Google Places seems to have again misplaced reviews in significant quanties. The forums are loaded with complaints particularly during the past 24 hours with 5 of the last 10 postings in the forums being about missing reviews (here, here, here, here, and here).
Reviews for a small business are a very sensitive area. Initially most SMBs are hesitant to engage in the process for fear that they won’t be liked and their warts will be visible for all the world to see. Once they do engage in the review process they become the ultimate proud mother hen, protecting their reviews as if they were the palace guards and the reviews were the crown jewels. It in area of great angst for many and Google’s poor handling of them brings down a stream of complaints and insults like no other area in the forum.
Google Places has a long history of loosing reviews. It usually occurs when there are large changes occurring. Often times they return after several weeks although in my case it has been 3 months without seeing them on my listing.
Exactly why reviews are lost but business listings are not, implies that the information is kept in a different index. When there is a major upgrade they end up needing to be reassociated with the cluster. (At least this my theory and for what it is worth, publicly embraced by Google).
Regardless of the cause, it appears to be a systemic weakness in the architecture of Places. It is also a weakness that is noted by many a business who readily point it out. It is strange to me that Google would leave such a weakness so visible if for no other reason than a fix would quiet the rioting hordes.
So, what exactly can a business do if their reviews go missing? What tactics can help in this situation?
1- Google Places and Maps is a frustrating arena because of problems like this. The main thing to do is to take a breath and realize that usually, sooner or later, they will return. Don’t waste your time lamenting the fact that they are missing. Oh, ok lament a little but don’t put any real energy into the problem as the issue does not appear to affect ranking.
2- Keep an eye out for listing replication in the index. Many times, particularly in the medical and legal fields, a second record will appear in the index and “steal” some of the reviews. This creates a whole other set of problems that I won’t address here but at least you know where they went (see #1).
3- Be sure that you are getting reviews from a range of sources. Usually Google doesn’t seem to lose both in house and 3rd party reviews at the same time. If you have taken the time to get reviews at CitySearch, Yahoo, etc etc, they will still be there when your Google reviews disappear and vice versa.
4-Don’t be mucking with your business name. Changing your name can cause your cluster to become disoriented leading to a host of problems from mergings to lost reviews. Name is one of the critical glues holding your cluster together.
5-Read #1 and take a deep breath. You worked hard to deserve and get those good reviews but at least your favorite aunt isn’t dying. It is important but put this in perspective.