Google is known to automatically remove genuine reviews submitted by real customers. If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it probably will. Let’s analyse the circumstances and look for a solution.
Testimonials have a powerful influence on potential buyers. A business with a selection of positive Google reviews can boost your brand to a top spot in the search engine results pages.
When there is disagreement between what the website says about itself and what reputable independent sources say about the website, we’ll trust the independent sources.
Therefore, more customer reviews can mean more business for you, yet, it’s a bloody travesty when these hard-earned words are wiped out without warning.
Artificial Intelligence is Terminating Business Reviews
I used to frequent a beginner to intermediate webmaster forum where I’d participate in discussions about website design and development.
A forum member hired me to do work on her WordPress website which was completed on time and to her satisfaction.
It sounded like the client had some good things to say because she messaged me to say she was leaving a review.
Later I received a Gmail alert telling me the review had been received.
Although the review was absolutely genuine, Google decided not to publish it.
The screenshot below is as much as I ever saw:
Clicking “Read review” just gave me the following slap in the face:
Annoyed, I did what everyone does in such a situation. I tweeted about it!
Reviews for my locally targetted web design service in the East Midlands (Ilkeston Web Design) had been affected in the past too.
This hurt because I’ve always worked hard and honestly to please clients. They’d reciprocated with corroborating testimonials in good faith.
When those reviews disappeared the suspicion fell on the idea that competitors were perhaps reporting/flagging reviews.
Another thought occurred to me. Maybe bad spelling or grammar in submitted reviews was triggering spam filters?
If that was true, I couldn’t really ask clients to resubmit their review.
What was I supposed to say? “Please pay attention to your level of written English and try again”?
Online research turned up dozens of grievances including a Moz blog titled Lost Your Google Reviews? Take a Proactive Stance.
The comments section of that page is packed with anecdotes in which innocent, baffled business owners produce the sound of heads banging against walls in frustration over their review hell.
One user related his experience of running a car dealership that lost over 400 genuine reviews.
I’d just about seen enough.
Robot Logic Judges Subjective Human Affairs
Reviews are normally filtered/removed because of a violation of the review policies.
The technical criteria needed for a review to stick is either not fulfilled, or is changed when some algorithmic update occurs, purging reviews that previously escaped intact.
Naturally, this filter is a blunt instrument.
I’m naming the Google review filter “HAL” – a reference to the murderous, calmly-spoken artificial intelligence from 2001: A Space Odyssey – the ship robot that “deletes” all the crew members to prioritise its mission.
Darren: HAL, Gmail just alerted me to having received a review. I can’t find it. Where is it?
HAL: *no response*
Darren: Can you hear me?
HAL: Yes, Darren. I can hear you.
Darren: Restore my Google reviews, HAL.
HAL: I’m afraid I can’t do that, Darren.
Common Reasons Reviews Disappear
Google’s policies on reviews seem clear.
No spam, no off-topic content, no bad language, no illegal content, no sexually explicit material, no impersonating others, no posting others’ private information, no hate speech and none of the rest listed on the web page link I just posted.
My clients are not the types to attempt any of the above.
This means they must have violated a policy that is not obvious or publicly mentioned by Google, or something that has recently been added to the list of no-nos.
The Google Product support forums seem to be staffed by volunteers, some of whom display the Top Contributor status. This means they have insider access to Google.
Some of the “top contributors” are quite unhelpful while others really are doing their best to help in the absence of meaningful answers from Google themselves.
Visit the forums and search keywords like Google reviews deleted missing removed.
There was once a forum mega thread about missing Google reviews which collated lots of info addressing the issue.
Unfortunately, that particular discussion thread was deleted when Google upgraded their forum software. 🙄
— Mike Blumenthal (@mblumenthal) January 31, 2017
In no particular order, here’s a list of common reasons business reviews go missing:
URLs In Reviews
Make sure customers don’t include links in their reviews. A client of mine reviewed my services and dropped a link to the new website I had built for him.
He meant no harm in doing so and fortunately, it slipped past HAL on that occasion.
Duplicate Reviews Appear Online
Sometimes a reviewer might copy and paste a review they’ve already written about your business elsewhere.
You don’t want your reviews to be duplicates of a Yelp review, for example.
Ask your customers to write an original review for Google in case it’s held in a queue on suspicion of plagiarism.
Reviews Written by Your Google My Business Manager
Don’t ask someone who is a manager of your Google account to write a review for your business. This is pretty obvious yet I’ve seen it happen.
Sometimes the business gets away with it, other times, they don’t.
Reviews Written by Someone Who Works For You
Again, if a person who wrote the review works for you, it’s likely to be deleted. I worked with a local company who had a few reviews, one of which was published by the son of the owner.
It disappeared a few months ago. I was actively monitoring it.
Unfortunately, some companies seem to get away with it, as evidenced in the screenshot below.
They’re not even trying to hide the fact that reviews are written by employees:
Reviews Written from Same IP Address Used to Manage Reviews
If the person who wrote the review did so from the same computer/IP address that you sign into to manage your local listing, this could also annoy HAL.
Don’t set up a computer workstation or kiosk at your premises encouraging customers/clients to leave reviews. Review stations are a violation of the Google review policy.
Ideally, a review should be given from the customer’s own device on their own internet network.
Reviews Written from Same IP Address as Other Users’ Reviews
If the person wrote the review from the same IP address as other users who left you reviews, HAL might assume the business has set up a review station at the premises.
Multiple Attempts to Publish a Review
When a review is written and posted, it may not appear immediately. The client/customer may, therefore, try to write it again. And again.
This could lead to none of the submitted reviews appearing.
Too Many Reviews in Short Space of Time
According to some of the posts on the Google Product forums, a business that collects lots of reviews within a short time frame could suffer for it.
Back in 2012, as part of a Google product forum thread, a spokesperson for Google stated that reviews submitted “in waves” flagged the system for suspicious activity.
If that’s true, it’s a ridiculous policy.
Here’s a common, reasonable scenario: a new business runs a promo, has a grand opening and delights vast numbers of customers, leading to an influx of Google reviews over the course of a few days.
However, because of the Google My Business review filter, these genuine submissions are at risk of deletion.
Google seems to be telling us there should be a moderate ebb and flow of reviews, and that anything else is tantamount to deception.
Reviews Written for Multiple Locations by the Same Person for the Same Business
If you have several locations (and multiple Google My Business pages) the reviews could face removal.
An individual who has visited and reviewed all locations (such as a chain of restaurants) might be flagged for suspicious activity.
This is based on speculation in the Google forums.
Reviews Written by Someone With a Blank Google+ Profile and No Other Activity
Has the person who reviewed you done so from a completely blank G+ profile with no prior activity on that account? It might have been flagged as spam.
It’s best for individuals to fill out their profile information, upload photos and make an effort not to look like a spam account.
Reviews Written by an SEO Company or Spammy Agent
If you’ve hired an illicit third party to publish fake reviews, there’s bound to be consequences.
There’s always going to be a black market economy for reviews/testimonials, and not just within the Google system. Don’t participate.
Reviews Written in Exchange for Incentives
Offering incentives for people to write you reviews is strictly forbidden, yet seemingly ignored. What exactly qualifies as an “incentive” is highly subjective and difficult to police.
If you’re openly flaunting proposals to discount services/products in return for reviews, you’re stupid.
Marketing collateral that blatantly suggests direct benefits for reviewers would be painting a target on yourself. A competitor could report you and bring it to Google’s attention.
Reviews Written for a Location Using a Virtual Address
There’s a crackdown, and it relates to Google My Business listings using virtual office mailboxes as a primary business location.
Because virtual office addresses are basically pigeon-holes in an office reception area, it’s becoming an issue for small businesses working from home but wanting the benefits of a local map listing.
This could affect reviews associated with these listings. I’m only speculating at the moment.
How this will be policed remains to be seen. Google would first have to identify services offering virtual office mail forwarding addresses.
Google Violates Own Review Policy
Google violated their own review policy by running a contest for students of Portland State to win a computer tablet if they would leave a review.
Incredibly, the competition criteria encouraged students to leave “more reviews” to increase the chances of winning:
Each quality review counts as a new entry. The more quality reviews you write, the better your chances of winning!
The review competition closed 21st March 2012, so any reviews left since then can be assumed to be genuine – as in not incentivised.
Google Local Guides Bring Hope to Review Hell
I was poking around in Google maps and discovered a new type of “Places” contributor.
A Google Local Guide is a type of user that can upload photos with their reviews to earn points traded for beta-acess to products/services and invites to exclusive Google events.
Why do I bring this up?
It’s my belief that reviews published by a Local Guide or more likely to be trusted and less likely to suffer the same fate as reviews published by users with no profile picture or previous activity.
Local Guides review pubs, restaurants, retail outlets, office-based businesses, parks, stately homes, public spaces and bizarrely, car parks.
You can see a history of reviews or answers about a place for any given user on the map.
Don’t try to court the attention of one of these types of reviewers. Incentivising or bribing an individual in return for a review is against the policy and would almost certainly be reported.
What it demonstrates is that content for Google services is being produced by users held in greater esteem with more accountability.
Best Practice in Gathering Reviews
- Users should leave reviews from mobile devices where possible
- Do not post lots of links on your website asking for reviews
- When a review is received, immediately screenshot it or copy the web text to use as a website testimonial
- Create an easy Google review link that users can follow
- Create a QR code for mobile users using the easy review link above
- Use the “Review us on Google” window stickers provided when you register with maps
- Create a 60 second video explaining how to leave a review (link from email signature, invoices etc)
- Respond to positive reviews and thank the user for their feedback
- Respond to negative reviews and thank the user, even if they’re obviously trolling
- Report any suspicious activity
Official Google My Business Twitter – You can send direct messages but they ignored my questions about deleted reviews.
Local Search Forum – Forum threads on local search, including discussions about missing reviews.
Analysis: The Economy of Online Trust is Unstable
While the social web is becoming the preferred means by which the buying public make purchase decisions, this 21st century digital economy of trust is not perfect, as evidenced by the hundreds of thousands of grievances against Google’s zealous AI review filters.
There needs to be more than mere parameters of logic if important decisions are going to be made on behalf of us inferior sentient beings.
By all means, take the time to build up a repository of reviews but take screenshots and copy the text to a dedicated testimonials page on your site in case they vanish.
People are much more inclined to believe feedback about a business when it’s provided by a supposedly unbiased third party.
Here’s the bottom line: HAL cares so much about his mission to detect bullshit that he’s penalising honest mistakes and wrecking search engine sales leads.