In the past few weeks I’ve been looking at some aspects of the website reviews, and their effect on SEO, and real conversion. I looked into the whole landscape of social metrics and saw that for similar businesses some had 10′s of reviews, while others barely have a dozen. There had to be a reason why some businesses seemed to be attracting more reviews than others, and I doubted it was really because they had ‘the sticker’ on their door. There are ways of getting reviews both legitimate and more underhanded. This could be anything from
- reminding past customers with a follow up email that you’d like to hear their thoughts on your business
- asking for reviews at the bottom of your newsletter
- having a terminal near your hotel checkout and asking people to write a review while you check them out
- using a review widget on your website
- paying for reviews to a third party service
- creating your own fake accounts and posting reviews.
- incentivising customers for reviews
Rules on Reviews
In TripAdvisor’s Rules (typo their own) it states :
No reviews written by ownership or management; including current or past employees, or anyone associated with/related to employees of tthe property with which they are affiliated.
So that clears up employees posting reviews. But what about incentivising reviews, it’s not mentioned there, but I’m sure it’s frown upon. I found on a page not linked from their rules, it says
I was offered an incentive for a review – is that ok?
No. Property owners are welcome to encourage their guests to submit user reviews upon their return home, but they are not allowed to offer incentives, discounts, upgrades, or special treatment on current or future stays in exchange for reviews. If someone has offered you an incentive for a review, please tell us about it.
So there you have it, generally it is seems dodgy, leave it out.
Real reviews gone bad
Even if you manage to get a real review, as a business there are certain ways you should react to it and certain ways you shouldn’t react to them. This could have a more catastrophic effect on your business. It’s true that reviews can make or break a business, especially for hotels, bars, restaurants and other service industries where people use that type service infrequently or while on holiday.
But everyone is doing it
Sites like TripAdvisor, Yelp, Qype and Google Places do take these issues seriously and have moved to try and bring them under control, all with varying amounts of success. According to Gartner they predict that 15% of online reviews will be fake by 2014. But according to the LATimes this number is closer to 40% right now.
It seems that’s there are less scrupulous businesses out their manipulating these review sites. I’m sure there are shill accounts from businesses that post positive reviews about them selves. Or even worse, they might even post less than positive reviews about their competitors.
There are even review services, like the screenshot below, that you can pay for reviews, or if you are on a budget you can pay someone $5 on fiverr to do it.
fake tripadvisor example
This is clearly the high risk approach to promoting your business.
Fake reviews on blogs
Here is an email that I got today, and it really is sad to see, but it should act as a reminder than any review you read, not just from the main review sites, could have an alternative motive for posting.
You’ve built a new app for iPhone. It’s ready; it’s what the market needs. You’ve done a great job! So what now?
The single MOST important thing you can do when you release a new app is obtain quality 5 star reviews. It will make the difference between actively growing and having an app that gets lost in the crowd.
What I do – I provide app reviews for apps in the following categories:
- - Education
- - Food & Drink
- - Health & Fitness
- - Lifestyle
- - Photography
- - Shopping
- - Social Networking apps
I have THE strongest blogger review network for these app categories.
*Important – I only submit reviews for apps that deserve 5 stars and your app is a strong candidate.
I have 2 services that I am offering at 50% for this week:
iTunes App Store Reviews – 20 new 5 star iTunes App Store reviews with comments. Price $99
Home Page Review – I will personally write a 200 word review of your app and post it to my blog home page lechateaudesfleurs.blogspot.com which has over 2800 Mommy Blogger followers. I will also post to my Facebook account, Pinterest account, Google + and my Twitter account. Price $79
In fact, I am so confident in these reviews that if they do not create significant momentum for your app I will refund the entire review cost. I look forward to hearing from you!!!
My nickname is Frenchy. I am French, born and raised in Paris, France…Live in Utah with hubby and 4 Darling kids. Blogger, designer, photographer, fashionista, decorator, crafter, cook, gardener…
Visit my blog here: http://lechateaudesfleurs.blogspot.com
Fake followers, Fake likes, fake fakes
And it’s not just reviews that are actively being manipulated on the web, twitter followers, facebook likes, google plus votes, etc. Seeing the ‘facebook thumbs up’ for a few hundred people does add a certain level of confidence to a shopper. If hundreds of anonymous people like something, it has to be safe, right ? So you can see why business would chase these metrics. We’ve even seen cases where people have manipulated the like button to look like the like widget, but it’s actually just a static image, check http://likefake.com if you are curious.
Sites like Google & Facebook are aware that there are fake accounts, in their SEC filing Facebook said they have around 9% fake accounts. In numbers that’s about 80+ million accounts.
fake twitter account example
Don’t be tempted
Whether you are a blogger being offered to post a review, or a business tempted in gaming the social signals, be warned it’s likely you will be found out, possibly fined and at risk of being blacklisted by the services or penalised on google.
The question “How do you know if your website has been hit by a penalty ?” has been asked of me quite often, and even more so in the past few months with the Google Panda and Google Penguin updates. Google has been handing out penalties, or is refining their algorithms constantly, it’s just that in the more recent times more and more sites seem to be effect by them. We even wrote about one case we looked at back in 2009. And even back in 2007 there was the roll outs that tackled paid links, see wolf-howl.com. So these aren’t anything new per se.
Example of a penalty
Basically what happens, is that your website will notice a significant drop in traffic, see the example around the end of May of this year. Note that I am only looking at the Organic Search Traffic graph, I’ve excluded the statistics for type-in, PPC, referral traffic as sometimes these can hide or blur the effect.
Over night the search traffic dropped dramatically, and this can be confirmed by clicking on individual keywords in your Google Analytics Reports, and seeing that the number of visitors coming for the top keywords had completely fallen off. These changes happened at once for more than a few keywords. Rankings for these keywords were averaging between position #2 and #7, and after this date they dropped off to the 2nd or 3rd pages of results.
Reasons for Google could penalise your site
There could be multiple reasons for your penalty, and it can be a bit of a tricky tasks to identify them. If you’ve done anything shady like buying links, buying Google plus votes or Facebook likes then it’s likely that Google has noticed this. The best start is go back to basics and check everything, from issues in your Google Webmaster Console to reading Google’s starter guide Search Engine Optimisation.
And even once everything is looked at it could be possible that your competitors in the market have just blown you out of the water. Generally if this is the case the drops are more gradual, unless you are heavily depending on one keyword to deliver you a high percentage of your traffic.
SEO takes time
It’s not always the case that you can fix a penalty in such a quick manner, as in the example above, here’s one we are currently looking at.
A big thanks goes to my clients for allowing me to share these graphs, you guys rock !
Yesterday I took some time to talk to Conn Ó Muíneacháin (@conn) from Edge Cast Media and Michele Neylon (@mneylon) from Blacknight Hosting on their Technology.ie podcast. We discussed 8 common mistakes that webmasters do, what free things you can do to improve your website, as well as discussing some other tech news of the week. Play time is just over an hour, so sit back and enjoy !
BlackDog on Technology.ie podcast
The podcast can be found over here, titled Another Arrow in the Linux Quiver
and on iTunes under ‘technology.ie’. If you like the podcast don’t forget to rate the lads on iTunes and maybe even write a review.
Here are just a few things that will make a developers life that little bit easier, when it comes to reporting a bug. Saying that “X is broken, please fix it” doesn’t really help all that much, as your developer will still need to reproduce the bug in some manner before trying to tackle it. Giving them so much information might sound a little over the top, but they will appreciated it and will know what to filter out or in.
Reporting a bug
These are the requirements I use when asking people to submit bugs to me. Even if it’s not my code, but they still want help putting together a report, I will send them these 6 points.
- Description : details of what you think is wrong, or what you expect to happen when you do X.
- Screenshot : If it’s a web application make sure you include the full browser screen and the URL bar.
- Steps : What were the steps you did to get this error happen ? Does it happen every time you do the steps ?
- Frequency : How long have you been noticing this issue ? Has it always worked like this or is it only since the last release you’ve noticed it ?
- Importance : how critical is this issue, is this nice to have fixed or something that’s critical that’s stopping something major ?
- Environment : have you tried it in more than one browser or OS ? Have you disabled browser plugins that might interfere with the pages’ code ?
In some cases you might need to have a field for business case impact for the change/fix. But this could be done in second round of analysis once the developer has investigated the issue. If a potential change has subsequent impacts on other parts of the system then these decisions are generally discussed with the product owner and the lead developer or even at a higher level.
This also introduces a lay person into the world of standarised reporting. Getting a report in a particular manner means that the extra steps they take will save you and the person reporting time. Avoiding this back and forth between, is one of the major benefits, but it’s also severs as a good way for categorising these issues. Is the bug report really one of the following :
- a bug report
- a feature request
- a change request
- a user operational issue
- rights / permissions based issue
Do you have any other things you’d like to know when people are submitting bug reports ?
What happens to your rankings when your website goes off-line ? Do you loose your rankings for ever ? How long is too long for being off line ? Will Google and the other search engines put you back to square one, once you are back online ? Read some surprising answers to these questions below.
Our Dropped Ranking Test
Here is a screenshot of our ranking test. The site was offline from September 2011 through to December 2012. On January 1st we re-enabled the site, and started to add some more content, and ping’d Google that the site was back. The traffic slowly came back, over 2 months, and then it started to increase significantly. During this time the site returned a 404 header code for all pages on the site. For this test we purposely didn’t send a 302 header code saying that the site temporarily was down.
The result, was that the site was dropped from the index completely, this took about 4 weeks, all the indexed pages were no longer being shown.
This keyword is one of the more competitive keywords the site ranks for, and it results in over 16% of total traffic to the site. It was comforting to see that being offline for over 3 months wasn’t a factor in the rankings. Which makes sense to us. If the site is available, and it ranks, then being down for a while shouldn’t change the ranking factor of the site. There wasn’t significant changes in the competitors sites during this time. So when the site was back, with the exact same content and URLs, it make sense that it should rank once more.
This morning I was doing my regular check of SERPs, and noticed that there was a marked increased in traffic yesterday for one of my domains, jobs in ireland. It got me thinking philosophically this morning, that one man’s gain is another man’s loss when it comes to Search Engine Rankings Positions. A classical zero sum game, people are going to search, and click roughly the same number of links, it’s irrelevant to a searcher the order, as they think that that’s just the way it is. They will click the first one, if they don’t find what they need, they will go back and search again and click the second link.
While I was mussing about a blog post. and checking into the SERPs I was happy to see that we were indeed at #4 & #6 on google.com & google.ie for [jobs in ireland]. But I was abruptly awoken and was in shock when I was trying to check our position visually. It wasn’t easy to see where what’s what, as Google has started to blend in paid ads in with the SERPs.
Where are the ads ?
Click for larger image
This is the picture that is showing up, and those distinctive yellow ads are no where to be seen ? How can a visitor discern the difference between paid and organic listings ? Just for the record these are the ads …
And the side bar ads
Why these ads ?
We doubt it’s for UI that Google is putting these ads in white, rather they are just simply trying to increase their click through ads. And the result will mean :
- More ads clicked
- More money for Google
- More traffic for advertisers
- Less traffic for organic rankers
A good day for Google ? I think not. Yet another reason to pick another search engine right now. I’m currently testing duckduckgo.com for the last few weeks and the results are pretty good so far. And they show you what are paid listings and what are organic listings.