Google Confirms Removal of Anonymous Reviews

Google has confirmed that anonymous reviews have in fact been removed from public view. Their statement to me:

“We do not allow anonymous reviews today and we’ve removed legacy anonymous reviews.”

If you recall, on May 24th, I reported their disappearance with the article Google Stops Counting Anonymous Reviews?.

Given the obvious angst that many small businesses were expressing, I reached out to Google for a comment and possible confirmation.  I received that today.

I tried to get it sooner and it wasn’t for a lack of trying on my part. But Google, in their (not so) infinite wisdom was unable to get me a statement.

In many ways, Google has become a more mature company in local  than the Google of old. As noted by David Mihm and I on Streetfight they have actively moved to develop and market their product on many fronts at once. They continue to roll out new features at a rapid pace and have improved dramatically in their ability to communicate to the small business owner.

And yet, when a small business reaches out to me proactively wondering, and many more asked me privately and on my blog for word, Google was not willing to share any details.

Obviously honest communication is KEY to a long term relationship that they might hope to develop with largely distrustful small business folks, These folks have been conditioned by Google to expect products to be pulled out of the market willy nilly and to not feel totally comfortable developing a strategic relationship with Google. This holds true for larger multi location businesses as well.

And yet most of the evidence points to a Google that has worked hard to “clean up its act”…. more reliable product fixes, regular roll outs, improved communications etc etc etc.

So why was it so hard for them to send a simple statement confirming the obvious?

As much as they have changed, they are still evolved from the Google culture. This culture, largely secretive and engineering driven, thinks that their actions have little impact and thus don’t have to be explained.

And yet in this case, while the aggregate impact of removing anonymous reviews is likely not large, the distribution of that impact is not even. Barbara Oliver, who started engaging her clients with Google reviews in 2009 lost 18% of her reviews. She felt like she worked hard both earning those reviews and in reaching out to customers. Way too hard to just lose them on a moments notice.

From her pov, and I agree, if Google has good reason to remove anonymous reviews  then the least is that Google owes her an alert and hopefully an explanation.

That didn’t happen in this case. When will we know that Google has moved on from their teenager mentality? We will know when Google understands and fully integrates the idea that they have a huge impact on the lives of small businesses folks and those folks, by virtue of embracing Google, deserve timely and honest communications.

On the one hand I am a bit of a Google fan boy when I see the largely positive impact that local search has on small local businesses. And yet for every cool free feature that moves them two steps forward in the local space, they inevitably remind me with a step back that they still don’t fully understand the world in which they have chosen to play.

May they become adults sooner rather than later.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Google Confirms Removal of Anonymous Reviews by

13 thoughts on “Google Confirms Removal of Anonymous Reviews”

  1. So Well said Mike. They do the same thing in the Street View Trusted program in many respects. Again, they are getting better but they continue to be very sketchy on explaining, warning or effectively communicating much of anything that truly matters from a reader’s (local business) point of view.

    For example, it’s still really not clear what the cost of API calls will really look like for Google Maps published content (which obviously included 360° photospheres that are the foundation of virtual tours associated with a GMB listing). It may not affect the majority, but by having a cost applied over a certain usage, there’s a bit of fear that it may work out to people not really wanting their images be too popular – rather counter-intuitive, isn’t it?

    1. I have a feeling half of this is not because of any mindsets. It is because they have 0 community efforts in place that has a leadership on top with an objective at the company level.

      Their teams are fragmented all over the world with too many culture mixes to have a mindset. If you ask me, Google is completely blind as to the experiences of business and developer users and does not care even if things are brought up to them, because there is no leadership for this stuff there and it falls on deaf ears of some junior CSR in their Indian offices without any further action. Those guys are not at fault either, they are script kiddies, told to stick to limited things they can say or do and there is literally no escalation paths.

      I saw a very similar problem at Wix for YEARS, until maybe not even 2 years ago somebody was hired there as a leader of a brand new established pro user community to start HEARING users out and seeing what happens daily in their lives. Size does matter, Wix is nowhere near where Google is in terms of size and complexity of organization, but Google can take a note and actually start engaging. Not Google persons on twitter and some random video conferences. An actual official invite-only community where at least marketers and Google partners can have daily input and feedback. But to Google, this is all a one way street, which confirms they have a serious vacuum of leadership in this regard. And why should they care? They are literally too big and too expensive of a brand to care much about any one area of their business. For God’s sake they are now working on human biology.

      Once cannot look at Google/Alphabet and find out what is their primary area of business anymore. You can tell where they make their money from, but you cannot tell what they really focus on. To end this ranty note, Google is a future GE. One day it will quickly start shutting down and selling stuff sooner or later in trying to clarify what it is anymore. Only that day will Google get a grip on all this. I am not holding my breath though, that could be a couple decades from now considering how thick their cash is.

  2. I don’t expect Google to change, not anytime soon, so my attitude is we take what we can get and try and figure out a way around the other stuff.
    I totally agree, two steps forward, one step back when it comes to Google. Perfect example is my client, a collection agency. They had a really bad anonymous review weighing down on them for years. That is gone now TG! But Google is showing a smaller number of reviews next to the Google Review stars than what they actually have. Not a big deal just slightly annoying.
    Thanks for always keeping us informed Mike.

  3. Thanks for the update Mike. We’re doing some analysis of reviews in database to provide some quantitive data around % of reviews that were anonymous to quantify the impact of this change.

    I wanted to confirm with you that Google took this action in 2-steps –

    1. May – stopped counting anon reviews & removed data from aggregate star rating

    2. June – stopped displaying anon reviews entirely

    Thank again for the update Mike – always so helpful.

    Myles

  4. @Myles
    First notice that they were not being counted on May 24 and by May 26/7 they were removed from display at all.

    1. thanks Mike.

      We did a quick analysis of our reviews database to understand the scale of ‘anonymous’ Google reviews that businesses have.

      Out of circa 2 million reviews analysed, just 3% were from ‘A Google User’. This accounts for just over 1 review per business examined so this action by Google shouldn’t create too big an issue for most businesses.

      Here’s the study if it interests you/your readers – https://www.brightlocal.com/2018/06/25/anonymous-google-reviews-are-officially-a-thing-of-the-past/

      We linked back to your 2 related posts from the study – thanks for bringing the issue to out attention.

      Thanks Mike

  5. I enjoy your perspective, Mike. Their poor communication/transparency is one of the reasons sm business owners are turned off from managing their listings.

    My clients have enjoyed seeing the recent additions to the GMB listings, however still want little to do with it.

    Hope they soon understand this disconnect and the impact it has on GMB management.

    Hayden

  6. Thanks for clarifying what was going on Mike. However, I do feel your pain, losing 18% of reviews (and we know your client got those reviews honestly) has to hurt.

  7. Mike, Do you have any notion (or data) to reflect which platforms have more engaged users? Yelp – Google – TripAdvisor….In other words, which users are more more apt to leave a review on their respective platform? It seems to me that folks have grown a bit tired of writing Google reviews. It seems increasingly difficult these days for businesses to get customers to actually write a Google review. Thoughts?

    1. @Jeffrey
      BUT think of this way… how many people do you know who own a Google account vs. Yelp vs. TripAdvisor vs. Facebook accounts?

      See, it is much easier for very small businesses and their sales or service teams to ask their clients to leave them a review per their performance on Facebook or Google than it is on any other platform. Which is kind of why we are all stuck with Google and its act that needs to be cleaned up much better in general.

      However, you are right, we have implemented customer satisfaction surveys that simply provide links to all platforms that client brands are present on so that users can choose where they wish to leave their reviews on their own, but traction on anything except for Google and Facebook is not even comparable. Just my 2 cents.

  8. @Jeffrey
    I think it is based on things outside of the platform…
    -what kind of business is it? IE is it something a user WANTS to talk about
    -what was the interaction like? did the interchange exceed the customer expectation?
    – Did the person in the business “grease the skids” and create a social obligation?

    In my experience we see review engagement rates from .5% to 25% which says to me its not the platform…

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