Category Archives: Reviews

Reviews, SMBs & Google – Still Not Clear on the Concept

the_texas_chainsaw_massacre_imageThis story is so rich in the evolving complexity of reviews; the absurdly angry SMB, the frustrated poster and so rich a tale of service gone awry. A story of how decent service can become indecent service by the sort of reflexive behavior that is so common in the service industry. To say nothing of Google still not getting their review algo right and how that impacts their image in the market place.

This comment was just posted on an old post about Google removing reviews and I wanted to highlight it. I have not verified the story but it rang true.

I’ve noticed my review was removed, and I’d really like to know why.
Continue reading

Google Reviews – New Quirks

Screen Shot 2013-12-04 at 8.41.35 PMLast week, with the rollout of the Places Review Monitoring system, we started to see some quirks in review count difference between the monitoring dashboard and the + Page.

Subsequently business owners, like Barbara Oliver, reported review count declines on their + Page and in the main search results. Barbara’s reviews went from 65 to 58 and then back up to 62 and today returned to 64. It has happened so frequently it has stopped being newsworthy.

However a new anomaly has been reported both in the forums and on G+ where the rating averages have dropped despite having nearly all 5 stars reviews and are different between the monitoring system and the + Page. Barbara’s rating dropped from 4.9 to 4.6.

Google does sometimes (arbitrarily?) knick your review rating so that the math doesn’t always add up but these reports do seem different.

We calculate an overall rating based on user ratings and a variety of other signals to ensure that the overall score best reflects the quality of the establishment. 

It’s often difficult to know whether these changes are just temporary bugs or reflect some new normal. Given the recent rollout of the monitoring system, my money is on the former but the spread is small.

 

Google Intros the Mother of All SMB Review Monitoring Systems

Google has announced on the Google and Your Business blog today that they have rolled out what appears to be the mother of all review monitoring systems today.

The system, a new module for the updated Places for Business Dashboard, not only shows Google based reviews to dashboard owners and managers, it shows every review that Google has found from the thousands of review sites that it indexes. In addition Google is providing review analytic reports for both the volume and rating stats of reviews from Google and across the web.

Google has also integrated the owner review response option directly into the dashboard and will now be showing those responses in the review panel on the front page of serps

Other Items of Interest

  • The rollout is global and will be available by days end to all new Dashboard users
  • The reviews from around the web are presented in snippet form
  • Yelp reviews are not included in the reviews from around the web view
  • Reviews can be seen and responded to by both account owners AND managers
  • The ability to respond in dashboard is limited to businesses with a fully social Plus page.

What’s missing

  • The functionality has not been added to the mobile version of the Places Dashboard for Android
  • There is no ability for a business owner to flag a review as inappropriate from within the dashboard. He/she must still visit the About page for the business to flag reviews.
  • There is currently no active feedback alerting the SMB to new reviews
  • There is no ability to limit whether a manager has access to provide responses or not.
  • No enterprise abilities to rollup reports across locations

Help Files – the updated Google Places Help Files covering this product:

What’s Important About this Announcement

For the first time since the dashboard was created Google is providing small business owners and their managers a reason to return to the dashboard periodically. The ability to monitor reviews from both Google and around the web, easily respond to the those reviews and quickly access those on other sites are all features that leverages Google’s strengths and provides a basis for Google engaging with more SMBs on a regular basis. Products of similar ilk have cost SMBs from $30 to $200 a month.

The rollout, one in a string of several recent upgrades to the new dashboard, indicates that not only is Google able and committed to adding new functionality to the dashboard on an ongoing basis, it signals that they are prepared to provide significant ongoing value in doing so.

The Places Dashboard has long been a once and done experience for SMBs. The analytics were the only reason for regular visits.  These analytics have been less than inspiring and often didn’t function leaving SMBs baffled and frustrated. Once a listing had been claimed and photos added there was little reason for a business to revisit the dashboard. The addition of social functionality, now provided automatically with every new claim, doesn’t occur from within the dashboard and while it might increase engagement for some SMBs it is not appropriate for all. Reviews are important to a much broader swath of the market.

Here are screenshots of the features: Continue reading

Google Rolling out New + Page Layout – Reviews Lost in the Process

It seems that the new layout first reported on October 23rd is now rolling out world wide. As noted at the time

The big difference is that the page now can be displayed in either a single, two or three column layouts depending on browser window width as opposed to the current fixed two column display. Reviews will now follow the same columnar structure as the rest of the page and will not be limited to a current one column display. While this view is not yet visible in mobile, one assumes that if the view were to become universal it would likely push to mobile as well.

The page adds three iconic based calls to action near the top; review, directions & photos. The review summary has been moved up the page and photos have been moved down the page. Geo information including street address, category, hours, description and map are now consolidated into a single card near the top titled “Contact Information. “Similar Places” from around the web no longer show and “reviews from around the web” have been moved up the page to be nearer the top.

barbara-oliver-jewelry-reviewsHowever it also appears that Google, in making the change, has lost, at least temporarily, a number of reviews. The forums as well as some of my clients noted a severe decline in review counts or wildly inaccurate review counts. Barbara Oliver & Co Jewelry in Buffalo dropped from 65 to 38 reviews. Her local competitor lost roughly 30 as well. I assume that most of these lost reviews will return once the upgrade settles in.

New Layout: Continue reading

Google: Reviews, How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

If one stops and counts how many times the word review or the star ratings show on the front page of Google one can only conclude that Google not only thinks they are important but that they are of tantamount importance in local searches.

These screen shots of local searches show the screen real estate above the fold on a 1366 by 768 pixel screen. On larger screens the number of mentions of reviews and ratings would be even greater.
Screen Shot 2013-11-07 at 11.15.55 AM

 

On the Local Carousel search, the word review was used 15 times and the rich snippet rating stars showed 7 times. Additionally 8 of the links take readers to more reviews. Given that this is some of the most valuable internet real estate in the world, one has to assume that Google tests these results aggressively and has given a fair bit of thought to this. If not a “tell“, certainly a very clear expression of Google’s thinking.

The count is less on a branded search or a 7-pack but still amazingly high.  Continue reading

Google Becoming Slightly More Transparent About Nuking Reviews

Update 9/28: I had myself taken off as a manager of Barbara’s page and my review instantly lost the notice and showed back up on the listing.

Historically at Google Local, if a review triggered the spam filter, the reviewer would still see the review associated with the business if they were logged in and other users would not. The reviewer would have no clue as to why the review wasn’t showing.

This “technique” for handling “spammy” reviews led to many, many posts in the forums inquiring about why a given review wasn’t showing. Google has now implemented at least a modicum of communication in this regard and is tagging flagged reviews with an alert.

Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 10.51.31 AM

Is this enough communication and enough transparency? I would suggest that while it is better than before it still misses the mark.

1) Google has chosen to make the announcement in a users review section which I assume is infrequently visited

2)The complaints are still coming into the forum with regularity

3)The explanation given provides little in the way of helping the user understand what is going on if they do happen to see the notice.

My review of Barbara Oliver & Co. Jewelry was flagged because I am a manager of her G+ Page. Perhaps a legitimate reason to not show the review but if I were to read the help file that would not be at all clear.

Filtering reviews is a difficult dance between users and a complicated algo that is at best imperfect at identifying spam. Google has always erred on the side of opacity to prevent spammers from learning too much about their techniques.

The problem with that approach is that spammers figure it out anyways and regular users and businesses are inevitably punished. This occurs without any understanding of how or why on their part. Yelp, while imperfect in many things, handles their spam classification in a much more transparent way that while not ideal at least does a better job of communicating to the reviewer that their review will not be displayed. I believe that Google could learn from that example and with some careful thought do even better at solving this problem.

NY State AG Brings Down the Hammer on Fake Reviews (Again)

The NY Times is reporting that the NY State Attorney General will be announcing a crackdown today against 19 NY based companies, both SMBs and “reputation management” firms, for posting fake reviews online.  The companies will pay fines totaling $350,000 and agree to cease to the practice. “Among those signing the agreements are a charter bus operator, a teeth-whitening service, a laser hair-removal chain and an adult entertainment club. Also signing are several reputation-enhancement firms that place fraudulent reviews on sites like Google, Yelp, Citysearch and Yahoo”.

The findings presented no big surprises; reviews are available for purchase for as little as $1 each, “reviewers” often resided in Pakistan and India and many “reputation management” programs frequently offered “bribes” of as much as $50 as incentives for reviewers.  What was surprising was the forceful assertion of the NY State attorney general Eric Schneiderman, that fake reviews are “even worse than old-fashioned false advertising. When you look at a billboard, you can tell it’s a paid advertisement — but on Yelp or Citysearch, you assume you’re reading authentic consumer opinions, making this practice even more deceiving.”

The fines levied were not insignificant although not as high as those levied in NY in 2009. A Buffalo based web marketing firm that was doing reputation management for 30 clients incurred a fine of $43,000 and a Staten Island tour bus operator received a fine of $75,000. Apparently the other firms will be highlighted in a press conference later in the today. Ironically the offending firm in Buffalo received two (yes two) do-follow links from the NY Times. Expensive links, those.

According to the NY Times the owner of the tour bus company, in response to blistering service related issues noted in on line reviews (“like buses never showing up”) personally oversaw a company effort to get fake reviews. “Mr. Telmany hired freelance writers, mandated that his employees write favorable reviews and even pitched in himself. He posted a five-star review on Yelp that began, ‘US Coachways does a great job!'”

While I am glad that NY State has stepped into the breach once again, as anyone following my blog knows this is not a new problem.  I have been reporting on it extensively since at least 2009 when NY State took its last enforcement action against a plastic surgeon. As I noted at the time:  This settlement should come as welcome news in the wild west of local marketing as it not only strikes at bogus reviews but at deceptive and misleading websites. Obviously the cases are many and State resources are few but it won’t take many cases like this to grab the attention of locksmiths, lawyers and others to force a change to their online marketing strategies.

Here are four years later and the enforcement has been worse than lax, abuses continue and while Yelp, Google, TripAdvisor and Edmunds have made some public efforts to stem the tide of fake reviews with lawsuits and review filters, it is not clear to me that they are obvious or frequent enough. Nor that the chance of getting caught carries with it enough risk to disincentivize those using the tactic.

NY State is but one of 50 states and the only one to have entered this particular batter. Obviously state resources are stretched and many have bigger problems. The NY Times reported that this enforcement action will have impact beyond NY State borders but unless there is additional enforcement both in NY and other states, the problem is likely to persist.

Update: Here is the attorney general’s press release with some additional details and names of each of the companies that have settled. Apparently the highest fine was close to $100,ooo. The above two companies had a total of $118,000. That leaves $132,000 in fines split amongst the remaining 16 companies for an average of less than $10,000 per business. It is interesting that the company that paid “just under $100,000″ was not apparently named.

Reviews And Lawsuits – Is There a Better Way?

Yelp received a lot of attention in the online world last week for suing a bankruptcy lawyer (who had previously sued them and won) for leaving fake reviews. Suing a single practitioner may have some value in terms of the publicity and alerting businesses to the risks of creating fake reviews. But given the scale of this particular fake review problem it must largely be seen as a symbolic move on Yelp’s part if not retribution.

However the recent less publicized fake review suit and settlement by Edmunds seems to be more substantial and significantly more interesting. It was brought to my attention on Twitter by Ellen Edmands, a content manager for a car dealership marketing company in New York:

According to the lawsuit Edmunds accused Texas-based Humankind Design Ltd. of “registering nearly 2,200 fake member accounts on Edmunds’ website to post positive but bogus ratings and reviews about 25 dealerships in an attempt to influence consumers’ opinions”. Edmunds in their press release noted that Humankind, as operator of Glowingreviews.com blatantly identified “15 review sites on which it is prepared to post fake reviews; the list includes Google+, Yelp, Foursquare, Citysearch and local.yahoo.com. Edmunds.com is proactively providing each of the listed sites with a copy of its filing to further support online consumers who might otherwise encounter such fraud”.

Humankind claimed that they did not post fake reviews via GlowingReviews.co, but transcribed and posted reviews left on comment cards at dealerships. In the GlowingReviews.com FAQ recovered from the Web Archive they note that “Every business plays in this grey area and this service just lets you do it much more efficiently”. Regardless, as part of the settlement it appears that GlowingReviews has been shut down.

At Blackhatworld, many bemoaned GlowingReviews downfall.  I particularly liked this comment: Continue reading

In Search of The Purchased Google Review. Yours for $1.40 ea.

Last night I went in search of the purchased Google review. I was curious what the high ranking results were for phrases like buy Google reviews and how much a review would cost.

Far and away the most compelling was from the number 1 ranked exact match domain: buygooglereviews.com. Reviews started at $2 each when buying 5 but got down to $1.40 when buying 50. You have to love their proclamation of integrity that jumps out upon arriving at the site. I suppose that the people are real… its the reviews I am worried about:

Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 12.46.58 PM

The second ranking result was an eBay search result that offered reviews from $3.48 ea when buying a quantity 5 of them to $10 a review that included a 30 day guarantee.

The vendor providing the guaranteed results used only “professional writers genuinely based in the US, Canada and the UK”. Unfortunately they only served “Vegan and Family friendly sites only”… hmm strange set of values that. No burgers while we craft an illegal review. Well at least the cows are safe.

This eBay reseller’s total command of the English language was reassuring: Continue reading

Google Rolling Out Review Distribution Charts for G+ Page

Update 6:45 pm: Google has confirmed the review distribution is going live and will be visible across all browsers and desktop machines shortly. It also appears that only listings that show Stars are seeing the distribution graph. For the most part that results when a listing has at least five reviews. Although in rare cases a few listings with 4 reviews garner the stars and get the review distribution graph.

Mary-Kelly Gaebel of ADP Digital Marketing Solutions Group pointed out a new feature that Google seems to be testing (or perhaps rolling out): A review star distribution chart. I had noticed this feature the other day but before I could do a screen capture, it had disappeared.

It seems odd to me that they would be adding new features to the Plus review page while simultaneously making it more difficult to get to the review page…. but hey this is Google. Its all part of some grand plan, right? I actually like the presentation and it provides users with  meaningful data but if it isn’t brought to the main search page it is unlikely to be seen by many.

Although I am now seeing this in Safari for Mac but NOT Chrome or Firefox. Are you seeing it?

I would love to see the distributions of this data, in aggregate, by industry.

In related news, Google has announced that they have added Canada and Spain to the new dashboard rollout. Wonder when they will finish rolling it out in the US?

 

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