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.
Wear your customer hat for a moment. When there is disagreement between what the business says about itself and what reputable independent sources say about the business, 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. 😞
It’s a widespread, long-time problem. Plug the words google reviews into the free keyword research tool Answer the Public and you’ll be presented with search engine autosuggest data to do with missing reviews:
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.
Great! I thought. 🙂
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! 📣
Confused and Annoyed with Missing Reviews
It’s not the first time I’ve had real reviews deleted, and it hurts because I’ve always worked hard and honestly to please clients. They’d reciprocated with corroborating testimonials in good faith.
When those reviews disappeared I wondered it competitors were perhaps reporting/flagging reviews.👤
It crossed my mind that even bad spelling or grammar in submitted reviews was triggering spam filters that caused reviews to be removed. What was I supposed to say to clients? “Please pay attention to your level of written English and try again”? 🙄
This Has Been Happening for Years and Years, FFS
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.
AI Robot Logic Judges Subjective Human Affairs
Reviews are normally filtered/removed because of a violation of the review policies. ❌
Naturally, this filter is a blunt instrument. I’m naming this Google review filter “HAL” in reference to the ship’s computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey – the murderous, calmly-spoken artificial intelligence that “deletes” all the crew members to prioritise its own mission. 😖🔫
Darren: HAL, Gmail just alerted me to a new 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 here.
The Google Product support forums once had 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 from elsewhere.
That’s lazy and you don’t want your reviews to be duplicates of, say, a Yelp or Facebook review. 🖇️
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 Whoever Manages Your Google Business Profile 🚩
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 an employee. 😒
I was actively monitoring it and it disappeared months later.
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 HAL, 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 Business Profile pages) reviews could face removal under certain circumstances. ✂️
If, for example, an individual has visited and reviewed all locations (such as a chain of restaurants) those might be flagged for suspicious activity.
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 Business Profile 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 tried creating a Google Business profile on Google maps using a virtual office address, but Google found out what I’d done and deleted it. It can be done, but you have to be careful. 📍
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 after 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.
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 (also create a 301 redirect so that
yourwebsite.com/reviewcan be printed on your business cards)
- 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 and fake reviews
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.
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 own website in case those reviews vanish from Google.
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.