Review Removal Process- How Yahoo Succeeds and Google Doesn’t

I have recently added a new local account, The Option House Restaurant in Bradford, PA, the next town over. I soon discovered that they while they had a new business and a stellar local reputation, their on-line reputation was less than savory .
The Option House Restaurant, Bradford PA 16701
Sam Sylvester, the dapper 75 year old owner, moved back to his home town after 55 years of world travel, for help & support caring for his terminally ill wife. After her death and with the help of Rosie (his high school friend) as a marketing manager, he embarked on on a whole new life, but this time in Bradford. This spring, he opened a lively pub and cosmopolitan restaurant in an early 1900′s building that he had meticulously restored.

Bradford, PA was home to one of the first oil booms in the US. and in the early years of the 20th century, oil field owners would stop into the Option House for lunch and to trade oil contracts. It became an elegant depression era Vaudeville stop before falling on hard times in the 1990′s and early 2000′s. When it was shuttered it had become a less than reputable bar on the first floor and a flop house on the upper floors.

In a few short months early this year, after months of restoration, Sam  opened the restaurant to rave local reviews. It doesn’t take long in a small town like Bradford for an excellent restaurant to become wildly popular.  But as I soon found out, after contracting to build a new website, their on-line reputation reeked of sleazy rooms and a disreputable bar. From their Yahoo Local review (here is the Google cache):

1-2 of 2 
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  1. by RIOT

    03/07/2009

    Now that this place is under new ownership it has been completely restored to its former glory. Everything has been restored and renovated! This used to be one of the trashiest places in town, and now it is elegant and beautiful!!! You really have to see it for yourself. They now offer fine food thanks to the acquisition of a high end chef from another local business… 5 stars

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  2. by a Yahoo! Local User

    08/09/2005

    I have to be fair: I haven’t really been to this place since I was about 23. It seems like a lot of underage people hang out in here. I guess that would be cool if I were underage. when I used to go there a lot, it was great.

    Comment on Review
Reviews 1-2 of 2

On-line reviews have become the double edged sword of on-line marketing for many small business. Greg Sterling repored on recent research that Online Reviews Influence 84% of Americans. They are a reality that impacts sales whether they are truthful or not, current or not, spammy or not. I decided to see how Yahoo would respond to my desire to have the review noting service to underage drinkers pulled down.

Yahoo, like Google, has a link next to each review to report abuse or inappropriate content. However, unlike Google, Yahoo has in place a real customer relation process that is communicative, thorough and fast. Within minutes of noting my issues with the review I received this email from Yahoo:

Hello,

This is an automated message regarding your recent request for Yahoo! Local Customer Care support. Your message was received, and you will hear back from us within the next 48 hours with an answer.

Thank you for reaching out to us. We look forward to helping you!

Sincerely,
Yahoo! Customer Care

Similar to their communications when I list a business with Yahoo, it was a prompt albeit automated response that was friendly and offered the promise of a solution within 48 hours! I have become cynical about customer service, particularly in Local Search, in our times but I could hope. This morning, 24 hours after requesting removal I received this from Zach Daemon at Yahoo:

Hello,

Thank you for writing to Yahoo! Local.

We appreciate your report of potential violations within Yahoo! Local. We have completed our evaluation and have taken appropriate action, as per the Yahoo! Terms of Service and the Yahoo! Local Review Guidelines. For further details on Yahoo!’s policies, we invite you to visit the Yahoo! Terms of Service along with the Yahoo! Local Guidelines.

Please know that we cannot disclose any action taken on another user’s account. We’re unable to make exceptions to this rule.

As always, please feel free to continue to report any potential violations within Yahoo! Local.

Thank you again for contacting Yahoo! Local.

Regards,
Zach Daemon

The review was taken down. Yahoo’s behavior in this matter contrast sharply with Google’s review removal antics. There are a number of reasons why Yahoo’s behavior makes perfectly good sense and should be the model that any website with a review process in place should follow. It was quick, it was communicative, it was fair and leaves the business owner with not just a sense of relief but trust. Most importantly, however, it will improve the user experience. Isn’t that what search is about? Google would be well served by following Yahoo’s lead.

A quick abuse report submit, 2 emails & a blog post later I can now move on to helping the client market their business on an even playing field. If you are ever in Bradford, stop in and tell Sam that I sent you.

Hats off to Zach Daemon and Yahoo.

P.S. I know that I promised a critique of Google’s review policy. But rather than rehash old gripes I will send you to recent postings detailing my complaints and my (the ever constructive critic) suggestions to improve the review removal process.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Review Removal Process- How Yahoo Succeeds and Google Doesn't by

17 thoughts on “Review Removal Process- How Yahoo Succeeds and Google Doesn’t”

  1. I guess this would be a sticky subject. Maybe Google doesn’t want to practice censorship. Opinions are hard to police at least in this country.

  2. Good walkthrough, Mike, thanks for sharing. Not just Google, but Yelp, Citysearch, and all of the other Local Search portals would be advised to follow this example :)

  3. @Allwired

    I am not suggesting censorship but rather a review to remove grossly outdated, spammy and/or slanderous reviews. There can be a line drawn further one way or the other that distinguishes between a real review and bs. Google just doesn’t want to invest the resources to communicate with readers of the reviews. Free speech is a red herring.

  4. @David

    Its amazing how little of time and investment it really takes on Yahoo’s part to offer GREAT customer service. An automated email response, 2 minutes of someone’s time to assess the review and another automated response.

    In Google’s case (and obviously many others) even a response that said 72 hours or a week would probably be acceptable if one knew

  5. Mike:

    Excellent article. The contrast between Google’s utter and complete lack of customer service and this example offered by Yahoo is striking. Just two days ago in this post on local records being hijacked still again you gave us examples with business people complaining about this phenomena…and the striking thing is that Google often, more often that not, does not respond at all. Doesn’t respond at all.

    That is astonishing. On the one hand you have a search engine that provide an automated response and a time frame to actually look at the problem and deal with it. On the other hand you have a search engine that takes complaints and often doesn’t respond at all.

    Its doubly frustrating to submit problems into a black hole of inconsistent responses and see some commentators get responses and others that don’t.

    I personnally would like to submit a query, complaint, or question and either get a response that turns me down, or says something like…”we need an extra 48 hours on top of the initial 48 hours”; frankly anything that leads me to believe my request may get a response…than no answer at all.

    Of further importance, as significant as correcting and updating reviews are…more serious problems exist. Outright hijackings of business listings is akin to theft and to misinforming (lying) to potential customers. The examples with locksmiths…and the incredible responses from those locksmiths who believe their business is being stolen is testimony to this problem.

    The big issue is that Google dominates search. Any webmaster, site owner, business and site owner realizes this every day. Searchers choose Google over other engines.

    The complaints within google groups for business owners define that. Your various posts and examples amplify this issue.

    Google is a de facto source of information to the public. If not already, Google’s dominance of search approaches monopoly status.

    Imagine if your brick and mortar business sees most of its new traffic from search engines. Suddenly your record is hijacked in Google Maps. Its going to a competitor, an affiliate, or who knows where. You contact Google about this phenomena…..and you don’t get an answer.

    Someone is stealing your business, misdirecting potential customers….and the only single entity that is causing this theft is Google Maps…..and maybe they’ll respond…maybe they won’t and nobody understands why that is. That is corporate arrogance.

    Its theft…and Google can’t respond. Meanwhile Yahoo can promise a response in 48 hours. Its outrageous.

    Currently, thanks to you, a wider community of people, including webmasters and business people are aware of some egregious examples of this e.g. the locksmith case.

    I can only suspect that hijackings of local records in Google Maps will expand into more visible and higher profile industries and businesses. When that occurs the attorneys will come into play. Some smart attorneys are going to convince judges and courts that there is a connection between google’s source of income, directed ads, and its relationships with businesses through the local business record. Those same attorneys are going to see that one search engine responds to problems and complaints and the other doesn’t. One acts responsibly in a common sense way and one doesn’t.

    I want to follow that. :)

    Earlpearl

  6. What a great post, Mike, and what a BEAUTIFUL restaurant. Please pass on my compliments to Sam Sylvester regarding his elegant restoration and best wishes for his success. He sounds like a very interesting man and I really enjoyed reading about Bradford, PA. Cool.

    As for the review process, from your description, I wasn’t quite clear whether you were saying that Sam kept the name of the old restaurant as his new business name. Are users associating old experiences with the restaurant because it has the same name as it used to, or simply because it’s in the same building? I’m curious about that.

    This is something I wrote about a couple of years ago…when businesses change hands they inherit the reputation of the previous owners. This happens frequently in the hospitality industry, wherein, for example, a hotelier wants to benefit from the already established reputation of The Quiet Pines Inn. These days, with rep. management having become such a big deal online, I would advise business’ to really think twice before keeping an old name on a new business, unless the old business had a totally sterling reputation.

    Really enjoyed this post, Mike.

  7. @Miriam
    I wasn’t quite clear whether you were saying that Sam kept the name of the old restaurant as his new business name.

    He kept the same name. He was really unawares of the on-line reputation issue and since he grew up in Bradford felt very connected with the place and name. I convinced him to create a slightly modified on-line presence by changing his name to “The Option House Restaurant” from “Option House”. This will allow us to better track the reputation as it moves thru the local ecosystem and gives on line readers a better sense of what he does.

    ps I took the liberty of adding your very relevant link. Pls let me know if it is right.

    @Dave
    There certainly is the bigger issue of Google’s market dominance and non communicative strategy. Thanks for putting this in that bigger context. I was in such a good mood after writing about Sam that I couldn’t spoil it with negativity.

  8. Hey, wow, I’m totally amazed that you found my post! I hardly know what to say about that. You’re a wizard, Mike.

    Thanks for explaining about the business name. I was really curious about that.

  9. Good to hear that there are ways to make it work with Yahoo at least. So glad there are folks like you Miriam, and Mike, who are involved.

    @earlpearl
    Google and other directories are liable for what they do, or do not do. Federal law and in California (my state) laws are in place, they just need people to report the lack of oversight, and ask for enforcement from their State Attorney General, their district attorney or the US Attorneys. You may not get a response, but you surely won’t get a response if you don’t report.

    I am jut one of those wacky locksmiths, who reported what was happening, and got at least phone calls from all, and face to face meetings with the local US Attorney and the local District Attorney.

    Will they take on Google? Not likely, in these tight government budget times, but all it takes is one that is not afraid or wants to make a name. It can happen. The State of Missouri’s Attorney General is taking on Yellowpages.com. Small fish in search, but a major player none the less.

    We have to do our part and let people out side of this blog know what Google is not doing, and ask them to help.

    Last thought;
    If you really want to make sure you get a reply from Google write to: legal.support@google.com. For some reason that is one place I can get a response. If everyone does it, the effectiveness goes down, but it’s worth a shot!

  10. @ Glenn Y. Well, thanks for the reference. Funny, contacts of that type often do generate responses in all kinds of industries.

    Again, if one Search Engine is providing customer support and one isn’t…there is no defense for the latter. Secondly if one search engine dominates the market…and similarly is receiving endless complaints about either mistakes in its algos or outright hijackings…and others aren’t…it leads one to contemplate that one Search Engine has a sort of monopolistic control over the business fate of millions. It also has an impact on possible presentation of misinformation to the public.

    I think Google should look very hard at Yahoo’s model. Frankly, I assume that both engines have similar quantities of data with regard to local businesses. Both probably present the information in similar ways. If Google is subject to massive spam and hijackings and not reacting to it in an open way…I’d tend to search for local services in Yahoo and tell those I know to do the same. If I find errors with regard to Yahoo’s information (sure there is plenty as with Google) and I know they’ll take a shot at correcting…I’d rather use and suggest Yahoo.

    I think the above is a very enlightening article. Frankly, the 10 pacs and 3 pacs of both engines and that of MSN need lots of refinement. I’d suggest people work and spread the word about the one that works at fixing things the best.

  11. hi mike, off topic, but my google maps listings were hijacked.
    what would you suggest to do?

  12. There have been both algo based mergings and hijackings of late. If it is a hijacking start a new thread at the Google Maps Support Groups and see if you can get the attention of the guides. If it is a merging, you need to list at the groups in the Merge discussion

  13. thank you much.

    no merging for me, as these are two completely different things. it’s one adorable hacker going through all the industry and making his mark.

    can you refer explain shortly how can details be changed in a verified listing, or at least refer me to a post about it?

    i am very curious as to how it is done and why Google hasn’t figured out yet how to deal with it.

  14. A little late to chime in on this post but thought was interesting and I don’t think anything’s changed, at least as far as Google’s ability/willingness to help with inaccurate/slanderous/phony reviews. Thanks for the post Mike. It sounds like Yahoo is much more on the ball in this regard.

  15. So far, I am impressed by Yahoo’s lack of response after a couple days. A rejected job candidate appears to have slandered my business (BienTek) on Yahoo Local, and Yahoo has not responded for a couple days. I will update here if they do.

  16. Update: Yahoo took care of the review. I have an “enhanced listings” account with Yahoo. I called my rep, and he expedited the matter! Go Yahoo!

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