Google Becoming Slightly More Transparent About Nuking Reviews

Update 9/28: I had myself taken off as a manager of Barbara’s page and my review instantly lost the notice and showed back up on the listing.

Historically at Google Local, if a review triggered the spam filter, the reviewer would still see the review associated with the business if they were logged in and other users would not. The reviewer would have no clue as to why the review wasn’t showing.

This “technique” for handling “spammy” reviews led to many, many posts in the forums inquiring about why a given review wasn’t showing. Google has now implemented at least a modicum of communication in this regard and is tagging flagged reviews with an alert.

Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 10.51.31 AM

Is this enough communication and enough transparency? I would suggest that while it is better than before it still misses the mark.

1) Google has chosen to make the announcement in a users review section which I assume is infrequently visited

2)The complaints are still coming into the forum with regularity

3)The explanation given provides little in the way of helping the user understand what is going on if they do happen to see the notice.

My review of Barbara Oliver & Co. Jewelry was flagged because I am a manager of her G+ Page. Perhaps a legitimate reason to not show the review but if I were to read the help file that would not be at all clear.

Filtering reviews is a difficult dance between users and a complicated algo that is at best imperfect at identifying spam. Google has always erred on the side of opacity to prevent spammers from learning too much about their techniques.

The problem with that approach is that spammers figure it out anyways and regular users and businesses are inevitably punished. This occurs without any understanding of how or why on their part. Yelp, while imperfect in many things, handles their spam classification in a much more transparent way that while not ideal at least does a better job of communicating to the reviewer that their review will not be displayed. I believe that Google could learn from that example and with some careful thought do even better at solving this problem.

NY State AG Brings Down the Hammer on Fake Reviews (Again)

The NY Times is reporting that the NY State Attorney General will be announcing a crackdown today against 19 NY based companies, both SMBs and “reputation management” firms, for posting fake reviews online.  The companies will pay fines totaling $350,000 and agree to cease to the practice. “Among those signing the agreements are a charter bus operator, a teeth-whitening service, a laser hair-removal chain and an adult entertainment club. Also signing are several reputation-enhancement firms that place fraudulent reviews on sites like Google, Yelp, Citysearch and Yahoo”.

The findings presented no big surprises; reviews are available for purchase for as little as $1 each, “reviewers” often resided in Pakistan and India and many “reputation management” programs frequently offered “bribes” of as much as $50 as incentives for reviewers.  What was surprising was the forceful assertion of the NY State attorney general Eric Schneiderman, that fake reviews are “even worse than old-fashioned false advertising. When you look at a billboard, you can tell it’s a paid advertisement — but on Yelp or Citysearch, you assume you’re reading authentic consumer opinions, making this practice even more deceiving.”

The fines levied were not insignificant although not as high as those levied in NY in 2009. A Buffalo based web marketing firm that was doing reputation management for 30 clients incurred a fine of $43,000 and a Staten Island tour bus operator received a fine of $75,000. Apparently the other firms will be highlighted in a press conference later in the today. Ironically the offending firm in Buffalo received two (yes two) do-follow links from the NY Times. Expensive links, those.

According to the NY Times the owner of the tour bus company, in response to blistering service related issues noted in on line reviews (“like buses never showing up”) personally oversaw a company effort to get fake reviews. “Mr. Telmany hired freelance writers, mandated that his employees write favorable reviews and even pitched in himself. He posted a five-star review on Yelp that began, ‘US Coachways does a great job!'”

While I am glad that NY State has stepped into the breach once again, as anyone following my blog knows this is not a new problem.  I have been reporting on it extensively since at least 2009 when NY State took its last enforcement action against a plastic surgeon. As I noted at the time:  This settlement should come as welcome news in the wild west of local marketing as it not only strikes at bogus reviews but at deceptive and misleading websites. Obviously the cases are many and State resources are few but it won’t take many cases like this to grab the attention of locksmiths, lawyers and others to force a change to their online marketing strategies.

Here are four years later and the enforcement has been worse than lax, abuses continue and while Yelp, Google, TripAdvisor and Edmunds have made some public efforts to stem the tide of fake reviews with lawsuits and review filters, it is not clear to me that they are obvious or frequent enough. Nor that the chance of getting caught carries with it enough risk to disincentivize those using the tactic.

NY State is but one of 50 states and the only one to have entered this particular batter. Obviously state resources are stretched and many have bigger problems. The NY Times reported that this enforcement action will have impact beyond NY State borders but unless there is additional enforcement both in NY and other states, the problem is likely to persist.

Update: Here is the attorney general’s press release with some additional details and names of each of the companies that have settled. Apparently the highest fine was close to $100,ooo. The above two companies had a total of $118,000. That leaves $132,000 in fines split amongst the remaining 16 companies for an average of less than $10,000 per business. It is interesting that the company that paid “just under $100,000″ was not apparently named.

Upgraded Google Places for Business Dashboard Listings Now Allow Managers to be Added

google-places-iconOnce a listing  in the Places Dashboard has been upgraded to G+ Page social functionality, Google inextricably intertwines the listing with the social Page with both (mostly) positive and (some) negative effects. For example deleting the G+ Page will now delete the Dashboard listing and changing owners of the Page will transfer ownership of the listing.

Google has just announced that this also means that you can add managers to a listing in the Dashboard:

Update – September 19

Starting on September 19, new Places dashboard users with upgraded local Google+ pages will be able to invite other users to manage the page. You can read more about admin roles for pages here.

Please note that only pages that have been upgraded to have social features will have this multiple manager functionality. Owners of eligible pages will be able to invite others to manage a page, or remove other managers.

To add a manager:

  1. 1.From the listing dashboard, click on the gear icon on the upper right and select Manage listing access.
  2. 2. Select Add Managers and enter in the email address of the desired new manager.

Please note that managers must accept the invitation via email before being able to manage a page.

 

To remove a manager:

  1. From the listing dashboard, click on the gear icon on the upper right and select Manage listing access.
  2. Click on the X associated with the person you’d like to remove.

Please note that removing a manager means that account will no longer be able to edit, post, or act as the page. That account’s former actions will remain intact.

To transfer ownership:

  1. From your listing dashboard, click the gear icon in the upper-right corner of your screen and choose Manage listing access.
  2. Click dropdown arrow on the card for the Manager you’d like to promote to Owner, and select Transfer ownership to…

This integration of functionality is the fruition of the vision that most in the industry had when Google first rolled out the G+ Pages for local in 2012. It has been a long time in coming and we are still waiting for many existing old Dashboards to be converted.

Meanwhile Google has slowly and steadily been adding new countries to the list where new claimants will be directed to the new dashboard automatically. Those include: Russia, India, Mexico, Ukraine, South Africa, Israel, Malaysia, Indonesia, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Greece, Slovakia, Korea, Egypt, Morocco, Japan, Brazil, Argentina, Taiwan, Colombia, Chile, Hungary, Romania, the Philippines, Poland, Bulgaria, Hong Kong, Pakistan, Kenya, and Macau.

There is still work to be done by Google, like upgrading the bulk upload and integrating it into the new Dashboard but these new changes seem to imply that that upgrade will occur sooner or later. Having recently transferred some clients from Bulk to the new Dashboard in an effort to speed data updates, I have found that the interface, while not quite as fast to work with as the Bulk interface, has potential to get to that point.

Compared to the incredibly confused mishegas that is the G+ Page management interface, the Dashboard is a pleasure to work in and with. Essentially now any new business can work in either the dashboard or the G+ Pages management interface and expect the exact same outcomes for their local data. I would, for a number of reasons, suggest that going the Places for Business Dashboard route is the preferable choice. For more details on this logic see my most recent post at LocalU.org: Where Should a New Business Create a Listing: Google+ Page or Google Places for Business Dashboard?

What is the Value of Embedding a G+ Post on Your Blog? Is there a Local Search Use Case?

Screen Shot 2013-09-19 at 12.01.39 PMGoogle+ has recently implemented the ability for a Google + post to be embedded on a page with comments on a different domain. It is simmple to implement requiring a small snippet of javascript (<script type=”text/javascript” src=”https://apis.google.com/js/plusone.js”></script>) be embedded in your header and then simply copy the embed code from the post at + and embed it on your page.

The question is: what are the implications of this for local marketing? Will the post get more pages views and thus rise in Google search? Will it drive traffic to Google and away from your site? Or it will allow for more engagement on your site and the opportunity to both track and convert clients?

Yesterday I posted my Web Equity Infographic there and it generated a fair bit of conversation so I am embedding it here as an example and trying to wrap my head around the importance of this.

What will the search implications be of replicating here? Your thoughts?

Local U Advanced – NYC Sept 30th

Fall has descended (and I am riding my bike in 40 degree temperatures ….brr) and our SMX Local U Advanced Workshop is only 11 days away. We have sold 75% of the available tickets so there are only 14 left. If you are thinking of coming now is the time to sign up.

If you do sign up be sure to use the WS-LUA10 discount code to get a 10% discount. Learn more at the SMX site.

Wondering what goes on at Local U Advanced? Here is a video that we filmed in Seattle last June that will give you a sense of it.

Top Local SEO Myths

Phil Rozek has just published a great piece at his blog: Top Local SEO Myths. Phil asked me and 9 others for 3 myths about local marketing. Never one to be shy, lack for things to say or follow instructions I sent along four. Here is a sampling of my responses:

Myth One-

When you verify your listing data in Google (Places, Places for Business Dashboard, Google Plus) you are claiming your page.

Fact: Google views local as a syndicated service that uses local data stored in and retrieved from a canonical record in their Knowledge Graph. The data that you provide to them is stored in that record along with data that they get fromMapMaker, Community Edits, third party sources, web scrapes of your website etc etc etc.

The data that your provided them may or may not be considered the authoritative data in this scenario and the page that you thought you owned may show data that they think more trustworthy than what you provided.

Google will take any of the authoritative data that they have in this canonical record and show it where they think it makes the most sense. Some will show on the front page of Google search results, some will show on the Google Plus Page for your business, some will show in Maps, some will show Glass. What shows is determined by them.

Moral: Your local data is seen in Google’s main search results seen many orders of magnitude more often than your data shows on any other Google local output. In fact it might be more than the total of all of the other views in their other products and services. Thus you should focus on what your data looks like there.

You own nothing in this environment, least of all “your page” at Google.

 

But I was just one amongst many. There were also some incredible contributions from
Darren Shaw – Whitespark
Mary Bowling – MaryBowling.com
David Mihm – Moz
Don Campbell – Expand2Web
Greg Gifford – AutoRevo
Andrew Shotland – LocalSEOGuide
Mike Ramsey – NiftyMarketing
Linda Buquet – Local Search Forum
Adam Steele – LeanMarketing

And of course Phil. Regardless of Phil’s incredible command of the grandmother guilt tactic (But it will only take 5 minutes), the article makes for great reading.

Canadian Categories from the New Dashboard Now Added to Google Category Tool

google-places-iconWith the help of Darren Shaw of Whitespark, we have recently added the list of Canadian categories from the new Google Places for Business Dashboard to our searchable Google Places Category Tool.

The new Places for Business Dashboard is country specific and the categories that one sees are IP & country specific. Thus I need to ask your help in gathering the categories for the countries that now have the new dashboard.

If you would like to volunteer 10 minutes of your time to help me gather categories in one of the following countries to which you have access please contact me at mike@blumenthals.com and I will send you instructions. Not much glory in this job besides public recognition, a link and knowing that you have helped others better understand Google Places.

Countries for which I need help obtaining the category list:

Austria
Belgium
Croatia
Czech Republic
Denmark
Finland
France
Germany
Ireland
Italy
Liechtenstein
Netherlands
New Zealand
Norway
Portugal
Singapore
Spain
Sweden
Switzerland
UK

Reviews And Lawsuits – Is There a Better Way?

Yelp received a lot of attention in the online world last week for suing a bankruptcy lawyer (who had previously sued them and won) for leaving fake reviews. Suing a single practitioner may have some value in terms of the publicity and alerting businesses to the risks of creating fake reviews. But given the scale of this particular fake review problem it must largely be seen as a symbolic move on Yelp’s part if not retribution.

However the recent less publicized fake review suit and settlement by Edmunds seems to be more substantial and significantly more interesting. It was brought to my attention on Twitter by Ellen Edmands, a content manager for a car dealership marketing company in New York:

According to the lawsuit Edmunds accused Texas-based Humankind Design Ltd. of “registering nearly 2,200 fake member accounts on Edmunds’ website to post positive but bogus ratings and reviews about 25 dealerships in an attempt to influence consumers’ opinions”. Edmunds in their press release noted that Humankind, as operator of Glowingreviews.com blatantly identified “15 review sites on which it is prepared to post fake reviews; the list includes Google+, Yelp, Foursquare, Citysearch and local.yahoo.com. Edmunds.com is proactively providing each of the listed sites with a copy of its filing to further support online consumers who might otherwise encounter such fraud”.

Humankind claimed that they did not post fake reviews via GlowingReviews.co, but transcribed and posted reviews left on comment cards at dealerships. In the GlowingReviews.com FAQ recovered from the Web Archive they note that “Every business plays in this grey area and this service just lets you do it much more efficiently”. Regardless, as part of the settlement it appears that GlowingReviews has been shut down.

At Blackhatworld, many bemoaned GlowingReviews downfall.  I particularly liked this comment: Continue reading Reviews And Lawsuits – Is There a Better Way?

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