Where Did All The Google Places Reviews Go?


There is nothing quite like spending time researching, organizing, and preparing a presentation for a client just to have the information become obsolete.  To add injury to insult, I had just finished the final touches for my clients online reviews presentation a few days before Google Places dropped all third party review content.

A large part of my report highlighted the importance of third party review on Google Places so I had to quickly make changes and explain why some of my clients reviews were missing.

Online Reviews Build Authority

Online reviews are a powerful tool in gaining website authority. Quality reviews from unique IP’s play a huge role in where a website is placed on Google’s page one organic searches.

These online business reviews are a powerful search engine marketing tool and have been used successfully to increase a websites organic search placement as well as online map positions within Google Places. As a website receives more reviews it gains popularity which helps in search engines indexing.

Currently, a business can claim their free Google Places profile where consumers can write online reviews. Google Places profiles show up on organic search results and usually occupies the first five or so positions. Customers get to see where your business is located, what current customers are saying, and have access to contact information.

The Power Of Online Reviews

Negative reviews can destroy some businesses. I recently went on a guided fishing trip on the Columbia river with the owner of VIP Outdoors, Pro Escobedo, who told me one negative review could destroy a business. Even with an overwhelming number of positive online reviews Pro said potential customers always ask about the one negative review.

Many restaurants and other service businesses loose out on potential business due to bad reviews. Even when a business makes changes and improves their services negative online reviews can still be detrimental to the businesses over all health. Businesses may even loose organic search position if they receive a large number of negative reviews.

Big Money In Online Reviews

Online business reviews are also huge money making content for third party review websites. These sites focus on recommending products and services to a subscriber base. They use the web traffic from these online reviews to get businesses to advertise with them. So it was no surprise when Google Places was accused of unfair business practices for adding third party review snippets to business profile pages.

The third party review websites demanded to have their content removed. In response Google Places has dropped all third party reviews. Now you only see reviews from Google users. If a business was receiving mostly third party reviews their Google Places profile page is going to look pretty empty.

Here are a few online review websites I’ve used with success:

  • Yelp
  • Yahool Local
  • Bing Business
  • Angie’s List
  • Zagat

There are and endless list of industry specific review sites, news papers online reviews, and professional review websites. None of these online reviews will show up on your Google Places profile or in your organic search review snippets. These online reviews only help your search ranking within each respective websites.

What does this mean for my clients?

Our strategy for using third party reviews was to increase our Google Places within organic search results, and it was working. Now only customers with a Google account will be able to give us online reviews. Many of our customers do not have a Gmail account and would not want be willing to create one just for a review.

We had been making it easy for our customers by offering  a selection of review websites based on their email type.  The idea was to reduce the number of steps needed to write a review to encourage participation. We saw an increase in online reviews when the process was just a simple click.

Google+ May Be The Answer

The Google + button may help fill the void created by the absence of third party reviews. It is still unknown how much weight the Google+ button has on organic search rankings but it looks like it may take on a bigger role now. With the elimination of third party reviews having customers Google+ your website cannot be a bad thing.

We may see an increase in Google Places ranking based partly on how many Google+ it gets. It would be nice to be able send an emails our to our customer list with the Google+ button attached. Talk about simple, if the customer was satisified they could click the button. No problems with multiple steps, email incompatibility issues, or complicated review rules.

Just one click and the customer is done. I like it. Now if actually works is another question.

Google Plus Social Network

Google is also currently attempting to engage the public by capturing as much of the social networking marketing as possible with Google Plus. Google Places and Google Plus are tied together by the same account, the Google Place is for businesses and the Google Plus is for personal profiles. Both use the Google+ button.

If third party online reviews were a big part of your Google organic search ranking strategy then an alternative strategy may be needed to increase your company’s rankings. Taking a closer look at the Google Plus social network and the Google+ button may benefit our future Google search rankings. We do know Google online reviews still play a major part in organic search rankings so keeping an active review campaign is still important.


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