Have you noticed the review count went down on your business’ Google My Business (GMB) listing? Google recently confirmed that it was removing anonymous reviews, and according to a study by BrightLocal, approximately 3 percent of all Google reviews were potentially affected.
Given the scale of this review purge, it’s possible your business was on the receiving end of this change. Read on to learn how you can tell if you’ve been affected, and how to start building up new reviews and local search visibility the right way.
When and Why Did Google Remove Anonymous Reviews?
The local SEO community started noticing anonymous reviews were disappearing from the review count in the Knowledge Panel back in May. The reviews were still visible on GMB listings for roughly a month. Then, Google later confirmed to local search authority Mike Blumenthal near the end of June that these reviews had, indeed, been removed.
As others in the industry have observed, this new policy by Google is similar to moves by Yelp and TripAdvisor. It’s aimed at increasing quality and eliminating some of the low-hanging fruit when it comes to review spam, although it doesn’t remove the possibility entirely. As Moz’s Miriam Ellis observes:
“While it does mean you’re unlikely to see reviews marked as being from ‘A Google User,’ it does not in any way deter people from creating as many Google identities as they’d like to review your business. Consider:
- Google’s review product has yet to reach a level of sophistication which could automatically flag reviews left by ‘Rocky Balboa’ or ‘Whatever Whatever’ as, perhaps, somewhat lacking in legitimacy.
- Google’s product also doesn’t appear to suspect profiles created solely to leave one-time reviews, though this is a clear hallmark of many instances of spam.
- Google won’t remove text-less negative star ratings, despite owner requests.
- Google hasn’t been historically swayed to remove reviews on the basis of the owner claiming no records show that a negative reviewer was ever a customer.”
However, the need to fight fake reviews on Google is real. So far, at least, the local search community seems to unanimously agree that this is a good first step in the right direction.
How to Tell if Your GMB Listing Has Been Affected
If you’ve ever seen a review from “A Google User,” then you’ve seen an anonymous Google review. And if you’ve seen these on your own GMB listing, then it’s a pretty sure bet that you’ve been affected. If you’ve seen your review count go down or your star rating significantly change in the last month or two, then it’s also pretty likely that you’re on the receiving end of this update.
In many cases, it’s not necessarily a bad thing that these reviews were removed. On average, anonymous reviews were found to be lower-rated and often were the most negative reviews on any given GMB listing. Businesses with overwhelmingly positive reviews from these users were, more often than not, shilling on their own behalf. So if you had any competitors who were using this black hat tactic to unnaturally boost their own local search visibility, then that unfair advantage has been removed as well.
Road to Recovery: Encouraging Reviews from Customers
Google reviews are an essential factor in how your business ranks in the local map pack. According to a published case study by Search Engine Land contributor and local search thought-leader Joy Hawkins, although Google uses more than 200 different ranking factors, the number of reviews on a listing does impact its ranking in the local 3-pack and the local finder. This means these reviews can have an immediate impact on your business’ ability to be visible in these places, which in turn influences your potential for inbound business and revenue.
Acquire New Customer Reviews
New customer reviews are not easily acquired. As we’ve mentioned before on the Mediagistic blog, you have to lobby for them and earn them. Ranging from easiest to most difficult, here are some techniques that can help:
- Put a “review us on Google” button on your company’s website (ideally somewhere on the homepage).
- Highlight reviews, feature them in newsletters and signs in waiting rooms.
- Train your client-facing teams to recognize when a good customer experience has occurred and encourage them to ask customers for reviews.
- Use physical collateral and direct mail to reinforce awareness, and optionally use QR codes to make it easy for customers to find your GMB listing.
- Implement customer experience management and review solicitation software like Podium, Birdeye or Review Trackers (for example) to further encourage users to leave reviews via SMS and other channels.
- Set up automated email marketing campaigns and target segments of your database who have not yet left reviews of your business.
Stay on Google’s Good Side with Review Management
How you go about soliciting and managing new Google reviews is crucial. Make note that any form of “review gating” (i.e., discouraging or prohibiting negative reviews or selectively soliciting positive reviews from customers) is now expressly prohibited. Additionally, you cannot incentivize customers to leave good reviews with discounts, special offers, or any other kind of perks.
It’s against Google’s policy to “cherry-pick” only good reviews and display them on your website; you either have to integrate a feed of unfiltered Google reviews onto your site, or you cannot use any of them. As Whitespark founder Darren Shaw mentioned in his speech last week at MozCon, you also cannot collect reviews in bulk; Google flags your listing if you get too many reviews from the same IP or device signature (so setting up a kiosk or a device in your lobby or sending one into the field with your employees is a no-no).
Violating any of these policies can get your Google My Business account suspended and your listing removed from the local search pack and the local finder. At the very least, ignoring these guidelines could result in further review removals and penalties by Google.
Create a Culture of Excellence & Apply CXM Principles
Ensuring you get good reviews is deceptively simple:
- Be deliberate and conscientious in your approach to acquiring new customer reviews.
- Treat review acquisition as a long-term marketing tactic and encourage a culture of excellence in your company’s interactions with consumers.
- Train your team to apply the key principles of customer experience management (CXM) in all interactions.
- Take a long, hard look at your products and services, and make sure you’re offering good quality at competitive prices.
Then watch the positive reviews (and phone calls, form fills, bookings, reservations or foot traffic) start rolling in. Easy, right?
Elevate Your Local Search Game
Whether you’ve seen negative or positive fallout from Google’s anonymous review removal, one thing should be clear — you need to work on gaining and managing new reviews! Even if the endeavor requires a complete overhaul of your company’s culture, internal processes and training procedures, it’s well worth your investment to get this right. The net results for your local search presence have the potential to elevate your business high above its competition.
Need help? Turn to the local marketing experts. The Mediagistic local search team manages hundreds of Google My Business profiles for businesses all over the nation. We offer end-to-end online and offline marketing solutions to increase your local search visibility, and our team is ready to manage every aspect of your local SEO presence. Call us today or reach out via the form above to learn how we can help your business grow.
Eddie Childs is the Inbound Marketing Manager for Mediagistic. His writing has been published by a range of websites and publications including Copypress.com, Jambase.com, NFLSoup.com, FootballNation.com, and Boating World, KnowAtlanta, Men’s Book, Cobb in Focus, TCL, Blush, Charged Electric Vehicles, Business to Business, and Catalyst magazines. Follow him on Twitter and connect with him on Linkedin.
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