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Google Places Interface and Reviews Changes

19

Changes in Google Places occur daily and it is often difficult to keep up with the speed of what is happening. A new one was announced yesterday on the Google LatLong blog. It includes numerous tweaks, some of which might not really be in taste for many small business owners working hard on getting good reviews for their business on third-party review websites. Here are all the changes that I managed to discover:

1) Red “Write a review” and pale “Upload a photo” buttons near the top:

Google Places Change 1

This is an obvious attempt to push up the reviews on the Place page, but not only that, they seem to be trying to get more user generated content with the photos button. Furthermore, you can see these same buttons lower on the page.

2) Descriptive terms on the Place page itself:

Google Places Change 2

Google rolled out the “descriptive terms” project a few weeks ago and it seems to be pushing these even further with this change. Furthermore, the “What people are saying” section is now gone as it is unnecessary to have both of them on the Place page. Good riddance as this section was mostly causing troubles with inaccurate and very often completely wrong “performance bars”.

3) Awards from third-party websites showing up on the Place page:

Google Places Change 3

The websites that feature awards in this field are opentable.com, gayot.com, citysearch.com, and others. It seems like a really interesting addition.

4) Button for reporting of inappropriate photos and videos:

Google Places Change 4

As Google is pushing for more user-generated content, they probably understood that they need better system to protect the small businesses from unwanted spammy behavior of competitors. Up to now there was no easy way to report specifically photos and videos, but cases like this tell us how important that inclusion actually is.

5), 6) and 7) The “Reviews by Google Users” and “Reviews from around the Web” sections merged into a “Reviews” section. Reviews from third-party websites appearing just as snippets at the bottom of the section. 5 reviews from Google Users on the listing’s main page (previously they were only 2):

Google Places Change 567

That’s probably the biggest change and the one that most of the people would worry about. The third-party reviews are now almost completely gone, and they show up only as a counter snippet at the very bottom of the Reviews section. Google states the following:

Based on careful thought about the future direction of Place pages, and feedback we’ve heard over the past few months, review snippets from other web sources have now been removed from Place pages.

I personally like the change as there were way too many cases in which Google was showing incorrect or outdated reviews, only parts of them, or reviews of other businesses. Moreover, it was very complicated for the spam on these to be controlled as it completely depended on the webmaster of the website itself. Reviews from third-party websites are also not included in the overall count of reviews on a Place page currently. However, although their value obviously decreases from conversion stimulation point of view, I don’t think their importance as a ranking factor has been changed. It is worth mentioning that the snippets for these reviews are still present on the organic search result page.

8) Missing sections:

The “What people are saying” and the “More about this place” sections are gone. The first one is obviously unnecessary anymore as the descriptive terms were included and the third-party reviews are not being displayed (the snippets in this section were coming from the reviews from around the web). The second one was used mostly for competitor analysis purposes, and was almost completely unnecessary for the regular user and for the small business owner themselves. Google has never been showing correct/full information in this section, so one more good riddance.

Many are wondering now if these changes would actually increase/decrease the importance of some of the ranking factors (specifically reviews and citations). I haven’t seen any significant change in ranking since yesterday and I strongly believe that this particular update was only regarding the new interface and had nothing to do with algorithm tweaks. However, I keep asking myself a couple of other questions:

A) How will Google handle all the spam on Google Places now that the reviews by Google Users seem more important than ever? And how will Google handle the glitches that are often causing loss of reviews?

B) Where is Google going on with the photos on Google Places, as previously they removed them from the organic search results page and now they are pushing for more photos and stressing on their importance?

  1. Mike Blumenthal
    Mike Blumenthal07-22-2011

    Great visual summary of the changes. Great find on the awards… one minor point on #4 … there has been a buttom to “report as inappropriate” photos for quite some time.

    • Nyagoslav Zhekov
      Nyagoslav07-22-2011

      Hi Mike,
      Thanks for the pointer. I haven’t noticed the addition of this button and I thought it was a new one, as it seems Google are rolling a UGC push. The “report inappropriate photo/video” button seems like a natural inclusion.

  2. Imprezzio
    Imprezzio07-22-2011

    I noticed that the description section is also missing! I don’t know if you included that in your article (if you did, I missed it and you can ignore this comment).

  3. Imprezzio
    Imprezzio07-22-2011

    I forgot to add that the “details” section is also apparently missing. This is annoying since that’s where I used to always put information that was relevant to the business (like their Facebook Page)

  4. Nico
    Nico07-22-2011

    You forgot about the details section. What do you think is going to happen to all the owner- and third-party provided details?

    In my experience it was always a huge disadvantage that you couldn’t control the third-party details, as they were often completely wrong. But what about the details provided by yourself, i.e. the owner? Hope they will come back as it was always a great opportunity to provide lots of relevant information. I’m also wondering because in the backend you’re still able to provide those details. And what about the custom details (c:something:datatype) you could provide via the bulk upload?

    Greetings
    Nico

  5. Nyagoslav Zhekov
    Nyagoslav07-22-2011

    @Imprezzio and @Nico:
    I didn’t actually forget about them. I tried to cover only the changes that happened yesterday, and both the additional details and the description (+working hours too) disappearing is an issue for about a week now. My personal opinion on this problem is that Google is working on them and will be getting them back on the Place pages soon. The description and working hours are considered part of the “Details” section, so that’s why they are also missing. As you know, Google liked to insert details from around the web in this section, so I guess now they are working on removing them from there and stopping their syndication. Only time will say.

  6. Joseph
    Joseph07-22-2011

    Thanks for the run down. Have been searching for a complete overview of the changes all morning and this is the best one I have found yet. I hope you are right about the algo. changes. However, it’s going to make citation research a bit more difficult. Le sigh :-/

    • Nyagoslav Zhekov
      Nyagoslav07-22-2011

      Hi Joseph,
      I don’t think it will be that much more difficult, although it is true that Google will cover some more of its secrets this way. I am using for all my clients the Local Citation Finder and it is doing great job for me, giving me almost everything I need. Also the Local Search Toolkit , but I haven’t checked if it still working properly as its principle of finding the citations is different. Overall I think this section was rather unnecessary :)

  7. Jack B. Erhart
    Jack B. Erhart07-26-2011

    The Additional Details area has been as much, if not more of an area for black hat spamming abuse then third party reviews. Unfortunately the source is usually the owner of the page or someone administrating the page for them.

    On another subject of the changes. What about the mention of the information everyone is not seeing any more still being seen by the algorithm, which is what I believe was mentioned in one of the post on the Google Places help forum by one of the Googler’s?

    Thought that was quite interesting.

    • Nyagoslav Zhekov
      Nyagoslav07-27-2011

      Hi Jack,
      I think the problem is not because of the section being frequently spammed. Actually, I know for sure that Google is not taking into account neither the “Details” section, nor the “Description” on the Place page, in the organic rankings. So any kind of spam on them is a waste of time, and all it could do is get you a penalty. The problem is that there was information coming from third-party websites in the Details section, therefore Google needs to clean this data, but as it is mixed with the data coming from the business owners themselves, this is not an easy task. You can read my whole opinion on this matter in my next blog post.

  8. Matthew Hunt
    Matthew Hunt07-27-2011

    Nyagoslav,

    Awesome stuff here.

    I think they return descriptions. Interesting to see the review “Descriptive terms”, now you have to make sure your places reviews are optimized for the right keywords too (which is almost impossible).

    I too, wonder where they are going with photo’s and why they have put a focus on that. Hmmmm….. only time will tell.

    Do think maybe they are cleaning stuff up to come out with an enhanced “paid” version of GP and/or to connect it all to Google Plus…?

    Should be interesting to see how all this plays out.

    As for rankings in the GP algorithm. I still believe clean NAP, lots of citations & lots of reviews from as many diversified IP’s does the trick.

    • Nyagoslav Zhekov
      Nyagoslav07-28-2011

      Hi Matthew,
      I don’t really believe Google is going to charge for some sort of enhanced listings Yahoo-type. However, I suppose they will include some sort of ads for Google+ eventually, and it would possibly include photos, offers, etc. I think the problem with the details and description, and the other missing stuff, is just a matter of time to be returned and is caused by some problems regarding the change of UI. Of course no one could predict what they will do in Google, I don’t believe even they still have a completely clear idea, but one is sure – they will eventually roll Google + ads and the most obvious way to do that is using Places data.

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