All posts by Mike Blumenthal

Google Dropping Review Shadow Box in Serp and Going Directly to Plus?

Yesterday while doing training I noticed that Google was dropping the review shadow box from the main search results and taking users directly to the business Plus page.  Today others are noticing this as well. Nicolai Helling pointed the new behavior out on G+.

As Nicolai mentioned and I agree this change “seems to be preparatory to release a new way to insert the Google+ Local results into the main Google-SERPs” that I wrote about early in the week with the total absence of review links in the new mini pack results. 

Currently the review shadow box STILL shows for brand searches on both the link under the One Pack and in the Knowledge panel.  But on Pack results users are directed to the Plus About page. On the current Carousel a click takes the searcher to a brand search.

While it is possible that the 7-pack will survive the carousel transition to newly seen Mini Pack, all of this behavior would be consistent with changing all local results to the new mini pack as well.

Brand Search still directs to the Review Shadow Box
Brand Search & resultant knowledge panel still directs to the Review Shadow Box
click to view larger
click to view larger

 

Google My Business Now Allows Deleted Plus Pages to Be Recovered

Kaleh Kohler, a top contributor in the Google And Your Business Forum and a very astute student of all things Google Plus, has pointed out a new feature of Google My Business (aka Google Pages Dashoard) that allows the user to recover (undelete) and manage pages that have been deleted.

It would appear that it only works on Pages that are deleted subsequent to the rollout of this feature and it doesn’t seem that page deleted earlier are seen (I could be wrong about this). Once a request is made to undelete a page, the page reappears in the dashboard almost immediately.

This is welcome one to anyone that has inadvertently deleted the wrong page.

Screen-Shot-2014-08-20-at-8.01

Screen Shot 2014-08-20 at 8.02.09 AM

Screen Shot 2014-08-20 at 8.03.58 AM

Google Test Search Results – 11 Ads, 1 Directory and 3 Stinkers

Google is apparently testing a mobile style 3 pack as a replacement for the carousel.

Whether a test or not, this test search result is quite amazing. I have a fairly large Thunderbolt display with a resolution of 2560 x 1440. That is more vertical resolution than 66% of all computers on the market as of January, 2014 according to w3schools.com. Even so this result is quite incredible in just how absolutely awful it is.

With my browser window stretched to the full height of the display, above the fold there are 11 ads, 1 organic directory listing, a map and 3 2.5 hold your nose stinky local results. The move away from a carousel which had a certain balance to the ranking and possibly away from the 7 pack towards just 3 results is jarring enough. But the amazing preponderance of paid and the near complete absence and terrible quality of the organic and local results leaves one’s jaw on the floor.

I guess that Google has finally given up on any form of local listing or organic page relevance and has decided that relevance is a function of payment.

Click to view larger (although be sure to keep airsickness bag handu)
Click to view larger (although be sure to keep airsickness bag handu)

Google Testing Carousel Replacement

Last week, Dr. Pete Meyers of Moz, posted on Twitter that he had seen a new deskop pack result that seemed to be replacing the Carousel. He has emailed me to note that he is now seeing it on a number of broad queries “including “chicago restaurants”, “restaurant reviews”, “chinese menu”, and “vegas hotels””.

James Gibbons also reported a search result where the carousel had been replaced with a 7-pack,

restaurants

 

As Pete noted in his email most of the new results that he was seeing were in place of the carousel AND the result mirrors exactly what is currently shown in mobile.The mobile change over occurred last April.

Will Google change away from the carousel? I am not a betting man and Google does do a lot of testing but my gut says that they just might move towards this new display. They have been on a toot to “clean up” the visuals on the main search result page (fewer packs, no author photos, fewer video and review snippets) and this change fits that mold.

Have you seen this result? What browser were you using? What phrases?

Update: I am now seeing this result using Firefox on my Mac searching for “vegas hotel“:

Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 1.06.49 PM

 

See other searches:

Continue reading

Google Updates Review Policy Help Files and Review Flagging Form

This could very well be old news. I have no idea when these two things changed but Google has made a substantial update to both their local review policies and the “flag and fix inappropriate reviews” form and help pages.

The new “flag as inappropriate” form has more fields and is also more generic and it appears that it applies to more than just reviews:

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 2.05.23 PM

Of more interest is the increased detail in the Local Review Policy (previously referred to as the “Review content policy“). Here is the new Local Review Policy:

Content policies

We’ll remove content that violates any of the content policies below:

  • Advertising: Don’t use reviews for advertising, such as adding links to other websites or phone numbers. Reviews should be a genuine reflection of your experience with a place – don’t post reviews just to manipulate a place’s ratings.
  • Spam: Please don’t spam. Write a genuine report of your experience with the place. Don’t include promotional / commercial content, and don’t post the same content multiple times.
  • Phone numbers or URLs: To help prevent advertising and spammy reviews, we don’t allow phone numbers or links to other websites in reviews. If you want to add an updated number or URL for the business you’re reviewing, use the Report a problem link to report that information instead.
  • Off-topic reviews: Don’t post reviews based on someone else’s experience, or that are not about the specific place you’re reviewing. Reviews aren’t meant to be a forum for general political or social commentary or personal rants. Wrong location or the place is closed? Use the Report a problem link to report that information instead of writing a review.
  • Keep it clean: Don’t use obscene, profane, or offensive language. We’ll also remove reviews that represent personal attacks on others.
  • Conflict of interest: Reviews are most valuable when they are honest and unbiased. If you own or work at a place, please don’t review your own business or employer. Don’t offer or accept money, products, or services to write reviews for a business or to write negative reviews about a competitor. If you’re a business owner, don’t set up review stations or kiosks at your place of business just to ask for reviews written at your place of business.
  • Illegal content: Don’t post reviews that contain or link to unlawful content, like links that facilitate the sale of prescription drugs without a prescription.
  • Copyrighted content: Don’t post reviews that infringe other’s rights – including copyright. For more information or to file a DMCA request, review our copyright procedures.
  • Sexually Explicit Material: We don’t allow reviews that contain sexually explicit material. Also, we absolutely don’t allow reviews that sexually exploit children or present them in a sexual manner. For this type of content, we’ll remove the review, shut down the account, and send a report to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) and law enforcement.
  • Impersonation: Don’t post reviews on behalf of others or misrepresent your identity or connection with the place you’re reviewing.
  • Personal and confidential information: Don’t post reviews that contain another person’s personal and confidential information, including credit card information, government identification number, driver’s license information, etc.
  • Hate Speech: We don’t allow reviews that advocate against groups of people based on their race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, veteran status, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

Obviously, most of the above policies have been integrated into the review spam algo and lead to auto flagging of reviews.

Google notes on the Flag and Fix Inappropriate Reviews page that a user can get their review to show by bringing it in compliance with the above:

If a review you wrote has been flagged and removed, you can fix it yourself. Edit your review to follow our policies (for example, remove a phone number or URL link). Your review will be automatically republished.

As Priya Chandra (a rising star in the Google Business forums) points out below, Google has also made a clear and unambiguous statement about not using reviews as a forum for political or social commentary on their Tips for writing great reviews page:

Reviews not General Commentary: At times certain locations may become the subject of larger public debate or conversation due to recent news coverage or current events. While we respect and value your opinion, Local Reviews are not meant for social or political commentary. We think there are other forums that are more suited to those kinds of conversations, like blogs or social networks. Please write about your firsthand experience with the place and not general commentary on the place in relation to recent news.

Here are the review guidelines as captured in May, 2013 by the WaybackWhacky Machine: Continue reading

Yelp Being Sued in San Francisco Courts for Misleading Investors

Gigaom reports that there is a new class action suit against Yelp for security law violations:

The complaint alleges Yelp violated securities law by committing “fraud on the market,” and claims that executive sold stock when the price was near a high of almost $90 in February; the price fell sharply shortly after this in light of the negative publicity surrounding the FTC complaints.

This suit, rather than attacking Yelp’s practices directly are alleging that Yelp made “false and misleading statements about their true business and financial condition” in regards to the “robustness of their algorithms designed to screen reviews” and the Company’s growth prospects and the “extent to which they were reliant upon undisclosed business practices”.

From the filing:

(a) Reviews, including anonymous reviews, appearing on the Company’s website were not all authentic “firsthand” reviews, but instead included fraudulent reviews by reviewers who did not have first-hand experience with the business being reviewed;

(b) Algorithms purportedly designed to screen unreliable reviews did not comprehensively do so, and instead, the Company allowed such unreliable reviews to remain prominent while the Company tried to sell services designed to suppress negative reviews or make them go away; and

(c) In light of the above facts, the representations concerning the Company’s current and future financial condition and prospects, and the extent to which they were reliant upon undisclosed business practices, did not have a reasonable basis.

It will be interesting to see if these new angles of “attack” on Yelp are any more successful than previous suits.

Here is the complete filing for Curry vs Yelp.

 

Yelp Coming Under Fire For Review Take Downs From Its Reviewers

Yelp is caught in the middle of the shit storm surrounding the hotel that recently was outed for fining wedding parties if they left bad reviews. Thousands of reviews have been posted there and thousands removed.

Now though, many reviewers are targeting Yelp for their squelching of dissent and their ability to properly vet reviews. Yelp gave reviewers the power to publicly provide feedback and now they really want to publicly provide negative feedback about Yelp. Interesting turn of the screw.

l.jpgI spent a considerable amount of time researching their claim that it was a joke and posted my findings only to have yelp remove it along with 900+ other reviews. In my post, I provided a timeline from archive.org that clearly laid out when they posted the policy (december 2012) on their site, each (multiple times in 2013) revision to the page that contained the policy as well as the final revision (two edits  yesterday) where they removed the verbiage.

It clearly was not a joke and was absolutely intentional. Damn shame I didn’t copy the post as it would have been a helluva lot easier to post again. For shits and giggles, I’ll attach the email I received from yelp.

Censorship at its best… Douche’s

Dear Yelp,

For removing my review and sending a message I could not reply to I’ve decided to break up with you. I was $500 in hand ready to put our deposit down for our wedding at USH! Why?!?!?

I am so over your over-controlling, abusive ways. You never listen to me even when I try to add a post or sometimes help you update restaurant. You are so insensitive to the feelings of others.

Also I want you to know I met someone on this website. Urban spoon and I are going to try it out for a while to see how things go. Who knows if  lucky I’ll get a little on google places too?

Bye, it was fun while it lasted!

Your policies are outrageous. You should definitely think long and hard if this is how you want to treat your customers as very soon you will have none. 


For Yelp to remove the negative reviews shows that the whole idea of reviews is controlled. Good or Bad reviews are subject to removal? 

Then why write a review at all?

The removal of so many negative “reviews” – opinions from teh internetz more correctly – calls into question Yelp.com’s ability to actually field reviews good or bad in any fashion at all.  Surely the system would reject “reviews” unless the stay date was indicated – oh, I guess not.  Gee, I guess anyone could pad the profile of any business any way they like….hmmm…..

No wonder Yelp.com puts so much effort into arguing for their credibility.

Yelp removed my review yesterday, as far as i know, i can post my review free of limitations and express my opinion.

I disagree this place for charging $500 dollars if you post a bad review. And I will disagree if Yelp remove my post again.

 

Yelp Reviewers – They May be Weird But Andrew Shotland Appreciates their Humor

By now most everyone has heard about the Union Street Guest House, recently outed for threatening a $500 fine if anyone in your wedding party left a bad review.

The pile on has started. As of yesterday there were 161 reviews on their page there and most (146) were in response to the news article that was published yesterday. As the news hit social media the reviews came hot and heavy and there are now 872 reviews. The wait is on to see how long and how many of these reviews survive the various filters and manual removals that are likely to come.

Obviously trying to muzzle customers post sale is not a great strategy and unlike the battle at Big Earl’s is unlikely to find any support on the other side of the argument (just to show what a weird society we live in.. it should be the other way around).

That being said before the reviews were removed from Yelp I wanted to bring some of the more colorful ones to your attention:

Adolf H.
Hudson, NY
0 friends
1 review

5.0 star rating 8/5/2014
Mein stay here vas actually very nice. I kame here vis a open mind it vas actually really quite nice. Ze owners ver lovely. I love to meet people who sink ze same as I do. Zey agreed with me on all my ideas! Overall it vas a nice stay and I loved ze decorations; ze red and black vurked so well, I sink I might use it for a project I have planned!

I just vish I’d not brought mein Gestapo buddies. Zey were up all night partying and marching vis ze owners all night! It vas a crazy time, ja!

Noj S.
La Mesa, CA
0 friends
1 review

1.0 star rating 8/5/2014
I reserved my suite online. When I arrived around 9pm, I was informed that the two room suite I had prepaid for was no longer available because they had assumed I wasn’t coming, and they were going to place me in a “deluxe” room with one queen bed. With my family of 7, I asked about either a second room or a refund so I could stay elsewhere. They refused stating that because I had paid Expedia, that any refund would have to be between me and them. Also, they didn’t have any other rooms available.

Not having much choice, I decided to just stay the night and try to talk some sense into the day manager. On the check-in form, I had to initial that they would charge an additional $500 if I gave them a negative review. I shrugged since I don’t usually review places anyways.

The staff was nice enough to provide extra blankets and pillows so that the kids could “camp” out on the floor. Hell, it’s a fun experience, right?
My daughter (3) woke up around 1am complaining of itching. We told her to go back to bed. Little did we know that she was getting bit by insects which we now know to be bedbugs. BEDBUGS? Seriously? Is this 1800s London?

I took plenty of photos and moved my family out the next morning. Thankfully with my receipt and photos, Citi allowed me to charge back my stay to Expedia, which charged it back to Unioin Street Guest House.
And, since my experience really happened, BRING IT ON! FIRST AMENDMENT BITCHES!

Joe D.
Bayside, NY
0 friends
25 reviews

2.0 star rating 8/5/2014
I got married here in 2013 but I didn’t read the fine print carefully. Apparently the Hotel Manager had the right of “Prima Nocta” and was legally allowed to sleep with the bride on the first night. Needless to say this lead to serious issues with the marriage. I’m fairly sure he impregnated my wife- the DNA test says the baby isn’t mine.

On the other hand they did leave a chocolate on the pillow, so it wasn’t all bad- they deserve an extra star for that.

Mal V.
Malvern, PA
2 friends
18 reviews

5.0 star rating 8/5/2014
PLEASE NOTE! You must rate Union Street Guest House SIX stars in order to avoid the $500 fine. How is that possible Yelp’s rating only goes up to 5 stars, you ask?

Tough titty said the kitty. Now pay up.

And a few more for good luck:

Continue reading

A Plug-in for Adding Google Reviews to Your WordPress Blog

Update: I just heard from David Deering about the plug-in’s use of Schema. Firstly the schema is not done correctly. More importantly however (which I suspected but didn’t investigate as I thought the schema was reserved for the paid version… mea culpa) marking up reviews and ratings that were created on another site actually goes against Google’s guidelines for rich snippets (ed note: I am looking for that guideline).  It would be a much better plugin if it didn’t create schema markups, although the data sent through the API could still be considered duplicate/scraped content, since it does end up in the page’s HTML code.  But I don’t think/hope that Google is too strict about that, although they’ve never really come out with something definite on that subject.

Here is the relevant guideline from Google: Be of original content that you and your users have generated and is fully contained on your page.

Many have asked for a way to post their Google reviews on their site. This plug-in seems to solve many of the problems associated with doing that and seems to provide a useful solution.

Google Places Reviews, installed at the right, allows a WordPress site to relatively easily embed up to the 3 most recent Google reviews in a sidebar as a widget or if you purchase the pro version, up to 5 reviews on any page using short codes. With the pro version you can filter by star rating as well.

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 6.12.27 PMFrom their WordPress page:

Plugin Features

  • Google Business Reviews – Display up to 3 business reviews per location.
  • Detailed Business Information – Show the business name, website, Google+ page and more.
  • Versatile Widget Themes – Choose from a selection of stunning widget themes that fit light and dark color schemes that make integration with your website design effortless.
  • Google Places Autocomplete – Easily lookup businesses in your area through the widget interface using the power of Google search.
  • Actively Supported and Developed – We are a team of expert developers based in San Diego, California and we stand by our work. Got a problem? Hit us up.

Google Places Reviews Pro Version Features

Google Places Reviews Pro is a significant upgrade to Google Places Reviews that adds many features to the core plugin:

  • More Reviews – Display up to 5 reviews using the Google Places API
  • Powerful Shortcode – Display reviews in your post and page content
  • Schema.org Tags for SEO – Help search engines find the information quickly and display reviews of a company’s product and services on search engine results pages
  • Review concatenation – Some reviews returned by Google may be very long which could result in a very long widget. The Pro version includes a customizable feature for collapsing and expanding long reviews with “Read more” and “Close” links.
  • Fast loading – Optimized widget caching included within the plugin ensure you save on load time and API calls

Setup requires that you obtain a Google API Free for up to 1000 uses per day) and configure the widget.  Set up was relatively straight forward and took about 10 minutes once I understood exactly what needed to be done.

My assessment? Since it uses the Google api I assume (but am not positive) that it avoids duplicate content issues. It is free for showing three reviews and only $20 if you want the pro version to allow more reviews and filtering options.

Set up was relatively painless and the free version seems to work well. I find the idea that the pro version would support schema for this use somewhat strange and I doubt that Google would see the content as part of the page but it might. Someone needs to test and let me know.

Update: David pointed out to me that the basic version in fact does use schema both improperly and in violation of Google guidelines. Until that is fixed this is not a plug in that I would recommend.

All in all what appears to be a slick solution to a question that is often raised.

Here is the screen shot for the widget configuration: Continue reading