Google Places Review Abuse
As TripAdvisor is the dominant ratings sytem for hotels and restaurants etc., I make no excuses for concentrating this blog on that website.
However, anyone in the travel and lodging business with a listing on Google Places should not have failed to notice that the search engine giant also has its own ratings system. Normally some competition for TripAdvisor might be regarded as a “good thing” to encourage improvement – but unfortunately that is not the case here.
The Google system is woefully inadequate, with nothing to stop anyone from posting hundreds of fake reviews in a single day if they want to. And I am not exaggerating. Here is one example that came to my attention simply because my own Places listing was one of those reviewed by this anonymous reviewer – one of over 900 Google Places reviews this individual made in one day in June 2011! http://bit.ly/KSYlSo
Google says its “mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. Then Google should do something about abuses like this if it wants its fledgling review system to be taken even remotely seriously.
And “Anonyme” needs a good kick up the arse.
Google Places Fake Ratings
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!
TripAdvisor’s Steve Kaufer tells Google “It’s not fair”
Stephen Kaufer of TripAdvisor admitted this week that discussions have broken down after Google said it would continue to include TripAdvisor’s user-generated reviews of businesses in its Google’s Place pages.
It is unclear in this dispute which one is the pot and which the kettle, but both are clearly black.
Mr. Kaufer said Google told him that if he didn’t like TripAdvisor reviews appearing on Google, TripAdvisor could tweak its site so that reviews would be invisible to the search engine.
But Mr Kaufer said blocking Google from seeing the reviews would not only remove them from Hotpot and Place pages but would also hurt his site’s ability to appear in normal search results. Google is a significant source of traffic for TripAdvisor. “I don’t feel like it’s fair to force me to provide information to site that’s trying to compete with me,” he said. TripAdvisor accepts no responsibility for review content, but does claim ownership of the same.
In response, Google claims it “built Google for users, not websites, and our goal is to give users answers … Each day we send millions of customer referrals to local businesses and third party websites, such as review sites, through local search. The overwhelming feedback we get from users, business owners and website owners is that they value the answers and traffic they receive from local search.”
So there you have it. On one side, Mr Kaufer wants Google to cache his site’s page content to improve its position in search results, but not to display that same content on Google Maps/Places. On the other, Google wants to use TripAdvisor reviews to make its Places content more attractive to users, in anticipation of future developments when it hopes to have its own online booking system linked to Places.
It is unclear in this dispute which one is the pot and which the kettle, but both are clearly black.
Reviews Tug-of-War – Does it Matter?
IN THE REVIEWS TUG-OF-WAR with Google Places, TripAdvisor seems to have gained the upper hand – at least for the moment.
Prompted by a comment on an earlier post, I checked my benchmark ‘Paris hotels’ and ‘London hotels’ searches on Google Places/Maps and the TA reviews have largely disappeared once again, following a couple of weeks where all reviews had been shown.
There are individual exceptions (3 out of 10 London hotels on Places show TripAdvisor reviews), proving that the ban still isn’t watertight and that Google hasn’t given up the fight.
Our own listing is still showing TA reviews on Places – but that could change again tomorrow, and the uncertainty will continue until Google and TripAdvisor come to some sort of agreement or one throws in the towel.
Some may not care whether there are TA reviews on Places or not, but some potential customers may be drawn to a hotel with lots of reviews showing, so the current TA review lottery can’t be ignored completely.
What about you – are you bothered whether Google Places shows TripAdvisor listings, either as an owner or as a user?
TA Reviews on Google Places – January 14th 2011
Has Google Beaten TripAdvisor Embargo on Reviews?
I recently remarked that Google Places/Maps results were once more showing TripAdvisor Reviews in full, and as far as I’ve been able to ascertain that continues to be the case (owners/managers – check your property and let me know if yours doesn’t!).
Kevin at TNooz took this up and asked TripAdvisor if they’d changed their policy towards Places; a TA spokesperson insisted that the block on streaming reviews remains in place (no pun intended!). They are sticking by what they said in December 2010, that the restriction continues and TripAdvisor does not believe users “benefit with the experience of selecting the right hotel” if Google Places streams its reviews. TripAdvisor is in “constant discussions with Google”, according to the same source.
However, searches on Google Maps/Places today prove that TripAdvisor reviews appear on critical on Google Places results, such as ‘london hotels’ and ‘paris hotels’, which suggests that the block on streaming has more holes in it than a sieve.
TA Reviews still on Google Places – January 14th 2011
At this stage in the game it seems that Google has found a new way around the TripAdvisor embargo, and TripAdvisor has not yet found an effective defence.
TripAdvisor Back on Google Places
Shortly before Christmas, TripAdvisor confirmed that its block on the use of their reviews by Google was continuing, despite media reports and rumours to the contrary. A TripAdvisor spokesperson said in a statement to TNooz on December 14th last year:
Despite the rumours, we are continuing to restrict TripAdvisor content on Google Places as we don’t think it benefits users at this time with the experience of selecting the right hotel.
This confirmed our own findings and refuted some premature reports around that time that the dispute had been settled.
Searching Google at that time for “London hotels” and for “Paris Hotels” proved that most hotels still had no TripAdvisor reviews on Google Places, with only two out of the top ten hotels showing any reviews in both search results.
However, the same searches on Google this week reveal that TripAdvisor reviews are back in full on Google Places results, although there has been no public announcement by either party that their dispute over the use of TripAdvisor reviews is actually settled.
TA Reviews back on Google Places - January 8th 2011
At present, and until a formal statement is issued by TripAdvisor, it is not possible to say whether this is because they have reached an amicable settlement, or Google has found a way around the TripAdvisor embargo, which was never 100% successful in any case, or because TripAdvisor has backed down over the issue.