As many are aware, the use of search with local intent is a rapidly growing segment of Google’s business. In turn, maintaining relevancy in local search results is more important to business owners by the day. Recently, Josef Severson taught us how to get competitive on local search, and while he touched on it briefly, Google+ reviews are having a significant impact on businesses. It is my goal to provide best practices to business owners, as well as an explanation in the event of disappearing reviews.
Listed as the seventh overall ranking factor according to David Mihm, the quantity of native Google Places reviews (with text) plays a huge role in competitive local search. As this became better known, Google saw the quality of their reviews diminish due to illegitimacy. Some industries were more prone than others, but the fact remains: countless businesses have been affected by Google’s effort to combat spam. Businesses have seen their reviews begin to vanish since the switch to Google+ Local, yet the issue persists today.
For businesses looking for some help with their missing reviews, be aware that there is no official guidance and getting a hard answer from Google is a lost cause from the start. However, via the support forums, there is unofficial knowledge on the matter. I will attempt to consolidate the information available.
According to Ex Google Community Manager Vanessa Schneider, there may be a few immediate reasons for the lost reviews:
- If any of the missing reviews came from third-party websites, these are no longer displayed. Below reviews from Google users, there may be links to other “Reviews around the web.”
- Any “spammy behavior” is likely to be caught by a filter and will not show on your listing. Google cannot disclose what exactly contributes to these filters, but one factor she does mention is that any review with a URL in the text will be automatically filtered.
- Any violation of the content policy guidelines will be filtered.
- If there is a duplicate entry of your local listing, your reviews may be attributed to the incorrect one.
- If you have moved, your reviews will not carry over.
- If the user does not have their Google+ profile set to publish their reviews publicly, they will not be displayed.
You’re probably thinking that your issues do not relate to any of these items listed. The general consensus, according to Nyagoslav Zhekov, is that there are likely to be two issues at the core.
- “There is another listing that Google considers the reviews are meant to be on (this is not necessarily a duplicate of the same business).”
- “The review was marked as illegitimate for whatever reason.”
To determine which of these two may relate to your own case, first check for duplicate listings of your business. Log into your Places account and see if there is a current or deleted duplicate. Be absolutely certain that only one Google account has ever created a listing, or else this may be where you find a duplicate. If you do find a duplicate, use this support form to request that they be merged:
Once determining that there are no duplicates of your listing, your concerns will be related to content marked as spam. What constitutes this filter, nobody is certain about, but there are some general ideas based on people’s experience:
- Repetition of terms is suspected as a main component of Google’s spam filter. Particularly noted is that brand terms, geographic terms, and keywords should not be excessively used. This generally means that they should not be used more than once or in close proximity to each other. If it sounds like advertising, it’s spam.
- Frequency of incoming reviews will likely have an effect on filtration. If you had a number of reviews that seem out of the ordinary for the span of time in which they occurred, this will be suspect.
- Solicitation or offering rewards to customers in exchange for a review is considered a practice leading to illegitimate reviews.
- The use of repeated exclamation marks is suspect. Regarding this and writing style in general, any time a review seems to convey hype, it’s likely to be flagged.
- Review scores may have an impact on how likely a review is to be questioned by Google’s algorithm. Some users have seen their reviews post after changing a score from 3/3 to 2/3.
- The category of your business in Google Places probably has an effect on the likelihood of review scrutiny. Some industries generate more review spam than others.
- If the same review is posted at multiple locations of a business, it will be removed.
As a best practice, remember that key information regarding your business is already on your Google Plus page and therefore it should not be put in the text of any reviews. If you ask a customer to leave a review for you, suggest that they describe their experience rather than your business itself. These are the reviews that seem to have the best chance of sticking to your page. Lastly, be sure to heed the warnings of the second and third items listed above, or negative consequences are sure to come.
The overarching lesson on review filtering is one we have heard several times throughout history, originally coined by Indiana poet James Whitcomb Riley. Insert “spam” where you read “duck,” and you should have a pretty accurate impression of Google’s filtering method.