Google Places Reviews Being Lost – Houston We have a Problem!

Google Places seems to have again misplaced reviews in significant quanties. The forums are loaded with complaints particularly during the past 24 hours with 5 of the last 10 postings in the forums being about missing reviews (here, here, here, here, and here).

Reviews for a small business are a very sensitive area. Initially most SMBs are hesitant to engage in the process for fear that they won’t be liked and their warts will be visible for all the world to see. Once they do engage in the review process they become the ultimate proud mother hen, protecting their reviews as if they were the palace guards and the reviews were the crown jewels. It in area of great angst for many and Google’s poor handling of them brings down a stream of complaints and insults like no other area in the forum.

Google Places has a long history of loosing reviews. It usually occurs when there are large changes occurring. Often times they return after several weeks although in my case it has been 3 months without seeing them on my listing.

Exactly why reviews are lost but business listings are not, implies that the information is kept in a different index. When there is a major upgrade  they end up needing to be reassociated with the cluster. (At least this my theory and for what it is worth, publicly embraced by Google).

Regardless of the cause, it appears to be a systemic weakness in the architecture of Places. It is also a weakness that is noted by many a business who readily point it out. It is strange to me that Google would leave such a weakness so visible if for no other reason than a fix would quiet the rioting hordes.

So, what exactly can a business do if their reviews go missing? What tactics can help in this situation?

1- Google Places and Maps is a frustrating arena because of problems like this. The main thing to do is to take a breath and realize that usually, sooner or later, they will return. Don’t waste your time lamenting the fact that they are missing. Oh, ok lament a little but don’t put any real energy into the problem as the issue does not appear to affect ranking.

2- Keep an eye out for listing replication in the index. Many times, particularly in the medical and legal fields, a second record will appear in the index and “steal” some of the reviews. This creates a whole other set of problems that I won’t address here but at least you know where they went (see #1).

3- Be sure that you are getting reviews from a range of sources. Usually Google doesn’t seem to lose both in house and 3rd party reviews at the same time. If you have taken the time to get reviews at CitySearch, Yahoo, etc etc, they will still be there when your Google reviews disappear and vice versa.

4-Don’t be mucking with your business name. Changing your name can cause your cluster to become disoriented leading to a host of problems from mergings to lost reviews. Name is one of the critical glues holding your cluster together.

5-Read #1 and take a deep breath. You worked hard to deserve and get those good reviews but at least your favorite aunt isn’t dying. It is important but put this in perspective.

Good luck!

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
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31 thoughts on “Google Places Reviews Being Lost – Houston We have a Problem!”

  1. Great post Mike. This is definitely becoming a much bigger issue. I just watched a competitor fall 3 spots and lose 70 reviews. Though I am not complaining on that case it still sucks for them. ;-)

    I have sure had clients get nailed on this. I am moving away from recommending google maps as a review spot because I see far less issues with reviews disappearing from the other sources (currently…until they get yelped) and funny enough they at least have some level or support.

    Bottom line is as followed. Google… get your support on and fix issues of the businesses that monitor their listing and search for help on the forums. There is relatively a small amount of complaints and they could be handled by a relatively small group of people.

    Treat SMB’s well on the support end and they are the ones who will become your paying customers in the form of adwords and maps. Pay Professior maps and he could seriously do the whole thing alone.

    Also, make it easy on yourself and have the ability to claim and easily merge listings from within the business owners dashboard so that you can cut out like 90% of the complaints that come your way in the first place.

  2. @Mike
    Thanks. It is a huge issue that’s for sure. Whether it is getting bigger because Google is failing more often in this regard or whether more business owners are paying attention or some combo of that I am not sure.

    Coming from the smb world it was always hard for me to understand their approach to “customer service” but I realized some while back that they look at each an every support request as a cost center and the lower they can keep their cost per response the more profit they will make… because of their scale, if they can shave 10 cents off each support contact they can take huge sums to the bank… an engineer would theorize that it is possible to drive support to zero….

  3. Hey Guys,
    So, Mike Ramsey…you ARE seeing a ranking drop with lost reviews? Mike’s note, above, mentions that these episodes of lost reviews do not appear to him to affect rankings. What do you fellows things about this difference in what you are seeing? Mike R., could your competitor have been penalized for fishy practices, rather than just having his reviews replaced? Curious for more detail on this point.

  4. Which is exactly was is wrong with scaling and I thought you hit it great it your other daily post.

    While profit is the motivator, it can also be what destroys the company as they move further away from the original goals.

    I don’t think there is a person who has really had map issues who wouldn’t pay google for support even, through a one time or monthly deal. You could have…

    free
    tag
    tag with support.

    Most other directories offer support and if you are a paying customer they offer serious support because they know that if they don’t there are competitors that will. I think the only big solve will be the day when another search giant in the form of facebook, twitter, or bing becomes a serious local competitor. Then caring about the customer will actually fall on the table of “to do’s”.

  5. @Miriam Yes, he fell 3 places and the only change I could see on the listing were reviews. And he seemed to be the only one effected by loss of reviews in the 7 pack. If so many others weren’t talking about loss of reviews I would think that it was a penalization. But the reviews I saw seemed legit. Hard to tell.

  6. Yes, your business can fall from reviews loss. It won’t fall much, but the feeling is unpleasant. Btw you can get SOME reviews back. Try to make post and fix the location of the listing (don’t change it, just click save). For example one listing lost 10 reviews (from 10 to 0) and I was able to bring 3 back. The loss of user contents is permanent.

  7. In the past year, I have invested heavily into local search (read: Google Places) for my company. Issues like this one and this are extremely frustrating and underline the idea that google needs to put a big, bold “BETA” next to the Google Places brand and perhaps even a warning of the type they have for the walking directions in Maps until stuff like this happens a lot less or until customers can get good, live help (maybe offer this for Tags users for an extra fee).

    G Places is an awesome free service that I wholeheartedly embrace, but warn others – especially brand new businesses who are charting their local online pretense – to be careful in becoming too reliant on leads from this service alone.

  8. @ Mike R:

    My observations are that volume of reviews affects rankings when 1 or 2 records have a tremendous volume of reviews relative to the other records/businesses ie 80 reviews versus maybe an average of 5 for others.

    The one statistical study I saw on that phenomena also identified that volume of reviews seemed to have an impact when there was a dearth of other signals.

    Out of curiousity…that drop in rankings that you reference…did the record that lost the reviews and rankings….were its volume of reviews dramatically higher than the average of other records in that group??

  9. Yes they had over 100 where compition is sitting in the 10-20 range. Very much like the dental industry and our wonderful review provider there.

    And WHen one business has an extreme amount of reviews, it helps majorly. The Dental industry screams of this where the listing is fairly week besides that factor. Though this listing is not a dental one, I see the reviews working in a very similar manner.

  10. Great article and better discussion. I noticed that my reviews clustered from one listing to another listing. That listing is to an old location that we shut down in favor of a bigger office. Now that old listing that was removed is live again, and it took our reviews from an owner verified listing in another city that split into like three listings and lost all of its reviews. Fwwwwsheww!

  11. Based on what Mike R states its another visible example why IMHO Google should devalue the importance of volumes of reviews on ranking in Google Maps/Places and the 7pac.

    It simply reeks of simple ranking manipulaton, something google.com has battled for years. Frankly google.com has done a more meticulous and thoughtful job in fighting ranking spam than have the other engines. Its a major reason they vaulted to the market share they currently have.

    In Maps voluminous reviews have a two fold impact that can manipulate what viewers see:

    If an undue volume of reviews for a single business exist:

    A) that record leaps to the top and gets seen the most by visitors
    B) the business that is generating these reviews, in whatever method they are using, are clearly going to generate positive reviews. It’s not a balanced look.

    The whole thing reeks of spam.

    Getting back to the original point….obviously G Places is currently experiencing a lot of problems. Lots of smbs notice these problems and are complaining. Huge numbers of lost reviews is only the latest of a spate of problems since the third week of September. Its a messy animal right now.

    Should Google devalue the importance of volumes of reviews with regard to its ranking algo….less people would complain. Businesses would spend less time throwing hundreds of “managed reviews” onto the web.

    Just think of that, Google. Mike Blumenthal would have less opportunities to point out your flaws!! :D

  12. Wanted to add to what Plaman said, for anyone that’s suffering from missing reviews.

    I saw one user on the forum post today that he lost reviews, then moved his map marker to correct it and his reviews immediately came back. So it’s worth a shot.

  13. Mike: Noticing this morning that some of the folks that you referenced at the start of this post….are now showing those lost reviews.

    Haven’t seen a reference by Google staff as to the phenomena.

    I still think Google should reduce the weight of volume of reviews on the ranking of records in its local algo. They should also announce that.

    That could contribute to a reduction of the massive efforts to aggregate reviews by smbs.

    In one of the above cases…an smb w/ lost reviews had over 3 times the # of reviews than any other business in a category….and an infinite to 20+ times the volumes of reviews than most of the businesses.

    Reviews and testimonials are important. They have a value that is somewhat less than word of mouth perspectives than those you know.

    To the extent businesses pursue and generate reviews like crazy…as a marketing tactic….this process should be eliminated as a ranking characteristic. It reeks of ranking spam….and frankly Google.com has focused on trying to eliminate that.

  14. we also saw ou business listing fall off Google. Tried to replace it but no joy .. useful insights in the piece .. will try again now. Thanks

  15. Mike:

    I’d suggest you look through the volume of reviews for various businesses that you can find under the category of computer repair Mesa Arizona. That particular category was referenced by one of the complaints within the forum you referenced at the top.

    The entire review volume smells bad: Attack reviews, owners writing reviews slamming competitors for writing attack reviews, entire volumes of reviews that look like they were authored/orchestrated by one review writer on behalf of one of the computer repair businesses.

    If I lived in Mesa Arizona and had a business that needed computer repair and diligently read through reviews on the businesses as listed in Google Places (more than the 7pac) I’d come away feeling perplexed, confused, and pretty untrustworthy.

    In fact, I’d ditch the reviews and start speaking to people I know for more trustworthy and believable comments.

    The wierd reviews aren’t limited to maps.google.com . Some of the businesses have obviously generated a high volume of reviews in other sources that get picked up by google.

    What a messy way to generate content for the places pages. Instead of being helpful to consumers its more like unleashing a mass of ugly beasts that pollute the environment. It certainly reveals the dark deep hidden side of competition at its ugliest.

    If I lived in Mesa I might stick with an adding machine and an abacus

  16. Mike,

    Thanks very much for all the good info in your blog. I’m about to embark on some significant review work for some of my customers (using automagic customer satisfaction surveys to present review links to their customers to ask for reviews). The fact that Google can’t keep things straight is troubling – to say the least.

    I’m wondering if they lost any of the legion of bogus reviews out there submitted by unscrupulous folks who seem to get five star service in every state. Hmmm.

    BTW, this is very nit-picky, but “loose” does not mean misplace or accidentally discard. “Lose” would be correct. :)

  17. Has there been any official response from Google about what happened to the missing reviews, i.e. are they gone permanently or are their systems waiting to ‘synchronize’ and compile the information together again? It’s not clear if this was a technical glitch or intentional review take down.

  18. Our reviews disappeared and we dropped from 5-7 on the first page for most related keyword searches to 10-13 on the second page.

    We contacted Google and posted to the help forum but a month later our ratings, ranking and subsequently our business are still gone.

  19. Hey Mike,

    Going to Mike Ramsey’s point of ranking loss, I just noticed a pretty massive loss for an account I track daily that lost 10 reviews somehow last night. The drop on the 7 Pack for one of their keywords went from 2nd to 6th, and from 3rd to 7th. The total number of reviews dropped from 45 to 35 to give an idea of review volume. They have a good number of review sources and nothing else had been done in this time period. Interesting. Hopefully, they’ll be back. I’m doing my best to follow point #1 in your post :)

    Ed

  20. Houston, we now have new visualization of the reviews. Now they are separated in:

    Reviews from around the web
    Reviews by Google users

    It seems that what is lost is lost, tho…

  21. Mike- in a way it makes me feel a little better to think that this stuff happens to you as well. Not that I want this to happen to you or any one else for that matter but at least this happens to the top guys as well. Google is king but I think they are creating a huge opportunity for some one else to fill in one day by the way they treat “customers”.

  22. I am beyond frustrated with Google Places our site has great organic ranking all through white hat quality content development over the years…. Google Places seems to be a step in the wrong direction. What are you all doing with your frustration, if you have any?

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