May 16, 2013
Google has announced in the forums their ability and willingness to now move reviews when a business has moved locations and to remove reviews with significant brand changes for a given location. The request by the business to do so is done via a new troubleshooter.
The guidelines that will apply to requests to move reviews can be summarized as follows: same business at a new location, reviews will be moved; New business at the same location reviews will be removed.
This new (and welcome) capability in no way affects the policy or procedure around removing inappropriate individual reviews – flagging the review as inappropriate via the G+ Plage and if dissatisfied with the lack of response then filing a troubleshooter report.
Here are the specifics of the guidelines:
Change of ownership
If you are the new owner or manager of an existing business that hasn’t changed it’s name, reviews will not be removed. You can use owner responses to respond to previous reviews and clarify any changes/improvements to the services your business is providing.
Change in name
If you are the new owner or manager of an existing business that has changed its name, reviews may be removed if your business meets specific criteria.
- Rebrand: Reviews can be removed from the listing if there’s been a significant change in well known, distinct brand name changes. Hotels or fast food establishment that switch franchise affiliations or car dealers that specialize in a different makes of cars would qualify for review removal.
- Name changes related to change in underlying services: For instance, a business that switches from Jade’s Chinese Garden Restaurant to India Palace Restaurant, or Al’s Sporting Goods Store to Performance Bike Repair, would qualify for review removal
- Partners or other business affiliations that disassociate: For example, if Perkins and Rogers, Attorneys at Law becomes Perkins, Attorney at Law because Rogers has left the practice to form his own, all reviews would be detached. Note that all reviews would be removed, not just the ones that refer to a particular practitioner
Name changes that don’t reflect core changes to the business’s services aren’t eligible for review removal. For example, if Dasha’s Dry Cleaner becomes Dasha’s Super Dry Cleaner, or JFK Limo Service becomes Super JFK Limo, reviews will remain in place.
Out of business
If your business closes, reviews will remain attached to the closed listing.
Physical location (address) move
If your business moves from one location to another and keeps the same business name, Google will generally move the reviews to the new location. There are some exceptions for businesses heavily tied to their locations, like hotels, golf courses or scenic attractions.
Submit a request for us to move reviews using this form. Currently this is only available for users of the new Google Places for Business dashboard, but we expect to expand its availability soon. I will update this post when it is available more widely.
The weird stuff from yesterday has come into clearer focus. New Maps, Back to the Future on Review Rating Stars (although red this time), New G+ (argh)….but here are some tidbits that might make all of the once and future changes a tad more understandable:
- The new Google Maps is currently available by invite only. You must go here and request an invitation as it is still considered a preview.
- However there is some leakage in the preview. To see the new Maps list view of local search results add the search parameter “&tbm=plcs” to a local search result. Even though the URL parameter indicates that this is the Places page (whose link was removed last week from the main search page), it currently is only visible to the public via the new Google Maps to those that have access to the preview.
- Whether this view will ever be visible via the main search results is unknown. Certainly retaining the old url parameter makes it confusing. But it appears so far that local isn’t so much being rebranded as being absorbed into Maps and Plus. Still no real clear name for it. I guess that entitles us to make it up. Nominations are open.
- Google is abandoning the Zagat rating system. I guess they are planning on selling it to Yahoo. Regardless, in another visible leak of the coming upgrade, you can see the new rating system on your
Place Page G+ Local Page uh your (local and perhaps social) G+ Page by adding this search parameter “&rfmt=s” to the G+ Page URL.
- In the current iteration of the G+ Page for Local with the new review notation, it appears that there is a bug that prevents owner comments from displaying. (Hat tip to Dave…welcome back btw)
- If you are like me, and find the new,
improved G+ layout to be way too distracting and hard to follow you can change it most of the way back by using this tip from David Fuchs:
Go to your home page
– Click “More” on top
– Scroll all the way to the bottom
– two icons choose the left one.
To fix the profile page
[x] Change the presentation of some pages to work better with screen readers and other accessibility tools.
May 15, 2013
The new local result list display that was discovered today makes more sense when viewed in context of the newly updated Maps. Select the “Go to list of top results” link from the refinement pane and you will arrive at the new page. For those of you that don’t have access to the new Maps view yet, you can get to this list view by adding the parameter “&tbm=plcs” to a local search result URL as in this search for Jewelry Design Buffalo NY
Once there you can click on the Google Reviews link for any listing to see how the newly formatted G+ Page for local will look with the new red 5 star motif. Adding the parameter “&rfmt=s” to the +Page URL: https://plus.google.com/103156080483607740278/about?hl=en&rfmt=s will take you directly to the G+ page showing the new review stars.
Note the bold use of red number in summary at the top of the review sections that is significantly more obvious that the stars and immediately draws the eye down the page. I am sure that no one will miss the arbitrary 29 that was often given to those with averages of 30. Click the image to view it at full resolution. Or better just go there yourself.
Along with a total revamp of Maps, Google has announced at I/O, the forum and their blog the return to a 5 star review system. You can request an invite to the new Maps here. From their blog post:
Users who opt-in to the new Google Maps will now rate businesses on a scale that ranges from one to five stars. The system maintains the precision of the former 30 point scale while improving the readability and accessibility of the business listings. Your customers will be able to find up-to-date, accurate information on your business faster than ever. As a business owner, you’ll notice that past ratings have been mapped to the five star system.
Here is how the new scores are now calculated:
poor/fair = 2 stars
good = 3 stars
very good = 4 stars
excellent = 5 stars
Some other notes from Google:
- Users on legacy Maps, mobile (Android + iOS), Google+, Google.com, and other properties will continue to see 30 point ratings for several more weeks
- If a user is opted into the New Google Maps and clicks on a “more reviews” they will be taken to a plus page where they will see the 5 star ratings
- However, if the same user had just navigated to the page from plus.google.com they would see 30 point scale
- Note that users just searching on google.com not coming from New Google Maps will continue to see the old results.
- Google will no longer be asking users to rate on specific dimensions/aspects. For example, for restaurants users will no longer rate the “food”, “decor” and “service”.
- Google will show just one overall score (they used an algorithm to translate the food/decor/service scores into a blended overall score).
To the dismay of many, Google replaced the yellow stars with the Zagat system in May, 2012 when Google rolled Places pages into Plus. It was clear from August of last year that Google was testing a return to the 5 Star system and they were never removed from local AdWords display.
The current iteration of stars appear to be universally red and it seems that they will roll out to all properties over the next few months. The new “Places” results that were spotted earlier will apparently be the results seen when visited from the new Maps interface.
April 26, 2013
Laura Behny of Attaboy Plumbing and at least one poster in the forums have noted what appears to be a new bug when clicking on the the “Google reviews” link in the pack results. Either a blank page is delivered or these very weird results are shown instead of the local G+ Page. It is not happening on all results and appears to be focused on SAB results.
Update: The bug seems to show regardless of how the page is accessed with most SAB pages that I have tested showing a blank page that include only their business name at the top and no content. Google has been notified of the bug. If you want to chime in at the forums at your comment to the existing post that has been elevated.
April 10, 2013
Jade noted in the forums that:
Just letting you know that we’ve found a technical issue last week with reviews where some were incorrectly taken down. We’re working on fixing the issue, so sit tight!
This was in response to the spate of reports of reviews being taken down last week in what appeared like a reincarnation of the review spam algo from hell.
Barry Schwartz noted that he felt that Google was confirming a bug. A bug implies to me an error in underlying code that causes an error. These take downs looked so much like the previous level of take downs with the review algo last fall, that I think assuming it was a bug would be making too many assumptions. Note that Jade said “we’ve found a technical issue”. That could be anything from the janitor tripping over the cord to an engineer turning a switch that cut a new review algo loose again. A more likely explanation in my book is that Google was “upgrading” the algo and it was more severe than had been predicted.
Regardless it does appear that many of the reviews that were taken down will hopefully coming back similar to those returned at the end of January. Remember though that not all of them returned.
January 31, 2013
Google 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
January 18, 2013
Earlier this week when I reported that Review Contests Violate Google’s Guidelines, Dave Squires, Contractor’s Online Access asked this question
HI Mike, In Seattle last year I was in local U when I asked Joel Headley during his presentation about indirect incentives. We have a system that provides an incentive to customers by offering to make a monetary donation to 1 of 5 local charities the company owner selected, if the customer would donate some of their time to leave a review–good or bad.
We did this so that the customer had no direct gain from it and it fit within the Google “do no evil” mission statement. We wrote the program that managed and tracked this for our customers because we liked the idea that it could potentially generate thousands of dollars to worthwhile charities around the country. At local U Joel specifically said that Google would never have a problem with a program that donates to charity to ‘incentivize’ a customer to take the time to leave a review. I am curious if this is still true.
Personally, I would love to see Google endorse this concept since we learned it does very well as an incentive for customers to take the time to leave a review without any direct reward to them… and it would generate a lot of money to many great local charities if others ran with our idea as well.
Google’s response: ”Any incentive offered in return for a review of a specific business is against our policy.”
I guess that you can conclude that any incentive of any sort for a review on Google is not allowed.
January 14, 2013
There had long been some ambiguity & contradictions around whether the Google Review guidelines prevented a business from having a contest or raffle to encourage customers to leave reviews. No more. Google has finally stated that drawings that involve incentives are not allowed.
In response to a report in the forums of a contest that had a drawing for the chance of a refund for the value of work done in return for a review (either positive or negative), Googler Jade said: Just clarifying that it is against our reviews guidelines to trade money for reviews, so, yes, this sort of solicitation would be against the reviews guidelines. You can see the rules for the contest in question here & here.
Given that Google themselves have had these sorts of contests in the past it was often thought that as long as a given review was not incented AND there was no pressure for a positive review that a business could have a monthly drawing. Even after Google rewrote the guidelines in February of 2011 to include the phrasing: For instance, do not offer or accept money or product to write positive reviews about a business, or to write negative reviews about a competitor, it was unclear whether a drawing that did not have a quid pro quo for a positive review might pass muster. Matt McGee felt that there was additional clarification needed. And Nyagoslav, after reviewing newly minted Places guidelines on promotions in May of 2012, noted that while there was ambiguity, it was probably ok to have a drawing as long as you didn’t ask for positive reviews. I agreed with his interpretation.
Somewhere along the line the word positive was removed and they now say: Don’t offer money or product to others to write reviews for your business or write negative reviews about a competitor. A subtle change yes but it appears that Google finally has made clear that these sorts of contests and drawings are verboten. Whether the new written guideline is still clear enough is another matter. I would suggest that while the rules are getting clearer, like in February 2011 and May 2012, there is still room for clarification vis a vis these sorts of activities so that there is no mistake. This is particularly true given the long back story.
Here is a history or the guideline as it changed over time (relevant sentence in bold italics). (more…)
December 12, 2012
Google has just updated the review content guidelines to explicitly prohibit review stations AND employee reviews.
The changes to the policy are noted in italics:
For instance, as a business owner or employee you should not review your own business or current place of work. Don’t offer money or product to others to write reviews for your business or write negative reviews about a competitor. We also discourage specialized review stations or kiosks set up at your place of business for the sole purpose of soliciting reviews.