Google contacts angry dealers, restores reviews
David Barkholz is a reporter for Automotive News.
In a welcome change for many dealerships, Google is restoring customer reviews mysteriously deleted last year from dealership Web pages and opening a communication pipeline to dealers.
The giant search site said last year that the deleted reviews were bogus, possibly posted to inflate a dealership's ratings.
But refinements of the formulas, or algorithms, that Google uses to screen reviews for spam have revealed that many deleted reviews were, in fact, legitimate, said Lindsay Schultz, head of Google's auto dealer business.
Those reviews are now being returned to the Google+ Local pages of dealerships as quickly as they are discovered, Schultz said. The Google+ Local pages, which dealerships create for free on Google, provide contact information and other content for people searching for stores on the search- and social-media giant.
Hundreds of dealers were outraged last summer when Google, without notice or explanation, purged thousands of customer reviews accumulated by dealers on suspicion that they were obtained improperly.
With Google searches accounting for two of every three visitors to dealership Web sites, the action hit dealers hard. Dealers also criticized Google for not having a mechanism to appeal the deletions or a forum for communicating objections.
But Schultz said Google is opening a dialogue with dealers. On Jan. 31, Google published the most comprehensive guidelines to date on how to get customer reviews to stick on a store's Google+ Local page.
Among the key points is a warning to be wary of consultants and reputation management services that promise to generate reviews. "We've seen companies make up fake glowing testimonies -- and we'll take them down," Google said.
Google also has created a page for automotive professionals and those in auto retailing, Schultz said. Google intends to post new content on it at least once a day, highlighting research, case studies and best practices, she said.
The page also enables viewers to interact with those commenting on items, including Google staff, who have traditionally been hard to spot in the burgeoning world of automotive blogs.
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