Google Updates Spam Detection For Reviews, Warns SEOs

    February 13, 2013
    Chris Crum
    Comments are off for this post.

Google announced that it has made some improvements to its spam detection algorithms that increased the number of reviews that appear on some Google+ Local pages.

Do you think things have gotten better? Let us know in the comments.

Google’s Dasha made the announcement in a Google Groups forum thread (via Search Engine Roundtable).

“Online reviews have been in the news a lot recently, and we at Google are committed to helping people to get ratings, reviews, and recommendations that are relevant, helpful, and trustworthy,” Dasha says. “To protect both business owners and customers from spam reviews, we have systems in place that may remove individual reviews.”

Reviews have been in the news, mostly because of defamation suits. We recently looked at one particular case where a contractor sued a woman who accused him of being a thief in reviews on Yelp and Angie’s List. On top of that, a court ordered her to change her reviews, until another judge reversed that decision, saying (in a nutshell) that she could leave the reviews up until she was proven guilty. But that’s a whole other conversation. This is about spam.

“No one likes spam, and we’d like to talk about what you can do to make sure all of the reviews on Google+ Local are useful, honest, and written by real people!” adds Dasha.

Some Warnings

Google advises business owners to be wary of SEO and reputation management services that promise to generate reviews, and Google says it will take down fake “glowing testimonies”. The company also notes that it does not take down negative reviews for just being negative for anyone, and instead advises business owners to respond themselves. Google also says not to trust anyone who says they know how to remove reviews from Google.

Interestingly, a specific guideline Google lists for business owners is to not set up a computer or tablet in their place of business customers can leave reviews on site. The company also reminds business owners that it doesn’t allow them to give customers free gifts or discounts in exchange for reviews. It’s kind of like the whole paid links thing.

Google tells SEOs specifically, “If a business accepts paper comment cards it might be tempting to collect them and “digitize” them by posting the reviews on Google+ Local. We ask that all reviews come from first hand experience and do not allow posting reviews on behalf of others.”

Additionally, Google encourages users to report reviews that are in violation of its policy guidelines. There’s a gray flag icon next to reviews for that purpose. From there, users can fill out a form. Google does not follow up individually, however.

Google tells reviewers to read the guidelines here, and reminds those who want to leave reviews for multiple locations of the same business to tailor each review to a specific location. They also advise against writing reviews for your current employer, as this is against the rules as well. Also, don’t put URls in the text of your reviews, because they’ll treat it as spam.

Google Must Keep Up The Quality

It’s going to be increasingly important for Google to keep up the quality of its local search results. Google may dominate the search landscape, but local is one area where there is real potential for other players to make a mark. One such player is Facebook.

Facebook launched Graph Search in January, and is only just getting started. So far, it’s pretty much a novelty, but there is a lot of potential for it to grow into something much bigger, and as I discussed in a recent article, local search is one area where it could quickly take a stab at Google. It really depends on how much people use it. It hasn’t even rolled out to everyone yet, and it’s going to get much more feature rich as time goes on (including the addition of open graph – the Facebook-connected web – which is essentially most of the web).

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Of course, there are already plenty of other mobile apps that must be already taking away some amount of Google’s local search market share. The point is, Google needs to stay at the top of its game, which is where spam control is of the utmost importance.

Google also added Place Summaries to its Google Places API last month, meaning developers can use review info in their apps. That’s important too.

Other recent improvements include the addition of new photo sharing options and store interior photography access to local search results.

No matter how many nice features Google adds though, it has to keep quality up on results. Just as this is an ongoing issues for web search, it appears to be one for local search as well. In addition to spam issues, Google has also had issues where anonymous reviews were making it to business listings, even though Google has moved to a policy against this. This was reported on in January (and had even been happening for months), and we’ve really yet to see any headway made there. Google said it was looking into it, but we’re not sure what they found. The specific example we looked at still has the anonymous reviews.

Is Google getting better at local search? Let us know what you think.

  • http://www.rankwatch.com Rank Watch

    This will certainly keep spammers out of equation and rightly so, genuine reviews are so very important for the web and Google is taking right steps to achieve that.

  • http://www.itrush.com/ IT Rush

    Haha, agree..

  • http://www.wedgeim.ca Wedge Internet Marketing

    Why is it so wrong for a business to legitimately collect reviews at its place of business? Also how does Google believe it going to police this?? Another typical heavy handed Google attempt. Personally I would hand out tables and have a customer do a review directly after a services Google be dammed

  • http://www.seo-oxfordshire.co.uk Louisa Stockley

    “Why is it so wrong for a business to legitimately collect reviews at its place of business? Also how does Google believe it going to police this?? Another typical heavy handed Google attempt. “

    I believe it’s because Google can see that all those reviews have come from a single IP address, and that probably ticks a box in its ‘spam reviews’ checklist (likely to be incentivised or automatically generated). Google’s warning is helpful – no one wants to be penalised for spammy reviews. Even if you’re collecting legitimate reviews at your place of work, Google won’t be able to sort you from the cheats.

    • http://www.megastarmedia.com Sandy Rowley

      Seems like Google could develop an algorithm for this. Something like
      if reviewer is a fresh and new account = do this = probably spam.

      if reviewer is an older gmail account say 3 months or more and has other comments and activity before the review = probably a real person using the free wifi.

      By keeping only negative reviews, your destroying a local small business. This is NOT good PR for Google.

      I hope all the super Geniuses at Google figure out a better solution for our local business soon.

  • http://www.gbepackaging.com Bob Teal

    Google is the new police of the internet but the results of Google searches are all ads and spam now? All I see is spam and videos that have nothing to do with my searches. The updates they have done has increased spam of companies that seem to know just how to increase sales in wake of the panda updates while webmasters debate what Google will do next to get us to raise prices to our customers. It seems Google just wants our money no matter how we make it. Nothing is free anymore with Google. We pay them and it still gets us no more traffic. Just what will Google do next to get our cash?

  • https://plus.google.com/109655947417323448509 Mabuzi

    I am still waiting for my Google Place Page reviews to be transferred to my new Google Local Page.

    Business reviews are important and it should not be difficult to find and ban Google users who are just review bots.

    • http://www.thenet.ie scott graham

      in exactly the same position, we are also awaiting reviews to be processed for some of our clients

  • http://mobiritz.com/ Madison Thompson

    Really a very nice article related to google updates and spam detection.Google updates always surprise seo.

  • http://www.brickmarketing.com/ Nick Stamoulis

    “I believe it’s because Google can see that all those reviews have come from a single IP address”

    I never thought it of like that before but you make a great point. Google doesn’t know that it’s your customers giving you great reviews; they just see the IP address. I guess it’s better to err on the side of caution.

  • http://www.seoscarborough.co.uk Andy

    A customer is using the free wi-fi a restaurant or cafe is providing for its business customers. The customer gets great service and decides to leave a review. The review won’t show because it’s from the business’s IP address. Don’t provide wi-fi as a service if you want reviews?

    Any thoughts?

    • http://www.megastarmedia.com Sandy Rowley

      I wonder if using the hide my IP services would help?

  • http://www.megastarmedia.com Sandy Rowley

    Good heavens. I wonder if anyone at Google has ever ran a small business? Do they really think that busy customers are going to go home, fire up the laptop and type out a thoughtful review on every business they visited that day?

    • Patricia

      Google has no idea on how small businesses are ran, but they perfectly know how to kill them and the small families running them.

  • http://at-a-snip.co.uk Bob Naughton

    me thinks its time that the online marketing industry blew the whistle on Google and its antic and informed the public that Google is a ripe off…
    You search and the organic listings are so poor when there is a volume of paid ads that you are forced to click those adverts thus making monies for Google, now they believe that an piece of software can work our if a review is genuine or not… piffle… How is that possible… this is cobblers… rant over… and I didn’t even start about Penguin and Panda…

  • Jan

    I’ve had nothing but trouble. Several of my customers’ local listings were hijacked by corporate ads through Google and Yahoo, (like Century 21 and Allstate) and both SE’s removed the customer’s website, replacing it with the corporate one. Yahoo is totally unresponsive and replaces my corrections everytime the ad renews…monthly, I think. Google placed my C21 customer’s local page in “Pending Review” status a year ago…and no amount of begging or editing helps. I finally just did another page in Google Plus…giving up the original one that had about 10 good reviews. Now I have a brand new one with no reviews. Plus I don’t understand the relationships…is the G Plus local page going to replace the other one every time? If so, we shouldn’t be creating them when the old one functions and has reviews. They need some GOOD customer support in Google Local to explain all this…and help get the pages fixed that are in long-term limbo.

  • https://dukeinsuranceagency.com/ Duke Insurance

    Our legitimate reviews have not been going live on google for the last 4-5 months, it seems unfair, that the people who got them in last year have such an advantage.

  • http://www.marketsharewebdesign.com/ Kathy

    Rule Number One: If you do good work, you will get good reviews.
    Rule Number Two: If you do bad work, you will get bad reviews.

    I tell my customers time and time again, just ask each and every customer for a review. A certain percentage will do one for you. It honest, it’s simple.

  • http://www.montway.com/ Lexi Powell Montway Transport

    Although I understand what Google is trying to do, as the marketing coordinator, it is extremely hard to get clients to write reviews, even when they love our services. Its usually a hassle having to have this or that type of account in order to do so, especially if we want reviews in more than one place. So having the option to review upon completion of service has always been helpful. Now we need to find another solution or risk having all positive reviews marked as spam.

  • http://www.sbwebcenter.com Steve

    What now? Now we have to write long, compelling comments/reviews for it to be legit??

    You know that most customers are not writers or web savvy.

    I don’t see how they can police this, with the exception of blatant spam.

  • http://www.zazzle.com/artnip* Artnip Products

    I hope the updates keep spammers away. Reviews are the best way to sell and keep customers coming and coming back.

  • http://umstrategies.com Peter Sundstrom

    While I acknowledge that spam reviews are very commonplace, I really can’t see how effective Google can be with automated spam review mechanisms.

  • http://thecomputergal.com Nora McDougall-Collins

    Nice article! It follows right in line with what we discuss in my Social Networking for Business class. I have passed this article along to my students through Facebook!

  • http://www.belfast-architects.co.uk Alan

    I think they have the equation the wrong way round. I would be much more concerned by the actions of a professional crank who spends they life giving bad reviews due to some inner loathing of the world. Often they know nothing of the business and can even be obsessive. We all expect a certain amount of self promotional reviews, seriously do any of us take them at face value?

    It is too much bother for most people to write a review of a good service. You go to a shop buy a pair of shoes, do you go home and write a review? Of course not. What sort of individual does and should we heed them?

    Add to this that many of us provide internet access to others and may thus be penalised, what a wonderful world.

    To me this seems pointless.

  • altaf

    Its just not about IP addresses, I have tried it from different IP addresses and still it disappears after sometime.

    However, if you are in that physical location and give a review from your smart phone after check in, it will keep that review thinking its legitimate one. This is absolutely wrong on Google’s part, it is so difficult to get genuine positive reviews from clients and when we do the new internet police ‘google’ kicks it down.

    Client’s will not always come to your location to give you an online review, they will do it as per their convenience.

    Also, I have noticed if the client doesn’t have the particular keyword in their profile their reviews are considered spam. For instance if a bank manager gives reviews for zumba fitness, it is a spam. So according to them, a bank manager can’t take zumba lessons get benefited and happily wants to put a review. Same goes with the fireworks industry, why do firework distributor need a review, is that what you think?

  • http://www.beton1x2.com/ BETon1x2

    I always like google moves about their quality search engine and SEO or what else that they change their rules it must be very important to keep their capabilities according to their search result

  • http://www.neverpaintagain.co.uk Exterior wall coatings

    This sounds like a good idea and perhaps a natural progression from the carnage google inflicted with webspam penalties etc. HOWEVER, what about NEGATIVE fake reviews, for example on forum posts, where you have no control as webmaster to remove them. We got fake reviews posted about us which harmed our reputation in the short term but i cannot get them removed as they are not on gogole pages. Any ideas? Will google deal with that issue too? What about fake reviews gigs purchased on fiverr.com, should they be banned?

    • http://www.tipsinablog.com Danny

      Very good point!

      This is what is referred to in some circles as part of, “Negative SEO”….

      Many people decide to take the other route, and drag their competitors site(s) down, rather than having to do the work to make their site go up…..

      It is the worst form of Black Hat SEO, when we think about it!

      Regarding fake reviews, I have seen so many bogus reviews over the years. Many people pay “big name” people in their niche to give them a glowing review of their product and / or service…..(even if they have not even used the product or service)…

      Then you have those spammish little personal reviews supposedly written by “happy customers”…..

      There are currently a wave of dodgy looking review sites clogging up the search results, of particular search terms….

      The number of these sites seems to have ballooned in recent times…..

      I checked out a few sites, and could not make head or tail of what they were getting at(the sites were all over the place==very misleading)…as there was almost nothing in regards to the product being reviewed…(just a few lines—and no more)….

  • http://www.daro-net.co.il/%D7%91%D7%A0%D7%99%D7%99%D7%AA-%D7%90%D7%AA%D7%A8%D7%99%D7%9D-%D7%9C%D7%A2%D7%A1%D7%A7%D7%99%D7%9D/ Daronet

    Well, it seems that Google has a lot to do regarding their spam detection. I mean, they are totally busy in checking Spam foot-prints of multiple products they have: Search, Adwords, Google Plus, Places and so on…

    What’s next?
    Obviously making spammers life harder ain’t gonna make Spammers stop their raid. I wonder whether they succeed on that.

  • http://ppcprofessionals.com PPC Pros

    I like the premise of keeping spammers away from posting fake reviews since it makes all the honest people have to work harder, but I know that some of our clients and even my own personal reviews for businesses I use get filtered as a result. I know there is no ‘perfect’ system, but I do hope Google can do a better job at spotting fake reviews.

    It’s one thing if a review comes from a gmail account with all glowing reviews and no other activity, but some of these are gmail users for YEARS that email everyday and are REAL people so to assume they were bribed to leave a positive review or some other underhanded motivation is responsible for the positive review is rather cynical in my opinion. Not to mention it seems that Bad reviews get the benefit of the doubt and get posted without much scrutiny. What about the same spammers that try to shut their competitors out of the game with fake Bad reviews?

  • http://www.graciousstore.com Nina

    Google doesn’t need to add more features, he has enough. Let him fairly consolidate all the features he has already. Adding more features will be over stretching webmaster in attempt to keep up with all the features. We have enough!

  • http://www.irishwebexperts.com Irish Web Design Comapny

    Interesting post. With increase in spammers, these are important steps from google to keep spammers out. think they will come up with some genius idea for local search also.. :)

  • http://rocointernationalmedical.com Bobby Duane

    I would agree with them on this one

  • http://www.emagic.co.nz/ Nathan – eMagic Online Marketing

    Even though it is now much harder to generate reviews for Google+ Local, the amount of fake reviews purely for ranking manipulations continues to increase. Like everything Google related businesses doing everything properly will lose out by having real customer reviews removed while businesses soliciting fake reviews will get away scott free. The war on spam is never ending and there will never be a perfect solution unfortunately.

  • http://www.curthel.com TaniaChicago

    Yes, a Google search does not work very much, have to spend a lot of time on something that would look for the right information. Transported by car carrier and is very happy.