Google Places Upgrades Review Display, Yelp Reviews Back

Yesterday afternoon, Google upgraded the display of reviews on the Places Page. The new display aggregates reviews from third parties with an icon and a  link to the the review site and continues to show individual Google reviews below that display.

The aggregate display shows the third party site with the most reviews at the top of the list and displays 2 recent reviews from them as well as the aggregate star rating and total number of reviews and one review for each of the other two sites. Only the top three review aggregators are shown on the first screen with additional review sites visible at the More from around the web » link. This puts a real premium on volume of reviews from review providers because if the Places Page gets moderate traffic after 2 clicks, the More from around the web » gets far less.

The new display shows below the sentiment analysis if there are enough reviews or just below the business details & photos if not:

As David Mihm points out, this is likely in preparation for the influx of testimonials as reviews to the Places page. It would allow them to be easily deprecated to only show in the more from around the web section if need be.

This display is consistent with the review display in Google’s test of organic-local listing integration in the main serps, with the review sources being given more visibility and a link rather than showing all of their content. It is the first recent development in Places that moves users away from Places. That being said it still spawns a new window, leaving the Places page open on your desktop.

In a TechCrunch interview at the end of July, Jeremy Stoppleman of Yelp noted in talking about Yelp’s review spat with Google:

“And then yeah, we found our content was showing up there and it is ranked dead last right now. I don’t think that’s sort of a permanent situation from what we gather from talking to Google, they are sort of headed in a new direction that which hopefully will be more positive.”

Clearly this display of summary review information, a high placement on the page and a colorful icon seem to put more emphasis on the review source and will likely lead to more traffic for them. WhetherObviously, this treatment is enough to bring Yelp reviews back into the fold of Places is yet to be seen but the above statement indicates Stoppleman’s willingness to allow Google to include Yelp’s reviews as they are now again showing.

One interesting design element related the new display is the handling of the destination a user is taken when clicking on the the Review link in a OneBox. If the user selects the review link they are taken to the Google reviews, effectively hiding the 3rd party reviews.

Update: Here is the Lat Long announcement on the new review display and here is TechCrunch’s take on the Yelp reviews once again showing up.

Google Maps Rich Snippets for Local FAQ: Testimonials to be Treated as Reviews

When Google announced support for Rich Snippets for Local 3 weeks ago, there were a number of unanswered questions. A number of these are now answered in the Rich Snippets for Local Search FAQ:

– Currently Google (FAQ #3) only recognizes microformats (hCard, hReview) for Rich Snippets for Local Search. Thus, until Google expands support for microdata and RDFa formats, you should stick with hCard and hReview formats.

-You (#4) should only provide the actual phone number for the location and should not include call tracking numbers.

-If you (#6) provide precise geo-coordinates Google will use them but if not then address alone is okay.

-Structured data (#9)should not be used as an alternative to verifying your Places listing but in conjunction with it.

The big surprise for me though was FAQ #10:

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.

This means that site owners will be able to contribute testimonials from their site to their Places page. The implications of this are profound in terms of the impact that these testimonials will have on review count. The impact that they will have on tone of the reviews, sentiment analysis and rank are yet to be seen but if they are handled exactly as current reviews are, this too will be profound. Webmasters will be busy tonight! 🙂

Here is the complete list of links to the questions answered in the FAQ: Continue reading Google Maps Rich Snippets for Local FAQ: Testimonials to be Treated as Reviews

Google Places Reviews Being Lost – Houston We have a Problem!

Google Places seems to have again misplaced reviews in significant quanties. The forums are loaded with complaints particularly during the past 24 hours with 5 of the last 10 postings in the forums being about missing reviews (here, here, here, here, and here).

Reviews for a small business are a very sensitive area. Initially most SMBs are hesitant to engage in the process for fear that they won’t be liked and their warts will be visible for all the world to see. Once they do engage in the review process they become the ultimate proud mother hen, protecting their reviews as if they were the palace guards and the reviews were the crown jewels. It in area of great angst for many and Google’s poor handling of them brings down a stream of complaints and insults like no other area in the forum.

Google Places has a long history of loosing reviews. It usually occurs when there are large changes occurring. Often times they return after several weeks although in my case it has been 3 months without seeing them on my listing.

Exactly why reviews are lost but business listings are not, implies that the information is kept in a different index. When there is a major upgrade  they end up needing to be reassociated with the cluster. (At least this my theory and for what it is worth, publicly embraced by Google).

Regardless of the cause, it appears to be a systemic weakness in the architecture of Places. It is also a weakness that is noted by many a business who readily point it out. It is strange to me that Google would leave such a weakness so visible if for no other reason than a fix would quiet the rioting hordes.

So, what exactly can a business do if their reviews go missing? What tactics can help in this situation? Continue reading Google Places Reviews Being Lost – Houston We have a Problem!

Google Gets a Barely Passing Grade with the BBB – For the Want of a Nail…

Like many other SMBs, I have no love lost on the Better Business Bureau. Paying them to vouch for what I always considered my basic responsibility of being honest seemed inappropriate. They strike me in the same vein as our current political system: you have to pay to play.

But they do sit in the middle of the swirl of complaints about companies and can provide the consumer with some sense of whether a particular company has an unusual number complaints or perhaps has settled with the government . Thus while I refuse to pay them, they are not completely without merit. The BBB can spot trends and provide some relative idea about the quality of customer service that a company offers (how many complaints) and how the company handles them when they do get them (resolved or not). Google has also “blessed” them as a citation source for local (although an expensive one).

So when a reader sent me the link to Google’s BBB rating I approached it with my typical objectivity towards Google ( 🙂 )  and the aforementioned caveats. I decided to compare Google to a range of tech companies (Apple, Hewlett Packard & Microsoft) and several companies in mobile (Verizon, ATT) to see how they faired and so you can put Google’s customer service level in perspective.

Drum roll please… Here are the results in order of the BBB grade: Continue reading Google Gets a Barely Passing Grade with the BBB – For the Want of a Nail…

Yelp.com & Unique Vistors: Would the Real Number Please Stand Up

While there may be some dispute about the origins of the saying: “there are three kinds of lies, lies, damned lies and statistics” there is little disagreement about its general truthfulness. It seems particularly appropriate in regard to Yelp’s unique visitors.

Yesterday Yelp.com announced at SMX East that they had 38 million uniques on the desktop and it picqued my curiosity. Yelp.com has done a great job of generating reviews and adding value around them and I have been following them over the years as both a user and a professional, watching thier efforts to move from a niche restaurant site in the major markets to a broad based general site. Have they moved out of the niche and into the mainstream? Certainly 38 million uniques would indicate so.

But I was curious for some verification of Yelp’s numbers so I went to Quantcast, Compete and Comscore to see if I could independantly confrim them. The results, far from enlightening, illustrate the many ways that unique visitors can be counted.

Source Yelp Uniques Chart (click to view larger)
Yelp 38 Million
ComScore 24 Million
Quantcast 12.6 Million
Compete 10.1 Million

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Google Places Gets Down and Very Dirty


Google Maps & Places has always been the playground of bad actors, whether the computer repair company that got carried away with bulk uploads, the non existent locksmith, the plastic surgeon with fake reviews or the less than savory payday loan folks masquerading as local businesses in an effort to get customers. In the legal scheme of things there were mostly deceptive and only occasionally criminal but heck they were “just trying to make a living”. 🙂 But leave it to the SEO business to really lead the dive to the depths of depravity in the Maps world.

There have been several tales of extortion reported in the past few weeks that describe  holding a businesses listing in Maps “hostage” until some form of payment is received.

From the Google Forums:
My business has a couple address that are both listed and claimed in google maps. However, if you do a search of my domain name, you will see three pages of results, all but two of which are wrong.

The wrong listings have a bad phone number, random business name, and random address, but it does list my company domain. These listings have already been “Claimed by owner” so we cannot go in and fix them.

This was brought to our attention today by a phone call from a “marketing expert” who pointed out this problem and how it could get us banned from google. When we refused to pay him to correct the problem, he threatened to flag our real listings and get them removed/penalized if we didn’t pay him. This person obviously created about 25 fake listings with my domain in another Google Places account before calling to point out this “problem” and is holding the ability to delete them hostage… There is no way for us to correct the listing.

And this report from Webmasterworld (Hat tip to Andy Kuiper, an SEO Analyst in Vancouver):

This has happened to two companies that I work for in the past 6 months. Wondering if anyone else has seen the same…

A bunch of negative reviews are posted in Google Maps for a particular company. About a month after the posts, the company gets a call and is told that the negative reviews can be removed for a fee… typically $400. We have been flaging the reviews, tey it seems to take google forever to even take a look.

If nothing else, Maps never ceases to entertain but these reports indicate a new form of criminality. It seems that Google’s current reporting mechanism and customer support structure of the “report a problem” link and the forums is woefully inadequate to deal with this sort of problem. How would you handle this situation if one of your clients was being extorted? Should Google create some communication mechanism to deal with this?

Locksmith Mad as Hell -Sues AZ Attorney General to Enforce Law

The ALOA (Associated Locksmiths of America, the locksmith trade group) has recently posted the legal filing from a lawsuit initiated by a locksmith in Arizona. The complaint for violations of Arizona’s laws preventing misrepresentation of “the geographical origins or location of the person’s business” attempts to

1)Get an injunction against the offending locksmtih (Atlas Locksmith Soltuons among others) and

2)Require the attorney general to “take over the crimianl and consumer fraud aspects of the case

It is interesting that a local locksmith, in his frustration, is “going after” the attorney general to do their job of enforcing laws on the books. It will be interesting to see if he manages any success in either convincing the AG or perhaps embarrassing him to take on the case.

At the bottom of the filing it notes: Charley requests donation to his legal fund because he feels the expertise of an attorney is now needed.

It seems a little late in the process to think about hiring a lawyer but heck, better late than never. Good luck Chuck! For more information about Chuck’s quest you can visit his website.

From the filing: Continue reading Locksmith Mad as Hell -Sues AZ Attorney General to Enforce Law

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