Google Review Penalty in the Works?

Mike Blumenthal
Mike Blumenthal

Last week, we posted about the upcoming SEO penalty for obnoxious chat interstitials – this week, its a change in Google’s guidelines around local reviews.  In this particular case, we are talking about law firm websites that feature reviews of the firm.  The story, broken by Local SEO expert Mike Blumenthal, doesn’t specify how Google will either identify abuses or what they will do in response. But, we know exactly how they’ve treated content that falls outside guidelines in the past.

But first…. the updates are pretty significant in legal.  In the bullets below, I’ve bolded those that should have a particularly large impact on the legal industry:

  1. Snippets must not be written or provided by the business or content provider unless they are genuine, independent, and unpaid editorial reviews.
  2. Reviews must allow for customers to express both positive and negative sentiments. They may not be vetted by the business or restricted by the content provider based on the positive/negative sentiment of the review before submission to Google.
  3. Reviews cannot be template sentences built from data or automated metrics. For example, the following is not acceptable: “Based on X number of responses, on average people experienced X with this business.”
  4. Reviews for multiple-location businesses such as retail chains or franchises can only be submitted for the specific business location for which they were written. In other words, reviews for multiple-location businesses cannot be syndicated or applied to all business locations of the same company.
  5. Aggregators or content providers must have no commercial agreements paid or otherwise with businesses to provide reviews.
  6. Do not include reviews that are duplicate or similar reviews across many businesses or from different sources.
  7. Only include reviews that have been directly produced by your site, not reviews from third-party sites or syndicated reviews.

Point 2: No Vetting

I’ve been dealing with law firm reviews since back in 2007 – and the one thing lawyers have feared (and Bar Associations across the country have struggled with) is the lack of control over reviews.  This is an obvious issue on third party sites like Yelp (in fact early Avvo days – some state bars proscribed Avvo’s client reviews even though the attorneys had zero control over them.)  But now – imagine lawyers NOT having control over the reviews on their own websites.  I suspect this might be a bit too hard to swallow for many; although, the brave forward leaning ones will benefit from the stars that show up in the SERPS.

Point 7: No third Party Reviews

This is a smaller issue; although it is very pervasive, as it pertains to lawyers copy and pasting their glowing Yelp, Google or other reviews from third parties onto their own websites. In fact, some third parties have enable this through plug-ins which automatically push (sometimes vetted) reviews to a law firm website.

In Conclusion

As Gyi Tsakalakis says: you can’t SEO your way out of bad service.  So – my take – this is an opportunity for lawyers who deliver fantastic customer service to shine, as many firms will shy away from posting reviews to their own site.  Counterpoint: this just incentives review spam at a much higher rate (already a major concern especially in legal).

One Response to “Google Review Penalty in the Works?”

  1. How the heck will they ever know if you’re filtering out the bad reviews? This isn’t something they could confirm or police. It’s totally possible, and common, for a business to just get 5 star reviews from their clients.