Google Local Guides are not always trustworthy
Many businesses have experienced the problem of fake reviews and it seems ‘some’ local guides play a part in the problem. It should be said the majority of local guides use the system fairly, but there is a growing population of local guides posting fake reviews at the detriment of local businesses.
You may have already seen fake reviews from local guides. Fake reviews are a common problem and we have had numerous customers inform us about them. Recently, we realized how deep rooted the problem is. Then, we started to investigate the matter further.
A client who makes themed carts and takes them to weddings, birthdays and other events informed us about a review she recently had from a customer she’s never heard of. She doesn’t deal with that many customers and knows who they all are. This person left a bad star rating but made no comments.
So I looked at the other reviews this local guide had left. Turns out there were over 50 reviews and ratings within 3 weeks. This person really gets around, particularly the day they traveled from Connecticut to northern Argentina to get some supplies in Supermercado Tianhua and then found time to drive 10 hours south to have a bite to eat. Again no comment to go with the rating.
It should be pointed out that they did not have the badge or “local guide” status on this particular day, however he did obtain it within the subsequent flurry of reviews over the next 3 weeks.
Maybe he’s just a really active person, but the barrage of 2-3 star ratings with no comment suggest otherwise.
What are Google local guides?
The local guides program aims to make Google maps information more accurate, reliable and helpful. Local guides are encouraged to answer questions, upload photos, verify information about places and review them.
As a local guide’s activity increases so does their ‘rank’ and with it the chance of greater perks/rewards for their efforts.
Past perks have included:
- Free Google drive storage
- Early access to new Google products and features
- 75% off a Google play movie rental
- 3 Months free access to Google music
- Insider groups & meetups
- Hotel perks
- Travel perks
- Even all-expense paid trips to Google conferences
One local guide on Quora reported:
“In September 2016, Google paid me Visa fees, bought me an air ticket from Uganda (East Africa) to San Francisco and back, booked me 4 days at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco Hotel, and four days of meals to attend the 2016 Inaugural Local Guides Summit at Googleplex (Google HQs) in Mountain View, SF, CA. The whole trip costed about $4,000, all paid by Google.”
Most of the time the rewards are small, and many people partake in the program because they enjoy it. They enjoy eating out at new places, trying new businesses and helping to improve Google maps.
Getting the local guide badge
At level 4 (250 points) local guides get their first badge which among other things helps to get their listing noticed. This is the key rank at which Google was offering the Google play rental discount in August 2017 for example.
So how does the points system work?
Different contributions to Google maps offers their own number of points. For example:
- 1 Point for rating a place
- 10 Points for writing a review
- 10 Extra points for writing a review of more than 200 characters
Considering the abundance of local businesses to rate or review, it’s easy to see why these may be an appealing prospect for any local guide looking to boost their level.
The levels go from 1 – 10, with most rewards starting around level 4:
- Level 1 – 0 points
- Level 2 – 15 points
- Level 3 – 75 points
- Level 4 – 250 points (first badge)
- Level 5 – 500 points (and so on until level 10)
The problem with fake local guide reviews is twofold: First, the incentive to leave a review is too strong, and no verification. Guides leave reviews, good or bad, true or false, simply to build their point total with no regard for the business and apparently little or no oversight from Google. Secondly the ‘authoritative’ look of the local guide badge carries more weight with it. Anyone looking at the review may take it far more seriously than it should be. Further it may be discouraging to businesses owners taking action because they might assume what can they do about an ‘official figure’? Well it seems not much actually.
Getting a Fake Review Removed
Google does have guidelines when it comes to leaving reviews and may remove a review if a guideline is clearly broken. However, how can Google tell if a person did or didn’t do business with a particular local company?
The process for cleaning up fake reviews from Google is woefully inadequate. Google recommends flagging inappropriate reviews, but this very often does nothing. Better success usually comes from posting in the Google my Business forum or by tweeting @GoogleMyBiz but even that’s not the easiest process. The whole system of removing fake/unscrupulous reviews needs a major overhaul but who knows if/when we’ll see that.
So in summary
- It’s more common than you might think – The example I gave at the start of this article is not an isolated incident, there are 1,000s of businesses who have been affected in the same way, a lot of the time these fake reviews are buried among 10s or 100s for businesses who already have a good rating. However a string of these fake 1-2 star reviews can begin to have an impact.
- They don’t have to have the local guide-badge – Someone might be trying to get local guide status, by posting excess reviews, they may not already have the rating yet.
- Think twice when you see a bad review from a local guide – If you see a bad review from a local guide and you don’t recognize the person, it could be fake. Click on their profile (you can) and see if they have done the same to many other businesses. They could be trying to game the system.
- DON’T SETTLE FOR IT – Although it’s not the easiest process to get rid of bad reviews, why should you let your reputation suffer? The little time spent chasing Google is worth it to mitigate any reduction in local SEO ranking, or perceived reputation.
Have you experienced fake reviews on your Google listing? Have you seen fake reviews from a local guide? What did you do about it?
If you have trouble with reviews, contact us. We may be able to help.