Google Becoming Slightly More Transparent About Nuking Reviews

Update 9/28: I had myself taken off as a manager of Barbara’s page and my review instantly lost the notice and showed back up on the listing.

Historically at Google Local, if a review triggered the spam filter, the reviewer would still see the review associated with the business if they were logged in and other users would not. The reviewer would have no clue as to why the review wasn’t showing.

This “technique” for handling “spammy” reviews led to many, many posts in the forums inquiring about why a given review wasn’t showing. Google has now implemented at least a modicum of communication in this regard and is tagging flagged reviews with an alert.

Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 10.51.31 AM

Is this enough communication and enough transparency? I would suggest that while it is better than before it still misses the mark.

1) Google has chosen to make the announcement in a users review section which I assume is infrequently visited

2)The complaints are still coming into the forum with regularity

3)The explanation given provides little in the way of helping the user understand what is going on if they do happen to see the notice.

My review of Barbara Oliver & Co. Jewelry was flagged because I am a manager of her G+ Page. Perhaps a legitimate reason to not show the review but if I were to read the help file that would not be at all clear.

Filtering reviews is a difficult dance between users and a complicated algo that is at best imperfect at identifying spam. Google has always erred on the side of opacity to prevent spammers from learning too much about their techniques.

The problem with that approach is that spammers figure it out anyways and regular users and businesses are inevitably punished. This occurs without any understanding of how or why on their part. Yelp, while imperfect in many things, handles their spam classification in a much more transparent way that while not ideal at least does a better job of communicating to the reviewer that their review will not be displayed. I believe that Google could learn from that example and with some careful thought do even better at solving this problem.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Google Becoming Slightly More Transparent About Nuking Reviews by

18 thoughts on “Google Becoming Slightly More Transparent About Nuking Reviews”

  1. Hi Mike,

    Both google and yelp should implement a verified review system.

    Review left. Email sent to reviewer by yelp or g+ to verify they left it. Or verify account.

    Then even ask the reviewer to post the review to Facebook or email it to friends.

    If it does not meet their quality guidelines. Again email and tell them including how to fix it to pass.

    This would create more use by users. More viral marketing for g+ and yelp pages thus more users for them.

    And more reviews sticking which helps the businesses listed on g+ and yelp.

    This is win win.

    Yelp and g+ could even sell this as a premium service $20/mo to businesses to help them.

    The software automation to do this would be tiny, the possibility to monotone HUGE and again this is win win for yelp and google and businesses.

  2. I agree that both could do more to verify review veracity which would go a long way to helping businesses feel more comfortable. My sense is that Google is hoping to do that via a technological solution. As users move more and more to mobile it will become easier for them to ascertain actual attendance and or purchase at a business.

    I love your idea of them providing some reputation management services but I see it as a potential conflict of interest. Not clear that Google or Yelp would be happy with $20/mo. They seem to have bigger fish to fry on the $ front.

  3. @Andrew
    I did purchase something. It was my review. I bought earrings as described. But I am also a manager of her G+ Page and that is likely viewed as a conflict of interest.

  4. Mike, I misread your post on that count. From reading the review text it does suggest that your kids were the one that bought from her for you. As you wrote the owner opened the business for “them” not “us.” The first part you talk about buying the jewelry then it transitions into your kids helping you out and the owner opening the store for them. Its ambiguous that you were there to buy the jewelry. And reviewing a business that you have an ongoing relationship for would be a no-no.

  5. @Andrew
    It was complicated as I couldn’t head up there that day… but I am a regular customer. So the review was fine, its my relationship, as you point out that is suspect.

    And justifiably so. I am not complaining about that. But even as a frequent G+ users and reviewer I would not have known that the ban was in place unless I stumbled over to this backwater page.

    I have written lots of reviews in the interim and Google has not alerted me to the issue in any proactive way and their help file doesn’t make it clear what exactly the problem is. Both are things that Google could do better on this front.

  6. Interestingly it only shows on my “reviews” tab and not when I’m visiting the listing while logged in. I think it should show in both places. Took me a few minutes to figure out where to find this.

    Here are a couple of mine that are filtered:

    “I was here for SMX East – a search marketing conference. The staff seemed really pleasant and the building was easy to find.” – https://plus.google.com/103126028174618573068/about

    “The great part was the shopping – they have awesome stores in the airport and good restaurants. The bad part was the extremely long lines and slow service.” – https://plus.google.com/111372123876339405089

    I think the issue for the airport was maybe that I posted it while at the airport, probably connected to their wifi.

    I also have one that is filtered for a business whose page I manage.

  7. @Joy
    My point exactly. It is a step in the right direction but so buried in the bowels of Google that no one that needs to see it, will.

    Your filtered reviews are good examples of an algo that is not yet anywhere near perfect, you spammer you. :)

  8. BTW, Mike:

    Yelp’s policies have a similar filter: a person in some way associated with a business cannot leave a review. That is a reasonably fair rule.

    In your case Google might have discovered that via algo. I do know in Yelp’s case “ratting” on suspect reviews and I suppose giving some evidence does work to getting reviews from a person associated with the smb taken down.

    The nitty gritty of filtering reviews with a level of depth probably would take a lot of manpower.

    google might not need or be focused on Matt’s idea above re the revenue base but yelp might like the idea. Their revenues are a drop in the bucket relative to google’s.

  9. Google reviews leave a lot to be desired. Not only does the individual business have no control over removing spam themselves, but their math skills are a joke. I have eight 5-star reviews and yet I only have a 4.8 average. How does that make sense? But Yelp is even worse. I think you should have been able to leave the review. You still have something of value to share, even if you are connected with the page.

  10. Mike:

    Its curious how Google determined that you have a relationship with the smb. I just looked at an smb and saw an of course hugely positive smashing review of an smb on its G+ page….by its owner.

    Its been there a while. Could it be that G is running these checks and filters on a “current basis” as opposed to going back through time?

  11. ….and one more thing about Google’s history, algo’s and filters for banning spammy reviews.

    Over a year ago somebody else and I placed purely political reviews on the local pages of a national business. The reviews linked to an article about whatever it was with which we disagreed.

    The other person set up a new google account to write the reviews and I believe her very first reviews were these political ones. I had a review history.

    Hers were taken down almost immediately. Mine stayed up for a long time. Later google set up a filter that would take down reviews with links. Mine then came down.

    “heh” that process of scrutinizing first reviews is reminiscent of how yelp works.

    of the reviews I wrote they got both helpful references and negatives. Regardless they stayed up until google removed all reviews with links.

    It seems to me the process is oriented toward filtering reviews via an algo methodology.

    And…on a somewhat ironic note relative to links with reviews: I had put up a review about a restaurant I liked. The PAC couldn’t get the correct url for this place. My review included a link with the correct url for the restaurant.

    That one went down also…even as it “improved” the poor info google was displaying. ;)

  12. I have a observation about local search that should concern every small business owner: when I search for a business online, it is nearly impossible to determine whether that business (or location, if more than one) is still in operation. Google, Yelp, TripAdvisor, etc. all return results for businesses that haven’t been open in years. This is not helpful to the would-be customer. *Anyone* can create a page on one of these “local” sites for a small business but *no one* monitors or curates the sites to verify whether the businesses still exist, since even the page for a closed business generates web traffic. And if this is true, then *anyone* could maliciously add false “closed” information to the pages for a going concern and I imagine that such a thing would then be very difficult to remove. For these reasons I have no motivation to trust local search. When I’m trying to decide how to spend my money/time, I don’t want inaccurate information that comes from “friends” or has been filtered through social media; I want information that is verified by experts. This is a niche that is going unfilled.

  13. Google allows any business listing to be reported as closed. If someone does so report it, they call and verify its status before they actually close it on their site. Not perfect but it is one way to keep these listings from getting completely out of hand.

    Google used to be looser about these closing standards and it did lead to problems but they have subsequently put in place better follow up.

  14. Interesting links about Google and closed businesses. At least Google has a policy in place, in part because you hit them where they live.

    Based on my recent searches of local businesses in my area that I know to be closed, Google presents me with links to sites showing that the locations of a retail store (in one case) and dry cleaning establishments (in another case) are still in operation. Junk listings for businesses and professional services completely overwhelm Google search to the point that it can be difficult to access a businesses’ official website via search–you have to know the URL. Have you tried Googling the name of any individual who happens to be (or share a name with) a private-practice physician lately? Info-scraping sites predominate in the first 10 to 20 pages of Google search results–and it seems there’s nothing anyone can do about it, because these sites just repackage publicly available information. This is the sort of thing that has completely turned me off the results that I get when searching for businesses online.

    Some businesses that attempt to get around the problems with search rely mainly on Facebook as their web presence and yet have set their FB pages up as accessible only to logged-in FB users. Why put the most basic business information out of reach of the general public? If such firms genuinely want people to locate them and verify business hours, or call with a question and then come in and spend some money, forcing the customer base to join Facebook isn’t the answer–it only benefits Facebook, and hurts your bottom line.

  15. I am not experiencing google quite the same way. When I find a business that I know is closed I report it to google and it gets closed. I find that usually the information I am looking for is reasonably good.

    That doesn’t mean that it is for you but without search examples I can’t really tell. In the end, unfortunately, it requires that the business be proactive in making sure that the correct information is out there on the web. That is a devilishly complicated job that many are not up to or even understand they need to do.

  16. Google is great on transparency….for everyone else.

    It may seem trivial, but lack of quality and transparency leads to distrust and ultimately lack of utility for the user.

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