Last week it became obvious that Google had a serious bug that was deleting the reviews from a number of listings. When that happens everyone thinks that the reviews missing from their listings are due to the bug.
The bug actually impacted a relatively small number of locations. Most missing reviews are due to the fact that Google has intentionally filtered them for one of a number of reasons.
At the moment there are four (maybe more) reasons your reviews have gone missing. How do you know what happened to your reviews?
Were my reviews deleted by the bug?
There is a simple diagnostic for determing if the CID bug bit you. That's where Google pushed suggested edits, changed your CID and inadvertently nuked your reviews. Here's the test:
- You lost all your reviews
- The previous Google review link that Google provided in the dashboard is no longer working and is different than the currently provided link
If both of the above aren't present, then the CID bug is not happening to you.
So why are my reviews missing?
In the forums, people complain regularly about missing reviews. Recently, as many as 50 complaints a day, or 20% of all forum posts, are now about reviews not showing up or having been taken down. It appears missing-review complaints have increased significantly over the past three months, and gone up since I noted in June that Google was increasingly filtering reviews.
Monthly Forum Complaints about Missing Reviews
There are three other known reasons for reviews to not show on your listing.
1- Google has disabled your category or listing. Earlier in the year, after the Supreme Court struck down Roe v Wade, Google implemented a categorical ban on reviews for reproductive care clinics. It's still in effect although Google has indicated it will likely be removed before year end.
Google did something similar with Russian businesses after the invasion of the Ukraine and Ukrainian hacktivists review bombed Russian restaurants and attractions. Similarly Google has long prevented US based schools and instructors  from getting any new reviews. Whether this was done as a response reviews occuring due to mass shootings or pranks, is unknown.
If a specific business profile makes the news and becomes the center of a review flame war, Google might shut off the ability to leave reviews for that location. (Yelp routinely does this.), at least for a time.
Here's Google's official statement on the matter:
Google also reserves the right to temporarily disable user created content for business profiles and business categories to prevent abuse. These measures help ensure that reviews on Google properties are relevant, helpful, and trustworthy. Further information on how review moderation works.
Historically disabling a single listing was a manual action. It may now be automated but typically is time constrained.
2- Google is preventing new, solicited reviews from showing on your listing. If you have a new(ish) service-type business listing, particularly in real estate or home services, and are asking for reviews, Google seems to be preventing those reviews from ever showing on your profile.
This is particularly ironic since Google encourages newly verified listings to ask for reviews. The fact that they're visible to customers who left them but not to the businesses soliciting them is particularly frustrating to business owners who have learned that reviews are the way to succeed there.
It certainly confuses most small business owners that are just getting started with Google:
"We recently started a business and our first 3 customers' reviews are not showing on our business profile. I have confirmed with the customers that they did leave reviews, so Google is withholding them for some reason. We understand that they are trying to cut down on spam and fake reviews, but we are a real business dealing with real people."
Almost all businesses that complained about this problem were established in the preceding six months and were service businesses of one sort or another (real estate, designers, SEOs, etc). And while the reviews didn't make it to the listing they remain visible to the original poster.
As a side note, I did a test using my infamous retail shop (Illusory Laptop) and asked a number of remote users to leave the location a review. All did so successfully – so it wasn't the asking, the distance or the velocity that caused the reviews to be filtered.
3- Google is removing long-standing reviews from a listing. A leading contributor to review complaints over the past three months has been the loss of existing reviews: reviews that have been visible on the profile for some time.
It appears that Google is doing a sweep through all existing listings and examining old reviews using its new filter. Some locations, particularly those with sketchy reviews, are losing significant quantities of reviews. This seems to be happening in waves, so if you haven't lost any reviews yet you still may.
Not surprisingly, law firms appear to be suffering disproprotionately:
I am the marketing person for a local law firm and we had over 90 Real Google reviews disappear over this past weekend. These are real reviews that we were able to get over the last 7 years.
What is going on?
Since Google's announcement in February, aspects of review moderation have increased. This is likely a preemptive move in light of the FTC (and other governments) getting more involved in fake review regulation.
While blocking whole categories seems to be a manual action, the other cases appear to be based on new, AI-based review filters. This is no longer "your father's review filter," where a finite number of identifiable triggers caused the review to be filtered.
This forum poster was looking for that identifiable trigger and noted:
I lost 20 reviews over night last night.... I work very hard for a living to achieve these results for them just to disappear over night is devestating to our business...I don't see why real reviews would get removed over time. They didn't leave reviews while using my office WiFi...What rules were broken?
Here's the answer I gave to him and my hypothesis:
[It was] because the pattern of the reviews matched the pattern identified by the AI as spam. Google is under pressure from governmental bodies like the FTC to clean up their review act and to remove fake reviews. So not only are they looking at new reviews coming in but also at reviews left earlier.
The AI apparently was trained with reviews that were known spam and weighted, with who knows how many variables, to establish a decision matrix which somehow calculates the spam score of any given review and (possibly) sets of reviews in comparison to the training set.
For example, it could be looking at business category, language patterns, frequency patterns, reviews-received-over-time patterns, review-link patterns, location of reviewer patterns, location of reviewer in relationship to the business patterns, time of day patterns, and so on.
If it has a high enough similarity score, the review(s) gets nuked.
If it's a real review from a real customer and still nuked that is known as a "false positive," i.e., it met the criteria but wasn't really spam. Depending on how well designed the AI is and how well trained, the false-positive error rate could be 20% - 25% (+/-). One assumes Google's accuracy will improve over time, as it becomes better trained and starts to understand false positives (or claimed false positives).
What can you do?
Bug bitten: If you were bitten by the bug and lost all of your reviews and now have a different CID, post in the forum and reach out to me on Twitter (@mblumenthal) with the forum link. I can escalate.
Pregnancy care center: All you can do is be patient. We've heard that Google will be lifting the ban before year end. We have seen some success with changing your category and then reaching out to support to get the ban lifted.
New business that can't get reviews: Reaching out to support is useless and you will get the official Google drivel: "Google aims to protect you and your customers as well as to provide a fair environment for business owners and users. To achieve that, Google removes reviews that violate its policies, such as reviews that contain inappropriate content, advertising, are abusive, off-topic, or have a conflict of interest."
However, Google has empowered Product Experts (Silver and higher) to escalate these cases for additional review. To take advantage of this opportunity you need to head to the forums, create a new post and provide screenshots of your missing reviews. We have seen a ~90% success rate getting these false positives restored.
You've lost longstanding reviews: If you already have 300 hundred reviews, chasing after 2 or 3 lost reviews is a largely futile effort with a very poor return. Google only allows PE to escalate five review screenshots at a time and, as a business, you are unlikely to be able to decipher any causal factors.
That being said it is a possibility that review velocity and method of asking played a role in the filtering. You need to think about several things that might affect the situation in a positive way
Use software that keeps logs your reviews and allows you to download them so that you can figure out which ones were taken down. This might give you insight into why they were removed.
Consider adding a feedback ask for NPS and first party review so that you can build out your own corpus of reviews that are independent of Google. The slight additional friction might lead to slightly lower velocity and result in fewer review take downs as well.
This new algo is more aggressive and you can expect from time to time to lose some reviews. You need to accept this reality and move on.
Changing your practices
Given the complexity of the new AI-driven filter, finding a path to get more reviews can be difficult. A business can't really change its category if that is a primary factor.
With a new business profile, however, you can give Google breathing space to learn to trust you. Even though Google encourages you to ask for reviews, doing so with too much frequency appears be a trigger. For now, slow down review requests to four times a month. If those reviews are getting through consider increasing it. If not, slow down even more until they do.
Also as I noted above, you will need to change your attitude towards losing reviews. If this is the new normal and you benefit from your Google profile, you need to accept that going forward you might see some reviews disappear. Otherwise, you will drive yourself crazy and be distracted from your primary goal of running a great business.
I recently helped a Yoga instructor who had inadvertantly categorized her business as an instructor get her reviews back by simply removing the category. (h/t Yan Gilbert)
How f-ked up is that? A business following best practices, doing what Google suggests, losing reviews just because they are new or in a heavily spammed category. The business does due diligence and reaches out to support only to be told that "it is working as intended." But if they continue their search and happen to end up in the forum and read a few posts, there is a secret back door to get your case looked at in the forum by Google's unpaid minions (or are they monkeys?). That isn't support, it's a quest. It intentionally limits through a very small funnel which businesses' get their missing reviews looked at.
Assuming they make it to the forum,there is another cruel Google joke they have to figure out. Creating a new post isn't at all obvious. Talk about dark patterns. I see many folks posting a comment in someone else's thread simply because they couldn't figure out how to add a new post. And as a PE we are expected to only escalate unique posts per problem.
To get help for your missing reviews, please create a new post on the forum:
- To do this goto this page: https://support.google.com/business#topic=4596754
- Scroll down the page
- Select the button that says: "Ask the Help Community"
- Include your business name, your Google Maps business profile URL and the screenshots of missing reviews