Google made local business pages (and the reviews contained within) a lot more visible this week, with the launch of Google Now for the iPhone and iPad. That includes negative reviews from anonymous, non-accountable “Google Users,” just so you know.
Google Now was introduced last year as part of the Android Jelly Bean update. It is often referred to as the future of search, or at least the future of Google Search. It pushes information to users when they need it (or when Google thinks they need or want it) without the user having to search for it.
The majority of Android phones still don’t even have it yet, but as time goes on, that will change. I only recently upgraded my own device to one that has access to the feature, and have only begun to learn first-hand just how powerful Google Now can be. The more it learns about you, the more it has to offer.
One of the things Google Now has to offer is a flow of suggestions for places that are near you when you spend any considerable amount of time in some location. For local businesses, this can be a great thing.
What’s not so great for a business, is when Google pushes negative reviews in front of any number of users.
Negative reviews are one thing, but anonymous reviews allow people to say whatever they want without being held accountable. Businesses are already suing people for defamation over some of the things they say in online reviews, when they are saying things they can be held accountable for. Anonymity just lets people say whatever they want. Even if they’re trashing your business. And anonymous reviews are still appearing right in front of Google Now users curious about what place Google is telling them is nearby.
I noticed this the other day. I took a look at the Google Now “Places” card and saw that the Lock & Key cafe was nearby. Here, you can take a look at their page. The top reviews from real people have “Very Good” and “Excellent” descriptions across the board. Then it gets into the anonymous “A Google user” and the rating is “Poor to fair”. This is followed with another anonymous review, also with a rating “poor to fair”.
At least Google is showing the positive reviews from users with names at the top, but are they always doing this? Sure, not all anonymous reviews are negative, but many are.
Google has actually moved away from anonymous reviews in policy. When they made the move from Google Places to Google+ Local as the format for local business pages, users were supposed to be required to sign in with their Google account to leave reviews (they’ve adopted a similar policy for Google Play). When I have tried to leave a review while not logged into mine, I’ve been prompted to sign in. But as we’ve seen in recent months, this isn’t always working for some reason.
Old anonymous reviews from before the change are staying on business pages. That’s nothing new, but a few months back, we looked at an example where even new reviews were coming in from anonymous users. One user complained about this in a Google help thread. The Google representative acknowledged the problem, and indicated they were looking into it.
I checked back on the page in question today, and those anonymous reviews are still there. It’s unclear whether they’re still accepting new anonymous reviews. I’ve seen no indication from Google that they have corrected the problem.
When I looked at that Lock & Key page that Google pushed to my attention, it dawned on me that Google is likely pushing a whole lot of anonymous negative reviews to a lot of Google Now users. Then this week, they greatly expanded the user base for Google Now by launching it for iPhones and iPads.
For those concerned about Google Now pushing negative reviews in front of users, there is a silver lining. Well, for one, it also pushed positive reviews, which hopefully far outweigh the negative ones anyway. But also, iOS simply isn’t able to take advantage of Google Now the way Android is. It doesn’t use the iOS notifications system, so basically users have to specifically open the Google Search app, log in (if they’re not already logged in), and find the cards at the bottom. Not quite as much of a game changer as the Android version. In fact, Fast Company says, “The future of Google Search is leaving iPhone users behind.”
It will be interesting to see if Google does anything with the anonymous reviews. Even as the old ones (which apparently Google has no intention of getting rid of) continue to show up, local businesses would do well to encourage new customers to write reviews, and hopefully bury any old unfavorable, anonymous reviews. Of course, it would also help if Google keeps from letting new ones flow in.