Google & Portland State are Violating Google’s Review Policy

Filed in Google, Local Search by Matt McGee on March 21, 2012 12 Comments

That’s one of a couple Google Portland tweets today promoting the latest violation of Google’s own review policy.

The policy is spelled out pretty clearly in Google’s help system:

Conflict of interest: Reviews are only valuable when they are honest and unbiased. Even if well-intentioned, a biased review can undermine its credibility. For instance, don’t offer or accept money or product to write reviews about a business, or to write negative reviews about a competitor. Don’t post reviews on behalf of others or misrepresent your identity or affiliation with the place you are reviewing.

(emphasis mine)

That’s pretty clear, isn’t it? Don’t offer money or product in exchange for reviews.

Unless you’re Google, or someone like Portland State University, which I assume is partnering with Google on this contest because the link in the tweet above leads to, which currently looks like this:


(click for larger version)

Can someone tell me how that’s NOT a violation of Google’s own policy? Google and Portland State are encouraging reviews and offering a tablet to get people to write reviews. Portland State is even saying, if you can’t think of a place to review, review us.

And this is hardly the first time Google has been offering prizes in exchange for reviews.

Why bother having review guidelines in the first place?

Comments (12)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Mike Ramsey says:

    How many times does this type of action on Google’s part have to happen? SMB’s have such a hard time understanding the rules to this damn search engine and it really doesn’t help with the search engine doesn’t understand the rules to their own search engine. Here’s a letter to them to help:

    Dear Google,

    You sure like to blacklist others when they don’t follow your guidelines in local, adwords, and organics. You have the power to shut down businesses if you feel like they even come close to the line of breaking your TOS. But, when you break your own rules it usually results in a “we hired it out and wasn’t aware” story and a small slap on the wrist. I hope you show the same mercy to others, or please remove and all properties from your index.


    Mike Ramsey

  2. MiriamEllis says:

    Dear Google,
    Am I just wasting my time teaching my clients to obey your rules when you can’t seem to get the hang of sticking to them yourselves?

    Dear Matt – Thanks for highlighting this. Total lameness.

  3. Portland State is obviously violating the policy, but anyone can host a site on Google Sites. You can have your own up in minutes. Even though it’s on a Google URL, I highly doubt anyone at Google had anything to do with this, or is aware of it. In this case they most likely are truly a bystander.

    That said, Google has a responsibility to act on this sort of behavior once they are made aware of it. Let’s hope they do.

  4. Scott says:

    Do as I say, not do as I do…


  5. Matt McGee says:

    Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    Cyrus, yeah, I didn’t mean to insinuate that the use of Google Sites is why I’m saying Google is involved – though I see it looks that way. Google is tweeting this out to its Portland followers, and that’s the primary connection I see. But not just that — if you follow some of the links above, you’ll see that Google has run contests exactly like this in Portland and other cities with the same exact arrangement that you see here with the university. And there are countless other examples that I haven’t written about, but Google has promoted on its Hotpot/Lat-Long blogs over the past 12-16 months or so.

  6. Nyagoslav says:

    I believe this is not directly in violation of the guidelines. The guidelines are written in a way to show that it would be a conflict of interest if the reviews are biased. For the reviews to be somehow biased, one possible reason could be that the reviewer was offered an incentive. However, when offered an incentive they were also told WHICH business to review.

    At the same time Google does not ask for that. They simply ask that people write reviews (for whichever business + with whatever rating). They don’t say “Review Portland State University and win a tablet!” which WOULD HAVE been against the guidelines. This is a very thin line between what is “OK” and what is “BAD” and I agree that Google are pretty much walking around it, but for now not really stepping over.

  7. Matt McGee says:

    1) Aren’t ALL reviews biased, Nyagoslav?

    2) What normal person, when trying to win a tablet, is going to write a negative review of a local business? The contest all but guarantees people will be writing glowing reviews … a huge bias.

    3) The guideline language is amazingly clear: “don’t offer or accept money or product to write reviews about a business” — that’s exactly what Google itself is doing, and Portland State is getting in on it by saying “Hey, review us if you don’t know where else to review, and you might win a tablet.”

    Sorry, but I have to disagree with you.

  8. Nyagoslav says:


    As I said the line is thin.

    1) Aren’t all reviews biased? – Not necessarily. On the contrary, Google is implying exactly the opposite with the rules “Each quality review counts as a new entry. The more quality reviews you write, the better your chances of winning!” The local community managers decide which reviews are quality, so obviously a biased and/or simply written for the purposes of the contest review would not be accepted and even might be removed.

    2) The contest all but guarantees people will be writing glowing reviews … a huge bias. – Again, Google states nowhere that the reviews should be positive or negative. Stating “Can’t think of a place to review? Start with Portland State, and the places you love around campus” is close to the line again, but not crossing it, as they simply give a suggestion on how to start with the reviewing.

    3) Portland State is getting in on it by saying “Hey, review us if you don’t know where else to review, and you might win a tablet.” – Yes, I believe Portland State University cannot say that.

  9. Cody Baird says:

    People should leave a review because the business provides an excellent product or service and they believe that other s can trust that business with their hard earned $.

    The other side of the coin would be to warn someone so that they continue their search and look to other businesses that take better care for their customers.

    I suppose you could put a lot of different titles or names on this type of practice or collusion. Where I’m from we would call it, “SHADY”

  10. It seems as though when Google Local was sent out to all of the major cities across the United States in the winter of 2012, Google’s mission was to generate awareness that Google has a new review system worth checking out. While reviews were being pulled from other popular review sites (i.e. Yelp), Google had the resources to jump-start their own review system and put the carrot in front of business owners by increasing search rankings. They even gave the freedom to run promotions by Google Local reps in Portland, San Diego, and a few other major cities despite their guidelines.

    The only loophole I can find is the fact that they are inviting users to review ANY business rather than one in particular as this was the mission of these Local reps at Google Local PDX. It should also be noted that they do suggest reviewing Portland State as a good starting point but the fact of the matter is students are welcome to review anybody in the Portland area.

    Almost one year later, the Google review system seems to have evolved quicker than Google’s expectations. Throwing in an attempt to systematically bring reviews together with the G+ social network, Google only complicated things more.

    At the end of the day, as a small business owner it is imperative to continue to strive for reviews but it is quite ironic to see this thing come full circle and catch Google red handed in soliciting reviews by their own merits.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *