Reviews can no longer be left for me on Google as I’ve managed to get my business presence off there. Why? Because Google is broken and open to abuse. How? Through a technicality which, if it wasn’t there, would likely have left me stuck on their platform against my wishes.


Every time I issue an invoice, the accompanying text asks my client to consider leaving a review. There are several sites they can do this on, Freeindex, Trustpilot, Yell, Which? and, historically, Facebook, although I closed my Facebook account in 2018. But that’s another story.

Google was also a site where reviews could be aggregated for my business…. until today.

I must admit, I don’t get many reviews. People are more likely to leave a review if they believe they’ve had poor service, as complaining publicly helps them to feel some satisfaction and retribution. I try not to give my customers anything to complain about, so in my case they’re not motivated out of anger to angrily bash away at their keyboard.

In order to prompt a satisfied customer into leaving a review then, there are three approaches one may take. There’s the passive approach which requests in the closeout paperwork that a review is left if they’re happy. There’s the active approach where physical review cards are left on site or follow-up communication is made via telephone, letter or email requesting feedback. Finally, there’s the incentivised approach where a discount is offered on the next job if feedback is forthcoming.

That last one can be a little shady as the customer is almost being bribed for good feedback; I’d rather feedback was honest if someone is going to give it. Instead, I take the passive approach where I ask for a review as the invoice is delivered and leave it at that, however this is the least effective way to accumulate reviews because although I have many happy customers, they lead very busy lives. Despite having no complaints and (hopefully) being quite satisfied once we’ve packed up and pissed off, few customers feel the need to whip out their laptops or smartphones and start waxing lyrical. It does happen occasionally of course, and if someone wants to take the time out to pen something positive, then that’s great, and I appreciate it the effort they’ve gone to, but most people just want to get on with their day now that their tedious electrical work has been taken care of.

If I wanted more reviews, then I’d take the active approach, but as a consumer of goods and services myself, I hate being on the receiving end of the active approach and getting pestered to leave feedback every time I purchase a product or use a service. I can’t buy anything from Screwfix or Argos without an email later asking “how did we do today?” I buy a burger at McDonalds and the person who brings it to the table asks me to go online with my receipt number to leave feedback. I buy anything over the internet and I get follow-up emails asking me to take a survey of my experience. If I’m genuinely bowled over by a product I’ve bought or a service I’ve received, then I might find five minutes to say something good about it. If I feel short-changed by something, then I’m even more likely to stab away at the keyboard, this time with CAPS-LOCK on. If it’s just an everyday item or service though, then I’m not going to spend time on it, nor am I impressed by getting spammed and then having to opt-out of being bugged in the future. You got my custom, congratulations, now leave me the hell alone.

So, what’s all this got to do with Google? Well, Google can automatically add your business to Maps. You don’t have to ask for it, they don’t seek your permission, but once on there it can start aggregating reviews. My first one appeared in 2015: five-stars from a client we’d done a few jobs for. That’s fine, I wasn’t paying Google anything for my presence and I was happy if people with Google accounts wanted to use that platform to leave feedback. Between 2015 and 2019, seven genuine five-stars reviews were left by bona fide customers, and two further five-star reviews were left by people who hadn’t used my services but wanted to leave positve feedback for information I’d put on YouTube that they’d found helpful. There were no reviews below five stars.

It’s not many for the hundreds of happy customers over several years, but I wasn’t chasing up my clients, and those who had taken the time to leave praise had split their feedback accross six review collecting websites.

Then, in June this year, I received my first fake review. It was on Google, was one-star and reads as follows:

Cynthia


Personally, I’m not sure what to make of this. Obviously, it’s nonsense, but is it the wittering of a fruit cake, or is it a brilliantly penned humour piece that someone has crafted to give us all a giggle? I wasn’t sure, but I was happy to leave it there despite the one-star dragging down my five-star rating. Anyone taking a closer look at my business on Google would be able to see for themselves that it wasn’t genuine feedback, and if it gives them a chuckle then that just helps me to stand out.

And then more fake reviews started coming in, rating from one to three stars. Such as from this asshole a couple of weeks ago:

Julian


Notice how this account has been used to leave three reviews, all nonsense, with me and a plumber who is based over eighty miles away each getting two-stars for our hairdressing and fishkeeping services respectively.

There were three others over September, all from anonymous Google accounts which had not been used to review anyone else. They were generally single sentences, poorly written, unamusing and only one or two stars. Like this nonce:

BurgerMan


Google have policies in place to protect you from this kind of abuse, and you can flag a review as inappropriate. If it’s legitimately poor feedback, then you can’t get it removed, but where it’s just plain rubbish, as above, you can flag it and they’ll decide if it should stay or not. One review I did flag was in Spanish and complimenting me (I think) on my buttocks. I dunno, I might have translated it wrong. Google did remove this however, and they also seem to have deleted the associated user account.

Becky


Aside from comments about my posterior, I’m quite happy for reviews such as those above to stay. Although the overall star rating is dragged down, any discerning potential customers who look closer will see for themselves that the bad reviews are just dumb jokes or plain nonsense, but this is where Google is broken. Of the thirteen reviews of mine accumulated to date on their platform, including the new fakes, only nine were on display to me or the public. For some reason, Google chose not to show the four remaining one or two-star fakes, however their star ratings did remain.

With my score being pulled down by fake poor reviews nobody could read, it just made my business look bad. I was no longer a five-star rated company: one more duff review and I’d be dropping to a three-point-something. I was in a bizarre situation where all the reviews on my listing were five-star, but my score rating was down to 4.2 and at risk of dropping further. Even if you changed the listing layout to read lowest-score comments first, only the five-star reviews were shown. I have no idea why Google hid the duff ones, and because I couldn’t see them from my administrative portal either, I couldn’t flag them, so I was stuck in this no-mans-land where I looked bad on Google, but there was no explanation to potential customers as to why.

Eventually I got through to business support: fucking Americans with “have a nice day” actually in their autosignature, who indicated that the star rating may remain for up to fourteen days after a review has been weeded out by Google’s automated procedures. This suggests a regular attack against a business by someone creating multiple Google accounts could wreak havoc on their at-a-glance score even if the bogus reviews are spotted and removed within days of being posted.

Also perturbing is that Google apparently won’t remove a business on request. Others who have experienced this issue are reported on forums as wanting their business to be delisted from Google, especially if they never asked for it to be there in the first place, but their only option is to change the business listing to ‘permanently closed’ to prevent ongoing vandalism of this kind against their online reputations.

Google seemed less interested in this being an issue however, and more bothered about how my business was listed on their platform. Instead of acknowledging the problem, I got this:

“As you have a physical location set for your business, we need to have a photo of your business location with a visible business plaque with your business name on it. As your main business category is electrician, I believe you you [sic] do not have an office and business plaque at the location, so you should set your business type to a pure service area business”

Okkkaaayyyy… last Friday I wrote back:

“So, let me see if I've got this right:

Anyone can sabotage my business by opening an anonymous Google account and leaving a nonsense review.
Google is clever enough to hide fake reviews almost immediately, but not to adjust the associated star rating which may remain for up to fourteen days.
Google can add my business to maps without my consent, and I can't delist it upon request.
You're pulling me up on the fact that the listing you created which I don't necessarily want is somehow misfiled as I have a home office and not a business premises, and I'm supposed to take some action to correct this?


I'm asking you to do one of the following:

Show all written reviews along with their star ratings so potential customers can see the fakes for themselves.
Delete the fake reviews together with their star ratings so there isn't this disparity between the genuine five-star reviews as written, and the sub five-star rating.
Delist my business from your platform if you can't wholly present reviews or remove them as bogus.


Which of the above do you intend to do?


Have a nice day.

David.”

And today this plopped into my inbox:

“Your business David Savery Electrical Services isn’t eligible to display on Google Maps per our quality guidelines, therefore your business marker got removed from Google Maps.”

Uh-huh. I guess it was easier to delete my presence than acknowledge the problem or do anything about it. It’s a shame to lose those genuine reviews, but a platform which allows miscreants to sabotage my reputation without caring isn’t a platform I want to be on, even if it is the biggest name in internet searching.

Will I regret it? No, most of my work is word-of-mouth, via the local parish magazine, via social media or through partner trades. I don’t need representation on Google, and I’ll still appear in searches thanks to my website and social media presence.

I also look forward to the next cold-call from a marketing prick promising to get me "on the first page of Google", as I’ll be able tell them how I got myself off Google, or its Maps at least, so they can jolly well sod off!