Earlpearl, a frequent contributor here and elsewhere, recently wrote up this detailed opinion about Google’s use of reviews as a comment on the Plastic Surgery Co. Settles with NYS over False Reviews piece that I wrote this past July. I thought it too full of interesting tidbits to leave buried in the back library.
Even though I have a number of bones to pick with Google’s current review policy I will leave my opinions to another post. The standard caveats about Earlpearl not representing the views of the management apply.
It is patently clear that reviews are a mixed bag with regard to businesses and the web. The wide distribution and availability of reviews is positive for a business when honest, and destructive when dishonest.
More to the point, honest reviews are a gift to consumers. What better advice is there than word of mouth either extolling or criticising a business?
Regardless, the proliferation of reviews and its usage as a mechanism for evaluating and ranking the importance of businesses within Google Maps opens up a can of worms.
Ultimately, a clever business or local seo is going to “create reviews” to rank higher in Maps.
I was intriqued when reviewing maps rankings for Dentists in two small adjacent towns.
At the top of the maps listings for both adjacent towns was a dentist with 49 reviews. There was some overlap amongst listed dentists, but of the 15 listed dentists following the top ranked dentist…the next most reviews was 12.
Huge difference between 49 and 12. Bigger difference between 49 and the average number of reviews per dentist (about 6). Its statistically not reasonable.
The dentist with the most reviews uses a medical email/communications system for customers that includes an opportunity for reviews DemandForce. The vast majority of the 49 came from that source. The dentist pays for the communications system.
A totally independant medical review source is ratemds. The dentist with the 49 reviews, most coming from DemandForce had reviews from ratemds.com.
I’m not saying the reviews were faked at all as in the example Mike wrote about. I’m simply pointing out how the volume of reviews has an enormous impact on rankings within Maps….and it is incredibly subject to manipulation.
I operate businesses of certain types. In one industry there are virtually no independently generated reviews. Virtually none. In fact before reviews got popular in web use, I scoured the internet for review commentary on the industry and in particular our business.
Two things: Most review commentary was critical. Happily our business didn’t receive any of that negativity for years. There was relatively little positive public commentary anywheres on the internet.
Now I look at some businesses in the industry in a certain market….and the business ranked first in Google Maps has HUNDREDS of positive reviews. HUNDREDS. I was speaking with one of their competitors. The competitor has just under 100 reviews. He laughed in acknowledgement with me……our customer “types” don’t tend to write reviews.
Most of these businesses generate an “internal” critique review for customers. It is given to customers after completing the service. The “internal” review was essentially used to see if the business was meeting customer expectations.
None of these reviews historically saw public light.
Artificially generating reviews to rank higher in Google Maps does nothing for consumers, does nothing for generating a “better maps listing”, and simply creates a lot of busy work to “spam”/manipulate Maps.google.com rankings.
Generating reviews as referenced above in the blog piece has been deemed criminal and justifiably so. Faked reviews are manipulative. If they can criminally be used to manipulate consumers they can be used to manipulate search engine algos.
I simply think Google should diminish the importance of reviews as an algo element. At the least it would be simple mathematics to evaluate a relatively large number of reviews…(such as 49) relative to the next highest number (12) or an average of 6….and determine that there is something inappropriate in that volume. Then recalculate rankings with a somewhat diminished value attached to reviews.
That would keep the Maps.Google engineers busy for a while and out of trouble