Should Financial Advisors Register With Google Places? And Do Google Ratings And Reviews Break Rules Prohibiting RIA Testimonials?

Friday, May 27, 2011 08:44
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Should Financial Advisors Register With Google Places? And Do Google Ratings And Reviews Break Rules Prohibiting RIA Testimonials?

Tags: compliance | google | marketing | registered investment advisors | Search Engines

You bet financial advisors should register at Google Places! But beware of the risks.

 

This Website Is For Financial Professionals Only


 

If you register for Google Places, it helps validate that you’re a real business.


Registering makes it more likely you will get found on the Web. Specifically, registering at Google Places makes it possible for you to appear in Google Maps.
 

 
If you search the Web for financial advisors in your town using Google’s search engine, the results will be a page like the one above, which shows the results for a search of “Brookfield Wisconsin financial advisors.”
 
The search results displayed in the yellow box are paid ads. But below the pay-per-click ads are the “natural” search results. Notice that next to the name of each firm and link to their webiste is a link to the firmn's “Place page.”
 
If you register your firm at Google Places, the information you input will be displayed on your Place page. When someone searches Google for a place or searches using Google Maps, your Place listing could be displayed.
 
If you do not register for a listing on Google Places, you’re not in the game. You won’t show up in Google Maps search results.
 
Does that mean you should register? Yes. But there is one important caveat.
 
A financial advisor who registers for a Google Places listing becomes eligible to be rated and reviewed and you don’t control that area of Google Places in search results.
 

 

 

You don’t control the reviews and ratings about you, and you don't control the names of other firms in your local area that will be displayed as “related places.”

 

In addition, you could get a bad review. In fact, one “black hat” search engine optimization technique (SEO) is to hire someone to post good reviews about you and write negative reviews about your competition. Needless to say, this is incredibly unethical, causes bad karma, and could expose you to legal actions and other very negative consequences, the least of which is being blacklisted by Google. (Beware of unethical search vendors, as reported recently in The Haggler, a great column by David Segal in The New York Times.)

 

Anyone in business for a few years is likely to have some disagreements with clients. While the old adage that “the client is always right” is a good credo to run your business by, clients can be unreasonable. Sometimes anything you do to fix a problem with a client is not enough, and these unhappy clients could post a negative review on your Google Place page.  

 

However, consumers know that sometimes in business you will have a negative review. So having some small percentage of negative reviews is not  a disaster. But you do want to have as many positive reviews as possible.

 

Telling clients that you have had good relationships with that you are listed on Google for them to review and rate your firm is not a bad idea. However, it does raise some compliance questions.

 

Keep in mind that listing your firm in Google Maps is advertising. The compliance issues surrounding Google Places listing have not even beguin to be addressed by regulators because it is a new emerging area, but the compliance risk posed by creating a Google Places listing seems low at this point.

 

Thousands of RIAs already have Google Places listings, and neither the Securities and Exchange Commission nor state regulators have filed any disciplinary actions against RIAs with Google Places listings. That’s no guarantee that they won’t but it is a good indication that getting reviewed on Google does not constitute a testimonial. So the compliance risk posed by having a Google Places listing would seem to be pretty low.

 

While I would love to hear from any compliance consultants on this issue, having a Google Places page would not seem to be a violation of rules prohibiting RIAs from using client testimonials in their advertising.

 

Since you do not control the reviews and rating, it is not advertising. An RIA who creates a Google Places page does not control what is posted and I don’t believe it could be judged as advertising.

 

 

 

Comments (6)

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bramsay
Our take on online testimonials is that if we control a site that has comments from our clients, then we have to police it and remove any comments that are complimentary about us.

If we don't control it, I can't see how that could be construed as a testimonial. However, asking clients to post reviews seems like it could at least be violating the spirit of the testimonial rule. Of course that would be a policing nightmare for the SEC, unless they find emails where an RIA is asking clients to post reviews.
bramsay , May 27, 2011
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agluck
I'm a pragmatist. Advisors are going to mention the Google Places reviews. It may be a small no-no to ask for reviews but since advisors could wind up getting a bad review, it's unlikely regulators would go after someone for asking for reviews. And it is totally impractical to think they can police it. But I agree that putting it in an email or other correspondence would be asking for trouble.
agluck , May 27, 2011
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stevenw224
Unlike Google Adwords you can't adjust key words; you just get a generic keyword list based on the broad category you select for your business. For weeks I've been paying over $17 per click for the keyword "stockbroker," which is the opposite of what I am. After complaining, this morning Google sent me an email saying that even though keyword editing is not possible, they're seeking feedback to improve the system. Not what I wanted to hear.
stevenw224 , May 27, 2011
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Chris Winn
Advisors would generally have the burden of demonstrating that they were not involved in the testimonial. Since a Google Places site for an advisor is an advertisement, each iteration is required to be kept with the advertising books and records of the firm. I would expect a regulator to cross-reference email queries to advertisements. The SEC is asking countless questions on these platforms to help them learn more about these technologies. That said, there are thousands of unclaimed, bare Google Places sites. There's a real opportunity to implement into your marketing plan.

Also a quick note with respect to the comment on keywords and unwanted placement. You can add "negative keywords" to your campaign if you don't want a keyword to show up. This has increased ROI on our campaigns.
Chris Winn , May 27, 2011
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stevenw224
Google wrote me that Google Places "advertisers can't add, edit, or delete keywords for their Boost ad. However, the keywords are managed and optimized over time for all customers within a business category. We use feedback like yours along with data on keyword performance to improve the keywords across the entire category." For weeks I've been asking them to allow editing of keywords and the adding negative keywords but no luck.
stevenw224 , May 28, 2011
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allenn281
Great info! Please keep it current.
allenn281 , September 10, 2011

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