In May, Google announced Google+ Local, which would replace Place Pages, and overhaul Google's entire local business review search results. We've written in the past about how the transition may be costing business clicks, and we're still seeing some pretty upset businesses talking about Google deleting reviews, which again, could be costing them customers.
What do you think of Google's transition to Google+ Local? Was this the right move for Google? Let us know what you think in the comments.
Car dealership Suzuki of Wichita has had a pretty bad experience with Google's transition. The business has lost hundreds of reviews, which it considers to be a very valuable source of marketing. Company President, Scott Pitman, blogged about the situation, showing the timeline of events.
Aaron Wirtz, the dealership's social media manager, tell WebProNews, "It’s difficult to quantify exactly how this has impacted our business. Luckily our repeat customers don’t need to check Google reviews to know they like doing business here, but how many potential customers found our listing and were turned away?"
Over the course of about a month and a half, Google deleted more and more reviews, according to the dealership. By July 15, the number of reviews had dropped from 418 to 405. By August 1, they had dropped from 405 to 281. By August 3, they had dropped from 281 to 9.
Think about that for a second. You had over 400 reviews for your business, many of which were positive, and that number was quickly reduced to 9. 3 or 4 of those 9, Wirtz tells us, were negative.
In the blog post, Pitman shared some screenshots, backing up the claims. Here, you can see the 418 reviews:
Here, you can see it with 9 Google reviews, which Google even displays right from the main search results:
It doesn't necessarily reflect well on a business to have that small a number of reviews, regardless of the positive to negative ratio, unless perhaps the business is brand new. The company was founded in 2007, and claims to have been ranked the #1 Suzuki Automotive Retailer in the USA in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
Note: In another screenshot that goes with the one above, it does show links to "more reviews," totaling 169, still significantly less than what the company once had.
"We weren’t the only dealership in Wichita affected by this issue," Wirtz notes. "But our case was definitely one of the most dramatic."
"Many dealerships in Wichita have been so far unaffected, but one dealership in Wichita was left with nothing but 0/3 reviews, giving them a 0/30 average score," he says.
Wirtz put out this video about the situation:
"During the bumpy transition from Places to Local, thousands of businesses lost the reviews customers submitted as well as those that Google had collected for them so far," Pitman said in the blog post. "We’ve heard reports of businesses losing reviews as many as three times over the course of a 30 month period."
"The problem was, the reviews vanished without warning or explanation, and affected many businesses who collected reviews with integrity," he added. "Any attempt to contact Google would result in vague, canned answers citing an entire list of reasons why reviews may or may not have been removed. Even today, Google does not have a customer service team to answer questions about Google+ Local and online reviews, citing the reason that Local is a free service."
Automotive News, who interviewed Mr. Pitman, shared a statement from Google on the matter, which said that Google seeks to prevent "spammy" content, even at the risk of sometimes removing legitimate reviews.
Wirtz tells WebProNews, "We don’t feel like any of the reviews were 'spammy.' Every review posted was written by a customer who had done business with us, contained specific information about the transaction, and most of the reviews mentioned members of our staff by name. None of the reviews contained links, irrelevant text, or any of the other characteristics commonly associated with spam posts."
Google has restored some of the reviews. When we checked there were 54 of them (still a great deal less than the 418 the business had in mid-July.
"Most of these restored reviews do seem to be ones that were originally deleted," Wirtz tells us. "We know that a few of these reviews are new, however."
Luckily, for Suzuki of Wichita, the business has a rating of 27 (with 26-30 described by Google as "extraordinary to perfection"). That seems pretty good, and is unlikely to deter many potential customers.
Wirtz agrees that 27 seems “pretty good,"
"But if our customers have stated our business is 29/30, our average score should be posted as such," he adds.
So how much help has Google been to this business, following the deletion of the reviews?
"The only verbal conversations we’ve had with Google have been with AdWords representatives, who sound very sympathetic and helpful, but because Google+ Local is not under their jurisdiction (no customer service department exists for that product), every conversation with them breaks down like this," Wirtz tells us, outlining the process as:
1. We explain the situation to them (i.e. the missing reviews, etc)
2. They say they’ll check with someone they know who is a specialist in that area
3. Then we get an email back within 24-48 hours that contains canned responses why our reviews “may have” disappeared. None of the information contained in those emails was anything new--it all could be found in products forum posts
"The reappearance of some of our reviews is one of the most confusing aspects of this whole situation," Wirtz says. "We were assured in two separate correspondences from Google that, if a review disappears, it would not return. At no point could any of the information from Google be described as helpful."
Wirtz shares a response he says they got from Google in response to a Better Business Bureau complaint Suzuki of Wichita filed against the company:
“Thank you for reaching out. I'm very sorry to hear you're having problems with reviews on your Google+ local page. It's feedback that we've heard / have been hearing in the last few weeks and months. And trust me, we are taking the feedback to heart and working on improvements regarding the way we collect reviews. At this point, it is impossible for us to locate the reviews your business has unfortunately lost. We realize this may seem unfair, but our engineers are working on features to make the stability of reviews more (for lack of a better word) stable. Aaron, we, as Googlers and consumers, understand how important reviews are to a business and trust me when I say we're working hard on making this a better experience for everyone. Thanks for your understanding."
"Positive reviews are indeed as good as gold," Pitman said in the dealership's blog post. "What makes online reviews so much more compelling than word of mouth referrals is that one consumer can now reach thousands, perhaps millions of other people, and the review, once written, is permanently posted online for anyone to find. Or so we thought."
On the flip side, one has to wonder how many negative reviews have also disappeared, possibly leading to users to businesses that won't necessarily live up to the expectations they have from available, and more favorable reviews.
Do you see Google's transition to Google+ Local, and deletion of reviews as a significant cost to businesses, or simply a necessary evil for Google to improve the user experience? Let us know what you think in the comments.