This past May, thousands of local businesses noticed something was up with their Google reviews. Their total number of reviews plummeted, damaging their profile with the search engine giant. Initially thought to be a bug in Google’s system, it was soon learned that these reviews had been purged as part of Google’s push to eliminate anonymous reviews.

Blogger Mike Blumenthal was the first to report on the changes, and in a response that cut right to the chase, Google said, “We do not allow anonymous reviews today and we’ve removed legacy anonymous reviews.”

Well hey now, thanks for the heads up.

Google’s heart was in the right place with this move, despite the impact it had on business. According to BrightLocal, anonymous reviews from “A Google User” made up just 3 percent of total reviews, but they tended to skew more negative. While named users averaged a score of 4.3 stars, anonymous users gave scores that averaged 4.1. Add to that the easily manipulatable nature of anonymous reviews and it’s understandable that Google would take this step to assure the veracity of their reviews.

That doesn’t make it any easier of a pill to swallow for businesses who suddenly saw huge drops in their total number of reviews, some to the tune of 20 percent or more. And while these anonymous reviews were mostly a legacy of Google’s old systems before the rollout of Google +, they still helped contribute to small business’ overall review count. Good reviews are good reviews, after all, regardless of where they originate.

But there are a few takeaways from this.

First, if you were one of the businesses impacted by this decision you might notice that not all of the reviews you lost were from anonymous Google users. It’s unclear whether this is related to the purge of fake reviews, but many businesses have noticed named reviews disappearing around the same time. According to Moz, there are a few different criteria that might have led to Google eliminating named reviews including:

  • Having paid for or incentivized reviews, either directly or via an unethical marketer
  • Reviews stemming from a review station/kiosk at your business
  • Getting too many reviews at once
  • URLs, prohibited language, or other objectionable content in the body of reviews
  • Reviewing yourself, or having employees (past or present) do so
  • Reviews were left on your same IP (as in the case of free on-site Wi-Fi)
  • The use of review strategies/software that prohibit negative reviews or selectively solicit positive reviews
  • Any other violation of Google’s review guidelines
  • A Google bug, in which case, check the GMB forum for reports of similar review loss, and wait a few days to see if your reviews return; if not, you can take the time to post about your issue in the GMB forum, but chances are not good that removed reviews will be reinstated

Online reviews are crucial to your business’ success, with 85 percent of shoppers trusting online reviews.

So what can be done? In short, nothing. This is not a bug in Google’s review architecture, it’s a feature. Hard-won five-star reviews are simply gone. The good news is, they are also gone for your competitors, so if the playing field has been lowered for you, at least it’s still level. And if you have been affected, Moz does offer a few tips for dealing with these changes including:

  • Diversify your presence on review platforms beyond Google
  • Collect reviews and testimonials directly from your customers to be placed on your own website; don’t forget the Schema markup while you’re at it
  • Diversify the ways in which you are cultivating positive consumer sentiment offline; word-of-mouth marketing, loyalty programs, and the development of real-world relationships with your customers is something you directly control
  • Keep collecting those email addresses and, following the laws of your country, cultivate non-Google-dependent lines of communication with your customers

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