Are those business review sites all they claim to be?

I have been hounded by a national consumer review organization to advertise on a site that is claimed to be driven by consumer reviews.  But are these consumer review sites really all they are made out to be?[tab: The Problem With Review Sites]

It is an unfortunate part of business these days that business review WEB sites, social media sites, and a myriad of other sites are thrust upon consumers in an attempt for these site owners to make money.  Of note are the myriad of WEB sites that offer consumers the opportunity to provide reviews for businesses they have used.  Unfortunately as a business I have to pay attention to these sites because consumers are more often using them to select a business to provide their service or product.  By ignoring these various WEB sites I only place myself at a serious disadvantage to gaining clients and drawing them away from  businesses that are less than ethical and honest.  In other words if I don’t participate in these various sites many potential clients won’t even know I exist.  But are these review sites really all they are cracked up to be?

Before I continue though I want you to take a moment and read this short and very recent article from the Austin Statesman which is an Austin, TX based news venue.  It discusses this issue based on one review site that has apparently been running a sting operation to catch some of the deceptive businesses soliciting fake reviews.  The article can be accessed HERE.

I have reviews at major review sites and for the past year one in particular has been hounding me to buy advertisement both on the WEB site and through other means, all of which I find distasteful and potentially deceitful to consumers.  I won’t mention their name here as I obviously don’t care to get involved in any slander lawsuit.  What I will do is relate my very recent experience with them and some words of caution.  For the purposes here I will call them “X” to differentiate them from any other one I might mention.

For the past year at least, and maybe more, “X” has been sending me snail mail, email, and calling me on the phone trying to get me to purchase advertising on their site.  A few weeks ago I reached my limit with the bothersome solicitations and had a long, one hour conversation with their salesman.  I have reviews on this site by very happy and real clients who have been kind enough to submit reviews.  As a result my business was flagged as a potential sucker for advertising on the site and “X” repeatedly called me.  According to “X” I am the type of business they want to feature to their viewers and “X” can give me preferential placement in the listings.  In other words when consumers search for my services “X” will place me on the first page of their review listings and those that don’t pay “X” for advertising fall well behind.  Depending on the advertising package I buy when a consumer calls “X” for highly rated service providers then “X” will also push my name to them as one of only a few businesses.  If I don’t buy advertising from “X” I was told I will be missing out on the opportunity to get my company name up front and visible to consumers instead of possibly on page 10 of the list of businesses now in their system.  In other words “Pay “X” or your screwed!” (pardon the term but it is to the point).

In my business it is a fact that many consumers don’t allow themselves sufficient time to look for a Home Inspector.  Often it is an afterthought only after they have made an offer on the home they are buying.  Many times the consumer is in a hurry to find a Home Inspector or risk loosing their valuable option period time trying to find the right one they feel comfortable hiring.  “X” is aware of the general consumer actions and the “last minute” nature of consumer research and choices.  When “X” places their paid advertising businesses on the first page of their listings they are aware that a rushed consumer is going to move down that first page and pick the first Home Inspector they can find.  That means as a business if I don’t pay to be on that first page that “X” pushes in front of consumers then I lose out on many, many potential clients.  Even “X” alluded to this in our one hour conversation.

X makes their money from many different aspects of their business.  However the paid advertising is a real Cash Cow for them!  Unfortunately when money is involved ethics and honesty have a tendency to go out the window.  And you also have to add into the factor that when the “X” salesman calls they are most likely working off a small salary and big commission so the “X” salesman is going to tell you anything they think they can that will excite you enough to buy into their game.  During that one hour conversation I pointed out what I knew for years and the Austin Statesman wrote in their article.  That is you can’t always trust what these review sites say.  During that conversation with “X” I laid out the reasons why I would never advertise with them until these points were handled.  I also explained to “X” how their system can be gamed easily and that I have even been told by businesses they do game their system.

  1. “X” claims, even on their WEB site, that they closely monitor businesses to make sure they are not reporting on themselves.  Unfortunately unless the business tries to rate themselves, using a login that clearly identifies themselves, then that is near impossible to.  If I want reviews on this site all I need to do is ask family and friends to submit a review I give them.  Even if “X” calls them to verify I did provide services that is all they do.  They don’t ask the rater to provide any proof that a service was performed.  They don’t really follow-up after the initial call, if they even make it, to see if the person’s story changes or if they display no memory of the service to try catching this form of false review.
  2. On the list of businesses “X” has there are many Home Inspectors listed that either do not and never had a required professional license, or their licenses have expired long ago.  “X” does nothing to verify that a service provider’s license is currently valid other than possibly checking for it, if at all, when that business first lists themselves or a consumer rates them.  Even then I have to wonder if they do that because the way some businesses are listed they would never find the exact business in any license list online!  There are no links on “X”‘s WEB site to point you to the various State licensing agencies for Home Inspectors.  What is there are “X”‘s disclaimers that making sure the person is properly licensed is your responsibility.  As a matter of fact you should closely read all of any of these WEB sites disclaimers as they completely absolve themselves from any wrongdoing by a business they list.  So if “X” is so great of a listing then why don’t they help protect the consumers with even something as simple as links to licensing agencies WEB sites?
  3. I know of various businesses that openly violate State licensing laws and yet they are paid for advertisers on “X”‘s WEB site.  For these cases “X” will do nothing unless the business loses any professional or other licenses and a consumer reports them to “X”.  “X” will do nothing if another business reports to “X” that the person is violating State laws even if you can provide “X” documented proof.  Unfortunately, as in the Home Inspection license agency here in Texas, many licensing agencies take an extremely and unnecessarily long time to review any consumer complaints and take action on them.  Many complaints languish in review and some even a year or two before any action is taken.  At that point how many consumers have already been taken advantage of when they found that Home Inspector’s listing on “X”‘s WEB site?  There are also businesses that openly violate State licensing laws and the State licensing agency will do nothing unless a consumer complains about it.  For “X” it is a matter of dollars and cents.  If you actually do the right thing and dump these paid for advertisers then you lose the almighty dollar and loss of any revenue can’t be tolerated.  Instead “X” falls back on their disclaimers stating that consumers need to perform their own due diligence in checking out any business they list.
  4. The “X” site also pushes reviewers to put in the review what the service cost was when they used the business.  “X” does nothing to verify that cost or more importantly the quality, depth, and other factors of the service provided.  Unfortunately consumers are in large part driven by the best deal they think they can get.  What many consumers of Home Inspections are not aware of is the quality and depth of services varies greatly from one Home Inspector to another.  The vast majority of my competitors are what I call “Drive By Inspectors” who will be in and out of any house in a flash, and most likely miss many, many problems in the process.  These Home Inspectors charge what they are worth which is very little compared to my fees.  But I loose many potential calls because of this price listing on ‘s site.  In effect what “X” is doing is to help promte the cheap “Drive By Inspectors” or other businesses that reduce quality just so they can reduce price.
  5. “X” also pushes its businesses that advertise to offer discount coupons for their services.  I won’t get deep into this other than to say YOU ARE NOT GETTING ANY DISCOUNT! It is a typical ploy to up the service price by the discount amount.  If someone asks for the discount then you give it to them.  If they don’t ask for the discount and pay your inflated price then you make more money.  If while talking to a prospective client and it sounds like they will lose your business then they will offer you the discount in hopes of getting the job.  It all adds up to the same deceptive practice that “X” is supporting through their practices of pushing paid advertisers to offer discounts.
  6. I asked “X” what their advertising rates were and the “X” salesman balked and came up with lots of BS about it depends on your market, it depends on this, your shoe size, your underwear size, etc., etc., etc.  In other words their advertising rates depend on how desperate you sound on the phone and how gullible you are to advertise with “X”.  I was able to get the “X” salesman to give a very generalized figure for the lowest end advertising rate without a lot of bells, whistles, etc.  OMG!  I was extremely surprised at their rates for something as simple as taking my information they already have and putting it into a program that automatically forces my listing in front of your face when you read the reviews.  You have to remember part of what your Home Inspection fee is going for are business expenses of which advertising is one of those expenses.  So when you pay for a home inspection that uses a lot of paid for advertising you’re actually paying for that.  Neat huh?  These paid for advertisers screw you and get you to pay for it too!

There were other issues I discussed with the “X” salesman.  But like any other sales person it is his job to sell and they will only present the idealistic view to you.  After all even if they know of the problems, which I fully suspect they do, then presenting your advertising in a negative light doesn’t help them sell.  So why don’t I join the other businesses and advertise to you?  What can you do to prevent from getting scammed by paid for advertising?  Read on!

[tab: What You Need To Do]

So why am I so stupid that I don’t take advantage of this?  After all isn’t that what business is all about, getting the client and making the dollar?  If my business is so great for the consumers to use then why aren’t I jumping on the bandwagon to get my name on that first page and take business away from others who I feel might not be as good, ethical, and honest?  By the way these were some of the basic concepts that the “X” salesman was trying to goad me with as well.  Sales people will never quit and really don’t like dealing with people like me.

The answer to those questions is plain and simple.  I run an ethical and legal business.  I have made it a point all of my life to act and operate this way regardless of working for another business, my own business, or any personal dealings.  I want to get up in the morning and be able to look at myself in the mirror and sleep well at night.  I have a strong conscience and never learned how to act less than ethical and honest!  Maybe some of these review sites are legitimate, or started as a legitimate operation, but many, most(?), all (?), have fallen by the wayside when money becomes the prime factor.

So what do you need to do to make sure you are not scammed by these review sites?  It is a very simple answer but puts you back where you were before.  Take any review site with a grain of salt and perform your full due diligence as if you never saw these review sites.  Never place more than a very, very small percentage of your trust in them.  What they are good for, and I frequently tell people this, is use them to find out which businesses you don’t want to use.  All businesses can’t be everything to everybody and occasionally even the best of businesses will get a bad review when they are not able to satisfy a client.  However if all that is on the site are loads of bad reviews would you really want to take a chance on that business?

Another thing to consider are the businesses that feel a need to pay for advertising to get their names up to the front of the review list.  Be very careful about those businesses as you might well pass up an extremely superior business that chose not to “Pay To Play” and get your attention on page 1.  Make up your selection criteria question list and stick to it.  As you’re calling down that list cross off those “Pay To Play” businesses if they don’t meet your criteria or sound like sharks on the phone!  Go to page 2 or whatever page you wind up on to find the right business.

Just because a business has 40 or 50 reviews on them don’t automatically expect they are the best thing since sliced bread.  A much smaller company might not have the exposure they do and as such does not have the opportunity for many more reviews.  Many of those 50 review companies tend to have multiple employees so look to see who it was that is garnering the good reviews for them.  If you are going to use that company and have to have the persons getting the reviews then demand that when you book your work with them.  If the others in the company are not as good as this person then that only helps the business gauge who they keep and who they send down the road looking for employment elsewhere.

If you find a business with glowing reviews all over one site, and you want to use them, then use the internet search engines to search them out.  See what other review sites are saying about them and what else anyone is saying about them on various other non-review sites.  If the BBB gives them a bad rating and other review sites are listing bad reviews then isn’t that odd on one review site all they have are glowing reviews?  These review sites are easily manipulated and a very cheap investment to do if the business is getting a high return from customer referrals from the site.  But unless the business is large they can’t afford to manipulate every review site or other sites where their name shows up.

So use caution when you encounter these supposed “better than sliced bread” review sites!  Always perform your other due diligence to make sure you don’t fall into a bad situation.

[tab: Links and References]

PS Inspection & Property Services LLC is a full service home inspection and light commercial inspection company servicing the entire Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex.  We strive to for the satisfaction of our customers in everything we do.  Our services offerings include:

Buyer home inspections
New Home Warranty Inspections
New Home Draw Inspections
Home Maintenance Inspections
Home Remodeling Inspections
Investor Inspections
Rental And Renter Inspections
Infrared Thermal Imaging Inspections
Energy Audit Inspections
Whole Inspections Or Inspections Customized To Your Needs

If you have an inspection need we can customize an inspection for it.  Please visit our main site at PS Inspection & Property Service LLC.

 

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