Google Places: Google Confirms New Review Removal Practices

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.

References:
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… Continue reading Google Places: Google Confirms New Review Removal Practices

Google Places: Selective Reviews Now Being Removed

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:

Questionable reviews in Google Places

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:

Questionable reviews on Google Places that have been removed

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.

Google 7-Pack Heatmaps & User Behavior Study

While Google has shifted the typical Places layout from the 7-Pack to the blended organo-local results, these 7-Pack heatmaps and research from ionadas local still hold a lot of value. This snippet is of particular interest:

And our most surprising finding certainly still applies. The conventional wisdom has been that the map itself should be one of the greatest draws on the page. Our research found that the map actually receives very little attention. Most people hardly notice its presence at all.

Google 7-Pack Heatmaps

Google Places – Are Reviews Now Being Filtered?

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.

Google Places: Another Reason to Move to Canada; Duplicate Listing Removal

I can think of several reasons one might want to move to Canada: they have single payer health care that every citizen receives and they usually are not using unmanned drones to shoot people in Pakistan and Yemen. I have found a third reason: the duplicate removal procedure in Google Places.

In the U.S., the current duplicate removal procedure is to use the “Report a Problem” link at the bottom of the Places page of the duplicate. It would be wonderful if it worked but the process now is to “Report a Problem”, pray aggressively, wait 8 weeks and then try again. It is an endless cycle of frustration that as often as not does not result in the removal of the dupe.

It appears though, that in Canada, where the “Report a Problem” link doesn’t exist, Google suggests that “since Report a Problem is not live in Canada, the user should go ahead and claim the listing to remove it”. Once again they can use of the “claim the dupe, strip any enhanced content, wait for the merge, delete the listing from Places” procedure.

This is a process that actually works. It is a process that many in the US have reverted to using because the “Report a Problem” link doesn’t work.

Maybe we should once again start a campaign to make Canada the 51st state. We could end up with a single payer health care AND a dupe removal process that works…

Google Places – Reviewer Names No Longer Showing. Feature or Bug?

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:

Google review with reviewer name

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!

Google Places Search: Hiding Address No Longer Buries Listing

Update: While the Hide Address feature does not impact Blended results it STILL impacts Maps and 7-Pack results from showing so use with caution.

The new Google Places Search has its winners and losers. For one group though, it is turning out to be an incredible plus – those home based and service businesses that don’t want to show their address.

In March of this year when the feature was first released, the hide address/show service area feature hid more than your address. It hid your listing by burying it so deeply that it would take a back hoe to find it. It would only show for direct name searches and never return for a category search, even if well optimized.

Now if you choose to hide your address in your Google Places Dashboard you can still show front and center in the blended organo-local results. For example if you search for Baton Rouge Signs and look for for the company Greater Baton Rouge Signs, long missing from the Local results because of a hidden address, you will find them once again on the first page of the main page results:

Google Places Hide Address Baton Rouge Sign Company

Obviously, this result is subject to all of the caveats of the new blended Places Searches. The most obvious and critical requirement being the existence of a strong locally optimized website to compliment your Places listing. To some extent it demonstrates the relative weighting power of organic vs local strength in the new ranking algo as this listing was consistently on the third and fourth pages of Map results under the 7-Pack algo and now shows at A & B.

Google Places Search to IYPs – What is the Message? Go Microformats, Young Man!

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.

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* 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

Nexus One Support Forum- RIP

This notice is now posted on the Google Nexus One Forums.

The Nexus One was/is a great phone but Google soon learned that 1) They couldn’t really sell phone without primary carrier engagemet and 2)They weren’t very good at support (no surprise there). The Nexus One was a great reference platform that defined what a “pure” Android phone could be and to a large extent has been reincarnated as the HTC Incredible. The phone provided, indirectly, a mechanism for Google to gain entree into the big leagues of the cell phone world.

What are the implications of the new integrated Local Search results?

Update: It appears that Google is rolling out the new integrated local that I started writing about in July. They have been reported in Europe and are being reported as widely visible in the US. This was first written in August but it is essentially still valid today.

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Since the beginning of July I have been writing about Google’s test to radically change the display of local search results on the main search results page. Miriam Ellis of Solas Design decided she really wanted my opinion not just my screen shots:

I’d like to ask the million dollar question, though: what do YOU think of this? In your mind, would this represent an improvement for users/business owners, a step backwards, something else? I know you like to report all this fascinating news with the measured voice of reason, but I wouldn’t mind some editorial opinion on this subject from you.

Ok, Miriam, I’ll bite.

While I personally find floating objects annoying, I don’t see many down sides to the local business. I think Google is making an effort to bring forth the most relevant local results and that is good for all.

Benefits:
– Local Results are highlighted on the page and are now more visually obvious than general search results
– Generic directories are pushed down in the SERPS leaving more local results above the fold
– The map floats down the page, not always adding context but always reminding folks to think local
– Ranking, which is always the most interesting to folks, appears to favor local businesses

Negatives (nothing too surprising here):
– Businesses that had two mentions on the front page will now have one
– If a business doesn’t yet have a website they will likely loose out on local search all together
– If they have a poorly designed website with flash or a welcome page that masks the site they will loose standing
– More opportunities for a searcher to visit something other than the business website

Local is all about customer acquisition and not click throughs. While there very well could be fewer website visits I think for the most part, customer acquisition one way or the other will not be altered for most businesses.

But this isn’t just about ranking, whether a business has a website, whether the directories are less visible or that the searcher might go to TripAdvisor instead of the business website. The point that most folks seemed to have missed is that Google is pushing their sentiment analysis to the front and center of the main search results. Is this a benefit or a drawback for local businesses?

Google is attempting to summarize ALL user sentiment about a given business in one sentence and hanging it out there for the world to see on the front page. This can be great for those businesses that have exemplary customer care histories reflected in their reviews. But for those on the margins? Watch out!

Here is a sample search of the test results that demonstrates the potential implication of showing sentiment analysis on the front page (click to view larger):

(To see the full screen shot click here.)

Now compare this result to what a searcher sees of Motel 8 in the current view (click to view larger):
Continue reading What are the implications of the new integrated Local Search results?

Developing Knowledge about Local Search