Google on Reviews: Asking for them is OK, Soliciting them is BAD

Los-Angeles-Enacts-New-Prostitution-Solicitation-LawWhat is the difference between asking for reviews and soliciting them? It seems that a number of SMBS have discovered that one leads to jail time.

Google has been throwing out reviews left and right of late. This is not a bug but the outcome of a newly aggressive review spam filter. The forums were rife with complaints from businesses about lost reviews and from individuals whose reviews would not post. In a consolidated thread Google indicated that most of the reports were a function of the new algorithm and not a function of the problems that had caused lost reviews in the past. Here are Googler Jade’s comments over the course of the post that provide some (albeit confused) insights into Google’s thinking:

Aug 6: Hey guys — popping in to say that we’re investigating. Thanks for the reports.

Aug 15: Still looking into this, guys. Soliciting reviews is suspect behavior for our systems, so please please please make sure your reviews are legitimate and left by your customers of their own accord.

Aug 15: Well, first — mobile reviewing can only be done through: Google Maps or Google+ for Android, or, Google+ Local app on iOS. (Visiting the page on a browser on mobile does not work!)

The technical issues for reviews still exist — those are more common in my experience with pages that have had duplicate or merging issues in the past. The majority of the reviews cases that I have investigated from the forum and other channels are reviews being taken down for suspicious reviewing behavior.

Aug 16: “Soliciting reviews is suspect behavior for our systems.”

What I mean by this is — it’s fine if you reach out to customers to ask them to review, but I do not recommend that you do this in waves. If you want to reach out to legit customers and ask them to review, I recommend you contact them immediately after you have done business with them.

Aug 16: Well, think about it this way — in our ideas, the “ideal” review is by a customer who writes a review of a place completely by his or her own accord, on mobile during the experience or at home after. This would mimic the regular flow of the business.

On the other hand, some SEO companies that resort to spam reviews to deliver “results” would exhibit different behavior.

It’s a system that we are constantly trying to improve, but for now, this is what I can say to try and help. I really don’t want legit businesses with legit reviews to get caught, so this is our effort. I can’t provide specific numbers (and in fact don’t know them).

If the above seems less than clear, that is because it is. Google, in their inimitable fashion, seems content to roll out a new, much more aggressive change in their review spam algo that seems to nuke reviews bad and good and then communicate little, late and in a less than helpful way. Mitigating review spam is good but Google does so while hiding behind an impenetrable cloak that purports to hide the inner workings of their algo. That is a formula for disaster. Google has, over the past few years, been schizophrenic about reviews. It was only last December when Google publicly stated at one of their Get Your Business Online training sessions that that it was OK to use review stations. Now it appears that review stations and many other practices seem to trigger review take downs.

I think strictly enforced and clearly articulated standards are great in the review arena. The constantly shifting sands of Google’s secret policies are not.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Google on Reviews: Asking for them is OK, Soliciting them is BAD by

72 thoughts on “Google on Reviews: Asking for them is OK, Soliciting them is BAD”

  1. Mike this is off-topic. Wondering why you, David M or Greg S. are not talking about Google literally gutting the “Categories” on Google+ Local pages. It happened Aug 28th. I know there was category-spamming by some local businesses … but to take an axe to the problem to all +Local pages??? Surprised no one is talking about it!

  2. @Linda Buquet

    WOW! 8 WEEKS? Did you get any confirmation of this? I understand it would take a lot of time to review reviews but 8 weeks is a long time. Personally, if I want to post a review, I don’t want to wait 8 weeks to see it go live. Maybe that’s an ego thing for me wanting to see my name published, hahaha, but surely this would discourage people to post reviews right? I’d really like to know if this is true and whether it is just temporary.

  3. Adam, sorry have not had time to come back and update here.

    Google said it’s not true. And since then Joel Headley from Google weighed in on that discussion on my + stream with some comments, also denying it’s true. So may want to go catch up on the comments over there.

    @Peniel Many of us have been discussing the missing category problem. I have 2 threads going at my forum and have been involved in a couple others at the Google Business forum, PLUS I reported to Google as soon as the problem was discovered. So far have not been able to get a definitive answer, but Jade said Google is looking into it.

    I asked some of the members at my forum to report their missing cats via the troubleshooter so I could see what support was telling people about it. The 1st consultant that’s gotten a reply back from G support just posted it today.

    Problem reported on Aug 31, 2012 – Answered on Sep 4, 2012

    “Thank you for contacting Google. After investigating your problem, we’ve found that it is being caused by a technical issue and we are pursuing a resolution. At this time, we cannot say when the issue will be resolved and when you will see your reported problem fixed.”

    I have other consultants that will be reporting on replies they get, so I can compare notes and will see if I can glean any more info.


  4. Linda, Mike, et al:

    I posted a review the other day and it went up immediately:

    If there are reviews being held up at all its probably focused on some specific categories wherein google is struggling to differentiate between real and fake, honest and spam, its engineers thinking and pushback from hard businesses. Ha ha….its a helluva saga!!!

    of course they won’t tell us anything.

  5. @Linda & @Mike
    I have literally stark examples in the jobs I run with my tech. Usually one to perhaps two categories were left on any +Local page … and the cat left often didn’t really fit the business. If you’d like to see them, contact me via linked-in. Don’t have a blog.

    1. @peniel

      If there are wrong categories then you need to assume that they have likely been there all along and you didn’t notice them.

      1)be sure that you have 5 categories in the dashboard

      2)go into MapMaker and make sure that the 5 categories there match what you have in the dashboard. If not make them match.

      3)search the Internet for your phone number and the bad categories and find out where google got them. Correct as appropriate.

      And then wait. If they are not corrected in 6 weeks report via the “edit this business”.

  6. @Mike,

    Your insight is always helpful. It is curious that they would take such strong action against Positive reviews, but not aggressively address “negative SEO” or negative review bombing.

    Patterns of account reviewing the same businesses definitely makes sense. I wonder if there is a link to the number of reviews left by an account in general (account only has 1 or 2 reviews). I suppose there google may also filter based on account activity. If an account is created only to review a few websites and doesn’t do any browsing, emailing, etc, it’d look awfully questionable.

    I remember a while back you gave a generic “review us” template with links 5-6 websites instead of just Google. Review diversity may be even more critical if Google continues to aggressively filter.

  7. Mike,

    Just to clarify a previous comment, it’s allowable to offer a “chance” to receive consideration, but not allowable to offer that consideration outright in exchange for a review? Is this compliant with FTC rules on endorsements, etc.?

    Just looking for an opinion.



  8. This is really crazy, I can’t imagine how Google may spy on a user history to check if the review is legitimate. Imagine a NY citizen going to France on vacations. He comes back home then post several reviews of the good places he went to.

    What *could* be doing Google ? Check every Google request made by the user to check he did went to France, maybe even more… Nobody knows what Google is doing when investigating reviews.

  9. Baptiste,

    That’s exactly what I think is going to happen, they already track GPS from the street view car that drives around, they also know wifi hotspots from it.

    They want people to check in everywhere, they have Google Offers GPS enabled so if its on your phone it pops up a notification that you are close to somewhere with an offer. If you have an android device and its logged into your Google account and you go somewhere and check in(or not) they still know you were there because the phone can poll for offers or check in locations anyway.

    The next step is to just use all of that information to “validate” that you were near the GPS coordinates of the address of whatever business that you are reviewing.

    I for one think that it’s a good idea. it will cut down on fake reviews from places like fiver and the like. it would be a more accurate way of policing it.

    Someone tried to poke a hole in my theory on this about excluding service based businesses because you dont go to their office address… Google has been pushing for service based businesses to use a Service area for quite a while, and they have even de-listed/penalized some for listing a pinpoint location. if they do have a service area radius and you are reviewing the business and you are not in the service area or close to it, say reviewing from Los Angeles, California for a business with an area in the Twin Cities area. it would be a red flag that its a bogus review

  10. @Marc,

    “say reviewing from Los Angeles, California for a business with an area in the Twin Cities area. it would be a red flag that its a bogus review”

    That looks exactly like a fiverr review account! LOL

    I used to check the google review, review history and I’m telling you those folks are rich! I saw one review who reviewed his plumber in Dallas TX and then later that morning show how managed to get up to New York and review his kitchen remodeler THEN flew back to California to inspect and rate his roofing contractor! Busy guy aye?

  11. @Russ,

    I USED to flag those reviews as bogus, and found a pretty large link network once where they were reviewing a certain type of business that had locations all over the place. I sent a long drawn out message of how they were all interlinked in the flagging message, and eventually all the reviews were removed and the other company’s listings dropped.

    But it gets to be too much, I think I spent 8 hours just on that one client location alone digging up all the interlinked reviews and then coming up with an message. The reason I spent so much time on it, was because they were leaving negative reviews on some places, leaving a bogus good review is bad enough, but leaving a bogus bad review, is something that really gets my goat.

    That’s why I’m kind of on board with the whole, tracking GPS or whatever they might use to validate reviews.


  12. @Russ, I’d be laughing about the guy who travels a lot reviewing if it weren’t for the fact that I have seen a similar situation with one of my client’s competitors.

  13. I have read the response from Jade. I have all of my posts from real bonafide customers being removed. they are being posted one at at time immeadiately after the service. One stayed up for 3 weeks and then the other day disappeared. I can get no one from Google to tell me what is going on other than to give me the policy word for word from the Google help pages about their policy.

    At this point I am ready to give up and ask my customers to avoid Google and go to Yelp. it is not worth all of the brain damage. does anyone at Google care enough to help? or should I just move on?

    1. @Bob

      Google has said what they are going to say. The bottom line is that however you are doing it or whatever person is leaving reviews Google thinks that it is a solicited review or spam.

      I think that you are not going to get more answer than I just gave you. Should you give up on Google? No but you should de-emphasize them so that 1)you get reviews everywhere and 2) you are only asking 1 reviewer (who is already a loyal Google user) every month or two to leave you a review.

  14. I’m completely moving away from encouraging customers to leave reviews on Google. They are to valuable to my clients to be wasted on space like that, to just get removed because Google can’t get it together. I’m moving towards a more proactive approach and having customers leave reviews on sites that are true business directories which allow reviews.

  15. @Russ

    Just because Google has policies you don’t like or are resistant too, I would suggest taking two beers and reconsidering.

    I am not suggesting that you send every customer or send any whose time or energy will be wasted… I am suggesting that Google is a critical piece of the mix and that you need to see if you can find a tactic that gets you the occasional review there.

    What I am suggesting is the following. This is basically what I have always suggested. Give your clients A CHOICE…. say Citysearch, Yahoo, Insider Pages, Yahoo and Google. Explain to them that they should pick which one to use that is most convenient for them… For example many will find CitySearch users a Facebook login… and many already have Yahoo logins so they should go there. Explain that unless they have already left a number of reviews at Google and/or are dedicated Google users they should probably go elsewher but if they want to they can leave you a review at Google.

    You don’t need many Google reviews to be successful. You need one every other month or once a quarter. If you can segment out your clients so that self select at roughly that rate then you will have the best of all worlds…. The client will feel like you gave them lots of choice, Google will publish the occasional review and your business will continue to look good to customers at Google.

    You DO NOT need to follow my advice. But in the end, the issue is about finding a long term successful strategy not getting pissed at Google.

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