May 052012
 

Google added new paragraph to their Google Places Quality Guidelines:

Marketing, promotions, or other contests

Any promotion, marketing, contests, or other giveaways should clearly link to the terms of the activity and provide clear guidelines and qualifications. All such promises, given or implied, should be adhered to.

Previously, there have been numerous discussions and concerns about how Google treats solicited reviews, especially in the context of the frequent contests for review writing organized predominantly by their community managers in Portland, Austin, and New York City. The controversial Google reviews guideline is the following:

Conflict of interest: Reviews are only valuable when they are honest and unbiased. Even if well-intentioned, a biased review can undermine its credibility. For instance, don’t offer or accept money or product to write positive reviews about a business, or to write negative reviews about a competitor. Don’t post reviews on behalf of others or misrepresent your identity or affiliation with the place you are reviewing.

Google has always seemed to be OK with indirect solicitation in the form of contests, similar to other major review sites. However, the newly introduced rule is rather blurry and the explanation is insufficient. The only new information we get from it is that a business that starts a “promotion, marketing, contests, or other giveaways” should establish specific terms and guidelines to the potential contestants. Judging from the way Google has been doing this, the guidelines should include:

- clear winner selection specifications
- specific details about what consists of a quality review (examples could be “originality”, “unique view points”, “style”, “capturing the spirit of the place”, etc)
- eligibility of the contestants, i.e. they have to have personal experience with the business
- specified contest period

And should not include:

- direct solicitation for positive reviews, i.e. the contestants should be be treated equally no matter if they leave positive or negative feedback
- promises for prize even if they do not win

Examples of rules for some of the previous Google Places review contests:

- PIFF 2012
- Google Places T-Shirt Contest
- Google Places Happy Hour Contest (Australia)

I think the new guideline does not solve the problem with how these rules are going to be monitored, and how there would not be any conflict of interest. If I were a business owner throwing such a competition, I’d want to achieve two main things through it: 1) get more reviews (not necessarily positive); 2) get more publicity. However, if the best review is a very negative one, hitting straight to the point, how would I choose it and how would it make good use for my business in general?

What do you think about the rule? Does it make the things more clear or it just raises more questions? Is it written to self-serve Google’s promotional contests?

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