How NOT To Write a MerchantCircle Review

When I wrote How to Write a MerchantCircle Review, the Merchant Circle Marketing Advisor D. Marcus Keith whom you may know as ADMAXX at Twitter DMed me. He suggested that what my readers really needed was how NOT to write a MerchantCircle review. Since he has far more experience at MerchantCircle I invited him to write this Guest Post.

Merchant Circle

How NOT To Write a MerchantCircle Review

~ Guest Post by D. Marcus Keith ~

Early on in its development, MerchantCircle distinguished itself by being “business owner centric”. Other business review sites such as Yelp and Insider Pages are “consumer-centric.”  The Web 2.0 community has been split on this issue. Sites like Yelp posit that reviews must be real and they actively monitor for abuses – phony positive reviews that smack of disingenuous platitudes.

In fact, on sites like Yelp and Angie’s List, a poorly written (or even well written) POSITIVE review can easily be removed. (We know because we’ve seen positive reviews on those sites that we wrote for clients get tagged, removed, and we received a stiff warning – and we thought we were good at it.)

On the other hand, getting a negative review removed – even when the negative review has all of the earmarks of being phony or possibly written by an unscrupulous competitor – can be next to impossible.

And therein lay the rub: We have seen numerous examples of prominent business owners being smeared unfairly by phony negative reviews. The idea of a business-centric review site like MC giving members more control over review content has some merit. There is no single perfect solution, i.e., one that would maintain full integrity of both positive and negative review content.

While the Web 2.0 bloggers debate the merits of business-centric vs. consumer-centric protocol, there has been some unexpected controversy – specifically on both Yelp and Angie’s List.  These sites that trumpet the pristine nature of their consumer-centric basis have been rocked with allegations of “advertising extortion” and disingenuous review manipulation working both for and against business owners who either opt for or against the advertising purchase proposals floated to them by ad sales reps.

According to Kathleen Richard writing for East Bay Express (Yelp and the Business of Extortion 2.0, February 18, 2009): Local business owners say Yelp offers to hide negative customer reviews of their businesses on its web site for a price. During interviews with dozens of business owners over a span of several months, people told East Bay Express that Yelp sales representatives promised to move or remove negative reviews if their business would advertise.

In other instances, according to the article:

…positive reviews disappeared — or negative ones appeared — after owners declined to advertise on Yelp.

So clearly the consumer-centric model is not all it’s cracked up to be. It can be prone to abuse motivated by both an advertising sales model and sneaky unscrupulous competitors.

So what about MC and its business-centric directory model? It deserves some criticism:

Can the reviews be relied upon if business owners can delete a bad review on sight?

Well perhaps not entirely, but it is certainly no less valid than the flawed current consumer-centric model, and in fact much less prone to the worst kinds of abuse as typified by Yelp and Angie’s.

The MC model is vulnerable to a different sort of abuse, perhaps more benign, wherein members are encouraged to write reviews for fellow business owners – a sort of you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours  environment.  This gives rise to a distinct degradation of quality where members who are not pro copywriters come across often with cheesy-sounding commercial hype typified by this one:

The Glass Guy provides a Mobile Glass Replacement Service for residential and commercial properties including town homes, schools, apartment complexes and private homes, as well as storefronts, office parks and complexes. He has been in business since 1991.

The Glass Guy takes pride in his fast friendly service. He offers very competitive pricing with the highest level of quality. Most service providers must charge for a temporary board-up, and then add a follow up charge for return and installation of the proper glass. The extensive inventory he carries in his mobile shops usually enables him to complete the glass installation on the first service call. He even does shower enclosures!

If you need any kind of window, shower or glass needs, give Ken a call!

The above review was written by a well-intended fellow MC member who has never used the business that was reviewed and comes across like a radio announcer’s advertisement.

Another variety of MC review misuse is this:

CheetahSigns.com is proud to have you connected to us! Thank you very much! If ever you are looking for signs or printed materials, feel free to drop me an email or give me a call! www.CheetahSigns.com

Above we have the fellow business owner who is oblivious that despite the words ‘Write a Review’ he writes a personal thank you and simultaneously plugs his own business instead.

And then we have this – a hybrid of phony positive review combined with a spammy plug:

HAVE PETS? WILL TRAVEL is the best of the best! THEY ACTUALLY REALLY CARE ABOUT THE QUALITY OF THEIR WORK AND SERVICES. Thank you for connecting with CALIFORNIA CUSTOM SOLAR. We wish you all the success you deserve. If you or anyone you know is interested in solar electric please contact us. Let our 20 years of solar experience show you how solar pays. WE WERE GREEN BEFORE GREEN WAS COOL! LET THE SUNSHINE IN 777-777-7777

Above we have a business member who basically posts the same repeated message to MC member reviews, hundreds of times over. Also note the excessive use of all caps.

And finally the worst kind of offender – pure spam in the review section – without mention even of the particular member’s business:

Celebrating Home (Formerly Known as Home and Garden Party and Home Interiors) is a great new party plan with home decor. We have wonderful fundraising opportunities for groups and individuals. I would enjoy working with you. My website is www.xxxxxxx.com., Jeannie Xxx, Now Hiring!

The four examples given are typical of what we consider How NOT to Write an MC Review. To MC’s further credit, the community discussion forum for MC members routinely identifies the abusers of the review process – members policing members in a very positive way. This is a good reflection of MC’s CEO Ben Smith who is a cosummate user – not just developer/promoter – of Social Media and is quite active and accessible via Social Media channels.

So what us the “correct” way to write a legitimate business review? Below are some general guidelines:

ADMAXX

HOW TO WRITE GOOD BUSINESS REVIEWS:

What to include:

  • Be honest and be interesting
  • Focus on what you think your friends would want to know to make a decision about whether to use this business
  • Reviews should be as specific and detailed as possible
  • Reviews must be based on firsthand experience
  • Use descriptive words; be clear and concise; avoid writing in all caps

What not to include:

  • Offensive language
  • References to illegal activity
  • Personal information, such as phone numbers, addresses, etc.
  • Messages that are clearly advertisements or commercial in nature

The most important thing about writing reviews is to tell the truth about your experience with that business. Never write a business review based on the secondhand experience of someone else.

Here’s an example of a good review (that could be positive or negative):

    Amazing school, Professional instructors, and Great environment to learn!  I’m currently a student at this school and was referred by a close friend of mine. I was always interested in learning a type of “Martial Arts” and after looking at many types I never have once regretted my choice. It is a great learning experience for people of all ages whether it is for exercise, self defense, stress relief, or something just to take your mind off the day. Class times are extremely flexible and work around all types of schedules. If at all interested in martial arts, try it out and I’m sure you’ll be hooked like me

And what if you are on the receiving end of a bad review?  Lynnea Bylund addressed that in a recent blog post How to Handle Negative Reviews of Your Business.

—————-

D. Marcus Keith oversees interactive content and marketing strategy for the Catalyst House group of companies and heads up its ADMAX Local Search and MerchantCircle Advisor unit.

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Gail Gardner

Small Business Marketing Strategist at GrowMap
Creator and owner of GrowMap.com, Gail is primarily known for mentoring small businesses and encouraging bloggers to join collaborations to share skills and support small business.

Comments

  1. VetsWife says:

    I read a lot about those that write fake reviews but what about those that write legit ones? If a business does poor practices or does not deliver the services they say then it should be allowed to write about them just the same as good reviews can! I have emails and receipts to prove my reviews but I am not sure why reviews from merchant circle are disappearing or not showing up and if it is because the business person can remove any reviews they want then that should be stated at that business advertisement!! It should not show someone can write a review if reviews are being removed as that in my opinion gives the wrong impression to the web site visitor that there isn’t any negative reviews on the business or they would be showing!!

    • Unfortunately, many review sites allow businesses to pay to remove bad reviews so they can make money. Some remove the good reviews to get the businesses to pay to have the bad ones removed. Both are bad practices that these types of sites should be avoiding.

  2. iPhone App Development says:

    According to me positive reviews are like the apple of the eye for a business. In your online success this plays a very important role. This increases your website reliability. Still many of us want the review of a site and then proceed for further dealing. Reviews are made by offering good product/services to your customers and clients not by pressuring them to write.

  3. We all need reviews to help grow our presence on the internet but it can be a touchy subject if you get a bad review or well written review that Yelp removes. I did find Merchant Circle and I am still figuring all of it out but so far have had a good experience. I will have to read the other articles about Merchant Circle to see if there are any tricks I missed. I did try out a blog but it seems Merchant Circle removes my keyword linking and I found that a little bit annoying. But I am still trying to figure it all out. Great post and informative. I even learned a few things about Yelp.
    App Developers would love you to read ..5 Stars: Great iPhone Developers (by Corey T.)My Profile

  4. It was just announced that MerchantCircle has been acquired by Reply Media for a modest (by today’s standards) price of $60 million >>
    http://bit.ly/m5V78A
    marcus would love you to read ..Cash vs Accrual Accounting Pros &amp ConsMy Profile

  5. Dealing with this company has been a nightmare. My personal telephone number and old address was listed for a company that has a very similar name as mine and a negative review (I should say it was more malicious than anything) was left, intended for a different company. I faxed over Merchant Circle’s listing removal form and two months later, nothing was done. I spend hours trying to talk to someone on their live chat who said they removed the listing, however, they didn’t remove them all. The listing is still be indexed by Google showing in the search engine results a portion of the very negative comments. Back and forth, round and round we go. Merchant Circle says to contact Google, Google says to contact Merchant Circle. The only way Google will remove a cached URL is if the page returns a 404. Merchant Circle refused to do this and the page shows as being live. Why bother removing anything if you’re not going to remove the entire page! I will be indexed by Google for years to come unless This company does something. Every email I’ve sent them I receive an auto response that does not address my email. Every live person I’ve chatted with has rudely disconnected me. Every fax I’ve sent mysteriously never gets there. I am convinced that Merchant Circle is systematically and methodically forcing people to pay their $35 fee for the privileged of speaking with a live person on the telephone. Who ever heard of such a thing? A company can keep your reputation hostage and there is NO CUSTOMER SERVICE number and they make it very clear that emails may take weeks to be responded to if you are not a “member”. This is the worst company I have ever had the misfortune of dealing with. If I could give them a zero star rating I would. I am contacting an attorney and filing as many complaints against them as I possibly can.

  6. its true how valuable reviews are – something everone should check up on before commiting to anything

  7. Sofia Nebress says:

    The Merchant Circle review can be very useful to summarize and give conclusion into something. However, there are some who often makes mistakes in doing this.

  8. Merchant circle is a very good idea. I’ve submitted my listing last week.
    I’m surprised it’s not yet mainstream for businesses.
    .-= Jim@spray foam insulation´s last undefined ..If you register your site for free at =-.

  9. Gene,
    That’s how its always been. Fake reviews are free ways of advertising and building online credibility.

  10. Majority of reviews online are fake. Some business owners write them better, so worse.

  11. Just in – Yelp Hit with suits for ‘Extortion’: — Why are we NOT surprised?
    .-= Marcus | ADMAX@Local Search´s last blog ..Blog entry: Small Business Marketing | Create Effective Online Coupons =-.

  12. And who says you can’t teach an OLD DOG new tricks! :)

  13. Who said you can’t learn something new everyday.

  14. Here is a suit similar to the one that Nelson describes above and it makes for interesting reading, underscoring ADMAX’s belief that 99.9% of MC complaints asserted by FREE members is born of ignorance and confusion.

    Goodridge vs MerchantCircle – http://bit.ly/iMiGo

    • Just ridiculous and underscores the incredible ignorance and confusion some merchants have around consumer review sites in general and MC is particular. Here is the latest rant of Mrs. Goodridge (see lawsuit link above) posted today at Matt McGee’s blog >>
      ————
      By marge goodridge on Feb 7, 2010 | Reply
      ————
      Just an update for everyone who hates Merchant Circle. So far we have spent $25,000 sueing Merchant Circle, but we WILL NOT GIVE UP. They may have more money than us, but we will sell everything we own to get justice and to stop them from destroying anyone else’s life by allowing negative postings to be used on their site without ever checking or verifying that the information is true. If you have any info that we could use, please contact us.
      .-= Marcus | ADMAX´s last blog ..Blog entry: The Best Social media Expert Blogs on the Internet =-.

  15. Bob Nelson says:

    We are in the process of filing a law suit against Merchant Circle for allowing defamatory posting which are nothing less than internet terrorism. They have now set up a “900? number that you can call customer service and then pay for the call per minute and $40.00 to remove postings. If someone is determined to damage your business they just go back immediately and repost the malicious information again. You now have to repeat the process to remove the information once again. It is extortion and can be incredible damaging to any company if someone posing as a representative from your company sets your company up on the website without any authorization and then begins posting false and harmful postings. We have a high turnover in our company and any disgruntled employee can go directly to a site like this and begin working on undermining you r companies web presence with on accountability and complete anonymity. If there are any other businesses that have had these problems I would consider creating a class action lawsuit because we are filing suit as an individual company.

    • Bob Nelson’s assertion above is a classic example of the confusion (and dare we say ignorance) that exists around MerchantCircle. Obviously NONE of the steps (or costs) that Mr. Nelson describes are necessary when a business owner CLAIMS his FREE listing.

      Further, there are 100s of directories that all obtain their initial business data from yellowpage databases. It boils down to the question: Who owns your business listing data? Apparently, we as business owners do not “own” our listing data… but we can take control of it.

      The main point is that businesses MUST take control of their listing data in this post-yellowpages era. Taking control of the data and listings is the ONLY INTELLIGENT move (Bob Nelson’s approach and insufficient understanding notwithstanding).

      And businesses CAN readily take control of their business listing data across 100+ directories, both with and without MerchantCircle’s help. (We have the tools, we have the technology). MerchantCircle’s price for standardizing the data across 100+ directories is $99/year and its all automated directly from the member’s dashboard.
      .-= Marcus@ADMAX Local Search Marketing´s last blog ..MerchantCircle Marketing Advisor: AD|MAX.MERCHANT MEDIA LLC BLOG =-.

  16. People who are looking to conduct their business unethically will always abuse a system like that. It still is preferable to rate other businesses on something like Merchant Circle if you have actually used and enjoyed their services.

  17. For those following this How NOT to blog post and comment thread, the comment immediately above ‘fire department’ is an SEO link spammer who likely has no interest and is just saying a sincere sounding comment so as to provide cover for his laying down a backlink for ‘SEO-juice’ purposes. MerchantCircle members’ blogs experience this type of abuse frequently. dmk
    .-= Marcus@ADMAX Local Search´s last blog ..MerchantCircle Marketing Advisor: AD|MAX.MERCHANT MEDIA LLC Promotions =-.

    • Hi Marcus,

      That comment you mention is gone. I do delete spammers and report them too so their next comments won’t get through in other blogs. I sincerely wish they would get a life and do something ethical and constructive. Unfortunately, in many cases they sell their services to unsuspecting businesses that don’t know any better.

  18. I’ve been really proactive about rating other businesses on Merchant Circle, but ONLY ones that I’ve actually used and whom I know personally. Nothing wrong with scratching each others’ backs when both sides are running high-quality service or retail businesses.

    Whenever I see phony reviews being done, I will “Flag” them (report to Yelp, MC, whatever).

    • Hi Matt,

      If only there were more people like you: willing to make the time to write reviews. You may want to expand your reviewing of businesses in your niche and geography to MC, Google Maps and Yahoo Local.

      Even though we know about MC and Yelp many more will be reading reviews at Yahoo and especially Google.
      .-= Internet Strategist @GrowMap´s last blog ..How to Add Your Business to Merchant Circle =-.

  19. Overall, I think this is useful information for anyone submitting reviews of services they’ve used, however, I must disagree with you on a few erroneous points you make about Angie’s List.

    First, you claim that reviews are “easily removed” from Angie’s List. There are only three reasons we would ever remove any report, positive or negative.
    1. We find out the report was fraudulently posted.
    2. The member who posted the report chooses to remove it.
    3. The report was a successful part of our Complaint Resolution Process.
    For a more elaborate explanation, please visit http://www.angieslist.com/AngiesList/Visitor/Faq.aspx#removereports

    All our reviews are checked prior to being posted. There are NO anonymous reviews allowed on AngiesList.com, which prevents companies from self-reporting or stacking the deck for themselves or against competition. No member may report on the same company more than once every six months for the same reasons.

    We are constantly making improvements to our system to ensure reviews are honest, accurate reflections of the companies on the List. We are audited yearly by a respected auditing firm, BPA Worldwide, to ensure that nobody–not even advertisers–receives preferential treatment.

    Which leads me to my second point: You assert that Angie’s List has been a part of the “advertising extortion” and manipulation controversy.

    Angie’s List strives for complete transparency in our advertising practices. We have information available online, in our print publications and through our call center.

    We allow companies that average an A or B rating to advertise in the form of a discount to our members.

    Only companies that maintain an A or B rating are offered this privilege, and any time their rating falls below a B, the offer and their advertisement are immediately revoked. Companies are not obligated to advertise, nor does their decision to advertise affect their Angie’s List rating.

    Angie’s List members are free to sort their search results as they prefer. There are currently 20+ different ways to sort results, and only one returns results with discount offers on top. If that option is not selected, companies offering discounts will be mixed in with the rest of the results.

    Also, even if the “Return Results with Coupons First” option is selected, the companies offering discounts are randomly shuffled.

    This search option, nor any other search option, does not change the grades the company has earned, and companies cannot pay to show up at the top of the List for every search under any setting.

    We wholeheartedly agree that reviews should be honest, specific, detailed accounts of the writer’s firsthand experiences, which is why we’ve invested so heavily in ensuring reviews on Angie’s List meet those criteria.

    • Welcome Angie and thank you for taking the time to share more information about Angie’s List. Because we have chosen to focus on free Local Search directories and yours is a membership site I am not familiar with what you offer. Your comment here will increase awareness and bring you more potential users.

      Mr. Keith obviously does have experience using your site and may have more to add when he sees your comment. Because reviews can affect earnings disputes are bound to arise. A bad review can definitely hurt a business while good ones help them grow.

      You may be interested in reading and commenting on The Importance of Online Reviews – How the Public Finds Trustworthy Businesses.
      .-= Internet Strategist @GrowMap´s last blog ..How to Write a Review at Merchant Circle =-.

    • Hi Cass – Many or most of the consumer review sites on both sides of the consumer vs business-centric debate have gotten complaints from both consumers and business owners, and neither Angie’s nor MC is an exception.

      We will confess that, like GrowMap, we do not have hands on experience with Angie’s due to your unique consumer fee membership barrier – thus I was unaware of the moderated nature of your reviews. Therefore I may have been unfair to tar Angie’s with the Yelp brush.

      The above said, I have scoured the Web previously to assess the nature of the complaints levied at Angie’s and they sound very similar to the complaints aimed at Yelp.

      MC also has complaints stemming from its use, years back, of telephonic voice broadcasting to drive its membership growth.

      As we’ve reported, there is no perfect model, but we all can be alert, on both sides of the isle, for phony good and bad reviews and pray that the reviews are not manipulated in order to sell more SMB advertising to embattled business owners struggling in the current economy.

      Thank you for your detailed response. dmk

  20. Nice tips for everyone who would like to star posting some reviews of latest products. I think everyone should read an article like that to avoid very common mistakes.

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