I was looking at some local searches, and came across a results page that looks odd. Searching dentist minneapolis mn brings up this page on Google:
Updated: There’s a pretty extensive discussion taking place in the comments – don’t forget to check it out.
Also: Google updated Places pages on 7/21, diminishing DemandForce’s influence. Read my article about it here.
If you can read the local business results section, you might see what surprised me. 7 results. 5 of them have less than 10 reviews. 2 of them have more than 100 reviews. Wow.
Also, one of the results is way out in the suburbs – and guess what? It’s one of those with a huge number of results.
I’m not the first to notice this – after looking in Google, I see DemandForce has been discussed elsewhere. But keep reading, there’s a bit of a twist.
So Many Reviews!
When you start looking at those results with lots of reviews, it’s easy to see how they’re appearing. The vast majority of their reviews come to Google through DemandForce.com. It’s a service that helps with customer communication, and they have a solution specifically designed for dentists. Overall it sounds useful, allowing for online appointment scheduling, reminders, and the like. The part that interests us is that they also solicit reviews from customers at the end of the process. These reviews are then picked up by Google (a fact advertised on the front page of their website).
So now we know what’s going on. I searched a variety of cities, and when you look for dentists in almost any major metro, the same pattern occurs – several dentists with a small number of reviews, and then a few with 100+, courtesy of DemandForce.
An Advantage… or a Liability?
The DemandForce review policy clearly states that they request reviews from every customer, and that all of these are made public, unless they violate a specific set of guidelines. Business owners are allowed to respond to the reviews, but generally cannot remove them (I tend to believe this is true… as we’ll see, DemandForce certainly does not want to lose its “in” with Google, and consistent application of this rule is probably part of the deal).
Further down in the review policy, it is stated that reviews will be made public by DemandForce as long as clients stay customers. If they leave, the reviews will be removed, unless mutual agreement to keep the reviews up is reached. Bummer for the dentist! Let’s say that five years from now, Dr. Dentist has 500 reviews. This still greatly outmatches his competitors, some of which have got their game together and have a couple hundred reviews on non-DemandForce sites. Now our subject decides to leave the service… but if DemandForce decides, a click of the mouse and the reviews are gone, leaving him far behind the other dentists in town.
What Do You Think?
Savvy businesses realize that large numbers of reviews encourage potential customers to consider their services. At the same time, most local search experts suggest that high review volume can increase your rankings in the search results. So it’s easy to see that reviews showing up on Google are valuable.
DemandForce is dramatically increasing these valuable review numbers. This provides its clients with an advantage. It is, however, something businesses could replicate on their own, to some extent, if they effectively follow up with every customer and request a review on one of the public sites. Also, the potential for reviews to serve as a lock-in to a particular service is a bit disturbing.
Is it fair that Google includes these reviews? Even if it is unfair, is relying on these reviews in the business owner’s best interest? I’d love to hear your opinion.