Google's mysterious methods continue to dog a dealer in Colorado.
Fisher Auto Inc. in Boulder has seen a precipitous drop-off in calls from Internet vehicle shoppers since Google unilaterally deleted hundreds of predominantly positive customer reviews from Fisher Auto Google+ Local page in early August.
Phone calls to the store from Google shoppers used to average 600 a month when Fisher Auto, which has Honda and Kia franchises, had 300 reviews before the purge, said Mark Brady, Fisher's executive director.
But that fell to 237 phone inquiries from Google shoppers last month, Brady said. "That shows you the importance of reviews for getting customers into the showroom," he said.
The issue for Brady now is reaching Google to discuss fixing the problem. Brady assigned a staffer to reach Google. But he said Google failed to respond to dozens of phone calls, e-mails and postings on Google's online complaint site.
In early August, Google, by changing its formula or algorithm for determining the legitimacy of reviews, purged thousands of customer reviews of dozens of dealerships around the country without explanation or opportunity for appeal.
In a written statement last week, Google said it was trying to maintain the relevance and integrity of the reviews for its users.
"Spammy content and reviews that fall short of our standards of useful editorial content may be removed," the Google statement said.
Dealerships, including Fisher Auto, have argued that their reviews were legitimately obtained from customers.
Google is a force in auto retailing. Two of every three visitors to dealership Web sites get there directly from a Google search.
Fisher Auto lost all but 11 of its 300 customer reviews in the mass deletion, and almost all the remaining ones were negative. A few days later, Google returned 90 reviews without explanation, Brady said. But the loss of reviews has been damaging, he said.
Online vehicle shoppers can find dealership reviews easily on google.com and several other Web sites, including yelp.com and dealerrater.com. A link to reviews is prominently displayed on a dealership's Google+ Local page, where a shopper arrives by searching for the dealership on Google.
Another problem cropped up with Google this month at Fisher Auto that affected reviews, Brady said.
Though Fisher Auto has its Honda and Kia franchises under one roof, Google gave each brand a separate map and split the reviews between the brands. So from about 115 reviews combined, now there are 58 reviews for one brand and 57 for the other, he said.
That is less impressive to shoppers, who like to see lots of reviews, Brady said. And, he said, Fisher Auto has repeatedly complained to Google about the change, with no response.