How Google Has Handled Reviews Reflects a Long History of a Tin Ear and Little Action

Google’s recent introduction of the ability for SMBs to respond to reviews is a welcome and surprising turn of events in the Places arena. Reviews have long been a sore point with businesses that often feel wronged by the review procedures at Google. Many SMBs think of the current arrangement as unfair and they rarely understand the why or how of Google’s non response to review issues.

I asked Cathy Hillen Rulloda, a florist from Anaheim active in local marketing, what she percieved as issues with the way that Google handled reviews and she noted that while the ability to respond to reviews was long overdue, other serious issues remained:

- No ‘Amazon-like’ “real name” indication to add credibility to reviews.
- Unlimited sock puppet accounts are being created by malicious folks and spammers.
- No simple/easy way to get malicious reviews (where folks made no purchase and/or are competitors) removed. I realize a reader will likely detect a review like that as ‘inappropriate’ but far more eyes go to the overall star rankings than to the individual reviews.
- Too long an update period from third-party review sites. A malicious/bogus review can get deleted from the original site (CitySearch, Yahoo, etc…) but still display on Google for up to three months. This has happened to me and it was completely frustrating.

Clearly she is not alone in her thoughts on reviews. If you peruse the forums you will find a multitude of complaints about reviews in these areas:

- How to Remove Reviews
- Missing Reviews/ Where have my reviews gone?
- Flagging Reviews
- Fake Reviews

It is amazing how little has changed. What is fascinating about her responses is that they are many of  the same issues that I ranted about in September of 2008:

Last week’s reports of hijackings of legitimate business listings in Maps highlighted wide spread abuse of both Google’s community edit AND the reviews feature. In addition to hijacking listings, the affiliate spammers have been rapidly adding bogus reviews. Most IYP sites have a rapid response to such activities and will quickly pull down a bogus review in response to a business owner. NOT GOOGLE! Google has two issues in this regard.

Firstly, their scraping and updating of reviews has a very long and unpredictable update cycle. At best, if a review is removed from CitySearch it will be gone from Google in 6 to 8 weeks. But that is a best case scenario and that is not always the case.

Secondly, on Google generated reviews the only review removal request option is a community feature allowing a review to be flagged as inappropriate. There is no indication that Google even looks at this community input on a reliable basis. If they do, there is no feedback to the harmed business. There are no clear guidelines nor consistent action to indicate which reviews, if any, will be taken down.

Ok, Google, time to grow up! You are rapidly achieving market dominance in the Local Listing space. As evidenced by last week hijackings and many other previous reports, the Local OneBoxes can have incredibly negative impact on a local business. While it is great that Google is providing a “free” marketing resource it is turning out to be not so “free” at all and for some the costs are quite high. If you want to be a part of our local communities than act that way! We know that you can have a positive influence on our communities in bringing new technologies to bear on old problems. Welcome to our home town.

But don’t be soiling the bed in which you sleep! As to technical solutions to the problem of tracking down and limiting the influence of the “bad apple” reviewers I am sure that Google has plenty of qualified coders to tackle the issue.

My suggestion then reflects some still undone work after almost 2 years: “Turn the Local Business Center into a relationship management tool and show the business owner EVERY review that you have in your index whether scraped or Google entered. Show us which ones are in our Maps listing and let us respond directly to those folks that created the review in Google. If we flag an inappropriate review from within the LBC, guarantee some sort of review process and a timeframe. And provide a response, even if automated!”

The new feature allowing a business to respond to reviews is a welcome and useful change. It will be engaging to the SMB and will generate some interesting content for Google. Hopefully, it is but the first of a series of changes to the process of how reviews are handled and the way that Google interacts with SMBS.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
How Google Has Handled Reviews Reflects a Long History of a Tin Ear and Little Action by

9 thoughts on “How Google Has Handled Reviews Reflects a Long History of a Tin Ear and Little Action”

  1. Mike,
    The rise of the sock puppet accounts is becoming a serious issue and, if unchecked, will result in Place Pages reviews being spam heaven. There are already many companies place pages which are hopelessly spammy.

    Do you have any sense that Google is working on this?

  2. @Ted

    Reviews are one area that Google has implemented no visible form of spam control….they have massive amounts of data about what is good and what is not but up to this point have done nothing to ferret out the obvious spam…one can only assume that it has to be on their radar.

  3. I always enjoy learning from Cathy’s hands-on experience as a savvy SMB, and she’s pointed out something really important here: the anonymity factor. Despite this, however, with the new owner response capability, business owners will now at least have some ability to respond, whether they are replying to Bob Jones or CrazyBOB.

  4. @Ted – The sock puppets are allowing spammers to take top placement spots through their sheer volume of reviews. To make matters even worse, these kinds of spammers also use Google’s Blogspot to create their landing pages. Despite numerous spam reports filed, nothing seems to happen.

    @Miriam – The ability of business owners to respond should cut down the number of malicious reviews from sock puppet accounts – and that’s a very good thing. Still – the anonymous accounts can create many other problems for legit local SMBs.

    @Mike – Thanks for the reminder there’s still much work to be done to make Google Maps and Place Pages more useful and credible.

  5. Miriam:

    I agree with you. Cathy’s bulleted points are 100% spot on.

    Absolutely well said Cathy. If the review sites allow the sock puppets to publish anonymous attack reviews and have Zero accountability. the businesses should be able to call them out.

    Frankly, if the review is anonymous, and it attacks a real entity, they should highlight that the reviewer is anonymous and write a warning:

    this review is anonymous and could have been planted by a malicious sock puppet or more likely an underhanded competitor!!!

  6. The thing is, Google is not the Better Business Bureau or the Ombudsman Office. Google, Yahoo Local, Yelp, etc. are open websites that must also consider privacy issues. It would be great if every business review can be identified with a real customer but that is unfortunately hard to achieve. So, sites like these must strike a working balance between privacy issues, business libel concerns, genuine visitors, spammers, unfair competition, and so on. In the end it is a combination of spam control, business response, and user validation that places weight on a review or not.

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