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.
"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.
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).
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.