Author | Chatmeter TeamDate Posted | December 28, 2018

Google Joins Chatmeter in the Mission to Ensure Review Legitimacy

After Yelp announced it’s new review solicitation penalty in November, companies are now talking about the pros and cons of inorganic review creation and the risks it puts on the local search industry as a whole. The act of asking for reviews has raised many questions about who is policing the review industry and actively stopping companies from “gaming” the system or offering customers incentives for leaving positive reviews.  Google has joined the governing force, Yelp, Chatmeter, and many others by updating their policies to ensure review legitimacy on their search directories, platforms, partners, and customers globally.

Review quality issues have been on the rise with Google over the past few years.  In Q4, 52% of Google’s business reviews had no content and only a star rating. Contrast that with Yelp, in which 99% of reviews had valuable content longer than 50 characters. While Google tops the leaderboard in terms of the sheer number of reviews collected, the quality of those reviews has been a cause for concern as of late.

If a review doesn’t have any text, it’s very difficult for consumers to determine if that is a real review or a fake review. Consumers are aware of the potential issue of businesses using bots or paying people to create fake reviews and it’s just another issue around fake news and the concerns of the legitimacy of online information. In addition, reviews without text have little value, since you can’t really tell what the reviewer liked or disliked about the experience.

These concerns about review legitimacy are a big reason why Yelp pushed the industry forward on creating a firm stance around review solicitation tools and businesses that may be gaming the system.

Yelp recently sent out notices to companies that have been using bulk review generation tools. In order to have a more immediate impact, Yelp is now updating their ranking algorithm to push down stores/locations that are using one of these service providers and/or review generation tools.

As one of only a handful of companies that are Yelp knowledge partners, we joined Yelp in the stance against illegitimate review generation tools and the drive to maintain legitimacy. We want to ensure that consumers have access to legitimate, quality reviews and that businesses are held to a high standard and driven toward providing excellent customer experiences. And now Google has just joined us too!

Google’s Stance Against Review Solicitation

On December 14, 2017 Google made a change to its review guidelines (along with a number of other changes) that prohibits businesses from soliciting reviews from customers in bulk. We can speculate that Google’s new policy is a result of them learning the negative impact that review solicitation has on local businesses and the local search industry as a whole.

Now, what Google considers ‘bulk’ is still a little vague, but our guess is that this is done intentionally to allow them room for interpretation. In general, you should consider bulk review solicitation to be sending review requests via email or SMS, either automatically after a sale or to mass import contact lists, asking them to leave a review on a third party website.

Many of the bulk review solicitation tools will ask customers to review their business. Then, only if the review is positive, will the customer be asked to post it on third party sites like Google, Yelp and Facebook. This unevenly tips the scale towards more positive reviews.

Swift Action by Google

One recent instance where Google took action against this type of review solicitation to ensure the quality and authenticity of their reviews was in the case where they removed all of the reviews that had been generated through Birdeye’s email service. It was speculated that they had pre-filled their email forms with 5 stars, possibly persuading customers to leave a more positive review that could then be posted on Google and other review sites.

By removing all of the reviews that had been generated through Birdeye’s email service, Google made a clear example that this type of black hat review generation and attempt to game the system would not be tolerated.

While their overall policy is slightly more lenient than Yelp’s, It is clear that they are willing to take necessary action when they deem that a business or location is attempting to game the system or otherwise hinder the authenticity of reviews. Google’s policy prohibiting bulk review solicitation is a step in the right direction. This helps to promote trust in the review industry as a whole and protect the customers and businesses that rely on them.

Other Major Updates to the Google Review Guidelines:

1. The review guidelines are now a part of the Maps User section of the Help Center, not Google My Business.

2. The policies now apply to all types of Google content – not just reviews.  This includes ratings, images, videos, Q&A, captions, tags, links, and metadata.

3. They added examples of illegal content including:

  • Things that infringe on copyright
  • Content on dangerous or illegal acts (rape, human trafficking etc)
  • Illegal products and services
  • Graphic images that promote violence
  • Google removed the section under Offensive Content that used to say “We’ll also remove reviews that represent personal attacks on others”
  • There is a new section on Harassment and Bullying: “We don’t allow individuals to use Google Maps to harass, bully, or attack other individuals”.
  • They added a section under Impersonation that says “Google reserves the right to remove content, suspend accounts, or pursue other legal action against contributors who falsely claim that they represent or are employed by Google”.
  • They added a line under Conflict of Interest clarifying that it’s against guidelines for ex-employees to leave negative reviews. It now says “posting negative content about a current or former employment experience” is not allowed.
  • Google clarified that you are not supposed to post links to social media profiles in reviews (previously it just said “other websites”).
  • They removed the section at the top of the review section that said “Make sure that the reviews on your business listing, or those that you leave at a business you’ve visited, are honest representations of the customer experience. Those that aren’t may be removed”.
  • Previously it mentioned that you weren’t supposed to offer or accept money, products, or services for a review. Currently, it only says money. However, they did clarify that offering incentives is still against the guidelines and they mention it in a different Help Center article.
  • Google removed the section that said, “If you’re a business owner, don’t set up review stations or kiosks at your place of business just to ask for reviews written at your place of business”.

Original list of Google Updates Here

With two of the most influential local search and review sites on the internet now taking a stance against review solicitation, we are hopeful that the industry as a whole will begin to see the negative impact that biased and solicited reviews have on local businesses and customers alike.

Please reach out to us here at Chatmeter if you have experienced ranking decreases or lost access to any of your review content due to unauthorized review management practices.

Chatmeter is an authorized partner with each of the major online directories, including Yelp. We have taken every action necessary to ensure the authenticity and validity of our review management tools for the success of our clients.