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.
Google Places has experienced a number of annoying bugs and quirks in their review system over the past number of months from lost reviews, to 501 Errors and on to the inability of owners to respond to reviews. Well, now there is a new bug that started showing up in the past few days: registered Google Users without a public nickname are prevented from leaving reviews at all as the publish button stays grayed out and no opportunity is provided for them to add a public name.
Maybe, just maybe it is darkest before the dawn and this “bug” is really a fix in progress. I did notice that the links to anonymous “Google User” reviews has gone missing once again.
And although I have said this before, I will say it again: It is well on time for Google to get their proverbial “review shit” together. Google has played a critical role in making reviews a central part of the local ecosystem and yet for way too long they have put forth a buggy forward facing review product that leads to unpredictable outcomes and frustration for both the user and the businesses that receive them.
Google should be “doubling down” on their review commitment. It is a huge flash point for business owners and it seems hard to understand having such a buggy product in place just as the concept of business reviews is spreading broadly amongst every day users.
Here is a screenshot for a user with a public profile that is leaving a review for comparison:
I manage the online marketing for a small insurance company in Bradford Pa, Sundahl and Co. Insurance. While looking at the local search results the other day, I noticed that a local competitor was suddenly showing up with a number of reviews. It surprised me as the insurance market segment and this area of the country don’t really lend themselves to “organic” reviews. I have two insurance agencies that I have done work for, both market leaders, and between them they had garnered 2 natural reviews over the past 3 years.
Upon examination it became immediately clear that the reviews for this agent were purchased, faked or to otherwise procured without a real customer. In the past few weeks I have had several other experiences indicating the rapid commodification of reviews….
* I saw that my Honda dealer, with a mediocre service department at best, had started “buying” reviews.
* Stever, a local seo in Canada,
Someone (I can’t remember who) was kind enough to send me a link to a “3 positive reviews for $5″ offer at Fiverr.com and “a short review on your Google places account for $5″
* Brian Combs of Ionadas.com sent me a copy of a email spam that arrived via his contact form touting the benefits of positive reviews from a company called PostPositiveReviews.com. Their whole business model predicated on trading in reviews and back links.
Reviews about a business are one of the key jewels in the bag of online marketing tools available. Businesses work hard to get good reviews and benefit from the positive word of mouth when the shopping community lauds them. Google has had on-going trouble keeping track of these jewels, losing their own and those from 3rd parties all too often. Now with recent changes, Google seems to have added new problems and bugs to their handling of reviews.
With the rollout of Hotpot and user ratings, Google appears to have made massive internal changes to their review process. Reviews with Google have always been flakey but now they are even more so with half baked changes that make providing reviews on Google Places more friction laden then ever.
I think this screen, shown when you click in Places to see the reviews provided by an anonymous “Google User”, says it all:
Apparently, Google is attempting to make anonymous review histories available for perusal but there have been serious flaws in the process that have not been fixed for well over a month. The error message above has been visible for over 3 weeks but even worse is that reviews from new anonymous reviewers are often not posting at all onto Places leaving reviewers and businesses confused. Continue reading
Over the weekend, we reported that TripAdvisor reviews, while not showing up in UK, were returning to US listings. Apparently, it is just a fluke as TNooz reports that TripAdvisor is continuing their restrictions on Google using Reviews in Places. From TNooz and TA:
“Despite the rumours, we are continuing to restrict TripAdvisor content on Google Places as we don’t think it benefits users at this time with the experience of selecting the right hotel.”
The company adds that it is in “constant discussions” with Google – details of which are not disclosed.
TripAdvisor has also responded directly to my query; “There are reports of reviews showing in the US but NOT in the UK….Has there been any change in position? Are you still not allowing your reviews back into Google?”
There has been no change in position. We are continuing to limit the TripAdvisor content on Google Places at this time, as we don’t think it benefits users with the experience of selecting the right hotel.
Do you remember the old SNL skit “Point/Counterpoint” (named after the 60 Minutes Segment) which featured Dan Akroyd making scurrilous attacks on Jane Curtain? Not sure who is whom in this current remake starring Google and Tripadvisor but it sure is taking on the same tenor.
The recent “its a technical issue, no its intentional“ discussion between TripAdvisor and Google has taken one more turn with TripAdvisor reviews once again showing up in Google Places. Many of the businesses that initially reported disappearing TripAdvisor reviews (here, here ) are now showing those reviews again.
Su at the Inn at Tanglewood Hall in York Harbor, ME. sent me an email today that hers and other TA reviews in Kennebunkport had returned. And upon checking, those reported missing in the forums had also returned.
Now if I could just get Google to find the 25 or so missing from my Places account, the heavens would be in alignment.
It appears that TripAdvisor is in fact currently limiting what and how Google can display TA’s review content on Google Places pages.
Yesterday, a statement from them appeared at TNooz.com, a travel industry news blog, that indicated that was the case. I wanted to confirm this with TripAdvisor. I asked their PR department the following via email: ”I am attempting to get clarification of comments made on the information in the following article: TripAdvisor Blocking Google From Reviews?. Are you currently syndicating reviews to Google? Will you continue? Is/Was it just a technical glitch as Google has noted?”
Google frequently makes changes to Google Places, and while we’re continuing to evaluate it, we don’t think it benefits users at this time with the experience of selecting the right hotel. As a result, we have currently limited the TripAdvisor content available on those pages.
I asked for additional clarification but was told that the above was the extent of their statement. Given TripAdvisors unwillingness to add any real information to the story, I can give you my speculation as to what I think their reasoning is. (Isn’t that the best thing about blogging? In the absence of facts I can speculate.)
If you recall on November 15th, Google added booking links directly to every hotel Places page, interjecting themselves directly into the hotel booking process. My presumption is that the statement from TripAdvisor that “we don’t think it benefits users at this time with the experience of selecting the right hotel” refers specifically to this new process.
I assume, but do not know, that Google’s move could be perceived as a direct threat to a TripAdvisor affiliate income stream. Google is sending users to some of the same booking sites from their new tool as TripAdvisor.
What are your thoughts? Do you think that is the reason that the two are “fueding”?
On December 4th, TripAdvisor reviews disappeared from Google Places. They are still missing in action but a Google spokesperson has noted the following in relation to the lost reviews:
We’re aware of a technical issue in which TripAdvisor reviews are sometimes not appearing in results for Google Places, and our team is working to resolve the matter.
Noun: A social imbroglio or brouhaha. An organizational misunderstanding leading to accusations and defensiveness.
Since December 4th, there have been a number of reports (here, here and via email) that TripAdvisor reviews are not showing in Google Places. A quick search of the Maps index shows this in fact to be the case with TripAdvisor reviews not showing on the Places page for any hotel or B&B searched.
Obviously TripAdvisor plays a huge role in the hospitality industry and the syndication of their reviews to Google has a big impact there as well. I received this email from Su at the Inn at Tanglewood Hall in York Harbor, ME.
Any more word on this? The missing TA reviews are HUGE for the lodging industry. Trip Advisor makes up almost 75% of our reviews (we personally went from 76 to 21). Many places have gone from triple to low double digits, even single. Example: TA #1 ranked B&B in the entire state of Maine: Bayberry House in Boothbay Harbor with 237 reviews, is now down to 4 on Google Places, no longer even makes the cut when Googling Boothbay Harbor Bed and Breakfasts. Place results have been drastically altered for all Lodging.
It is unclear whether we are seeing a bug in Places that is preventing reviews from showing up or whether TripAdvisor and Google are having a disagreement about Google’s right to show them. Both possibilities have their precedence, with 3rd prty reviews coming and going due to both bugs and battles… I have emailed both TripAdvisor and Google for clarification but as of publication had not heard back.
If likes are the new links then ratings are the new reviews. At least as far as Google is concerned as they continue to integrate elements from Hotpot into Places.
I noted the other day that Google was integrating HotSpot friend recommendations in personalized Map results. They are also now including a new rating level with an eye-catching Best Ever ribbon/icon from Hotpot on the Places Pages.
This sort of additional ego boost might just incent business owners to train their customers how to use Google Hotspot. If Google adds some ranking strength to the signal, business owners will be crashing down the gates to get the rating.
The new Google HotPot offers a more relaxed user feedback environment than Google Places, allowing for just a star rating and a quick sentiment (for hotels & restaurants) but also encouraging, although not requiring, a brief review.
Google Places has recently added the ability to add this simpler, quick Hotpot like star rating to businesses that show in the Related Places area of the Place page (When did they change the name from Nearby Places You Might Like?). The option is only available on Places that have previously received Google reviews.