There have always been lots of Google Places review problems, but lately they have gotten MUCH worse. Below is a story that recently broke, which I’m going to use to point out how badly broken the whole Google Places review system is, on numerous levels AND I’m going to attempt to illustrate a deeper problem that I think COULD be at the core of some of the lost reviews – a ClusterF*.

I’m conflicted and can’t figure out if the whole review piece is just broken at the core and therefore too hard to fix, now that the database is as big as it is OR if it’s like the red-headed step child – ignored and not given enough attention.

Apologies in advance to the Google Reviews team. I’m sure you are trying, but it’s just not enough! Reviews are a precious resource to small businesses. They entrust them to you and too often you lose them.

1st an overview of some of the main problems I’m seeing reported over and over in the forum. 1) All reviews or a big chunk of them disappear (long standing problem – not new) 2) Reviews ARE posted and the reviewer can see them while logged in but they don’t show on the live listing. (Relatively new problem, being reported more and more. No explanation/solution) 3) New reviews show for 12 hours, then disappear. 4) Many users are reporting some listings where new reviews are blocked from being posted at all. (Fairly new – no explanation) 5) # of reviews that show on the Place page is RADICALLY different than what shows on the review count in the SERPS. (Bug confirmed by Google below.)

I believe there are multiple review bugs going on. I also am pretty sure at least some of these review problems are a symptom of a deeper issue – clustering problems – a core problem with Places. Bare with me and I’ll try to illustrate. (This is pretty long and complicated, but if you are pretty tech savvy about Google Places I think it will eventually make sense.)

Following is a recent story that’s been documented a couple times and Google CONFIRMS a bug. But it’s still not fixed. Watch how the review #s radically have changed on this listing. Proving not only that the counts don’t add up, but HOW MANY REVIEWS this business has suddenly lost. I think there is a deeper problem on this one – a ClusterF*.

The 1st story was posted in Pando Daily on May 10th. A bug was discovered where Google displayed 124 reviews in the SERPS and at top of the Place page, but on the restaurant’s Place page it only showed 15.

Google Overstates the Number of Reviews on Places: Lie or Anomaly?
MAY 10 – Hamish reported that Fior D’Italia restaurant was DISPLAYING 124 reviews in the SERPS and also at top of Place page. But there were really only 15 reviews live on the page. (See his screenshot.)

Google spokesperson replied above 5/10:We’re currently experiencing a technical error in which the total number of Google reviews is accurately appearing in the Places listing, but only some of the reviews are appearing on the corresponding Place page. We’re aware of this error affecting a limited number of Google Places listings, and are working to resolve it as quickly as possible.

(Note: 2 weeks later this particular review problem is still not fixed.)

The next day WebProNews picked up the same story and then the restaurant had 145 reviews. (20 more in 1 day?) Yet only showed 17 live.

Glitch in Google Reviews for Places
MAY 11 “Fior d’Italia Restaurant in San Francisco, Google initially presents 145 reviews. Though, when actually reading said reviews, only 17 are actually present.” (See their screenshot.)

For me MAY 21st Fior d’Italia ONLY DISPLAYED 55 reviews (Not the previous 124 or 145.) And only 17 are live on the page. Place Page Screen shot showing 55 reviews. And here’s screen shot from same listing showing only 17 reviews are really there.

Since prepping this story 5/21 and taking the screenshot above, review counts changed again. NOW TODAY 5/24 it displays 80 reviews. See Screenshot. BUT the exact same 17 reviews are showing on the Place page today as the ones in my 5/21 screenshot and WebProWorld’s 5/11 screenshot.

This says to me there are reviews stuck in a data cluster somewhere that are not attaching to the listing.

So where did all those other reviews go? Why are the numbers fluctuating so wildly? Why don’t the numbers add up?

IMPORTANT NOTE: Notice anything else odd about their Place page?
See screen shot The listing is UNCLAIMED but yet is showing OWNER VERIFIED IMAGES and OWNER description. Strong symptom of a ClusterF*!

This is another problem I’m seeing a lot in the forum – listings splitting or going unverified. IMO listings often split or go unclaimed when there is conflicting data the algo can’t reconcile. So it makes me suspect there is a CLUSTER F* and that could be part of the review problem here too!!! Not saying it’s the only problem, sounds like the review count not matching displayed # is a bug. But the review count going up by 20 1 day and then down by 100 reviews 10 days later, then up by 25 3 days later? That could be cluster issues.

When you look at all the screenshots above and the way the numbers radically change, it’s apparent there is a separate database (or possibly more than one) that’s holding these reviews that are not getting attached to the listing.

So maybe some of these missing review problems we keep seeing reported on the forum, are just ClusterF*s.

NOT removed for spam, NOT lost, NOT deleted

Just ClusterF*s!

Due to a clunky backend that has trouble properly merging/reconciling data.

(I LOVE SAYING THAT WORD – can you tell? It helps me let off steam!) ;-)

One related and acknowledged review problem is the inability for an owner to REPLY to reviews. Vanessa has stated many times that the reason this happens is that there are multiple owners of the account and the current account the owner is logged in on is NOT the account that’s in control of the listing. SO AGAIN, it’s back end issues. It’s the CORE of Places that’s the problem. The duplicates due to scraping, the pulling data from multiple sources, the fact that multiple people and different accounts can claim a listing. It’s the backend cluster problems that often affect reviews.

One of the problems I have when trying to help people in the forum is I can’t see the history of the listings to diagnose the problems. But often when people report lost reviews it was a data issue or cluster issue. They moved, changed the name, the CID changed on them, there’s a dupe, merge or 2nd owner OR the reviews just got lost due to some other type of ClusterF*. In the forum it’s hard to know with individual listings what’s up, cuz you can’t see the history. But in the case of Fior d’Italia I’ve shown you a time-lapse glimpse of what’s happening and how the reviews are somehow stuck in the cluster.

There are now SO many different types of review problems posted on the forum daily. I pity the businesses that are losing reviews. Here is one recent forum thread with lots of review complaints. Where are my Google places reviews?

A business owner’s hard won reviews are precious to them. They are tired of losing them and not getting answers!

I believe there are SEVERAL different review bugs right now – but I also suspect that at least PART of the missing review problem is due ClusterF*s and the clunky Places backend.

Jim Jaggers, fellow Top Contributor, summed it up nicely in the thread above:

Yep, it is all messed up right now. In particular reviews, split listings, location not supported errors, and long update cycles. No one posting on this forum can actually fix any of those problems. We can point you to the troubleshooters, where someone at Google may, or may not, be able to help you. Other than that we can just point you to the stock answers that acknowledge a problem and let you know it isn’t specific to you.

I know the answers are unsatisfying (try giving them), but I don’t have any better ones for you.

The more I work with Google the more I realize storing, categorizing and displaying the world’s business data and precious reviews is not easy. And yes, I know staying ahead of the fake review spammers is a constant battle.

But Google is the biggest company in the world and a TECH company at that.

They OWE it to these businesses to step up their efforts to fix the broken review system and make it better!