Google announced last night that Hotpot friend recommendations are now showing on the main Google search results in the 7-pack. They are also showing in the local organic blended results and branded searches.
Google is working on social tools on a number of fronts more or less successfully. You can never count them out though when they are willing to bring the full weight of the front page of Google to the game.
It appears to me that eating, reviews and ratings are where they are really where they are making a stand and to do so they are driving traffic to Hotpot. Hotpot previously has been highlighted in Maps, Places and mobile.
What better way to incent Hotpot users than to show them, front and center, where their friends ate. What better way to create more Hotpot engagement and traffic than showing it on the front page of Google. Let the ego games begin.
Here is a screen shot of a branded Local Universal result where you can see the inclusion of Hotpot ratings: Continue reading
Ah yes, the rancor in the review industry does continue and in fact it seems to be turnin’ into a wrestlin’ match. The
actors players competitors wrestlers have staked out their corners and the taunting has begun for the match later this evening.
Google has been throwing reviews around like ring side chairs. Reviews from tripadvisor.com have been coming and going from Places Pages faster than an Elbow Drop off the Top. Google seems to be attempting to not show them as much, per TA’s request but in their stead we are often seeing the very same reviews form Tripadvisor.ca or .ie. In some cases, we are even seeing the TA reviews on the Places Page from actual owner website via the TA review widget. (Thanks to Steve King from SimPartners)
The real winner in this match appears to be a site called TravelPod.com. They are a site that synidicates TripAdvisor reviews and in a quick survey of hotel Places Pages for major cities, they are showing prominently on the main SERP and the Places Page for sites that had TripAdvisor reviews. Their review totals often match TA’s exactly. Clearly, TA’s efforts to block Google from summarizing content from their review corpus is not going to be a successful tactic.
One then has to ask why TA has gone on their very public PR tear. Posting at their blog and across twitter via the #AskSteve hashtag, their CEO continues to answer (albeit at a trickle) questions about the tiff.
I found TA’s answer to a question that I asked interesting:
Q: @mblumenthal – How does the hotel benefit by TripAdvisor pulling their reviews from Google?
A: For hotels to thrive on any site, consumers must have a great user experience. We’ve pulled our reviews because Google Places doesn’t offer a good consumer experience.
Now where have we heard that refrain before? It seems that Steve pulled a play from Google’s playbook when answering that one.
Effluent always seems to run down hill. And it seems that wherever an SMB might stand in this current match is by definition, down hill.
It has been 1409 days 13 hours 55 minutes 9 seconds,
since Google last publicly commented
on their losing of business reviews.
Since that time, reports of Google losing business reviews continue to come in. From both personal experience and reports that flow into the forums, it is clear the Google has yet to solve the lost review problems. It is clearly not one problem but several.
For SMB’s, the only thing worse than Google not fighting review spam, is losing good reviews. Not only do SMBs deserve to have these reviews found, they deserve communication while Google is hunting for them.
Ok, enough is enough. My Google Places reviews have been missing since mid summer 2010 and I have waited patiently for their return.
Google has had some problems loosing reviews and this problem continues to this day. I understand that.
Stuff happens in a complex system and while I don’t like it, at some level I do understand it. I have always advocated for others that these reviews should be resurfaced and those that are legit be reassociated with the appropriate Places Page.
But I was looking at reviews in the context of a new talk I am giving this week at the UBL user conference in Charlotte and I realized that some of the reviews that had been lost from my account had more than just commercial value. They hold personal and relationship value as well. When a person you respect leaves a review it means more to me than just a review. Continue reading
Su from the Inn at Tanglewood Hall, a bed and breakfast in York Harbor, Me alerted me on the 20th to the fact that TripAdvisor reviews were once again missing from Google Places. Today she sent me this missive from the CEO of TripAdvisor, Steve Kaufer inviting questions via Twitter about the TripAdvisor-Google battle over review content in Google Places. I am reprinting his message in full:
#AskSteve on Twitter: TripAdvisor Talks Google Places and Invites Questions
With more than 70% of all searches in the U.S. alone, Google is the world’s dominant search engine with considerable power over displaying what users see on the web. With Google Places, it is abusing this power.
The success of any website relies on two crucial elements: how useful it is to the consumer and therefore how highly it ranks in search engines. With both of these elements, Google is manipulating its systems and position to promote Google Places over other competing sites. Links to Google Places appear at the top of the ‘natural’ search despite being an inferior product to sites that are dedicated to review collection and therefore more useful to the consumer. Google is also forcingTripAdvisor to allow its reviews to be on Google Places, and as the world’s largest travel site with more than 40 million reviews and opinions, become the key content provider in Google Places for hotel and other accommodation reviews.
While we expect competition in the travel planning sector, we expect the success of the competition to be decided by the consumer. The EU Commission is currently investigating claims of how Google is adopting unfair practice; Google Places is another example of how they are abusing their dominant position in search.
As the situation continues to unfold, we know that many of you may have questions about Google Places and how we at TripAdvisor are approaching it, and I want to get those questions answered. Over the next couple of days, we’ll be asking you to share these questions on Twitter, and I’ll be answering them right here on the TripAdvisor blog. Follow us at @TripAdvisor for additional details on how to submit questions and join in on the conversation.
Steve Kaufer, CEO, TripAdvisor
Guidelines for submitting questions:
- I’ll only be answering questions about Google Places. Questions on other topics will not be responded to at this time.
- In order to have your question included, please be sure to use the hashtag #AskSteve.
- I will be answering ten questions. Answers will be posted here, on the TripAdvisor blog, and shared on Twitter. Follow @TripAdvisor for updates.
To see the Twitter question stream…. Continue reading
Late yesterday Google quashed at least 3 known Places review bugs.
Reader Jeffrey Magner of TrumpetMedia reported that the nasty review bug in Google Places first seen last week that prevented anonymous reviewers from leaving reviews has been fixed. All anonymous reviewers with nicknames are now seeing a highlighted publish button and are able to leave a review.
Also, at least for some percentage of anonymous reviewers, their review history ( see my anonymous reviewer JS) is now visible. In early November, after the introduction of Hotpot and anonymous user nick names, these review histories were not viewable. In addition, the ugly bug that resulted in the 501 server error when clicking on the anonymous but not having reviews “Google User” link seems to have departed as well.
While these fixes are obvious progress not all is yet perfect in the world of Places reviews. The review history for those previous anonymous “Google Users” that do not have nicknames are still not viewable and display now with no user name at all.
More disturbingly, for some percentage of anonymous reviewers (one of mine… who knows how many others), their reviews are visible only to them. Their review histories are visible if you are able to find them but the reviews created by them do not show on the Places Page.
I am not prepared to declare Victory in Review Land for Google. But with three bugs down and only two to go (at least on the consumer side, I will leave business side review issues for another day)…. there has been clear progress.
Google Places has experienced a number of annoying bugs and quirks in their review system over the past number of months from lost reviews, to 501 Errors and on to the inability of owners to respond to reviews. Well, now there is a new bug that started showing up in the past few days: registered Google Users without a public nickname are prevented from leaving reviews at all as the publish button stays grayed out and no opportunity is provided for them to add a public name.
Maybe, just maybe it is darkest before the dawn and this “bug” is really a fix in progress. I did notice that the links to anonymous “Google User” reviews has gone missing once again.
And although I have said this before, I will say it again: It is well on time for Google to get their proverbial “review shit” together. Google has played a critical role in making reviews a central part of the local ecosystem and yet for way too long they have put forth a buggy forward facing review product that leads to unpredictable outcomes and frustration for both the user and the businesses that receive them.
Google should be “doubling down” on their review commitment. It is a huge flash point for business owners and it seems hard to understand having such a buggy product in place just as the concept of business reviews is spreading broadly amongst every day users.
Here is a screenshot for a user with a public profile that is leaving a review for comparison:
I manage the online marketing for a small insurance company in Bradford Pa, Sundahl and Co. Insurance. While looking at the local search results the other day, I noticed that a local competitor was suddenly showing up with a number of reviews. It surprised me as the insurance market segment and this area of the country don’t really lend themselves to “organic” reviews. I have two insurance agencies that I have done work for, both market leaders, and between them they had garnered 2 natural reviews over the past 3 years.
Upon examination it became immediately clear that the reviews for this agent were purchased, faked or to otherwise procured without a real customer. In the past few weeks I have had several other experiences indicating the rapid commodification of reviews….
* I saw that my Honda dealer, with a mediocre service department at best, had started “buying” reviews.
* Stever, a local seo in Canada,
Someone (I can’t remember who) was kind enough to send me a link to a “3 positive reviews for $5″ offer at Fiverr.com and “a short review on your Google places account for $5″
* Brian Combs of Ionadas.com sent me a copy of a email spam that arrived via his contact form touting the benefits of positive reviews from a company called PostPositiveReviews.com. Their whole business model predicated on trading in reviews and back links.
Reviews about a business are one of the key jewels in the bag of online marketing tools available. Businesses work hard to get good reviews and benefit from the positive word of mouth when the shopping community lauds them. Google has had on-going trouble keeping track of these jewels, losing their own and those from 3rd parties all too often. Now with recent changes, Google seems to have added new problems and bugs to their handling of reviews.
With the rollout of Hotpot and user ratings, Google appears to have made massive internal changes to their review process. Reviews with Google have always been flakey but now they are even more so with half baked changes that make providing reviews on Google Places more friction laden then ever.
I think this screen, shown when you click in Places to see the reviews provided by an anonymous “Google User”, says it all:
Apparently, Google is attempting to make anonymous review histories available for perusal but there have been serious flaws in the process that have not been fixed for well over a month. The error message above has been visible for over 3 weeks but even worse is that reviews from new anonymous reviewers are often not posting at all onto Places leaving reviewers and businesses confused. Continue reading
Over the weekend, we reported that TripAdvisor reviews, while not showing up in UK, were returning to US listings. Apparently, it is just a fluke as TNooz reports that TripAdvisor is continuing their restrictions on Google using Reviews in Places. From TNooz and TA:
“Despite the rumours, we are continuing to restrict TripAdvisor content on Google Places as we don’t think it benefits users at this time with the experience of selecting the right hotel.”
The company adds that it is in “constant discussions” with Google – details of which are not disclosed.
TripAdvisor has also responded directly to my query; “There are reports of reviews showing in the US but NOT in the UK….Has there been any change in position? Are you still not allowing your reviews back into Google?”
There has been no change in position. We are continuing to limit the TripAdvisor content on Google Places at this time, as we don’t think it benefits users with the experience of selecting the right hotel.