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Google Local Guides and Fake Reviews

Google Local Guides are not always trustworthy

Many businesses have experienced the problem of fake reviews and it seems ‘some’ local guides play a part in the problem. It should be said the majority of local guides use the system fairly, but there is a growing population of local guides posting fake reviews at the detriment of local businesses.
You may have already seen fake reviews from local guides. Fake reviews are a common problem and we have had numerous customers inform us about them. Recently, we realized how deep rooted the problem is. Then, we started to investigate the matter further.
A client who makes themed carts and takes them to weddings, birthdays and other events informed us about a review she recently had from a customer she’s never heard of. She doesn’t deal with that many customers and knows who they all are. This person left a bad star rating but made no comments

Google review

So I looked at the other reviews this local guide had left.  Turns out there were over 50 reviews and ratings within 3 weeks.  This person really gets around, particularly the day they traveled from Connecticut to northern Argentina to get some supplies in Supermercado Tianhua and then found time to drive 10 hours south to have a bite to eat.  Again no comment to go with the rating. 

Local guides

It should be pointed out that they did not have the badge or “local guide” status on this particular day, however he did obtain it within the subsequent flurry of reviews over the next 3 weeks.  

Maybe he’s just a really active person, but the barrage of 2-3 star ratings with no comment suggest otherwise.

 

What are Google local guides?

Google Local Guides SymbolThe local guides program aims to make Google maps information more accurate, reliable and helpful. Local guides are encouraged to answer questions, upload photos, verify information about places and review them.

As a local guide’s activity increases so does their ‘rank’ and with it the chance of greater perks/rewards for their efforts.

Past perks have included:

  • Free Google drive storage
  • Early access to new Google products and features
  • 75% off a Google play movie rental
  • 3 Months free access to Google music
  • Insider groups & meetups
  • Hotel perks
  • Travel perks
  • Even all expense paid trips to Google conferences 

One local guide on Quora reported:

“In September 2016, Google paid me Visa fees, bought me an air ticket from Uganda (East Africa) to San Francisco and back, booked me 4 days at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco Hotel, and four days of meals to attend the 2016 Inaugural Local Guides Summit at Googleplex (Google HQs) in Mountain View, SF, CA. The whole trip costed about $4,000, all paid by Google.” Most of the time the rewards are small, and many people partake in the program because they enjoy it.  They enjoy eating out at new places, trying new businesses and helping to improve Google maps.

 

Getting the local guide badge

At level 4 (250 points) local guides get their first badge which among other things helps to get their listing noticed.  This is the key rank at which Google was offering the Google play rental discount in August 2017 for example.

Google Local Guides Points System

So how does the points system work?

Different contributions to Google maps offers their own number of points.  For example:

  • 1 Point for rating a place
  • 10 Points for writing a review
  • 10 Extra points for writing a review of more than 200 characters

Considering the abundance of local businesses to rate or review, it’s easy to see why these may be an appealing prospect for any local guide looking to boost their level.

The levels go from 1 – 10, with most rewards starting around level 4:

  • Level 1 – 0 points
  • Level 2 – 15 points
  • Level 3 – 75 points
  • Level 4 – 250 points (first badge)
  • Level 5 – 500 points (and so on until level 10)

 

The problem with fake local guide reviews is two fold: First, the incentive to leave a review s too strong and no verification. Guides leave reviews, good or bad, true or false, simply to build their point total with no regard for the business and apparently little or no oversight from Google. Secondly the ‘authoritative’ look of the local guide badge carries more weight with it. Anyone looking at the review may take it far more seriously than it should ber.  Further it may be discouraging to businesses owners taking action because they might assume what can they do about an ‘official figure’?  Well it seems not much actually.

 

Getting a Fake Review Removed

Google does have guidelines when it comes to leaving reviews and may remove a review if a guideline is clearly broken. However, how can Google tell if a person did or didn’t do business with a particular local company?  

The process for cleaning up fake reviews from Google is woefully inadequate.  Google recommends flagging inappropriate reviews, but this very often does nothing.  Better success usually comes from posting in the Google my Business forum or by tweeting @GoogleMyBiz but even that’s not the easiest process.  The whole system of removing fake/unscrupulous reviews needs a major overhaul butwho knows if/when we’ll see that.

 

 

So in summary

  • It’s more common than you might think -The example I gave at the start of this article is not an isolated incident, there are 1000s of businesses who have been affected in the same way, a lot of the time these fake reviews are buried among 10s or 100s for businesses who already have a good rating.  However a string of these fake 1-2 star reviews can begin to have an impact.
  • They don’t have to have the local guide-badge – Someone might be trying to get local guide status, by posting excess reviews, they may not already have the rating yet.
  • Think twice when you see a bad review from a local guide – If you see a bad review from a local guide and you don’t recognize the person, it could be fake.  Click on their profile (you can) and see if they have done the same to many other businesses.  They could be trying to game the system.
  • DON’T SETTLE FOR IT – Although it’s not the easiest process to get rid of bad reviews, why should you let your reputation suffer?  The little time spent chasing Google is worth it to mitigate any reduction in local SEO ranking, or perceived reputation.

 

Have you experienced fake reviews on your Google listing?  Have you seen fake reviews from a local guide? What did you do about it?  

 The most effective way to nullify a bad review is to bury it with great reviews. We will be happy to send you a free review sheet that you can give to your best customers at point of sale. It will make it easy for your customers/clients to leave a positive review for your company. Simply add “review sheet” with the name of your company and town in the comments section on our Contact Us Form and we’ll get a PDF of the sheet right to you. 

25 thoughts on “Google Local Guides and Fake Reviews”

  1. There is one of these fake reviewers in the Albuquerque New Mexico area that has posted dozens of negative reviews for all types of medical providers. People depend on these reviews to get a decent doctor (don’t care about the business side), and “DJ M” is posting that every provider is awful and uses some of the same themed complaints throughout. Please take this person off your Guide list or whatever it is.

  2. I’ve been in the same issue, I got a complaint from one of the customers who is a local guide. I tried to explain what has happened and guess what, right after I did that, I got her husband who is another local guide posting a bad review on my business. Now, these two reviews are been flagged as the most relevant review in Google review page, because both are the local guide.

  3. For those companies that see false google reviews from “google local clydes” (spelled correctly) I do not look at those reviews. I only read reviews from “unaffiliated” reviewers.
    Though I know that there are those that think a “local clyde” is the last word on a review. And I am truly sorry that these clowns hurt your business.

  4. Google needs to find a way to fix this.. I noticed a bad review on a business and the business commented how the person has never been a customer of theirs and that she had left 30 negative reviews one right after another.. I didnt realize that there were perks for leaving reviews. I went to the girls page and yup, tons of negative reviews, one stars one right after another in the same day! My husband owns a repair shop and we’ve had to deal with false reviews with google and you literally have to jump through hoops to get them removed and 9 times out of 10, they refuse to remove them.

  5. All our visitors must sign a register and a waiver when they enter. For the most part, our Google Reviews are 5 stars, but when I see something less, I investigate our systems to see if the person has ever visited. Most of the time, that person has not. Also, I see some reviews about our food. The only food we serve is cat food for the cats who live with us. Like you, I have discovered that such reviews come from Local Guides who are trying to rack up review points. They’ll review in batches, giving dozens of reviews in a single day, from a wide geographic region. Most of the reviews are less than 5 stars. This practice of taking businesses hostage in order to rack up points is not acceptable.

  6. Valuable discussion – thanks. But it’s worth bearing in mind that really positive reviews can also be fake. If I see that a restaurant is getting a lot of poor reviews by a diverse range of people, and in the midst of that stands a throng of “local guides” who are giving positive but more or less generic reviews, that’s a good reason to ask what’s going on. After all, who’s going to complain about and draw critical attention to a positive review?

    1. I was interested by a local business and was initially thrilled to see all of the raving reviews. Unfortunately upon closer look most of them were all posted within the past week, with two by local guides. I’m not at all convinced they’re valid. People should not be rewarded for giving reviews.

      1. I got a few low star from local guides that never been to my business! Google should control this system since they create it for rewards! And correct these bad reviews! Very disappointed with this situation!

  7. Is there a way to find all of the reviews posted by a particular Local Guide, e.g., the individual record of a Guide who has posted many different reviews of businesses in a particular area?

  8. The local guide that his rated me my business at one star is one that has been harassing me for days. Their business? One that is on licensed with the state, unlicensed in their own county and some of their services require a contractors license board license which they also don’t have. They harassed me all day yesterday posting a libelous things on their business page with my name and I got up this morning and there’s a one star review at my gun store. Biggest problem is they are a local guide and the husband on the account has a domestic violence conviction he never would’ve been in my store nor would I have sold him anything. How do I get that removed? They even went to my personal page on Facebook and shared a very personal post over the recent death of my mother. Lying and saying that they would not work for me When the true story is that I wouldn’t hire them because they weren’t licensed even to do business

    1. You can go into your GMB page and report the comment as spam. That is unlikely to work but worth a try. Respond to the rating with dignity and the truth. Your visitors will tell the difference. And off course, bury it with 5-star reviews. If you need help with that, let us know.

  9. Hello,

    I am a Local Guide in Phoenix and wanted to clarify some of the things have been said on here.

    People are commenting about guides doing reviews for places that are far away from each other and yet they do the reviews all on the same day or within a close span of each other. Here’s why that will happen.

    Google continually prompts us to write reviews and post pictures to places we have been. I have my Google timeline on at all times so it records everything I do (I am not a fear monger and it has served me well to be able to prove my location at a particular place and time for my job). It’s not always feasible to write a review immediately after one has been there. I travel over 55,000 miles a year in my car for work. That means I am driving A LOT. I can’t write my reviews while I am driving so I have to wait, usually, until I get home for a few days and then I begin to leave reviews. I leave both positive and negative reviews but more than 90 percent of mine are positive.

    I have had businesses reach out to me about the bad ones and we discuss the situation. My reviews are meant to improve the business in that I mention what went wrong and perhaps how it could be done better as I work in several industries that involve customer service.

    I have recently left reviews for places I haven’t visited in years because Google reminds me and when I can I do.

    The perks aren’t anything to write home about and the conference in San Francisco isn’t for everyone. First, you have to be invited, then, you have to create a video as to why they should bring you to the conference. That’s the biggest perk. Outside of that, I get cloud storage which I don’t use.

    If you have an issue with a review, then you can reply to it directly and it will be visible to people who read the reviews. I leave reviews for places that sometimes will have my gf’s name attached to it although we both shared the experience. I have had businesses clarify because they didn’t recognize my name so then I clarify. Sometimes we book a hotel in her name and sometimes it’s under mine.

    My advice is to respond directly to the review and that way people can see your reaction and how it is all dealt with.

    I had a food poisoning issue at a restaurant and although the place was nice, the people were kind and the food was good, I still got ill. I left a 3 star review which I thought was fair and balanced and then received a reply from the proprietor. Initially, he deflected what happened to me and so I went back and adjusted my review to a 1 star because his reply was also a part of my experience and I was not happy with how he handled it. In the review I put an UPDATE and a quote from his email to support the 1 star. Not only was it a bad experience (I threw up in my car 5 hours later) but how he handled it was bad.

    However, I communicated in a personal email that I didn’t appreciate the deflection and we were able to discuss. I moved it back to 3 stars because I could tell he was sincere and that his first email to me was poorly written. I believe that through this interaction he learned more about how to communicate with someone who has had a bad experience. I can’t change it to five stars because my experience was still negative, but he was genuine when communicating with me after the initial email. He even admitted he wasn’t good at the emails and asked to talk on the phone.

    I admit there are some bad guides out there, but for the most part we are just people writing about our experience. I also look at local guides history and some are just lazy. There is no point in posting a 1 star rating without substantiating it with a narrative explaining the experience.

    Again, my advice is reply directly to the review so everyone can see. That is your best chance of getting a change because we receive immediate notification when someone replies to a review.

    I am a level 9 guide and have over 100,000 views of my reviews and nearly 7 million views of my photos. I believe constructive criticism creates better experiences and I also believe great experiences need to be acknowledged as well.

    I hope this was helpful to someone.

    Cheers!

    1. Thank you for your feedback. Hopefully other Local Guides will follow your responsible advice. We encourage our clients to respond to every review regardless of the rating.

  10. Local Guides should be required to actually take the time to WRITE and review and not just throw a number on your business. Because they carry the “status” google has allowed them, their reviews carry more weight. I am tired of local guides literally walking through a densely populated area of business, throwing 3* up for all of them, moving up the ranks as local reviewer with absolutely zero input. My customers that takes time to write 5* reviews are pushed down by this useless system of local guide reviews.

  11. As the owner of a tiny business, I found this article & the comments from readers very informative. Jim Smith’s letter clarified several questions for me.

    I have been in business for over 30 years, but have only had a simple web presence for about 1 year. As of last night I have exactly 10 reviews, all of them 5 stars, all of them legitimate customers ( except for the bewildered satellite TV installer who left 5 stars- without comment- apparently as a thank-you, because I helped him figure out how to contact his customer!)

    It probably looks odd when someone notices that a long-standing business like mine has so few reviews. I’ve considered asking my regulars to post ratings, but am uncomfortable making such a request. I would not appreciate it if someone put me on the spot like that.

    It sounds good to say that you should bury the negatives with lots of positives, but it looks more legitimate when ratings trickle in, rather than arriving in a bunch, and for me, it’s still a thrill to suddenly get a notice from Google about a new review.

    Jim Smith made a great point about responding directly to a negative post. I’ve read things like that for other businesses and been influenced by the back and forth. Why waste time trying to force a gigantic operation like Google to act?

    Also, I agree 100% that a rating (good or bad) isn’t very useful if there’s no explanation included.

    Several of my reviews are from Local Guides. I had no idea what that meant until I read this article. Fortunately, I haven’t had any bad experiences with them and wasn’t aware of how the system could be abused .

    Thanks to everyone for the information.

    1. Glad to hear you’ve been in business that long. You will do fine just by asking happy new customers for a review. If you get a bad review, respond quickly. A company with less than a 5 star rating typically does better than one with all five stars if they respond to a negative review quickly. It makes them more authentic and responsive in the eyes of many web visitors.

  12. What about the reviews that are positive but very fake?
    I live in a gated apartment complex that isn’t safe, doesn’t have a dog “Park” as stated, what about these reviews? I can tell you, I was completely shocked when I went on their website and read these reviews, especially since these folks don’t even live here. I don’t think most of these reviews good or bad from google are true, if your gonna write a review, write the truth!
    It’s the same thing on Amazon, their reviews are there to help people decide to purchase from, but you can’t go by the reviews, they are being paid to write a review. Perks, they get free stuff. So, is that giving a fair review? If your business is a good business, and you’re treating your customers the way you want to be treated, you’ve provided the service that you are selling, then what’s the problem? If you really read the reviews, most of the time you’ll see that same exact wording on another review site, so is it true or not? Always check other sites for reviews, because there are other people reviewing the same business, who might actually be a real true review.

  13. My business has also suffered from the “Local Guides”. I noticed the nasty ones dont have profile pictures. In particular I had a negative review from someone I dont believe was ever in my business. But I cannot tell because Google does not require Local Guides to have a picture. So the picture for my negative Local Guide was a tree. I dont think any trees walked through the door of my business. Also it was a one liner that lead me to believe that person had never been there. I complained to Google but they dont care. This is especially bad when a business is trying to make it through a pandemic. Therefore I dont spend any money with any of the services that Google offers to businesses.

  14. For every business, creating and optimizing, Google My Business profile is an important step in your overall SEO strategy which helps with the success of your business.

  15. I know who has been here and who hasn’t. So if I see a review from someone whose name I don’t recognise I simply add a comment to say, politely, that I don’t recognise the name, and when did they visit? I hope it flags up to anyone reading the reviews that this one is fake.

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