Mike Blumenthal’s When Will Google Places Fix Reviews? hit a nerve, as I imagine it would for any business that relies on Google Places as an important part of its presence on the Web.  I spend a lot of time sending emails to Mike and other Local SEO’s that go something like this “Have you noticed something screwy about Places reviews today?”

Here are some things I have seen in no particular order:

  1. Reviews disappearing from Place Pages
  2. Clicking on a “more” (page 2) of a reviews page on a Place Page and getting an empty page
  3. Inaccurate review counts
  4. Inaccurate star ratings
  5. Text extracted from a web page incorrectly categorized as a review
  6. Reviews associated with the wrong business
  7. Reviews linked to the wrong review on a third party site
  8. Reviews attributed to the wrong reviewer or better yet to a non-existent reviewer
  9. Links to third party review sites showing up attached to a SERP result but not displaying on all pages where the result appears.  For example, a link to CustomerLobby.com might show up in the Places filtered SERP attached to a result, but CL won’t show up as a review source on the business’ Place Page (although it could show up as a “More about this place” link.

Mike’s article and the commenters hit on some of the other winners.

Mike says he has received some “we’re on it” assurances from the Google Places team and I have heard the same thing.  I have no doubt that they are working on this problem, particularly in light of the recent HotPot launch and the ascendancy of Marissa Mayer to the head of Google Local.

I am guessing that one of the reasons why local reviews – and data consistency in general – persist to be a problem for Google is that many of the Maps/Local products were built separately and rely on their own indexes and algorithms.  I suspect a lot of the volatility we have seen over the past year has been due to Google’s gradual attempt to unify these experiences and their backends, causing Rube Goldberg-like ripple effects that are hard to anticipate.

Like everyone in this business always says – “Local is hard”.

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18 Response Comments

  • Monica Wright  December 20, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    Hey Andrew,

    I have a client who seeing the exact same thing. He has set up (all on his own, bless his heart) a process for his clients to write a review from a desktop station in his office. He had about 60 reviews that recently vanished. Do you think that because all of these reviews came from one location may have impacted the sudden deletion? I was also considering testing with an iPad and capture reviews via the 3G network instead…

  • Andrew Shotland  December 20, 2010 at 2:24 pm


    In general I don’t recommend having all of the reviews come from the same computer/IP address. This could set off a spam signal to GOOG.

  • Ted Paff  December 20, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    I was told by a Google employee that the Maps algo and the Place Page results algo are different and will return different results. I hope you are right and they are merging the algos. If not, there will be bugs to kill in both of them.

  • Monica Wright  December 20, 2010 at 3:01 pm

    Thanks Andrew, that’s what I mentioned as well. But this all happened very recently in addition to a bunch of other inaccuracies. I was also wondering if a work around on a mobile device such as an iPad would work. Just thought I’d throw it out there. He had a great process going!

  • Andrew Shotland  December 20, 2010 at 3:44 pm


    I am not sure if “merging the algorithms” is the right way to think about it. I am thinking it’s more like they are trying to make them work together better. Then again who knows?

  • Dean  December 20, 2010 at 5:21 pm

    Andrew I think you make a good point about the different db’s and verticals contributing to inconsistencies in G’s index.

    I read a comment awhile ago that stated how the poor datasets being displayed in G’s index must have been anticipated by G themselves in order to progress. It seems to me like they bit off more then they can chew with all the releases this past year.

    I just kind of wonder what the google index might look like when this crappy period is over with. When the algo has eaten enough click data to legitimately read my mind. Can’t see that happening anytime soon…

  • Dallas SEO Consultant - Mike Stewart  December 21, 2010 at 2:39 am

    Sometimes you mix stuff together as a little kid and then find out what you made doesn’t mix well… Google seems to be growing through some data mixup issues. They have blended local, included video, allowed clients to change names and entire profiles as well as merging information from many sources….

    No kidding.. local is hard. But consider how much more you get than old media. In my opinion the general display ad consistancy of old print yp needs to be included in results, maybe preview is this sort of solution?

    All I know is, search is the best form of local decision making and the local SMB market will grow like corporate has with Facebook and Twitter handles.

    It is somewhat predictable on what will and wont make it….. glad I left StupidMedia when I did fellas.

  • Jim Rudnick  December 21, 2010 at 8:38 am

    have had some of your list happen up here in google.ca land too, Andrew….

    and like most Canuck SEOs, we too are trying to figure out when things will settle….

    so far tho, not yet is the last conclusion….



  • Thos  December 21, 2010 at 5:45 pm

    When will they return reviews that they wrongfully removed?… I’m not holding my breathe. You work with what you’ve got. If they can’t do it, then you move on. Honestly I have a lot more respect for yelp and insiderpages these days.

  • Eric Itzkowitz  December 22, 2010 at 12:32 pm

    If there is one thing I have learned over the years it’s that change is constant; just roll with the punches the best you can.

    DON’T CHASE THE ALGO! Realize that the algo is really nothing more than a search engine companys’ attempt to replicate our offline behavior. As Eric Ward most appropriately stated, “You are the algorithm, my friend, and you always have been.”

    Having said this and with Monica’s matter, specifically, it should be pretty obvious for anybody looking to bolster their (local) online presence that asking several people to write a review from the same computer is not real idealistic human behavior, thus will not deliver the desired result… sustainable strong local ranking(s).

    Stop for a second… Think about how a real testimonial or review comes to be.

    1) A real person buys a product or service.
    2) Person likes or dislikes it and decides to let somebody know about their experience.
    3) Person finds an appropriate outlet(s) and fires out a review/testimonial.

    Note: In most cases, testimonials (reviews) are provided by real people who live at a different address (physical and IP).

    Take Away: Google and the other SEs are merely attempting to replicate this entire process so it works online.

    Action: Perhaps a smarter approach for your client would be to send a follow-up email to each customer, which asks them to write and post a review about their experience.

    In conclusion, anybody who wants to build a sustainable online presence MUST stop thinking about how to game the system for short term benefits and start thinking long term. It’s not only easier, it’s smarter and requires much less effort.

    Disclaimer: Even affiliate marketers are beginning to realize they need to build a sustainable presence if they want to fiar well on Google. Yeah, there are those in for the quick hit, but the really really successful folks are building a real brand and a sustainable presence.

  • Lee  December 22, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    Hey Eric,

    I couldn’t agree more. If you’re in the business of chasing the latest algorithm, then you’re not in the business of adding real value to your customers, which is the only thing that will reward you over the long haul.

    Andrew, thanks for the post and more great info on what going on with Place pages. This site is a great resource, much appreciated.

  • Eric Itzkowitz  December 22, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    @Andrew: Lee’s comment made me realize I’ve failed to thank you for providing such a great local-centric resource. Dig your writing style and approach. Thanks again!

  • MiriamEllis  December 22, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    Here’s to hoping Google’s making a list and checking it twice. Your numbered list would be a great starting point for them! When you start to reel off all of the little problems, the overall gravity of the unresolved issues in the Google reviews arena looms large.

    May 2011 see meaningful improvements in Google’s handling of reviews. Happy Holidays to you and your family, Andrew!

  • dee oneal  December 23, 2010 at 4:52 pm

    I’ve noticed that last week but never pay attention to it as I thought it will get back to normal. I’ve been so busy these days maybe that’s why I never bother about it. Well, hopefully it will improve in the next few weeks and by the way I never know that using same IP address will be considered spamming, is that true?

  • PureSheer  December 25, 2010 at 1:39 pm

    Not chasing the algo is very right! Actions coming from a status of ‘panic’ can lead to an unknown results. been stable & determine is the key here. Also keep doing as much R&Ds as possible.

    @ Andrew
    You can add this to your list- i have a screen shot that shows another new section in Maps listing- “Popular Places”. In there you can find links from Wikipedia, However, now it’s not appearing on line anymore & i have only my screen shot as an evident.
    Apparently Google is fixing old issues & aligning many stuff or/and up to something new.

  • Chuck Rowland  December 31, 2010 at 10:19 am


    Poor old Google. Most Businesses get to try new products and ideas in the privacy of the R&D department but Google has to do it online and every nuance and trial is examined and ripped apart before it is actually launched.

    Google, as every business, is evolving and trying out new products and services. In the background though they are providing services with core values. It is these core values that will not change.

    Follow your common sense on what is whitehat and the end result will be a long term high listing, no matter what the latest trial will produce in results terms.

    Google are very good at telling interested people what they are doing and how to do it. I have the latest video from Google on my Blog. Feel free to have a look.

    Happy and Successful New Year to all.

  • Andrew Shotland  December 31, 2010 at 10:46 am

    The difference between GOOG and most businesses is that their R&D blunders have significant impact on other businesses. For example, millions of dollars were lost by businesses when they accidentally deleted La Jolla from Google Maps.

    They are basically a utility at this point and utilities don’t get a pass when the water gets turned off or the power goes out.

  • Randy Kirk  January 1, 2011 at 7:19 pm

    I’ve claimed and written for some time that Google is or thinks they are God. Here then another similarity. Goog give and Goog takes away.