Google Places has once again “mixed it up” in the review arena. They are no longer showing the count for 3rd party reviews on the main search page and they are only displaying the count for Google reviews. They are still showing the link to the main 3rd party review sites on the main search results page but have removed the review snippets on all businesses except restaurants and hotels. Some businesses, Demand Force clients for example, will have seen a huge drop in the review count. You can bet that DF’s phones will be ringing of the hook with questions about the change.
On the Places page itself, Google is now highlighting with bold, bright red the option to leave a review, they no longer show 3rd party review snippets and the have pushed 3rd party review links well down the page and below the fold. And I for one will not miss the wildly weird review snippets that they often chose.
Google is clearly reducing their reliance on third party reviews and increasing the prominence of their own reviews. That is obvious and it makes sense from their self interested point of view now that they are garnering adequate volumes of reviews on their own.
Minimally it signals that Google thinks that they now have a large enough and useful review corpus that will provide consumers with a decent idea of the quality of the business they are looking at. Google will have more control and better insight over their reviews than those from other sites. It also seems to signal that they think that they are getting their review spam under control….although that remains to be seen.
This move will certainly change the relative importance and value of 3rd party review sites AND of 3rd party review management companies (like Demand Force) in the mix of things. The review sites and review providers will still have good links on the main search results page. That should mean that their traffic will not be negatively affected as most traffic likely comes from the main serps and significantly less from the Places Page. That being said I think this is a shot across their bows that all of them will hear. Review sites and review management companies alike will need to think about how it impacts their business plans.
In terms of Places rank and location prominence, it may reflect an update to the algo or perhaps signal a change of emphasis…. although that is much harder to say and much harder to track if that is in fact the case. If I were to be a betting man I might say that it signals less importance on total quantity of reviews but more on review site diversity and quality. But that is just a guess and is really nothing different than I would have said last week.
Does it mean you or your client should use just Google as a review platform? NO! Putting all of your eggs in one basket was short sighted and will continue to be. If you have a short memory it was but a few days ago that they managed to misplace many of their reviews and have done so regularly in the past.
It does though point out why any business should take a long term balanced approach to review management…. lots of sources; Google, Yelp, demand review sites, CitySearch, industry specific sites etc, It is always best to have a balanced portfolio as the winds could change. They have changed before and they will change again. Truth be told we don’t really know what the winds signify anyways. If you were only getting reviews from one source (like Demand Force) you really need to assess your practices and develop a plan to compliment their services. You should have been doing that already anyways.
You need to be where you clients are, you need to make it easy for the client to leave reviews, you need to feed Google’s algo the diversity it is looking for and you need to protect yourselves as best you can against the vagaries of a crazy industry.
And that means that you still need to be at Yelp and Trip Advisor and Citysearch and Yahoo and Google and where ever and will continue to need to do so.