We Need to Talk About Online Reviews

At BlueDog we try to be as transparent as possible, and in keeping with that theme we want to pull back the curtain on some of the more popular review sites, how they work and what their limitations are. Below we’ve put together a simple chart comparing some of the most popular online review platforms.

To be clear, we aren’t saying online reviews don’t serve an important purpose – customer reviews are an important consideration when trying to choose one company over another, and we rely on customer reviews to address issues which may have slipped through the cracks, or were never brought to our attention. The most important thing to keep in mind is that online reviews, good or bad, aren’t always a fair representation of the over all customer experience. Below we go into a more detailed breakdown of some of the more popular review sites where we highlight the pros and cons of each.

Google is one of the first connection between a customer and a company. Incorporating reviews into search results is a big advantage to business, but there are a number of issues.

PROS: 

• Ideal for local business

• Aggregates Company Info

• SEO & Google Analytic Integration

CONS: 

• Negative reviews are difficult to dispute

• Easily manipulated with fake reviews

• Monitoring can be time consuming and costly

Read More About Google Reviews
Because of this, it makes sense that Google would also collect and serve reviews of businesses. The benefits are clear: If you’re a business with overwhelmingly positive reviews, potential customers will see that right away. It will make a customer feel more confident in their decision. Unfortunately, Google isn’t a review service, and unlike dedicated review services the ability for companies to respond to reviews is limited. Monitoring reviews can be costly, and bad reviews are forever. Even after a company has fixed the problem and satisfied a customer, that company is totally dependent on that customer updating their review. Another problem is that anyone can post a review. Fake reviews are a violation of Google’s TOS, but without adequate enforcement, or a simple process for flagging fake reviews, the review system can easily be gamed to make competitors look bad, or to artificially inflate a company’s rating.

Everyone is familiar with the Better Business Bureau; they have been around since 1912.  But there are a number of misconceptions about the BBB. Most common is that the belief that the BBB is a government agency and if you visit that link you’ll also learn that the BBB is “not a consumer watchdog”. For businesses trying to maintain their online reputation, the BBB presents a number of obstacles.

PROS: 

• A Trusted Resource

• Comprehensive Company Data

• Local / Regional Affiliates

CONS: 

• No recourse for companies who don’t pay

• Questionable and convoluted rating criteria

• Susceptible to fake reviews

Read More About the Better Business Bureau
Another thing consumers may not know is that how the BBB rates your company comes down with whether or not you directly engage with the BBB on their terms. Often companies with objectively bad reputations are given A +/- ratings, and in one high profile instance, a fake company named after a terrorist organization was given an A- rating after paying the $425 fee. The list of 13 factors the BBB uses to determine grade can be found on their site.

The reason we’ve listed the BBB here is because they also collect and post customer reviews on their website. Here’s where things get tricky: if you don’t pay to be a member, you have no way to address bad reviews and fix the customers problem, if you don’t engage with negative reviews, your rating goes down. So, if you’re a company committed to quality customer service, but don’t pay the BBB’s dues, you could have a bad rating because you’re not a BBB member.

That’s not to say the BBB is a scam, plenty of companies have deservedly good, (and bad) ratings on the BBB, but the BBB isn’t a wholly objective resource, and understanding the flaws in their system is crucial.

CardFellow, unlike many other review sites is not a “pay to play” service. CardFellow was started in 2006 as a blog with the intent on shedding some light on the credit card processing industry. As its popularity grew so did its focus. CardFellow now operates as review site and referral service. The site makes money when merchants sign with a company based on CardFellow’s recommendation/referral.

PROS: 

• Free to use

• Objective company overview/review

• Great resource for getting competitive quotes

CONS: 

• Processors have limited input on company profile

• No recourse on standard reviews

• Susceptible to fake reviews

Read More About CardFellow
CardFellow is narrowly focused on the credit card processing space, and provides a valuable service for merchants looking to get bids on their credit card processing rates without getting tricked into signing away your first born. Virtually every review of CardFellow is positive, and with limited experience with the company and its service, we don’t have anything bad to say.

Top Credit Card Processors is another review site with a narrow focus of credit card processing and processors. They collect reviews of all size processors as well as providing their own processor review. TCCP also publishes a variety of monthly rankings based on a various services using a “proprietary evaluation process“.

PROS: 

• Industry-specific content

• Treat both small and large companies equally

• Comprehensive rankings and evaluations

CONS: 

• “Proprietary evaluation process” raises questions

• Rankings are not based on user feedback

• For most companies, evaluations cost money

Read More About Top Credit Card Processors
Top Credit Card Processors has been around since 2009; the site provides rankings and reviews of credit card processors and merchant service providers. While they could be more transparent with their “proprietary evaluation process” and the (with some exceptions) requirement that you pay for an evaluation, the site doesn’t appear to play favorites when it comes to size, or influence within the industry. And, in our experience, their in-house reviews and rankings seem to provide an honest assessment of the companies they evaluate.

ConsumerAffairs, like the BBB, is a private organization that positions itself as reputation management service. The idea is that by capturing consumer complaints the site can help brands address customer issues and concerns and improve as a company. A fine idea in theory but, like other pay-to-play services, if you don’t pay to be “accredited” managing your reputation is difficult at best.

PROS: 

• Great marketing channel for large businesses

• Collects reviews for virtually every business

• Their site makes it easy to find information

CONS: 

• Can’t address reviews without paying

• Highly susceptible to fake reviews

No stranger to legal issues

Read More About ConsumerAffairs
ConsumerAffairs offers a costly “accreditation” which gives you the ability to address negative reviews and gives your account a badge proclaiming that your company is ConsumerAffairs Accredited. For companies who can afford this accreditation, it’s almost certainly worth it. ConsumerAffairs reviews tend to rank highly on organic search results and building trust with a customer has a a very real value, but for smaller organizations, it’s easy for the negative reviews that come from the growing pains of a small business to get out of control and many small businesses simply can’t afford to invest in the membership necessary to address these negative customer complaints.

I don’t think Facebook really needs an introduction  it is highly likely you’re on Facebook frequently and if you’re a business owner with a Facebook page (if you don’t have one go make one as soon as you’re done here) you know that it can be frustrating managing reviews and user comments. Facebook offers several management tools, but when those tools prove to be inadequate  you’re pretty much on your own.  Facebook customer support is awful. You think getting things resolved with your cable or ISP is a hassle? Try getting a problem fixed with the pitch black, infinite void that is Facebook customer service. All problems aside, Facebook is still an invaluable marketing tool for any size or type of business.

PROS: 

• The best marketing platform for every size business

• Exceptional opportunity for organic reach

• Easy to use for all skill levels

CONS: 

• Zero transparency

• Useless customer support

• Unreliable and outdated support documentation

Read More About Facebook
First the positives: Facebook is worth your time and money from a marketing perspective. With the right content and the right strategy, you can achieve cost free organic reach that is more successful than paid campaigns run by experts. I would argue that, dependong on yoru specific business needs, setting up a facebook page should be the first thing a business does when looking at their online presence. I really can’t stress enough the value of Facebook for businesses who want to maximize reach as quickly as possible. That said, Facebook has serious problems, and if you don’t know about those problems in advance (most people don’t) you may not be able to fix them down the line.

The biggest problem: fake profiles. Facebook recently estimated that upwards of 60 million Facebook accounts may be fake. And when you consider the number of accounts that appear real, but are used for fake “likes” and phony engagement, the numbers are likely much, much higher. Many of these fake accounts will like pages in an effort to appear more legitimate and companies who are looking at raw numbers are unlikely to be too critical of new likes – after all, everyone likes to be liked.

When pages are overrun with fake likes or fake reviews it can be impossible to do much, if anything, to fix it. Facebook limits your ability to control fake reviews, and purging fake likes is a slow process. Facebook does provide tools to reduce the likelihood of these problems occurring, but fixing the problem afterwards is virtually impossible. This means that good, bad, or neutral reviews are, with minor exception, there forever. We have opted to remove the Facebook review section after realizing that our good rating was likely do to reviews that had nothing to do with our company. Sure, most were positive, but it wasn’t an honest representation of our customer’s experience and since Facebook seems unwilling or disinterested in helping us remove these reviews, we felt that complete removing the section was the best option.

Full disclosure: we are currently paying to use TrustPilot’s review services. While many of TrustPilot’s services, and the basic concept of providing a form for customer reviews is similar to other review sties, they have taken a somewhat different approach by putting the emphasis on the consumer to prove they have been wronged, rather than the company to prove their innocence. TrustPilot allows paying businesses to use their review platform to solicit reviews from their customers, but anyone business, or customer can use their basic review services.

PROS: 

• Great marketing tool for business

• Responsive support

• Vetted/verifies reviews

CONS: 

• Susceptible to fake reviews

• Can be difficult for customers to leave negative reviews

• Easy for companies to game the system

Read More About TrustPilot

TrustPilot was founded in 2007 and took a sort of start up approach to building a review platform and currently received roughly 500,000 reviews in virtually every category, each month. Unlike other review platforms, TrustPilot makes it easy for businesses to flag and ultimately remove fake, questionable or untrue reviews by requiring reviewers to back of their claims when they are called into question. The downside, for consumers, is that companies could take advantage of this to push their positive reviews while flagging negative ones.

TrustPilot is not immune to fake reviews; the Guardian and BBC both found that instances of fake reviews were widespread on TrustPilot as well as other online review sites. Generally speaking, the problem doesn’t originate with the review sites but with companies who triy to game the system and exploit flaws in a given sites policies. In September of 2017, TrustPilot published an open letter concerning its review policies.

Ripoff report presents itself as a platform that allows consumers to address grievances and warn other potential customers about shady or unfair practices by the offending business. The problem, though, is that this can be done anonymously and businesses, seemingly, have no way to remove incorrect, misdirected, or simply untrue claims without paying and if a user realizes their complaint has been posted in error, they have no way to remove it.

PROS: 

• Provides consumers a platform to air grievances

• Easy to use

• Paid options could be used to combat negative reviews

CONS: 

• Only allows negative reviews

• No real solution for businesses unwilling or unable to pay

• No way for honest mistakes to be removed

Read More About Ripoff Report

Ripoff Report has been around since 1998 using the tagline “Don’t let them get away with it. Let the truth be known” and claiming to be “By Consumers, for consumers” but there is nothing preventing competetors from posting negative comments. They also offer a paid option to “repair” a companies reputation where their staff “investigates” the claims made and, presumably removes any claims that can’t be verified. This service can cost anywhere from $5,500 to over $100,000. This type of services creates a number of obvious problems.

The nature of the site lends itself to complaints, so rather than a collection of good and bad reviews, in fact, they don’t allow positive user reviews on the site, it’s simply people angrily mashing words into a comment box. We think it is important to provide consumers a platform, but to target only negative reviews seems particularly unhelpful when negative experiences are already what compels people to leave reviews. Forcing companies to pay up if they want to “repair” their reputation only compounds the problems site like this can cause costly headaches for small businesses. We aren’t alone in our concerns; Google’s auto-complete displays “lawsuit” “scam” and “extortion” as 3 of the top 5 suggestions. Ripoff Report has had to deal with a number of legal issues.

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