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.
Do you remember the old SNL skit “Point/Counterpoint” (named after the 60 Minutes Segment) which featured Dan Akroyd making scurrilous attacks on Jane Curtain? Not sure who is whom in this current remake starring Google and Tripadvisor but it sure is taking on the same tenor.
The recent “its a technical issue, no its intentional” discussion between TripAdvisor and Google has taken one more turn with TripAdvisor reviews once again showing up in Google Places. Many of the businesses that initially reported disappearing TripAdvisor reviews (here, here ) are now showing those reviews again.
Su at the Inn at Tanglewood Hall in York Harbor, ME. sent me an email today that hers and other TA reviews in Kennebunkport had returned. And upon checking, those reported missing in the forums had also returned.
Now if I could just get Google to find the 25 or so missing from my Places account, the heavens would be in alignment.
It appears that TripAdvisor is in fact currently limiting what and how Google can display TA’s review content on Google Places pages.
Yesterday, a statement from them appeared at TNooz.com, a travel industry news blog, that indicated that was the case. I wanted to confirm this with TripAdvisor. I asked their PR department the following via email: “I am attempting to get clarification of comments made on the information in the following article: TripAdvisor Blocking Google From Reviews?. Are you currently syndicating reviews to Google? Will you continue? Is/Was it just a technical glitch as Google has noted?”
Google frequently makes changes to Google Places, and while we’re continuing to evaluate it, we don’t think it benefits users at this time with the experience of selecting the right hotel. As a result, we have currently limited the TripAdvisor content available on those pages.
I asked for additional clarification but was told that the above was the extent of their statement. Given TripAdvisors unwillingness to add any real information to the story, I can give you my speculation as to what I think their reasoning is. (Isn’t that the best thing about blogging? In the absence of facts I can speculate.)
If you recall on November 15th, Google added booking links directly to every hotel Places page, interjecting themselves directly into the hotel booking process. My presumption is that the statement from TripAdvisor that “we don’t think it benefits users at this time with the experience of selecting the right hotel” refers specifically to this new process.
I assume, but do not know, that Google’s move could be perceived as a direct threat to a TripAdvisor affiliate income stream. Google is sending users to some of the same booking sites from their new tool as TripAdvisor.
What are your thoughts? Do you think that is the reason that the two are “fueding”?
On December 4th, TripAdvisor reviews disappeared from Google Places. They are still missing in action but a Google spokesperson has noted the following in relation to the lost reviews:
We’re aware of a technical issue in which TripAdvisor reviews are sometimes not appearing in results for Google Places, and our team is working to resolve the matter.
Noun: A social imbroglio or brouhaha. An organizational misunderstanding leading to accusations and defensiveness.
Since December 4th, there have been a number of reports (here, here and via email) that TripAdvisor reviews are not showing in Google Places. A quick search of the Maps index shows this in fact to be the case with TripAdvisor reviews not showing on the Places page for any hotel or B&B searched.
Obviously TripAdvisor plays a huge role in the hospitality industry and the syndication of their reviews to Google has a big impact there as well. I received this email from Su at the Inn at Tanglewood Hall in York Harbor, ME.
Any more word on this? The missing TA reviews are HUGE for the lodging industry. Trip Advisor makes up almost 75% of our reviews (we personally went from 76 to 21). Many places have gone from triple to low double digits, even single. Example: TA #1 ranked B&B in the entire state of Maine: Bayberry House in Boothbay Harbor with 237 reviews, is now down to 4 on Google Places, no longer even makes the cut when Googling Boothbay Harbor Bed and Breakfasts. Place results have been drastically altered for all Lodging.
It is unclear whether we are seeing a bug in Places that is preventing reviews from showing up or whether TripAdvisor and Google are having a disagreement about Google’s right to show them. Both possibilities have their precedence, with 3rd prty reviews coming and going due to both bugs and battles… I have emailed both TripAdvisor and Google for clarification but as of publication had not heard back.
If likes are the new links then ratings are the new reviews. At least as far as Google is concerned as they continue to integrate elements from Hotpot into Places.
I noted the other day that Google was integrating HotSpot friend recommendations in personalized Map results. They are also now including a new rating level with an eye-catching Best Ever ribbon/icon from Hotpot on the Places Pages.
This sort of additional ego boost might just incent business owners to train their customers how to use Google Hotspot. If Google adds some ranking strength to the signal, business owners will be crashing down the gates to get the rating.
The new Google HotPot offers a more relaxed user feedback environment than Google Places, allowing for just a star rating and a quick sentiment (for hotels & restaurants) but also encouraging, although not requiring, a brief review.
Google Places has recently added the ability to add this simpler, quick Hotpot like star rating to businesses that show in the Related Places area of the Place page (When did they change the name from Nearby Places You Might Like?). The option is only available on Places that have previously received Google reviews.
Several weeks ago, before, during and after the Hotspot rollout, newly created reviews from reviewers with non-public Google profiles were having their Places reviews filtered. I tested this by writing a number of reviews, over time and many places in a secondary account. All of the reviews were accepted, none were published.
Google has now implemented a new, limited review profile called a “Places Profile” that allows reviews to be shown but requires a new, quasi private profile with at least a public nickname to proceed.
If a current Google account user without a public profile attempts to write a review on a business Place Page without this new Places profile they will see this message on the Places Page and will be unable to proceed until they visit Hotspot and enter their “nickname” (click to view larger) :
They are taken over to Hotspot and presented with this screen:
Along with the recent rollout of Hotpot, Google has added new review related features to the Places Page. The first, available on restaurants and hotels (perhap more but not on every type of business) allows you to summarize sentiment about the location:
The ability to quickly and easily add sentiment will further build out Google’s data in the service industries. As users fill out more reviews, friends make more recomendations Google will use this additional data to refine and improve those recommendations.
On all Places Pages your rating is now visible and with hotels Google has now also added the ability to book your hotel right from the Places Page:
This feature facilitates the process of getting bookings and removes friction from it. It also provides additional advertising inventory for Google from hotel booking services. The feature is not totally mercenary as it also offers up the hotel site for booking and gives the hotel a 1 in 4 chance of not having to give money to Priceline et al while still getting a sale.