Nov 292011

Google has been fighting on the “reviews front” for a long time now, with its biggest competitors in the US always having been Yelp and Trip Advisor. In the last few months the battle tightened with Google removing the third-party reviews from the overall count of reviews for a Google Places page, then completely removing the Yelp reviews from all Google Places listings, an antitrust hearing against Google at which Yelp’s CEO vigorously attacked the giant for anti-competitive practices and abuse of power, followed by Google’s acquisition of Zagat and other minor spars. During all that time Google continued its attempts to attract users to leave reviews directly on Places rather than on any other competitor’s website. Indeed, I agree that there was good room for improvement - a few weeks ago I wrote an article on the review posting guidelines, expressing my opinion on what should be changed and how things for Google as a review zone could improve. However, it seems that they are still missing something.

Since then I have noticed some movement in the area. The “Review Posting Guidelines” page in the Google Places Help center was renamed to “Review Removals” and a whole section was deleted. That section was the one giving advice on how to write good reviews. Moreover, lately there have been many reports in the Google Places Help forum about disappearing Google reviews - an important signal for changes in the reviews anti-spam algorithm. The final drop that made me believe something big was happening were a few reports on problems with people trying to post reviews.

Brian Pasch party confirmed my thoughts with yesterday’s article on a rumored end of the requirement for users to be logged in to their Google account to be able to post a review. This would be a huge boost for Google Places as only about 200 million people are reported to have and regularly use Google accounts. Considering the 350 million users Hotmail has and Yahoo! Mail’s own 300 million, you can see that such a move could have an incredibly positive impact on Google’s review count. Another aspect supporting the idea of such a move - a few months ago Google stopped branding Hotpot as a separate product.

Yet another factor in defense of the possible change - Google’s review anti-spam algorithm seems to like regular contributors (similar to Yelp’s one). If you make a non-Google user to create a Google account for the sole purpose of leaving a review, you cannot expect them to return and leave another review via the same account. They’d rather abandon it forever. Therefore such a change would have positive effect on all sides involved:

- for businesses and marketers - easier Google reviews gathering
- for customers/users - easier Google reviews writing and better involvement in the “Hotpot” community
- for Google - more reviews, new contributing reviewers, fresh content

Let’s stay tight and watch what Google’s move would be.

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