If you owned a business that ended up on the wrong side of some Yelp reviewers, your search results might be a bit friendlier today than they were last week.
That's because Google recently removed the text of reviews from sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Urbanspoon, among others, from its Place Pages. Avni Shah, director of product development at Google, writes of an "ongoing evolution" in a company blog post, one "based on careful thought about the future direction of Place Pages, and feedback we've heard over the past few months." The post notes that while the external reviews have been removed, links to those reviews remain on each business' Place Page.
Some of that feedback certainly must have included not-so-rosy responses from Yelp and TripAdvisor. Neither service appreciated having their voice of local authority subsumed into one section of the first stop for most Place searchers, and have in the past toyed with blocking Google's access to their service. If Google wanted to keep the door open to incorporating Yelp, TripAdvisor, and similar services into its many search and location-based services, it was a smart move to scale back the review samplings into simple links.
Then again, there might be a longer view in play than simple content relationships. A recurring theme in Google's history with antitrust-type litigation, and likely the focus of the current Federal Trade Commission investigation, is the question of how much the firm favors its own products in its search results. Search on nearly anything on Google, and results from YouTube, Google News, Google Images, Google's Shopping comparison engine, and other services from Mountain View get prominent placement.
That might simply be because Google's peripheral search services are also very popular and relevant, but Google would do well to avoid the appearance of promoting its own products at the expense of others. In this case, this means showing only reviews made by logged-in Google users on a Place Page, while still linking to other content.
What else changed for businesses and institutions listed in Google's Place directory? At first, it seems, glitches involving disappearing business descriptions, though Google employees have said in support forums that it's likely a side effect of an index change-over. And with the extended external reviews gone from the page, so, too, are the snippets from around the web - which, in some cases, could cause some pretty terrible cognitive dissonance. Place Pages also used to show web sites around the location in question, and in its general business category, that referenced the business, but those were a bit too attractive to search engine optimizers and referral link builders.
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In general, new Place Pages are cleaner, and encourage visitors to do more than just read. Buttons for writing a review and uploading a photo are much more prominent. In some ways, that gives businesses a clean break from their standing on Yelp and similar review sites, which, like much web commentary, tended toward the love/hate, 5-star/1-star extremes. If a business felt unfairly ruled by one or two harsh takes, it now has a second chance.
So, a tip to the wise: if you haven't claimed your Google Place Page and provided a good bit of useful information about your spot, visitors from the Google ecosystem will click to find it elsewhere - Urbanspoon, for example, or perhaps a quick TripAdvisor visit.
Kevin Purdy is a freelance writer, a former editor at Lifehacker.com, and the author of The Complete Android Guide.