Will the Change in Status of 3rd Party Reviews Affect Rank in Google Places?

Will the change in status of 3rd party reviews affect rank? This question was asked in 3 or 4 or perhaps 5 different ways over the past 24 hrs. There is a palpable sense of worry in the questions. The short answer: Who knows but I think not. Better yet, don’t worry about it.

Here is an observation from Linda Buquet:

From what I can tell this was ONLY a front end cosmetic change NOT a backend change that affects the algo or ranking.

In some quick ranking checks I did last night, it appears the lack of 3rd party reviews showing up in the count DID NOT affect rankings. Not in the rankings I’ve checked anyway. Regardless of how many 3rd reviews were removed from the COUNT everyone’s ranking stayed the same.

Same thing holds true for the lack of visible citations. 

For example: Dentists that have 200 DemandForce reviews often have 300 DemandForce citations. Even though those reviews and citations no longer show in Google, the rankings have stayed the same. (Based on just a few spot checks, not saying I’ve done a thorough analysis yet.)

Here is what the recently released Google Local Patent says that was published in September ’10 just before blended results hit the streets:

[0051] The number of documents with reviews of a business associated with a document may be used as a factor in determining the location prominence score for the document. Reviews for businesses can appear in a number of documents, such as newspapers, magazines, web pages, and blogs. In one implementation, the number of documents with reviews of a business may be used as a factor in determining the location prominence score of a document associated with the business.

Here is what I say:

Google is looking to represent the most popular and relevant businesses to their searchers. It would seem counter intuitive for them to ignore signals from websites that have more and better information about a business than they do. Just because they are not showing the data does not mean they are not using it. And just because they are showing the data does not mean that they are using it more.

While I do think this change is a perfect way for Google to get more information about businesses and to “up their review generation” game, I can not see how favoring their reviews over all of the other historical information on the internet would improve search results. Above all Google wants to return the best results. That is where their bread is buttered.

The patent that came out last fall clearly speaks of review diversity as a factor so I don’t think that is going away. Maybe in the future but not yet.

Stop chasing the algo. Treat your customers right, encourage them to say nice things about you on the internet at a place that THEY are comfortable with and all will work out.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Will the Change in Status of 3rd Party Reviews Affect Rank in Google Places? by

25 thoughts on “Will the Change in Status of 3rd Party Reviews Affect Rank in Google Places?”

  1. Of course 3rd party review and citations will still count, just not visibly. No different than links for organic SEO. Google has long been not showing much of what it knows of sites linking to a URL in a link command search. Yahoo was the proxy since it would show all that it knew of links and the assumption was Google crawled them all too.

    Even if Google were to ignore the 3rd party reviews as a ranking signal not much would change as it was not that strong a factor, in my opinion. There’s still a lot of other factors and signals, reviews are just a small piece of the rankings pie.

    To those with their panties in a twist over loosing all those other reviews, no big deal, everyone is in the same boat. Your competitors lost theirs too.

  2. Mike,

    “Just because they are not showing the data does not mean they are not using it”

    Exactly. I said, this to a few local SEO’ers early today.

    And third party review sites have traffic too, so they shouldn’t be ignored by small businesses now, just b/c their reviews are not as prominent in Google Places.

  3. The problem I see with this was not so much whether or not this change would affect rank, but how it would affect a business’s bottom line.

    Businesses depend on those reviews SHOWING to bring them business, and many of them have paid a lot of money to get them such as to DemandForce which provides verified reviews in addition to their scheduling application. Vacation rentals services have been depending on FlipKey for their reviews, Hotels on Trip Advisor, etc.

    And customers were looking to Google to provide a variety of those reputable reviews from throughout the web. DemandForce’s reviews are very reliable because their system collects them from actual customers as do FlipKey’s and others.

    I think Google is shooting themselves in the foot by removing them. We already know there are plenty of charlatans out there making big bucks spamming Google’s review system, so if customers can’t see other 3rd party reviews to compare, they just might start looking elsewhere.

  4. @Kathy

    Most potential customers NEVER make it into the Places page but stop at page one of the main search results.

    The ONLY change there is in the total review count. The 3rd party reviews are still listed as they were.

    I suppose that some customer do go somewhere to read reviews and those that do will make a choice between TA (or wherever) and Places. That has always been the case.

    Thus I see little impact on a businesses bottom line unless of course they were ONLY using Demand Force in which case you are right, they are screwed and have to come up with a new plan.

    As to whether Google is shooting themselves in the foot or not, time will tell. Certainly it will require that they step up their review spam filtering and improve their takedown process. But it is long past time for that anyways.

  5. I agree with Kathy in a big way.

    Not talking about reviews on the Place page, but the impact the # of reviews and the star ratings in the SERPs have on CONVERSION and CLICK-THROUGH rates.

    I can probably dig up a good screenshot, but just imagine this example. Consumer quickly scans Google for a restaurant, spa, dentist, whatever.

    The BLENDED results are almost totally dependent on organic SEO factors, so he who has the most reviews was not on top necessarily before OR after this change.

    So a typical result BEFORE the update may have been
    #1 2 reviews
    #2 0 reviews
    #3 5 reviews
    #4 50 big bold 5 Star reviews.

    Consumers into reviews will likely skip over 1,2,3 and go right to #4.

    Results AFTER the update may have changed to
    #1 2 reviews
    #2 0 reviews
    #3 1 reviews
    #4 2 1 Star reviews.

    If NOW #4 only shows 2 reviews (with no star rating) instead of the 50 5 Star reviews that made them stand out from the pack yesterda, that can really impact not only click through rates, but pick up the phone and CALL RIGHT NOW rates.

  6. @Linda
    That result would only have happened IF the business was relying on a single source or only 3rd party sources for reviews and not including Google in the mix. The question I would put to them was why? It made no sense then and it makes no sense now.

  7. Whether this affects rank or not…the change is major to anyone who DOES make it to the Place Page. Google was giving a huge, fat chunk of visibility to third party reviews. Now, the links to these other sources are practically invisible. It takes the Place Page away from having the flavor of a big, inclusive picture of what the whole web was saying about a business to having a picture of only what Google users think. It’s really different.

    Now…I would like to ask something. Right now, none of us are turning up a ranking difference from the sublimation of third party reviews in the layout. Many are suggesting that, like citations, this data will still affect rank even if it isn’t being displayed. But, could there come a time, when the dust starts settling, that the Google-based reviews are being given more ranking value than those of third parties? Could Google’s choice to highlight their own data imply that at some point, they will consider their own data more important and powerful than the data of others? This is what I am wondering.

  8. Well not suggesting it was a good strategy, just saying that’s what’s happening to lots of businesses.

    Many industries have specific review sources for that industry that consumers tend to gravitate toward.

    Hotels tend to have tons of TA reviews and City Search

    Restaurants tend to have lots of Yelp, Urban Spoon, and Zagats reviews

    Drs and Chiros – Health Grades and others

    Some Dentists use DemandForce. Different animal because DF provides other core benefits to the practice and reviews are just a side benefit.
    But also DF reviews happen seamlessly and automatically and you don’t have to get patients to jump through hoops to leave Google reviews.

    “That result would only have happened IF the business was relying on a single source or only 3rd party sources for reviews and not including Google in the mix. The question I would put to them was why? It made no sense then and it makes no sense now.”

    Yes in theory and diversified review strategy is BEST. But these SMBs don’t know that. Who is teaching them that?

    And in the industries above many times the biz owner is not running the show at all when it comes to reviews. They don’t have a strategy period. However it’s the consumer that is choosing to review at those venues due to the type of industry.

    Service businesses like plumbers tend to have lots of Angie and Judy reviews. Not always because the SMB is encouraging it. Consumers are driven in part by advertising the review sites do to attract reviewers for those service.

    Certain review sources are leaders in a specific industry. And consumers like to follow the pack and/or sometimes they just want to go where the most reviews are.

    So I don’t think we can fault the SMB in many cases.

  9. Aren’t citations from companies like Demand Force the places equivalent of paid links? The only way for a dentist or car repair shop to have all those citations is to pay DF $500 a month to solicit and post the reviews in a google friendly format. Of course if a business stops paying that monthly bill they lose their citations and reviews (eventually).

    I’m saying this as someone that used Demand Force for about 3 weeks. It was a total disaster for us so I may be biased.

  10. Vanessa just posted this important update in the forum:

    Seeing a lot of questions in the forum, let me just clarify a couple things about the new Place pages. The following info you provide may not appear on your Place page, but it’s all still used to help us understand more about your business:

    • Email address
    • Menu
    • Reservations
    • Optional attributes / Additional details
    • Service area toggle “Show service area”

    So just because we’re not showing it, doesn’t mean it’s not helpful for us to have — it helps our system ensure that your organic listing appears and ranks appropriately on Google and Google Maps when potential customers perform searches related to your service.

    For more info about ranking, check out this blog post:

    http://google-latlong.blogspot.com/2010/12/how-local-search-ranking-works.html

    Hope this helps,

    Vanessa

  11. @MIKE
    i have several listings and all there citations disappeared along with some of the rankings. Can someone PLEASE tell me why this is happening?

  12. @Linda
    This change affected all. So unless business was getting an unusually high number of Google reviews I see it as a mostly even playing field.

    Certainly some have lost but others have gained but the bulk I would imagine are in no different of a competitive position than before.

  13. Mike: These changes have certainly inspired you to be prolific with articles over the last 2 days. Well done. You must be exhausted!!

    But well done. Not only have you expressed your insights and opinions you have sourced a great variety of other articles and perspectives.

    KUDO’s lots of work. Take a well deserved vacation this weekend!!!

    As googler noted….I have a “big mouth” in this blog w/ a lot of comments :D (tx for publishing them).

    As to my perspectives: :D

    Lots of different industries in Local. Reviews are different for different types of businesses: To summarize some perspectives–> plumbers get a lot of calls off of search when there are emergencies/ stuffed sinks and stuffed toilets. Being FIRST matters a lot then. Reviews have less impact.

    Some industry types depend a lot on reviews/ others less so. Our group manages a couple of types of businesses. Our analysis of consumers are that “the dependence of customers within the different industries varies by industry type”

    Even in the industry wherein reviews matter less–they still matter. Great reviews help significantly. Bad reviews hurt!!!

    From a strict SEO perspective I disagree with your comments at the end of this post. IMHO–> CHASE HIGH RANKINGS It always helps it never hurts.

    From an SEM perspective….its different… Currently, even as I practiced and advised to spread reviews, following your sage advice…..with the current change…..I’m currently focusing on managing reviews by emphasizing Google Reviews No doubt there is effectiveness within a merged ranking and/or a 7 pac to the # of google reviews…some stars (if they tend to be high :D ) and a volume of Google reviews that stands out from the competition. If its an industry where reviews are more important…that is going to be MORE IMPORTANT…if reviews are less important to the industry…IT WILL STILL BE IMPORTANT….just less so.

    One last impression. We run a bunch of different businesses in a bunch of different markets. We speak with other owners of these different businesses in different markets. We are always trying to learn and to adapt as conditions change. One thing we’ve learned is that absolutely great customer service per particular business has enormous positive impact. Its true for us….its true for the businesses owned by other folks. It makes a ton of difference.

  14. @EarlPearl

    Several Points:
    -A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous things.
    -Most small businesses can not and will not track subtle changes
    -Market Changes are not predictable

    Veering one way yesterday because they think 3rd party reviews are more important or veering another way today because they think Google reviews are more important is the wrong way to approach marketing.

    In doing so many have created non optimal outcomes and now that there is a change they are paying a price.

    Thus I think they should have and still need to take an a balanced approach that reflects the best understanding of what is best for the customer view in the light of the Google algo and not responding in a knee jerk fashion. Most SMBs won’t hear the subtlety in the idea : Accrue a few more Google reviews to get a visual edge and then go back to a balanced review management approach…. they will go whole hog with the one idea of getting more Google reviews.

    Many do not have the bandwidth to study these things in detail and their efforts will, in the end, benefit Google more than themselves.

    On the other hand, the idea of taking great care of customers and encourage/enticing/cajoling them to say good things about the business AT places that the CUSTOMER feels comfortable is a tactic that worked yesterday, will work today AND will work tomorrow.

  15. @Mike – had some question related to my local listing firstly my site was listed perfectly on all local keywords but as we updated our address my listing and all citation vanished …..please explain

  16. @Mike – Comment #14 says it best! We’re in total agreement over here on that one – We’ve seen no major changes in rankings. As SEO’s we’ve got to pursue the overall best general practices. We can’t keep plotting a new course each time Google sneezes. Just keep doing good work and then your solid, legitimate rankings won’t just go poof after the next algo change.

  17. I’m surprised at the removal of 3rd party citations when Google is looking to represent the most popular and relevant businesses to their searchers. It seems a pretty good metric to use to gage on a businesses feedback and popularity across the web.

    I can only presume Google are gearing ready to dominate this area and wish not to display what could be perceived as competition for them in this area.

  18. @Geoff

    Google claims to put the information on the Places Page (a search result) that is meaningful to the searcher. I for one, never found citations to be of particular value in finding out the critical things I needed to know about a business and I presume others felt the same.

    One theory that makes sense for me is that some of this detail may show up in the Google+ Business Page.

  19. Thanks for this excellent thread. As a Local SEO that works primarily with chiropractors and dentists, I’ll throw in my two cents….

    I’m seeing no change in rankings across the board. Clients with 20 reviews held their ranks and clients with 1 review held their ranks.

    I just finished a blog post trying to calm some folks down since there are several people in the niche stirring up the hornets nest with alarmist headlines. Success requires proactive planning and diligence. This is an excellent occasion to reach out to clients and remind them of long-term best practices.

    Personally, I’m glad to see Citations disappear from the Place Page. They were hardly ever helpful to the visitor.

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