It’s Time for Google Places to Treat Reviews Like a Grown Up

The recent use of Google’s review platform in Alabama to lambast a local deli’s Place page with hate reviews (and the attendant backlash) is but one example of why Google needs to implement better control over the reviews appearing on the Places pages.

Here is another. Earlier this week, one reviewer, Samantha, left 15 reviews in one day. Fourteen of them were 1 and 2 star reviews and One was a 5 star review. All for lawyers in Philadelphia. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist nor a sophisticated algo to recognize that these reviews are bogus. Samantha you naughty girl.

Google needs to act like an adult and put in place processes to stop allowing a business’s Place Page being used like as substitute for a Voodoo doll in doing damage to a business.

 

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It's Time for Google Places to Treat Reviews Like a Grown Up by

27 thoughts on “It’s Time for Google Places to Treat Reviews Like a Grown Up”

  1. I’m not sure how Google is supposed to monitor every little review for every business in the united states that has a place page. But, wouldn’t it be nice if it wasn’t SO IMPORTANT for these businesses to rank highly? You know what would solve that? ROTATING Places results!! Instead of ranking them, different businesses’ Places pages would appear for every search. That way everyone has a fair chance and there wouldn’t be so much spamming going on. But that wouldn’t be very profitable for Google, ultimately. And the monopoly gets stronger…

  2. @Jami,
    Rotating results is actually not a bad idea. Wow, that’s actually a great idea. I don’t understand you’re point on how it would hurt Google’s profits tho. Google has an endless amount of ways they can charge people for paid listings/extra features for Google Maps/Places. Express ads could still be offered to be featured at the top. In fact, if Google wanted to, they could say: We’ll only rotate results that are featured on certain “trusted” directories. That would be huge leverage for say…Yelp, and would encourage business owners to invest in SEO and support the industry.

  3. Mike:

    Yelp’s controls and filters are better than Googles!! One thing is that they put more OBVIOUS people into the process. In sum, the reviews on Yelp are more meaningful.

    Of note, related to the above reference to the situation in Birmingham Alabama with Max’s Delicatessen:

    Last July somebody else and I placed about 7-9 politically motivated reviews. In each case we placed one review on one location of an Ikea. They protested against Ikea’s treatment of workers in their factory in Danville, Virginia.

    3 of the reviews remain to this day. The remainder (4-6->we don’t recall the exact number) were automatically removed within 2-7 days (again we don’t recall exactly). The reviews that were removed were from either a totally new google gmail account or one that was never used. The ones that stuck were from a google gmail account with a review history and ample usage.

    We think filters were in place back then that are not in place now. We suspect two potential filters that might have been in effect:

    A) a filter placed against a totally new gmail account with totally new reviews.
    B) Possibly a review filter to monitor reviews against large Name Brand Companies

    (as a side note of the 3 reviews that stuck there has been negligible response–last I checked there were an aggregate of 5 of 14 reviewers that liked them–suggesting 9 found them inappropriate). That response is totally unlike the phenomena with the Max’s delicatessen situation in Birmingham that has gotten considerable coverage and a large volume of absolutely PRO versus absolutely CON.

    Since the situation began on October 13 there have been about 200 subsequent reviews; far more supportive than attacking.

    I thoroughly support Max’s. Notwithstanding the Google Review process is now a sham and a mess. No controls. Subject to spam and politics.

    Google: If you are reading this, rest assured….I’ll go to Yelp for a better reflection of the viability of reviews….and lets not be mistaken—Yelp’s reviews and processes have gotten a lot of criticism over the years, deservedly so.

  4. I’m with Earl, Google’s filters suck.

    Since Google has removed 3rd party reviews on Place pages, I have been asking customers to write reviews on Google. Typically the ones I ask to write on Google vs other review sites such as Yelp are people with gmail accounts. Over the course of the past few months I have received somewhere between 18 and 20. Presently, the number of reviews on my Place page stands at 9. These were all well written, legitimate reviews.

    Mike, do you have any guidance to pass on to potential reviewers in terms of having their reviews stick? It’s really frustrating, to reviewers as well, that they take time out of their day to leave a review only to have it nuked shortly after.

  5. Google is in a tough spot. If they offer a UGC-based review system, it will be gamed for as long as they have a commanding share of search and there will continue to be stories of “samantha” posting reviews.

    Any review system is open to being gamed. The more impactful the system, the greater the gaming incentive and the more likely to be gamed. Yelp does not suffer from as much gaming as Google not because of the power or insight of their algorithm (although they are clearly better) but simply because they are not perceived by local business as being as impactful as Google and are therefore not targeted as aggressively.

    Google has, can and I assume will continue to release algorithmic solutions to combat review spam. But, its going to be a long game of Whack-A-Mole not unlike chasing black-hat SEOs. I would bet there are lots of good questions being asked about this at Google.

  6. Ted,

    Yes, people will game Google as long as they are numero in getting business to people’s websites. What I don’t understand is why they don’t rotate the results as I mentioned above? I wonder how difficult it would be to do that technically. Seems like, as far as technology goes, where there is a will there is a way. And if Google doesn’t invent such a system, a competitor or a better search engine might. I hope they do.

  7. @Jamie
    Technically its not challenging to rotate as you suggested above. However, I think its unlikely because it flies in the face of Google’s core culture of providing the most relevant results for the terms searched (OK, no hate mail please). In general, searchers are looking for Google to take its best stab at the most relevant results.

  8. I agree with Jami 100%. I can only imagine how much more revenue is flowing to those fortunate business listings at the top. Some I can’t figure out how or why they rank so high. Add fake reviews to the mix and it should definitely cause some anger against Google for allowing this.

  9. Ted,

    I agree that Google should still rank the most relevant at the top, but when listings are equally competitive (such as a DUI lawyer in the same city with the same number of reviews), why not rotate them instead of letting one or two get all the views/clicks?

  10. Samantha is NOT the real problem here. One vigilante employee won’t break the system, a cottage industry of fraudulent reviews most certainly will.

    Google’s decision not to actively filter reviews has created a cottage industry for fraud. There are businesses popping out of the woodwork that will load up your place page with 5 star reviews for a few hundred dollars each month. Surely Google could create a tool to identify multiple reviews for the same business under different usernames that originate from the same IP. Why haven’t they?

  11. Mike,
    Voodoo Doll analogy priceless. Well done.

    You also have to love the fact that Samantha has a user photo. Now that’s really going the extra mile to make rotten spam look legit.

    I think this would be one of the tougher filters to organize, though certainly in no way impossible. In real life, people might review a couple of related business within the same day (por ejemplo: if they are shopping for a car and visit 3 different dealerships on a Saturday and write up their experience). So, the filter would need to allow for that, but I would say a threshold of, perhaps, 5 same category businesses in a 72 hour period might greatly lessen this type of spam.

    What do you think, Mike? How should the filter work?

  12. @Miriam

    Glad you liked my Voodoo doll reference. :).

    Clearly there are a number of techniques that could be used in this case.

    At the end of the day, Google Places has lots of very smart programmers who can figure out a way to keep this stuff out of places … I am just asking that they do something better than this.

  13. Mike: I wanted to add something about the Max’s delicatessen situation and the follow up by google.

    On each review anywhere, and with regard to the reviews on Max’s deli in Birmingham, there are links to respond to the reviews with 3 options; two of which respond to the question “Was this review helpful?

    If one clicks either the “yes” or “no” link a counter changes showing how many people either approved or disapproved of the link.

    Its the third link though that I find interesting, in depth, and so far I’m not seeing much google response.

    The 3rd link allows one to flag as inappropriate That takes one to a google response that enables one to be specific as to what was inappropriate via radio buttons and an opportunity to comment.

    I’ve been doing this on the Max’s thread for several days. In all honesty and with transparency, I’ve flagged some of the negative reviews, specifically one’s that either are hate oriented or intimidating.

    Here are my comments on one of the reviews which I flagged:

    The specific language in this review is meant to intimidate the owner for speaking out. That is a dangerous precedent to allow reviews to carry that kind of content

    I can report that at least in my case with several such reports over the past week….all reviews remain up.

    Google specifically alerts those that flag reviews that it doesn’t allow hate language, etc.

    Meanwhile they aren’t doing anything about the reviews.

    The process isn’t currently working. Google isn’t touching the hate reviews.

    Meanwhile, as I referenced above…last July Google managed to filter and remove political reviews against a BIG NATIONAL COMPANY within a couple of days.

    This goes back to a common occurrence we have repeatedly seen: Does Google only take actions on problems in Google Places when it might embarrass them??? It often seems like it to me. and it doesn’t matter what they write as policy.

  14. Just came across this Places page – check out the “reviewers”: http://g.co/maps/fjk4s

    They are all fake accounts set up to post reviews. It looks like the actual quotes could be from real customers (some even have initials or names included), but they are all being posted from bogus accounts.

    Seems like another very easy fix. Has anyone seen something like this?

  15. @Eric
    This is an old trick. Probably from one of the many “positive reviews” only companies that solicit reviews, filter them and then repost them like this.

  16. @ Eric
    Mr. Verified Reviewer has more lives than a cat! This is a sock puppet account that gets their reviews via a paid service.

  17. @Mike, you probably don’t remember but I emailed you this store’s Place page a while ago with all the phoney reviews… http://goo.gl/MPcWC.

    With usernames like “Verified” and “VerifiedReviewer” you can easily spot them. Check out Verified’s 172 reviews (http://goo.gl/yOstw) they are for businesses from all over the USA and Canada. Many of the reviews aare all placed on the same day even though the businesses being reviewed are hundreds of miles apart. Google should be able to smell this crap, but so far they haven’t.

  18. @ John S
    They can smell them all right, they just haven’t figured out an algorhythm to keep them out of the index.

  19. @Ryan Leslie, we recently told a client to encourage past customers to review them on Google maps and they got 3 reviews in a single day after they made the request. We saw that the velocity of the reviews (0-3) actually hurt them by taking them off the first page. So, I do think Google is doing some things to crack down on spam, and I suspect they are also keeping tabs on account history of the accounts creating the reviews, IP addresses used to submit the review and more. It does seem to really fix the problem, there needs to (if possible) be a strict set of filters that will flag a review that seems to be fraudulent, and that flag indicated a review that needs to be reviewed by a human at Google before it is added.

  20. A solution to the “fake” reviews process may be above my pay grade, but I do think we pay a great deal of attention to the negative review spam, (which we should) but not enough to the positive review spam.

    I did a blog on a car dealership that was clearly using fake positive reviews, (after having a really bad expereince) and it ended up on the first page on Google results for their car dealership name + City. In a matter of days the blog was attacked by another SEO in Denver, claiming my intent was to get the car dealerships SEO business. huh? What it did show me is how much “reputation management” work is going on in the False positive review world.

    I see several businesses using fake positive reviews in our market, as I am sure anyone in the industry has seen. To me, the false positive reviews are more nefarious than the fake negative reviews. It’s not hard to over come a negative review or two with professional responses and getting real positive reviews on your places (or other review property) site. It’s very difficult to identify and warn consumers when a poorly run company has 30 great false positive reviews.

    Google really needs to improve the process. How about they require the reviewer to identify who they are, date of purchase or experience with the business they are reviewing?

    Or: They charge Place account holders to verify all reviews, as many review sites already do? I would pay $10.00 to have any review verified.

  21. This is crazy. I agree with many who have stated that brand new Google accounts shouldn’t be able to leave reviews (or the reviews should be able to be flagged as spam/malicious easily).

    Also, would it make sense to prevent someone from reviewing multiple businesses from the same category in a short period of time? Each category could have a threshold… People are unlikely to use 7 attorneys in a week (or even a year!), but are more likely to visit a variety of restaurants over a month.

  22. Mike – I’ve loved reading your blog and found it incredibly insightful. I just had to post…

    I manage several business Places pages and here’s what I’m doing with my clients:

    1.) Buy an iPad.
    2.) When a customer visits, GIVE him/her the iPad to play with (with minimal apps available)
    3.) When they’re done with it, ask them for a review of the business.
    4.) Have them log into their Google account (or create one).
    5.) Leave a review – and be honest about it.

    We’ve been able to increase reviews, customer retention, and revenues because we now see an increase in customers because of more reviews.

    Finally, I simply had to share this place: http://goo.gl/2H9KP I’ve reported them to Google several times, with no changes to their ‘fake profiles’. You’ll notice that SEVENTEEN reviewers posted 5-star reviews on July 22, ONE DAY after Google stopped posting third-party reviews.

    These ‘reviewers’ are also ‘doing business’ with businesses around the world and reviewing them. It’s interesting that Google has yet to put some type of safeguards in place to keep this from happening.

    Again, KUDOS to your blog. It’s always a pleasure to read.

  23. Here’s a fun one.

    Mysteriously they went from a steady 1 star to a 5 star over night, and if you look at the reviewers; Almost everyone has the same list of reviewed businesses.

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