Update On Canoe Guy’s 30 + Missing Reviews

Greetings from inside the SEOigloo!

If you caught my earlier post regarding the Canoe Guy’s missing reviews, I have an update on the situation to share.

This afternoon, I phoned Charles at CanoeSport in Houston, Texas and he was gracious enough to chat with me about the reviews that have gone missing from his
Google Maps’ Local Business Listing.

According to Charles, in November of 2007, he had just one review appearing in Maps, and it wasn’t a great one. He said it was in the nature of a flame of his business. Not happy with that, Charles took action and sent an email to some 100 of his very best customers, asking them if they’d be so kind as to consider leaving a review for his business. He got a great response of more than 30 reviews being left via Google’s Own Review System.

Yes, the missing reviews are from Maps, itself.

As of last week, Charles discovered that ALL of the reviews had disappeared, both the good and bad ones. If you look up Canoesport in Houston, Texas, you will see that there’s nary a review to see there.

This is not a community wide problem. Google reviews are showing up for other businesses.

Charles is feeling understandably bewildered by this, and has tried to bring the situation to Google’s attention by posting in Google Groups, as I mentioned in my previous post. I wonder if he will be given the attention he deserves.

I have documented in the past my own frustration with the fact that Google does not appear to count its own reviews in the ten-pack or upper levels of its interface. You have to click through to the expanded pop-up in Maps to see the Google reviews included. But this isn’t what is going on here. The reviews for Canoesport are truly gone. On a similar note, Mike Blumenthal has just posted about the fluctuation in review sources he is witnessing in Google’s Maps top ten. It’s a bit of a roller coaster ride, but not the cause, I would say, of Canoesport’s problem as these reviews were from Google, itself.

You Know What I Think?
In talking this situation over with my husband, Liam suggested a theory I’m feeling inclined to agree with. If CanoeSport’s 30 + reviews all showed up suddenly, over a very brief period of time, perhaps it has triggered some sort of a spam filter in Google’s local algo.

Because it would certainly be possible for a business owner to create a bunch of fictitious accounts in order to write false reviews for his business, Google might be experimenting with a filter that would discredit these reviews, if they show up too quickly, and either put them in a holding tank (read sandbox) or altogether banish them.

I like Liam’s theory very much, but if he’s correct, we’ve got a serious problem.

Local business owners are going to be asking happy customers for reviews. They will be engaging in email campaigns like CanoeSport did, they will be sending thank you cards to patrons with requests for reviews, they will be doing whatever it takes to let satisfied clientele know that they’d appreciate a review. What Charles did was a smart and natural response to seeing what he felt was an off-the-wall poor review of his company. He harnessed the power of his local customers and asked them to speak up for the quality of his company.

If Google has got some kind of undisclosed algorithmic policy that stands in opposition to that, it’s going against the tide of how things work in the real world of reviews. Based upon marketing efforts, reviews can trickle in or they can pour down like a storm. After speaking to Charles, I was quite convinced that his reviews were legitimate, and that whatever is going on is resulting in an unfair review-less presentation of his business in Maps.

My hope is that those reviews are going to show back up, and what Liam and I are considering as a potential cause of their absence could be totally off-base. What do readers think?

12 Responses to “Update On Canoe Guy’s 30 + Missing Reviews”

  1. on 25 Feb 2008 at 6:03 pm Mike Blumenthal

    If nothing else it creates uncertainty in how a small business should pursue and manage reviews…should they use Google, Should they not use Google? If not Google whom should they use? What are Google’s policies and why did they disappear?

    But if you view the game long haul and think of what we are seeing as a combination of fluctuating relationships, bugs, changing policies and procedures then one assumes that it will ultimately make resolve itself.

    Given that categories was so far down Google’s priority list as to take a year and then some to work on, the review thing could be that long or longer since they have currently have other sources.

    This one sure is of interest.


  2. on 25 Feb 2008 at 6:20 pm Local SEO Guide

    I am in agreement with Mike & Liam. My guess is that when they launched reviews they set the spam flag sensitivity up pretty high as those who would initially use it would most likely be people trying to game the system.

    Given this occurrence it seems like the best advice to give a business is that reviews should be treated just like link development – roll them out slowly and “naturally”.

  3. on 25 Feb 2008 at 6:27 pm admin

    Uncertainty is the word, indeed.

    It’s making me think of two things:

    1) Linkbuilders warn against building links too quickly to avoid looking guilty of spamming.

    2) There was an SEOmoz post last year suggesting that Digg-type traffic can pose a problem wherein you have a spike in, say, April, but in May, you don’t have a similar spike, so it actually looks as though the site in questions is LOSING relevance.

    It could be something along these lines…or it could not. What we need is an actual answer, and Google could, I believe, give one without giving away their secret recipe.

    Thank you for coming to comment, Mike. I appreciate it, and I really enjoyed your Buffalo study.

  4. on 25 Feb 2008 at 6:31 pm admin

    Hi Andrew,
    I’m so glad you took the time to share your thoughts on this, and in fact, confirm that this could be happening.

    Your advice is good, but tough. Unlike links where you can actually exert some control in acquisition, what if a business has a great event, open house, ad campaign or something and the reviews come in quickly and unsolicited? This should not put you on a ‘suspicious activity’ list in Maps. If, indeed, that’s what might be happening.

    Thank you for commenting, Andrew!

  5. […] your business on Google Maps’ write a review feature, I recommend you read this post about a business who lost all of their reviews on Google Maps.  As Miriam Ellis of SolasWebDesign tells it, Canoe Sport in Houston, TX asked their customers to […]

  6. on 25 Feb 2008 at 7:22 pm admin

    Hmm, I’ve been thinking about your comment some more, Andrew, and I believe that reviews and links may be more analogous that I initially allowed.

    I guess there are voluntary links and sought links just as there are voluntary reviews and sought reviews. You have control in one instance but not the other.

    It’s interesting to see how these issues match, really.

  7. on 25 Feb 2008 at 7:38 pm Local Hound

    It seems like reviews are behaving very much like links, I agree with Andrew & Liam.

    Maybe the canoe guy can ask the 35 of the 70 that didn’t respond and get some more… than the other 35. In an effort to keep the reviews looking more “natural.”

    Asking more than once works for my wife :)

    This is good heads up Miriam.

  8. on 25 Feb 2008 at 10:04 pm admin

    Hi Tim,
    Glad to hear this theory sounds reasonable to you, too.

    I’m hoping that the Canoe Guy will actually come take a look at this post. I gave him our URL. Yes, I can see the sense in him acting as though this hasn’t happened and at least trying to get some more reviews, just to see what would happen.

    I mean, if he got a single review, right now, would it show up? Would it be pulled away behind a curtain somewhere? That’s what I’m wondering.

    Thanks for adding your voice to this discussion, Tim. I appreciate it.

  9. on 25 Feb 2008 at 11:00 pm Mike Blumenthal

    Hey if Google can loose a couple hundred thousand ( or pehraps a million) CitySearch reviews for a couple of months, anything is possible.


  10. […] gaining traction if not visibility. But their role seems poorly defined and Miriam at SEOIgloo has noted some odd disappearances. It appears to me that Google Reviews is one of their long term plays that will get little […]

  11. on 26 Feb 2008 at 11:33 am David Mihm

    I had a similar experience with one of my own clients. Personally, I’m not sure why this would be considered ‘spam.’ The reason is that .001% of the general population probably knows ANYTHING about reviewing a business on Google, let alone what kind of positive impact their reviews can have on a business that they want to support. As a small business owner, you’ve got to get the word out any way you can.

    Google is sliding down yet another slippery slope with Local if they are considering all time-similar reviews as spam.

  12. on 26 Feb 2008 at 1:57 pm admin

    That does seems weird, doesn’t it, David?

    Well, we could be wrong. If you run into any Google reps at SMX, David, I charge you with cornering them and demanding an answer. Haha!

    That is extremely interesting that you saw this happen with a client, though. Did the reviews ever come back?

    That makes it look less like a bug and more like a filter.

    Have a great conference, David!

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