Tag Archive | "Forward"

A Farewell and Some Advice to Keep You Moving Forward

Well, our big news this week is that I’m going to be moving to a more solo career. The ultra…

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A Big Announcement, and Advice to Move You Forward

Well, our big thing this week was … pretty big.

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Q&A: Lost Your Anonymous Google Reviews? The Scoop on Removal and Moving Forward

Posted by MiriamEllis

Did you recently notice a minor or major drop in your Google review count, and then realize that some of your actual reviews had gone missing, too? Read on to see if your experience of removal review was part of the action Google took in late May surrounding anonymous reviews.

Q: What happened?

A: As nearly as I can pinpoint it, Google began discounting reviews left by “A Google User” from total review counts around May 23, 2018. For a brief period, these anonymous reviews were still visible, but were then removed from display. I haven’t seen any official announcement about this, to date, and it remains unclear as to whether all reviews designated as being from “A Google User” have been removed, or whether some still remain. I haven’t been able to discover a single one since the update.

Q: How do I know if I was affected by this action?

A: If, prior to my estimated date, you had reviews that had been left by profiles marked “A Google User,” and these reviews are now gone, that’s the diagnostic of why your total review count has dropped.

Q: The reviews I’ve lost weren’t from “A Google User” profiles. What happened?

A: If you’ve lost reviews from non-anonymous profiles, it’s time to investigate other causes of removal. These could include:

  • Having paid for or incentivized reviews, either directly or via an unethical marketer
  • Reviews stemming from a review station/kiosk at your business
  • Getting too many reviews at once
  • URLs, prohibited language, or other objectionable content in the body of reviews
  • Reviewing yourself, or having employees (past or present) do so
  • Reviews were left on your same IP (as in the case of free on-site Wi-Fi)
  • The use of review strategies/software that prohibit negative reviews or selectively solicit positive reviews
  • Any other violation of Google’s review guidelines
  • A Google bug, in which case, check the GMB forum for reports of similar review loss, and wait a few days to see if your reviews return; if not, you can take the time to post about your issue in the GMB forum, but chances are not good that removed reviews will be reinstated

Q: Is anonymous review removal a bug or a test?

A: One month later, these reviews remain absent. This is not a bug, and seems unlikely to be a test.

Q: Could my missing anonymous reviews come back?

A: Never say “never” with Google. From their inception, Google review counts have been wonky, and have been afflicted by various bugs. There have been cases in which reviews have vanished and reappeared. But, in this case, I don’t believe these types of reviews will return. This is most likely an action on Google’s part with the intention of improving their review corpus, which is, unfortunately, plagued with spam.

Q: What were the origins of “A Google User” reviews?

A: Reviews designated by this language came from a variety of scenarios, but are chiefly fallout from Google’s rollout of Google+ and then its subsequent detachment from local. As Mike Blumenthal explains:

As recently as 2016, Google required users to log in as G+ users to leave a review. When they transitioned away from + they allowed users several choices as to whether to delete their reviews or to create a name. Many users did not make that transition. For the users that chose not to give their name and make that transition Google identified them as ” A Google User”…. also certain devices like the old Blackberry’s could leave a review but not a name. Also users left + and may have changed profiles at Google abandoning their old profiles. Needless to say there were many ways that these reviews became from “A Google User.”

Q: Is the removal of anonymous reviews a positive or negative thing? What’s Google trying to do here?

A: Whether this action has worked out well or poorly for you likely depends on the quality of the reviews you’ve lost. In some cases, the loss may have suddenly put you behind competitors, in terms of review count or rating. In others, the loss of anonymous negative reviews may have just resulted in your star rating improving — which would be great news!

As to Google’s intent with this action, my assumption is that it’s a step toward increasing transparency. Not their own transparency, but the accountability of the reviewing public. Google doesn’t really like to acknowledge it, but their review corpus is inundated with spam, some of it the product of global networks of bad actors who have made a business of leaving fake reviews. Personally, I welcome Google making any attempts to cope with this, but the removal of this specific type of anonymous review is definitely not an adequate solution to review spam when the livelihoods of real people are on the line.

Q: Does this Google update mean my business is now safe from anonymous reviews?

A: Unfortunately, no. While it does mean you’re unlikely to see reviews marked as being from “A Google User”, it does not in any way deter people from creating as many Google identities as they’d like to review your business. Consider:

  • Google’s review product has yet to reach a level of sophistication which could automatically flag reviews left by “Rocky Balboa” or “Whatever Whatever” as, perhaps, somewhat lacking in legitimacy.
  • Google’s product also doesn’t appear to suspect profiles created solely to leave one-time reviews, though this is a clear hallmark of many instances of spam
  • Google won’t remove text-less negative star ratings, despite owner requests
  • Google hasn’t been historically swayed to remove reviews on the basis of the owner claiming no records show that a negative reviewer was ever a customer

Q: Should Google’s removal of anonymous reviews alter my review strategy?

A: No, not really. I empathize with the business owners expressing frustration over the loss of reviews they were proud of and had worked hard to earn. I see actions like this as important signals to all local businesses to remember that you don’t own your Google reviews, you don’t own your Google My Business listing/Knowledge Panel. Google owns those assets, and manages them in any way they deem best for Google.

In the local SEO industry, we are increasingly seeing the transformation of businesses from the status of empowered “website owner” to the shakier “Google tenant,” with more and more consumer actions taking place within Google’s interface. The May removal of reviews should be one more nudge to your local brand to:

  • Be sure you have an ongoing, guideline-compliant Google review acquisition campaign in place so that reviews that become filtered out can be replaced with fresh reviews
  • Take an active approach to monitoring your GMB reviews so that you become aware of changes quickly. Software like Moz Local can help with this, especially if you own or market large, multi-location enterprises. Even when no action can be taken in response to a new Google policy, awareness is always a competitive advantage.
  • Diversify your presence on review platforms beyond Google
  • Collect reviews and testimonials directly from your customers to be placed on your own website; don’t forget the Schema markup while you’re at it
  • Diversify the ways in which you are cultivating positive consumer sentiment offline; word-of-mouth marketing, loyalty programs, and the development of real-world relationships with your customers is something you directly control
  • Keep collecting those email addresses and, following the laws of your country, cultivate non-Google-dependent lines of communication with your customers
  • Invest heavily in hiring and training practices that empower staff to offer the finest possible experience to customers at the time of service — this is the very best way to ensure you are building a strong reputation both on and offline

Q: So, what should Google do next about review spam?

A: A Google rep once famously stated,

The wiki nature of Google Maps expands upon Google’s steadfast commitment to open community.”

I’d welcome your opinions as to how Google should deal with review spam, as I find this a very hard question to answer. It may well be a case of trying to lock the barn door after the horse has bolted, and Google’s wiki mentality applied to real-world businesses is one with which our industry has contended for years.

You see, the trouble with Google’s local product is that it was never opt-in. Whether you list your business or not, it can end up in Google’s local business index, and that means you are open to reviews (positive, negative, and fallacious) on the most visible possible platform, like it or not. As I’m not seeing a way to walk this back, review spam should be Google’s problem to fix, and they are obliged to fix it if:

  • They are committed to their own earnings, based on the trust the public feels in their review corpus
  • They are committed to user experience, implementing necessary technology and human intervention to protect consumers from fake reviews
  • They want to stop treating the very businesses on whom their whole product is structured as unimportant in the scheme of things; companies going out of business due to review spam attacks really shouldn’t be viewed as acceptable collateral damage

Knowing that Alphabet has an estimated operating income of $ 7 billion for 2018, I believe Google could fund these safeguards:

  1. Take a bold step and resource human review mediators. Make this a new department within the local department. Google sends out lots of emails to businesses now. Let them all include clear contact options for reaching the review mediation department if the business experiences spam reviews. Put the department behind a wizard that walks the business owner through guidelines to determine if a review is truly spam, and if this process signals a “yes,” open a ticket and fix the issue. Don’t depend on volunteers in the GMB forum. Invest money in paid staff to maintain the quality of Google’s own product.
  2. If Google is committed to the review flagging process (which is iffy, at best), offer every business owner clear guidelines for flagging reviews within their own GMB dashboard, and then communicate about what is happening to the flagged reviews.
  3. Improve algorithmic detection of suspicious signals, like profiles with one-off reviews, the sudden influx of negative reviews and text-less ratings, global reviews within a single profile, and companies or profiles with a history of guideline violations. Hold the first few reviews left by any profile in a “sandbox,” à la Yelp.

Now it’s your turn! Let’s look at Google’s removal of “A Google User” reviews as a first step in the right direction. If you had Google’s ear, what would you suggest they do next to combat review spam? I’d really like to know.

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Real Talk about Moving Forward with Your Big Idea

Great to see you again! This week on Copyblogger, we looked at how to make progress on projects and opportunities that might seem intimidating at first. Stefanie Flaxman showed us how to take that Big Idea (exciting, challenging, scary) and break it down until you discover your first (or next) move. She shared a process
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One Step Back, Two Steps Forward

Posted by MozCTO

When we’re working on fixing an immediate problem, especially one that’s affecting customers, it’s difficult to stop and take a breather. But sometimes, a breather is exactly what is needed to solve the issue. 

One Step Back

Last month was a bit rough for our Big Data team. We spent most of the month heads-down fixing issues with Rankings and Keyword Difficulty, and our technical debt was creeping up on us. I wanted to give into my natural urge to hunker down, chew on the issues, and come up with a plan that would fix as much as I could. However, I had a weekly 1 on 1 meeting scheduled that seemed to be getting in the way of my plan to lay low and problem solve.

Here at Moz, each employee attends weekly or bi-weekly 1 on 1 meeting with managers or teammates to help keep our goals on track. 1 on 1 meetings are a chance for teammates to act as soundboards for project ideas and idea generators for solutions to issues. These meetings are an important part of our culture, but on this particular day my focus was elsewhere and I didn’t feel I had time for my 1 on 1 with Matt Peters, our rock star data scientist. Realizing that we had missed our last meeting, I begrudgingly made time to fit the meeting in. After our usual good talk on algorithms, correlations, and next steps for growing his team, we started bouncing ideas off each other on how to save money on processing. We were spending $ 800,000 on processing and not really getting anything for it. The current plan was simply unsustainable. 

Matt, in his very scientific way, broke down the problem in exact numbers. I, however, will break them down for you in a very Anthony way:

  • Long-term, we knew we needed to fix the issues we were having with Amazon, but we were reacting to missing our index release date instead.
  • Short-term, it seemed sensible to spin up more servers and get the index done more quickly.
  • In reality, spinning up more servers at Amazon was only increasing our costs, and our server failures. The current solution was not only not addressing the problem, but in some ways it was making the problem worse by taking time away from the team’s efforts to fix the long-term issues.  

Taking a step back from the immediate problem made it clear that our current approach wasn’t working.

300 Servers, 250 Operational Hours, Infinite Headaches

*Server photo by Kim Scarborough used through creative commons license.

Coming Up with a Better Plan

After the insight I gained in my 1 on 1 with Matt, it was clear we needed to change our approach. Matt and I and outlined a high-level plan for lowering our costs with the added potential bonus of getting indices out on time. We figured it might be a hard sell after telling the team, “Don’t miss the date at all cost,” for the last two months. They'd spent hundreds of hours trying to keep all of those servers up, and we weren't sure how open to this change they would be.

However, Carin, our stellar Manager of Big Data, brought the team together and we all agreed on the plan. Carin outlined the issues and then proposed the new approach in this snippet from her email to Rand:

The New Plan:

  1. Run two indexes at most in AWS:
  • One cluster on 80 cc2.8xlarge machines – these are HUGE and more expensive, but should complete an index in less time, making them cheaper over the month.
  • If necessary, run a backup index on 200 smaller c1.xlarge machines (current setup).
  1. Continue to maintain an index size of 60 – 70 billion URLs to keep processing time reasonable.

This plan allows for engineering time to tackle the larger problems: develop a testing environment and improve the Mozscape code base. Most importantly, though, we can distribute PLDs across processing shards in a more efficient manner, which could lead to significant time savings in processing.

Two Steps Forward

Luckily, Rand approved the plan, and the time and energy spent to take a step back really paid off. Newer, better, bigger equipment did the job, with no server failures and no operational headaches. The October index release is the result of the change. It finished in record time and only cost $ 100,000, compared to the $ 800,000 spent last month.

80 servers, zero operational hours, completed index

*Server photo by Kim Scarborough used through creative commons license.

We learned quite a few things from this experience, but this was our most important takeaway: the times when you feel like you don’t have time to step back and reassess are exactly the times when you should. It may not always save you $ 700,000, but there is a chance that it might. The time spent gaining a new perspective can bring solutions to light that you’d have never see if you’d kept that nose to the grindstone! 

We are hopeful that future indexes run as smoothly as October, and if they don’t, we'll remember our own advice and take a step back before moving forward.

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