A Closer Look at the Google’s Review Posting Guidelines


In the past week there were numerous users from the Google Places Help Forum who reported loss of reviews. At the same time I read this really interesting article by Adam Steele who tested how Google treats reviews left directly on Google Places. These two events triggered my interest to take a closer look at the Review Posting Guidelines and share some personal thoughts.

Google has a long history of losing real reviews, and at the same time doing nothing to stop mass fake ones. The Review Posting Guidelines state that they “have a system in place that may remove individual reviews” that are considered inappropriate or spammy. Let’s take a look at which reviews Google does not like:

1. Inappropriate content

We want to provide a clean and positive user experience for all users. We may remove reviews that contain or link to unlawful content, or content that violates our Google Places content policy. We may also remove reviews that include plagiarism or are copied from other sites.

The Google Places Content Policy states that the following violations might result in “the denial of access, removal of one or all of your listings, being blacklisted from adding future listings, or deletion of your Google Account”:

- Nudity, Obscenity, and Sexually Explicit Material
- Violent or Bullying Behavior
- Hate Speech or Incitement to Violence
- Impersonation
- Private and Confidential Information
- Intellectual Property
- Illegal Activities or Content
- Spam or Malicious Content

While these are pretty straightforward guidelines, there is still the question of how long it takes for Google to remove reviews that violate the rules. In a famous case, it took them 18 months to delete the following review:

Robbed My RAM and Touched 9 Year Old What a scam artist, he stole RAM from my computer and replaced it with smaller chips hoping I wouldnt notice and also I later found out touched my 9 year old inappropriately. A Violator and a rogue trader. DO NOT DO TRADE WITH THIS MAN!

Notably, Google acted only after the BBC contacted them to ask about this particular case. Why should a media giant get involved so that Google would act promptly? 18 months is obviously way too long a period and according to the affected business owner it decreased his business by 80%. Google told the BBC that “from time to time it re-reviews comments flagged as inappropriate” – something I believe happens only when companies from the rank of the BBC and the New York Times are involved.

2. Advertising and spam

Nobody likes spam and it can only make its author look bad. Don’t use reviews for advertising or post the same or similar reviews across multiple places. Obviously, don’t post fake reviews intended to boost or lower ratings.

‘Problem is, I don’t think any spammer has ever cared about how they look in the eyes of the others. Posting multiple same (not similar) reviews across different listings is a common practices among spammers. The only way to catch such an activity is to have an anti-spam system in place, which Google currently does not have.

It gets messier when we talk about negative fake reviews in concrete. I have written in the past some tips for getting rid of such problems, but the resolution is neither easy, nor guaranteed. Actually Google is so bad at dealing with negative fake reviews that a whole industry owes its birth to the giant’s messiness. There are now tens (or even hundreds) of “reputation management” companies, which post ripoff reviews on businesses’ listings and then call them to offer a “Google review removal” service. Note that the only people that can manually remove reviews from Google Places are: A) A Google moderator; B) The person who left the review. Therefore, this service is a complete scam.

Rules for reviews can at least be defined. Unlike rules for ratings (without any actual text) which cannot. How would you prove that a single 1-star rating is genuine or fake, when the poster can be completely incognito? A negative rating has the same impact on the overall business rating as a negative review. Probably some people realized this fact and are broadly using it as an anti-competitive tactic.

3. Off-topic reviews

Reviews should describe your personal, first hand experience with a specific place. Please do not post reviews based on someone else’s experience, or such that are not about the specific place that you are reviewing. Reviews are not a forum for personal attacks, rants or crusades. Please also do not use reviews to report incorrect information about a place — use the Report a problem link for that place instead.

Then why do reviews such as the one by “White Guy” here are stuck on the Place page, after having been numerously reported as inappropriate? After the story of this particular review, Mike Blumenthal wrote a great article on how to avoid negative public feedback. My personal favorite is tip #7 “Communicate with your local competitors.” Most of the fake reviews come exactly from them or from people they hired to do the job. Taking the time to say “Hi” and to try to discuss a common business issue with the competitors might prove one of the best precaution tactics in such cases.

The three review posting guidelines discussed above relate mostly to spam and spam prevention. Having them is a good start, but actual prompt implementation is necessary. Unfortunately, it is obvious that the Google reviews filter algorithm has a lot of loopholes. A few things that are missing:

- no detection of same reviews across different listings
- no detection of same reviews on Google Places and third-party websites (Yelp, Citysearch, Trip Advisor, Urbanspoon, Yahoo Local, etc)
- no detection of numerous reviews by the same users for businesses located at big distance from each other (very widespread among service-based businesses)
- no protection against negative ratings (even the “respond publicly as the business owner” does not work in this case)
- no system for the business owner to prove the legitimacy or “fakeness” of a review
- no system for the business owner to monitor their Google reviews

Google seems to be pushing their reviews service very hard marketing-wise. If so, why don’t they prioritize the cleaning of spam and the prevention of malicious behavior? This will make the system more useful to the end users and ease the stress experienced by business owners when they encounter a negative review. After all, aren’t these same business owners the very source from which Google draws in order to deliver their employees their paychecks?

  1. Jo Shaer
    Jo Shaer11-07-2011

    Hey Nyagoslav

    I hope you don’t mind me posting this link to another photography spam review scam here in the UK

    It happened last year and was again caught by the BBC. Someone had posted the same bad review on about 100 different photography places pages spread all over the country. Each review linked back to another photographer – but he knew nothing about it. It was believed that it was one of his competitors who had started a campaign to try to discredit him but the costs to try to prove that legally were prohibitive.

    Google declined to take part in that programme but gave the usual assurances about how they use software to automatically detect spam reviews but the fact that they had failed to spot over 100 identical messages posted by the same user did paint that assertion in rather a poor light.

    • Nyagoslav Zhekov
      Nyagoslav Zhekov11-07-2011

      Jo, their anti-spam algorithm does not have the function to catch spam across different listings, which is really frustrating and in some cases can cause someone’s business to be practically destroyed. Google has too much power to be so irresponsible, especially in terms of such a sensitive area as user-generated content. And especially when this UGC can very severely harm the reputation of a business. Some very huge changes in their filter have to be implemented.

  2. Mike Blumenthal
    Mike Blumenthal11-07-2011

    Like Google Places in general, reviews have long received either little or no algo love and NO human love. This is a topic that has been true from the introduction of reviews in 2007. I am sure that I can reference 2 or 3 or maybe 4 articles that I have written on the topic.

    The issue and remains the same as Places. They need to dramatically improve the spam algo and until they make it perfect (which is likely never), they need to put humans on the job of insuring quality and fairness. Google is loath to do that.

    Reviews are hotspot for all SMBs and like the lack of support in Places, the lack of support in review arena could submarine Google’s local efforts. When and if they will “see the light” and invest appropriately is a huge unknown.

    Can’t be soon enough for my tastes.

    • Nyagoslav Zhekov
      Nyagoslav Zhekov11-07-2011

      Mike, I believe that the only way for things to improve dramatically is for a close competitor to arise. The most obvious nominee would obviously be Bing’s Business Portal, but its development seems to be rather stuck lately. I really don’t think there is any faster way out of this situation, because businesses of all sizes are now too dependent on Google for their marketing. No matter if they want it or not, they will still have to use at some point Google’s paid services. What would then trigger Google to start putting greater attention to their “free” service sooner than later? I think a strong competitor would be the solution.

      P.S. Yandex are doing pretty decent job in the Russian-speaking world and recently started approaching the Turkish market, so I think it’s a matter of time to launch their service in all Europe. They can be a really challenging competitor.

  3. Mike Blumenthal
    Mike Blumenthal11-07-2011

    Your faith in the market is interesting. Google has rarely responded to the market in a way predicted by the neo-classical competition model. In the US they have and have had plenty of competition on the review front and they have yet to respond that way… I think they are unlikely to do so in the way you are suggesting as they think they have a better way.

    Whether their better way (training an algo to do the heavy lifting) will work soon enough to avoid the impending loss of good will is the question. And whether their experiment in Places support demonstrates the benefit of a service oriented model…

    • Nyagoslav Zhekov
      Nyagoslav Zhekov11-11-2011

      Mike, I haven’t, unfortunately, been following Google’s development as a company for long enough to be able to argue on that matter. Time will tell. I still believe stronger competition would be the best driving force. I know they have problems on the review front in the US market, but do you think they are on the right track to beat it? It is obvious they are putting a lot of effort to create a community, but they seem to have a long way to go. And I believe they are not doing it the right way.

  4. Matthew Hunt
    Matthew Hunt11-09-2011


    yes the review spam is HUGE problem, but I think I agree with Mike here, I have seen very little movement of them wanting to clean it up and like google likes to do it has to be done at a algo level. And if that is done I have yet to see review algo do a good job.

    Q: do you think any review site is doing a good job at combating review spam?

    • Nyagoslav Zhekov
      Nyagoslav Zhekov11-11-2011

      True argument, Matt. I cannot really think of a review anti-spam algorithm that is working properly. Probably if I could invent some working nicer than the already existing ones, I wouldn’t be the owner of just an SMB, eh? :)

  1. A Closer Look at the Google’s Review Posting Guidelines | Lokale Suche News | Scoop.it11-07-11
  2. Changes to Google Reviews | OptiLocal11-29-11

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