Valiant Effort to Help Solve Google Review Problems


Linda Buquet

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<img src="http://marketing-blog.catalystemarketing.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/frustratedcreditfreedigitalphotosnet.jpg" alt="" title="Google Review Problems" alt="Google Review Problems"width="100" align="left" hspace="10" />Most of you are aware of a myriad of problems surrounding Google Places AKA Google+ Local reviews. The Google and your Business forum ALWAYS has multiple posts from frustrated business owners with complaints. But lately the forum has been literally flooded with SMBs who are either missing reviews or can't get reviews to show up at all.

Sunday Mike Blumenthal decided to crank up the heat to try to get Google to take action and find a solution or fix the problem. A lot of folks have been "talking" about the problem. Mike took matters into his own hands and decided to do something about it!
(Ya I know I sound like a big Mike fan girl lately - cuz I am! :p)

He alerted Google via email what he was doing, then put out a call to action to other Google Top Contributors and asked us to help him try to consolidate all the review problems into one thread to try to get Google's attention focused on the problem.

I've been helping Mike as time permits by going back through recent review problem posts and asking SMBs to post in the main thread below. As of right now there have been 53 replies so far.

Reviews from my customers are not showing up on my Google Places listing Mike wrote:

"Google has likely implemented a new (or minimally upgraded) their review filter. It seems to trap many more good reviews than in the past. Usually these types of filters are "trainable". Google is interested in improving the filter by training it with examples of good reviews that have been caught so that it is less likely to do so in the future.

Also they have still not fixed the problems that they have with "losing" reviews. That always adds a bit of excitement to this mix.

I have been taking as many cases as I can process to them as I think it is total crap that so many reviews are being tagged. And I have been asking them to review them. The problem I have is I can't tell whether a review in fact spam (the only thing I like less than Google's approach are bs reviews) and what might be triggering the filter as much of its functioning is a state secret. As Jim pointed out it is likely that over time things will settle down and good reviews will be tagged less. If you haven't figured it out by now though the algo will be never 100% perfect and there is always some % of cases that it will handle poorly.

However, because of the way that the TC system works, it has been much easier to report to Google if you posted the problem in a new post.

But due to time constraints (and some fatigue dealing with this) I am going to suggest a new tactic.

<strong>Let's consolidate the issues into this ONE huge post and lets see if we can someone from Google to monitor all of these cases. For this to work, I would need folks to go through the forum for the past month and ask that EVERY poster that is still having this problem post there specific case here.</strong>

If you are in, I will do what I can to get more Google eyes looking at this issue."
Jade replied yesterday in the thread: "<em>Hey guys -- popping in to say that we're investigating. Thanks for the reports.</em>"

My personal opinion is there is something buggy as well as some new review spam filters that are likely dialed to high. All these missing review complaints just keep coming in and Google seldom acknowledges them. (At least not publicly, although TCs often escalate individual problems and get Google to look at them and sometimes pull innocent reviews that were wrongly marked as spam.) I don't have time to reply to or escalate all review problems and neither do all the other Google Top Contributors because we are all work on a volunteer basis and just dealing with the review complaints would be a full time job.

<strong>Review spam is TOUGH and it's a real balancing act. Turn the dial down and all kinds of scammers, dishonest business owners and rep management companies get away with too many fake reviews. But turn the dial too high and honest SMBs suffer. Right now too many babies are being thrown out with the bath water!</strong>

I helped Mike and worked on a bunch of threads Sunday and Monday. Hoping that with a concerted effort we can get Google to somehow resolve some of the review problems.

Got review problems? Join the good fight and <strong><a href="http://productforums.google.com/forum/#!msg/business/0f1Cu9yLIzY/J21OJDPL1NUJ">post them for Google here</a></strong>.
 

JoyHawkins

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I appreciate Mike's efforts!!! I just posted on the thread and I'll repeat it here:

I work with Colan and I know James Brown pretty well so I was able to obtain access to 1 of the accounts that left him a review. He used to have a lot of reviews...somewhere around 20 I think. So here's what I did. I logged in to the email and visited his page. At that point I could see the review on his listing while logged in but in a different browser it was still not there.

I pressed "Edit" and it made me proceed to set up a G+ profile. I did this. The review still didn't show.


Then I went back to edit the review. It prompted me to make my "previous reviews" (which there was only this 1) public. I selected I wanted to make them public and it kept sending me in a loop. I would hit next and it would go back to the beginning where I first pressed "edit". I selected to make them public and checked the other browser - the review still didn't show.


I clicked around on a few things and went back to James' listing and pressed edit yet again. This time it worked without looping. I changed nothing in the review text but when I pressed publish this time it prompted me to share this review with my circles. I selected no. Now the review is showing.


https://plus.google.com/<wbr>105657182673313963814/about



No idea what any of this means but wanted to post as many details as possible. Something funky is definitely going on. I wish I could show James how to get all his clients to do this to get his reviews back, but let's be honest, no one is going to be able to accomplish that.

---------- Post Merged at 04:21 PM ---------- Previous Post was at 04:15 PM ----------

Yeah now it's not showing again...lovely.
 

Nick.SEOSpark

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Just seen this as have been snowed under with work all day. It's certainly refreshing to have Mike make a stand over this and it looks like its got some attention so it's looking good. All thee bugs are so frustrating though:mad:
 

Keenan Glass

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There are really two issues; the sudden mass disappearance of reviews (particularly auto dealerships) and reviews posted which can be seen in the user account, but not appearing publicly on the business listing.

I don't see how these are related, but Mike assures us that Google indicates that they are. And even if they are, I still think it would be better to address them separately. The implications are vastly different.

A car dealership that suddenly loses 202 reviews only to be left with 17 (all negative) is not in the same boat with Mrs. Smith who can't understand why her pet sitter is not getting credit for all the hard work she exerted walking Bubbles last weekend.

Plus, I don't think the mass removal of reviews happened all at once, but rather is ongoing.

Joy, and others have shared that their review was visible briefly before it went down the black hole. That sounds like a technical issue.

The typical Google non-response response is disappointing (as usual).
 

Linda Buquet

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Keenan, agree on all points.

And while still a valiant effort I greatly respect, the problem with consolidated threads like that is you DO get a bunch of different issues lumped in together. Some of the reports may really be spammy reviews and who knows some are maybe operator error or something like user kiosks with reviews all coming from same IP.

One thing that struck me is the number of Dentists reporting problems. I mean I know about the auto dealer issue, but as industries go, the # of Dentists in that thread was fairly high and lots of my Dentists have been having problems too, so makes me wonder.

But in general I still feel like in addition to spam filters being set too high there is also something buggy going on.
 

Linda Buquet

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In a different thread on the Google forum Mike just offered this advice to a highly frustrated business owner, who is about at the end of his rope.

Mike said - then more convo followed in this thread

I do run a business. I understand your annoyance. I find Google's lack of communication on these issues reprehensible. But you need to understand the problem for what it is so that you can get reviews that stick.

1. This is not a bug but a spam filter of some sort

2. Whatever or however you are gathering reviews seems similar to techniques that Google has identified as spammy

3. This has happened before and has been happening right along. Perhaps not to you but reviews being "lost" has been a problem since their introduction and a spam filter was implemented in 2008.

So, while I understand your annoyance I think that reflection, analysis and perhaps a change of behavior in how the reviews are gathered might benefit you.

You need to realize that not all listings were or are equally affected. That means that there are behaviors you can adopt that will lead to less reviews being removed.

As a starting point I would go with the following:

1)Do not gather reviews at your place of business

2)Have your customers review you on diverse review platforms on the machine of their choice.

3)Allow customers to use the review platform of THEIR choice. If they are active Yelpers, let them pick Yelp, if they are active on Facebook let them pick Citysearch, if they want to remain anonymous let them pick Insiderpages and if they are long term Google users let them pick Google.

The downside to this is that your reviews on Google will come in more slowly. The upside to this is that your reviews will come in more slowly and are less likely to be viewed askance.

The downside to this is that your reviews will be seen on platforms that perhaps get less traffic than Google. The upside is that Google will see that your business is truly prominent across the web. Yelp and Citysearch both syndicate their reviews broadly so in addition to Google seeing you are popular your reviews will appear widely.

These changes mean you will get reviews all over the web, you will probably get just as many on Google in the end as you are getting now.

You can get as mad at Google as you want, you can get as mad at me as you want. In the end though neither will help your business.
And Joy Hawkins, one of our top members did a good blog post with some interesting and unique tips that anyone having review problems should check out too. I posted about it here:
Tips for Avoiding the Googe+ Local Review Spam Filter
 

Linda Buquet

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I recently shared a bunch of comments from Jade that give us a clue about this new overly strict review spam filter, in this post: <a href="http://localsearchforum.catalystemarketing.com/google-places-important-updates/293-google-places-missing-reviews-google-local-review.html#post1734">Google+ Local Review Spam Update</a>. Important clues, so head over to read that post.

Basically at least one part of the filter is geared toward review velocity. Google wants slow steady reviews as customers get the service, not waves of reviews. So slow and steady wins the race. (Yes I pointed out to her that's crazy, because in the 'real' world all kinds of honest businesses do monthly newsletters and they may ask for reviews there and get them in waves. They would not be incentivized and would be totally kosher, but could still come in batches.)

Today I want to share some good solid advice Mike gave over the weekend, in that consolidated review problem thread at the Google Business forum.

<a href="https://productforums.google.com/forum/#!msg/business/0f1Cu9yLIzY/7sff3gESziwJ">Customer Review Advice from Blumenthal</a>

I tell SMBs to ask (not solicit as in mass mailings or on site review stations) their clients for reviews at every possible site. What I find is that when users pick from a range of choices as to where THEY want to leave the review and whether they want to leave the review, the SMB gets a slow steady build up of reviews at most review sites even Google.

Quantity does not win the review game. Slow, steady and site diversity wins the review game. Google has always not shown some reviews, Yelp often buries reviews, Google stops showing third party reviews or perhaps starts showing them again (see this recent post). Regardless, if you take a diversified, slow and methodical approach you will garner quality reviews across the board even at Google.

If an SMB has 5 customers a day and asks them to leave a review at say 5 sites (Google, Yelp, CitySearch, Yahoo and a vertical site) and explains the benefits of each (CitySearch uses Facebook login, the vertical site is anonymous, Yelp is only for Yelpers, Yahoo if you have a Yahoo login and Google if you already have an account) then the volume at any one site drops BUT over time of 2 or 3 years, the SMB will get consistent and regular reviews at all the sites. Some small percentage of those asked will leave a review. Given that 20% have Google accounts, 20% have Yahoo accounts, 80% have facebook accounts and only a very, very few actively use Yelp, you will find that they self distribute based on the customers desire and comfort level. You are not shoehorning them into a new account or otherwise pressuring them.

If they only get 1 review every month or two at Google, at the end of 3 years they will 30 some reviews there. Plenty to show the quality and range of their organization. Google sees the diversity, the user makes an informed and easy choice, and regardless of changes in the industry the SMB has some downside protection. The quality of the review content will dramatically improve as well.

What I DON'T recommend is that an SMB focus on one review site and use aggressive gathering techniques. Those that have been most hurt by Google's change focused intense energy on getting the maximum number of reviews at Google, one way or the other. That doesn't work. Never has (except for short stretches) and never will. Google will inevitably ding those reviews.

So my suggestion to SMBs is keep asking, make it easy for your customers, don't worry if you only get one review every month or three and just keep pluggin away at the process. Just because Google changes the rules doesn't make it any less appealing to have a customer endorsement there. Google will continue to provide 70% (or more) of your search traffic and in local probably 80% of your leads.

As an SBM or a SEO you need to learn that the rules are not set by us but by the big boys, You need to find a workable long term strategy that makes this process as painless as possible and that functions over long periods of time and works within whatever constraints are thrown at us. Client endorsements will continue to be important. As Google makes them more social at G+ they will increase in importance on Google properties.

This is not a time to throw the baby out with the bath water. Figure out how to maximize the benefit to the SMB within the contraints of the current rules and move forward.
PLUS read his comment 2 posts down as well: Reviews from my customers are not showing up on my Google Places listing
 

russofford

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Thanks for the info Linda.

I had been focused on trying to convince my SEO clients to 'solicit' reviews from their customers on Google in the past. However, when Google started to require a G+ profile in order to leave a review, it threw a wrench in the gears.

Then, Google implemented stricter spam filters (to a fault.) It became discouraging to my clients because the hard work they did in convincing even a handful of their customers to leave reviews was often wasted due to over-strict spam filters. Imagine a nice customer spending their valuable time to think up and write out a nice review... then they realize THEIR time was wasted?!?

I had been tossing around the idea to spread out the reviews on other sites that I see Google pulling into the G+ Local pages from other websites... but after reading this, I now have more of a motivation to try to implement these suggestions! The trick for me is to determine the most effective review websites for 20-30 different clients / industries... because a '1 size fits all' approach to review venues won't work with all my clients. ;)

Thanks,

Russ
 

Bobbie

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Linda, I'm watching this effect on lawyers as well. My client hasn't been hit at all, but his smarmy competitors have had reviews dropping off. My guess is that G is cleaning up fake email accounts used for fake reviews as well. And of course, the fake reviews are all 5 stars.

What I wish we could do was to get off the fake ones that the smarmy competitors do to our clients to hurt their competition. I keep flagging them, but I think G is too busy digging out from this recent foobar to notice any individual screams in the dark.
 

JoyHawkins

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Does anyone have any creative ideas of what I can tell my client? lol. She had about 9 reviews total and 1 of them was negative. All the positives dropped off, leaving just the negative. She has had no luck getting new ones either - they all get filtered. She's beyond irritated about it and I'm trying to think outside the box to give her something pro-active to do. I mean, if I was in her shoes, I'd be livid as well.

I think "sitting around waiting for Google" is not a good solution but honestly I have no idea what else to do at this point. Ideas anyone?
 

Bobbie

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We would need more info on how she goes about getting the reviews currently, and by that I mean... is she having the customers complete them all from the same IP address? Something she's doing is triggering the filter, so you have to figure that part out and come up with a better strategy for her.

What we are seeing is that Google has been justified in removal of these reviews. They are turning out to be fake, and of course most are positive. What's annoying is that they are removing the positive fake ones and not yet dealing with the negative fake ones. So many negative reviews were created by competitors to gain business advantage.

Tell your clients not to cheat. They have to focus on ways to get reviews by real clients into their business model.

And yes, my clients are none too happy when I say, "We have to wait for Google to update all the databases to see if it gets fixed." Some times that's all you can do.
 

Linda Buquet

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In the post below I share HINTS Jade has mentioned that give us some clues about how the new overly strict Google review spam filter works. Google Places Missing Reviews - Google+ Local Review Spam Update

Then see post #8 and #9 above in this same thread you are in now, for important new advice from Mike Blumenthal to avoid the review spam filter based in part on the very hints I shared from Jade above.

In a nutshell, slow, steady, natural wins the race.
 
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Does anyone have any creative ideas of what I can tell my client? lol. She had about 9 reviews total and 1 of them was negative. All the positives dropped off, leaving just the negative. She has had no luck getting new ones either - they all get filtered. She's beyond irritated about it and I'm trying to think outside the box to give her something pro-active to do. I mean, if I was in her shoes, I'd be livid as well.

I think "sitting around waiting for Google" is not a good solution but honestly I have no idea what else to do at this point. Ideas anyone?
This is exactly what has happened to my client - All the positive reviews are gone and only the 1 remaining negative review is still there! :mad:

This happened after we started to get some better rankings.

Bobbi: You mentioned before about flagging reviews. Is it possible for competitors to "flag your own reviews" to get google to remove them. I really hope not as I suspect that could have happened here.
OR, did you mean, you can flag your own reviews as being "fake"? And so done by a scheming competitor?
 
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Hi all! I'm finding that Google Local places a lot of importance on citysearch. My thoughts are take a look at what review sites are showing up first in the search results and then focus your review campaign on those sites. Diversification is huge. The CityGrid group is huge. I can't stand Yelp, but they are important. Mainly in the Bing world as they have joined forces.

Just my two cents.

Doug
 

Randy Kirk

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I'm Mike's other biggest fan and miss his missives these past few weeks. On the other hand, I haven't blogged at googleplaceshelp.blogspot on the subject of google places
for a few weeks either. Instead I've been talking about the up and comers like Pinterest and Linkedin. I just can't help that helpless feeling I have right now re: all things Google Local. Why will I push reviews when there are so many issues. I dare anyone to tell me how the algo is working right now on rank. The good news is that nothing is moving much. The bad news is that I can't get anything to move much.

BTW, I'm interested in starting to guest blog and am opening both of my blogs to solid guest bloggers.
 

Bobbie

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Nic, for every Google review... in the top right corner is a little grey flag. If you think a review is not real, then click that flag and say so. My experience is that Google is not doing anything with that info now, but it's not to say they won't come back to it in the future.

In fact, I'm over the opinion that if the fake reviews gets flagged by different computers and mobil devices all at different IP addresses, then maybe Google would remove it. However, I can't prove that yet.

And yes Nic, the competition can flag inappropriately as well. I also believe that most of these issues Google has are coming from the cheating competitors. Eventually they will get busted and I hope it costs them their free listing.

Nic, if you have copies of the clients good reviews that got removed. You might want to make a testimonial page on their website with them. Then go post a comment to the one bad review explaining what Google has done and why this bad review does not represent their business... give the link to the testimonial page. Maybe it will help. Or a link to any other review site that shows their good reviews.
 

Linda Buquet

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In general G will not remove reviews you report unless they clearly violation Google's review guidelines. They can't investigate every report and have no way of know if John's angry review is a valid complaint from an unhappy customer or not. But if it includes hate speech or profanity OR if they can tell it's part of a negative review network - as in the reviewer has been making reviews all over the world and therefore is likely a paid reviewer, then they'll take it down.
 

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