Category Archives: Reviews

Google Places: Respond To Review Fixed (Again)

The “Respond Publicly as the Owner” is now working once again. According to Stephen from Google, the respond to review feature for Places listing owners is now fixed. Reports in the forum indicate that those recently experiencing the problem are also noting the problem as fixed.

We’ve rolled out an update today that should resolve this issue for users that were having technical issues posting owner responses. Responses that did not show up on your listings after posting should have been restored.

If you are still experiencing issues with this feature please be sure of the following:

1. That you’ve verified your listing using Google Places [1].
2. That you’re logged into the Google account that has claimed the listing you are trying to post the response for.

If you are still experiencing the issue of being able to post a response but the response not showing up on your listing please let me know on the attached thread [2].

Stephan

The feature was rolled out in August but starting in September, reports starting rolling in as to a problem. Initially it was thought that users with their listing in two accounts were logging in with the less dominant listing and/or there was a browser compatibility problem.

That did explain some of the issues. Google did once report the problem as solved but again reported problems persisted throughout January and February.

Hopefully the problem is solved for good this time. We shall see.

Carter Maslan Responds To Rich Snippet FAQ Language Change

I sent the following email to Carter Maslan, Product Management Director, Local Search at Google for clarification:

You have been quoted as saying at Kelsey: “Merchants should be publishing their own reviews and that Google would find them.”

Today I reread the new Rich Snippet FAQ and it says (which is a change from October):

How will Google treat businesses posting testimonials with review mark up on their own site? Will these be treated as a review by the Place Page?

Google’s goal is to provide a comprehensive, unbiased, and credible view of businesses. Reviews should come from an independent source to remain trustworthy. Posting testimonials or using review markup on a business site will generally not improve how its listing appears on Google. As with any form of unuseful content, reviews markup intended to game search results will only undermine the listing’s credibility and may negatively affect its ranking. See our Webmaster Guidelines.

I realize that these are not incompatible statements IF on an SMB website, the owner puts testimonials without hReview mark up.

Is that what you are currently suggesting as a best practice? Will Google on occasion still include them as a review in Places?

Carter’s Response:

Hi Mike -

An authentic testimonial is really nothing more than a glowingly positive user review that the business owner has hand-chosen to feature because it’s speaks so highly of the business. There’s nothing wrong with that – especially if there are avenues to corroborate the authenticity of the author and review (e.g. “reviewer” attribute referencing the hcard of a real person that might have originally posted comments on a blog or review site). The FAQ below was intended to convey that we try to classify reviews wherever they’re found on the Web but that we also aim to protect users from spam.

The use of hReview or other structured HTML formats on any site is just an aid in understanding the page more precisely. Ranking tries to steer clear of suspicious testimonials regardless of whether they’re marked-up or not on an SMB’s own site. Bottom line – it’s not that we always score testimonials on business home pages as spammy but rather that white-hat SEOs might not invest special effort to markup testimonials at this point.

Google’s Rich Snippets For Local FAQ Update

Google at some point over the past four months has changed the Rich Snippets for Local FAQ. These changes to their Help Files are not transparent in the least (boo to Google!).

Google provides no RSS feeds, no history of changes and no date that a given change was published. For a company that proclaims openness and transparency, intentional obscurity of changes to their help files is a curious thing. Clearly, it would seem to be in every one’s best interest if Google’s current policy and best practices were easily tracked. One has to assume that the decision to not include these standard features are an intentional act to obfuscate these changes.

That being said here are some interesting points in the now current Rich Snippets for Local FAQ

Does it matter whether I include multiple telephone types?

You should only provide the phone number for the location of the actual local business. Types of phone numbers that should not be included are: call tracking numbers and phone numbers that are not specific to a business location.

Should the <url> point to my home page or to the location specific page?

The <url> should point to the home page of the business. However, the attribution will link to the source of the crawled information.

Do I need to specify the <geo> lat long or is it okay to only use <adr>?

If you have precise coordinates, please include them. This will help Google display results accurately. If you do not have precise coordinates, then <adr> alone is okay.

What additional types of structured data does Google plan to recognize in the future?

The goal is to eventually be able to recognize all structured data that appears on the Place Page.

If I annotate my site with structured markup, where may results appear?

Results may appear in Web Search, the Place Page, and Video Search, as well as other Google services and services outside of Google. However, Google cannot guarantee by annotating your site that results will appear in any of the above services.

Should business owners be using structured markup instead of Google Places?

No. Currently, Google Places is the only way to verify ownership of a business, update its Place Page instantly, and see the analytics dashboard. Annotating your site with structured markup is still a good idea, and a great way to make sure your website is reliably associated with the places it mentions.

How will Google treat businesses posting testimonials with review mark up on their own site? Will these be treated as a review by the Place Page?

Google’s goal is to provide a comprehensive, unbiased, and credible view of businesses. Reviews should come from an independent source to remain trustworthy. Posting testimonials or using review markup on a business site will generally not improve how its listing appears on Google. As with any form of unuseful content, reviews markup intended to game search results will only undermine the listing’s credibility and may negatively affect its ranking. See our Webmaster Guidelines.

Will Rich Snippets for Local Search be as trusted as Google Places data?

It doesn’t replace verification via Google Places. We’re using this information to allow site owners to tell us about a specific location. Like other information, it will be ranked and displayed algorithmically, depending on its relevance.

If I annotate my site with structured markup, how fast may results appear on the Place Page?

It typically has the potential of appearing within a couple of weeks of your page being indexed by Google. Currently we will only be able to recognize basic business listing information (name, address, phone number) and surface reviews and photos.

What is the optimal way of using structured markup. Should you have a separate “Reviews” page or should you incorporate them within the body of the site?

For “discoverability” purposes, it does not matter much. But from an attribution/link back point of view, having a reviews page might make more sense since Google can point users directly to that page. Having a page for each review might be even better. In the end, you should really design the page in a way that makes sense for your site and your end users’ experience.

Google Places: Testimonials as Reviews Now Viewed As Spam?

In early October, 2010, shortly after Google announced support for Rich Snippets in Local, Google Rich Snippet FAQ noted the following:

How will Google treat businesses posting testimonials with review mark up on their own site? Will these be treated as a review by the Place Page?

Testimonials will be treated as business reviews on the Place Page.

Since that time, I have been tracking the appearance of testimonial pages as reviews in Places. And while I have been finding some they have mostly been non marked up pages and these results have not been coming into Places with more than very sporadic frequency. That being said, they are in fact coming into Places.

Today when rereading the Google Rich Snippet FAQ I discovered this change in Google’s position on this topic (when it occurred is unclear):

How will Google treat businesses posting testimonials with review mark up on their own site? Will these be treated as a review by the Place Page?

Google’s goal is to provide a comprehensive, unbiased, and credible view of businesses. Reviews should come from an independent source to remain trustworthy. Posting testimonials or using review markup on a business site will generally not improve how its listing appears on Google. As with any form of unuseful content, reviews markup intended to game search results will only undermine the listing’s credibility and may negatively affect its ranking. See our Webmaster Guidelines.

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Google Pushing HotPot to the Big Leagues

Google announced last night that Hotpot friend recommendations are now showing on the main Google search results in the 7-pack. They are also showing in the local organic blended results and branded searches.

Google is working on social tools on a number of fronts more or less successfully. You can never count them out though when they are willing to bring the full weight of the front page of Google to the game.

It appears to me that eating, reviews and ratings are where they are really where they are making a stand and to do so they are driving traffic to Hotpot. Hotpot previously has been highlighted in Maps, Places and mobile.

What better way to incent Hotpot users than to show them, front and center, where their friends ate. What better way to create more Hotpot engagement and traffic than showing it on the front page of Google. Let the ego games begin.

Here is a screen shot of a branded Local Universal result where you can see the inclusion of Hotpot ratings: Continue reading

Big G vs. The Trip Advisor – Smackdown Continues in The Review Ring

Ah yes, the rancor in the review industry does continue and in fact it seems to be turnin’ into a wrestlin’ match. The actors players competitors wrestlers have staked out their corners and the taunting has begun for the match later this evening.

Google has been throwing reviews around like ring side chairs. Reviews from tripadvisor.com have been coming and going from Places Pages faster than an Elbow Drop off the Top. Google seems to be attempting to not show them as much, per TA’s request but in their stead we are often seeing the very same reviews form Tripadvisor.ca or .ie. In some cases, we are even seeing the TA reviews on the Places Page from actual owner website via the TA review widget. (Thanks to Steve King from SimPartners)

The real winner in this match appears to be a site called TravelPod.com. They are a site that synidicates TripAdvisor reviews and in a quick survey of hotel Places Pages for major cities, they are showing prominently on the main SERP and the Places Page for sites that had TripAdvisor reviews. Their review totals often match TA’s exactly. Clearly, TA’s efforts to block Google from summarizing content from their review corpus is not going to be a successful tactic.

One then has to ask why TA has gone on their very public PR tear. Posting at their blog and across twitter via the #AskSteve hashtag, their CEO continues to answer (albeit at a trickle) questions about the tiff.

I found TA’s answer to a question that I asked interesting:

Q: @mblumenthal – How does the hotel benefit by TripAdvisor pulling their reviews from Google?

A: For hotels to thrive on any site, consumers must have a great user experience. We’ve pulled our reviews because Google Places doesn’t offer a good consumer experience.

Now where have we heard that refrain before? It seems that Steve pulled a play from Google’s playbook when answering that one.

Effluent always seems to run down hill. And it seems that wherever an SMB might stand in this current match is by definition, down hill.

Last Public Comment About Reviews From Google


It has been 1358 days 5 hours 15 minutes 25 seconds, since Google last publicly commented on their losing of business reviews.

Since that time, reports of Google losing business reviews continue to come in. From both personal experience and reports that flow into the forums, it is clear the Google has yet to solve the lost review problems. It is clearly not one problem but several.

For SMB’s, the only thing worse than Google not fighting review spam, is losing good reviews. Not only do SMBs deserve to have these reviews found, they deserve communication while Google is hunting for them.

I Want My Places Reviews Back – It’s Getting Personal

Ok, enough is enough. My Google Places reviews have been missing since mid summer 2010 and I have waited patiently for their return.

Google has had some problems loosing reviews and this problem continues to this day. I understand that.

Stuff happens in a complex system and while I don’t like it, at some level I do understand it. I have always advocated for others that these reviews should be resurfaced and those that are legit be reassociated with the appropriate Places Page.

But I was looking at reviews in the context of a new talk I am giving this week at the UBL user conference in Charlotte and I realized that some of the reviews that had been lost from my account had more than just commercial value. They hold personal and relationship value as well. When a person you respect leaves a review it means more to me than just a review. Continue reading

TripAdvisor Reviews and Google Places – the Saga Continues

Su from the Inn at Tanglewood Hall, a bed and breakfast in York Harbor, Me alerted me on the 20th to the fact that TripAdvisor reviews were once again missing from Google Places. Today she sent me this missive from the CEO of TripAdvisor, Steve Kaufer inviting questions via Twitter about the TripAdvisor-Google battle over review content in Google Places. I am reprinting his message in full:

***

#AskSteve on Twitter: TripAdvisor Talks Google Places and Invites Questions

With more than 70% of all searches in the U.S. alone, Google is the world’s  dominant search engine with considerable power over displaying what users see on the web. With Google Places, it is abusing this power.

The success of any website relies on two crucial elements: how useful it is to the consumer and therefore how highly it ranks in search engines.  With both of these elements, Google is manipulating its systems and position to promote Google Places over other competing sites.  Links to Google Places appear at the top of the ‘natural’ search despite being an inferior product to sites that are dedicated to review collection and therefore more useful to the consumer.  Google is also forcingTripAdvisor to allow its reviews to be on Google Places, and as the world’s largest travel site with more than 40 million reviews and opinions, become the key content provider in Google Places for hotel and other accommodation reviews.

While we expect competition in the travel planning sector, we expect the success of the competition to be decided by the consumer.  The EU Commission is currently investigating claims of how Google is adopting unfair practice; Google Places is another example of how they are abusing their dominant position in search.

As the situation continues to unfold, we know that many of you may have questions about Google Places and how we at TripAdvisor are approaching it, and I want to get those questions answered.  Over the next couple of days, we’ll be asking you to share these questions on Twitter, and I’ll be answering them right here on the TripAdvisor blog.  Follow us at @TripAdvisor for additional details on how to submit questions and join in on the conversation.

Steve Kaufer, CEO, TripAdvisor

Guidelines for submitting questions:

  • I’ll only be answering questions about Google Places.  Questions on other topics will not be responded to at this time.
  • In order to have your question included, please be sure to use the hashtag #AskSteve.
  • I will be answering ten questions.  Answers will be posted here, on the TripAdvisor blog, and shared on Twitter. Follow @TripAdvisor for updates.

To see the Twitter question stream…. Continue reading

Google Places Review Bugs on the Mend

Late yesterday Google  quashed at least 3 known Places review bugs.

Reader Jeffrey Magner of TrumpetMedia reported that the nasty review bug in Google Places first seen last week that prevented anonymous reviewers from leaving reviews has been fixed. All anonymous reviewers with nicknames are now seeing a highlighted publish button and are able to leave a review.

Also, at least for some percentage of anonymous reviewers, their review history ( see my anonymous reviewer JS) is now visible. In early November, after the introduction of Hotpot and anonymous user nick names, these review histories were not viewable. In addition, the ugly bug that resulted in the 501 server error when clicking on the anonymous but not having reviews “Google User” link seems to have departed as well.

While these fixes are obvious progress not all is yet perfect in the world of Places reviews. The review history for those previous  anonymous “Google Users” that do not have nicknames are still not viewable and display now with no user name at all.

More disturbingly, for some percentage of anonymous reviewers (one of mine… who knows how many others), their reviews are visible only to them. Their review histories are visible if you are able to find them but the reviews created by them do not show on the Places Page.

I am not prepared to declare Victory in Review Land for Google. But with three bugs down and only two to go (at least on the consumer side, I will leave business side review issues for another day)…. there has been clear progress.
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