The Pendulum Swings On Google’s Review Spam Filtering As Google Relaxes Filter

rockGoogle has announced in the forums that some of the reviews lost to their review filter will be returned. Apparently it will also be slightly easier for new reviews to be left as well.

Last year with the rollout of G+ Local, Google implemented a much more aggressive review filter. Many businesses, particularly in certain industries like legal and dental, saw massive review take downs. Many SMBS had difficulty  even getting any new reviews to show. Complaints amassed in the forums as businesses small and large were stung with massive review take downs and consumers could not understand what had happened to their reviews. The consolidated post that I created last July in the forums now has 743 posts alone and there were many, many additional posts as well. Clearly Google’s aggressive filtering had hit a nerve. As result consumers AND businesses felt that they were now between a rock and a hard place.

While we don’t know exactly the degree to which the filter has been loosened yet, along with a recovery of some old reviews, new ones that comply with the rules and don’t trigger the algo should be somewhat easier to place. Any old reviews that are no longer filtered should be showing up over the next 24 hours. Obviously for old reviews to come back they need to meet the standards defined by the new algo mentioned below. If a businesses reviews still do not show there is no review reconsideration process.

During the many months of discontent Google refined their review policies but did not loosen the filter:

What led them to ultimately relax the filter is unclear. But the recent effort at education in the policy changes noted in this posting are commendable.

Here is the announcement in full:

We’ve made some recent improvements to our spam detection algorithms that have increased the number of reviews that appear on some local Google+ pages. We hope this improves your local experience!

Online reviews have been in the news a lot recently, and we at Google are committed to helping people to get ratings, reviews, and recommendations that are relevant, helpful, and trustworthy. To protect both business owners and customers from spam reviews, we have systems in place that may remove individual reviews.

No one likes spam, and we’d like to talk about what you can do to make sure all of the reviews on Google+ Local are useful, honest, and written by real people!

For reviewers:

  • Make sure you’ve taken a look at our review content guidelines.
  • Sometimes you may want to review multiple locations of the same business, such as your favorite fast food chain. Just remember to tailor each review to the specific location. Others will want to know what sets that location apart – be it the super friendly drive thru person, or maybe the unexpectedly awesome lake views.
  • Don’t write reviews for your current employer. We don’t allow reviews from current owners or employees.
  • Spam bots use URLs to redirect to other sites or potentially spread malware. We won’t show reviews with links, so, don’t put URLs in the text of your reviews

For business owners:

  • Be wary of an SEO or reputation management service that promises to generate reviews for your business. We’ve seen companies make up fake glowing testimonies — and we’ll take them down.
  • We don’t take down negative reviews for simply being negative for anyone, regardless of any other relationships with Google. Instead, we encourage you to utilize the owner response functionality to respond to the review and address the user’s concerns.
  • If a third party claims that they know how to remove reviews from Google, don’t believe them. Google does not work with any third party reputation management companies and we certainly don’t remove reviews unless they violate our guidelines.
  • Don’t set up a computer or tablet device in your place of business for customers to leave reviews on site. Consider printing out a QR code or sending a reminder e-mail so customers can review on their own time.
  • Remember, we don’t allow you to give customers free gifts or discounts for leaving reviews.

For SEOs:

  • If a business accepts paper comment cards it might be tempting to collect them and “digitize” them by posting the reviews on Google+ Local. We ask that all reviews come from first hand experience and do not allow posting reviews on behalf of others.

For everyone:

  • If you see a review that violates our policy guidelines, you can report the review to us by clicking on the gray flag icon next to the review in question. You’ll be taken to a form where you can tell us why you’re flagging that review. Please note that we won’t follow up with you individually, but we do review every piece of content that is flagged.

 

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
The Pendulum Swings On Google's Review Spam Filtering As Google Relaxes Filter by

28 thoughts on “The Pendulum Swings On Google’s Review Spam Filtering As Google Relaxes Filter”

  1. Mike,
    I had heard some speculation that Google was tracking the referring URL of a potential reviewer and using it as a spam signal. For example, a link on a local business web site to”review us on Google”. These guidelines seem to be silent on the use of this type of review solicitation.

    Any insight or speculation on this?

  2. This is great news Mike. I’m surprised that they’re encouraging “reminder emails” for reviews. That’s pretty obvious solicitation, and something that I’d expect might cause filtering in the future.

    I like the idea of emailing a follow up for feedback, and encouraging customers to share their experiences on review sites like Google+Local, Yelp, etc, but these days I’m recommending that the email says “Go to Google and search for _business-name_” rather than directly linking to the listing. Maybe I’m just being paranoid, but I worry that they’re tracking referrers and may one day (if they’re not already doing this) decide to devalue reviews that were referred from webmail links.

  3. It seems review guidelines continue to evolve. The good news is that it appears Google is trying to address the issues and complaints of missing and deleted reviews making it easier for our customers to write glowing testimonials. I’m always wary of these solutions, though, as it will likely allow for more fake reviews, which continues to be a problem.

    Will be looking for some old reviews to come back, but won’t hold my breath.

  4. I had heard that Google was tracking referring URLs of reviewers and using it as a potential spam signal. For example, a link to “Review us on Google” on a SMB web site. This new guidance seems to be silent on this. Any insights or comments?

    @ Darren, you raise a good point that this data could be collected/analyzed now and used for filtering in the future.

  5. Mike: I hope it all works.

    One interesting point, relative to the advice toward SEO’s. We have some SMB’s that have thousands of written comments from customers.

    Similarly we have seen hundreds of reviews on behalf of certain SMB’s published in certain Review venues, wherein the smb, took the written comments and submitted the review. (the review venues we saw were not google)

    Now that is a way to gather hundreds or thousands of reviews. Among those hundreds or thousands we would see some errant reviews that would read something like……

    “negative review abt business….and all those reviews you read are submitted by the business after the customers submit written summaries…”

    That one is a good call by google IMHO.

  6. This is interesting and now I am wondering if I should change my ways. When a client emails a glowing praise and thank you after they get their wedding pictures, I have been encouraging them to share their experiences on Google and provide them with a link to my page. I used suggest Yelp, but after I had 2 dozen reviews they suddenly disappeared. Yelp said an algorithm did it, sorry, when they later called me to tell me I should run an ad on Yelp.
    I think I should just ask them to search for A Beautiful Day Photography instead and click on “Write a review”.
    Thanks again Mike for this helpful site.

  7. @darren I was always wondering that as well. If Google is seeing a business getting reviews from the same QR code or referring site, does this get penalized or viewed in a different way. I may also do a search for …… kind of message.

  8. @Jorge – If the QR code opens the Google+ local page URL, wouldn’t that simply look like direct traffic? Does the QR code reader app identify itself as referrer in some way?

  9. Thanks for the intel and insights as always, Mike.

    Someone should do a post on how Google’s review guidelines have changed over the years (and recent months). Kind of like what David does with Google local as a whole. I would, but I didn’t save the old guidelines in any way. Would be interesting – if possibly confusing – to see Google’s positions change over time.

    Hint, hint :)

  10. I can understand where Google is coming from when they ban solicitation and the offering of bonuses or gifts to customers who review business services. I must add, though, that Google knows, and we who work in SEO know how precious little time their is in the daily grind of the modern adult’s life. Searching on the Internet for a listing and then figuring out how to add a review, which sometimes means opening up a Google + account takes time. Customers have already awarded good service by paying their bill. While recognizing the need to separate between solicitation and reward, I believe customers who go out of their way and take some of their precious time to thank a company by going online and writing a review truly deserve a reward.

  11. As to to suggesting a business email a client for a review, I would still think that if Google see’s a large amount of reviews hit at the same time they would be filtered. So I will suggest a client send X amount per week. (maybe 1 or 2).

  12. Rock on! 6 of my old reviews (all genuine, all unfairly filtered) came back!

    2 reviews returned on a competitor’s page too, so there’s that. Can’t win ‘em all. Haha

    Interestingly, a few months ago I had noted several clearly bogus reviews on a different competitor’s page, that have NOT returned. So there is still a strong filter in place, it’s not like Google opened the floodgates or anything.

    Pendulum indeed.

  13. Same experience here as Greg’s. One of my long-term clients just got back 5 legit reviews that had been disappearing one by one for the past 8-12 months.

    I had to see it to believe it!

  14. Phil/Greg
    I recognize that the numbers vary. Barbara Oliver got one out of roughly 3 or 4 that have been taken down over time. I am curious if you have a sense of how many were missing vs how many returned?

  15. The 5 reviews were the only ones missing (went from 37 slowly to 32, now we’re back to 37). At least in this case Google has batted .1000.

    It’s always nice to see evidence that the reviews in fact do get mothballed instead of going the way of Jimmy Hoffa.

  16. It’s interesting that Google says “Remember, we don’t allow you to give customers free gifts or discounts for leaving reviews.”

    I guess this doesn’t apply if you ARE Google: https://www.google.com/local/contest/austinnexus7

    “Win a Nexus 7 by Reviewing New Austin Businesses
    Think you’re an expert on all Austin has to offer? We’re giving away Google Nexus 7 Tablet (approximate retail value $250 USD) to 1 lucky winner just for sharing your opinions on Austin businesses.

    Enter below by clicking the red entry button and signing into your Google account, then you can start writing reviews on Google+ Local to get started. Each new review you write is a new entry and chance to win. We’ll pick the entrant who writes the overall best reviews during the contest period as the winner, so don’t forget to write with style.”

  17. @Ken:

    Stunning!!!!! well google is bigger than the govt. bigger than G-d, and bigger than any smb’s; that is for certain.

    S.T.U.N.N.I.N.G!!!!!!!!!

  18. @ken and earl

    Whether justied or not Google makes a distinction between incentives for reviews of a single business and incentives for reviews of many businesses.

    I think there is logic to their position. The question with this policy distinction is where is the line drawn? Can a Chamber of Commerce run a similar program? Probably. Could 6 or 8 businesses get together and pool their email lists for a similar contest? Who knows.

  19. Mike, I was going to bring up the Chamber example too.

    Google is saying in their contests, pick a business ANY business and review to win a prize.

    The Chamber could say, help local businesses, review ANY business and win a prize. I’m certain Google would not have a problem.

    It’s when YOU say: “Review MY business and win a prize OR get entered in this contest” that it’s a problem. That’s clear incentive/solicitation to have people review YOUR business, which is a violation, the others are not.

    Seems pretty clear to me.

  20. @Darren your “these days I’m recommending that the email says “Go to Google and search for _business-name_” rather than directly linking to the listing. Maybe I’m just being paranoid, but I worry that they’re tracking referrers and may one day (if they’re not already doing this) decide to devalue reviews that were referred from webmail links.” – good point, but might be a bit paranoid of Google. People share links to stuff all the time. I think they can see if it’s clicked from email or whatever and I don’t think they’ll penalize reviews for that. It’s also one more step for a customer to take to leave a review. It’s so hard already for them. We provide ‘how to’ videos along with the request for review…. and it’s still challenging for the regular folk to leave a review.

  21. @ jorge and chad
    A QR code will not take a user to the “Write a review” button. Google delivers a mobile version of the page that does not contain the link to the Review Form.

    Androids have to use Google Maps app and Apple mobiles have to use Google Plus Local app.

    I have seen a QR code that will (on Android) open Google Maps app with the search terms for the Business and the City, State. I have not seen anything to help with Apple mobiles.

    John

  22. @John
    Yes that is my experience as well.. Although in the end it works on the Android right? That is what someone told me. It definitely doesn’t work on iPhone unless you lead then to a search result as opposed to the review link.

  23. In my Android phone which is an HTC DNA which just came out two months ago, I can get the “Write a review” button and Post a review from a browser.

    But it is because of the browser has a feature that allows me to download the Mobile version of a Google Plus Local page OR the desktop version of that page.

    The mobile version does not contain the “Write a review” button but the desktop version does.

    But this will probably NOT work for most other mobile phones.

    So the best advice for a customer is to have them use either the Google Maps app on Android or the Google Plus Local app on iPhone.
    Just search for business name, city, state in either app and you should be able to post a review.

    John

  24. I have a dental practice that amassed about 100 positive reviews over 3 years. This past summer google cut that to 46. Last week a psychotic patient left a false negative review that was quite long. We had not collected many reviews in the past 4-6 months as asking patients to leave reviews fell by the wayside. After the negative review I took an unused domain name and forwarded it to my google local page and asked a bunch f patents to leave reviews to push the bad one to the next page. Over the span of 4 days I got another 5 or 6 reviews. Yesterday I posted a response to the angry patent. Last night all my reviews were gone. Every last one. Any thoughts on what happened or what I can do to get them back? This is a major source of patients to my practice.

  25. @David
    The missing reviews both old and new are likely being filtered by Google’s review spam filter. If they don’t appear in 6 days that is definitely the case.

    Dentist and car dealers reviews are under closer scrutiny due to abuses in your industry. It makes asking for and getting too many reviews from non active Google users in a too short of a timeframe very difficult.

  26. What are your thoughts on giving patients an easy URL to enter and forwarding that to the page to leave a review? Do you think google tacks that and is it a bad practice to do so?
    Thank you for your previous answer.

  27. I am working for a web design firm, who handles over 300 clients. In the last week, more than half of them lost almost all their reviews in the past year. What is amazing that negative reviews remained untouched. More than a dozen of our clients are stopping pay per click, as they are extremelly angry of the new Google filtering system. They are moving to City Search, YP.com and Yelp. If Google thinks that this is the way to get more advertisers, they are wrong. So long Google PPC. Hello Yelp. (I wouldn’t say they are any better, LOL)

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