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Google Cans Third Party Reviews From Places. Now What?

Have you taken a look at your Google Place Page listing lately? If not, may I suggest you go take a look now? Because it may look a little different today than how you remember it. Actually, it may look a lot different.

In part of the ongoing evolution of Place Pages [1], Google announced some important changes last week that small business owners will want to be aware of.

The first thing to notice is that Google has removed all third-party reviews from your Place page. That means if you were relying on Yelp or TripAdvisor or any other third-party site to woo customers over to your place of business, they’re gone. Also gone with them are all third-party citations and Web sources. Instead, Google is now linking users directly to the individual reviews. That means your Yelp reviews are now only viewable on Yelp. Users are not seeing them on your business’ Place Page. This should make Yelp very happy.

Another important change: With arguably more importance being placed on your Google Place Page reviews (since they’re now the only reviews on-page), Google is encouraging users to talk about your brand and leave reviews with a Write a Review call-to-action located directly on your business page.

Look how big and red it is.

As a small business owner, the combination of these two changes may result in a shift in your review and online reputation management strategy.

If you weren’t actively seeking out reviews on Google, I’d recommend making it part of your review strategy. Before it was easy enough to focus on the “big dog” review sites and to allow Google to bring in this content, but with Google now leaving that content on its native domain, it means many small business owners may find themselves with a pretty empty-looking Google page. And that’s not OK. The same way you are soliciting reviews for other sites, you now want to make sure you’re adding Google to the list.

However, that does not mean that you should abandon other review sites in favor of Google. Do not stop soliciting reviews on third-party sites simply because they’re not showing up on Google Place page (today). This content and these citations are still very important to both your Google presence and helping customers find you. As is so often the case when it comes to Google and local search, we’re just adding more for business owners to do. We’re not taking away.

The addition of the Write a Review call to action is also something SMBs should take advantage of. The existence of that button will encourage customers to leave reviews (which is a positive); however, it also means that someone on your team should be watching the page to respond to reviews, be they positive, negative or neutral. The more engagement and interaction there is on the page, the better and more trusted you’re going to look to visitors who land on it. You should be thanking those who take the time to share a positive experience, while also addressing the not-so-great things said about you.

Overall, the changes usher in what Google must assume is a more mature product and experience for users. The fact that they’re no longer relying on third-party reviews likely hints at a belief that their local audience is big enough to support its own review community. While I think this may signal a shift in many SMBs’ review strategy, overall, it shouldn’t affect what SMBs are after. Keep building reviews up in a variety of different sources, but if you hadn’t yet added Google Places to that list, this update is a clear sign that you should.

What are your thoughts on Google’s recent changes to its Google Place Pages? Does it change your review strategy at all?

For some additional food for thought and slight conspiracy theories, you may also want to check out Linda Buquet’s post on Google Places July Update Aftermath where an interesting conversation has been taking place.