As of May 28, 2018, it is no longer possible to post anonymous Google reviews. In addition, Google has deleted all previously-posted anonymous reviews.
This change represents a larger shift in the landscape by Google and other review platforms. We’ll discuss how Google’s policies have changed, what this means for you, and how businesses and customers can both benefit from this change.
Anonymous Google Reviews – A Short History
Anonymous Reviews Before 2018
Some of you might remember a time when it was easy to leave a review of any business without leaving any personal information. There was no sign-in or authentication required. On some platforms, you could leave a review with a fake name like “Mickey Mouse” without a problem.
Though it might feel like ancient history, it really wasn’t too long ago. Prior to 2013, Google allowed all users to leave anonymous reviews. This format was problematic. Competitors could hypothetically leave dozens of fake reviews on a rival’s page. Business owners wouldn’t know where these reviews were coming from.
In 2013, Google decided to make the process of leaving anonymous reviews subject to more regulation. This was partially a response to complaints by business owners.
Anonymous reviews were still allowed, but the process of leaving one was harder than before. In order to post anonymous reviews, customers were required to use Google+. Anonymous reviews appeared posted as “A Google User” on Google My Business profiles.
Since the primary account was connected to Google, there was somewhat more accountability than the previous system. Still, business owners would often have no idea if the person who left the review was a real customer.
Last year, anonymous Google reviews officially became a thing of the past. Google now requires reviewers to show a name when leaving feedback.
Are Other Platforms Shifting Away from Anonymous Reviews?
Google isn’t the only review platform that has decided to shift away from anonymous reviews. Almost every review platform is taking steps to ensure that reviews are coming from real customers.
At BirdEye, our review policies have followed a similar trajectory to Google’s. BirdEye profiles, which display local business reviews from all over the Internet, once allowed customers to submit reviews without leaving a name.
In the past year, we’ve launched new features in order to ensure authenticity in our reviews. We now require user authentication with a Google or Facebook login. We’ve also introduced tighter review content relevance requirements and enhanced spam and slander detection algorithms. These are all part of our attempts to make sure that businesses and customers can be sure that every review that they look at is based on a real experience.
It’s not just Google and it’s not just BirdEye. The entire review ecosystem is transitioning away from the anonymous review model. The reason for this change can be summed up in two words: trust economy.
What is the Trust Economy?
Trust Economy Defined
So what do anonymous reviews have to do with the trust economy? First, let’s take a step back and talk about what the trust economy is.
In the trust economy, customers make transactions with businesses and institutions that they feel comfortable dealing with. Maybe you heard good things about a certain restaurant from one of your friends. You check out the restaurant because you trust your friend’s judgment.
Nowadays, review platforms make it easier for customers to trust businesses they haven’t tried before. You’re comfortable getting into a stranger’s car because you can see his reviews on Uber. You try out a new barber shop after seeing high reviews on Google.
The trust economy is not a new concept. It’s as old as business itself. The exchange of goods and services has always required an underlying foundation of trust. Customers have traditionally done their best to avoid businesses with bad reputations.
In the age of online reviews, customers can gauge a business’s reputation more easily than ever. A business’s reputation is now easily accessible for anyone, not just by those lucky enough to hear about previous customer experiences through word-of-mouth.
That’s not all that has changed. Businesses also have direct access to customer opinion. When a customer leaves a negative review, businesses can use this as constructive feedback and improve their overall customer experience. The trust economy allows businesses to turn feedback into action.
Anonymous Reviews and the Trust Economy
In the early days of the review ecosystem, it was easy for anybody to leave a review. Review platforms wanted to make leaving a review easy for anybody, but that came at a cost: the integrity of the system.
Anonymous reviews made the whole review ecosystem harder to trust. Customers could not know if the reviews they were reading reflected real experiences and businesses could not know if the reviews they were reading were from real customers.
For the trust economy to function properly, customers need to be able to trust reviews. Customers will only trust online reviews if it’s clear the reviews are authentic and represent an unbiased view of the business. Trustworthy reviews benefit both businesses and customers, which is why preserving an authentic review ecosystem is important.
When you see reviews that have been left by “A Google User”, it’s harder to trust that review over one with a real name. With anonymous reviews, the foundation of the entire trust economy is eroded.
More importantly, businesses cannot effectively respond to feedback if it’s left from an anonymous reviewer. When a business cannot see the name of a customer, they cannot reach out and make attempts to understand the complaint and solve the problem.
How Else Has the Review Landscape Shifted Towards the Trust Economy?
Ending anonymous Google reviews wasn’t the only policy change that Google made last year. In April 2018, Google officially ended the practice of “review gating”. This is when businesses selectively request reviews from customers who they are sure will leave a positive review.
Just like anonymous reviews, review gating went against the foundations of the trust economy. Review gating could lead to a positive bias towards reviews. If reviews were biased, then customers not trust them.
Because of Google’s new review gating policy, businesses need to make an effort to ask all customers for feedback, not just a select group. It’s now prohibited for businesses to offer incentives, such as discounts, to customers who leave a review. After all, these practices motivate customers to leave positive reviews, not unbiased reviews.
Why You Should Support the Trust Economy
The transition to the trust economy does come with a few setbacks. Yes, it’s a little bit more difficult for customers to leave reviews. Yes, businesses are being forced to change old practices like offering incentives for customers to leave reviews. Some people might be complaining about these changes.
In the big picture, this shift towards the trust economy is a good thing for both consumers and business owners. Research shows that 92% of customers look at reviews before making a purchase decision. Google’s policy changes have allowed these customers to have more trust in these reviews than ever before.
A trustworthy review ecosystem allows businesses to collect real insights from real customers. Now when a business sees a negative review on their Google My Business page, they can reach out to the customer and prevent the same problem from happening again. This would have been a lot harder to do before last year when customers still had the option to leave anonymous reviews.
How Businesses Can Adjust to the Trust Economy
The end of anonymous reviews is just one part of a much larger shift. To win in the trust economy, businesses need to stay on top of feedback and maintain customer trust. Here are a couple of things you can do to stay ahead of the curve.
Send automated review request emails or texts to all your customers.
Since review gating is now prohibited by Google’s policies, you need to ask all of your customers for reviews. With BirdEye’s automated review requests, you can send a text or email to your customers as soon as they have left the building.
Automated review requests allow you to collect genuine, authentic customer reviews. It’s true that you might get a negative review here and there, but don’t panic. Studies show that customers trust businesses with some negative reviews more than businesses with all positive reviews.
Use customer surveys to collect authentic feedback.
In the trust economy, businesses need to collect feedback from their customers to ensure that their business is providing the best customer experience possible. BirdEye allows businesses to do this with automated NPS surveys.
NPS surveys allow you to how customers are ranking your business on a 0-10 scale. Your “promoters” will rank your business as a 9 or 10, while passives rank it as a 7 or 8 and detractors rank it as a 0 to 7. You have the option of directly asking detractors how they think the customer experience can be improved.
BirdEye and the Trust Economy
At BirdEye, we are strong supporters of the trust economy. We are dedicated to preserving an authentic review ecosystem for both businesses and customers.
Using BirdEye, businesses can get authentic reviews from customers and use this feedback to improve customer experience. Customers can be sure that the reviews that help them make purchase decisions reflect genuine experiences. Everybody wins.
More than 50,000 businesses use BirdEye to get ahead in the trust economy. Click here to see how BirdEye can help you get more reviews and improve customer experience.