What Should You Tell A Client When Google Loses Their Reviews – A 4 Part Plan

With the recent surge of complaints about “lost” reviews in the forums, Google acknowledging that there were a number of reasons that a review might be tagged as spam and that the car industry in particular was being scrutinized, I thought it might make sense to rerun this May article about coping with lost reviews. If you feel that you have suffered unfairly at the hands of Google’s review spam filter, please report your issue to Google in this post in the “help” forum.

Google continues having technical issues with losing reviews (here is my first report from August 2008 of them being lost – the issue goes back quite a ways.) particularly when the CID of a listing changes due to a merge. Also they seem to be tightening down what appears to be a relatively unsophisticated spam algo (first confirmed in November 2010)  that is catching a number of good reviews with the bad.

Don Campbell, amongst many others over the past few days, asked me what to tell rightfully upset clients that lose reviews from their Google Places page.

Here is what I do when I have a client that has lost reviews:

1) Educate the client: I refer people to this Google authored article, Having technical issues with the reviews on your listing?  In it Google outlines most of the issues as to why reviews go missing. The issues range from spam abatement to Google simply losing them in certain situations. Google notes that in most situations there is often little to be done even by The Google themselves until the issues are fixed and appropriate tools are developed on their end. (In fact it really make the most sense to educate your client BEFORE they lose reviews so that they know what to expect and when it does happen you are not the one that they take their frustration out on.)

2) Provide a dose of humor and reality: Since there is not much a client or SEO can do, I also provide them with the 6,6,6 rule for lost reviews to guide them as to what to expect in terms of recovery of the reviews. It might offer some small comfort.

What is the 6,6,6 review rule? (any client imagined thoughts about the devil suggested by my guideline are actively encouraged)

If reviews don’t come back to the Google Places page in 6 days, they might return in 6 weeks

If they don’t return in 6 weeks they might return in 6 months

If they don’t return in 6 months they have descended to Dante’s 6th Ring of Hell

3) Encourage them to stick with the plan: Regardless of what Google is doing (or more likely not doing) in regards to reviews this week, the best tactic is to keep on truckin’… continue to get more reviews ethically at both Google AND 3rd party sites. I know it is hard and discouraging when difficult to obtain reviews are lost but neither the client (nor we) can control what Google does. The client can, in the end, only control what they do. It is better to have some reviews rather than none. A steady stream of reviews at the review sites will guarantee that the business has a solid review base no matter what and no matter whether Google has lost ‘em again.

4) Advise the business to take control of their own destiny: (Contributed by Jacob Puhl) With the realization that some percentage of reviews will likely continue to disappear, the client should take it upon themselves to make copies of the reviews they do recieve at Google. If the reviews do disappear, repurpose those that disappeared as testimonials on the client web site. In the same vein, implement hReview/Schema.org formatted testimonials on your site to highlight these “lost” reviews so that there is the chance of getting the additional review stars in search. Be sure that the testimonial page has enough prominence that there is a chance that it will be used by Google as a review page.

Reviews are hard to come by and painful to lose but just because Google doesn’t have their act together doesn’t mean that your client shouldn’t either. The value of reviews in terms of increased credibility & conversions is too high for the SMB to just give up on the process when confronted with adversity.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
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50 thoughts on “What Should You Tell A Client When Google Loses Their Reviews – A 4 Part Plan”

  1. Amazing how after all this time and the hard work of people like you and many others, a company’s existence within Google is subject to an arbitrary “OOOPS! Our bad!”.

    What’s your take on Place Pages not being rolled into Google+ by now? Is there any chance that Google is considering a “do over”? I know that seems harsh but there has to be a better way and since Places seems so broken at times maybe the best way out is to start over?

    Total conjecture and “what if -ing” I know, but “What if?” …….

  2. Very handy and timely, Mike – thanks for posting.

    I actually suggested the exact same thing that Jacob suggested for step #4, in my comment on your post from March 21 :) . Now I no longer feel that I’m OCD for doing that!

  3. @Frank
    Certainly the changes have started with Places…..

    Recently
    -The new interface and the removal of Adwords Express and it’s integration with Adwords
    -the new interface on Offers

    Further back
    -Moving the Places results to the front page of the SERPS
    -The difficulty of getting to the Places Page from within Maps
    -Greater Integration with search via Blended results

    Clearly Places will be brought under the banner of Google Social Search sooner rather than later. In fact it is one of the last hold outs on the implementation of the new interface on both the Place page and the Dashboard. And there seems to be ever decreasing reliance on the Place Page itself as the search result.

    The reason for the delay is that Places is likely one of the more difficult of Google’s product to integrate into the new back bone. It uses parts of many other products like Analytics and it has its own unique back end that assembles listings.

    So we can anticipate a more complete integration with the new social backbone and the new Google look and feel including login integration. Beyond that it is hard to know what we will see.

    I do not think that there will be a complete “do over” that will eliminate all of the current problems. In fact in terms of how listings are assembled and maintained on the back end (which is where the review problem is), I believe there is renewed and increased investment to make the current architecture work better.

    As to the front end where the data is displayed beyond the Place Page and the management interface (the current dashboard) where it is maintained those are open questions. Certainly integrating those two things into Plus makes some sense in terms of creating a single unified visual interface and a single management interface… whether that will happen is pure speculation at this point.

  4. @Phil

    Sorry I missed crediting you.. at the time I think I thought you were saying that you should reuse all of the reviews as opposed to just the ones that were lost. Again sorry…

  5. Great advice, Mike!

    However, allow me to slightly disagree with #3. If you are talking to “sticking to the plan of gathering reviews” as a whole – I do agree; but if you mean “sticking to the exactly same plan as up to now” I might have some objections. It is in many cases possible that exactly the way through which reviews have been gathered might be the reason for their disappearing. I’d not exclude the possibility of this being the same URL through which the reviewer has entered, for instance.

    Anyway, my thought is that reviews actually never really disappear. They are always “somewhere out there”. A proof of this would be that (almost) always when the reviewer re-enters the same business listing, they are able to see and edit their review. The main reasons for these losses appear to be:

    1) Filtering out by the not-too-perfect anti-spam algorithm.

    2) Disconnection with the listing. It seems reviews and business data are in different databases, and Google very often has problems associating these with one another (especially when the cluster/index updates happen).

    Just my 0.02 leva :)

  6. @Nyagoslav

    I assumed that they were sticking with the plan that I had recommended (since they were my clients) however you are absolutely correct that if their plan sucks then their result will suck as well and they should revise it.

    True that Google never loses anything. They do however misplace things for long periods quite often. Which is why 6 months is not unreasonable to hope that some of the reviews that were lost due to the more severe technical issues might return or be findable if Google either fixes the serious problems or gives support the tools to reattach them to a listing.

    But if Google thinks they are spam then the only chance they have is if Google refines the algo such that the review is no longer tagged… usually spam reviews (or ones that google thinks are spam) are as good as gone for ever.

  7. Mike:

    Are you aware of any other site “losing reviews”?? Yelp filters reviews. They are there…just harder to get to. but losing reviews??? any other review web site??

  8. @Mike – thanks for the comment on and confirmation of my thoughts!

    @Dave – I might or might not know some person/people that might have got proposals by someone from a large “review” company starting with the letter “Y” to get their positive reviews reinstated and negative reviews filtered out. I might be talking large numbers. I think if that would have been true, I would prefer my reviews to disappear, rather than being extorted to reinstate them, and remove the negative ones ;)

  9. In my review training program I always strongly recommend backing up reviews too.

    I’ve been consulting with a company that’s coming out with software later this month that alerts for each new GP review, tracks review flow and sentiment over time (all major review sites not just Google) and auto backs up all GP reviews. Think it will be a very good asset.

    LOVE the 6,6,6 rule Mike. In the forum from now on, in addition to sending folks with lost review complaints to Vanessa’s doc, I’m including a link to this post as well. Great advice!

  10. @Nyagoslav:

    Yelp and Google have two different sets of review problems. On a general sense, independent of any specific verticals they are the leaders in the review world.

    Google loses them. Yelp has a long history of reportedly strong arming businesses about showing them or not.

    Choose your poison. They both stink!!!

    Meanwhile there are widespread problems with review fraud…both generated by the businesses themselves and by attack reviews.

    It ain’t utopia.

  11. Dave, I am not a defender of Google, but in this case the situation is that while one is reportedly doing something in an attempt to improve, the other seems to be happy with their position and the way they do business.

  12. You’ve just coined a new term I know I’ll be using with the 6,6,6 Review Rule. Easy way to explain this. What a great post, Mike. And very much agree that first talks with clients who have not yet even reached the contract signing point must include warnings in red type about the inability to guarantee results in Places due to bugs and other issues. Prepare the client for a rough road ahead and you are doing him a major favor!

  13. Yup, one of my client simply lost their reviews one day only to reappear about 5 months later.

  14. @Miriam

    Someone asked me for a check list of things to advise your clients early in the engagement… so I put it to you.

    What else besides the vagaries of reviews, merges and dupes would you put on the list of things to tell your clients?

  15. @Andrew
    Yes the reason the numbers work (more or less) is that 6 months is the time it takes for google to recognize a serious programming issue, code for it and roll it out to various listings…

  16. @Mike

    Not sure whether that was a rhetorical question, or whether it was just posed to Miriam, or whether you or Miriam or anyone else are actually putting together such a “warning list”…

    …but one thing I always forewarn clients of before we work together is simply that Google is always changing. And in the broadest sense possible. Obviously, a lot of refer to it as a “moving target” (for lack of a better metaphor), so those people know, but obviously at least as many people either never thought of it that way or don’t have fresh info on what the “sight picture” of “target” looks like at the moment.

    Anyway, just my two cents for any “warning list” that someone might give to potential clients.

  17. @Phil

    By all means not rhetorical nor specifically for Miriam to answer… thank you for chiming in…

    Let me rephrase it… What do ALL of you say to clients either before or early in the engagement so they are prepared? What is on your check list of things to say or put into writing for them?

  18. Hi Mike,
    Something along the lines of:

    Due to the fluctuating nature of search engine results and ongoing bugs and issues in Google Places, neither we nor any other legitimate marketing firm will guarantee search engine rankings or results of any kind. We do what we’ve seen work for other clients, but we do not control the search engines and cannot guarantee results.

  19. Thanks for this Blog. I am going to forward to a client who is going through tbis now. We have had 5 clients lose all their Places reviews over the last 8 weeks. 4 out of the 5 have seen the reviews return, and their ranking improve. Could that be related? I have no idea.

    There is one slight commonality with 4 of the 5. They had posted one or several of the Google places reviews on their site after it was posted on their Places Account. hmmm Any one?

  20. Great outline of what to do but I’d like to ad that we as consultants who are helping small businesses with this topic, “Google Places” should actually forwarning our clients that stuff like this happens at the beginning of our relationships with them.

    This way if it never happens it isn’t an issue and when it does happen it isn’t an issue as your client was already educated about it.

    Educating new clients about the potential pitfalls, errors, and many other things we aren’t in control of only servers to strengthen the relationship and avoids the shock and suprise a client will experience. You’ll also avoid the, “Why didn’t you inform me of this possibility when we started got started with you?” questions. = )

  21. Russ

    I did include (In fact it really make the most sense to educate your client BEFORE they lose reviews so that they know what to expect and when it does happen you are not the one that they take their frustration out on.)

    Do you think I need to be more explicit?

  22. Mike,

    Please excuse my crappy typing this morning. To much coffee in my system.

    We all know we need to educating our clients on some of these areas but I do believe it is best brought up during the aquisition phase or sales phase if you will.

    Having been in B2B and B2C sales for well over 20 years I’ve learned its best to bring this type of stuff to light at the beginning of the relationship instead of having to deal with it when it happens. So I think you could have been a litttle more clear if that is what you were meaning to communicate. = )

    The great thing about it is that it helps control what’s going through your clients minds when they log in and find that reviews in this case are gone.

    They’ll instantly remember and think to themselves, Oh yeah Mike mentioned that this could happen. You probably won’t even get a phone or email about it!

    It also lends HUGE credibility to the company when you bring this stuff up at the beginning because it communicates to your clients that this isn’t your first rodeo!

  23. @Russ
    Communicating these sorts of issues (probably in writing) upfront is a great idea.

    My experience though is that often there is a huge time gap between when I start a Local SEO process and the client gets their act together to manage the review process. In those cases I also reinterate the issues when they do get going to refresh their memory.

  24. @Mike,

    I agree it should also be written in any agreements. What do they say?

    We remember the most if we hear and read it?

    I just like to try and leave nothing to chance so yes, verbally explain and then put it in the contracts. = )

    That’s just being a professional and responsible business.

    On a side note in regards to the rewivew process I’m working on something that lets my clients take instant control of the reivew process. It’s going to be sweet! Yeah, I had to get a little plug in there, hope you don’t mind.

  25. Great plan & comments! +1 on the up front & in writing part too. Education seems to be the biggest (at least most time consuming) part of running a G+ Local or local seo campaign.

    Can’t wait to get a sight picture on these top secret review apps about to hit the market. Sentiment, back up, control…they’re going to be free right?

  26. Thanks for bringing this up again. Review issues have escalated. Google is formally taking down a certain volume and certain specific reviews, as you have noted. Its an issue of rising concern.

    I believe in first getting the smb to run well, give good customer service, develop satisfied clients/customers…then ask for reviews.

    If an smb or its outside vendors are scamming reviews in one form or another…..then beware. Google is big, smart, and powerful. They will find some of those scammed reviews and squash them.

    And then there are the plethora of reviews google simply screws up. UGH.

    I’d copy every review and plan on trying to use them in areas other than google + local. For as we’ve seen over the years.

    Now you see em. now you don’t.

    I’m still not aware of another entity that “loses” reviews. geesh. that is a mess.

  27. Mike,

    I appreciate the great information. I have many concerned clients including two car dealerships that only lost their 2/3 and 3/3 reviews while the 1/3 and 0/3 reviews from the same time period remain attached to the listing. Hopefully this sorts itself out quickly. At any rate, thank you for this entry.

  28. Mike,
    Thanks again for all the advice and to anyone else who is trying to get this resolved. My question is what can we do in the meantime? Our hands are tied pretty much. All 72 positive reviews gone, 2 negative ones remain, no positive reviews are able to get through…?? I wish Google would at least wipe out all of our reviews and let us start from scratch than being stuck with negative reviews. Is there a way to start over and terminate our account and start a new one that hopefully will not have these problems? I hate to do that and risk not getting our reviews back, but I don’t know if they ever will be reinstated according to some in the forum.
    Thanks!

  29. This has happened to me to several occasions. With one clients they lost over 200+ reviews, mostly because they were all fake. We tried to tell them to stop making the fake reviews but they probably thought that they were getting ahead of the game by doing so. Then Google smacked them down, and they came crying to us about losing reviews, we had to gently do the whole “told you so” bit.

    Another client of ours had a good amount of real reviews from real customers disappear. Both were car dealerships that took different approaches to their review plan, one “black hat” one “white hat” both had the same outcome. Mike, I hope that Google isn’t looking at car dealerships differently now and may be leaning towards just putting them into a “spammers” category.

  30. @Jorge

    I do think that Google is looking at Car Dealers differently at the moment. What has happened is clearly a message for the whole industry. I think over time as Google refines the algo some of the good reviews will come back. But who knows.

  31. I think the most important factor in online reviews and reputation managament is to take a proactive approach to reviews. Mostly I believe that right now businesses need to encourage reviews to be placed on sites other then Google.

    Businesses will still get a mention of reviews from other sites at the bottom of the Local plus page and by getting reviews onto other authoritative sites it spreads the love and social signals. Just concentrating on local plus reviews is not a good idea to begin with in my opinion.

    Google isn’t the end all be all guys when it comes to reviews so spread the love and don’t put all your reviews in one review basket. = )

  32. @Danny
    My question is what can we do in the meantime?

    Follow steps one – four above and pray.

    Contact the reviewers (if you are able) and get their problems squared away

    Provide incredible customer service going forward.

    Is there a way to start over and terminate our account and start a new one that hopefully will not have these problems?

    This will not work, the reviews will return on the next rebuild and you will lose rank in the meantime.

  33. @Russ Great point, we know that as SMB’s but to tell that to a client is sometimes difficult. Usually you’ll get the whole “Who does searches on those other sites anyway” I have found that like Mike says, educating the client on local search and how it works, not just with Google but how the whole search ecosystem runs will return a better client and they will embrace getting reviews everywhere.

  34. @ Jorge, that kind of response from a business owner is uneducated. You only need to provide some 3rd party data that shows studies and statistics that buying decisions are based increasingly on the reviews people find online now.

    Most business owners are acutely sensitive to their reputation at a local level and just need to be educated in regards to their online reputation. Especially due to the fact that as more and more tech/online babies are now getting old enough to be potential customers. These people don’t do anything now days without looking online for reviews or feedback on a business.

  35. With the purchase of Zagat and the move from Places to G+ it is obvious Google is positioning itself for a future where Reviews are central to the local search experience.

    Since it has been relatively easy to game the review system, Google has a lot of house cleaning to do. If there ever was a good time, now would be it.

    I doubt the short-term implications are as much of a concern compared to what Google believes they need to do to ensure their dominant position in the field of local business reviews.

  36. @ Keenan, Honestly I think the move to plus for local isn’t really about holding a dominant position at the local level. I think its more about trying to keep up with other largers social networks and they are building plus on the backs of small businesses and their customers. Bad play if you ask me.

  37. We tried to educate the client but and it took 9 days to make him believe that there is some fault from Google’s side which caused loses of reviews.

  38. Hi Mike,
    I have followed your blog for a while. I saw a post regarding lost reviews by a client of yours. I had a question regarding lost reviews and your experience. Have you noticed lost reviews and then that company falling out of local? I had a client that lost 30+ reviews , they fell out of the local rankings and now only rank organically. Have you connected any lost reviews with no longer ranking locally?
    The only major change I can find to the listing is around the same time their address slightly changed on the front end of their google places/local listing but on the back end the address remained unchanged. So the front end address no longer matches the backend address.
    Thanks!

  39. @marie

    It is hard to give solid advice on scanty information (I am traveling and speaking for the next week so I won’t have time to look at more) but I would suggest that even a minor change of address is more likely scenario than the loss of reviews.

    It could be the lost reviews but in general it is thought that reviews only bump your listing one or at most two positions.

    There may be other back end issues with Google as well.

  40. Thanks Mike for responding! I had the same thought about the reviews. I also wonder if the small change in address could also lead to the loss of reviews. When you have more time I would like to dive deeper into your lost review cases just out of curiosity. I am having more and more clients loosing their reviews but this is the first one that I could find with a slight address change. I have read your blog about the review filter!
    good luck in your travels. thanks again!

  41. Marie,

    I’m wondering if the same thing is going on with my listing as what you described in post 44. How “slight” of an address change was it exactly? When you say the front end address doesn’t match the back end, are you referring to the address that appears when you view the live listing not matching the one that appears when editing through the business’s dashboard? My live listing spells out “Lane” even though I changed almost all of the NAP I could find for my business across the web including my Google Places/Plus/Local (whatever they are called now) to Ln. I assume Google is smart enough to recognize Ln=Lane I’ve lost 1 of 10 reviews and some months ago, a few disappeared but came back.

  42. @emal

    At this point in time, if reviews are not showing up the single most likely explanation is that Google does not think that they are of high enough quality.

    While there are a number of quality issues that might prevent a review from being show you are likely asking the wrong people or rather you are asking people that have not left enough reviews at Google to be trusted by them.

  43. @Mike, thank you for your swift resonse. I am sorry to ask but have you kindly looked at our reviews from some clients, to us they are of high enough quality, and in fact all reviews are of high quality to us be them positive or negative as only then can we make our services better and better.

    Re your second comment that perhaps we are asking teh wrong people, you may be right as we never know which client is wrong or right or whether they have previously written any reviews on google or anywhere else. the fact is these are individual clients who get their documents translated by us and we ask them if they would like to share their feedback and if they do then they write what they feel is right from their point of views.

    Please help me to maintain our previous reviews and ensure that our clients new reviews are showing as they are supposed to.

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