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Google lifts the lid on Google Maps reviews

For businesses that prioritise local marketing or communications activity, Google Maps can be a gamechanger.

To help businesses better utilise Maps, Google has lifted the lid on how Maps reviews work, aiding organisations to boost visibility while also protecting their reputation.

Ian Leader, Group Product Manager, User Generated Content

“With millions of reviews posted every day from people around the world, we have around-the-clock support to keep the information on Google relevant and accurate. Much of our work to prevent inappropriate content is done behind the scenes, so we wanted to shed some light on what happens after you hit “post” on a review.”

The latest Google Maps insight is in keeping with similarly related updates that Google has also released for YouTube and Search.

How review policy works

To begin with, Google wants reviews to comply with content policies that ensure abuse and irrelevant information is weeded out. A good example is when vaccine mandates were introduced, explains the company.

Ian Leader, Group Product Manager, User Generated Content

“For instance, when governments and businesses started requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccine before entering certain places, we put extra protections in place to remove Google reviews that criticise a business for its health and safety policies or for complying with a vaccine mandate.”

Google uses machine learning and human moderators to ensure all reviews meet its standards.

Policy changes as the world evolves. If we take the example above, there would have been no need to screen for anti-mandate criticism or anti-vaxx abuse five years ago. Now businesses that comply with vaccine mandates can come under attack from some sections of society.

Once Google writes its policy, it gets turned into training material for humans and robots.

Humans and machines working together

Google enforces its policy via the removal of offending content and legal action in some cases. Going up against one of the world’s biggest companies in a legal case won’t be pretty, so don’t violate those policies!

Ian Leader, Group Product Manager, User Generated Content

“Our team of human operators works around the clock to review flagged content. When we find reviews that violate our policies, we remove them from Google and, in some cases, suspend the user account or even pursue litigation.”

Restricted content

Google restricts several content topics:

  • Spam and fake content.
  • Off-topic content.
  • Restricted content, for example, age-controlled products.
  • Illegal content.
  • Terrorist content.
  • Sexually explicit content.
  • Offensive content.
  • Dangerous and derogatory content.
  • Conflict of interest.

More information can be found here.

Where do reviews appear?

If a review is accepted, it will be visible to anyone who comes across it on Google, along with a user’s profile name and the photo they’ve picked for their About Me section.

Content may be visible on Google Maps, Street View, Google Earth, Google My Business, Google Search and other products.

Machine learning is the first port of call

Machine learning is Google’s first port of call to keep non-compliant reviews off Maps. As soon as a review lands, the tech takes a look at it. Technologies like machine learning allow Google to get through a tremendous amount of content quickly – and looks at a variety of different angles:

  • Does the review contain offensive or off-topic content?
  • Does the account that left the review have a history of suspicious behaviour?
  • Has the reviewed place been inundated with reviews over a short period, and has it recently received notoriety that might spark fraudulent reviews?

Humans fill in the gaps

Human moderators come in to cover the gaps that AI can’t fill.

Ian Leader, Group Product Manager, User Generated Content

Training a machine on the difference between acceptable and policy-violating content is a delicate balance. For example, sometimes the word “gay” is used as a derogatory term, and that’s not something we tolerate in Google reviews.

But if we teach our machine learning models that it’s only used in hate speech, we might erroneously remove reviews that promote a gay business owner or an LGBTQ+ safe space.”

Human operators can run tests and complete training to help remove machine learning bias.

Google says this can happen incredibly quickly – a review can go online in seconds if the system detects no policy violations.

Flag suss reviews

However, the system does sometimes get things wrong. Businesses can flag reviews for moderation by doing the following:

  1. Sign in to Google My Business.
  2. If you have two or more listings, hit Manage Location to pick the location you want to manage.
  3. Click Reviews from the menu.
  4. Find the offending review, click the three dots and then select flag as inappropriate.

There are over a billion hits on Google Maps each month, and it can be an essential way for businesses to attract new customers and retain old ones. Make sure you’re up to date with how reviews work, understand how to maintain a good record on Maps and know what redress you can take against fraudulent ones, and you’ll be set for the future.

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