest case against taking customers to court is highlighted by the absurdity of Med Express, an Ohio company that sells medical equipment through eBay. One South Carolina buyer left negative feedback after receiving the item with $1.44 (!) postage still due. Med Express, which admitted the review was entirely truthful, sued for defamation anyway, but ended up withdrawing the suit thanks to the Streisand Effect. And last month, it was ordered to pay $20,000 in legal fees in a counterclaim over frivolous conduct.

So non-disparagement clause or not, it’s rarely a good idea to bully a consumer with court action over leaving an honest opinion online.

Online Review Management: Google My Business Strategies

The popularity of review forums, sites and apps have forced businesses to invest in web visibility and online review management. Google My Business streamlines B2C opportunities within Search, Maps and Google+. By optimizing these platform, small businesses can improve both online and foot traffic. And the more advanced the profile, the more inclined visitors will be to choose your business over competitors.

Online Review Management Devices

Profile Creation:

  1. Create a Google My Business account. The business manager or owner should have admin priority. Then, other co-workers or agency employees can be added with their Gmail accounts. Granting additional employees, rather than sharing this login, will give sufficient control to the right people.

  1. Update your profile. Now that you have a Business account, post as much information as possible. Google will let you choose to include your address, phone number, hours and categories (up to ten). Be sure that NAP consists with the website.

  2. Optimize photos. Share high quality photos of your business and products. Think of what you would want to see as a consumer in your industry. Hotels can share lobby and room photos for specific locations. Restaurants can share pictures of food and atmosphere. Event spaces can photograph spaces and amenities. Take at least 15 pictures for users to scroll through.

 

SEM Strategies:

  1. Include keywords: Stick with SEM efforts and include keywords that would naturally complement your profiles. This holistic keyword strategy will only strengthen its effectiveness. And get used to thinking about your keyword strategy- from your Google My Business dashboard you can directly go to your Adwords and Analytics.

  2. Report false information: Outdated or misinformation should always be reported to Google as an online review management necessity. Likewise, Google will report your false information. Make sure that any keywords and descriptions directly relate to your business or services.

  3. Aim for the Local 3-pack: Google’s Local 3-pack refers to the three businesses that appear on the first page, if matched with searcher intent. Local 3-pack may be the top result, after advertisements or one or two organic results. It’s a great opportunity for web visibility. While the searcher’s IP address will affect results, Google tends to benefit those with Google+ profiles and reviews, rather than using competitors sites. It also looks like Zagat ratings can optimize profiles. So for example, TriBeCa Restaurants will populate:

Online Review Management:

  1. Encourage Google reviews: While business typically have more Yelp reviews than Google, encouraging Google reviews may better serve your SEM goals. When visitors attest to a great experience, asking for a review can bring long-lasting benefits to business and web strategies.

  2. Monitor reviews: Respond to reviews from the Google My Business Account. This will demonstrate that your business cares about consumer insight. Regarding online review management, Google advises,

Become an active presence on Google and respond to reviews. Your customers will notice that your business values their input and respond with more reviews.

When visitors click into the local 3- pack, rather than going to the businesses’ website, a map opens with 20 competitor profiles listed. So if the searcher’s location didn’t list you in the top three, your business may show up here.

However, because reviews are the most prominent factor featured in the local card, online review management and strategy can really make or break your business. Star ratings appear under the listing name, but again in an average rating out of 5. So next time you encourage reviews, try to encourage Google specifically.

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Facebook Reviews Have Disappeared from Google Search

Recently, we’ve noticed that Facebook rich snippets and their subsequent review stars have disappeared from Google Search Results. Other review sites such as Yelp and Yellow Pages are still displaying review stars, so what’s different for Facebook?

Well, it may have something to do with the legitimacy of them. Google’s main aim is to give searchers what they want and to provide with honest, organic information. Facebook reviews are so easy to pay for that it’s called in to question whether any reviews on Facebook are even legitimate. A search for “buy facebook reviews” returns over 811 million results.

Using purchased reviews on any platform is always risky. Not only are paid reviews easy to spot (check out our blog post on How to Spot Fake Reviews), the positive feedback stops there! Wouldn’t you rather entice real customers to share their love for your hotel, restaurant or business? Using Review Forum Optimization ensures positive reviews get shared, and gives you the opportunity to deal with negative customer experiences head on!

 

Download our free checklist to see how you can avoid paying for fake reviews, and capitalize on REAL customer experiences!

 

 

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