The best way to get more 5-star reviews is to ask customers most likely to give a positive review. But is this common, ethical and/or legal?

It’s clearly not a good idea to buy fake 5-star reviews. Or to pay customers or employees to leave real 5-star reviews. But is there anything wrong with encouraging your happiest customers to leave a review?

The “Letter of the Law”

The rules are clearly defined by the FTC, Google, Yelp, and others. It is generally prohibited to “selectively solicit positive reviews from customers” (as articulated by Google). Yelp is even more restrictive: “Don’t ask anyone to review your business.”

From that perspective, the answer is very clear.

Is It a Common Practice?

Of course, every business does this — consciously or not. There is no better technique for boosting a business’s online ratings.

Per BrightLocal, consumers are frequently offered incentives to leave a review, including discounts (45%), gifts (33%), prizes (25%), reward points (24%), and — most surprisingly — cash (23%). Due to the power of reciprocity, these reviews will have a positive bias.

Even asking loyalty program members for reviews (with no incentive) is a technical violation for Google, as that audience has a positive bias just by the nature of being a member.

Ultimately, you need to decide where to draw the line between purely organic reviews and providing incentives for 5-star reviews.

Gathering Both Feedback and 5-Star Reviews

As mentioned in the guide for handling bad reviews, the most successful businesses actively solicit honest feedback and take action to continuously improve. But they don’t want this feedback shared publicly — both for competitive reasons and to avoid negatively affecting their online rating.

One effective technique is to ask customers to provide a review directly to you via email, an online form, or your website. This allows you to privately collect a lot of excellent feedback — both good and bad. You can even start a dialogue with the customer to gather more information or to ask whether they like the changes you made in response to their earlier feedback. Nothing improves customer loyalty better than personal engagement with the business.

You can also use this as a screening technique to get more public 5-star reviews. If they privately give you a 5-star review, ask them (and only them) to leave a review on Google, Yelp, Facebook or wherever you need to boost your rating. Make sure to give them a link to make it super simple for them. Not all will leave a 5-star review publicly, but many of them will.

With this approach, you’ll get excellent, actionable feedback and more 5-star reviews.

Next Steps

Gathering private feedback is an important activity for any business — as long as you take action on it. It’s your choice whether to take it a step further to get more public 5-star reviews.

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