Greetings from inside the SEOigloo!
I’ve made no secret of the fact that one of my goals for 2008 is to become a power reviewer in Google Maps. Let the rest of the world keep busy digging and twittering their lives away – I love Google Maps and I take my self-appointed position of human reviewer very seriously.
This past week, my husband and I dined at a restaurant I was so impressed with, I sat down to review it with real glee. I composed a beautiful review…a veritable feast of reason and flow of soul, I tell you.
And then I hit ‘save’ and Google came back to me with a peremptory message that my review had exceeded the limit of 4096 characters. I spent the next 5 minutes trying to edit the review, cutting out whole swaths of informative content in order to comply with Google’s limit. I felt that I was removing some of the best, most atmospheric and telling parts of what I had written and the more I edited, the more dissatisfied I became with the finished product.
In the end, I cut and pasted my whole review into one of my own topic-appropriate blogs and created for Google a different review that was simply a dry husk of the original, savory piece I had written. Google lost my very best content because of their policy.
Why 4096 characters? In the first place – what a weird number to pick. In the second place, I really dislike things that tell me how long text needs to be. The last thing a writer should have to focus on is length (with the exception of Alexandre Dumas who got paid by the word, apparently…ah, so that’s why The Three Musketeers is so long!) If all Google cares about are bits of data, so be it. But a user review is an emotional thing with the power to give business or take business away. It relates a life experience and attempts to engage the user in a subject that entices a positive response or acts as a warning. For the traveler, the diner, the shopper, well-crafted reviews are treasures.
On that note, I’ve noticed something interesting about user reviews. I don’t have statistics, but it appears to me that the majority of lengthy reviews are those expressing dissatisfaction with a business. These run along the lines of:
After driving 573 miles to get there, the innkeeper wasn’t there…calling him from a payphone in town…room smelled like kitty litter…asked why there was a hole in the bedroom wall…guy’s wife started screaming at us in German…tripped on the stairs…couldn’t wait to get out of there!
There’s a review of a hotel in Southern California where a man was given a room with blood all over the headboard of the bed. The proprietor didn’t understand why the guest demanded another room once the blood had been wiped off with a towel.
There’s a review of a restaurant in Northern California that culminates in someone being thrown through a plate glass window.
I’m not making this up. The world of user reviews is better than television, and it’s an interesting note to take about human nature that, after a bad experience, people seem even more eager to share their horror story than if they’d had a nice time. Maybe this is an act of kindness, meant to prevent others from a similar fate. Maybe it’s therapy.
Whatever it is, the goings-on are pretty lively in user review land, and I think Google is making a mistake to try to put a lid on it with their 4096 character limit. You’ve given us the power to speak up, Google. Why not let us have at it?