BrightLocal Survey Finds Businesses Still Offering Incentives for Reviews
Nearly half of consumers have been offered incentives in exchange for leaving a business review, despite widespread efforts throughout the online review industry to cut down on the practice. According to BrightLocal’s Local Consumer Review Survey, the practice of offering discounts or cash in exchange for online reviews is on the rise.
“There are a lot of conflicting recommendations out there around encouraging reviews from customers, so it’s perhaps not too surprising that some methods more likely to be perceived as harmless — like prize draws and competitions — are still being offered. What did shock me, though, was the percentage of consumers still being offered discounts, free products or services, and even cash,” said BrightLocal’s Sammy Paget, who authored the Local Consumer Review Survey.
The percentage of consumers recalling cash incentives grew from 6% in 2021 to 12% in 2022, indicating a clear and pervasive issue for platforms staking their name on authenticity.
As two of the biggest players in the online review space, Yelp and Google both have strict policies against solicitation. If Yelp finds indicators that a business is systematically asking for reviews, the company will apply a search ranking penalty to the business’ Yelp pages.
Google’s policies are less stringent. While companies can ask customers to submit reviews, Google’s review guidelines forbid “soliciting reviews from customers in bulk.”
The presence of fake reviews could further dismantle consumer trust in platforms like Facebook and Amazon as well.
“Something has gone wrong somewhere along the line,” Paget says.
According to BrightLocal, 87% of consumers used Google to evaluate local businesses in 2022, making it the most trusted review platform across all industries surveyed.
Yelp, which reigned supreme as the most influential review platform for more than a decade, appears to have lost some of its foothold. According to BrightLocal, consumers’ use of Yelp to evaluate local businesses has decreased from 53% in 2021 to 48% in 2022.
“What we’ve seen over time is that more and more consumers are looking at business reviews online,” Paget says. “Just 2% of U.S. consumers said they didn’t read online reviews in 2022, compared to 29% saying they didn’t read them in 2010.”
Despite more people reading online reviews, BrightLocal also found more skepticism around trustworthiness. Forty-two percent of consumers say they’re confident they saw fake reviews on Facebook in 2022, compared to 37% in 2021.
“In the last few years, we’ve seen a rise in coverage around fake reviews, with Amazon notably at the forefront,” Paget says. “Not to mention the years between 2017 [and] 2018 where you couldn’t turn in any direction, without someone touting ‘fake news’.”
TikTok for Local Discovery
Among the more surprising results discovered in BrightLocal’s survey involves consumers’ use of visual social platforms for local discovery, like YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok. Twenty-percent of consumers said they’re now using TikTok for local business discovery, while 35% say they use YouTube and 32% use Instagram.
“Upon first glance, 20% didn’t seem like a significant figure, but considering the consumer panel was made up of adults over the age of 18, that’s when I realized how big that is. Anecdotally, I’ve heard things about how Gen Z refers to searching for content by saying things like ‘I’ll TikTok it’—instead of many of us ‘Googling’ something, so it’s really interesting to see how that behavior is influencing other generations, Paget says.
Based on the types of reviews consumers are writing, and the details that make them feel confident in choosing businesses, Paget says there is a clear theme around positive experiences. Sixty-nine percent of consumers feel positive about using a business with reviews describing positive experiences, and a high star rating would make 58% of people feel positive about choosing a local business.
“It might seem obvious that most consumers see online reviews describing a good experience as a positive indicator, but it emphasizes the point that consumers are paying attention to the written content of the review itself,” Paget says. “Seventy-four of people did not indicate a lengthy or detailed review as important in their decision-making. This shows that the way consumers engage with review content in 2023 has shifted.”