Google Confirms Removal of Anonymous Reviews

Google has confirmed that anonymous reviews have in fact been removed from public view. Their statement to me:

“We do not allow anonymous reviews today and we’ve removed legacy anonymous reviews.”

If you recall, on May 24th, I reported their disappearance with the article Google Stops Counting Anonymous Reviews?.

Given the obvious angst that many small businesses were expressing, I reached out to Google for a comment and possible confirmation.  I received that today.

I tried to get it sooner and it wasn’t for a lack of trying on my part. But Google, in their (not so) infinite wisdom was unable to get me a statement.

In many ways, Google has become a more mature company in local  than the Google of old. As noted by David Mihm and I on Streetfight they have actively moved to develop and market their product on many fronts at once. They continue to roll out new features at a rapid pace and have improved dramatically in their ability to communicate to the small business owner.

And yet, when a small business reaches out to me proactively wondering, and many more asked me privately and on my blog for word, Google was not willing to share any details.

Obviously honest communication is KEY to a long term relationship that they might hope to develop with largely distrustful small business folks, These folks have been conditioned by Google to expect products to be pulled out of the market willy nilly and to not feel totally comfortable developing a strategic relationship with Google. This holds true for larger multi location businesses as well.

And yet most of the evidence points to a Google that has worked hard to “clean up its act”…. more reliable product fixes, regular roll outs, improved communications etc etc etc.

So why was it so hard for them to send a simple statement confirming the obvious?

As much as they have changed, they are still evolved from the Google culture. This culture, largely secretive and engineering driven, thinks that their actions have little impact and thus don’t have to be explained.

And yet in this case, while the aggregate impact of removing anonymous reviews is likely not large, the distribution of that impact is not even. Barbara Oliver, who started engaging her clients with Google reviews in 2009 lost 18% of her reviews. She felt like she worked hard both earning those reviews and in reaching out to customers. Way too hard to just lose them on a moments notice.

From her pov, and I agree, if Google has good reason to remove anonymous reviews  then the least is that Google owes her an alert and hopefully an explanation.

That didn’t happen in this case. When will we know that Google has moved on from their teenager mentality? We will know when Google understands and fully integrates the idea that they have a huge impact on the lives of small businesses folks and those folks, by virtue of embracing Google, deserve timely and honest communications.

On the one hand I am a bit of a Google fan boy when I see the largely positive impact that local search has on small local businesses. And yet for every cool free feature that moves them two steps forward in the local space, they inevitably remind me with a step back that they still don’t fully understand the world in which they have chosen to play.

May they become adults sooner rather than later.

Mike B Around the InterWebs

From GetFiveStars, a new post about two business that are suing because of reviews (always a fascinating topic to me):  Reviews & Lawsuits – You Can Win for Losing and You Can Lose for Winning       

From LocalU, my weekly conversation with Mary Bowling: Important Links from Last Week in Local – June 11

From Streetfight with David Mihm (last week): Google’s Local Improvements—Posts Become Essential, and Mike Wins the Bet!

From Local U, a great discussion about how to interact with industry spokespeople. Also last week: Video Deep Dive: “Reading the Industry” – Discussion with Willys Devoll

Google to Roll Out “See What’s In Store” as a Free Knowledge Panel Feature

Yesterday, Sergey Alakov and SearchEngineRountable reported a new siting in the Local Knowledge Panel: See What’s in Store.

Today, Google has announced on Inside AdWords that as part if its new inventory feed program, See What’s in Store will be a free feature.

From the Adwords Blog post:

Onboarding to both local catalog ads and local inventory ads is now much easier for retailers of all sizes with the new local feed partnership program. The new program allows point-of-sale or inventory data providers, like Cayan, Pointy, Linx and yReceipts, to provide sales and inventory data to Google on behalf of merchants, so they don’t have to create their own local product feeds. As an additional benefit, retailers can showcase their local inventory for free on the “See What’s In Store” feature on the search knowledge panel.

Google My Business Guidelines are Like Traffic Signals to New Yorkers – A (Very) Rough Suggestion

To paraphrase David Letterman, Google My Business Guidelines are like traffic signals to New Yorkers… just a rough suggestion.

Google clearly states in the guidelines that “your name should reflect your business’ real-world name, as used consistently on your storefront, website, stationery, and as known to customers. Accurately representing your business name helps customers find your business online….Including unnecessary information in your business name is not permitted, and could result in your listing being suspended.”

In this case the definition of “should” and “could” are sort of like Clinton and his verbal gymnastics around what the meaning of the word “is” is. Like “is” with Clinton, the words “should” and “could” do in fact have meaning in both objective reality and in the Google My Business Guidelines. The only problem is that they are different in both places. And it isn’t clear that Google ever plans to inform us of their intended meaning.

How do I know and many small businesses know this? Experience.

The telling example that comes to mind is a jeweler near Toronto. About once per quarter I blog about this and about once every month or two or three I edit their listing to the actual name, it gets approved and then shortly there after it returns to its adopted name. It’s quite an adoption too. It includes brothers, sisters and the kitchen sink as “Glitz Jewellery Boutique” becomes “Glitz Jewellery Boutique – Engagement rings, diamond jewellery and gifts in Vaughan” shortly after my many interventions.

For the record my edits have been approved by Google SIX times. The owners of the listing are probably swearing at Google for the ever changing suggestion in their GMB. Well at least they are visiting it often.

My only wish in this whole sisyphean tale is that my Local Guide edits counted as frequent flier miles instead of just the lame points I do accrue. I could at least be close to a vacation in some exotic place by now.


Another Interesting Google Local Result Test -> Interesting Finds

The search “restaurants in Mountain View” seems to be returning interesting test of late. Yesterday we saw a feature snippet, schema driven list replace the local pack.

In this test we Interesting Finds supplement the pack.

These were first spotted by Barry Schwartz at SearchEngineRountable in early April in the context of a Mother’s day search.

According to Barry these results “are AMP pages, with top carousel markup, so the images look good and the content loads fast on click.

It does look like not all of those results are powered by AMP, such as the bottom left one. But it does seem most are, which is why there are AMP icons on three of the four results.”

In the example below not all of the results are amp either. This is the first time that I have seen them in the context of a local search.

Google Local After Antitrust – Careful What You Wish For

In the EU and the US, Yelp has been actively seeking to get regulators to look at Google’s behaviors in local and to change the search results to stop favoring Google’s own local results.

Yelp’s Luther Lowe noted:

When a mother does a search for a pediatrician in Berlin, instead of being matched with rich review content from a service like German startup, Google siphons her to a degraded local experience with fewer reviews and less content. In addition to being anticompetitive, this type of conduct directly harms consumers who still assume Google is relying on its meritocratic algorithms to govern which information appears at the top of the page.

Yelp’s argument has long been that their results are better than Google’s and that those Yelp results should not be benched and effectively supplanted with Google’s own Knowledge Panel.

There are problems with that argument. Ben Thompson of Stratechery noted that if you follow that argument Yelp might actually, in getting their wish, end up reinforcing Google’s lead by effectively improving Google’s local product and thus cement their position as an aggregator.

This Google Local test surfaced on my phone yesterday and clearly demonstrates the point. This test, first noted on SearchEngineRoundtable where it surfaced in the context of a featured snippet for the search “top online marketers”, shows how there are a number of ways to skin the cat of local search results on Google.

Click to view larger

When you click through to the results for one of the restaurants you see a similar carousel with organic results and review totals for the selected restaurant. Only after a second click the “More about Chez TJ” call to action does a searcher finally get to the local Knowledge Panel.

Click to view larger

Yelp has always contended that their results were better than Google’s. And while that may be the case, it is arguable that they are no longer better than OpenTable or TripAdvisor. Where would that leave Yelp? Probably worse off than they are now, buried in the hinterlands of organic search, fewer reviews than OpenTable, with no reason for a consumer to click on their result. And nothing left to complain about.

Google Posts Testing More Visual Display

Petra Kraft, a long time Local SEO and careful observer in the hospitality space, noticed an interesting test in Google Posts.

She found a Knowledge Panel where Google was showing six posts using the primary image and a text over lay and the abilitly to see more via a right arrow.

This is one of may tests and upgrades to Post of late:

Currently the posts show in a mini carousel but with only two posts and the immediate call to action showing.

In a similar vein Ellen Edmands noted that she was now seeing (obviously also a test) a link to previous posts in the desktop Knowledge Panel (it has been like that in mobile for a while):

Of all of the products introduced to Local over the past year, Posts is both the most generally useful and the one with the most obvious on-going development. Google has introduced a range of new CTAs  with things like product posts (reported by Ben Fisher of SteadyDemand):

Posts is an interesting product in many ways. When introduced a year ago, it is really the first time that businesses could write directly to search. It is a super easy way to stream content that is both free and likely to be seen. As such it’s a great way for Google to get on-going SMB engagement with the GMB dashboard, obtain long tail location information AND to position Google in their battle with Facebook. While Facebook reduces organic reach of post ever further closer to zero in an asymptotic fashion, Google is providing increasing visibility.

It is also interesting in that it offers a way for agencies to provide regular and valuable posting and creative services to SMBs by implementing a regular Post regime. In that regard, Google, in providing agencies with a clear income opportunity & by making the product available via the API, seems to be having a change of heart and  thinking vis a vis agencies large and small.

As a note for those of you looking for ways to execute an agency strategy with Posts, SteadyDemand has recently released a full service white label approach to Posts and CitationManagerPro has created a Posts scheduling dashboard for those agencies desirous of doing it themselves.

Google Websites Passes 2 Million Websites Nearing its First Anniversary

On June 13, Google Websites will be one year old. It was created to satisfy the needs of the very small business to have an easy, fast mobile website.

In that time Google has managed to have had at least 2.2 million of the sites built. Given that Google also allows a business to purchase a domain name for these sites, and my measurements solely count the sites at, the number is likely higher.

2.2 million is double the number that was reported in December and reflects a very consistent, steady growth of over 6000 new sites per day. Day in and day out for over a year and it really does add up quickly.

For a period in the first quarter of this year it appeared that growth had slowed but that was apparently temporary and over the past 3 months growth has again resumed.

The product was clearly created to serve the developing world and it is there that Google is seeing the most uptake. Four of the five countries with the most sites are in the developing world. During that period India stayed in the lead with 173% growth to 536,000 sites. Mexico jumped into 5th place growing an astounding 572% growth to almost 74,000 sites during the period.

For whatever reason, most of South and Central America have not seen the growth rates of Asia. Brazil which is an obvious and large market (pop. 207 million) saw only a 60% growth rate. So one has to wonder what Google did in Mexico to precipitate such a jump. (If anyone has an idea, let me know.) I doubt that the growth occurred without some intense promotional efforts somewhere in the supply chain.

Country Dec ’17 Total Pages May ’18 total Pages Increase since Dec.
India 196000 536000 173%
Indonesia 196000 373000 90%
United States 86400 195000 126%
Türkiye (turkey) 46500 106000 128%
Mexico 11000 73900 572%
Brasil 43100 71700 66%
Italia 29300 63000 115%
日本 (Japan) 27700 60000 117%
France 25000 56500 126%
Deutschland 21600 43400 101%

While the product is largely targeted at the “next billion” users of the developing world, uptake in Europe and the US has been consistent if not as great as India or Indonesia. When viewing Europe as a monolithic block it saw 111% growth over the past 6 months to 288,330 sites, putting them as a whole in third place behind India and Indonesia

Country May ’18 total Pages
India 536,000
Indonesia 373,000
Europe 288,330
United States 195,000
Türkiye (turkey) 106,000
Mexico 73,900
Brasil 71,700

The product is ideal for the business that is just getting started and isn’t planning on building a full blown website and has perhaps just built a Facebook page. With the near zero organic reach of a Facebook page these days, it is arguable that a business in that category would actually do better with just a Google Website if they were to choose but one. In the US at least, Google has not aggressively targeted this population of very small businesses.

I recently explored two such new(ish) businesses in my community, The Spot to Be and Allegheny Adventures.  While both of them had taken the time to create Facebook pages neither had even bothered to add their listing to Google Maps which I did do for them this past week.

If my anecdotal experience is any indication most of the new small businesses in the US, at least, have not gotten the memo.  So while Google may offer these businesses better exposure to new customers, if these businesses don’t take the time or know about the need to create a listing, little will come of it.

It is tempting to compare Google’s Website’s effort to Facebook’s 80 million small business pages. On the one hand it is somewhat of an apples and oranges comparison as many SMBs use the GMB for their listing. That might make a better comparison although one that Google is still likely to lose if you are just counting heads.

On the other hand you might argue that given the significant and often free value that Google provides to the these very small businesses, that the deficit could be viewed as the possible upside for Google. And one that could be overcome with Google’s increasing communication efforts.

Google Stops Counting Anonymous Reviews?

Update: Over the weekend many of these “A Google User Reviews” were removed from the corpus as well as the count.

I just got this email from my favorite pet client, Barbara Oliver.

She watches her reviews like a hawk and is very protective of them:

I noticed today that I have 139 google reviews and up until now, I had 172. Do they just delete older ones? You know how I get as I work so hard to earn them ……

Thanks to a tip from Martin Briggs, of the on Twitter, I was able to confirm that Google didn’t throw them away, they are just no longer counting anonymous reviews from “A Google User” in the total shown in the Knowledge Panel.

Whether this fortells some other action vis a vis anonymous reviews is not clear. But for now, many businesses will see an immediate drop in their review count. It will be more obvious to those that started the review process before the G+ era and have a lot of reviews from non-identified users.

Google My Business Agency Dashboard & Upgrade to API Coming

At the LSA 18 Conference in Chicago (at friggin’ 8 am*) Anita Yuen, from the Google My Business team, announced new features focusing on the small(ish) and bigger agency market.

“GMB now delivers a tailored experience for agencies and platform partners”.

3 Key investments

Updated API – coming

  • Messaging API
  • Improved Search APIs across location
  • Department hierarchies

Note: Messaging API is currently in trusted tester state.

New Agency Dashboard – Created with agency in mind and will be available generally in 2 to 3 weeks.

  • Single organization account for all locations
  • Users groups for teams
  • Invitation Management

Note: it appears that the dashboard will only support certain high trust categories. It is not clear what an agency does with locksmiths or garage door companies.* All verified listings can be brought into the new agency account via the invitation management.

The invitation management allows the agency to easily send an alert to a new client and makes client opt-in much easier. Clients can request that they be included into an agency dashboard by entering the location group ID.

It will essentially be an organizational layer above the new GMB list view dashboard.

New Partner Program – .

  • Agencies advanced access
  • Dedicated forum and tailored support
  • Partner directory

Notes: There is some minimum size agency that wasn’t detailed but it sounded like Google looking for larger agencies and or agencies with growth trajectories.

Sign up for the New Partner Program:

*this erroneous note was an answer given that was related to the white listing program which is distinct from the agency dashboard

Developing Knowledge about Local Search