Google Places Gains New Ally in Review Battle with Yelp

Google has been in a pitched tussle with Yelp for quite some time. Google introduced reviews to local in 2007 and the fun began. Yelp reviews in Google, Yelp reviews out of Google, Yelp’s anger at Google’s use of their content, Google contrition, a large offer by Google and a failed buyout, Yelp reviews out of Google and in once again, more Yelp complaints… Google couldn’t seem to win but in typical Google fashion they kept plugging away. They weren’t giving up in the review arena.

Finally with the release of Hotpot last year and Google’s subsequent  success in garnering ratings and reviews things started to change on the review front. Research was indicating that Google was making strides and soon Google stepped out and into the “we have lots of reviews game”. Yelp of course rose to the bait and insisted on engaging in the my review corpus is bigger than yours type posturing.

The changes yesterday in 3rd party review handling will change this review competition once again and tilt the playing field a little further towards Google in their battle with Yelp. While I don’t think the change should affect SMBs’ review management plans, it will do just that. Companies that saw their display count drop from 250 to 5 on the front page of Google will shift their efforts to regain an advantage. They will shift their review solicitation plans to refocus their client’s attention on Google.

Google has just gained an unwitting ally in their multi year battle with Yelp on the review front.

Automate Review Spam Farm With Google Places New RSS Feed

How to properly use the newly introduced RSS feed import feature in the Google Places Hotpot interface that allows you to quickly review places of interest to you. I struggled with the interface and the instructions wondering exactly which reviewer would succeed with the task but along the way I discovered a creative black hat use. Use the feature to automate your spammy review farm activities.

Google Places has implemented some algorythmic filters to remove spammy reviews from Places account. The filters are still a work in progress and often catch good reviews along with the bad. While the algo seems to be able to filter the obviously bad reviews it often seems to not catch the review content from “positive review only services” that  are obviously spam.

Usually these services have a number of clients and an equal number of “reviewers” that post reviews on the client’s listing page. Any given review and reviewer look legit. But in aggregate the quantity of reviews, the distance and location of the reviewed businesses, the rapid change from negative to many all positive reviews and the reoccurrence of certain businesses amongst the reviewers point to spam. This particular pattern of review spam abuse is only obvious when you look at a number of the reviewer’s history and a number of listings that they have in common.  An example of this pattern is often visible in car dealers. See these dealers: here, here, here and here and these reviewers: Anastacia, Debi, Rachel and Candida and it becomes clear to a human viewer if not the algo that it is spam.

The new RSS feed capability that Google added to Places allows a user to easily (well the activity is easy once your figure out the totally wigged out interface) import their favorite businesses from MyMaps and FourSquare into Hotpot for a quick and easy queue of Place listings to review. The feature, as obtuse as it is, might attract a few active, geeky FourSquare users but it also seems to be the perfect tool to make review farms more “efficient”. As the price of fabricated reviews continues to drop in the open market place, it is important to your long term success  that you are the low cost provider.

Here is a step by step guide to the vagaries of this new feature for all of you black hat review spammers out there that want to achieve greater scale to your operations:

Step One: Create one or more MyMaps that includes your clients business listings. To be really “sneaky” spread them out amongst 4 or 5 MyMaps. It appears that the algo is not yet capable of tracking this sort of pattern of abuse. Be sure to make the MyMap public or at least share it with your minions. This is a one time effort that while somewhat time consuming will allow future dissemination of all the businesses your are reviewing.

Step Two: Have your many Mechanical Turks each create several Google accounts each. Not too many as that is a signal that Google is catching.

Step Three: Capture the URL for the RSS Feed for your MyMap lists. (Okay this is a bit tricky not because it is hard but because of Google’s instructions.  Those instructions refer to it as an RSS Feed but there is NO link in MyMaps called RSS. It is actually the link associated with the Google Earth KML download call View in Google Earth. You need to right click and copy the link.)

Step Four: Assign several MyMaps to each of your Turks, email it to them and suggest that they switch periodically between the MyMap business lists when rating. It adds a nice touch of reality.

Step Four: Goto to the Google Hotpot interface and instruct them to paste the URL into the search field. Some have suggested that you can add “?count=3000″ (or whatever number you’d like to display) to the end of the rss link to import more than the default load of 12 but I have yet to get that to work and it is easy enough to click on the load more button.