Google reviews can help your business for obvious reasons: They’re mighty visible in the Google Maps search results, and searchers pay attention to the reviews (and sometimes believe them). The big problem is just as obvious: Google does an awful job of policing reviews, causing all sorts of mischief and mayhem.
You’d like more and better reviews than your competitors have. But you’ll have a harder time accomplishing that if you know as little about Google reviews as they know. It helps to know some “inside baseball.”
Here are some hard truths of Google reviews. Some will be old news to you. Others will be news. Those will help you approach Google reviews with fewer blind spots.
1. Google exercises little oversight. The sheriff is out of town.
2. Google doesn’t care whether a reviewer is a real customer, or about what happens to your business as a result of bogus reviews. You, customers, and Google all care about Google reviews for different reasons. For Google, reviews are a way to crowdsource info about local businesses and to keep searchers’ attention on Google’s local search results as they get larded with ads.
3. Reporting a bogus review just once doesn’t work. Sometimes flagging it down multiple times over a period of weeks or months will work. More often, you’ll need to go to greater lengths (and Google still may not remove the review).
4. Ratings-only reviews stick more than they should. Ratings left by Google users who’ve only rated one business are especially stubborn, because Google can’t detect fishy patterns of behavior (like that a “customer” hired 10 moving companies in 6 different states in the span of a month).
5. Google filters policy-violating reviews rarely, and they’re tough to get removed manually (if you can get them removed at all).
6. You do not own and cannot control the Google Maps reviews of your business. Google owns them, and Google controls them – for better or for worse.
7. Google fixates on quantity. “Local Guides” are minted and promoted on the basis of how many reviews they’ve written. Even if those reviews are bogus, unfair, unhelpful, or paid-for (or some combination thereof).
8. There’s a black market of people who want to buy Google reviews. One way I know that is because probably twice a week some idiot emails me to ask how many reviews I can write for him. (Yes, it’s almost always a he.)
9. You can’t control what’s in the review snippets – the ones you see in the right-hand sidebar (the knowledge panel), or the ones in the Google Maps 3-pack. The best you can do is encourage happy customers to speak up, often and in large numbers.
10. Photos accompanying Google reviews are just as badly policed as the reviews are. Photos never seem to get filtered automatically. Often they’re not removed even once you report them.
11. Reviews don’t seem to drive rankings in the way you might think. A pile of great Google reviews doesn’t mean you’ll rank well. You may get a little bump from getting a few reviews on the board, but after that it seems to be a question of how your reviews encourage more searchers to click on your listing and show other signs that suggest you’re a more-relevant search result than the next business is. The rankings benefits of Google reviews seem to be indirect.
12. Pseudonyms and initials are OK, apparently. Google suggests reviewers use their real names, but does nothing to enforce that.
13. Reviews can get filtered, unfiltered, and re-filtered multiple times. A good review is never “safe.” A review doesn’t go away if you close down your Google My Business page.
14. Unethical reviewers can keep coming back with new reviews, possibly under different names or in different Google accounts. The worst Google will do – all they can do – is remove the reviews, and even that rarely happens without your prodding.
15. There’s no simple way to embed Google reviews on your site. But I suspect Google will eventually offer a way, similar to Yelp’s.
16. Reviewers must use their own Google accounts. Even it’s a hassle for them and for you. They can’t log into an account you own and use a “pen name,” nor can you post reviews on their behalf.
17. Your “star rating” may not make sense. If you have nine 5-star reviews and one 4-star review, your average rating may not be 4.9 stars.
18. Local Guides are not held to higher standards than are less-active Google reviewers. Their reviews don’t have to be any truer or more helpful.
19. There’s no guarantee you can keep your reviews if your address changes much. Google’s pretty good about letting you keep your reviews if you rebrand, or if you move to a new address that’s within the same town or within a few miles of the old address. But Google reserves the right to nuke your reviews after a farther-away move.
20. There’s no penalty on businesses that buy reviews or engage in similar crookedness. Yelp does it all wrong, and I don’t claim that for Google to do it fairly would be an easy matter. The trouble is Google’s lack of oversight adds to a “why not?” outlook in some business owners. Though that usually comes back to bite those business owners when enough customers discover the good reviews were fake, first too many customers find out the hard way that those businesses are no good.
21. The rules change, and the strictness of Google’s filter changes. Google plays with the dials often.
22. Google reviews are near-impossible to avoid, and only become more visible over time. That’s great if you’re dialed-in on Google reviews, but not if you’ve taken a drubbing.
23. Google reviews live in the search results. No longer can people see your reviews on your Google My Business page, which itself is a Sea-Monkey floating in the fragile little tank we call Google Maps.
24. You can’t find much information about reviewers. You (and would-be customers) can’t get any or many facts to determine which reviews are more credible. You can’t even see where the reviewers are from.
25. Businesses in the 3-pack are not ranked strictly by their average ratings. A 2-star business may outrank a 5-star. Generally the higher-rated businesses outrank the lower-rated ones, but exceptions abound. It’s complicated.
Can you think of any other “hard truths” of Google reviews?
Any good war stories?
Any silver linings?
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