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


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.




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