Google Places: Reputation Management

Most small businesses live in dread of the day when a competitor drops a nasty review on their Places page. Imagine waking up one day and finding 58 of them. That’s what happened to the Place Page for Moishe’s Moving Systems in NYC. For several days in early July they were finding one 1 star review after another showing up on their Places page. Imagine their sense of futility as they hit the “flag as inappropriate” link over and over again.

A quick call to their competitors across town indicated the same was happening to them. Not just the same pattern but the very same reviews, same bad English, same mispellings, often not even getting the company name correct.

A search in Maps on the phrase “It really hurt me and I highly recommend that NOBODY DO BUSSINESS WITH THIS COMPANY>>>>>> and by the way all the locations they advertise with are 100% fake” surfaced the very same reviews on over 100 moving companies country wide from Miami to LA.

It seems that in this scam, hundreds of moving companies across the U.S. not only ALL received the exact same bad reviews but many then soon received unsolicited proposals to “remove malicious, old, slanderous, unfounded, and internet defamation ratings”.


The internet has spawned a whole new generation of reputation management firms that help make sure that the front page of Google does not have bad things prominently displayed about your company. With the growing importance of reviews and the impact that they have had on businesses a number of companies jumped into the “positive review” only game to be sure that your Places page showed only glowingly satisifed reviews.

But apparently, the review reputation management business has taken on a new, more sinister twist of late. It appears that unscrupulous “reputation management” firms are now not only offering to place postive reviews on your Places page and help take down negative reviews, they are actually creating the negative reviews in the first place. Now that’s a business model! Have you seen this practice in other industries?

Google has indicated that they are in the process of removing the reviews. That being said it does highlight the structural problems caused by a still immature review spam algo AND the frustrating process for an SMB to request that a review be removed via the “flag as inappropriate” link. This problem is much like the issues that they confront with bugs in the Places Dashboard process.

It is likely that this obnoxious review spam will be taken down, it is also likely that the spam review filter algo will improve over time.

The current automated flagging system however is inadequate to handle the situation until such time as the algo improves. The flag, like many Google complaint processes, is likely just feedback to their machine learning system. It rarely if ever leads to an immediate takedown. Google consistently prioritizes their needs and the assumed needs of reviewers in this process. It certainly provides NO feedback to the affected merchant as to what if anything Google will do about the problem review.

As demonstrated once again by the review snafu last week, when numerous revews were lost, reviews are an very much a flash point for most business users of Places. The lack of quick public response on Google’s part demonstrated either an incredible lack of staff, an incredible lack of sensitivity or perhaps just an on-going tin ear to the needs of their small business clients vis a vis reviews.

Until such time as the algo is significantly improved and problems like extortion spam can be greatly minimized in an automated fashion Google needs to create a process that comes down in favor of the SMB reporting the problem. Perhaps one that hides the egregious reviews pending a human review process that actually includes timely communication. Once the algo has been refined they could then think about a cut back to the human intervention.

But with Google’s growing portfolio of Local Commerce products they will find a very chilly reception indeed on Main Street until they do a better job of handling reviews.

Google Places to Rollout Repair Option for Merged Listings

Ethan Russell, a Product Manager on Google’s local search team, recently posted some comments on my post: Google Customer Service: Up Against the Algo. He noted that sometime this quarter, Google will be rolling out a service solution to the long standing problem of two listings merging. It doesn’t appear that mergings will cease but rather that, once reported, they will be fixed in a reasonable and predictable timeframe.

Good news for all. Here are his comments and replies to my subsequent email queries:

Ethan Russel: Merged listings are a very frustrating problem — one that we’re working hard to fix. The best thing to do is to click the Report a Problem link on the listing in Google Maps, and choose “Some photos, reviews, or details belong to a different place.” We’re aware that it can currently take quite a while for these problems to be resolved. It’s painful, and it’s one of our top priorities to make this process smoother and faster.

As for some of the advice discussed in this thread, nuking the business listing is at best a temporary fix. As Mike points out, unless the data has changed, the algorithms will eventually make the same decision. Also, providing reviews for your own business is against our policy, even if they have been copied from reviews posted by your customers. I’ll make sure that these points are clarified with our Tags reps.

MB: You noted: We’re aware that it can currently take quite a while for these problems to be resolved. What is the timeframe someone can expect if they follow the procedure you outline?

Ethan Russel: After implementing improvements under development this quarter, we hope to be in the range of 21 days from time of report to time of correction.

MB: You say “under development” this quarter. Does that mean that if the stars are propitious it will be started this quarter or finished this quarter?

Ethan Russel: The work is already in progress, and we hope to finish this quarter.


Merging, an artifact of Google’s duplicate removal process is the “flip side” of the duplicate listing issue. If Google dials up the deduping, the mergings go up and if they dial it down the existence of dupes in the index increases.

Having a Google provided service solution to the merging problem is not an alternative to the best practice as far as minimizing the chances of a listing merging in the first place. The problems leading to mergings revolve around confusion in the NAP (name address and phone) between two distinct listings causing two clusters to become one. Here is a check list to prevent or possibly cure mergings while we are waiting for Google’s solution and to prevent them in the future.

1)Be sure that your business name is short and not keyword spammy. The longer it is and the more similar it is to other spammy business titles the greater the chance of a merge

2)Be sure that your phone number is unique to your business. If your number was previously used by a similar and/or nearby business the chances of a merge go up immeasurably.

3)Be sure that your address is a unique reflection of your actual location.

4)Reinforce the name, address and phone number by widespread dissemination of the basic business NAP throughout the local ecosystem.

5)Carefully position your business on the Map when you edit your business in Places.

6)Be sure that you provide reinforcing geo signals to Google via a KML file, geo-sitemap, hCard, geo-tagged photos, myMap references. Confirm that the geo info provided in all these geo-references is accurate to the specific lat-long minute and second.

Remember that Google’s algo is just an algo and if you nuke a listing without changing anything of the underlying data and signals that the algo looks at, the algo is likely to merge the two listings again.

I am hopeful that Google’s customer service solution might put in place some override to keep it from happening again but there is also the danger that citations, reviews and other data might be wrongly associated with the other listing so doing the above is still a good idea.