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Understanding Google My Business & Local Search

Reviews, Politics and Big Earl’s

OK Big Earl and his staff are cretins. That can be agreed.

They have managed, by virtue of being outspoken, bigoted and unthinking, to have put themselves in the middle of a media maelstrom and a subsequent flame war in the world of reviews.

The story, first reported by KLTV on May 27th, noted that a gay couple had fallen prey to the posted anti gay policy of the restaurant:

That waitress who used a derogatory term is Earl’s daughter.

“She’s a young lady, didn’t know what else to say, and they just kept on and she finally said we just don’t like fags,” he[r father] explained.

The story went viral, hitting most online news services earlier this month. While the reporting has died down, the review war seems to be just starting up. And yesterday it was reported that Yelp had publicly declared that these types of reviews were going to be taken down.

Screen Shot 2014-06-05 at 4.12.39 PMI was curious to see how much activity there was on the review sites about this and given Yelp’s response, to get a sense of whether the other sites themselves had responded to the issue in any way.

I looked at how many old reviews existed before the incident and how many new reviews were placed after the incident and whether they were supportive or not of Big Earl.

Total Visible 5 star New 1 Star New Removed Old Reviews
Superpages 11 8 3 0
Google 6/4 102 19 82 1
Google 6/6 3 0 3 99 0
Tripadvisor 10 0 9 1 11 0 7 2
Yelp 3 0 2 930 1
Facebook 193 60 133 0


The stats are interesting and say a lot about the review world that we currently live in. People obviously have no qualms about expressing their opinions about a political issue via reviews.  And as you can see on their Facebook page, have no qualms calling each other names in a public forum.

Clearly due to Yelp’s demographics, they are first place where a protest review of this sort might go and it’s apparently on the order of 5X more likely a spot than Facebook and 10X more likely than Google. Tripadvisor, and Superpages are also rans in this race.

Also it is interesting that of the 930 reviews removed by Yelp I only saw one favoring Big Earl (to be honest I got tired of looking after checking several hundreds of them).  This would jive with my research indicating that Yelpers are younger and more urban and obviously in strong support of gay rights.

Facebook, while not having anywhere near the volume of reviews of Yelp, certainly had many more review comments and of the three sites they had the most supporters on a % basis of Big Earl. It is also intriguing that there were more reviews there than at Google. It could very well be that when no one was looking Facebook has built out a decent sized review corpus. Uncurated for sure and perhaps less than stellar quality but big none the less.  ( Note: I am unable to load the page this am so perhaps it has been taken down?)

Google users seem to skew closer to Yelp than Facebook in political view. Although because of the lack of transparency of their filter we don’t really know if any reviews have yet been pulled downs.

Update 6/6 1:45 PM: Dave spotted the fact that Google has removed most of the reviews as of noon today. Interesting that they left 3 new reviews and removed the one review from a year ago. The 3 reviews they left are all somewhat suspect.

It would appear, although it isn’t certain in Google’s case, that most of the review sites have not removed these reviews.

It certainly raises some interesting questions:

Should review sites be used as a political forum?

Should these obviously political reviews be left to stand regardless of the fact that they never visited the business?

Does it make sense, as a political act, to use reviews as a forum?

What should the review sites do in response to a situations like this?

I certainly have my own opinions on these issues but I would love to hear yours. So before you read on, take  a moment and think about what you think makes sense in the review world for readers, for the sites themselves and for any political/social movement that might think about using reviews in this way…..

Let me respond to the political issues first. For the most part I think that while anybody has the right to use a review forum to express their social views, in this case I think it is counterproductive. Once the story went viral the world was able to see that Big Earl and his staff were remnants of the stone age. But by carrying it forward into an ongoing protest on the review sites, Big Earl’s continued to receive publicity that in the end will increase his sales and will, amongst his target audience, improve his standing and not diminish it. The votes using reviews are likely to have the exact opposite affect on Big Earl than the reviewers would hope. They may send a signal to other establishments about the collective desire of society to not see this behavior and that might deter a few places from behaving the same in the future but it is just as likely to incent those that see it as an opportunity to rise above the noise to garner publicity. Generally a fail.

From the point of view of the review reader, having one real and negative review may be all that they need to see to decide that this isn’t the place for them. The rest just becomes entertainment for voyeurs and trolls.

From the POV of the top review sites themselves, they each have a different agenda when it comes to reviews so maybe their different behaviors are consistent with that.

Facebook wants engagement. Apparently any kind of engagement. This certainly leads to that with a  tit for tat review and comment stream that speaks to the basest of human behaviors. At some point Facebook might decide that a quality review corpus is a benefit to their readers and their ranking but for now, it appears that is just one more way to garner interaction.

For Google, who view reviews as a data point as well as content that helps their readers and who is slow to curate reviews, it is likely that many of the off topic reviews will be removed at some point. They haven’t been yet. That could be because it has yet to have the algo hit the page or perhaps the curation is slow. We shall see. Regardless it seems not in their interest to fan the flames in this situation.

Yelp who treats reviews as curated content and staunchly protects their view that a review should be a first hand experience implemented their standard “pull it down” policy both via algo and obvious human intervention very quickly. I, for one, laud both the quick take downs AND the fact that the reviews that are removed are still visible.

I think from a ecosystem point of view, the interesting tidbit to me is that Facebook has made such a strong play in reviews while essentially being under the radar. I realize that Big Earl’s case is but anecdotal but amongst a number of my clients I have seen a similar increase in local reviews there. One wonders how FB plans on using and highlighting these in the future.