20 December, 2017

Three Key Changes to the Google Review Guidelines

Last Updated: 31 Dec, 2017
Google reviews policy ended Dec 2017

Google reviews policy ended Dec 2017

In mid December, Google quietly rolled out an upgrade to the customer reviews filtering algorithm.  It was intended to take out a lot of review spamming that has been going on.

Around the same time, Google also quietly removed the old Google My Business Reviews Policy page, making much of the reviews guidelines part of the Google Maps content policy.

The new review guidelines include a broader range of no-no’s, all of which are common sense. There are the usual suspects such as no hate speech, no adult content, no confidential info, no copyrighted or illegal content, etc.

Subtle but significant changes to the guidelines

1. Former/current employees are no longer able to leave reviews

This is finally explicit.  Not having this clear has caused a fair bit of frustration when a former employee gets the sack, leaves a horrid review and then Google refused to take it down. If you’ve ever been in this situation, sing out and let’s try to get that resolved.

2. Don’t offer or accept money in exchange for reviews

This is a confusing change, as the old guidelines stated “Don’t offer or accept money, products, or services to write reviews for a business” . This version specifically says just money in one article. Yet Google keeps the more broad wording incentives, in another help article.

So does this vaguery mean discounts and other inducements are OK?  Depends on the overriding law of the land.

If you’re in Australia the ACCC guidelines state:

Incentives should only be offered in exchange for reviews of your business (its products or services) if:

  • incentives are offered equally to consumers likely to be complimentary[sic] and consumers likely to be critical, and positive and negative reviews are treated the same
  • the reviewer is expressly told that the incentive is available whether the review is positive or negative
  • the incentive is prominently disclosed to users who rely on affected reviews.

In the US, the FTC isn’t as detailed in its offering of guidance, but follows along the similar lines.

If there is a material connection between an endorser and an advertiser, that connection should be clearly and conspicuously disclosed unless it’s already clear from the context of the communication.

So after that, I’d still say even though the wording is changed, it’s not really a change.

3. Don’t solicit reviews from customers in bulk

This one is also concerning, because there isn’t clarity about what “bulk” constitutes.  Logically you’d say don’t email out 200 customers a day and get 10 reviews in a day and expect any of them to stick.  While that makes sense, we’re wondering how Google will determine whether something is a “bulk”.

  • Is it a link in an email that gets used “too frequently”?
    If so, is it then the click of the link that sets the trigger or the review left by using the link?
    If you happen to be using Gmail or Google Apps for your mail, know that Google follows links in emails (we tested it). So a another option could be the number of times that link gets known to Google.
  • Is it the volume of reviews left based on historical trends? If that’s the case, then how does a business get started? I’ve seen Google wipe a handful of reviews for a business that took a couple of months to accumulate. The listing had been around for awhile, and the business owner “woke up” to the importance of reviews. That’s good right?  Maybe not so much – you can imagine the frustration of getting the reviews and then having them wiped overnight.

My advice in with reviews is to start slowly, build naturally.

  • Offer multiple options (website, google, facebook, yelp, etc).
  • Start with a handful of invitations a day or week, and work your way up to a larger number over a period of several weeks.  If your business is seasonal, let the volume be reflective of the seasonality of your business.
4. Missing: mention of kiosks

(#4 here because despite it’s appearance, #2 isn’t really a change)

In the older guidelines Google had expressly stated

If you’re a business owner, don’t set up review stations or kiosks at your place of business just to ask for reviews written at your place of business.

The “new” guidelines don’t mention kiosks. Nevertheless I still believe they’re a no-go because of this wording on the Get Reviews on Google page:

Let them know that it’s quick and easy to leave business reviews on mobile devices or desktop computers.

And we know historically, Google checks the devices where reviews are written. If it sees multiple reviews from the same device, it filters them out.

Local Guides

Local guides in particular are incentivised to add photos and longer text in reviews.

If you find your listing suddenly receiving more reviews than usual and you’re not sure why, check to see if it’s coming from Local Guides.  If it is, double check the photos. We’re seeing a rise in the amount of photo spam coming from fake LG profiles, often associated with reviews.

Links to key articles about reviews & review content

(now spread between Maps and GMB support documentation)

This article summarises the most significant changes to the guidelines, and intended to cover the vast majority of situations with a fairly quick read. Joy Hawkins has already done a good post about the nitty gritty details.