Google Maps and Reviews – A reader’s perspective

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. :)

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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 :D

Earlpearl

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
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44 thoughts on “Google Maps and Reviews – A reader’s perspective”

  1. Mike:

    Several different analyses that attempt to break down G Maps rankings got me to do a little independant analysis of my own.

    Its highly unlikely that one dentist would generate 49 reviews when 15 to 20 dentists in a similar market generate no more than 12 max and an average of 6. Similarly in one of our types of business its highly unliikely that one business would generate about 300 reviews (found in Google) when in other similar markets around the nation the businesses are lucky to generate 5 real reviews.

    Volume of reviews has become one of those items that SEO’s or businesses can manipulate to impact rankings. It is not different in that regard than many other “ranking elements” in google.com that ultimately received filters or were considered spam by Google, simply because they were easy to manipulate to generate higher rankings.

    I know certain businesses receive a lot of reviews and deservedly so. OTOH its become one of those ranking factors that becomes easily manipulative.

    As with so many other easy to manipulate ranking factors I suspect that at some point Google will figure out a way to “filter” the impact of huge numbers of reviews relative to the competition and the norm.

    Until that time comes it’s fair game to pile on the reviews and try and obtain high maps.google.com rankings with them.

    (and I thought only you would look at this little piece) :D

  2. A good one Earl!
    I can’t agree with you more about taking out the review as a factor of ranking.
    However, I always looked at this factor as a consumer attraction factor (excluding Yahoo Local).
    2 things-
    1. If a customer is looking at the 7 pack (or any other 1st page results in local directories) & he sees a review/ ranking stars associated with a listing, while the others don’t have any – although this listing might not be 1st ranked- he’ll click on that listing (from interest to read a review or just because this extra feature just attracted his eyes).
    2. If one competitor is submitting a fake reviews to his self, the others must follow up. This is what happening with the Locksmith industry & many others. Here, the ‘taking out the review as a ranking factor’ action by Google will not stop the spam of reviews. Google must be strict & tough (even more then Yelp!!), but I don’t think it’ll happen.

    Interesting issue, anyway!

  3. Demand Force sends out a survey to the dentist’s patients after their appointment and then automatically plugs in some of the results from that survey into their site that is set up as an aggregator for Google. But before this happens, the dentist (and his team) have 7 days to suppress any surveys that they don’t want Google to scrape.

    Most of those reviews are probably legitimate albeit skewed to the positive side, since they can nix the negative ones before Google scrapes. A good example that demonstrates this is Coast Dental in Tallahassee, Florida. The Local Listing site

    http://maps.google.com/maps/place?cid=15601032968989615391&q=dentist%2Btallahassee%2Bfl&hl=en&gl=us&view=feature&mcsrc=detailed_reviews&num=10&start=0)

    shows 15 reviews, 10 of which are from Demand Force. All of those are 4-5 starts and quite positive. Four of the remaining 5 reviews are mediocre to terrible.

    While quite convenient for the dentist, it surprised me that Google would accept reviews that can first be manipulated by the business. It seems very anti-Google to have what are supposed to be unbiased third-party reviews first pass through a filtering process by the business allowing them to hold back the ones they don’t want published. It’s great for the business, but very misleading if you can’t ever see the negative reviews that exist. There should be a disclaimer.

    The only time a negative review gets through is when the practice fails to suppress it before the Google scrape happens. To their credit, a few practices seem to let every review through, but most don’t let the negative reviews post.

  4. I disagree with the idea that using a review follow up service is unfair manipulation. Its really no different than using any other autoresponder service which prompts customers to take action – not much different than a newsletter or power-reviews for e commerce. It simplifies the process and therefore more people complete the activity

    It is actually an activity a businesses would do personally if they had the time and manpower to do it.

    I recommended that a client pull up a their page on a local directory and let the client give a review before leaving the office – is that stacking the deck too? or just being smarter and more proactive?

    I also think that having bad reviews from disgruntled or crazy customers are not productive for anyone least of all other customers- and that small businesses should be allowed to have some level of control.

    Learn form other algorithmic mistakes

    Does anyone remember the ebay feedback fiasco last year- where ebay eliminated feedback FROM sellers about buyers while continuing to penelize sellers for bad feedback from buyers regardless of the truth? For small sellers it was a nightmare. We noticed a 40% increase of bad feedback scams where ppl blackmailed us with the threat of bad review for Free products. Even if we had proof of misconduct by buyers there was no way to remove the information they put out there. Ebay is similar to Google in the way they use information and review to place products.

    One sided reviews in themselves are not particularly ethical. Small businesses (aka local) are particularly vulnerable to abuses as well as manipulations of a non – human rating system.

    Yes reviews and other elements for rank and placement can be manipulated – but in SEO isn’t that our job? After all they actually pay us to manipulate what we can to have our clients show up at the top. Even organic SEO is some form of manipulation – whoops I meant to say expertise.

    Yes there are more and less ethical ways do SEO and I am not encouraging or advocating spammy or unethical practices. (nor do I practice them) But I do not agree that having a large number of review means that it is automatically artificial.

    Especially since so may local businesses are wholly unaware of the existence of review much less manipulating them. If I could get more of my clients to use an automated review follow up service I would because overall – it does help legitimate customers leave more reviews.

    It will be interesting to see what happens with this

  5. We follow up with every customer and ask for a review from them. We have double the amount of reviews as our next competitor. I don’t think this is “wrong” or “black hat”. It’s not my fault that my competition is not smart enough to ask for reviews after each job. I disagree with the use of mathematical formulas to figure out if someone is spamming the reviews or not.

  6. I agree completely with Nate and Jan on this point. Punishing smart marketing for being more informed, having better guidance and information, and executing to take advantage is not the way to go.

    The issue for me boils down to faked reviews – not volume of reviews.

    I provide and teach, nag, and cajole my clients to follow a systematic way to get reviews. If they buy in, they get multiples more reviews than their competitors. It is in complete integrity and just smart marketing.

    That they have more reviews than the blithely unaware competition is simply not any sort of indication of faking reviews.

  7. Guys,

    just to make my self clear- of course ‘legit reviews’ follow up is sacred, good & legit. I meant a ‘fake reviews” follow up.
    See above.

  8. Google rarely punishes directly an event that can be manipulated by someone other than the business or website owner. I doubt that anyone will get dinged for having too many reviews any more than a website would get dinged for having too many inbound links. What they will do is diminish the value of reviews with respect to placement if they think too many website owners are artificially increasing their number of reviews for the sake of placement. If that is happening, the value of rating businesses on the number of reviews has become tainted with the knowledge of Google placement. So, bottom line, communicate with your clients. Send them an email with a direct link to the reviews and ask for their feedback. THAT is never bad business regardless of how Google sees it.

  9. 1st. Thanks for the comments, the reasoning, and the opinions.

    2nd. Mike admonished me for not responding more quickly to the commentary. So here goes:

    @Puresheer: You have ta’am (good taste) You’re a mensch. Keep up the good work. :D
    Thanks for being an eye and ear into the black hat world and offering invaluable commentary, especially about black hat actions. Seriously the black hats have been one of the leading sources for demonstrating what works in terms of manipulating google’s Maps algos.

    @Dave (nice name): Thanks for further explaining DemandForce. I wasn’t familiar with it when I started my little analysis. It looks like a full scope communications/customer management tool for medical offices and auto repair shops. In fact its full array of tools look excellent for communicating with customers.

    I didn’t fully know how the review process works w/demanforce. It appears that it is an excellent tool for generating a lot of reviews and for providing for a mechnism to filter out the negative reviews.

    In the example I saw I just went back and analyzed the review totals more closely.

    The dentist with a lot of reviews has a lot more in just a few days.

    Of the top 20 dentists in this analysis one dentist has 62 reviews. 44 of them are from demandforce. That means she has an additional 18 reviews from a variety of sources.

    Of the next 19 dentists a total of 55 reviews were presented in Google: ~ roughly 3/dentist. The dentist in question has 18 additional reviews. Fascinating.

    The dentist with the next most reviews has 12: all from rateMD’s, which appears to me to be an independent review source.

    62 reviews versus an average of 3 per competing dentist with the next highest number of reviews being 12.

    Allow me to use a statistical term that evolves out of one of the major statistical centers of the world.

    That is friggin nuts :D

    It doesn’t make statistical sense or common sense. Something is out of whack.

    @Nate, Jan, Mark, and Greg:

    I am not against using and publishing reviews. Frankly, when I first looked at demandforce.com I scanned their first page, noted the full array of communications tools, copied it and made a note to myself for our array of businesses (We need to communicate with customers/clients in this fashion.)

    Very impressive.

    I’m not against printing and publishing these reviews. I’m all for communicating with clients and using testimonials to attract new business.

    I am simply against using the weight of enormous numbers of reviews as a ranking element by google maps.

    If one can use modern methods of communications to generate enormous volumes of reviews and it easily impacts maps.google.com’s rankings, than, IMHO, volumes of reviews simply becomes one of those “easy to obtain” low hanging fruit” types of ranking elements….that google.com has filtered against to prevent “spammy” rankings.

    Puresheer is well aware of how spammy locksmith SEO’s stole unclaimed records of hotels with tons of naturally generated reviews…and with those…achieved high Maps rankings.

    When I see statistical aberrations like the above example, and when its noted that the reviews are generated in a “somewhat” unnatural way, I’m simply suggesting that google filter against the weight of reviews as a ranking factor, especially when the difference between one source and other sources is statistically significant.

  10. Hey Back…
    I’m pretty black and white about this (some might say abrasive!). We always try to guess what Google is doing and get side tracked. You noticed that more reviews seems to give local listings an edge. For now, that’s the only thing you need to know (excellent observation by the way). I wouldn’t second guess it. There’s nothing black hat about getting more reviews. You won’t get dinged by Google even if you have 1000 reviews! In the future, Google may reduce the significance of number of reviews to listing placement but they won’t demote you specifically for having too many reviews. Google could consider the IP address of the reviewer to insure that the same person is not submitting all the reviews, and ding you for too many reviews coming from the same IP address. But then that IS BLACK HAT…so be honest, get real reviews and I don’t think you can go wrong.

    Greg

  11. @all

    Question 1
    Is there a difference between actively encouraging customers to provide reviews and allowing business owners to decide which of those reviews get published?

    Question 2
    Should Google include those “positive” only reviews in the local results?

  12. Greg: By observation it appears to me that volume of reviews has had significant impact on maps rankings. I took part in a study organized by Mike a while back. At that time the volume aspect of reviews on rankings was less clear.

    From recent observations of sites, topics, and the actions of spammers it appears volume of rankings had a lot of weight to google maps rankings.

    Now I’m seeing something a little different; Again this is only observation and not rigorous testing. Pure unadulterated huge volume of reviews relative to the competition is not driving some businesses to the top of Maps rankings.

    I wonder if quality is getting thrown into the equation? Not sure.

    For reasons I described above, I don’t think volume should carry a lot of weight in Google’s Map algo’s. That is an opinion. I’m certainly not telling anyone not to accumulate them and show them.

    @ Mike:

    IMHO reviews and testimonials are amongst the most valuable elements of content on a site. From a strictly business and personal perspective, I’m far more likely to buy something, use a service, or trust in a professional if someone I know has good things to say about them.

    Reviews/testimonials are powerful.

    When business owners “flood a site with testimonials” it begins to wear on me. Too many to ready. Too suspiceous. Don’t get me wrong, our businesses use them. We also live off of “word of mouth”, the world’s best review.

    Response to question 1. Yes.

    IMHO There is a huge difference between an owner filtering reviews and independant reviews. I’d put my trust in the latter. I can’t always know which are filtered by the owner, which are independant and not “pushed by the owner” and which are faked.

    Suffice it to say that the publishing of reviews on the web is a flourishing business. The volume of reviews is growing exponentially. At some point it may have a serious diminishing return.

    To the extent that Greg points out that some competitors are way ahead of the curve with reviews while their competitors lack them….more power to those businesses now.

    Frankly I don’t mind if Google publishes them. Its page design with reviews is such that it is not overwhelming. I don’t have to read them if I don’t want to.

    currently Google is not showing all reviews from all sources. Its already filtering some reviews. It could similarly decide to identify sources such as demandforce and determine that the source is somewhat tainted by virtue of A) being originated by the business owner, not independantly originated by the customer/client/patient…and B) filter it because the business owner can eliminate “bad reviews”.

    Google could do that. IMHO its up to Google. I simply maintain, that for a variety of reasons they should reduce “ranking weight” based on volume of reviews.

    Its way to easy to “spam”. In that regard it resemble’s so many “easy low hanging fruit” SEO strategies, that they have filtered and eliminated to date.

  13. Dave,
    Super piece of writing here and thank you for sharing your personal experiences with this. I was very interested reading about the business with hundreds of reviews in an industry where customers don’t typically leave reviews. I’m very curious about the situation and wonder exactly what is going on.

    It was also interesting that you were seeing situations in which most reviews were critical/negative. I am continuing to work my way towards leaving 100 Google reviews. I’m about 70% of the way there. It’s been a long process, because I don’t visit a huge number of places, but I’ve taken real time with each review I write and, interestingly, the majority of the reviews I have written so far have been either moderate or very positive. Maybe some industries are more likely to attract negative reviews than others?

    At any rate, really enjoyed your comments, Dave. Thanks to Mike for giving you this platform.

    And Mike, I think it would be totally dumb if Google only showed positive reviews. I don’t like that idea at all.

  14. The point of reviews is to give a “real” evaluation of the company. Usually, if a company isn’t promoting customers leaving reviews you get two types…

    1. People who are over excited about something
    2. People who would hit you if they saw you in the street

    I don’t think this fully represents a customers expirience. So, companies should promote people to leave reviews, but they shouldn’t keep the good and throw out the bad.

    I think google should never post reviews if a business owner has a chance to edit or control what is seen. I think reviews left on Google deserve the most credit. It is harder to spam due to google profiles that can be easily viewed for information.

    As far as reviews being a ranking factor…

    I think they should be. Everything ranking factor can be scammed, reviews included, but reviews are out of seo’s, or business owners hands ultimately. It is like white hat link building, you write good content and hopefully people link to you. For reviews, you have a good place of business and a large customer base and you say “hey let us know what you think” and then customers link to you. I think it is a much stronger signal of a business than the amount of citations, I can personally build citations, I can’t personally build reviews. Customers have to be the ones to do that.

  15. Answer 1:
    There is a big difference! asking happy customers to post a review is totally legit. Biz owner must not have any control on which review will be posted (That’s not legit).
    Answer 2:
    Google should include all the reviews in the results.
    I still think that Google needs to take out the reviews from the ranking factors, as long as they are not controlling on what is happening over there. Also, the missing option of a comment by the biz owner to positive & negative reviews as one, is a real joke. To tell you the truth- when I see a bad review in my listings, I comment them from the company’s Gmail address & I’m ranking my comment in 5 stars. what can I do here…

    one thing is for sure- all the reviews section in Google Maps is really premature.

  16. @Miriam:

    In the industry and particular business where an inordinate amt of reviews are being shown in Google, the business operator is generating internal commentary from customers–sort of an evaluation process. The operator is now informing customers that the evaluation “might” be posted on the web.

    Then the operator is posting these “reviews”. For this particular business Google is showing several hundred reviews. Local competitors are similarly generating a lot of reviews, using a similar process, though Google has yet to show more than 100 for the competitors.

    Go to any other metro region in the states, look up competitors in that market/metro region and typically one may not see more than 5 reviews, if that.

    The stark difference: Several hundred vs 5 at most. Very dramatic difference in scope. The business operator is taking actions similar to those suggested by Jan, Nate, Mark, and Greg above.

    Nate referenced above he has more than twice the reviews of competitors. The guy in question has abt 4-5 times the reviews of competitors in his metro region…and has a factor of about 50-200 more reviews than similar businesses in other metro markets.

    I’m not saying the process of generating a lot of reviews is wrong, I’m simply pointing out the difference and suggesting its impact be diminished in terms of ranking because of the dramatic differences in volume of reviews.

    @Mike: Comparing “creating reviews” versus “creating citations” is an interesting comparison Mike. Yeah, in terms of “creating signals” such as citations/and or reviews…we SEO’s do have impact.

    I dunno. Its my opinion. Reviews visually stick out more, IMHO. :D

    @Puresheer: Because you agreed with me at the top…I agree with you. :D

    One thing…Puresheer saw first hand the “spammy impact of volumes of reviews impacting rankings” before a lot of the rest of us. I saw it second hand. He saw it first hand and was directly affected by it. I suspect feeling its impact first hand leaves a strong impression.

  17. Review marketing seems to me no different than any other marketing strategies. Some people have an effective, tried and tested methodology that works, other don’t. Those who don’t scratch their head and suggest it’s all fixed….. it’s just easier that way.

    The suggestion that a customer base is inherently unlikely to leave reviews is absolute balderdash. To me that just smacks of bad marketing.

    I am a novice to optimising my local search placements, but what is clear is that you need to influence that factors that you can. I have a simple and effective methodology for generating reviews that works.

    My thoughts on key factors for obtaining a review,

    - if you don’t ask, you don’t get
    - great service at a great price
    - going that extra, unexpected yard
    - reacting to an emergency
    - ensuring that giving a review is in your customer’s mind when the excellence of your service is still in your mind
    - asking for a review at the same time that you ask for payment
    - following up on your review request
    - following up again on your review request
    - reminding a repeat customer who promised you a review to follow up on their promise
    - have a verbal script and a review generating methodology to hand that you use every time you get / complete a job.

    There are other simple tools for getting more reviews, but the sceptics who don’t want reviews to sit as a Google ranking factor, probably haven’t identified an effective review generating strategy.

    It seems to me that most things in Google can be manipulated by n’er do wells, but focus, hard work and effort will get you where you want.

    But be prepared for a competitor to scream out that your reviews aren’t genuine, simply because they don’t know how to get them.

  18. I tend to disagree. There are bigger problems for Google Maps. From my perspective gaming reviews for better ranking isn’t one of them. The potential for harm is there I just don’t see it as public enemy No. 1.

    The worst offenders in my limited experience?
    1) Keyword stuffing of business titles.
    2) Over reliance on keywords in business titles by Google, thus stuffing
    3) Fake addresses – I.E.: if the business has a Portland, OR area code what the heck are they doing being listed as a Kansas City, MO business?

    For decades, before there ever was a Google, it has been a consistent habit of top sales professionals to seek out testimonials from their customers. Testimonials have always been an important ingredient in their success over the long haul despite its inherent vulnerabilities to cherry picking and falsification.

    So reviews clearly have value to customers and should have a role on Google Maps and have some bearing on rankings and relevance.

    I’m not sure they have found a way to strike the balance but I feel it is important to try and risk some errors/failures to create a better user experience.

  19. Adrian:

    Thanks for your comments. Again, my major point is that the weight of reviews as a Maps ranking element be reduced/maybe eliminated.

    Some months ago it was clear that spammy locksmiths were stealing records at times from hotels that hadn’t claimed their local records….and the spammy locksmiths were showing lots of reviews…(for hotels–:D)

    The spammy locksmiths were listed first in Maps rankings. The volume of reviews was extraordinary and highly visable.

    At a different point you would see the spammy locksmiths with a huge volume of reviews about locksmiths. Look, I worked in the commercial real estate business in a major market. At times I represented office buildings for lease. A major commercial real estate owner/manager can be a locksmith’s “best friend” and largest customer. Do you realize how many doors we have in one big office building? ;)

    On a natural basis the locksmiths come, do their work and leave. Its not the kind of thing that generates reviews or a constant stream of them.

    What would we publish? ABC locksmith showed up again and did the job we pay them to do!!! I’m so eternally grateful!!!! Life is superdelicious!!!!

    I don’t argue that you shouldn’t ask for reviews..or publish them. Frankly, when I looked at demandforce, I noted all of its “communications” efforts. Our businesses should emulate that.

    I simply feel that volume or number of reviews have a less or reduced weight w/regard to G maps ranking.

    1. Its rather easy to manipulate…as evidenced by the volume differences between those businesses that purposefully generate a lot of reviews and those that don’t.

    2. Reviews/testimonials have a strong, important, and powerful impact on marketing. There is no better marketing than the power of “Word of Mouth” “WOM”

    My feeling is that a powerful item that is easy to manipulate should not be highlighted from a ranking perspective.

    You want to show them? Great!!! Just don’t use them to effect rankings in Maps.

  20. @earlpearl Dave

    If you think that reviews shouldn’t be a ranking factor, then wouldn’t citations also be easy for a business owner/seo’er to create and effect rankings, and hence need to be discounted? :D

    In my mind order of easiest to hardest basic ranking factors.

    1. LBC fill in data… custom categories, NAP, description, images, and so on.
    2. Citations – Time consuming, but I can personally do it and eventually they are picked up 
    3. Reviews – As a business owner or seo, this is the only area that I have to promote and not personally do myself. It ultimately proves businesses are legit for the area, and requires an outside source.

    easiest to hardest to scam/spam

    1. LBC fill in data… business title, categories,
    2. Reviews — I guess it would be easier for a person to create multiple accounts and leave fake reviews.
    3. Citations — If you go to the trouble to get all your “nap” around on tons of websites….you minds well exist in the address…this is not a major spam technique in my mind.

    So, the weight to reviews and citations is probably well deserved. They both can be manipulated, but reviews are a legit business meter and citations are just such a pain in the neck that a spammer would really have to work for them.

    I can take a crappy restaurant and get them a whole heap of citations, I can’t do the same (legitimately) with reviews. It is up to the business owner to provide an excellent service for that to happen. This is why I see reviews becoming bigger and bigger for local.

    Reviews should be a ranking factor (IMHO) but somehow need to incorporate the following…

    1. Reviewers should have a trust rank based on amount of reviews left across different industries in a geo targeted area. Not my problem to figure out, that is where the google mathie’s can get to work. Probably involve google reviews being the only ones that actually effect ranking since they can see and track the user account.

    2. Business owners should have the opportunity to respond to reviews in Google Maps,

    3. After a business reaches a certain amount of reviews (over 100), star ranking needs to play into the factor.

    In the evolution of local search, I just see reviews always being pretty key. They just are so much more of a true backlink. I see Google perfecting this area.

    I also see this with My Maps, it is very similar to reviews. It can be gamed, but ultimately if enough maps are made from different accounts, its a great way for google to “trust” a business location and service.

    All strictly my opinion though and there is definitely two sides to this as shown by the mass of comments accumulating on your post.

  21. On behalf of Mike Blumenthal, welcome to his blog. You’ve probably been here before but chose to comment on the best damn thing he ever published ;)

    All kidding aside…Great looking website. Really great. As to title…and referencing appropriate keyword stuffing…..;).

    Nice job…your pictures are vivid live testimonials. Very impressive.

    Our businesses have used testimonials for years. We have portrayed them in different ways. I believe in them.

    My perspective on testimonials goes back to my original points. An undue volume of testimonials on behalf of one business…relative to the all the other businesses of that category…suggests to me that something is awry and not natural. In that regard I think it should be minimized as a ranking factor.

    All those things you reference are problems of some capacity within maps.google.com. Athe algo’s for maps are younger and less well developed than that of Google.com. Over the years google.com has revised, filtered, and made adjustments to deal with elements it considers spam. Hopefully the engineers working on Maps will come up with similar solutions that resolve some of the issues you reference.

    In the interim it would be great if Google.com applied some direct manpower and customer service to resolve egregious examples of the problems you reference such as keyword stuffing and fake addresses.

    @Mike R

    :D (just so you know…Blumenthal said I gotta respond to all the commentators…I didn’t realize he was penalizing me this way..for his gracious act of highlighting my little rant).(Its time consuming) (I’ll be more careful next time–:D).

    I like your suggestions about “qualifying reviewers”. I know when I go to Yelp and I see that someone has made a lot of reviews…and actually look at some of them…I instantly get a better feel for the “quality”/”believability” of that review.

  22. Thanks Earlpearl. You’re right. Long time reader first time comment. The depth of useful information on here is really awesome, and a good blog post has to “stir the pot.”

    RE the Maps algo’s relative youth. I’m totally agreeing with you there. It just hasn’t had the time to mature and work out the kinks like the organic algorithm. I’m a noob and have been studying the local results keenly for only about six months now and have seen great strides just in that short time for the categories and there ability to start producing more consistently relevant results.

    Those Google engineers are not to be underestimated. :)

  23. @Dave

    Knowing that you have to respond to every comment made on this post, I am very willing to keep commenting on this for the rest of my life and I am way younger than you.

    J/k

    Thanks for your thoughts back though, Mike’s Blog is largely successful because he is so gracious in responding on his posts. It definitely creates a fun community.

  24. Chris: Really gorgeous website. I went through a variety of potential search phrases relative to your site. Good luck on continued ranking growth.

    Meanwhile that site is a killer, IMHO. Hope it generates more and more business. http://www.glowimagery.com/

    @Mike R: “Uncle” I give. Hahaha. You win. ;) Yup. Mike is very generous and responsive (cripes…he published my little rant) :D

    BTW: he doesn’t have to be that responsive. He could use Google’s model of responsiveness as in Google Groups for Maps. For instance, if he didn’t like or didn’t want to respond to comments…He could post a mysterious reference such as….”This Blog doesn’t support the comments”. Then he would leave it up to the commentator to figure out what the heck that means. heheh. Customer responsiveness–the google maps group way. ;)

    And now for a big announcement

    Maps.Google changes a message inside the LBC record

    Go inside your LBC record. Assuming it is claimed glance at the little message in the upper right hand corner. It now shows a check mark and states Owner-Verified Listing.

    OTOH; if its not claimed on the upper right hand record the new message is ….Edit this Place – Business Owner?

    I’m suspect Mr. Blumenthal will have more to say on this change.

  25. This is all a very good discussion on the importance of reviews for consumer choice.

    demandforce.com is a good source for reviews because they come from follow up to actual patient visits. There is recent activity about sentiment that allows then the office procedures to be tracked over time. Since the reviews are from the actual visits it gives historical accuracy to the actual business practices.

    Above it was commented that the reviews may be manipulated. What demandforce.com has in place are the same policy guidelines as Google so reviews that have profanity, personal information etc. are not posted. demandforce.com allows a business to challenge reviews on the same guidelines. Businesses have 7 days to do that before they are syndicated to save search engines the headache of having to retract reviews manually when a patient puts in treatment, insurance or similar information that should not be posted. This process does not filter ‘bad’ reviews as they are syndicated along with the others. Overall, the process works very well to get the volumes of reviews syndicated for an informed consumer choice.

  26. Tx for your comments, Mark. Mike was nice to print my comments elsewhere. Its an opinion. My perspective is simply, based on the dramatic differences at times and in certain categories, where 1 or a couple of smbs have this extraordinary volume of reviews, relative to the other smbs in that category, I opine that volume of reviews shouldn’t be a factor, or at least a minimal factor when it comes to G maps rankings, and more relevantly rankings in a 7pac.

    I base this on situations where 1 or a couple of smbs have an extraordinary volume of reviews compared to others. When that occurs, something is “different”.

    For instance w/ demandforce.com it’s very function as a communications tool, gives it the ability to get reviews…and then Google picks them up. The communications tool becomes something that is easily manipulated. IMHO, it begins to be similar to other techniques, that I’ll call the easy “low hanging fruit”. In the past Google.com has eliminated or reduced the ranking factor that other “low hanging fruit” mechanisms SEO’s have used to effect rankings.

    From my cursory review of demandforce.com I loved what they do. I want our smbs to communicate with customers in a similar fashion, not the least of which is a mechanism to generate responses and reviews. We already do this, but not as effectively as I’d like to see.

    OTOH, suppose Google were to use “sentiment analysis” as a ranking weight. Interesting issue with different consequences.

    I’ve looked at more medical lbc records recently including dentists w/ demandforce.com.

    Here are some interesting observations: Some dentists w/ a lot of reviews get incredibly different levels of reviews …..from miserable to fantastic. Pretty interesting.

    Suppose a dentist has 100 reviews w/ 80 of them coming from demandforce and the others from a variety of other sources. Suppose, because of the 7 day window for filtering, the 80 from demandforce are all great.

    Meanwhile of the other 20; 1/2 (10) are good and the other 1/2 (10) are miserable.

    On a simple basis that makes for 90 excellent reviews and 10 bad ones. The dentist gets a weight/grade of 90 or an A.

    Meanwhile another dentist w/out demand force gets 15 good reviews and 15 bad ones. The 2nd dentist has a weight/grade of 50=FAIL!!!

    But seriously, if Google were using “sentiment analysis” for ranking…and based it on my simplistic analysis above…would it merit a higher ranking due to demandforce.com

    I don’t think it should work that way.

  27. It appears that van rentals in several florida cities is a series of categories that is seeing a good bit of “review spam”. From Google groups for maps this report http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/maps/thread?tid=17e8783c3bde26e2&hl=en

    claims that one business is generating a lot of spammy reviews. There is a discrepancy in volumes of reviews amongst businesses in the 7 pac w/ a couple showing a lot and then some w/out any.

    There are also a lot of “attack reviews”. Take a hard look at image van rental. It appears to have multiple locations in the 7 pac. Then try a couple of other cities, ie Miami van rentals, Fort lauderdale van rentals, etc. Not only does Image or a subsidiary name have a huge volume of reviews relative to the other competitors…but….;) ;) some of the reviews look identical to those generated in Orlando on behalf of Image.

    From a marketing perspective several things are clear:

    Image is getting dominant positions in the 7 pac serps.
    Image often has more than one location in the 7 pacs
    Image has a lot more reviews than the competition.
    Some of the image reviews in different cities are verbatem the same.
    Competitors to Image are getting bad reviews. Its wierd…you search for van rental companies elsewhere…they just don’t get a lot of reviews.

    This review world opens up a can of worms.

  28. That is really funny.

    The facts is the google can not control the review world and using outside companies to beat the violators who got ahead of google and google can’t change the entire google local world because of 10-50 violators nationwide

    in fact google himself have several department working on this issues and creating a mass spam of their own

    Which in turns create a mess and put in question how google allow to post 1, 2 5 or more companies whichever they are and beats the PPC systems.

    to us it looks that google is getting hurt and looking for ways to control something they can’t on their own.

    GOOGLE.. Ge Real..

  29. Dave:

    thanks for your comments. The link in your name reverts to live.com. I don’t think you are from there. I don’t quite understand your arguments.

  30. I wonder how google pick their review sites to aggregate …. Yelp seems honest for the most part but other sites included seem quite suspect.

  31. Amidst the discussion of DemandForce, there isn’t much talk about their review policy – which states that:

    “In the event of any termination of your subscription for any reason, Demandforce will cease providing the Review Service. As provided in our standard terms and conditions, unless we mutually agree to continue, when the Review Service terminates, Demandforce will no longer provide the business information to third parties, and will remove all past references to the business information in the data it publishes to third parties, which may result in the removal of the business information from third party sites and indexes.”

    This could be a real problem for clients if they ever want to leave the service. After running across all this, I wrote a post (and linked back to this interesting discussion) about it: http://bit.ly/bM4u9R

  32. Hey everybody, its Patrick from Demandforce chiming in fairly late on what is a really interesting discussion. Our company has been mentioned a few times, so I wanted to make sure that everybody had a link to our Public Review and Comment Policy: http://demandforce.com/reviewpolicy.php

    We strive to have policies and processes that ensure the highest possible level of review integrity. Our customers, data partners and end consumers demand it. Here is a link that further explains what we mean when we say our reviews are “certified”: http://demandforce.com/certifiedreviews.php

  33. I am finding the need to visit demandforce reviews again and hope that more information is available. As far as I can gather…..

    Demandforce is the only “have to pay for service” that is sending business owner approved reviews directly to Google’s Places feed. The problem I see with this is in the dental industry, it might get to the point where if you want to compete in maps you have to sign up for demandforce because no other company is getting in Google’s backdoor.

    What had to happen for a relationship with Google to come about? Demandforce just seems like such an outlier compared to other places Google is pulling major information from and to my knowledge is one of the very few companies that can manage to pull this off through soliciting reviews from customers in emails and posting them online.

    The relationship is fishy and if they are soliciting their own site now as the way to get on Google Places, then Google better damn well give a lot more competitors to opportunity to harvest reviews the exact same way. The results are starting to look ridiculous with seeing dentists with 20 times the amount of reviews as a normal real/unedited/unemailed system.

    Very few reviews are ever negative. very few. More information or findings would be appreciated.

  34. @Mike R. Glad to see you again. (Hope you aren’t planning on posting for the rest of your life) ;) Glad you resuscitated the issue. Your insights are excellent.

    A summary of total reviews from other sources with a single source dominating those reviews…and prescreening reviews…is a simple lousy, non helpful system. It becomes easy to game.

    @Mike B. Please expand upon and explain what you mean when you use the term “hold the reviews hostage to continuing payment” I’m interested in hearing a full description.

  35. @Mike B and @Mike R

    Speaking for Demandforce, we’d welcome the opportunity to speak to you and the readers of this blog about what we do. It appears that there is a fair amount of confusion and misinformation out there about our service. Since we always aim to be completely transparent about our review practices and policies, here are some facts about Demandforce.

    Demandforce is a subscription service used by small businesses in the service sector–like dentists, auto shops, salons, spas, chiropractors–to automate their customer communications, marketing and business processes. We help them attract new customers, retain their existing ones, and better measure and manage their operations. Our customers are focused on implementing best practices for customer satisfaction, and we believe that as a result they are best of breed in their respective industries.

    A byproduct of our service, Demandforce gathers large amounts of data regarding our customers’ operations, including detailed business profile information and customer satisfaction data, such as consumer reviews. Consumers find this data useful–and so does Google and other consumer-facing information services. In this respect we are just like such data providers as Judy’s Book, Angie’s List, Healthgrades and the other data sources you see cited in Google Places.

    Demandforce does not allow or enable manipulation of reviews. Our review policy prohibits the removal of reviews from our feeds to Google and other sites except in rare circumstances. That policy can be read here: http://demandforce.com/reviewpolicy.php We take this policy very seriously, and strictly enforce it using both technological and human oversight. In fact, less than 0.5% of all consumer reviews are removed from our external feed, and those are taken down due to violation of our terms (i.e. they use vulgarity, violate privacy, are spam, etc.). Customers who seek to circumvent this policy are subject to having their data removed from our feeds and/or termination.

    Moreover, we do not “hold hostage” any customer or former customer. To the contrary–we take pains to ensure that the reviews and other business information a customer develops using the Demandforce listing service remains available in our public feeds, even after a customer terminates their subscription with us. Please note the following excerpt from our standard terms and conditions:

    “Demandforce may terminate your participation in the Listing Service, or this Agreement, at any time in the event that Demandforce determines that you are not in compliance with the Public Review Policy. Upon termination of this Agreement, the Business Information will remain in any data feeds provided to third parties under the Listing Service for a period of 12 months following termination, unless you request prior removal of the Business Information from such data feeds in writing.”

    The entire terms and conditions are available here: http://demandforce.com/terms.php

    Like our customers, we take our business reputation seriously. If anyone has any questions about Demandforce, I encourage you to ping me directly at pbarry@demandforce.com. We would much rather address questions directly rather than having to respond to speculation.

    Patrick Barry
    VP, Marketing
    Demandforce

  36. @patrick Thanks for the response. I saw other responses from you in the maps forum. So after12 months, then the reviews and listing information are gone.

    Moreover the situation that I see as an issue is that for a dentist, a year from now, to even compete in Google maps they have to sign up with your service to harvest the amount of reviews. Name another place that has this functionality. There were businesses who were gathering reviews through surveys and hand posting them (which is largely the same minus the data feed that Google has with you) and then Google’s policy changed and pretty much made that a “against our policy process” as mentioned here….

    http://www.google.com/support/places/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=187622

    “Conflict of interest
    Reviews are only valuable when they are honest and unbiased. Even if well-intentioned, a conflict of interest can undermine the trust in a review. In addition, we do not accept reviews written for money or other incentives. Please also do not post reviews on behalf of others or misrepresent your identity or affiliation with the place you are reviewing.”

    So the way around this is for Demandforce to have a direct feed that means that they are not posted the reviews themselves. It just seems odd that no other review service has near the amount of reviews as demandforce clients which boosts ranking and you HAVE to go through them to have similar results.

    @Mike I think that you should visit this issue again as a new blog post and we can invite Google and Demandforce to give us an idea how they seem to be the leader in online reviews for the dental industry…but the only company you have to pay to get reviews from (and have to use their appointment based system to get the reviews) in the first place.

    I think the idea behind demandforce is great. Reviews without sign in and gathered by email! I even think that I would have to recommenced dentists use their service. I just wish there were competitors since demandforce is backed by one of the biggest dental supply companies and a lot of dentists I do work for are part of the other.

    Google quality guidelines are only as good as data feeds that play by them to. If not then we should all throw the guidelines out the window and really start ranking companies the black hat way.

  37. Nice catch, Mike R.

    The dentists pay demandforce. Demandforce aggregates the reviews and gives a dentist an opportunity to ensure that only the good ones get seen.

    Its a process of aggregating positive reviews through payments.

    It works. searched for dentists in 6 communities. The demandforce had enormously more reviews than those without demandforce. The difference was stunning, not merely statistically meaningful. The demandforce reviews were positive.

    The dentists with higher volumes of reviews tended to show highly in the 7pac.

    Hey–good reviews and high rankings in the highlighted 7 pac on the top of the first page of google.com. That is exactly what the dentists want.

    One little stickler, as you pointed out Mike R. Google policy explicitely rejects the pay for review process.

    Looks like Google is violating its own policies.

  38. I went back and looked at the search phrases in depth; two adjacent town names with search phrases being “(town name) dentist.

    Current 7 pac listings show a dentist with 162 reviews ranked first for the town in which the practice is physically located and in the 7 pac for the adjacent town. There is a new first in the 2nd town. The practice is located in that town and has 51 reviews.

    Of note the dentist with 162 reviews was the one who had 49 reviews last December. Has that dentist had more than 113 patients in the last 9 months? I hope so for that dentist’s sake.

    So that means patients aren’t responding to the communications requests or maybe there are bad reviews. Don’t know.

    The dentists with the high volumes of reviews both use demand force. In both cases the reviews from demandforce are more than 90% of all reviews. The demandforce reviews come with a 5 star rating so they show well in Google and of what must be a total of 200 reviews from demandforce virtually all were either 4star or higher.

    The volume of reviews from these 2 dentists dramatically outnumbered reviews for any of 18 other dentists whose totals I looked at. Its statistically overwhelming.

    Now that service works well in every way possible. Here is what it seems to accomplish with regard to the 7pac.

    A) It provides a venue for an enormous volume of POSITIVE reviews. I’m sure there is a lot of interaction between demandforce and the dentists. The dentist with the 162 reviews had comments responding to reviews. Of great interest of the few non-demandforce reviews there were a couple of bad ones. That dentist has dramatically improved its customer service.

    B) It appears that in the absence of a similar high volume of reviews the pure volume provided through demandforce’s customer communications package—increases reviews by such a huge total….that it impacts the rankings in the 7pac. The practices with the extraordinarily high volume of reviews–zoomed to the top of the 7pac listings.

    A couple of years ago Mike Blumenthal headed a statistical study of a number of different search phrases in a variety of towns covering a variety of types of searches that generate a wide variety of “signals” that can be picked up by the Google Places Team for Maps.

    One of the interesting finds was that in an absence of other signals, a very high volume of reviews could impact rankings.

    That could be occurring in these cases. The volumes of reviews could definitely be helping the two dentists who use demandforce to get ranked higher in the 7 pac (and within Google Maps).

    I’d put the onus on correcting these issues on Google. They need to look more closely at these issues.

    In one case Demandforce is being paid by dentists who use them. demandforce is generating the reviews. It also appears that the demandforce filter might be eliminating bad reviews from being seen.

    There is a factor of the “pay for review” process in play here. Google’s policy is to not allow that. It seems that the demandforce inclusion violates the spirit of that policy at the very least.

    Secondly it appears that in the absence of other factors high volume of reviews versus very few reviews helps businesses rank toward the top of google’s 7 pac.

    Hmm…interesting. volumes of reviews might help a business get ranked higher…and it has an element of pay for review.

    That is not exactly the kind of data I’d like to depend on.

    Having said all this, if I were advising a dentist client right now, I’d suggest they use demandforce. Whether it is appropriately “kosher” or not…it sure as hell seems to work.

  39. Great stuff @earlpearl

    The issue is not with demandforce and their service. I am going to take look at the whole product offering before I recommend it to clients (and see that expand2web is already a partner). I think that dentists have an ability to disagree or stop negative reviews from going through to the certified Google Feed. But, if they are getting the feed from demandforce they know full well how it works and have already approved it.

    My issue is that Google doesn’t let a company post reviews for others according to guidelines and demandforce is publishing reviews that are solicited through email. I agree with that practice and this is a great way to get real feedback, but they can’t be the only ones to have that treatment when others could get banned in Google Places. Google needs to address it and I don’t think demandforce should change anything. Google just needs to give the option to others, or pull the review feed.

    Healthgrades supplies unstarred reviews without a sign in. But, interesting enough these only feed to individual doctor listings and not business names. So, unless a doctor office is the actually name of the doctor you will never see healthgrades info or reviews on a dental site. Also, healthgrades lists all doctors on their site and you can create a free profile.

    Here are a few things that still are odd in my mind…

    1. Demandforce is the only reviewfeed that google gets where you have to pay to get your listing in the feed. (correct me if wrong)
    2. Demandforce is the only reviewfeed that can gather reviews through email and have the reviews feed online.
    3. Demandforce is the only reviewfeed that can give businesses owners the ability to view/screen reviews before they are passed to Google.
    4. Demandforce is the only reviewfeed that seems to advertise that their releationship with Google allows you to rank high in maps.
    5. Demandforce is the only reviewfeed that if you stop paying, the reviews will only stay around for 12 months.

    You are right @earlpearl, unless something changes there is a big reason to refer dentist to use their system. It just seems a bit off that as they grow and move into other industries Google will allow them to become the sole company that can offer review/map optimization with the ease of a datafeed and a policy guideline that doesn’t allow others to do the same thing.

    Who at Google is in charge of these partnerships? Are they not bound to the same guidelines as others? If Google wants more reviewfeeds like this, where are they?

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