Google Now, Local Business and Anonymous Reviews
With the launch of Google Now for iPhone and iPad, Google has made local business pages more visible – and with it, reviews from anonymous, non-accountable “Google Users”.
Google Now works by accessing the machine’s location and analysing the contents of the person’s Gmail and Google Calendar records as well as their past Google searches.
Examples of the results then given, without the user asking, include:
- Maps suggesting the quickest route home
- Flight departure updates based on bookings made
- Suggested nearby restaurants, museums and shops
- Live sports results based on which teams the user follows
Until now Google Now had been limited to devices running Google’s own Android operating system; most phones don’t have it yet, but as users upgrade phones that will change.
For local businesses, this could be a great development but what’s not so marvellous is when Google foists anonymous negative reviews onto users.
Negative reviews are one thing, but anonymous reviews allow people to say whatever they want, true or false, without being held accountable.
Google’s official policy actually moved away from anonymous reviews when they made the change from Google Places to Google+ Local for business pages. In theory, users are now required to sign in with their Google account before they can post reviews. Better in theory (although there’s nothing to stop someone setting up multiple fake accounts) but the problem is that old anonymous reviews which predate the change still remain on business pages and what is worse, new reviews are still being posted by anonymous users. A user complained about this in a Google help thread and a Google representative admitted the problem, saying “they were looking into it”. However, there has been no indication from Google that they have solved the issue.
Google needs to act now to fix the fault and halt the spread of anonymous comments. Apparently Google does not intend to get rid of old anonymous comments, though they should eventually be pushed down the list by more recent reviews. Let’s hope Google ensures that the comments that replace them at the top are real ones rather than more anonymous fakes.
Google Places Dumps TripAdvisor Reviews – for Better or Worse?
Google has made major changes to the way it presents its Places pages for hotels, B&Bs, restaurants etc. The focus is now well and truly on Google’s own content, with a big red button for people to add reviews via Google itself.
Links to third party review sites like TripAdvisor are now tucked away at the foot of the listing (if they appear at all – many don’t) and snippets of their reviews are no longer presented, nor even included in the number of reviews quoted for the Place in question.
New Format Google Places Listing
The Google LatLong blog announced the changes yesterday:
Based on careful thought about the future direction of Place pages, and feedback we’ve heard over the past few months, review snippets from other web sources have now been removed from Place pages. Rating and review counts reflect only those that’ve been written by fellow Google users, and as part of our continued commitment to helping you find what you want on the web, we’re continuing to provide links to other review sites so you can get a comprehensive view of locations across the globe.
So we’ve added the call-to-action “Write a review” button to the top of the Place page to encourage you to tell us what you think about places you’ve visited, while at the same time ensuring that you get personalized recommendations in return when you’re signed in to your Google account.
So TripAdvisor has its wish at last – Google is no longer using its content. But will it live to regret it?
And is Google really providing the best service to its users by dropping all third party content, whatever the disputes and bad feeling between Google, TripAdvisor and Yelp?
Google Places in Search Results – Why No Choice?
Last October Google instigated a major change in the way it presented its search results, with Google Places listings given greater prominence for “local” searches, for instance looking for a plumber, dentist, hotel, restaurant etc in a given location. Here is what results have tended to look like since that date, taking “B&B near Rouen” as an example:
b&b NEAR rouen
This was hailed by Google as a great step forward, improving relevance of search results. The focus for SEO gurus/experts since then has been to encourage business owners to optimise their “Google Places” listing.
However, in the case above I was looking for a place to stay NEAR Rouen – not in the MIDDLE of Rouen – yet these results are useless as all the places are in the CENTRE of Rouen, which if you know it is a nightmare to get in and out of!
That may be a minor quibble, but there are two bigger snags with the current Google Places set up that do not seem to get much of an airing.
- From the point of view of a business, what about the PC repair man whose physical address is in Bromley, but who also services Orpington, Greenwich and Sevenoaks? His website previously got him listed for those local searches organically, but now he doesn’t have a shot at getting found near the top of Google results for any locations outside the town where he’s physically registered. Frequently, relevant organic results are now pushed out of sight, either at the foot of or right off the page.
- From the point of view of a Google user, what if I want to be able to turn off the Places results? Sometimes – many times – I don’t want them. Before the user had an option to search Google Maps to get local Places results, but now there is no corresponding option to exclude Places when they are not relevant – the choice has actually been restricted. Does this really improve the search experience?
Come on Google, at least give us a choice!