Google Places: Google Confirms New Review Removal Practices

Google Employee Stephan S has just posted this in the Places Forum post to report “missing” reviews confirming that Google has started to remove reviews (bold is mine):

As mentioned in this forum previously, we’re currently experiencing an issue that is preventing us from showing some reviews on Place pages. We’re working to correct this issue as soon as possible, and apologize for the inconvenience and frustration this has caused some of you.

However, please remember that there are various reasons why reviews may not appear. We’re continuing to do our best to ensure that the reviews in our system are legitimate and high-quality. To protect both business owners and customers, we have systems in place that may remove individual reviews, and with the revised review policies we released a few months ago (see below) we have taken a stronger stance against spam and other forms of abuse. So while some of you are seeing less reviews because of the aforementioned error, many of you are experiencing removed reviews because they have been removed by our systems. We acknowledge that sometimes our algorithms may flag and remove legitimate reviews in our effort to combat abuse, but believe that overall, these measures are helping to ensure that the reviews appearing on Place pages are authentic, relevant and useful.

References:
Review Posting Guidelines & Policy (Help Articles)

Google has finally released a public statement about their stance on reviews. It is not clear to me, as David Mihm pointed out, that they have either the PR machinery or customer support structure in place to deal with the coming fury….

Here are some other recent articles that have dealt with the review issues on Google Places…

Last week I noted that Google was no longer showing some reviewers names: Google Places – Reviewer Names No Longer Showing. Feature or Bug?

From Wednesday: Google Places – Are Reviews Now Being Filtered?

Thursday: Google Places: Selective Reviews Now Being Removed

In aggregate these indicate a huge shift in policy for Google. Previously they allowed ALL review information into Places with no concern for quality of the review or the reviewer.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Google Places: Google Confirms New Review Removal Practices by

20 thoughts on “Google Places: Google Confirms New Review Removal Practices”

  1. I hope this is a sign they are getting better at identifying SPAM reviews. They appear to have gone awry in this area.

    However, a few months back I noticed one of my past client’s reviews drop significantly. When I was working with him I told him to solicit reviews from his best clients, but like many, he took the easy route and supposedly submitted them on behalf of his clients. They all took at first, and jumped him way up on the map, but then after a few months many of them went away. I noticed this with several other businesses around this time to.

  2. Hi Wes

    Obviously, they are still rookies at the game. But they are quick learners and screwing up in reviews will provide them lots of feedback very quickly on where they are going wrong. Take a look at some of the comments immediately after Google posted…

    I assume, that like the new organo local blended results, they have been testing this for quite some time… you can probably nail the exact date of the rollout by the volume of complaints in the forums.

  3. Anybody else noticing TripAdvisor reviews are gone? A few hotels in Boston no longer show them aggregated, but the total number of reviews has stayed. TripAdvisor? Really?

    Also, having problems with reviews listed that do not belong to my client’s event venue. They have 2 very negative reviews about past events, but Google is listing them for the venue.

  4. @Lauren

    The most recent issues with 3rd party reviews are being mentioned frequently in the forums… there is a long history of Google, usually for only 24-72 hours, loosing 3rd party reviews.

    Any more, I just figure it is part of the landscape and architecture of Google Places and that they will return.

  5. Honestly, I cant imagine how an algo would detect a real review from a spammed one. Many people who have been asked by their vendor take the time to write a review will most likely write a very detailed and flattering review. I would imagine that such a review could and would be flagged as spam in this landscape, but would not be. Now the review will be considered guilty if it is eloquent and detailed. In my opinion I think Google should pay less attention to this, and let the intelligence of the individuals determine that for themselves. I see many third party review sites that have very detailed reviews that are written by honest people looking to lend a helping hand, but yet there is nothing to be gained by virtue of internet visibility. Those same well written reviews will mostly likely now be flagged by Google, but will most likely be allowed as a third pary review. There is no way that an algo can detect the intent of the reviewer, without hurting innocent bystanders along the way, and thus ruin the process in the meantime. I think that Google goes too far on many fronts while trying to protect the so called integrity of the search, and they are soon going to make it impossible for the any small business to excel in this internet marketplace, and just like in all facets of life, the rich will get richer. It is the concept that even the little guy or girl with a little hard work enhancing their relevancy on the internet will lead to increase exposure, that drives people’s interest in Google in the first place. They need us as much as we need them. I think sometimes they lose sight of that. It is my view that if you take the fucntion away from the average person, then eventually there will be less interest by people, which could open the door to ther other search engines. Just one mans opinion. I really enjoy your insight and look to your blog everyday to see what is new and exciting in the world of local SEO. Thank-you for doing what you do.

  6. So I had 89 review two weeks ago, then I had no reviews, then I had 2 reviews. I have since received another 3 reviews.

    Google has perhaps perceived my reviews to be of poor quality, too hastily arrived at (18 mths?) or highly distorted in terms of the number of reviews my longer established competitors have achieved. Or of course a combination of all these things, plus 10 other random issues pulled from the Google bag.

    I have lots of unique customers every week, do a great job at a very low price….. so in my case reviews fill the credibility void facing a low price offering. Overnight they are wiped, but the difficulty is in understanding why and arriving at a new review gathering strategy? You see if you don’t feel that you have done anything wrong, you sort of struggle with this.

    If I have done nothing wrong, marketed well to my clients and got them to write a review (however bad Google feels those individuals may be as review writers) what should I do next time around? I have in effect learnt nothing, other than the fact that Google one day may wipe them out in a subjective whimsical action. (Coincidentally hat I also struggle with is the fact that newer customers cannot find my write a review link on my places page (neither at times can I) as it appears to regularly have disappeared over the last few weeks.)

    If I re-contact all those individuals who have written me a review that has been wiped / frozen / put into solitary confinement, what will they find on their account… will the review still be there. If I ask them to write me a new review what will happen? If they have as a consequence of writing me a review, developed bad review credit, how long does that last for and when (if ever) will they be able to write me another review?

    You see the point is, I don’t understand the way forward. I followed a strategy, I gained reviews and have no idea how I should approach review gathering differently? I’m not sure I have learnt anything more than thems the breaks!

    Does it make me want to do anything differently… no, I suppose I’ll just do the same again and see where we go.

  7. I know that I have seen posts relative to this subject, but I am perplexed as to why G has decided to remove the identity of “Reviews by Google users”. Prior to the removal, it was quite easy to identify review spam. For example, A car dealership review in Maine and a hotel review in Las Vegas on the same day, just to name a few…Now it is nearly impossible. Why would G do this. Did they not like users reporting review spam on the forums and elsewhere? Very odd. Any theories???

  8. @David
    Thanks for the nod.

    There are number of signals that Google could use to tag reviews as spam… at this point, we don’t really know what they are…

    @Adrian

    Google said:
    we’re currently experiencing an issue that is preventing us from showing some reviews on Place pages. We’re working to correct this issue as soon as possible, and apologize for the inconvenience and frustration this has caused some of you.

    So while it is always time to THINK about review strategies moving forward it is too early to come to any conclusions (or loose any sleep). I think it is time for a pause, wait and see which reviews come back, which were deemed as spam and why and then make a decision.

    @Dana
    I have two theories..
    1)Privacy -if a user did NOT make his or her name public, then Google might feel obligated to respect that
    or
    2)Perhaps they feel that those users without public profiles should be deemed as less trustworthy and readers will understand that…

    I lean towards 1) but who knows?

  9. As a small business we work hard to provide great service. Each month we ask customers to provide reviews. Way too often, after they have said they will, they email us back and say it is way too dificult or they don’t want to be “forced into” becoming a Google Plus member to provide a review!. In the month of June, we had 6 customers who wanted to do a review, say they won’t based upon the current Google requirements.

    Addionally, this morning at our 4018 Marsh rd location, we had 30 reviews. Tonight we have 29 so we see Google is up too removing reviews again! I wrote on this subject a few months ago out of frustration..what the devil is going on here…why would Google even consider removing a submitter’s review…just don’t get it.

    Lastly, we have two locations:
    - Original one at 4018 Marsh Rd, Madison WI 53718
    - New in 2012 at 317 Dairy Drive, Madison, WI 53718

    Yet when a customer does an AppleWood Storage name search on Google Maps, they only get the one location on Marsh and they drive there, not knowing about the Dairy Drive location that they intended on meeting us at. I have talked with Google till I’m blue in the face and still can’t get it fixed. One time I got a rep with a diffuclt language accent and they wanted to turn off the original location and couldn’t understand that a business could have multiple locations.

    All of this for a small business owner is very frustrating and you can’t talk to anyone live at Google anymore…can anyone shed any light on these two issues!

  10. @dave

    A review at yahoo or super pages or citysearch or insider pages is worth infinitely more than a review that doesn’t show at google.

    You are driving yourself crazy by setting objectives that are not in conformity with the reality you are confronting.

  11. Mike:
    Certainly correct that if you can’t count on Google to keep reviews up…sounds like I should promote reviews on other sites instead.

    The SHAME on Google is that a customer goes through a lot of effort to be share their comments only to have big G yank them off. Yet if a business has a bad review that is inappropraite and violates G’s published rules to be able to remove, removal is an act of god to get done. Google needs to listen to the voice of the customer and be more accountable and accessible vs. us making excuses for them. I know, I could not treat our customers this way for too long!

  12. @Dave

    I am NOT saying don’t ask for reviews at Google.

    I am saying ask for reviews at a number of places, explain to your customers why they might want to or not want to leave a review at one place or the other. Explain to them that if they are not frequent Google users they should leave a review elsewhere etc etc.

    Let them your customers decide based on their easiest route. Not on some route that you pre planned for them. The goal is to make it easy for your clients.

    For a reference see the letter I posted here.

  13. Folks:
    Reality is that Google is getting to big and loosing focus on the voice of the customer. If the small business laid out as many excuses and a gauntlet of proceesses to comminicate, all we would be seeing is footprints going the other way.
    IF Google does have a PR machine auditing chatter like this, why not invest in a process for the customer to be able to contact Google before things get to heartburn level?

    I sincerely hope their PR machine has noticed our issue for Google Maps not recognizing teh 2nd location on 3017 Dairy Drive, Madison Wi 53718 and can get the maps to show this choice when searching.

  14. I’ve noticed my review was removed, and I’d really like to know why.
    This was my review of a local tree service I had used:
    “Good, but not great. The price was very good; much less than the competition. They removed a maple in my backyard for $475; the cheapest quote from others was $700, but price isn’t everything. They did the job while I was at work, removed the tree, and left what looked like a large mound of wood chips and top soil (grindings), but when I dug through the grindings I discovered that only half of the root stock had been removed (the tree had a large amount of roots above ground and Rich had guaranteed a complete removal of them). They had left a huge 4 ft circular ring of root stock, most of it was a foot above grade (above ground level), and some of the roots where 3-5inches in diameter. I called Rich on his cell, he sounded surprised that I had dug out the grindings (“you dug it up?”), he explained that usually he does the final grinding himself, but this time he left two new guys to do the final grinding. After almost 2 weeks and 3 calls from me, Rich sent his guys to finish the job.
    If they had finished the job right the first time I would have given them a perfect score, because their price is very reasonable and all I wanted was the tree removed. If you are planning on using them I would definitely recommend being there while the work is done, or at the very least inspect the work before they leave. During the almost 2 weeks that I waited for them to return and finish the job there were 7 days with nice weather (no rain & not too cold), but obviously I was no longer a priority.”
    I felt the review was more than fair (I gave 3 stars & he deserved much less). People really needed to be warned about this company. After my review the owner “Rich” of the tree service called me repeatably leaving obscene & threatening messages. Demanding I remove the above review. When I didn’t respond, he then came to my house pounding the door & screaming obscenities. I had to have the police remove him from my property. I have the officer’s name & case number of the indecent. If I had included this information in my review would that have made it more acceptable? I assume he was able to get you to remove the review which I feel is shame after I went through to have it posted.
    Any advice, or insight into this situation? Thanks.

  15. @Howard
    With Google there are three possible issues.
    1-they misplaced or lost it
    2-they have marked it as spam
    3-Only rarely and only in case of extreme language does Google remove a review upon it being flagged.

    I do not think that Google removed the review for language.

    Thus either it was lost or their spam filter didn’t like it.

    Their “rules” for marking a review as spam and removing it.
    -It is a review that has been posted more than once in much the same duplicate format
    -it is a review that was posted from a computer that Google doesn’t trust

    There are more rules but they do not appear to apply in this situation.

    Is the review still visible to you when you go to Google? If it is then it will have a message on it indicating why it is not showing. See this article.

    It may have just been lost.

    Regardless what you can try is to repost a review via your Android and iPhone using Google Maps. Sometimes mobile reviews are less likely to be taken down.

    The other alternative is to go the Google Places Forums and see if you can get the attention of a Top Contributor who could carry your case forward to Google to have the review reinstated.

  16. Thank you for your prompt reply. Yes, the review is visible on my account with the following message:
    “This review doesn’t adhere to our content policies and is visible only to you. Please check out this link for additional information on our policies.”
    I read the policies under the link, but I still do not understand why the review was removed, unless I was disregarded as a shill, or something. I could attach pictures, & a receipt if that is possible. The receipt would prove I was a customer & had the aforementioned work done. Also, the pictures (which I always take for any project I have undertaken) would substantiate my assessment of the work performed.

    Do you think resubmitting the review with pictures & receipt would make it acceptable, or would it be a waste of effort?

  17. @Howard
    Ah so it was removed as “spam”.

    Three questions:
    1)Did you leave the same review any place else?
    2)Have you left other reviews at Google?
    3)What date did you leave the review?

    Google’s algo isn’t too worried about facts in the real world and the decisions it makes are based on a set of rules to limit the worst of spamming by the bad guys. So including your valid documentation will not help. The easiest thing to try is to get Google’s attention.

    I am planning on alerting Google about it so maybe the review will be reinstated. Can you send me a screen shot of the review and message?

    Mike

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