Negative reviews from ex-employees are finally against Google’s guidelines

I hear complaints from business owners and marketers all the time that the Google My Business guidelines are often ambiguous, and I tend to agree. It can be easy to read a guideline and interpret it incorrectly.

I have learned that the key to understanding the guidelines is through time and experience. Seeing what Google will and will not act on can provide insight into what things they really care about, and this can help you read between the lines.

Until recently, I had always assumed that reviews from former employees were considered to be in violation of Google My Business guidelines. This was based on the following two passages from their review policies page:

  1. “Make sure that the reviews on your business listing, or those that you leave at a business you’ve visited, are honest representations of the customer experience. Those that aren’t may be removed.” This is the golden rule at the heart of Google’s guidelines, which is why the company usually removes peer reviews or reviews you got your friends to write for you. (Note that a reviewer doesn’t technically have to be a customer, but they do need to have had customer intent — for example, if someone leaves you a negative review because you never called them back, that would still be considered a legitimate review because they intended to hire you and you exhibited poor customer service.)
  2. “Conflict of interest: Reviews are most valuable when they are honest and unbiased. If you own or work at a place, please don’t review your own business or employer.”

My interpretation here was that reviews left by any employee — current or past — would not be in line with Google’s review policies. After all, how on earth is an employee’s point of view an honest representation of a customer experience? An employee is not a customer.

However, when I tried to assist business owners in getting negative reviews from former employees removed earlier this year, I discovered that Google only considered reviews from current employees to be against its guidelines.

Stupid, right? I have tried to wrap my head around this, and I can’t understand what possessed Google to come up with that policy.

Here is a recent example. In this thread on the Google My Business forum, a business owner was trying to get a review from a former employee removed. They stated that the employee no-showed on her shift three times and was let go. In the review, the user states:

“Yes I am an ex employee. My opinion of [omitted] was the same while I worked there as when I stopped working there.”

She continues to argue that her opinion is the same as the customers’ and starts comparing them to one of their competitors.

In another example, an ex-employee reviewed a preschool and made negative comments about the business owner and mentioned that their inability to run the school well is why they can’t keep staff.

How Google considers these reviews reflective of a customer experience is beyond me. Yet in both cases, Google refused to remove the reviews and clarified that it’s not against their guidelines because the employee doesn’t currently work there.

The good news, however, is that Google updated their review policies on December 14, 2017, and it looks like reviews from former employees are finally now able to be removed. The new guidelines are now in the Maps help center (they used to be under Google My Business), and they note that “posting negative content about a current or former employment experience” is no longer allowed, as it is considered a conflict of interest.

If you were one of those unfortunate businesses that had experiences like the two examples above, now is the time to contact Google My Business and ask them to remove the reviews. Hopefully, this time, you’ll get an appropriate response!


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


From algo to aggro: How SEOs really feel about Google algorithm updates

As SEOs working in the weeds with our clients each day, it can sometimes be hard to truly see how major Google algorithm updates affect our industry as a whole. Sure, we can perform test after test to see how our clients are affected, but what about the poor account manager or technical SEO director who has to put in the extra work and placate potentially panicked and frustrated clients? How are they personally affected?

BrightLocal (my employer) anonymously polled 650 SEO professionals recently on this very subject, asking them a host of questions about how algorithm updates impact their workload, their client relationships and their job satisfaction. Below, I’ll go over some of the startling results from our survey, “The Human Impact of Google Algorithm Updates.”

Google update? What Google update?

Have your business or clients ever been impacted by Google algorithm updates

First, and almost most alarmingly, 36 percent of respondents couldn’t say whether their business or their clients’ businesses have ever been impacted by a Google algorithm update. This should come as a shock — although this isn’t necessarily Day 1 SEO Stuff, it’s certainly Week 1 SEO Stuff.

The high percentage shown here suggests that either Google needs to better communicate the potential effects of an algorithm change (we can dream, right?) and/or SEOs and in-house marketers need to do more to stay on top of updates and investigate whether their clients have been affected by them.

‘And how does that make you feel?’

How do algorithm updates make you feel

Of the significant 44 percent who said their business or their clients’ had been affected by algorithm changes, 26 percent say they struggle to know how to react, and 25 percent get stressed when updates happen. (Note: For this question, respondents were able to select multiple answers.) However, on the flip side, an encouraging 58 percent either don’t get worried about updates or are actually excited by the challenge.

It’s perfectly natural for different types of people at different levels of experience to have differing reactions to potentially stressful situations, but 26 percent of respondents say they don’t even know how to react. This means that all the content you put out immediately after a Google update — whether to cash in on suddenly popular “what just happened to the Google algorithm” keywords or to genuinely help SEOs serve their clients better (we’re hoping it’s the latter) — isn’t reaching everyone.

At this point in the Google updates timeline, we should all, as content creators and content readers, be better versed in learning how to react after a Google update.

The penultimate straw

Have you considered stopping working in SEO because of algorithm updates

For many, it seems, the camel’s back can very nearly be broken by a surprise Google update. Just over a quarter of respondents said they’d considered leaving the SEO industry because of algorithm updates but ultimately decided to stick around.

It’s worth taking a step back next time an update hits. Take a look around your agency — are your SEO staff or colleagues ready to break? It takes strong leadership and a solid bedrock of skills for an SEO agency to bounce back from a big update, so make sure your best SEOs are made of the right stuff to prepare them for the worst — and, as we’ll see now, it gets bad.

How to lose clients and alienate Google

How have updates impacted you or your agency

Nearly a third of respondents who said that Google updates had had an effect on business actually lost clients as a result.

But it’s not all bad news. Twenty-six percent won clients, 23 percent saw the opportunity to grow their work with existing clients, and 29 percent of respondents noticed no change after the update. So there’s quite a lot of positivity to be found here, especially considering respondents were able to choose multiple answers (which could mean that respondents both won and lost clients because of Google updates).

What this ultimately means is that what happens after a Google update is up to you. You can’t point at the above chart and say, “Well, everyone loses clients after a Google update,” because they don’t. The range of responses shows just how much is at stake when an update hits, but it also shows the huge opportunities available to those agencies that communicate with their existing clients quickly and knowledgeably, carefully managing expectations along the way, while also keeping their eye out for businesses who have taken a beating in rankings/traffic and are looking for help.

The client-agency relationship

How do algorithm updates impact the agency-client relationship

One final point the survey touched on was the client-agency relationship and how it can be affected by Google updates. A majority agreed that updates make clients more dependent on agencies. (Who knew it? It turns out that every time Google released an algorithm update, they were doing SEOs a favor all along!)

However, with that extra dependency comes extra scrutiny, as seen by the 31 percent of respondents who feel that Google updates lead to clients distrusting agencies. The wisest SEOs in this particular situation are the ones going into client update meetings with clear, transparent overviews of what the client’s money or their time is being spent on, and simplified (but not necessarily simple) explanations of the ramifications of the Google update.

And for the 28 percent who said that Google updates make clients consider changing agency? Well, I hope you do better next time!

What is the first thing you do when an algorithm update happens?

Before I leave you to stew on all that data and start pre-packing your next Google Update Emergency Go-Bag, here are some of the qualitative responses we received to one particular question in the survey, “What is the first thing you do when an algorithm update happens?” May these serve to remind you that whatever happens, no SEO is alone:

The data-divers

  • “Run ranking reports on all clients.”
  • “Review all the sites that are affected and determine what they have in common. That gives me a starting point as to what has changed.”
  • “Determine which high-volume pages are most impacted, then review existing SEO to try to uncover anything that might be the cause of the traffic from an on-page or technical SEO perspective.”

The researchers

  • “Read the posts on it to find out what happened and how to react.”
  • “Figure out how I need to change my strategy.”
  • “The first thing I do is research to find out what has been impacted. Next, I inform my team of what to expect from incoming client calls. Following that, I write an article for our blog to include our clients in on the updates.”
  • “Read, read, read everything I can get my hands on.”
  • “Read and study. Then work to fix it.”
  • “Check forums/respected sites to find out as much information as possible.”
  • “Get educated.”
  • “Read as much as I can on what happened/what was affected, then find what it did to my websites/keyword rankings, then rebuild and re-conquer.”
  • “Start reading news releases and blogs from highly respected SEO professionals to try to figure out the changes.”

The vice users

  • “Grab an adult beverage (or two).”
  • “Drink coffee.”
  • “Smoke a cigarette.”
  • “Go for a few beers.”
  • “Take a Xanax.”

The waiters

  • “Wait a few weeks while watching the SERPs.”
  • “Nothing, I wait for the algorithm to normalize. I take a look at websites that drop, and websites that increase in rankings. I then compare and contrast my clients’ sites to those. Once I have better understanding of how the algorithm affects sites, I will adjust the strategy.”
  • “Just ignore it for a couple weeks then make adjustments.”

The communicators

  • “Check for confirmation of update. Assess impact. Communicate with affected clients.”
  • “Share the news with my team and engage them in coming up with a plan.”

 The extremes

  • “Prepare for the s***-storm ahead.”
  • “Freak out.”
  • “Cry.”

The one person who was actually positive about it

  • “Celebrate the new consulting opportunities that will result.”

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


Search in Pics: Google’s Velociraptor, playroom & frosty lawn

In this week’s Search In Pictures, here are the latest images culled from the web, showing what people eat at the search engine companies, how they play, who they meet, where they speak, what toys they have and more.

Did you know Google has a child-like playroom?:


Source: Twitter

Google also has a Velociraptor:


Source: Instagram

Frosty Google grass:


Source: Instagram

Google gantt chart:


Source: Instagram

Google, I dream of a world where…


Source: Instagram


The Google Assistant SDK adds support for additional languages & more

Voice, mobile & apps – get the latest on Google’s search developments at SMX

Google announced it has expanded the Google Assistant software development kit to support additional languages. That means developers can now bring Google Assistant applications to more people. Google Assistant now supports these additional languages and regions English Australia, English Canada, English UK, English US, French Canadian, French France, German and Japanese.

Lack of support for languages can impede development on the platform. For example, my company has been trying to find ways around language barriers to build Jewish apps, but Hebrew is not yet supported. The difficulty is having the Google Assistant APIs understand the language or regional language dialects and respond with a proper answer. So in this example, if someone asks what time is mincha, which is afternoon services in the Jewish world, Google cannot understand the word “mincha” because it is a Hebrew word. Bringing more support for additional languages and regions helps Google expand the ecosystem of the Google Assistant platform.

Other improvements to the Google Assistant SDK include more customized settings, including changing the device’s language, location and nickname and enabling personalized results. The API now also supports text-based queries and responses. Developers can also utilize the new Device Action functionality to build Actions directly into your Assistant-enabled SDK devices. Also, new APIs allow developers to register, unregister and see all devices that you have registered for better device management support.


Google launches new Rich Results testing tool with some rebranding

Google has announced it has launched a new version of a structured data testing tool for rich results at https://search.google.com/test/rich-results.

The company also said it will be calling rich snippets, rich cards or enriched results “Rich results” from now on and group them all together.

Google said the new testing tool “focuses on the structured data types that are eligible to be shown as rich results.” This new version enables you to test all data sources on your pages, including the recommended JSON-LD, Microdata or RDFa. Google said this new version is a “more accurate reflection of the page’s appearance on Search and includes improved handling for Structured Data found on dynamically loaded content.”

The tool currently only supports tests for Recipes, Jobs, Movies and Courses. Google said it will be adding support for other rich results over time.

Here is a screen shot of the tool. Note it works on desktop or mobile:

You can check out the new rich results testing tool over here.


December global festivities Google doodle kicks off series of holiday doodles

Today’s Google doodle kicks off a series of holiday doodles leading up to Christmas and New Year’s Day.

The doodle, which leads to a search for “December global festivities,” includes three animated images that you can swipe or scroll through using the arrows within the artwork.

“The festive season is here and this pair of slippery-footed siblings are excited to spend time with their warm-weather relatives!” writes the Google Doodle team on the Google Doodle blog, “Stay tuned over the next couple of weeks to see what kind of fun this feathery family has in store.”

Here are the three images that make up day one of Google’s holiday doodle:

The doodle is being displayed on Google’s home page in most countries around the world.


[UPDATED] Google Ad Grants policy changes include 5% CTR minimum

This article has been updated with additional information and clarifications.

Google is making changes to Ad Grants, the AdWords program that provides search advertising grants of up to $10,000 per month to non-profits.

As reported by Robert Brady on the Clix Marketing blog, advertisers and agencies began receiving email notification this week extolling the fact that more than 35,000 non-profits participate in the Google Grants program and news that it is lifting the $2 bid cap when campaigns use Maximize Conversions bid strategy.

That news was then followed by a set of links to updated policy pages. On those pages are several other significant changes.

The biggest update is a new requirement for accounts to maintain a minimum 5 percent click-through rate (CTR). That’s an increase from a 1 percent CTR minimum (Update: The 1 percent CTR minimum was only for Grantspro accounts). Accounts that miss that threshold for two consecutive months will be suspended. Accounts in jeopardy of being canceled will be “alerted through in-product notifications if your account is at risk of falling below 5 percent CTR with educational resources offered to improve.”

Update: Google says 5 percent CTR is lower than the current program average and that new updates, such as the requirements outlined below to prune low quality keywords and not target competitor keywords will help most accounts easily maintain a 5 percent average CTR. For one frame of reference, Community Boost, a digital agency specializing in non-profits says, “most Ad Grant accounts we look at typically have a 1.5% to 4% click-thru rate”.

Other policy updates include:

  • Non-profits cannot buy branded keywords they don’t own.
  • Keywords must have quality scores of 2 or higher.
  • Campaigns must have at least two ad groups with at least two ads running in each.
  • Accounts also must have at least two sitelink extensions active.
  • Accounts must have geo-targeting.
  • Most single-word keywords are prohibited, the idea being non-profits should choose well-targeted keywords.

The new policies go into effect on January 1, 2018 — just weeks away. Of the short timeline, Brady writes, “…  asking nonprofits to make such significant changes on such short notice (only 17 days from email send before these go into effect) is just bad customer service. And if they try to say that one email and a few notifications in the interface are enough, then they don’t understand how busy nonprofits are.” Update: Google says it will start sending non-compliance notices on January 1, and accounts will be given some time to make adjustments. Deactivated accounts can still call Google support for reinstatement after making changes.

It would seem from reading the Ads Grant support pages that Google is pushing non-nonprofits to use AdWords Express. However, I’m told this continues to be meant only as an option for nonprofits that don’t have the ability to manage their accounts and prune low CTR keywords monthly.

Last year, Google wound down the Grantspro program, which was the premium Google Grants offering for non-profits spending between $10,000 and $40,000 per month.