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While most of the online marketing world is still abuzz over the recent announcement of the upcoming ‘helpful content update’, Google has quietly revealed it is preparing a product review algorithm update that will go live this month.

This algorithm update seeks to improve the quality and value of reviews Google highlights in search results. 

Since the new update is coming so soon after the release of the helpful content update, many are speculating it may be tied to the helpful content update in some way – such as using the helpful content update to better identify high-quality reviews which show firsthand knowledge of a product or business.

Here’s what Google actually had to say about its product review update:

“We know product reviews can play an important role in helping you make a decision on something to buy. Last year, we kicked off a series of updates to show more helpful, in-depth reviews based on first-hand expertise in search results.

We’ve continued to refine these systems, and in the coming weeks, we’ll roll out another update to make it even easier to find high-quality, original reviews. We’ll continue this work to make sure you find the most useful information when you’re researching a purchase on the web.”

While Google hasn’t released specific guidance for this algorithm update, it has previously given a list of questions to assess your product reviews. 

Do your reviews:

  • Express expert knowledge about products where appropriate?
  • Show what the product is like physically, or how it is used, with unique content beyond what’s provided by the manufacturer?
  • Provide quantitative measurements about how a product measures up in various categories of performance?
  • Explain what sets a product apart from its competitors?
  • Cover comparable products to consider, or explain which products might be best for certain uses or circumstances?
  • Discuss the benefits and drawbacks of a particular product, based on research into it?
  • Describe how a product has evolved from previous models or releases to provide improvements, address issues, or otherwise help users in making a purchase decision?
  • Identify key decision-making factors for the product’s category and how the product performs in those areas? For example, a car review might determine that fuel economy, safety, and handling are key decision-making factors and rate performance in those areas.
  • Describe key choices in how a product has been designed and their effect on the users beyond what the manufacturer says?

No one likes receiving a bad review. Not only do they affect your company’s morale, but they can also easily scare off future customers if they check your reviews – and they will almost certainly read your reviews. Studies have shown that 98% of consumers read online reviews before doing business with a local company.

At the same time, there is usually very little you can do about a legitimate negative online review. In most cases, the best solution is to be humble, apologize for not delivering the quality service or products expected, and do your best to make it right.

Still, there are a few types of reviews that require more extreme responses. Thankfully, when dealing with fake, spammy, or inappropriate reviews, you may be able to get the offending reviews deleted entirely.

When Can a Review Be Deleted?

There are strict rules about what types of reviews can be deleted. 

For obvious reasons, complaints that appear to be legitimate complaints about a poor experience with your brand can not be deleted. 

However, Google can remove reviews for your business if they break the company’s policies and guidelines. These include rules banning deceptive, explicit, or irrelevant. Below, we will talk a bit more about exactly what violations may make a review subject to removal.

Offensive Content

As described by Google, offensive content may include any sort of content “that is clearly and deliberately provocative.”

This includes any form of hate speech or harassment, as well as reviews containing personal information.

Deceptive Content

Misleading or inaccurate reviews are a regular occurrence online. In some cases, competitors may try to hurt your reputation by manufacturing a poor experience. Personal conflicts between individuals may also boil over and result in negative reviews in an effort to get an individual fired.

This is why Google does not allow any review that is not an accurate representation of a real experience with a brand.

Mature Content

To ensure content on the search engine remains safe for all users, Google will delete any reviews containing profanity, sexually explicit content, adult themes, or graphic violence.

Regulated or Illegal Content

Reviews may not contain calls to action for products or services which may be subject to local legal restrictions. Additionally, Google warns that dangerous activities or illegal content will get reviews removed.

Irrelevant Content

Lastly, reviews must be related to an actual experience with a company’s products or services. That means rants, off-topic content, or attempts to promote one’s own products are subject to removal.

How To Get an Online Review Removed

Obviously, brands can not directly delete reviews from their Google Business Profiles. Instead, a company representative must report a review for removal through Google Search or Google Maps.

Once reported, Google will assess the review and determine if it violates any of the platform’s policies. Though this process may take several days, brands can also mitigate the damage of a misleading or inappropriate review with a response explaining the reality of the situation and noting that the review has been reported to Google.

Google Maps reviews have long been an important tool for both consumers and brands – allowing shoppers to share their experiences with other potential customers and letting brands showcase their great services where shoppers are most likely to be. 

Now, the company is finally explaining how this system works, including how Google Maps moderates reviews and automatically spots fraudulent, misleading, or inappropriate reviews among the millions of legitimate reviews posted every day.

In a recently published overview, the company says it relies on 5 key strategies to consistently ensure reviews on Google Maps are authentic, useful, and relevant for other consumers.

1. Strict, Up-to-Date Content Guidelines

The first line of defense against malicious or inappropriate Google Maps reviews is a strict set of guidelines dictating what sorts of content are appropriate on the platform. 

As the guide says:

“We’ve created strict content policies to make sure reviews are based on real-world experiences and to keep irrelevant and offensive comments off of Google Business Profiles.”

Additionally, Google points to its regular updates to these policies to stay ahead of bad actors. For example, the company points to the quick steps it took to prevent reviews criticizing health policies following the spread of COVID-19.

“We put extra protections in place to remove Google reviews that criticize a business for its health and safety policies or for complying with a vaccine mandate.”

2. Integrating Content Policies Into Google’s Algorithms

Once a policy is set, it is disseminated to every relevant area of Google Maps. That means it not only goes into training material for human moderators but also goes into Google’s own machine learning algorithms.

Broadly, this allows Google’s algorithms to evaluate new reviews for a variety of red flags, including:

  • Does it contain offensive or off-topic content?
  • Does the Google account have any history of suspicious behavior?
  • Has there been uncharacteristic activity – such as an abundance of reviews over a short period of time? Has it recently gotten attention in the news or on social media that would motivate people to leave fraudulent reviews?

3. Using Human Moderators To Understand Nuance In Reviews

Of course, automated systems do not always understand the subtleties necessary to tell the difference between legitimate and illegitimate reviews or criticism. This is why Google Maps reviews also rely on a robust team of human moderators to review content and guide algorithms.

As the blog post explains:

“Training a machine on the difference between acceptable and policy-violating content is a delicate balance. For example, sometimes the word “gay” is used as a derogatory term, and that’s not something we tolerate in Google reviews. But if we teach our machine learning models that it’s only used in hate speech, we might erroneously remove reviews that promote a gay business owner or an LGBTQ+ safe space. Our human operators regularly run quality tests and complete additional training to remove bias from the machine learning models.”

4. Encouraging Community Moderation

Google doesn’t believe moderation ends once a review or comment gets posted. Once visible to the public, Google strongly encourages businesses or other users to report fake or inappropriate reviews. 

“Like any platform that welcomes contributions from users, we also have to stay vigilant in our efforts to prevent fraud and abuse from appearing on Maps. Part of that is making it easy for people using Google Maps to flag any policy-violating reviews.”

5. Predicting Where Fake Reviews Will Happen

Lastly, Google works to stay ahead of users by identifying listings in Google Maps which are most likely to be the targets for malicious activity. For example, Google may increase protections for a listing if it is involved in a political event or has recently been in the news.

As the guide explains:

“In addition to reviewing flagged content, our team proactively works to identify potential abuse risks, which reduces the likelihood of successful abuse attacks. For instance, when there’s an upcoming event with a significant following — such as an election — we implement elevated protections to the places associated with the event and other nearby businesses that people might look for on Maps.”

Modern consumers rely on online reviews more and more, and Google Maps is one of the biggest places for shoppers to turn before doing business with someone. Though bad actors may manage to slip through the cracks from time to time, it is good to know that Google is always striving to ensure consumers and businesses can rely on these reviews to give an honest assessment of local businesses.

Google My Business is finally giving businesses a little more information and control over their reviews with a new tool available here.

Through the tool, business owners or managers can view reviews, submit a request to remove misleading or problematic reviews, and check the status of takedown requests for these reviews.

How To Use The New Google My Business Review Tool

Rather than being built into the Google My Business dashboard, the tool is available through the GMB Help Center.

To get started, simply sign into the Google account related to your business and go to the help page. 

From there, select whether you want to check the status of a review or file a new report for a problematic review.

If you wish to submit a new takedown request, Google My Business will pull a list of your recent reviews which can be viewed and reported within the tool.

If you are simply checking the status of a past takedown request, the tool will show all your most recent requests along with information about the status of the request.

If you select a review, you can also get more in-depth information about the review and request. You can also submit an appeal from here if you believe a request has been improperly denied.

Only Available For Small Accounts

At this point, it appears the tool is only available for accounts with just a few Google My Business listings. Several SEO specialists who manage dozens or even hundreds of listings say they have received a message stating “Based on the number of Business Profiles you manage, this process is not available” when attempting to use the tool. It is unclear if or when GMB plans to expand the tool for larger accounts.

As Google’s employees shifted to working from home or and limiting staffing, Google temporarily shut down the publication of several key Google My Business components.

Most notably, Google My Business put a pause on the publication of any new reviews or review replies, while also suspending the posting of new photos and Q&A’s.

GMB Starts To Gradually Return

In the last few days, Google has updated the page detailing the steps it is taking in response to COVID-19 to say:

“Review replies are now available. New user reviews, new user photos, new short names, and Q&A will gradually return by country and business category.”

Along with review replies, it appears Google is quickly taking steps to bring new user reviews back online.

New Reviews Are Coming Back

Several respected figures in the SEO community including Mike Blumenthal and Greg Sterling have reported being able to post visible new reviews for businesses in their area.

Sterling was able to independently verify his review was showing publicly for a restaurant in his area, despite a warning that the review might be delayed.

 

However, there are still plenty of reports out there of reviews being submitted but not being published, suggesting the process of bringing reviews back is still underway.

Google is changing what business owners see when they view their own reviews in order to make it easier to encourage new reviews.

In the past, business owners or account managers would see a button which directed them to “write a review” from their business listing. Now, many are reporting seeing a new button which instead reads “get more reviews.”

"Get More Reviews" button

While the function has not changed, the new text makes it more clear exactly what Google is offering – a chance to share your review links across Facebook, Twitter, email, and more.

The meaning behind the text is also much more clear as leaving a review for your own business is strongly frowned upon and can get your listing penalized by the search engine.

When shared, the review link directs people to your Google Maps listing with a pop up to immediately write a review.

Not long ago, it seemed like every business website had a “Testimonials” page filled with reviews and references from either past-customers or fellow members of their industry. If you have a keen eye, though, you might have noticed these pages are slowly falling out of use in favor of posting your Google, Yelp, and other online reviews on your site.

The practice has led to some confusion, as many experts claimed putting your own online reviews from across the web on your site could be potentially dangerous for search engine optimization. There have even been suggestions it could lead to Google penalties.

Now, you can breathe easy and share your online reviews with pride, as Google webmaster trends analyst John Mueller has confirmed that it is totally fine to highlight your reviews on your company website – with one exception.

While posting your reviews on your website is acceptable, Mueller warns that you can not use review structured data on these reviews.

As Mueller explained on Twitter:

“From a Google SEO point of view, I don’t see a problem with that. I imagine the original is more likely to rank for that text, but if you use that to provide context, that’s fine (it shouldn’t be marked up with structured data though).”

Mueller then went on to explain that review structured data is intended for reviews “directly produced by your site” and using them on third-party reviews on your own site would go against Google’s guidelines.

The importance of Google reviews has recently gotten a big boost, as it appears that the number of rankings your business has on Google My Business may play a big role in determining where you appear in the local search results. Thankfully, it appears you won’t have to rely solely on Google for your reviews in the future.

Google has begun integrating reviews from third party sources like Trip Advisor and Booking.com into their Knowledge Graph cards for Google My Business Listings. That means your reviews from these sites will be shown alongside your Google reviews, all in one convenient place for shoppers.

The reviews can also be filtered by source by clicking on the “All reviews” drop-down menu.

Currently, the sites being integrated are most beneficial for hotels and other similar travel-related businesses. It is unclear when or if more review services will be included in the future.

As Search Engine Land notes, this is not Google’s first foray into using third-party review sites directly within their search results. The search engine got into a lengthy legal battle against Yelp for scraping their reviews and displaying them in the search results without permission. The result was that Google agreed to only use third-party reviews in their search results with explicit permission from the publisher.

Based on this, it is all but certain Google is working closely with these outside sites to integrate their reviews.

The biggest question for now is whether these reviews will also be reflected in local optimization. If so, businesses that have been accumulating reviews on third-party sites may expect a big boost to their local rankings in the near future. Only time will tell.

Every small business person knows there is no marketing quite as powerful as word-of-mouth. No matter what you promise in your ads, it won’t pack quite the punch as a positive, well-written review for your business. But, what if you could turn your positive reviews into your ads?

With the help of Google’s #SmallThanks Hub, you can no do just that. The new online resource aims to help small businesses create top-quality digital and printed marketing materials based on your Google reviews.

“Simply search for your business name on the site, and we’ll automatically create posters, social media posts, window clings, stickers and more — based on the reviews and local love from your customers on Google,” writes Google’s vice president of marketing for Ads & Americas, Lisa Gevelber, on The Keyword blog.

The new resource is available to all US businesses with a verified Google listing with an address.

“Reviews from your fans are like digital thank you notes, and they’re one of the first things people notice about your business in search results,” writes Gevelber in the announcement.

In the post, Google also highlighted data indicating that up to 71% of consumers say positive reviews in search results make them more likely to visit that business and that business listings boasting positive reviews receive up to a 360% increase in click-throughs to their website.

As part of the launch of the #SmallThanks Hub, Google also included a few tips for small businesses. These include keeping your Google listings up to date, encouraging customers to share reviews online, and posting “Find us on Google” stickers in their store and across social media.

Last month, Google told the world it would be shuttering its Google Trusted Stores program, its long-standing ratings and certification program. Well the time has come, as the program said farewell this week. In its place, Google has launched “Google Customer Reviews” – a new ratings program that aims to be more accurate and valuable to consumers.

Customer Reviews vs. Google Reviews

The launch of the new program has brought some confusion, as Google now has two separate ratings systems.

The classic ratings system allows users to leave reviews and ratings on any business’s listing. These “Google Reviews” are then aggregated into the search results. While the system mostly works, there is one big issue – literally anyone can leave a review, whether they’ve been to your business or not.

With “Customer Reviews”, Google is aiming to make reviews more accurate and reliable by only allowing those who have legitimately made a purchase from the business’s website. That means no trolls bringing down your rankings, but the new program really only works for online retailers.

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After you’ve collected some reviews, you can highlight your high rankings on your site with a customizable badge.

Notably missing from the program is the customer protection aspect of the Trusted Stores program. Online businesses will have to turn to other certification programs to help prove they are a legitimate and reputable business.

How To Join Google Customer Reviews

Businesses that were already participating in the Trusted Stores program have been automatically migrated over to the new program.

If you’re an online merchant who isn’t already participating in the program, follow these four steps:

  1. Sign into or sign up for a Google Merchant Center account.
  2. Select “Merchant Center programs” from the dropdown menu in the upper-right corner.
  3. Click “Get Started” within the Google Customer Reviews card and accept the Program Agreement.
  4. Add the survey opt-in code to your site.

Once you’ve gotten all set up, you can put the badge code for displaying your seller rating anywhere you want on your website.