Google is constantly refining their algorithms and processes, and recently that’s resulted in a number of small business owners see their valuable, positive reviews on their Google My Business listing suddenly disappear. It can be disconcerting, especially for a business that’s worked hard to earn that positive feedback.
Please note this is not a BirdEye specific occurrence and is in fact happening to businesses that do not even use a platform such as BirdEye and instead gather reviews manually.
Read Google community’s discussion about this topic here:
Customers of other review platforms have also been impacted, as well as business owners using no review platform at all, proving this is something Google is doing across the board.
Luckily, there are some common – and in some cases reversible – reasons why this is happening. Let’s take a look at the ones most likely to be causing this change and review some recommendations for how to either get those reviews back, or make sure new ones you generate are more resilient to future filtering.
The review is tagged as advertising: Google runs algorithms to catch reviews that are straight up advertising. Sometimes these slip through and are published, only to be flagged by an active user. If your review is flagged, Google takes it down so it’s team can better analyse it. But all you see during this process is that a positive review has disappeared. If the analysis determines the review is not advertising, it will be reposted. If the answer is otherwise, the review deletion is permanent.
Here’s a quick list of items likely to get your customer reviews flagged as advertising or spam:
- Links to other websites – any inclusion of a URL will probably cause problems.
- Phone numbers or email addresses – Your Google My Business listing should have the correct contact information for your business, so any additional contact information in a review will probably result in that review being flagged and removed.
The review appears to be spam: Google likes unique content and discourages reviews that are posted word-for-word on multiple sites. In practice, we’ve seen customers with great reviews on their Google My Business listing that suddenly start disappearing because the reviewer starts pasting their reviews into other review sites like Facebook or TripAdvisor. The irony is that if the review is positive, the reviewer probably thinks they are doing you a favor by posting their glowing feedback “everywhere.” While collecting customer feedback on more than one website is a winning strategy and works wonders for your online reputation, copying and pasting the exact same reviews across multiple sites actually has a negative impact. Google identifies these identical reviews as duplicate content, pushing them down lower in search results and possibly removing the original review.
Rather than asking the same customer to leave a review on multiple websites — since this will lead to duplicate content in most cases — a best practice used by BirdEye is to send auto-generated emails to customers requesting a review and allowing the customer to select a review site to post on. This allows the small business owner to prioritize sites where they want to build up reviews and also lets you create targeted campaigns to support efforts to show strength on multiple sites.
Also, if you love a review and want to share it, use the “Share” icon to broadcast the review into your social channels. BirdEye doesn’t copy and paste the review text; we actually embed snippets of code that generate a version of the original review, and this is the form of review marketing that Google permits. Learn more about that here. The ability to properly share and amplify positive reviews across the internet is so valuable that it’s a set of features integrated into reputation management programs. BirdEye calls it auto-sharing and some of the techniques can be adopted for small businesses who are still manually managing reviews.
Several reviews look like they all came from one person: If you offer free WiFi in your office or perhaps attend a special event and have a kiosk set up for customers to leave a review on Google, you may get a flood of positive reviews that ultimately start disappearing. The problem is that all these reviews come in from the same exact internet location, or IP address. When Google looks at these, they don’t recognize your marketing genius. Instead, they see it as another form of spam and down go the reviews.
A better practice is to adopt the protocols used by BirdEye’s review generation program and send customers text or email invitations to provide reviews after they have left your business and are accessing the internet on their own server or IP address. BirdEye has specific recommendations based on extensive refinement for how long to wait before the automated emails are sent to customers. The amount of time you wait before sending a text or email depends on the kind of business you run: a dentist office could send review requests instantly after an appointment, while an attorney or realtor might have to wait a bit longer after an interaction so the client has time to form an opinion. Do a little testing, monitor your results and find your own best practice for sending requests.
Several reviews were posted during the same short window of time. If you suddenly get a flood of reviews all at once, Google assumes they’re fake or spam. That’s why BirdEye lets you create drip campaigns to distribute review requests over a longer period of time. This way you still get lots of reviews, but they are published in a more natural way and therefore not penalized.
The review is written by a new reviewer: The Google filters are imperfect and they are skeptical of reviews from anyone who recently created a Google profile and then reviewed your business, Google considers it a solicited review and may remove it. There’s nothing you’re going to be able to do to convince Google to automatically trust and publish reviews they removed simply because the reviewer is new to their system, and this can be especially disheartening when you have few positive reviews. Instead, the best approach is to focus on two areas:
- Consistently generate new reviews from satisfied customers. As we’ve seen, some of these may get caught in review filters or flagged for one reason or another, but most genuine reviews will be published and will steadily help build and improve your online reputation.
- Create a method to request a new review from customers every time they visit your business or receive a service. Done properly, that new Google reviewer whose first review was removed by Google will return to your business again and a genuine review providing feedback on their second and subsequent visit is likely to be published on your Google My Business profile. The key here is to build a program that is as automated as possible and with an invitation that is professional. Most customers will appreciate a quick follow up email or text to be sure they were satisfied with their service and to ask for feedback. There are also best practices that BirdEye has built into their automated program to avoid sending too many requests in a given period and to allow customers to opt out of receiving notices if they find them annoying.
The review uses obscene or prohibited language: Google’s review policies prohibit obscene, profane or offensive language. Some obscene language is obvious and likely to be immediately filtered and blocked. But some is also dependent on context and the review’s removal may come as a response to someone flagging it. Additionally, Google prohibits reviews that contain hate speech, so reviews that advocate against groups of people based on their race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, veteran status, sexual orientation, or gender identity will eventually be removed.
Reviews that contain this type of language will do little to build your reputation, so there’s no reason to fight it. The best practice is to continue to focus on providing superior customer service and build a program that translates happy customers into advocates who leave an increasing number of positive reviews on multiple sites, including on Google.
For clarity, some additional areas that Google focuses on and that will cause problems when they are evaluating reviews include:
The person who wrote the review works for you. Rating an employer or your own site is against Google’s guidelines. Google can trace this to the fact that you share the same IP address that they use to manage their Google My Business listing.
Here is a brief summary of content that violates Google’s review policies:
- You hired an SEO company to post reviews for you.
- You have an onsite review station (iPad, computer, etc.) at your location. Even if the review is valid, it looks like you created it yourself.
- You are offering incentives for people who write you reviews. These don’t typically get caught by an algorithm or filter, but unhappy customers or competitors may report you and Google could remove the reviews.
- The review resembles an advertisement
- The review contains phone numbers, URLs or email addresses
- The review discusses off-topic content or relates someone else’s experience. Valid reviews should be created by the customer themselves
and focus on their specific experience with your business.
- The review appears biased or paid for by related party
- The review contains illegal content
- The review contains copyrighted content or material that infringes on another
person’s or company’s rights
- The review contains sexually explicit material
- The review contains personal or confidential information
The good news is that as Google changes their policies, they ultimately improve the value of reviews left on their site and the positive reputation those reviews provide for your business. The downside is that you may see a temporary reduction in reviews while Google runs their analysis, and in some cases those reviews won’t be coming back.
In the meantime, understanding how to preserve those reviews you can and drive new ones that are unlikely to be removed will help you build your reputation online and find new customers searching for services like yours on Google.