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.
November 26, 2012
Actively engaging your customers in the review process and management of that process has its own sets of concerns. This is particularly true if you are too focused on certain areas of the process rather than others.
Take this simple quiz to see what your Review Management Stress levels are and to measure where you are on the Review Management Stress Scale (RMSS):
Did your reviews get reduced by more than 20% of the total by the new Google review filters?
Are you asking questions like: Why is this happening to me? Doesn’t Google care?
Did (or does) your listing have 100% or more reviews than your nearest competitor on Google?
Does your “More Reviews” section on Google show less than four review sites?
Do your clients often complain that their reviews are not showing at Google?
Have you thought: I should focus my review efforts on Yelp instead?
Are you handing users an iPad or directing them to an onsite workstation?
Are you sending out more than 20 emails a week requesting reviews at Google?
Are your following up only with happy customers and not every customer to ask them to leave reviews?
Scoring. Add 1 point for each yes answer.
What your score means… (more…)
November 3, 2012
Some things should just be left unsaid. This Gainsville auto detailing business obviously had troubles keeping their Groupon customers happy. It is unclear exactly who was to blame the business or the customers.
It doesn’t really matter as the customers left a number of bad reviews. This business couldn’t leave well enough alone and decided to respond to the bad reviews anyway.
Of course it was the customers fault. What would you have done in this situation?
Here is an example of many:
The moral(s) here are clear. (more…)
October 10, 2012
Update: Google not only changed the output of the review content but they changed the interface at the time of review creation to have users select from the descriptive phrases as well. See photo below.
Last week at Getlisted Local U Advanced in NYC, Googler Joel Headley noted that “descriptive terms (poor, good, very good excellent) are going to be integrated into Zagat review interface more going forward”.
Reader Kerry Fager just pointed out to me that they are now doing just that on the overall annotation on each review on the G+ Local page.
Will the descriptive terms make it to the front page? Certainly the descriptors are more meaningful and if we take Joel’s comment at face value, then we might see this elsewhere.
Why the change? One assumes that “it improves the search experience”. It makes the otherwise obtuse Zagat numbering system into something understandable by mere mortals. ?
Note: As noted in the comments, there appears to be a concurrent problem with displaying owner comments on the reviews. Most, perhaps all owner comments, are missing in action. Search teams are being dispatched.
Update (10/12/2012 9:00AM): Reports of missing owner responses came in via Twitter within minutes of the release of the product on 10/10. These reports were funneled to Google who fixed this bug by mid afternoon yesterday (10/11/12).
When more granular detail is available (ie Quality, appeal & service or Food, service, decor) Google is now breaking those out individually as well:
October 8, 2012
When Google rolled out G+ Local with Zagat reviews they changed the ordering of review content from time based to most helpful. As part of that ordering they added a new category of reviewer known as a Top Reviewers. These were folks that had reviewed a large number of locations. Google also added the ability for a business (and I presume its many managers) to leave reviews of other businesses.
Like all things Google the Most Helpful ordering of reviews is algo based and includes elements like the quality of the reviewer (in terms of followers on G+ and number of reviews), the language of the review, the recency of the review and who knows what else. One of the attributes of reviewer quality is the Top Reviewer assignation. According to this post to become a Top Reviewer one needs lots of reviews, a significant number of followers and a reviews that have been found helpful by others. It is not clear whether being reviewed by a Top Reviewer increases rank but there is every reason to assume that a review from a Top Reviewer is carefully watched by Google for other signals and content.
What never occurred to me until this morning was that one way to become a Top Reviewer was to do so as a Google+ Page for your business rather than an individual. A business page can have as many as 50 managers so reviews would aggregate more quickly and ease the burden of any individual reviewer. Obviously this business recognized the opportunity and has leveraged it.
September 26, 2012
This afternoon Rocky Agrawal tweeted out about this plaque he had noticed hanging in a restaurant. He (and I ) were completely fooled by the plaque and were convinced that it was really from Google. I even thought that perhaps it was an experiment on Google’s part to migrate away from Zagat signage.
It didn’t take Rocky but a few minutes to figure out that the SMB had paid $300 for this plaque. And you (or your customers) can buy one too from InTheSpotLight.com.
I am not sure who I think less of in this situation, the restaurant that was trying to appear more than they really are by leveraging Google’s name and their review product or the company that soaked them $300 for the “privilege”. A restaurant or hotel can order a sign that touts their good standing with just about any review company including Yelp, TripAdvisor, Zagat, Frommers and many more.
When businesses that are looking for a quick fix deal with companies that are willing to accommodate them, the customer inevitably loses. And in this case so does Google, Yelp, all the other companies whose name can be put on the plaque and every one else in the local space.