Google Warns Small Businesses about Shady SEO Reviews
Google has announced via a major Google Groups post that it has significantly updated its approach to the reviews that appear on Local pages. In addition to ramping up its relevant spam detection algorithms, Google also provided a list of guidelines for entrepreneurs and SEO professionals to ensure that their businesses are not penalized on Google+ Local.
The most important of these guidelines, as far as Google is concerned, appeared to be a recommendation that business owners steer clear of SEO companies that promise positive reviews. The release stated, “Be wary of an SEO or reputation management service that promises to generate reviews for your business. We’ve seen companies make up fake glowing testimonies – and we’ll take them down.”
However, many of the other changes announced in the update could impact businesses that had no idea they were doing anything Google would not like. For example, according to the new guidelines, Google will penalize businesses that offer some type of free gift, coupon or similar incentive to customers to encourage them to leave reviews. It also does not allow a business to set up a computer or tablet in its building for the express purpose of allowing customers to write reviews – although it does let businesses send customers a reminder email later asking them to leave a review when they have the chance.
In addition, a business that still uses paper-based comment cards might be tempted to add those customer reviews to those found on Google+ Local. However, according to Google, this, too, is forbidden: “We ask that all reviews come from first-hand experience and do not allow posting reviews on behalf of others.” Individuals who work at a business are not allowed to post reviews of it either, and reviews that contain URLs will not be shown on Google+ at all.
Some businesses, after receiving a particularly glowing review on Google+ Local, might paste it on their websites to demonstrate their customer satisfaction. However, Google will consider this to be duplicate content – since the review is found both on the business’s website and on Google+ Local – and will either take the review down from Local, penalize the business’s search engine rank or both.
Google also reminded search engine optimization specialists that it will not take down any negative reviews customer might post on Local; if they appear, the company recommends that the business owner reach out to the dissatisfied customer to resolve the issue, or at least use the “Owner Response” tool to present the other side of the story. On a related note, it also cautioned business owners to avoid any service or company that claims to be able to remove these negative reviews, stating, “Google does not work with any third party reputation management companies and we certainly don’t remove reviews unless they violate our guidelines.”
Reviews of multiple locations for a chain restaurant or similar business will be permitted. However, they must be specific and unique to the particular location being discussed. For example, a general comment about Pizza Hut’s pizza would not be permitted on multiple locations; however, a unique discussion of the cleanliness, staff, etc. at each of several different locations would be allowed.
Finally, Google also reminded businesses and SEO specialists that they do have some recourse if they notice reviews that appear to be in violation of these guidelines, or of those that existed already. Clearly, the implementation of these strict guidelines is an attempt on Google’s part to increase the value of its Local reviews – both to businesses and to customers – by ensuring that they are genuine and worthwhile, and therefore useful. After all, if Google+ Local were to become riddled with artificially constructed pieces of spam and fake reviews, its usefulness would quickly plunge. However, business owners who are careful to comply with these strict guidelines would be understandably displeased to see competitors appearing to get away with flouting them. For that reason, Google’s announcement included a reminder that every review contains a button that allows any reader to report it for evaluation. The company promises that, while it may not be able to respond to every individual who files such a report, they can rest assured that each one will be checked.
Although these updates may not be met with universal acclaim, especially by businesses and marketers used to employing techniques on Google+ Local that will now be banned, their purpose is clear: to make Google+ Local as high-quality and popular a resource as possible. Although these updates may be uncomfortable or challenging for some businesses in the short run, in the long run they will likely help improve the results those businesses see from their Local profiles.