Google kills web reviews for hotels on Maps and Places

Swift and decisive move by Google last night as it axed all third party reviews appearing against hotels on Google Maps and Google Places.

hotel google places3

Now, when a user sees a hotel listed they will get all the existing content (photos, address, web link, prices) but the number of reviews has been stripped down to almost a handful.

Previously sites such as TripAdvisor, Yelp, Igougo and many online travel agencies were seeing their reviews fed automatically into a hotel’s Google page.

Such activity has irked the likes of TripAdvisor for months, with CEO Steve Kaufer claiming the process and way reviews were displayed was “bad for consumers, for the industry, for hoteliers and restaurateurs”.

Google has instantly killed such concerns by simply wiping out all those reviews. Director of product management Avni Shah says in a blog post:

“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.”

So where are the reviews which still appear against hotel pages now coming from? Users with a Google profile, of course.

hotel google places2

Google is still providing a link to review sites such as TripAdvisor, OTAs, etc, but the “reviews from around the web” area is buried at the foot of the page.

TripAdvisor, which has had its long-running battle with Google and must see the change as some kind of victory, says it has no comment to make.

Whether the sites which relied slightly more on the traffic as a result of having their reviews on hotel pages are pleased with the change is unclear.

From Google’s perspective the move appears to illustrate its strategy to focus heavily on its member base, especially with the launch recently of Google+, its apparent move to capture some of the glory from social networking giant Facebook.

There is also speculation that the switch is more to appease those sharpening their knives in the US over alleged antitrust behaviour around taking third party website content for free but then giving Places pages higher placing in general search results.

Nevertheless, whether there are darker political overtones to the move or not, Google has, ironically, now found itself in the same spot as TripAdvisor – a platform for consumers to add their reviews without any significant verification.

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Kevin May

About the Writer :: Kevin May

Kevin May was a co-founder and member of the editorial team from September 2009 to June 2017.

 

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  1. Elisa

    It is a problem that Google has to resolve. These reviews can be very punishing for a business.
    Thanks!!

     
  2. Kate Z

    We used Google maps on Worldwide Translators map to add local points of interest for our translators community all over the world.

     
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  5. Machiavelli Id

    The other reason Google probably chose this month to dump third-party reviews is that they’ve now launched Google Hotel Finder! Check it out: http://www.frontsidebus.net/2011/07/28/google-hotel-finder-experiment-starts-today/

     
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  7. Janet Hopkinson

    Verifying user reviews is always going to be difficult and you have, in the main, to put a lot of trust in the people who write them. We run a very small website (Rated-Places) where people can recommend places at which they have stayed in the UK and we are small enough to contact every property owner to confirm that the review is ‘accurate, authentic and written without incentive’ – but then again you are putting your trust in the hands of the property owner! I suppose at the end of the day people can and some WILL abuse the system but it’s actually quite easy to spot the fake ones (we’ve had two or three so far). As for Google, well, when they take over the whole world wide web, as they seem wont to do, I suppose they can just write their own reviews…..

     
  8. LLR

    The reviews from other sites also suffer from inaccuracy and age. As a hotel person I have seen reviews be published from years ago when the hotel was under another flag or management company after they have long since been removed from the original site due to problems with accuracy or being legitmate they continue to reappear and be republished on secondary sites spreading misinformation and confusion.

     
  9. BOB

    Tripadvisor reviews are not believable they are misconsrude therfore take no notice

     
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  12. RobertKCole

    @Hypnotherapy & @Ray – Checking IP addresses or the age of the account is but a rudimentary method to identify merely the most elementary sources of illegitimate reviews. Black-hat reputation management tactics are similar in nature to black-hat SEO tactics. Those that excel in the field are smart, motivated and highly compensated for producing results.

    The key to Google+ is the association with an individual profile that bridges all domains & social networks. This dramatically increases trust while reducing opportunities for scamming. Reviews can always be gamed, but once a reviewer’s profile is linked to other social accounts, it gets a lot more complex to create fictional accounts that trash competitors and support clients.

    TripAdvisor, through its association with Facebook has made some progress in this area, but most TripAdvisor reviews are still anonymous or only associated with a standalone profile in the TripAdvisor universe. Google+ changes that dynamic.

    Think of it like having a security system on a house – the petty thieves avoid the houses with a security sign in the yard or a sticker on a window. The pros can still break into pretty much anything if the reward is sufficient. Google+ makes it harder to propagate bogus reviews – the less sophisticated black-hat reputation management types are going to focus on easier targets.

    This should inherently make Google+ more a reliable source for reviews IF they can provide sufficient perceived benefit for users to contribute a large number of reviews. Critical mass is still important, so TripAdvisor isn’t going anywhere for a long time (and is still a very good source for reviews of major properties in primary destinations that have large numbers of reviews.

     
  13. Ray Deleo

    It’s a shame tha Google has removed the review count fron thier places page. With google only publishing thier reviews I can see business’s writing false negitive reviews about competitors and positive reviews about themselves without Google doing any IP address chcking to verify if the reviews is legit. I think it will go back to the old waty shortly

     
  14. Hypnotherapy Sheffield

    I’m not sure why people suddenly think it is possible to leave a review from a newly created Gmail account to promote their own business or run down a competitors. Don’t these people think it’s possible for Google to check the validity of a review by checking when the account was created, what kind of activity there has been on the account and what the registering IP address was?
    If they don’t currently penalize people for leaving fake reviews they easily could in the future.
    It would make a LOT more sense to do your job well as a business owner and encourage real people to leave real reviews from real Gmail accounts!

     
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  17. RobertKCole

    Hmm – I have an entirely different take on this. I see this as evidence of Google’s aggressive focus on developing its social platform.

    Google+ makes the Google profile the center of its social universe. True, bogus profiles may be easily created to game review platforms, but Circles creates an important new dynamic. This is also augmented by the +1 button.

    Within the Google+ ecosystem, reviews are no longer from faceless strangers – they are from individuals the user has categorized into Circles.

    If a clever black-hat reputation management group is going to attempt gaming user reviews within Google+, they will not only need to do a lot more work to create robust profiles, but they will also need to develop relationships with real humans to get included in Circles.

    A key revelation by @google’s VP of Social Vic Gundotra comes at the 29:00 mark of this TechCrunch Webcast where he describes how Google+ takes Google to the next level “in understanding more than pages; but understanding people.” Here’s the link: http://j.mp/p7SE73

    By not only focusing on individual social identities, but using those profiles to cross-reference everything across the Google universe, Google suddenly has dramatically less need for anonymous third party reviews. In a sense, Google just took out the trash.

    This is not to say TripAdvisor, Yelp, etc. are garbage – they work well enough within their own ecosystems, but Google’s objectives are dramatically different – they will use the network effect to leverage each additional piece of information – a +1, a review, a check-in, a photo, etc. to help users create their own networks of trusted advisers and implied recommendations.

    Welcome to the intersection of the deep web with context, meta-search and user generated content. It looks like the era of Web 3.0 has a finally begun for travel.

     
    • TomD

      Agree Robert. There are many ways to look at this indeed. It’s interesting that Google make this move right now with such a low volume of ‘Google User Reviews” in many industry verticals, which lends itself to the thought process the weighting in their local algo isn’t that great for GReviews. That alone upsets common thinking on the algo itself. On your social note – absolutely spot on – the timing of this move sends more signals than anything else for the social influence debate based on where they are at in their roll-out phase. Big G’s social proposition is of course a major topic for on-going discussion, but the ‘socnet influence’ on search results is also, just as big IMHO, and can directly impact tangible revenue streams from organic (and paid) search.

       
    • Peter

      Great comment Robert. I think you’re spot on!

       
  18. TomD

    We spotted this yesterday actually and noted here http://www.screenpilot.com/blog/2011/07/google-kills-95-of-your-hotel-reviews-what-does-it-mean-for-seo/ but the impact we’ve seen for our clients so far is negligible thus far. Our take is this isn’t just about review aggregation from 3rd party sources, but more to do with Google +1 gaining some serious momentum and introduction of +1 on paid and organic search (which they always had slated for to beat Bing/Facebook but never quite did). Interesting for those that study the local algorithmic changes from the ‘plex’.

     
    • Kevin May

      Kevin May

      @TomD – yes, saw the link you put in the comments section against another Tnooz story 😉

       
      • TomD

        Thanks Kevin. Will be interesting to see if any of your readers have seen much negative (or hope fully positive) experiences from this change. That will lend itself to seeing just how much weight on the algo this tactic will have had. Early results are mixed thus far and can’t directly be attributed to the change just yet. (Too many factors!!)

         
  19. Daniel Edward Craig

    I’m happy to hear that Google is turning its attention to user reviews because up to this point that aspect of the Places pages has been a bit of a mess and seemingly random. But I agree with Alec. I thought Google was heading toward being a one-stop shop for travelers, where you can view options, compare pricing, read reviews and book your entire trip all from one page. With so few Google reviews of many properties, it’ll be a long before it reaches critical mass. Until then, with 50 million reviews and opinions only TripAdvisor can claim to provide “the wisdom of crowds.”

     
  20. Alec Schraegle

    I think Google had a good thing going for them, providing shoppers with a one stop shop. On Google Places, they could check rates on third party sites and brand, check images, hotel info, and most importantly reviews from multiple third party channels.
    Wasn’t a study published recently stating that 51% of shoppers count on reviews to help their purchasing decision? Shoppers on Google Places didn’t need to visit multiple channels to find the best rate and reviews, it could all be done on Google. Now they need to rely on less trustworthy reviews on Google… They should have waiting longer to build more activity on +1 first.
    This also changes the SEO game on local search.

     
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  22. Randy Vannatter

    With the constant discussion concerning hotel reviews that are on Google and Trip Advisor it makes perfect sense to ask the reviewer for their hotel confirmation number and date they checked in. This would allow for dialogue between both parties. Every hotel manager wants feedback on their hotel’s performance and should have the opportunity to speak with their customer. Some consumers just want to “pay back” the hotel for what they feel went wrong, where others are genuinely looking to assist other travelers in making decisions about staying there. Either way, by having the guest provide this imformation we don’t have to wonder if the comment directed against a hotel/resort is malicious in intent, someone was just having a bad day, or that rare person who wants to objectively inform others on their travel experience.

     
    • Gaia

      A recent study was published by the Economist and it stated that approximately 12% of reviews were negative. More people are posting positive experiences.

      As for the hotel confirmation number and date they checked that would be a good idea but I wonder how it would be managed? Even though you have a confirmation number, how would it be verified that you actually stayed?

       
      • Randy Vannatter

        Hi Gaia, Trip Advisor or the hotel in question can quickly verify the confirmation number if they wish to. Most hotel software will have the guest information with the confirmation number. If no data is there, then it proves the reviewer did not check in. All Trip Advisor has to do is make it part of their user policy that they may require that information at some point should a legal situation come up.

         
        • Gaia

          Hi Randy,

          Enjoying this discussion!

          Does TripAdvisor have the infrastructure to coordinate with so many hotels to verify reviews? I understand what you mean about the hotel checking their internal records to see whether a reviewer’s confirmation code is legitimate and has resulted in a stay.

          1. What sort of infrastructure does TripAdvisor have that they can check user-submitted confirmation codes for stays? Wouldn’t they have to coordinate with all hotels to verify this information?

          2. If a hotel is supposed to check, then those same hotels that submit fake reviews for competing properties, could also effectively lie about a user’s confirmation code who has posted a negative review. Unless of course, TripAdvisor employs a blind verification strategy, in which the hotel can verify the confirmation code but is unable to read the review.

          Looking forward to your response!

           
          • Randy Vannatter

            Hi Gaia,

            It is imcumbent on Trip Advisor or any site reveiewer to have credibility. Maybe Trip Advisor already has a system in place to verify reviews, I am not sure. If it does not it should source our a third party company to do this for them. Imagine if Google did this and you were assured that the review was honest and accurate. This would take a bit of wind out of Trip Advisor’s sails……. It’s an investment but a necessary one when you are speaking about the reputation of a product or service. Heck, I just gave Trip Advisor a great way to increase revenue. Hotels can pay a membership and that revenue can go toward quality assurance of such reviews.

            2. The answer to your second question would be dealt with by the new assurance review department of Google or Trip Advisor.

             
  23. Sarah Quinlan

    This is a very interesting move by Google, coming just a day after TripAdvisor announced they’ve reached 50 million reviews. How long before Google users reviews reach that milestone I wonder? And what will be the relative weightings of reviews now in terms of natural rankings in Google? Hotels need to find Google users to review them urgently perhaps?

     
  24. Mark Hodson

    Interesting. Actually, Google has made it even easier now for hotel guests, owners, managers and competitors to leave fake or malicious reviews. Although you need to be logged into Google to leave a review on a Places page, there is no manual check, as TripAdvisor provides.

     
    • Greg Abbott

      Keen observation Mark! How many gmail accounts can one have? How many could one create in the next 15 min. knowing that each one meant you could leave a positive review for your biz that would post to Google Places with no verification? From what I have seen (at least in US) many Google User Reviews are phoney (i.e. business owners or 3rd party companies paid to “assist” with reputation management because they know there’s no one policing validity of comments!) Google rode the back of others like TripAdvisor and Yelp (for a time) to solve the legitimacy issue. Now, perhaps, they will have to do some actual work if they are going to rely on G+ reviews. What do you think?

       
  25. Gaia

    Have always wondered how certain review websites (i.e. TravelPost) are able to include reviews, originally posted on other websites (namely, TripAdvisor and/or Booking.com), as a part of their own list of reviews?

     
    • Gaia

      Anyone know?

       
      • Alex Hogan

        They use micro formats.

        “Google tries to present users with the most useful and informative search results. The more information a search result snippet can provide, the easier it is for users to decide whether that page is relevant to their search. With rich snippets, webmasters with sites containing structured content—such as review sites or business listings—can label their content to make it clear that each labeled piece of text represents a certain type of data: for example, a restaurant name, an address, or a rating.”

        See entire article here…
        http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=99170

         
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