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.
I am a big fan of an ethical review solicitation process that smooths the path between customers and creating reviews. If reviews are going to reflect the overall impression of your business accurately, a broad sampling of your customers needs to participate and it needs to be easy.
I think that the opportunity to easily leave these reviews should be available to all customers not just a select few. In the past, I have suggested that visitors to your website should be provided direct links to leave reviews at a range of popular review sites. I am also a big believer in free tools that make the job of the SMB and their web designer easier.
Brightlocal.com has just introduced such a tool: ReviewBiz. The tool automates the process of locating the relevant review site pages, generating the correct url for leaving the review and creates a widget so that these review links can quickly and easily be included on a website’s testimonial/review page. The tool is an admirable replacement for Michael Jensen’s Leavefeedback.org that unfortunately died in a server crash and was never revived.
The process as outlined on the BrightLocal site to create the widget for your website is quick and easy:
1. Select the country you are in – UK or US (it shows review sites for both countries)
2. Enter your business name & zipcode
3. Review the returned business listing details & confirm that they belong to your business
4. Choose the ReviewBiz widget style that you want to appear on your website
5. Pick the review sites that you want to include
5. Copy & paste the ReviewBiz code into your website
The result is a widget, offered in a choice of widths and two styles; one that offers a window shade drop down and the one shown below that provides a full view of the selected review sites:
As a new product, it still has a few minor quirks but generally works well. For example it sometimes included sites that I explicitely asked it to exclude (like Merchant Circle) and it could do a slightly better job of auto generating the URLs to take a user slightly closer to the actual input screen to leave the reviews. Myles Anderson of Brightlocal has noted that both issues would soon be fixed.
These are minor criticisms. It is valuable product that is presentable, facilitates customers leaving reviews and it is free. For the web designer it is a useful, readily usable product that significantly shortens the time to get the job done. For the SMB that is maintaining their own site, it automatically generates the necessary code and makes the job adding these links to your website easily doable.
As designers and small businesses let me know what you think of the tool. To test it simply select my Google link above and leave a review.
Owners responding to reviews is a volatile arena where most anything can happen. Despite discretion being the better part of valor, silence rarely is the option chosen.
When the Google Places owner response feature was not functioning this week, this owner responded to a negative review with a review of his own:
It appears that Google, in an effort to encourage cooler heads to prevail has recently (not sure when) upgraded the owner response feature to provide guidance in responding (not that I think most owners will read it). Continue reading
Google Employee Stephan S has just posted this in the Places Forum post to report “missing” reviews confirming that Google has started to remove reviews (bold is mine):
As mentioned in this forum previously, we’re currently experiencing an issue that is preventing us from showing some reviews on Place pages. We’re working to correct this issue as soon as possible, and apologize for the inconvenience and frustration this has caused some of you.
However, please remember that there are various reasons why reviews may not appear. We’re continuing to do our best to ensure that the reviews in our system are legitimate and high-quality. To protect both business owners and customers, we have systems in place that may remove individual reviews, and with the revised review policies we released a few months ago (see below) we have taken a stronger stance against spam and other forms of abuse. So while some of you are seeing less reviews because of the aforementioned error, many of you are experiencing removed reviews because they have been removed by our systems. We acknowledge that sometimes our algorithms may flag and remove legitimate reviews in our effort to combat abuse, but believe that overall, these measures are helping to ensure that the reviews appearing on Place pages are authentic, relevant and useful.
Review Posting Guidelines & Policy (Help Articles)
Google has finally released a public statement about their stance on reviews. It is not clear to me, as David Mihm pointed out, that they have either the PR machinery or customer support structure in place to deal with the coming fury….
Here are some other recent articles that have dealt with the review issues on Google Places… Continue reading