Google has a review problem.
When I help clients with SEO, if they already have – or could benefit from having – a Google Map listing (a.k.a. a Google My Business listing), I help them with the presentation and optimisation of that, too. One element of that is the ability for customers to be able to leave reviews. For a business that works hard to give its customers a good service, it can be a fantastic way to stand out from the competition. I often encourage clients to try and get Google reviews from their happy customers – in a way that abides by Google’s guidelines.
However something that I’m finding is becoming more and more prominent is the phenomenon of fake – maybe even ‘incorrectly-given’ – reviews. This blog’s most popular ever post is about how I managed to remove a fake and libellous review from my parents’ business’ Google listing. We (mostly) got lucky because the review’s text said some very nasty things that were very obviously against Google’s review guidelines, but where the whole Google review removal process gets messy is when the text is ambiguous (i.e. it could be a customer or it could not be, and it doesn’t conflict with Google’s review policy either way) or if no text is left against the review at all.
…But then, all of a sudden, a few months back, they got a 3-star review with no text against it.
And then another one – 3 stars, no text.
And then a 1-star review with no text.
Two things were weird about these reviews:
- When I asked Jamie & Rachel – who are involved with running ICE and looking after its community – if they knew who these people were, they said no. The reviewers (to the best of their knowledge) had never used ICE.
- They all had the ‘Local Guide’ tag next to them.
Introducing Google’s Local Guides
I’ve been in SEO (and Local SEO) for a while, and while I’d come across Local Guides before, I hadn’t really paid much attention to it – so I did some research. It’s a way to contribute to Google Maps – most likely rising from the ashes of the death of Google Map Maker, which I’d used previously (with limited success – but that’s an aside). What’s more is that it’s gamified: contributors can earn points and badges, and can ‘level-up’.
At first I thought it was just a prestige thing, but then I came across something quite interesting: at one point (fairly recently), they offered a Google Play perk, whereby “Local Guides who reach[ed] Level 4 and beyond by 31 August 2017 [had] a chance to receive 3 months of Google Play Music and 75% off a movie rental on Google Play.”
Of course, Google’s Maps User Contributed Content Policy states that “contributions must be based on real experiences and information” – but here’s the thing: how can anyone prove or disprove that a review was based on a real experience? Given that Google are incentivising Local Guides by offering them a Google Play discount, what’s stopping Local Guides from randomly leaving random reviews/ratings in order to get points, including businesses they’ve never even dealt with and/or places they’ve never even visited?!