Category Archives: Reviews

Google+ Local And Review Issues


Since the rollout of Google+ Local the complaints about missing reviews have risen dramatically in the forums. The issues that Google have had right along with losing reviews remain much the same and reviews can go missing for many of the same reasons:
- Marked as spam
- They are misplaced by Google briefly or for longer periods
- Users mark their review as private in the transition to PLus
- A listing has dupes and the review gets associated with the other listing
- A rating will show in the review count but not in the review corpus

But apparently something has changed. In conversations in the private forum Google noted the following high level points regarding spam that we could share and that may make life easier for some of you:

- car dealership reviews are usually, but not always, spammy
- Google will only allow one review per person per business
- Copy pasting the same review for multiple locations is also not allowed (Google will delete both instances of the review)
- Putting URLs in reviews will result in the review being marked as spam

Google + Local: Q’s and some A’s


I was on the road yesterday after the Google + Local roll out so I was unable to answer questions that showed up in the comments on my two posts. Vanessa has been answering a number of questions in the forum so it also makes sense to follow her post there.

Rather than answer them in line, I have created a FAQ and done my best to answer the questions in one spot for all to see. Google is providing TC training shortly and will be answering additional questions so if you have them post them here and I wll try to get them answered.

Reviews

If a user just has a gmail account will they be able to write a review or must they also sign up for Google+?

They will need to sign up for Google +

So our customers are not able to leave reviews unless they are on Google+?

Yep, you need a Google+ account to write a review. See the help page.

Can reviewers leave anonymous reviews?

No. At this point it is real names only.

Is there any way to choose a nickname like we had in Places reviews?

No

Why am I not seeing the “Leave a Review” button?

These had been removed from the Places page in anticipation of this move and put on the new Google+Local page. If you are still not seeing the review button it is because you have landed on the old Place page which is still accesible.

Why would Google make my re-publish old reviews while I’m trying to publish a NEW review for a different business? 

Why it happens at that point in the process was an intentional design decision. It is a one time process needed since Google is moving from anonymous and nicknamed reviews to full, real identity reviews . This necessitated some sort of user approval process to explicitly allow your user name to be seen or to choose to make the review private.

Oh Google, you are driving me CRAZY! Can you please tell me how a dentist can have a Zagat review rating on their places page?

In this case it will be a single number indicating quality on the 0-30 scale.

Listings

I have my Google+ Business Page and my Google+ Local page claimed into different accounts. What do I do?

Keep managing them separately. From Vanessa: “We know it’s not ideal right now, but we’re working to consolidate these pages into a single page where you guys can manage your presence across Google. We’ll keep everyone posted on news in that regard.”

“To be very clear here, we will be combining any Google+ page you may have created with any matching upgraded Google Places listing (what we’re calling local Google+ pages). ”

If I have several hundred listings how to I enter them in Google+Local?

Bulk Upload was recently upgraded and is the method of choice for getting data into Google+Local. Given its very recent upgrade that is likely to remain the case.

Do you think we’ll be able to create one Google + page for a franchise type business and link it to all of the listings? Otherwise, I fear that my clients will either a) be forced to create (and manage!) 400+ Google + pages or b) Take a huge rankings hit!

We do not yet know how Google will this parent child relationship. Google has given a great deal of thought to the needs of large companies in Google + and were slow to implement the needed features to get them right.

They have added multiuser management to Google+ and it appears that it will likely be a feature when the merger of the Business and Local pages occurs.

Based on this evidence I am optimistic that Google will put in place some a way for a large, multi location chain to easily mange both +  and +Local page.

The fact that the bulk upload was recently updated implies to me that these issues were considered and likely already “baked in”.

Do you know if the Google + page is automatically linked when you set it up and find it via phone number?

The claiming process has not changed.

How can I upload Videos?

You can no longer upload videos or use the Post to Place page feature in the Dashboard. So for now there is no way but obviously video is a critical part of Google + and it will be integrated sooner rather than later.

Why does the See your listing on Google Maps”  link in the dashboard not take me to the new Google+Local page?

From Vanessa: “We’re working to update that link so that it redirects to the new local Google+ page. Stay tuned.”

Is the Google Google+Local page still considered a search result?

Interesting question that I will put to Google. As it stands today the answer is yes AND no.

The Google + Local pages are indexed pages and are now showing up in the search results as a stand alone result in addition to a pinned result. So in that sense they are a web page and not a search result.

This will create some opportunity to use the page for reputation management and perhaps long tale strategies. They may become more important over time.

But the pages will still be updated automatically at Google’s whim if they suspect bad data and currently include competitors nearby so in that sense they are a Google controlled search result. They do not yet have ads on your page but that seems inevitable.

Can you please explain the difference of a Google+ Page compared to a Google+ Local Page? It seems like a lot of duplicate content? I don’t want to spend time and money creating both for all of our clients if they will eventually merge into one in the future?

From Vanessa: “A Google+ page has all the social features available to Google+ users — Hangouts, sharing to circles, video uploads, etc. A local Google+ page is just a new look to the Google Places listing, minus the social features. Those social features are coming soon, as I mention in my original post above. And as I also said, we know it’s not ideal needing to manage two separate pages.”

How will Google know to merge my Google+Local Page and my Google+Business Page?

From Vanessa: “Be sure to choose the Local category so that we can bring your multiple pages together to create one listing later on.”

How will I know when Google is planning on merging the two pages?

From Vanessa: “Go to this form — http://goo.gl/8apbo — give us you’re email address, and we’ll let you know when we can combine your pages in to a single page — like the ones we feature on the Google and Your Business blog post (http://goo.gl/lhF6S). ”

Where do you find a link for a Google+Local listing if you wanted to report a duplicate VIA the Troubleshooter? 

Use the URL you see at the top of the local Google+ page.

Do the Place’s Dashboard Analytics track impressions and actions on the Google+Local Page?

From Vanessa: “activity from your Place page as well as new click and impression metrics on the local Google+ page that originated from Google.com and Google Maps. Metrics originating from within Google+ Local or from searches within Google+ Local won’t be displayed in the dashboard.”

Comment: It is not at all clear to me that blended results are currently being counted in the current view of the analytics so this might not be completely accurate.

Will this upgrade solve the duplicate listing problem?

The backend system that creates listings is largely unchanged. So some problems will persist. Certainly with a new level of trust and verification provided by Google +, additional ways to triangulate who listings belong to may mitigate the problem but this remains to be seen. A possible result is that dupes will be pushed so far out of sight they don’t have the same affect as they do currently.

The rapid fire changes are difficult to keep up with. One has to wonder – why is Google deliberately creating such a chaotic situation? 

Google has yet to learn that change is an anathema to most businesses. The updates occur on their development timeline and that is apparently chaotic.

Hopefully Google has taken the time to resolve some of the under the hood problems that have been so painful (merges, dupes, lost reviews) so what we lose in learning about the changes we can make up in efficiencies down the road. Here’s hoping!

What a mess it’s going to be when you’re trying to manage the new Plus+Places, but your login for each is different….

It would appear to me that the when the new local environment is fully fleshed out there will be multi user management so it MIGHT be workable.

I have a hard enough time trying to get small businesses to adopt Facebook and Twitter. I am concerned that the small businesses I work with will get frustrated with the lack of engagement they see with folks on G+.

It seems to me that the Google+Local page can be approached with passively or proactively. Your clients will be able to manage it passively much like they do today. IF the Google+ starts gaining traction AND Google starts showing local results in the main SERPS based on that activity then it will clearly be in the client’s interest to engage with Google + (or have you engage in  Google+ on their behalf).

While it complicates things somewhere in the future, it holds out the promise of greater direct affect on business results than either Facebook or Twitter.

If the algo is going to continue to include social signals what do you think this means for the all mighty local citation?

At this point the algo has not changed and remains intact. So it plays whatever role it currently plays and will for some time.

Historically in both organic and local, elements of the ranking ago persist even when new signals are added.  But like all of Google’s algos if Google upgrades it,  it will need to handle a range of situations where some business categories have social signals and some do not. In this case, it will be a long time before there are signals in many categories of local business.

I added Google + account, and now I lost my first page indexing.

The two are likely not related. Penalties that we have come to know and love as well as glitches like dupes that cause ranking issues are likely to persist. It is more likely that you are experiencing one of Google’s traditional brain farts rather than a new one

Looks like Google+Local page is showing only the first two categories that are listed in Places. 

That is odd but accurate. It is not clear why Google is only showing two and if that has any significance in terms of ranking.

The “owner verified” designation is also apparently gone. It appears that the listings all have a “Is this your business?” and “Manage your page”.

According to Vanessa Google is working on fixing that.

Google+ Local Reviews


Google + Local help files are now online.

One of the big changes that has occurred with the rollout of Google+ Local has been the change to the Google review environment. Google is moving to the 30 point system developed by Zagat. If there is granular detail Google will show it.

If there is not enough data on different aspects of the business Google will display a summary only.

The scale for rating is from 0-3 but the results are multiplied by 10 and averaged to get final score. In theory it allows for greater distinctions. You can see the rating system in action at this Google+Local business page for The Meatball Shop.

Google will be integrating OpenTable reservations into the Google+ Local Page for restaurants.

The review process will no longer allow for anonymous reviews. Here is what the review button notes:

With Google+ Local, all your reviews and associated photos are visible to everyone on the web, under the name Barbara Oliver (your Plus name). Your reviews and associated photos are displayed to:

  • Anyone who views your profile on Google+
  • Anyone who searches for places, if they’ve added you to their Google+ circles
  • Anyone who views places you’ve reviewed

Google notes that you will need to provide explicit permission and actively migrate your old reviews if you want your previous anonymous reviews to show. Google will ask you if you want to do this the first time you write a review in Google+Local. Thus old reviews apparently will NOT migrate to the new Google+Local Business page and the business owner must either ask previous reviewers to migrate or start afresh. (I need to confirm this.) Reviews will migrate, the review just won’t be attributed to the user’s Google+ name unless the user explicitly OKs it.

If you previously wrote reviews or uploaded photos in Google Places, all of your old Google Places reviews and photos are currently public but attributed to, “A Google user.” If you want to attribute these reviews and photos to your Google+ name, all you need to do is migrate your old Google Places reviews and photos to Google+ Local. At that time, you can choose which content to make public and attributed to your Google+ name, and which content to make private. Private reviews and photos will not appear publicly across Google, but you can view or delete your content by clicking on My Places in Google Maps, and selecting Rated from the More menu.

Google+Local will be creating a class of reviewer known as a Top Reviewer and your reviews will be highlight more broadly across the network.

Oddly, the search function has returned to a two field search where you need to enter the what in the first field and a where in the second field. How retro is that?

The exploring feature has integrated a Hotpot like recommendation function. Google+Local will recommend places they “think you’ll like based on your reviews, check-ins, and suggestions from top reviewers”.

The review policy seems to remain unchanged and the review spam algo will still be in affect.

Here are screen shots from the review & migration process: Continue reading

Google’s New Mobile Search Inadvertently Removes Review Button From Places Page


Google rolled out a very slick update to their iPhone App several days ago. Its fast and essentially makes Place page content almost instantly available. Google apparently upgraded the iPhone Safari app at the same and provided a similarly fast access to the Places data.

new iPhone Google Search App

Unfortunately as you can see in the Google screen shot above, in the app, in Safari search and on some Androids, the button to review a business is missing in action. Google has indicated that they are aware of the bug and are working on a fix.

In the meantime if you are using an iPad or mobile devices to access your Places page so that client can leave reviews you are in a bit of a sticky wicket. There are two work arounds until Google fixes the issue.

To get to a page that will give users the review button you can create a url like this that will work on an iPhone or iPad:

https://maps.google.com/maps/place?hl=en&georestrict=input_srcid:b041566bdd3e5aca

To generate the URL with the srcid code go into the dashboard and click on View and it will generate the URL.

Another tactic is to take the regular cid link and add the “open review box” code (&dtab=2&action=openratings) to the end of the standard Place page link:

https://maps.google.com/maps/place?cid=3291747407840809159&dtab=2&action=openratings

This URL will take the iPhone or iPad directly to the mobile review form rather than stopping at the Places page which might be a better solution anyways.

Appeals Court Upholds $150K in Punitive Damages for 3 Fake Reviews


Eric Goldman of te Technology & Marketing Law reports out a recent Missouri Supreme Court ruling that upheld a jury award of $150,00 against an ex-partner that wrote 3 fake reviews on Yahoo & Google about his former business. The ruling should cause competitors leaving fake reviews to take note as it substantially eases the burden on the defamed business to not have to demonstrate direct losses (which is impossible on the interent).

Hosto and Mitchell formed two companies together. Eventually, the relationship soured, and they acrimoniously split their empire. Still grousy, Hosto (pretending to be former customers) posted three fake derogatory Google and Yahoo reviews of the company operated by Mitchell. After a John Doe lawsuit, Yahoo disclosed enough information to identify Hosto as the author, and Hosto confessed to the vendetta. Thus, we have the unusual situation where a pseudonymous review author isn’t contesting authorship. After a trial, the jury ruled in favor of Fireworks Restoration’s (the plaintiff’s) defamation claim.

So far, everything makes sense. But then we get to the remedies, and things get puzzling. The jury awarded $1 in compensatory damages and $150k in punitive damages. On appeal, the court rejects Hosto’s attempts to undermine the jury award: that Mitchell’s company didn’t suffer any reputational harm; that Missouri law doesn’t allow nominal damages; and that the punitive damages were unconstitutionally large in light of the compensatory damages award. As a result, the jury verdict stands.

What to make of this jury verdict? One way to interpret it is that the jury felt that the company suffered no real harm, but Hosto’s behavior was so outrageous it needed to be punished anyway. While the jury’s first conclusion might seem initially counterintuitive, it’s entirely possible that the company suffered no actual harm from the negative fake reviews. Research indicates that a few negative reviews mixed into an otherwise all-positive review set lifts sales conversion because the negative reviews increase the credibility of the positive reviews and help prospective consumers visualize and assess the possible bad outcomes from their wrong choices. Without more detail, for all we know, Hosto could have done his target a favor.

Yet, the judge refuses to put the burden on the plaintiff to find actual lost customers:

We reject Defendant’s contention that Plaintiff needed to produce testimony from potential customers who opted to turn elsewhere due to the web reviews. With the internet, consumers are able to compare businesses and their wares with unprecedented speed. Interpersonal contact is characteristically absent, so if a consumer declines to engage a business it encounters on the internet, that consumer continues his or her search and the business has no knowledge it has been passed by. As such, it would be unreasonably burdensome to impose upon a business plaintiff the requirement that it locate potential customers that it never knew in order to successfully demonstrate actual damage to its reputation. The deleterious impact of such a constraint far outweighs any benefits it would have in proving reputational harm.

In the end, the lesson from this case is obvious and hardly novel: fake competitive reviews are a bad idea. The jury verdict here shows that the jury will punish anyone caught red-handed. At the same time, the jury was quite savvy about the compensatory damages from fake negative reviews. I hope future judges will be equally savvy.

Positive Only Review Services Come Under Scrutiny in Main Stream Media


Bruce from Aim Marketing in Denver pointed out an article and an investigative news report that highlights a positive review only service posting positive reviews on behalf of their client’s customers . Essentially the Denver based service surveyed the clients post sale for a number of Denver businesses and posted 4 star and higher reviews to Google. The story covers the legality of the process very superficially and doesn’t note at all that the practice violates Google’s TOC. They did note that the businesses subscribing to the service were not aware that negative reviews were not being posted (I am not sure I believe that).

The story does not cover any new territory but it is interesting in that the problem of positive only review services and fake reviews from online marketplaces has risen to the level of visibility that it is being covered by the investigative news world of local television.

GetListed Local U – Edmonton


If you are in Edmonton today, be sure to stop by and say hello. Here are articles that go into greater depth around the topics raised in my presentation:

Reviews - Jumping Into the Void

Slide 4 – Google FAQ on Review Issues And some of the ways they might get lost

Slide 11 - Trust in consumer reviews – Nielson

Slide 11- How consumer Reviews Build Trust in Your Brand - Harvard Business Review

Slide 12 – Pew Research Report on Adults & Reviews

Slide 14-16 – A case study - Garnering Reviews – A Mom & (no) Pop Shop finally Hops on Reviews

Slide 20- 7 Tips on Avoiding Bad Reviews

Slide 22-28 - Principles for a Review Plan: Considerations in encouraging customer reviews

Slide 23 – 21 Ways to Get Customers Reviews

Slide 27 - Responding to Negative Reviews – Your Prospects are the Real Audience

Slide 29 -Reviews: Lipstick on a Pig Leads to User Backlash

Slide 31- Google Places: Onsite “Review Stations” AOK with Google

Slide 32 - Asking for Reviews – UMoveFree Finds the Groove

Slide 33-36 - Removing Friction from the Review Process – Crafting a URL

Mid-Altlantic Innkeepers Conference Keynote


Monday, I am presented the keynote, Google is From Mars and You are From Venus - Or how I learned to stop worrying and love Google at the Mid-Atlantic Innkeepers Conference in Williamsburg.  It was an incredibly well run and fun conference. Meeting with both aspiring and successful bed and breakfast owners was educational and inspirational. Although I think I will keep my day job.

For those that were in the presentation these links will provide background information and details for a pathway to dig deeper into the world of managing your listing in Google Places and ethically approaching the review process. For those of you that were not in attendance, the links provide a good overview of critical base line ideas and tactics that every local campaign should embrace.

Slide 1 - Small Business Alert: Google is from Mars and You are from Venus

Slide 4 – How Google Got its name

Slide 5/6 - Jan 2012 Search Engine Market Share / Local Search %

Slide 17 – How to maximize your branded presence in Google search

Slide 18 – Rich Snippets in Local Results

Slide 19 – Local Search Eye Tracking Study

Slide 20/21 - The Importance of Page One Visibility 

Slide 26 – A Closer Look at the Local Search Data Providers

Slides 27 - How the Google Places Cluster Works

Slide 41 – NAP Consistency

Slide 42- Google Places Policies: Quality guidelines

Slide 44- Choosing the Right Category – A Tool

Slide 44 - Writing a Great Business Description

Slide 45 - Checking for Problems – NAP Audit

Slide 46 - Creating a GeoSitemap – A tool

Slide 48 – Providing a Baseline Presence

Slide 53 Local Search Ranking Factors - the many variables

Slide 53 A brief list of 10 Ranking Factors - somewhat old but still valid and a quick read

Slide 54 Thinking about your Business Name in the Internet Era

Slide 55 - User Generated Content – Geo Tagged Photos

Slide 56- The Importance of Citations

Slide 60 - 20 Citation Sources in the US

Slide 61 – Finding Citations

Reviews - Jumping Into the Void

Slide 72 – Trust in consumer reviews – Nielson

Slide 72- How consumer Reviews Build Trust in Your Brand – Harvard Business Review

Slide 75-77 – A case study - Garnering Reviews – A Mom & (no) Pop Shop finally Hops on Reviews

Slide 81- 7 Tips on Avoiding Bad Reviews

Slide 86- Where to Gather Reviews

Slide 87 - Responding to Negative Reviews – Your Prospects are the Real Audience

Slide 88 - Principles for a Review Plan: Considerations in encouraging customer reviews

Slide 89 -Reviews: Lipstick on a Pig Leads to User Backlash

Slide 91 - Google Places: Onsite “Review Stations” AOK with Google

Slide 92 - Asking for Reviews – UMoveFree Finds the Groove

Slide 94-95 – Removing Friction from the Review Process – Crafting a URL

Slide 98- A Listing management & Review montior tool

Slide 100- Allocating Online Marketing Resources & Building Web Equity

Google Places: Onsite “Review Stations” AOK with Google


Onsite “Review Stations” AOK with Google

Several weeks ago, I attended a Google GetYourBusiness online seminar and I was surprised to hear the speaker strongly encouraging SMBS to install a computer at their places of business to use as a station where clients, immediately upon completing a transaction, could easily leave a review on their Google Place’s page.

Last week, Scott Falcone sent me a link to a copy of an email from the Google Dealer Jumpstart Team endorsing the idea of review stations. Thinking that maybe the sales side of the house might not be on the same page as the Places team, when the question came up in the forums, I raised the issue with the Places support folks. Their response was that as long as there was no direct incentive involved, it would be an acceptable practice.

Clearly if training, sales and support at Google all say it is OK, then it must be OK to have on site workstations for the purpose of generating reviews. And one can infer from all of this is that the review filter would not block the review based on location (IP) alone.

Implications

Yelp and Tripadvisor long ago put in place bans on reviews generated onsite from the place of business. In the case of Yelp, the reviews get filtered. TripAdvisor goes so far as to flag/punish the business with a Red notice questioning the integrity of the hotel. Avvo will allow the practice by prior approval and an explanation as to the need. Google’s policy is clearly contrary to the industry norms. Allowing and even encouraging the behavior of using a review station is questionable at best.

While there is nothing against practice in the Google Places review guidelines it is a practice that I have discouraged in my consulting and writings.

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An Imagined Conversation with Google about Reviews, 29Prime & Sock Puppets


29Prime is easy to spot as a deceptive local seo company that preys on unsuspecting small business folks eager to “be on the first page of Google”. Like many low-life firms of their ilk, they have a number of “aliases” (aka 29Live, 29Maps, 29SEM, 29Search, Locallistings.com etc, etc.) they use to make tracking them a little more difficult.

Their robo calls ring into my office no less than 4 times a week with pitches like “Select one now to claim your free listing on Google”, “We are Google’s 6th largest provider of data”, “We guarantee first page placement, “We are Google Authorized to claim your listing”.

As coffee break sport, I often select 1 on the dial pad just to hear the pitch and see how befuddled I can make the salesman by asking for verification of the claims… and of course to learn that free is relative. In this case it means $399 a month.

If there is any doubt in your mind about how despicable 29Prime is you can check out some of these online resources that should quickly convince you.

* their D+ rating at Better Business Bureau and the many disputes.
* More than one independent 29Prime is a scam website or
* this article about the roving reporter in Gilbert AZ claiming to have helped a small preschool get their erroneously charged $1500 back from 29Prime.

But this article isn’t about wondering how a business like this can continue to operate in our lax regulatory/enforcement environment. It isn’t about the myth of efficiency in the markets or how SMBs could continue to be duped by them. It isn’t about how is it conceivable that a company like Google has yet to have their lawyers muzzle 29Prime’s claims to be Google or act on their behalf. Or about how a company like this could be mentioned in the SF Chronicle as a top ranked Local SEO firm.

These are all interesting stories in their own right but not the focus of this article.

This story is about comparing how Yelp and Google handle 29Prime’s star rankings and present the results to the public. This story is asking how, after 4 years in the review business,  Google gets it very  wrong and Yelp seems to get 29Prime’s review standing right.
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