Google Places: Onsite “Review Stations”


Onsite “Review Stations” AOK with Google

Several weeks ago, I attended a Google GetYourBusiness online seminar and I was surprised to hear the speaker strongly encouraging SMBS to install a computer at their places of business to use as a station where clients, immediately upon completing a transaction, could easily leave a review on their Google Place’s page.

Clearly if training, sales and support at Google all say it is OK, then it must be OK to have on site workstations for the purpose of generating reviews. And one can infer from all of this is that the review filter would not block the review based on location (IP) alone.


Yelp and Tripadvisor long ago put in place bans on reviews generated onsite from the place of business. In the case of Yelp, the reviews get filtered. TripAdvisor goes so far as to flag/punish the business with a Red notice questioning the integrity of the hotel. Avvo will allow the practice by prior approval and an explanation as to the need. Google’s policy is clearly contrary to the industry norms. Allowing and even encouraging the behavior of using a review station is questionable at best.

While there is nothing against practice in the Google Places review guidelines it is a practice that I have discouraged in my consulting and writings.

Firstly it seems coercive. If a customer is in your store, they can’t very easily say no and more importantly, they might not feel free to leave a fully honest or negative review. It is on the business owners turf and it creates an unequal power dynamic that seems contrary to the spirit of fair, honest and useful reviews.

Secondly, the practice of allowing these reviews make abuse by business owners even easier and more likely.

Apparently, Google doesn’t agree with me. For now, at least with Google, you can solicit reviews in your place of business without worry of losing them to the filter if they are otherwise ok.

Your business

Should you gather reviews from a work station on your premises? That depends on a number of factors specific to your business. Despite Google allowing the practice, I am not comfortable with it in many situations. Because of ethical concerns and the obvious, location centric footprint I have never suggested the idea to clients.

There may be reasons why it makes sense for your business. Here are some things to consider:

-Certainly all of the ethical issues are at play and if you do encourage the use of an internal workstation you need to take them into consideration.

-There will still be logistic issues with user accounts and the likely need for the business to provide many users with help.

-I have said it before and I will say it again, DO NOT put all of your review eggs in one basket. This should not be the only way you gather reviews and Google should not be the only site you ask for reviews on. They could easily change their mind on this policy and all of the reviews gathered this way could disappear in a puff of smoke.


I think it an error on the part of Google to encourage reviews be captured in this way. Regardless of whether it is an intentional act on their part or an oversight in their policy, I think it will further degrade the quality of reviews in Google Places and make spamming easier and more likely to occur.

Neither you nor I have the ability to change which way the winds blow. If at the end of the day it makes sense for your business to implement the practice, do so cautiously. Recognize that any benefit may be short lived and the reviews may go more quickly than they came. Most importantly of all, respect the customer and their needs in the transaction.

Author Information Results with Google Plus

We know that Google has been integrating author results in the main search for a while and late last month tweaked those results with the addition of circles . But Google is now linking the Author Information image in the main search directly with recent Google Plus posts in a results much like the Plus Places integration seen earlier in the week. Unlike the local results which were in Places but not the Main results, this integration is occurring in the main search results.

To see the results search on an author with author information like Matt McGee and then click directly on the author photo to see the integration with the Posts in the search results:

Google Places: Local Search Problems


The good folks from Artfibers, a prominent yarn store at 266 Sutter St. in San Francisco, CA, made this recent post in the forums:

I own one of the oldest and best yarn stores in San Francisco — Artfibers. Six months ago our name came up in a Google search “yarn San Francisco”. Now we do not. It seems that Google is determined to destroy our business. What can we do?

After several efforts by myself and another poster to help they proceeded to only get angrier at Google. I penned this response.

To seabright.nyle from Artfibers in San Francisco.

I understand that you are frustrated. I understand that Google Local results seem crazy and unpredictable to you and that you are angry. I understand that your time is limited but you feel compelled to explain all of this to Google. There is a reason for all of this:

Google is from Mars and most small business people are from Venus.

Let me explain.

Google solves big computational problems with algorithms. That is what they do, that is how they define themselves. On this particular computational problem of local search, they attempt to rank the 100 million or so world wide off-line businesses using on-line proxies. By that I mean that Google is looking to compare the importance of your business to another by looking across the Internet for signals that your real, substantial and significant Place in the real world has more prominence than another in your particular area of geography and specialty.

This is not small task that Google has undertaken. They use a statistical approach to improving the results and figure that if they can provide mostly accurate and relevant results and those are more accurate this week than last week than they are moving in the right direction. Computational and statistical approaches to the question of which businesses exist today and which are more important will never be 100% accurate. Your perception of reality and statistics rarely offer the same reflection of the real world.

You, on the other hand, think that your business deserves to be noticed, acknowledged and affirmed for the unique entity that it is. You feel that your business has earned this attention. Your business is often how you define yourself. When yours is one of the businesses that is affected by Google’s seemingly distant approach, you are justifiably angry.

But in this context your business is no more important to Google than a gnat on a the pettuti of an elephant is to that elephant. It might get noticed but it won’t change the general direction of travel. But it might also get swatted out of existence with the swish of a tail, regardless of ground truth.

You as a business owner can fight this tendency or you can take a more “go with the flow” approach.  I have been doing both for over 6 years. I can tell you from a narrow cost benefit approach, understanding the flow and going with it is usually the most profitable approach for small businesses.

You can try to get support in the forums, you can attempt to e-mail Google or call them and ask why your prominent off-line business is not more prominent online in their search engine. You can argue until you are blue in the face that they are “getting it wrong”.

The answer you will likely get IF you do manage to break through the veritable Iron Curtain of silence and connect with a human is the same answer that  Google provides in the Help Documents.

Google Maps search results are based primarily on relevance, distance, and prominence. These factors are combined to help us find the best match for your search.

Google Maps and Google Places are free services, so there’s no way to request or pay for a better ranking. In addition, we do our best to keep the details of the algorithm confidential in order to make the ranking system as fair as possible for everyone.

Their answer will make you will wonder if the people working there are any less computational and statistical than their algo. (I can assure you that they are.)

That leaves the “go with the flow” option. That means the “Google flow” or rather the flow as they have designed for they are big and you are little. You are the fly mentioned above.

This option means that you need to embark on an effort to learn how to make your business more relevant and more prominent in ways that Google (the machine, not the few humans behind the curtain) understands.

This effort will require either some time or some money. Perhaps more than you have readily available.

Either though is preferable to beating your head against that iron wall. Both directions will provide results. The latter though (the wall tactic) will provide just a headache.