Tale of the Very Bad Advice being given to Chiropractors
Just when you thought reciprocal linking schemes were in their final death throes, a shortsighted marketer has erected a gleaming new structure that may serve to plague both unwitting small business owners and Google for years to come: reciprocal reviewing!
Ben Cummings of Practice Building Center has launched a campaign which urges chiropractors to leave Google Maps reviews for one another to boost each other's rankings. This is no April Fool's joke: watch the video.
Mike Blumenthal wrote an expose piece on this this week and the ensuing discussion is pretty much what you'd expect; people demanding to know where business ethics have gone and predicting dire pollution of the Local SERPs as a result of this.
People say I haven't a mean bone in my body, and I don't know Ben Cummings in any way and mean no disrespect to him as a fellow human being, but how could anyone give this kind of terrible advice to a whole sector of small business owners? My hopes are faint that the chiropractors who come across this 'marketing' idea will know anything about the reciprocal linking debacle in the real estate industry of some 3 years ago and how Google came down like the Assyrian on the fold, penalizing realtors right and left for this type of you-scratch-my-back behavior.
The possible outcomes of such a scheme are none of them pretty. I would expect Google to act about this (when they figure out what is going on) just as they did about the real estate disaster, doling out penalties. Better yet, how about getting your chiropractic practice banned from Maps so that you have no way of competing at all in the 7 pack? Google has absolutely banned businesses from the LBC and I think this type of spammy behavior merits aggressive punishment. Let's see..in addition to this, the content in Maps will be polluted with phony praise of chiropractors in the form of reviews being given by other chiropractors, whom they may never have even met, instead of patients so that people in pain will be mislead into thinking a chiropractor is great when he isn't. Not a nice thing to do. Overall, this will make reviews of the whole industry about as trustworthy as the mess that is the locksmith industry, making reading reviews pointless. Swell.
Finally, and I think this really needs to be pointed out - the chiropractors who join in this will not only be out their $1 participation fee, but they may do permanent damage to their professional reputations as ethical service providers. Olympic skier Dale Begg-Smith won a silver medal in Vancouver this year, and all NBC could talk about was his reputation as a spam king. His ability to soar to the heights of athletic accomplishment was almost forgotten in media efforts to point out his Internet-related flaws. How would you like to be the chiropractor who loses all credibility, no matter how good your healing skills, because you are engaging in 'marketing' behavior that will doubtless be viewed as unethical by most potential customers and by Google itself?
Bad marketing ideas are nothing new, but to me, seeing this one roll out is like watching a train wreck happening before my eyes in slow motion. I sincerely hope that any chiropractors who encounter this offer will think twice about its potential outcomes, and I want to urge Practice Building Center to rethink the wisdom of promoting a practice which, while it could certainly have short term benefits, holds such inherent risks for participants and unquestionably makes the world of reviews less useful and trustworthy for all of us.
Tale of the Yelp BBQ
Talk had died down for a bit there, but yet again cries of extortion are being upraised in connection with user review powerhouse, Yelp. I believe it was back in August of 2008 that I first heard claims that Yelp was using some aggressive and misleading tactics in their telemarketing campaigns. I tuned into the news about this and sort of set it aside, though it left me with a vague question mark in my mind about Yelp's ethics.We seem to be having round 2 now, and coverage this time is pretty major. The SF chronicle, which I've linked to above, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, other major news sources and a host of websites and blogs are all talking about Yelp in the terms of extortion, protection money, ethics and trust. Commenters have come out in throngs, claiming that they've been strong-armed, mafia-style, by Yelp representatives, and complaints and lawsuits against the company have been filed.
Yelp co-founder, Jeremy Stoppelman, has had his hands full the past few weeks, patently denying that Yelp employees would use any of the highly-criticized tactics small business owners are claiming they do. Is Yelp offering to remove negative reviews, threatening to add negative reviews, demanding payments for various services? I have absolutely no idea, but like everyone else, I'm seeing the smoke. Sometimes, all it takes is for the public to see the smoke to decide there's a fire, and the damage being done to Yelp's reputation right now, simply by virtue of their name being connected with such unsavory talk, is quite real.
I think Yelp has a great product. In fact, I think they are probably presenting the most professionally-laid-out, snazzy, thorough product of anyone in the review game. It's terrible to think that they could ruin what they've built by resorting to low business tactics. Frankly, it's hard to believe they could be so short-sighted about their own future success. The jury is still out on this one, I think, but public sentiment about Yelp looks pretty bad at present
The Tale Of Two Series
There are two very excellent article series underway right now in the Local sphere which I think you may derive real benefit from reading if you're excited about all things Local. Mike Blumenthal has been doing a series that encompasses so many of the important aspects of user reviews. How to get them, where to get them, what not to do...all of these topics are being give very interesting coverage. I find this series to be especially praiseworthy because it includes real-life case studies of small businesses putting review acquisition strategies into action for their companies. Mike is asking SMBs the right questions to glean information about actionable things you can do to improve your own business' interactivity with the world of user reviews. This is a must read for any local business owner.
Another Local Mike, this one being Mike Ramsey of Nifty Marketing, is also publishing a neat series of articles this month. His features interviews with Local SEOs and he's asking good questions and getting revealing answers from his subjects (of whom I happen to be one). If you're just getting into Local, Mike's series will be a good who's who for you to check out, perhaps to give you some new ideas of local bloggers who deserve a spot in your RSS feed. More importantly, you will also find out the secret answer as to why Matt McGee's avatar only shows half of his face! Take a gander at this info-packed series for some great Local SEO insights and a few laughs, too.
This concludes my summary of the latest in Local. I hope I've pointed you to some thought-provoking stuff going on in this exciting and always surprising corner of the SEO scene.
Miriam Ellis is the co-owner of Solas Web Design and CopyLocal, providing SEO-based website design, Local SEO and professional copywriting for small-to-medium North American businesses. She is the Local SEO Associate in the Q&A Forum at SEOmoz, a moderator at Cre8asite Forums and an annual participant in David Mihm's Local Search Ranking Factors report. When she and her husband are not working on the web, they're farming organically and working on increased sustainability or roaming about in nature having the time of their lives.
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