When Will Google Places Fix Reviews?

Reviews about a business are one of the key jewels in the bag of online marketing tools available. Businesses work hard to get good reviews and benefit from the positive word of mouth when the shopping community lauds them. Google has had on-going trouble keeping track of these jewels, losing their own and those from 3rd parties all too often. Now with recent changes, Google seems to have added new problems and bugs to their handling of reviews.

With the rollout of Hotpot and user ratings, Google appears to have made massive internal changes to their review process. Reviews with Google have always been flakey but now they are even more so with half baked changes that make providing reviews on Google Places more friction laden then ever.

I think this screen, shown when you click in Places to see the reviews provided by an anonymous “Google User”, says it all:

Apparently, Google is attempting to make anonymous review histories available for perusal but there have been serious flaws in the process that have not been fixed for well over a month. The error message above has been visible for over 3 weeks but even worse is that reviews from new anonymous reviewers are often not posting at all onto Places leaving reviewers and businesses confused.

In early November, Google removed the user names from reviews of reviewers that did not have public profiles. Apparently this was in preparation for the change over to anonymously showing those reviews. Google noted in mid November that “If you don’t have a public Google profile, your existing ratings & reviews will be attributed anonymously, e.g. to “A Google User””.

But this changeover has never been completed. About 3 weeks ago, anonymous reviews started showing a link titled “A Google User” but when clicked it led to the 500 error page and has done so ever since. I suppose not very many people witness this inexcusable web error that deep into Places but worse is that Google has often not been posting anonymous reviews from new users at all since early November. They seem to have dropped into a black hole, one presumes to return once Google has fixed these problems with the handling of anonymous reviews. But once again creating more confusion and friction in the review process.

Some reviews have been pulled because of quality issues and that is a good thing. Some reviews have been lost just because (my listing lost 28 or so reviews in early summer) and this has always been the case, but adding insult to injury by having such a crudely finished product is inexcusable. Misplacing, losing and randomly not showing reviews from anonymous, new reviewers is even worse.

Google Places wants the SMBs of the world to be transparent and have all information about them visible to the world (often with no recourse when it is wrong) but they apparently seem incapable of the same standards of transparency when handling that data. Its time for Google to get their local Review act together.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
When Will Google Places Fix Reviews? by

25 thoughts on “When Will Google Places Fix Reviews?”

  1. Wanted to second you on this.

    Have been having issues with reviews in places for brother in laws restaurant in Paris since April 2010. (No updates from Qype since then.)

    Just happens of the 14 or so reviews on Qype the last one to be indexed is the harshist, plus the rating is out by a whole point (3 vs. 4 stars)

    Google seems to be making a real mess of this… at the moment.

  2. A little transparency would be nice – if only to state the intended goal or to say ‘we are working on it’.

    Since Google announced support for microformatted reviews in September, I have noticed significant variability on what content is indexed or not into Maps. In the last week, I have seen hundreds of reviews appear in Maps and hundreds of reviews disappear in Maps. Some of the content is microformatted, some not.

    Fingers crossed on the kinks being worked out soon.

  3. @Sparcosso
    Reviews have been a mess and have a very long history of problems ( see this rant from 9/2008). This new problem I write about is not on top of the all the many previous and still extant problems…

    @Ted
    Yes, I can live with a publicly acknowledge work in progress but the issues with reviews goes way back (see above) with nary a comment nor commitment from the “technology leader” unless you count “its on our to do list” as fulfilling that.

    Reviews are a critical element in the local ecosystem and Google has been anything but transparent nor consistent with their handling of them…and too many years on, they have the same problems PLUS new ones.

  4. Seeing similar issues here with clients. In one case the Yelp reviews are linking to a generic page with all of my client’s competitors displayed and NOT my client!

    This is all so funny to me. Just read a review of the upcoming Google OS Chrome and the author raved about how Google’s size would allow them to rule the world. Yeah right. How is that Google TV roll-out going? Google as an organization is a mess internally and it is really starting to show to consumers externally.

  5. @Mark
    Local is where the rubber meets the road…. they want the loyalty of the SMBs of the world but treat them like a grand experiment in code debugging… it is not pretty. And the funny thing is I WANT THEM TO SUCCEED… but they sure seem intent on screwing this up.

  6. Glad to see your post about this issue again. I was wondering the same thing but was getting tired of posting on the official Google missing links page.

    Do you think this is something that will ever be resolved or can we basically say goodbye to all the reviews that have been lost?

  7. Daniel Boone once said “I was never lost, but there was a period of about 4 days when I was a might disoriented!”.

    The reality is that Google never looses data either. It is a question of whether they are able to properly associate the reviews with the given cluster about the business. In my case, you can still see the reviews that no longer show on my listing in the list of reviews done by the reviewers…. they still have them, just a tad disoriented….

    As to when the disorientation will resolve itself is anyones guess…. the problems of lost reviews appear to be deeply tied to the way that the reviews are assembled into the cluster for a given business and the problem reaches back quite far. I have articles on the problem from early 2007….

    So to paraphrase Google in 2010 “We never lost any reviews, but there was a period of about 4 years when we was a might disoriented about where they were!”

    You would think that 4 years would be enough for the world’s biggest technology company to solve that problem but obviously not… and now, as you can see above, they have added new problems to the mix.

    That all being said, I am ever hopeful. :)

  8. I’m just glad the Google Places ‘Implementation Team’ aren’t schoolteachers, bankers or surgeons: this is bad, but it could be worse.
    – I too want Places to succeed, but this looks like too many hands working at once. Some form of structure or organization would clearly be valuable right about now.

  9. Hi,

    Some poor user this week had another companies bad review linked to them because the reviewed spammy Touch Local listing did not have a local Places entry. google ensuring a ‘quality experience’ for the searcher? Lets hope the spammer did not have another web listing without similar reviews.

    My big moan is that in the ‘real world’, which google seem terminally disconnected from, a business would not self publish negative reviews. An Owner Verified Places entry is self published, so google should only scrape positive reviews for them. 3 stars and above and no negative words in the content. IMHO.

    Cheers. Andrew.

  10. Mike,
    You’ve hit the nail on the head with your remark about loyalty. Why should I use Google’s product instead of Yelp’s, TripAdvisor’s, etc? This is the question I hope Google’s folks are asking themselves and I sincerely hope the issue of review bugs is being given prime consideration. It’s a deal-breaker as far as loyalty is concerned.

  11. @Andrew
    Google makes somewhat of a distinction between testimonials (self published complimentary comments) and reviews ( independent, 3rd party generated content).

    Their dichotomy, in attempting to understand more about the merchant, is defended by them as legitimate user generated content that world should know about the merchant. Much of the time it very well could be and perhaps should run without business owner override.

    However sometimes reviews are mistakes, spam or worse and Google, by not providing a decent arbitration system, puts themselves in the arrogant position of thinking that their algo can tell the difference and the business essentially “got what they deserved”…

    @Miriam
    Yes, Google seems essentially tone deaf and arrogant in regards to the needs of SMBs and will in the end suffer the same fate as others who have traveled that path.

  12. I noticed back in September-October that Google was only listing dental offices in our local area on Places that had several DemandForce certified reviews. So my dental office client signed on with DemandForce.

    Then Google changed everything, and suddenly all we saw listed for “San Ramon Dentist” were
    Places listings that only had a few organic reviews next to them. Now it seems Google is mixing it up–I see both types of reviews in Places listings for the same search.

    Someone from DemandForce told us that they have a special deal with Google because one of the DF company founders has a brother who works at Google and he landed a personal meeting where Google supposedly agreed to rank DemandForce reviewed sites higher than those with only organic reviews. (Which seems to actually have happened for awhile.)

    Maybe someone called Google on it? Doesn’t quite seem fair or “natural” for a dental or medical office to have to pay for DemandForce services to get Google to list them on the first page. Did anyone else notice this during the fall with their medical/dental clients?

  13. @Kim
    DemandForce did have an unusual and special deal with Google to share their reviews directly with Google Places via a feed. They were the only review management company that had that privilege that we know of. Other companies, like CitySearch and InsiderPages also fed their reviews to Google via a similar feed but they were not review management companies.

    Google has always looked for review sources to populate their Places Pages although in the past this relationship has been more exclusive than it is now as currently (starting this fall) they accept reviews from a broader range of sources.

    Google algo has put more or less strength on the importance of ranking over time. In the past there were times that reviews seemed to play a bigger role in ranking a listing. Now that Google implemented Places Search, the importance of reviews has dropped in comparison to the strength of the website in ranking a listing.

    I am telling you all of the above to provide an alternative explanation for what you observed.

    I think that the DemandForce representative may have “oversold” their relationship with Google and given you a line of BS to get you to sign up to the service. It is extremely unlikely (ie a chance of near zero) that Google would agree to rank anyone’s site higher than an another in such a deal.

  14. @Mike
    Thanks for the explanation. What you say makes sense, especially now that local search results are more balanced in terms of review sources.

    There’s no doubt that “certified” legitimate reviews are more helpful to searchers than random, unverified reviews. It will be interesting to see how this plays out over time.

  15. I agree with you all.

    Our company has gotten a rotten review through the Google review process and it was funny to read the profiler of the reviewer.
    The profile shows all the reviews that were written.
    I guess the reviewer did not know his public profile was accessible to the public. (He used his real name as his profile name).
    It’s a competitor who wrote shotty reviews on all his competition.

  16. Hi Mike,

    Well I thought google went round and deleted self reviews on the ISP.

    You can tell where reviews are self generated with Bold and CAPITALISED content.

    I think a business owner should have the right to make a comment linked to ALL reviews to give balance. We are not fools when judging content.

    Cheers. Andrew.

  17. We are moving to highlighting copies of the positive reviews on our own site in a prominent fashion. We’ve learned how important reviews are.

    We’ve had both good and bad reviews. We strongly believe a series of bad reviews were done by a competitor: the use of certain repetitive language and focus on an element of the business that we 100% don’t do.

    We learned that customers were aware of the bad reviews. We’ve worked to “manage reviews” to get positive ones. In fact they are outstanding. We are now plastering them on the site.

    During the same time period during which Yelp showed about 1200 visits to its site for this business, google.com and maps.google.com delivered about 34,000 visits.

    I’d go to the dashboard to identify the number of times this business showed in a maps search…but the data to this acct in the Places dashboard is all screwed up. In glancing at impressions on google adwords….a G Places/G Map record with reference to reviews about 50,000 times (more or less).

    Frankly I’d love it if every one of the 50,000 impressions would not only show that we have reviews…but they are virtually all terrific. That would be ideal.

    Not gonna work that way. In that Google’s review process is so buggy and faulty…I’ll settle for placing copies of the reviews and originating sources for those reviews on our site and hope they have impact.

    1. Other thing. This particular site has twice seen Google lose a significant volume of reviews for a period of time, only to see them return some time later. Can’t trust the current Google review process….its simply too buggy.

    2nd Point: @Darren: Nice catch. That is funny. I’d blast that SOB. If you claimed your listing you have the ability to do so. I’d report him to Google. In fact not sure if I’d bake or broil that SOB….but I’d make that sucker pay :D

  18. Mike,

    I noticed that error a while back too and figured it was still something they were sorting out with the update. Yeah a bit of mess, right!

    I have always felt they do not have the enough people and customer support to field all the glitches and hiccups in Places.

    Now they are monetizing it a little, I hope they can add more people on the team and get on these things.

  19. Reviews are a critical element in the local ecosystem and Google has been anything but transparent nor consistent with their handling of them…and too many years on, they have the same problems PLUS new ones.

  20. I have found it interesting to see how many review sites use different microformats.

    The hreview-aggregates are different for alot of review sites.

    Would that be a reason for the “up & down” number of reviews showing up in Google.

    Here in Canada, Yelp tends to have good Google results. I checked out a
    review page of theirs with the Rich Snippet testing tool and Yelp tends to have the hreview-aggregate accurate.

    Other review sites like Homestars.com are lacking alot of info in their aggregate from one day to another.

    Could it be the source of the reviews too??

    Garbage in = Garbage out…………

  21. Here is how you can see what microformats review websites use and the different format in their hreview-aggregates that Google tries to index:

    First, go to Google Rich Snippet Tool here:

    http://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/richsnippets

    Then go to any review site and select a review. Copy and paste the url of the review into the Google Rich Snippet tool and select
    Preview.

    Here is the output of the Snippet tool for 2 different sites, Yelp and Homestars.com

    Yelp first:

    Extracted rich snippet data from the page
    hreview-aggregate
    item hcard
    fn = The Hoof Cafe
    org
    organization-name = The Hoof Cafe
    adr
    street-address = 923 Dundas St W
    locality = Toronto
    region = ON
    postal-code = M6J 1W2
    tel
    value = (416) 792-7511
    pricerange = $$
    rating
    average (normalized to 5.0 scale) = 4.5
    average = 4.5 star rating
    count = 59
    hreview
    reviewer hcard
    fn = Tammy Y.
    dtreviewed = 2011-01-05
    rating
    value (normalized to 5.0 scale) = 5.0
    value = 5
    description = Um, yes, it’s worth the hype. Do not be deterred by the line-up. It’s worth it and goes by quickly – why not pop by nearby The Communal Mule for a coffee while you’re whittling time away? Brunch…

    Homestars.com

    Extracted rich snippet data from the page
    hreview-aggregate
    item fn = Maret’s Quality Home Cleaning Services
    rating
    best = 10
    average (normalized to 5.0 scale) = 5.0
    average = 9.8
    count = 131 Reviews
    hreview
    summary = Fall Cleaning Whole House Service
    item fn = Maret’s Quality Home Cleaning Services
    reviewer hcard
    fn = Laura in Toronto
    dtreviewed = 2011-01-02T19:07:48-05:00
    rating
    value = 10
    Warning: Rating could not be normalized.
    Warning: Please provide best and worst.
    description = Maret’s Cleaning services were amazing! The entire process was perfect; from the moment Maret came to my home to review our needs to our communication after the job was finished. We had had…

    Notice that the two aggregrates are different in format, Homestars does not provide enough info.

    Their scoring is not normalized to 5. They use a score of 10 but should have 10 included in their hreview format so Google can display 5 stars.

    This rich snippet tool is a great resource to see why some reviews are shown with 5 stars and some are not.

    Garbage in = Garbage out.

    Use the standard microformat precisely and your reviews will show up precisely

    Darren

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