Feature Request for Google Places Reviews

Google’s current way of detecting fake customer reviews is far from perfect. Thanks to Mike Blumenthal some of my own falsely suspended reviews were brought to attention of Jade Wang from Google. I haven’t had any direct answer as to why they are still suspended but am glad they’re aware of the issue.

Impact on Local Business

Let’s consider the owner of the Urbane Restaurant in Brisbane. They’ve received a positive review from me months ago, they may or may not have noticed it, however each review helps with both reputation and visibility of their business in Google. Then at some point, somehow, the review disappears, and the business owner has no way of knowing about this (unless they kept a spreadsheet of their reviews). Here’s the suspended review, visible only when explicitly shared on my Google+ stream:

Why would Google do such a thing?

There could be several reasons for that including:

  1. Review was flagged by another user (or an organised group of users) as spam and then either automatically or manually confirmed as spam.
  2. Review contains certain “trigger” keywords and patterns captured on an algorithmic level.
  3. User has low reputation for multiple guideline violations.
  4. User leaving a review left several other reviews in the same day or hour.

Now if this last scenario is true, Google has a problem. At one point I was prompted by Google to review places I’ve recently checked in and I took time to go through them all and write up my reviews and rate the places. This call to action could result in a spam-like time stamp pattern, even if reviews are genuine. In April last year I wrote about an interesting pattern-driven fake review detection algorithm called GSRank. Perhaps what we’re seeing now is derived from the same logic, no way to find out though.

What’s the solution?

Google should allow managers of verified business listings to view all reviews including suspended ones and include a reconsideration function to restore falsely suspended listings:

Google Places

Google needs to take this seriously, as wrongly flagged reviews impact people’s businesses. The above is not an isolated incident there are many webmasters out there who have experienced the same problem and it’s time to do something about it.

Dan Petrovic, the managing director of DEJAN, is Australia’s best-known name in the field of search engine optimisation. Dan is a web author, innovator and a highly regarded search industry event speaker.

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