Press enter to see results or esc to cancel.

Understanding Google My Business & Local Search

How Google Has Handled Reviews Reflects a Long History of a Tin Ear and Little Action

Google’s recent introduction of the ability for SMBs to respond to reviews is a welcome and surprising turn of events in the Places arena. Reviews have long been a sore point with businesses that often feel wronged by the review procedures at Google. Many SMBs think of the current arrangement as unfair and they rarely understand the why or how of Google’s non response to review issues.

I asked Cathy Hillen Rulloda, a florist from Anaheim active in local marketing, what she percieved as issues with the way that Google handled reviews and she noted that while the ability to respond to reviews was long overdue, other serious issues remained:

– No ‘Amazon-like’ “real name” indication to add credibility to reviews.
– Unlimited sock puppet accounts are being created by malicious folks and spammers.
– No simple/easy way to get malicious reviews (where folks made no purchase and/or are competitors) removed. I realize a reader will likely detect a review like that as ‘inappropriate’ but far more eyes go to the overall star rankings than to the individual reviews.
– Too long an update period from third-party review sites. A malicious/bogus review can get deleted from the original site (CitySearch, Yahoo, etc…) but still display on Google for up to three months. This has happened to me and it was completely frustrating.

Clearly she is not alone in her thoughts on reviews. If you peruse the forums you will find a multitude of complaints about reviews in these areas:

How to Remove Reviews
Missing Reviews/ Where have my reviews gone?
Flagging Reviews
Fake Reviews

It is amazing how little has changed. What is fascinating about her responses is that they are many of  the same issues that I ranted about in September of 2008:

Last week’s reports of hijackings of legitimate business listings in Maps highlighted wide spread abuse of both Google’s community edit AND the reviews feature. In addition to hijacking listings, the affiliate spammers have been rapidly adding bogus reviews. Most IYP sites have a rapid response to such activities and will quickly pull down a bogus review in response to a business owner. NOT GOOGLE! Google has two issues in this regard.

Firstly, their scraping and updating of reviews has a very long and unpredictable update cycle. At best, if a review is removed from CitySearch it will be gone from Google in 6 to 8 weeks. But that is a best case scenario and that is not always the case.

Secondly, on Google generated reviews the only review removal request option is a community feature allowing a review to be flagged as inappropriate. There is no indication that Google even looks at this community input on a reliable basis. If they do, there is no feedback to the harmed business. There are no clear guidelines nor consistent action to indicate which reviews, if any, will be taken down.

Ok, Google, time to grow up! You are rapidly achieving market dominance in the Local Listing space. As evidenced by last week hijackings and many other previous reports, the Local OneBoxes can have incredibly negative impact on a local business. While it is great that Google is providing a “free” marketing resource it is turning out to be not so “free” at all and for some the costs are quite high. If you want to be a part of our local communities than act that way! We know that you can have a positive influence on our communities in bringing new technologies to bear on old problems. Welcome to our home town.

But don’t be soiling the bed in which you sleep! As to technical solutions to the problem of tracking down and limiting the influence of the “bad apple” reviewers I am sure that Google has plenty of qualified coders to tackle the issue.

My suggestion then reflects some still undone work after almost 2 years: “Turn the Local Business Center into a relationship management tool and show the business owner EVERY review that you have in your index whether scraped or Google entered. Show us which ones are in our Maps listing and let us respond directly to those folks that created the review in Google. If we flag an inappropriate review from within the LBC, guarantee some sort of review process and a timeframe. And provide a response, even if automated!”

The new feature allowing a business to respond to reviews is a welcome and useful change. It will be engaging to the SMB and will generate some interesting content for Google. Hopefully, it is but the first of a series of changes to the process of how reviews are handled and the way that Google interacts with SMBS.