Anonymous Google Reviews Are Officially a Thing of the Past

Anonymous Google Reviews Are Officially a Thing of the Past
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TL;DR
  • Google has confirmed that it has removed anonymous reviews from Google My Business
  • According to the BrightLocal database, 3% of Google reviews were anonymous
  • The average star rating for an anonymous Google review was 4.1 stars
  • The removal of anonymous Google reviews will in the short term reduce Google My Business review counts, but help defend business owners against fake reviews in the long term.

As first reported by Mike Blumenthal last Thursday, Google have confirmed that anonymous Google reviews have been removed from public view, stating:

“We do not allow anonymous reviews today and we’ve removed legacy anonymous reviews.”

Mike had already done the sterling work of reporting on their disappearance from review counts at the end of May. Then, a couple of days after reviews from ‘A Google User’ (i.e. anonymous) were removed from review counts, the reviews themselves were expunged completely.

However, it has taken until now for Google to confirm the change, which has obviously had a significant impact on local business owners and reputation managers. Over the course of a weekend, many saw their average star rating change and total number of reviews drop.

How many Google Reviews are anonymous?

BrightLocal has been monitoring the reviews of our reputation management customers for many years now, so we decided to query our database to learn what proportion of posted reviews were from ‘A Google User’ and what this has looked like historically.

Google Reviews with Named Author

We looked at nearly 2,000,000 Google reviews for over 40,000 businesses posted over the last decade and found that 3% (just over 50,000) of these were anonymous. All of these reviews, if they were still publicly viewable at the start of May, would not have been visible by the end, thanks to the Google purge.

We then looked at how many of the Google reviews BrightLocal has been monitoring were anonymous, on a year-by-year basis. It should be noted that the size of the database has grown over the years, so these figures aren’t the result of an exact science (also note that 2018 is H1 only), but they still point to a clear trend.

Number of Google Reviews Authored by 'A Google User'

It would seem that May 2018 isn’t the first time Google has removed anonymous reviews en masse. It’s clear that in 2013 work was being done to remove anonymous reviews (Mike Blumenthal tells us this was likely a result of Google introducing the new requirement for a Google+ persona in order to leave reviews), which had been growing exponentially in the previous five years, across the transition from Google Hotpot to Google Reviews.

What is the average star rating for an anonymous Google review?

One impact of the recent removal of anonymous reviews is obviously going to be in the reduction of total reviews for any given business, but that could turn out to be a good thing: we compared the average star rating of reviews with a named author and anonymous reviews and found a difference of 0.2 stars.

Average Star Rating for Google Reviews

This suggests that, overall, business owners and reputation managers have reason to be happy in the long-term, as the anonymous reviews dragging their star rating down will be gone, leading to a higher average star rating.

This is good news in the long run…

Online reviews are critical to local businesses today, with 85% of consumers trusting online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Google reviews are particularly important—average star rating has an impact on click-throughs and rankings, and Google is the fastest-growing review site.

As reputation is clearly a significant factor in the decision to purchase, business owners and consumers alike are paying more and more attention to average star ratings and review content. However, the reliability of that content has been in question for a while, with the prevalence of fake reviews being a particularly sore point (79% of consumers read a fake review in 2017).

This year’s cull of anonymous reviews is a very important step in the right direction, as it will discourage users from leaving reviews under anonymity. We would hope that this will have the knock-on effect of slimming the numbers of fake reviews on Google and improving searchers’ trust in Google reviews.

Mike Blumenthal shared his take with us:

“If this results in more careful vetting of user accounts and high accountability for those that are fake, great! But in and of itself this action is unlikely to impact the world of fake reviews.”

Over the Top Marketing’s Jason Brown actually noticed that not all reviews had been expunged, as promised by Google:

“This was merely retroactive and not proactive. I noticed that new “A Google User” reviews were created and posted last week. There is also a review solicitation company creating thousands of A Google User reviews. Those reviews go back 5 years and have yet to be removed. This was Google merely scratching the surface. They have a long way to go.”

…but right now it’s a shock that could have been avoided

While this is great news in the long term, with an end to fake reviews potentially in sight (albeit very far away), in the short term it has caught many local businesses by surprise, and left them asking where so many of their reviews have gone.

As seems to be par for the course with Google, a lack of communication was the biggest issue here. (In fact, ‘communication’ was one of the top five Google issues our users and visitors wanted to see improved in a recent poll.)

While Google has shown a willingness to improve the local searcher’s user experience by releasing significant improvements to and features for Google My Business, the lowly business owner, as ever, is left by the wayside.

Mike Blumenthal said it best himself:

“This culture, largely secretive and engineering driven, thinks that their actions have little impact and thus don’t have to be explained.”

Here’s hoping the next major change doesn’t happen behind the closed doors of Googleplex.

We’d love to hear what you think

How has the removal of anonymous Google reviews affected your or your clients’ average star ratings? Have you noticed that these reviews were markedly differently from those from named author? Let us know in the comments below.

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17 thoughts on “Anonymous Google Reviews Are Officially a Thing of the Past”

  1. It’s unfortunate to remove anonymous reviews for the safety of the individual. The family court system is highly corrupt. For those going through a divorce honest reviews would be helpful but can’t be posted without being anonymous because there would be retaliation including loss of custody.

  2. I work for a company that provides psychological services. We do residential treatment for seriously mentally ill adolescents and young adults. Often they are angry with their parents, the world and us because they do not believe or understand they need treatment. Many of them choose to leave our program against medical advice, and then write flaming reviews. Some of these reviews are anonymous or with a fake name, but many are happy to use their real names.

    On the flip side, because we offer psychological services, many of our happy customers do not want to associate their name with a review that will reveal that they have a mental illness. We encourage them to leave anonymous reviews but are not happy about the idea that we have to instruct them to create a false account to do so.

    In my experience, people are far more likely to leave a review in the first place when they are angry. I know this is true for me. I do like to leave positive reviews, but I often just don’t get around to it, whereas if I’ve had a horrible experience I am motivated to make sure no one else suffers the same fate. And in many cases, I simply worry about the impacts of my online presence on my privacy.

    I have read Google’s explanation for why they do not want to allow anonymous reviews, and it makes sense. Heaven knows our company struggles with the negative ones, but removing the ability to make anonymous reviews has hurt us more than it has helped us.

    For your consideration, as someone who has worked in both mental health and the corrections system (a large portion of my career has been forensic psychology) I have often had reason to want to be anonymous online. I do not want criminals hunting me down or having my online activities provide a direct line to my family and the people I care about the most.

    In my doctoral dissertation I did a study on using written electronic communication in committed relationships. One interesting discovery in my research was that people who are not heterosexual created false accounts in order to protect themselves from discrimination and harassment. When Facebook decided that people should not have pseudonyms on their accounts it seriously impacted their ability to garner support from those people they trusted, and from the online community at large without risking the opposite.

    While I understand why anonymity can be a problem, there are also many legitimate and very important reasons why people may need to protect their identity. This policy hurts our company, and having to go to great lengths to convince people to leave a positive review when they would really like to but are afraid is not only frustrating, but in my field could be considered unethical.

    1. Hi Lynn, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and experiences. You’ve raised a very good point, and it must be particularly hard for services like yours to generate public reviews when many satisfied patients don’t want to share with the world what they’re going through. The same must be true of practices that specialize in sexual health.

      I can only hope that, as GMB becomes more sophisticated, with more and more functionalities specific to certain industry types, Google introduces a function to allow anonymous reviews only on certain business types like yours.

      All the best

      Jamie

  3. That’s strange becauzse I JUST NOW reviewed Winn Dixie and it came up Google user.I want my name and picture on my reviews if you want me to do them,or else I’ll simply stop.People need to know it’s an honest review by a rule person with a good repuitation.I want my Winn Dixie re3view to have mt name and pictufre now.I’m going to edit it and write my name and phone number myself in light of the fact Google is SO DISHONEST and do likewise with EVERY LAST REVIEW

  4. What a lousy move by Google. I am forced to continue to use some of the businesses I would like to leave bad reviews for. Now I feel railroaded into not leaving a review because of this policy change. It allows a business to retaliate against a reviewer who found their services less than desirable. Also, I have a high profile job, and leaving a bad review for anyone would put me under public scrutiny, so all in all this new policy sucks for the public, and is great for less than reputable business people.

  5. Anonymous Google reviews will still be made by Google users who do not use their real name when signing up for a Google account. A business tries to tie a Google review to a customer name and they cannot because the username is NOT their real name. Sure, Google has an email address for the reviewer

    1. Hi John, this is indeed a flaw in the system but even if the profile doesn’t use a real name, business owners and reputation managers should be able to see other reviews they’ve left and more easily identify if the ‘reviewer’ is part of a review network or taking part in review sharing.

      Thanks

      Jamie

  6. There are many upset business owners that have posted in the Google forums wondering what happened to their reviews. Agreed, Google really needs to get better at communication.

    Thing is, Google still doesn’t require users to use a real name when registering an account so the system is still rife with fake reviews and ratings.

    1. Hi Yan, yes, they’ve really let business owners down with the lack of comms on this one. Here’s hoping the ends justify the means!

      To your second point, while it’s true that there’s no way to verify a user’s real identity if they’ve used a false name, this will make it easier to look at their profile and find instances of them review spamming review sharing. We actually have a post coming out about this tomorrow so look out for that!

      Jamie

  7. This was merely retroactive and not proactive. I noticed that new “A Google User” reviews were created and posted last week. There is also a review solicitation company creating thousands of A Google User reviews. Those reviews go back 5 years and have yet to be removed. This was Google merely scratching the surface. They have a long way to go.

  8. I understand the reasoning however Google should not have allowed people to leave anonymous reviews in the first place.

    Many of those reviews were real reviews from real people however for whatever reason they did not insert their name.

    Many small businesses rely on those reviews and Google doesn’t make it that easy for their customers to leave them.

    1. Hi Nathan,

      Yes, they certainly went about this the wrong way. Some advance warning that these would be removed wouldn’t have solved the drops in reviews but it would have prevented people from panicking so much. Personally, I’m hoping it’s a sign that they’re aiming to boost the validity of Google reviews as a service.

      Thanks

      Jamie

    1. Thanks Nikki, us too! It’s not going to solve it overnight, but hopefully it’s the product of Google starting to take fake reviews seriously.

      Jamie

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