November 21, 2010
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:
November 16, 2010
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.
November 11, 2010
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). (more…)
November 10, 2010
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… (more…)
Update: Google Confirms New Review Removal Practices
Google appears to be actively removing some reviews from Places listings.
Some of the recent problems of reviews being lost are clearly algo based and reports of lost reviews continue to pile up in the forums. But my poking around in Places indicates that there is more intentionality than bug in the behavior (although never underestimate the bugs in Places ).
Yesterday I noted that Google is favoring reviews that were written by reviewers that have a public presence. Clearly, they are now not displaying the names of “private” reviewers. Have the changes gone deeper than that?
I wanted to go back and see if any suspicious reviews had been removed. This is harder than it seems as very few people keep track of individual bogus reviews… where and when they saw them, who posted them… those details are usually lost.
However, I did remember that both Miriam Ellis and I had done articles about reviews that seemed suspect; me in Do Positive Only Review Services have a place? and Miriam in her great piece Are These Reviews Authentic? You Be The Judge. Serendipitously both pieces had identifiable screen shots of obviously
faked questionable reviews as a basis for a limited test.
Surprise! (or maybe not) In both cases, all of the questionable reviews in the screen shots are no longer showing in Google Places.
Miriam’s blog showed reviews from Goodson Honda West’s Places Page that were dated between July 23 and August 2:
While Goodson still shows 32 third party reviews and 20 reviews from Google, there is not one review from the timeframe from July 23 to August 2 still visible on the Places Reviews by Google User page.
The screen shot from my article showed reviews for a Cahuenga Pet Hospital from March 16th through March 24th:
Like in Miriam’s case, those reviews have been excised from a Places page that still includes 14 additional reviews.
Clearly, the disruptions that we are seeing in the Google Places Review environment are more than bugs, quirks and algo twitches. While two Places accounts are not a significant sample and may not totally reflect the new reality, these two cases are not accidents.
It appears nearly certain that Google is starting to clamp down on the fire hose of review spam.
November 9, 2010
Last week I wrote an article, Google Places – Reviewer Names No Longer Showing. Feature or Bug?, where I highlighted the fact that reviewer names were not showing on reviews on a business’s Places listing.
I and a number of readers noticed that some names were showing and some were not. I received two reviews yesterday, one with user name and one without, which forced me to dig into the issue more fully:
After some digging (Andy only had one review on Google), I tested what seemed the obvious choice. If the user was publicly showing their name in the profile, the review would show and if they weren’t it wouldn’t.
This review was made on a Google account with no previous reviews that included a public profile & the option to display their name. The review was immediately visible with the reviewers name:
The second review was made on a Google account with no previous reviews in the same time frame, without a public profile and the option deselected to display their name.
Initially it was showing on the Places page without the name but has subsequently disappeared from view. Whether the review will ultimately display on Google Places is not clear. Perhaps it will show up sooner or later or perhaps, Google, like Yelp has started to not show some less trustworthy reviews… That is still to be determined.
The scenario reminded me of a comment made in March by Daniel Tunkelang, a tech lead at Google, in his article about review solicitation:
Still, my hope is that consumers will start placing less stock in the aggregated opinions of anonymous strangers and shift their trust to people who are more transparent about their identities and motives. The more that reviewers stand behind their opinion and put their own integrity on the line, the less it will matter whether those opinions are solicited or spontaneously expressed. We’ll see how the opinion marketplace sorts this out.
Regardless, it seems clear that this move is not a bug in Google Places but rather an intentional change. Minimally, it seems an effort on Google’s part to create a distinction between public and private reviewers. Perhaps though it is more….it remains to be seen whether they are filtering reviews and/or removing them algorithmically for violations.
It appears, that the review game is afoot.
November 5, 2010
Last week the name of review posters disappeared in Canada. It appears that they have now stopped showing for reviews in the US now as well.
Here is a review on Places today:
Here is the same review from October 20th of this year:
For a serious student of reviews I find this loss of information regrettable. Who knows why Google made this decision to add another level of anonymity to reviews. If anything, a great review site should be shining the light of transparency on reviewers. This change not only makes thorough investigation of review abuses impossible, it makes reviewers less accountable for their actions.
Being able to see the corpus of reviews by a given reviewer allows readers to understand the context of the review and more about the reviewer as well.
The lack of accountability on the internet has lead to significant review abuses. From where I sit, Google should be moving in the opposite direction. Given Google’s bogus review removal policy up to this point, requiring real names for reviews and making the poster more responsible is the best way to bring the system into some sort of balance.
It is possible that this change is but one bug among many in the pantheon of Google Places bugs. Jim Rudnick reports that the names appear to be coming and going in the review space in Canada. Here’s one time that I for one, am wishing for a bug!
November 1, 2010
There has been a lot of discussion* (David Mihm, Greg Sterling, Chris Silver Smith, Andrew Shotland) in the local search community about the meaning and impact of the new Places Search organo-local blending of results on IYPs, directories and Review sites. All interesting and all of value. Clearly there will be winners and loosers, clearly Yelp made out better than Superpages. But is Google passing judgement directly on the IYPs and their future?
I would contend not. To me the message from Google to all of these (and other) sites that want to be included in the Places Search results: Send us unique review content about local places. Google has plenty of directory information, they pretty much have figured out location information…. what they want now is reviews.
When you combine this “message” of more reviews with the recent announcements around supporting Rich Snippets in Places and supporting testimonials marked up in hReview format as reviews, the message becomes even more nuanced and is no longer directed at just the IYP sites: Send us your reviews about local places in semantically marked up syntax.
This message applies as much to the up and coming reputation management company that focuses on presenting microformated reviews like Customer Lobby as it does to the small real estate website that has taken the time to properly mark up their testimonial page. Google is saying that everyone, big and small, directory or newspaper, local or national can now play in this arena.
Google has democratized the sourcing of unique review content around Places and has highlighted it front and center with a link. All comers are welcome. You no longer need a unique special relationship with them like CitySearch or DemandForce have. Everyone can play.
But is this just about reviews? I would contend that going forward it will be about other unique, high level information about local businesses…. coupons, sales events, specials… as microformat standards evolve and as microformatted content becomes widely available.
If you are building a site that deals with local, include microformatting as an integral part of the plan now and for the future. Go deep rather than wide as quantity about specific businesses is what will land you on Google’s front page. Keep track of the rapidly evolving world of microformats and be sure to apply it to unique content whenever possible.
* Others that have provided excellent high level overviews of Places Search but didn’t address the questions of Google’s “message” to IYPs:
Miriam Ellis – New Integrated Google Local A Game Changer
Matt McGee – 5 Quick Impacts of Google’s New Local Search Results
October 27, 2010
Reviews have become important. Having them helps with rank, the good reviews bury any negative comments and create higher averages. Good reviews and good rank lead to sales. I am a big believer in actively managing a review solicitation process. It is a winning combination if done correctly and respectfully of customer needs.
The pressure to get reviews and make them look good has led to a number of businesses to take short cuts. They have started to write reviews themselves, work with services that filter out bad reviews, trade reviews with peers or engage sock puppets to increase their volume. I am not a big believer in faking reviews, filtering them or otherwise attempting to game the system. In fact I think that it is a terrible idea.
Here is why:
Faking reviews by whatever means, makes assumptions that just don’t hold up in the real world. The first one being that customers are idiots and can’t tell the difference. The second being that you can put lipstick on a pig and she will instantly be beautiful.
Consumers are neither stupid nor any longer passive. Fake reviews will sooner or later come back to haunt any business that goes that route. And it will come back in spades. Customers seeing faked reviews will respond vociferously in reaction, as they should.
In the brave new world of reviews there is no short cut to getting good reviews. In the business world prior to the internet it was important to know your customers and treat them right. In the post review world, as I often say, “know your customers and treat them righter”.
The penalties can be severe.