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Where the women are strong, the men are good-looking and every child is above-average.

Yesterday's NYT has an article about the state of online reviews that is particularly topical for our industry.


It's been about a month since Google placed new emphasis on their own members' reviews in search engine results and relegated the third-party reviews to more or less a footnote there and in the Places pages.


What I haven't seen is the power of Google to algorithm away the suspect reviews (and suspected reviewers) from their own ranks, as I anticipated would happen.


It is still surprisingly easy to spot that set of glowing reviews, all clustering around the same one-week or two-week period of posting on a given dealership's Places page.


Drill down into suspected Reviewer A's "book" of reviews, and you find this person has recently patronized a surprising number of dealerships in their region, apparently buying and servicing among multiple brands with equal loyalty, and what's more, taking pride in dealers to the same cheerful extent, who are located 100 miles away.  And you'll also find equally enthusiastic reviews for pet groomers, dentists and restaurants.  Now find Reviewer B in that same cluster of reviews, drill down into B's other reviews, and you'll likely see with surprising frequency that he or she too is a raving fan of the same half-dozen car dealers as well as the same pet groomers, dentists and restaurants.  What a coincidence.


Easy for you and I to spot a suspicious pattern, but evidently hard for Google, with its resources, clout and computing power to discover and deal with the same set of circumstances.


Speaking of coincidences, Google re-launched AdWords Express to market more paid search placements about the same time it postured it was policing its online reviews in order to purify its search results.


This screen shot shows you my dealership places page activity from August 2010 to August 2011.  The two troughs in the impression and activity levels this summer roughly coincide with issues I encountered in June 2011, when my warehouse across the street got listed instead of my verified dealership places page, the following peak when that was repaired, and the following trough in mid-July 2011 to now, since Google downgraded non-Google reviews.  And launched AdWords Express.  And inconsistently displays our pushpin in search results maps.


The second screen shot is from the same dashboard, scrolling down to the chart for the AdWords Express impressions and actions over the same one-year period; we signed on at the beginning of the month, and we're now paying a few hundred $$ per month to supplement the level of impressions and actions that used to be free.  Google still hasn't fixed or responded to my requests to edit the details of my places page, fix phone numbers and otherwise investigate why our pushpin doesn't show in map results the way it should (see my previous blog post, "Why is Google Punishing Us?")...









I won't get into the details of the NYT article, only to say that it's a great read, examining a variety of reasons why online reviews are the way they are, and it sidesteps the issue of FTC rules that should prevent reviewers' non-disclosure of material interest (and the real risk of fines and punishment beyond the loss of Google rankings).  Search Engine Land is a community, this article suggests, like Garrison Keilor's fictional-but-familiar Lake Wobegon, with's chief executive, Andrew Allison quoted:


' The result, he said: “It’s like Lake Wobegon. Everyone is above average.” '

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