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From the Trenches - Who Sank Your Google Reviews?


We work hard to get good customer reviews.  Our customer service and satisfaction are extremely high.  We are a 5-Star dealership.  But yesterday or last night, my dealership lost hard-earned reviews from Google Places.  There is one left and no stars. These were, each and every one of them, legit reviews.

I have a suspect.  I consulted my friends Ralph Paglia, Scott Falcone, and Keith Shetterly.  Keith asked if I had made any changes to our Google Places page.  I didn't make any recent changes to Google Places, BUT... a little less than a week ago, Cobalt decided we needed a Google Places page that pointed to their website.  We have two websites and Cobalt, as mandated by GM, is our secondary site. They copied our Google Places page completely and put one up with a link to our secondary site belonging to Cobalt.

At that time, when I looked for our Places page in Google, it was gone from the top of the first page.  I finally found it half way down the third page... but it directed people to our Cobalt site instead of our main site.  When I tried to edit it as "Business Owner", it said it was not my account.

I logged into our Places account and everything was as it should be.  I then called Cobalt and demanded that they rectify the situation.  They apparently corrected the situation and the next day we were back where we should be.

Yesterday, all but one of our reviews disappeared and when I search for our company, Google Places is gone again.  When I search on and find the page, it is again directed to the Cobalt site.

Hmmm, I've been investigating and most of our direct same-brand competitors have been ripped as well, and coincidentally, they have two sites with Cobalt being their secondary site....  all reviews before a certain date (when Cobalt screwed around) are gone.

A connection?  What do you think? I am furious! Can anyone corroborate this with a similar experience?


Written by Tom Gorham

Editor, From The Trenches

Automotive Digital Marketing

Professional Community


Views: 2261

Tags: Customer, Google, Places, SEO, reviews


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Comment by Tom Gorham on April 9, 2012 at 1:01pm

I am happy to report that after more than one month, our reviews finally popped back into Google Places.  So happy!

Comment by Tom Gorham on March 7, 2012 at 10:31am

As an addendum to this conversation, investigation has shown that a data upload from Cobalt was the unintended cause for the havoc but was caused by a BUG IN GOOGLE.  It was NOT Cobalt's fault.  It was intended to update only Google Places pages "unclaimed" by GM dealers but because of the Google bug, also cause overwriting of pages already claimed.  You can get the details from Brian Pasch in this video and what to do about it.

Comment by John Brown on March 5, 2012 at 5:14pm

@Tom- I, for one, received a tremendous amount of value from this posting and the many comments and hope you get your problem fixed quickly.  

Comment by Tom Gorham on March 5, 2012 at 4:38pm

@VJ - First I want to thank you for coming on ADM to answer these questions as uncomfortable as it has to be.  I also want to repeat something that I said before, that I credit my advocate and sales rep for trying to rectify this even if they couldn't. As for what happened, if you say Cobalt doesn't mess with dealer's Google Places, I take you at your word.  (I wish you had said so earlier)

I said right up front that Cobalt was only a suspect.  In my mind, you have ended that suspicion.  I have done business for over a decade with Cobalt and want to respect that.

However this occurred, and it is still very strange to me, my main concern is to get it fixed.  Google, with all its flaws is essential to any dealer's marketing strategy and I am, obviously, passionate about my job and my dealership.

If you, VJ and Cobalt have felt maligned by this post, which grew so much beyond my expectations, I apologize.  Enough said.

Comment by Beth VanStory on March 5, 2012 at 4:08pm

I think there is an even bigger elephant in the room here. The fact that some manufacturers force dealers to have a site on a certain platform, creates a host of problems. The most obvious one is that some dealers end up with multiple sites either because they already had a site and the the manufacturer forced them to put up another one (GM with Cobalt, Ford with ClickMotive, Mercedes with MyMotorplace, etc.). Sometimes there is so much traffic going to the original site and more flexibility of the platform that it's too risky to shut it down in favor of the new site.  From my experience now with 5 different brands, it's nice when the manufacturer has a preferred vendor or two because it can help drive specific functionality. However, when it's one choice and all or nothing, usually nothing would be the better choice.

As for the Google issue, shame on Google for having this bug. As someone else pointed out, their rules clearly state that you can only have one Places page. Letting anyone overwrite that page and take control of it just seems wrong.

Comment by Brian Pasch on March 5, 2012 at 3:29pm

By the way, the email than GM dealers received in January is listed below which clearly states that the "intent" of the update was only for "unclaimed" listings:

The specific issue with Google Places is unique in many ways...but I just wanted to provide the backup communications to what people mean by the IMR updates.

Comment by Brian Pasch on March 5, 2012 at 3:15pm

As I have researched other clients today, here is what I'm telling clients and I agree with @VJ on many points.

  1. This is a Google update problem.
  2. Cobalt does not have the power to mass update dealership Google Places pages nor would they deliberately piss off their clients who obviously are passionate about their Google Places page data.
  3. The "update" was supposed to impact just unclaimed listings, so the update had bug or the definition of "claimed" was not clearly defined. 
  4. This has impacted more than just Cobalt website owners but the people who have called me today, all except one, have Cobalt related websites.
  5. Changes include website URL's, phone numbers, and reviews being lost.

So, if you have a Claimed Page and the data is wrong, I would log in and fix it as long as there is not a duplicate page that was created.  

If a duplicate listing was created, and your claimed page is correct, for NOW, I would not change a thing on your good page.  I would report the duplicate and wait.

If your page data is correct and you just lost reviews, wait.  Just check that the URL and phone number is correct.

I have submitted my examples of issues directly with Google and I was promised that they would be forwarded to the GP team. 

Won't it be a great day when the Google Places platform is cut-over to a stable platform that includes real-time updates? 

Comment by VJ on March 5, 2012 at 2:55pm

To everybody chiming in on this thread. I hate to be repetitive and even so I run the danger to sound like it these are the facts!

I know there is a lot of confusion around the Google Places updates and hopefully this will add some clarification albeit it may not alleviate your frustration. 

There is a GM iMR initiative through Cobalt that was developed to provide accurate, consistent and searchable dealership information on listing sites.  It was designed and set up for dealerships that did NOT have claimed and verified listings on Google. 

Unfortunately there is a bug on Google’s side so when data was pushed out through Google, we have seen a small number of claimed and verified pages get overwritten, like the URL examples Brian Pasch provided.  Google is aware of the bug in the execution of the bulk uploads and are looking for a fix.  

In the interim please log into your claimed and verified listing, update the data that was overwritten and push submit.  Keep in mind this can update within the day or could take longer per Google (which would explain the action @Tom try to take already and did not see an immediate fix).

We were told by Google that claimed and verified listings would not be impacted, unfortunately we now know that a small number of them were.   Please escalate through Google so they can do their due diligence to fix your page and let your Advocate know so we can escalate through our contacts to get resolution as quickly as possible. 

Anyway we slice it, bottom line is; this is an admitted Google issue and we have to work together to get it addressed correctly.

Thank you all for insights and input. And no @Ryan, I am not offended. As I said in my initial post - being myself an eCommerce veteran and automotive sales guy I would have been mad as well. Enough said...

Comment by John Brown on March 5, 2012 at 2:16pm

@Tom, maybe I'm incorrect, but I've never done an update to the main info and had it update that quickly. Also, i have not heard anyone comment on this issue I've copied below as being the problem. Here's one of Google's primary rules which says the following:

There shouldn't be more than one listing per physical location.
Even if you're a doctor who is a cardiologist and a chiropractor or a service that covers multiple towns, you shouldn't have two listings. Instead, use the description of your business or categories to explain the different services your business offers.

I just checked @Brians websites below and he has the exact same address for the 2 unique websites. Is this possibly adding to or creating the problem within Google? 

@VJ, i'm not reading your comment about having a contract and policy in place as being between Google and IMR or Cobalt. Could you please explain further your comment?


Comment by Ryan Leslie on March 5, 2012 at 2:07pm

I just had the pleasure of discussing this with Mike Blumenthal on the phone. I'll be the first to admit that I'm not sure I'm smart enough to have even supplied him with the data he was asking for to help you out Tom, but here is a hypothesis that seems to make sense to me.

ADP/Cobalt, as a verified "partner", performed a "bulk upload" of data. Verified Partner's bulk uploads are spot checked for accuracy, and if that spot check passes the entirety of the upload is deemed reliable and implemented. The bulk upload data merged with numerous places pages, yours included. I'm not trying to defame anyone, but it is possible that it was unintentional or they didn't know what the outcome would be, ie. human error, wrong field pulled, God knows what. I won't say why, but I'm pretty sure that is the case. When the merge occurred it created a new Cluster ID (as Keith said these pages aren't static, they are clusters) and the reviews are indexed in a different system entirely from the rest of the data. When the new Cluster ID was created the reviews no longer have a Place page Cluster ID to associate with and they are stranded. This explains new URL and new Categories (merged to most recent data entered), AND no reviews (your reviews are looking to associate with a cluster ID that no longer exists) for lots of stores...

What are we left with?

Mike is still investigating and offered to update me if he finds out anything different than what we discussed.

Tom, I'll email you Mike's suggestions for rectifying this, but you are going to be going through the support team to try to get to a live person. Mike said the reviews "usually" return when Google's systems catch up and realize they have stranded a bunch of reviews due to a merge, but that can take weeks to re-associate, and he stressed "usually."

VJ, No offense intended, but there are clearly too many coincidences here to assume that this is just a Google Bug. There has to be a reason that so many are seeing data changes and lost reviews, I'm leaning towards the bulk upload/merged data scenario. Also, simply saying Google has to fix it won't fix it. Not even Google has a back button for data mergers on this kind of scale and dealers shouldn't have to sit back and hope that bulk uploads are handled correctly. Question for you, if Cobalt did not create a secondary GP, does Cobalt have secondary dashboard access to GP's for GM dealer's through a "contract" with Google like some franchisee/franchisor setups in other verticals?

Lastly, To any vendors dealing in big data that may impact your dealers local efforts, hire Mike Blumenthal to consult with you. You won't find a more knowledgeable resource about this subject.

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